PORT CHARLOTTE — The Rays have issues, but the threat of the franchise being eliminated through contraction is not likely to be one, players union chief Michael Weiner said.
And if the owners suggest it during the just-started talks for a new labor agreement, the union will be ready to fight.
"Do I think it's likely that the owners are going to try to contract? I don't," Weiner said after meeting with Rays players during his annual spring camp tour. "Do I think there's — to borrow your word — a 'legitimate' reason to contract? I don't think there is. All I would say is if that changes, if contraction becomes a goal of the owners in this negotiation, the tenor of the talks would change quickly and dramatically."
Though contraction has not been brought up officially, it has been floated in several national media forums.
Several topics will be discussed during the negotiations that could benefit the Rays, such as realignment, balanced schedules and expanded playoffs, though Weiner cautioned that changes could be complicated.
Rays player rep Evan Longoria said he expected a push for a more balanced schedule, which would benefit the Rays by reducing the number of games against the Red Sox and Yankees.
Asked about the Rays payroll being slashed from $73 million to $41 million, Weiner said the union will continue to monitor their spending of revenue-sharing funds (as they do other teams) and also suggested there could be changes to the plan.
"We can't say that we're happy with that (reduction)," Weiner said. "Bargaining is always an opportunity for us to adjust the revenue-sharing plan as well as other provisions of the basic agreement to account for changes in the economic and competitive landscape. Clearly this is a franchise that the result of that process is critical to this franchise. I think the process has worked in the past, I think, in general, and hopefully it will create an environment that will allow the ownership group here to really thrive."
Weiner called the Rays' quest for a new stadium "a complicated situation," citing the history of the location selection and current political climate, and he said that since the union's interest is in seeing all 30 teams thrive, it would support whatever course principal owner Stuart Sternberg chooses.