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Romano: Kriseman's deal with Rays is about more than just the cash

In negotiating a deal with the Tampa Bay Rays, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman had two goals in mind: to get the best possible deal he could for the city while trying to guarantee that major-league baseball would remain in this market for the long haul.
In negotiating a deal with the Tampa Bay Rays, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman had two goals in mind: to get the best possible deal he could for the city while trying to guarantee that major-league baseball would remain in this market for the long haul.
Published Dec. 11, 2014

The money doesn't add up, and there's no getting around that.

If you consider that hundreds of millions of dollars in government funds may soon be devoted to the building of a new baseball stadium on one side of the bay or the other, it makes no sense that the current lease at Tropicana Field could possibly be bought off by the Tampa Bay Rays for a measly $3 million a year.

So if a cash payment is the only consideration, there is really no debate. You tell the Rays to shut up, find a catcher and play ball.

But, of course, it's not that simple.

Not by a long shot.

This is an intricate issue, and it deserves a nuanced approach. You have to recognize that every decision from here on out will have a ripple effect.

And you have to understand that leverage is never permanent. Yes, the city of St. Petersburg has the upper hand today because the lease at Tropicana Field is ironclad.

But if the city approached negotiations with that in mind, it would win the battle and lose the war. Because it is the Rays who have the ultimate leverage. When the terms of the lease run out, they can take their bats and balls and go to someone else's home.

That's why St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman was limited in his negotiating power. If he was concerned only about a lease penalty, he could have held out for more money and the Rays would have refused. That's what happened under Mayor Bill Foster.

Kriseman, instead, had two goals in mind:

To get the best possible deal he could for St. Petersburg while also trying to guarantee that major-league baseball would remain in this market for the long haul.

Is it possible that Kriseman could have gotten more money? Perhaps an assurance that the Rays would pay for the demolition of Tropicana Field?

It's possible, but not likely. This deal took almost a year to negotiate. Holding out for a few bucks more might have been fruitless and could have resulted in the loss of potential stadium sites to other development.

Is it possible the Rays are overplaying their hand? That there will be no obvious suitor waiting for them outside of Tampa Bay when the lease runs out in 2027?

That, too, is possible. But it involves a serious risk.

"That's a tremendous gamble with one of your biggest assets," said City Council Chairman Bill Dudley. "You have to ask yourself whether it's worth that gamble."

Here's another way of looking at it:

If the City Council approves the Rays deal next week, the clock begins to tick. The Rays will look on both sides of the bay for the best possible site. Then they will have to secure financing, which will be no easy feat. And then comes the actual construction.

Even at an accelerated pace, the earliest they would be in a new ballpark is 2019. The more likely scenario is 2020. Or even 2021.

That means this entire argument revolves around the final seven or eight seasons of baseball at Tropicana Field. So do you want to risk losing the Rays for the next 30 or 40 years because you wanted to force them to finish out the final eight years of a lease?

Please understand, I'm not suggesting this is the optimal outcome for St. Petersburg. When you take a step back, it actually stinks. St. Pete took a risk and made a sizable investment in Tropicana Field, and it's a shame it may not survive its usefulness.

But this situation has to be approached methodically and not emotionally. It is, on a much larger scale, similar to the decision the Rays made with David Price this year.

The team did not want to trade Price, but it realized it was at risk of losing him to free agency with very little in return. So the team swallowed hard, cut its losses and traded him for the best deal it could get at the time.

That's what the mayor has done this week.

Is this a great deal for St. Pete?

No.

Is it the best deal for St. Pete?

I believe it is.