Selig: MLB won't get involved in negotiations between St. Petersburg and Tampa Bay Rays

Published Nov. 15, 2013

ORLANDO — Major League Baseball has no immediate plans to intervene in stadium negotiations between St. Petersburg and the Tampa Bay Rays, both Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg and baseball commissioner Bud Selig said Thursday.

Selig had expressed impatience in August that the city and the team could not forge an agreement to allow the Rays to explore new stadium sites in Tampa. "I've given very strong consideration to assigning someone from MLB to get involved in the process," Selig said at the time.

But he eased off Thursday while addressing reporters at Major League Baseball meetings in Orlando, saying that any negotiations right now are "a club matter."

Without ruling out intervention down the road, Selig said Sternberg "is very comfortable with where he is" in talks with the city. "Let's see how it unfolds."

For several years, the Rays have contended that Tropicana Field is badly located in the Tampa Bay area and cannot support a consistently winning team. Attendance has been tepid, which forces other teams to subsidize the Rays through baseball's revenue sharing arrangement.

This past spring, St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster quietly entered into negotiations to allow the team to look for a stadium site in Tampa in exchange for monetary compensation if the team leaves before their contract ends in 2027.

According to several reports, the two sides came up with legal language that would let the Rays conduct their Hillsborough search without seriously undermining St. Petersburg's right to enforce the Trop contract if need be.

They were haggling over the amount of compensation when talks fell apart in September. Foster told City Council members that the Rays were offering no compensation at all and suggested that it was Selig's doing. St. Petersburg's problems are with the league, not the team, Foster said.

But Selig on Thursday denied having any influence on specific compensation offers to the city. "We have not discussed that," he said.

Sternberg said he hopes to renew those talks soon with Rick Kriseman, who defeated Foster in the Nov. 5 mayoral election and will take office Jan. 2.

"I'll speak with the new mayor now that he's got a little time under his belt," Sternberg said. "He's got a lot of things to do to govern the city. Maybe that will help set some direction. I don't imagine it will right off the bat, but it'll be nice to be able to chat with him at a point. We've played some phone tag back and forth."

Sternberg would not speculate on whether Kriseman's victory would make a stadium agreement any more or less likely. "I don't feel any differently," he said. "Time is ticking. That is all."

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Sternberg did echo Selig's comments about baseball's role in direct negotiations. The Rays will certainly consult the commissioner's office about any deal, he said, and at some point down the road the commissioner could get involved.

But as of now, Sternberg said, he is calling the shots.

"We'd like to do things in a fashion that's a little more linear than having baseball necessarily take a dramatic role in things."

Times staff writer Marc Topkin contributed to this report.