Advertisement
  1. Sports
  2. /
  3. Rays

Selling the Montreal plan may requiring burning a bridge for the Rays

Is Rays owner Stu Sternberg prepared to say today that he has decided Tampa Bay is incapable of being a full-time Major League Baseball market?
Tampa Bay Rays owner Stu Sternberg is seen in the rotunda just prior to the doors opening for the Tampa Bay Rays 2019 home opener against the Houston Astros. (DIRK SHADD | Times)
Published Jun. 25
Updated Jun. 25

ST. PETERSBURG — I am skeptical. The mayor is skeptical. You are skeptical.

It seems fair to say that a lot of people have doubts about the plausibility of a plan to share the Tampa Bay Rays with another city in another country.

The question is how far will the Rays go to change minds?

Is Rays owner Stu Sternberg prepared to stare into television cameras this afternoon and say Tampa Bay is incapable of supporting Major League Baseball full time? Will he say the past has proven it, and the future shows no indication of correcting it?

MORE RAYS: Look behind the initial hurt to see the positives of the Rays' Montreal plan

Because that’s the one argument that might change minds. The idea that this is the last hope because Sternberg has already decided he will not keep the Rays in Tampa Bay full time. If that’s the case, having 35 baseball games a year doesn’t sound so crummy when the alternative is zero games.

The problem is that argument carries a risk.

A major risk.

If this plan falls apart, and it does involve a high number of potential trip wires, Sternberg will be facing another eight years in a market he has just called hopeless.

It would be like throwing a Hail Mary pass in the third quarter.

Now some might argue that if Sternberg has come to that conclusion about Tampa Bay — and there is certainly some justification for him to feel that way — it’s best to just come out and say it.

But it could lead to one of the nastier divorces in sports history.

If you think attendance is lackluster now, just imagine what it would be like if the owner dissed the market, and the fans knew the franchise had no long-term future.

Former commissioner Bud Selig told me last week that he allowed the Expos to remain in Montreal two years too long before they were finally moved to Washington. And yet an untenable situation in Tampa Bay could linger until the end of 2027 because of the team’s use agreement at Tropicana Field.

One potential solution would be to work out a termination agreement with the city of St. Pete, but it’s hard to imagine that it wouldn’t be a contentious negotiation.

Especially since A) Sternberg said in 2005 that he would never demand a new stadium, B) he’d be leaving without hearing a stadium proposal from St. Pete and C) it would be the quickest exit for a Major League Baseball franchise in more than 50 years.

In other words, there would be a lot of political and community sentiment for St. Pete to squeeze every penny possible from Sternberg, even if it means delaying the potential redevelopment of Trop land.

Another solution would be for the Rays to simply pack up and leave before 2028, but that would trigger a lawsuit from St. Pete, and MLB cannot be enthusiastic about the possibility of having its finances on display in a courtroom.

So what will Sternberg say today?

Best guess is he will blame it on the other owners in baseball. He will say they are tired of providing revenue sharing money to Tampa Bay, and they have already given up on this market.

MORE RAYS: Forget Montreal. Forget negotiations. Time to get real on Rays stadium search

He will say he has been negotiating in good faith for a new baseball stadium for more than 10 years, and it’s become clear — for whatever reason — that there’s not enough momentum to get it done.

He will say the Montreal plan is an attempt to save baseball in Tampa Bay.

But will he portray this as a binary choice? Will he go so far as to say Tampa Bay can either go along with the part-time plan, or the Rays are outta here?

Is he willing to burn that bridge?

Or, as the case may be, cross that border?

Contact John Romano at jromano@tampabay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash talks with reporters in the dugout the day after clinching a playoff spot. DIRK SHADD  |  Times
    Former Ray Rocco Baldelli wins top honors after his first season with the Twins, Aaron Boone was second.
  2. Erik Neander, Tampa Bay Rays senior vice president of baseball operations and general manager, addresses the media during a press conference at Tropicana Field Friday, Oct. 11, 2019 in St. Petersburg. DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Award came from a vote of team executives; Yankees Cashman was second.
  3. Flanked by his mother, Michelle Alonso, left, father Peter Alonso (blue shirt, standing), girlfriend Haley Walsh, right, and friends, New York Mets rookie first baseman Pete Alonso, 24, reacts as he finds out he has won the National League Rookie of the Year award on Monday at his home in Tampa.  Alonso, a Plant High graduate, made a grand entrance to the big leagues, hitting a major-league rookie and team-record 53 home runs for the Mets. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The easiest part of the day for the travel-weary first baseman may have been receiving the prestigious award.
  4. Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash speaks at a news conference before an Oct. 1 American League wild-card game practice in Oakland, Calif. JEFF CHIU  |  AP
    Marc Topkin: The Twins Rocco Baldelli and Yankees Aaron Boone are the other two finalists for the hard-to-define award.
  5. Tampa Bay Rays second baseman Brandon Lowe (8) is showered with sunflower seeds after hitting a solo homer in the fourth inning against the Houston Astros in Game 3 of the American League Division Series Monday, Oct. 7, 2019 in St. Petersburg. DIRK SHADD  |  Times
    Former Plant High and Florida star Pete Alonso a favorite for NL Rookie of the Year, to be announced Monday
  6. Erik Neander, Tampa Bay Rays senior vice president of baseball operations and general manager, says of the general manager meetings, which start this week, "We’d love to find a way to score a lot more runs without sacrificing run prevention.'' DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Rays Tales: Erik Neander says 2019 success provides “a stronger starting point” than they have had in a while. Plus, rumblings.
  7. Manager Kevin Cash has led the Rays to back-to-back seasons of 90 or more victories. He finished third in the American League Manager of the Year voting in 2018 and is one of three finalists again this year with the winner being announced on Tuesday. DIRK SHADD  |  Times
    John Romano: His profile is as low as Tampa Bay’s payroll, but AL Manager of the Year candidate Kevin Cash consistently gets the most out of the Rays.
  8. ALLIE GOULDING   |   Times
Tampa Bay Rays bench coach Matt Quatraro (33) talks to umpire Bruce Dreckman at the bottom of the fourth inning against Texas Rangers on Sunday, June 30, 2019 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. 
 ALLIE GOULDING  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The other finalists, per a report, are Astros bench coach Joe Espada and former Phillies manager Gabe Kapler.
  9. Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash (16) pumps his fist while walking onto the field just prior to taking on the Houston Astros for Game 3 of the American League Division Series in St. Petersburg. DIRK SHADD  |  Times
    Charlie Morton is in the top 3 for the Cy Young Award and Brandon Lowe for Rookie of the Year honors as well.
  10. Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash (16) smiles in the dugout just prior to the Rays taking on the Houston Astros in Game 2 of the American League Division Series Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019 in Houston. DIRK SHADD  |  Times
    Manager Kevin Cash seems to have the best chance to be among the top three for the four major awards.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement