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Let’s assume the Rays asked about Montreal. Here’s what St. Pete should ask in return.

John Romano: If the Rays are serious about this split plan, they should be willing to offer the city something of value in return for altering Tropicana Field’s use agreement.
St. Petersburg mayor Rick Kriseman faces some risks consider the Rays request to pursue splitting seasons between Tampa Bay and Montreal. This fan made it clear where he stands at a recent Rays game. DIRK SHADD   |   Times
St. Petersburg mayor Rick Kriseman faces some risks consider the Rays request to pursue splitting seasons between Tampa Bay and Montreal. This fan made it clear where he stands at a recent Rays game. DIRK SHADD | Times
Published Jul. 27, 2019
Updated Jul. 27, 2019

ST. PETERSBURG — Let’s see, on June 20 there was the announcement that Major League Baseball’s executive council had given the Rays permission to explore a split season with Montreal.

On June 25 and 26, there were dual press conferences in St. Petersburg and Montreal where we were told this split plan was the best hope either city had for big league baseball.

And finally, on July 23, there was the much-anticipated meeting between Rays owner Stu Sternberg and St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman’s team where they finally exchanged … pleasantries?

Oh, come on.

(Or sacre bleu, if you prefer.)

Related: MORE RAYS: St. Petersburg leaders, Rays stay publicly silent on meeting

The spin coming out of the meeting was that the Rays did not seek permission to begin stadium talks in Montreal and, in fact, they barely talked about anything important at all.

For 75 minutes.

Now, if you’re like me, you probably find that hard to believe. Not after being told time is running short. Not when you consider there are literally billions of dollars at stake between the franchise value, the proposed stadiums and the redevelopment of the Tropicana Field site.

So let’s consider a more realistic scenario.

Let’s assume Sternberg did seek permission to approach Montreal. Maybe it wasn’t in writing, maybe it wasn’t an official request, maybe they’re hiding behind semantics.

But, at this point, it would be corporate malfeasance not to at least gauge the mayor’s willingness to allow the Rays to sidestep the Trop use agreement and talk with Montreal.

So what happened when Sternberg asked?

The logical assumption is Kriseman played it cool. We know the Rays want permission, we know it hasn’t been granted yet, and we know the two sides have another meeting planned in the next month or so.

Rays owner Stuart Sternberg, left, sits in the stands and talks with season-ticket holder David Rosenbach of Tampa during the Rays game Monday against the Red Sox at Tropicana Field. DIRK SHADD | Times

That suggests the Rays are waiting for an answer.

And this is where it gets dicey.

There are a dozen or more ways this could ultimately play out, but for now Kriseman has two options. He can either say yes, or he can say no. And both choices carry risk.

Sternberg has all but said the Rays will eventually leave Tampa Bay permanently if the Montreal plan does not work. It hasn’t been framed as an ultimatum but, let’s face it, that’s the intent.

Now is it a legitimate threat? Would the Rays really refuse to entertain any other stadium options in Tampa Bay, and bide their time until they can begin playing elsewhere in 2028?

That’s certainly a possibility.

Or are the Rays creating leverage for a better stadium deal around here? Or maybe they are even laying the groundwork for a plan to buy, or litigate, their way out of the use agreement?

Related: JOHN ROMANO: What Tampa Bay has to decide

Yeah, those are possibilities, too.

So if you’re Kriseman, you have to figure out the best way to enhance, or protect, the city’s interests in the face of all of these possibilities.

Now if you look at it realistically, the Montreal plan is an absurd longshot.

First, Kriseman must grant permission. Then the City Council must grant permission. Then the Montreal group must agree to build a stadium in exchange for an ownership stake in the team. Then Tampa Bay must come up with a stadium. Then MLB and the players union will have to sign off on it.

All of which seems awfully ambitious.

But let’s assume the Rays really do believe in this plan. Here’s what they need to do to make it happen:

Sign over their share of any Tropicana Field redevelopment rights. Not temporarily. Not on a contingency basis. Just sign over the rights to the city, and you get permission to talk to Montreal.

If the Rays really do want to build an open-air stadium to play part-time in St. Pete, the city could apply those redevelopment rights as part of the team’s contribution for construction costs.

And if the Montreal deal falls through, the Rays say they will be a lame duck waiting for the use agreement to expire, in which case the redevelopment rights are worthless to them come 2028 anyway.

Will it happen that way?

I doubt it.

But this partnership between the city and the team has taken a contentious turn. Kriseman and the City Council did the Rays a favor when they allowed them to look at stadium sites in Hillsborough County for three years. And this sudden arm-twisting over Montreal was not the best way to repay that favor.

So if the Rays want another addendum to the use agreement, it’s their turn to give up something in return.

John Romano can be reached at jromano@tampabay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.

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