ORLANDO — Major League Baseball officials and owners now see the season-sharing plan with Montreal proposed by the Rays as the best way — “100 percent” — to keep a team, albeit part time, in the Tampa Bay market, commissioner Rob Manfred said Thursday.
"People continue to believe that the two-city alternative they’re exploring is viable and could be a really good solution for keeping baseball in Tampa Bay,'' Manfred told the Tampa Bay Times after a scheduled owners meeting.
"I continue to be impressed by the energy that they've devoted to the project. And to the fact there is significant receptivity among our group, and excitement in some quarters about the possibility.''
Manfred said Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg had made a strong case to the owners, which mirrors the comments team officials have made publicly about the Montreal plan being their primary focus.
"I am 100 percent convinced and, more importantly, the other owners have been convinced by Stu, that this is best way to keep Major League Baseball in Tampa Bay,'' Manfred said.
Manfred said he remained “open to the idea” of the Rays getting a new full-time stadium in the Tampa Bay area, but would defer to the judgment of Sternberg and team officials.
"We have shown great commitment to the Tampa Bay market,'' Manfred said. "I'm open to whatever alternatives. But I think it's unfair to expect that you can proceed full speed on different alternatives. Right now the focus is on the two-city alternative.''
Though several owners and team officials declined to answer questions on any topic as they scurried out of the meetings hotel, Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro said Canada’s only current team was open to the idea of the Rays joining them.
"Favorable to them exploring it, and interested to see how it turns out,'' Shapiro said. "Certainly in favor of anything that impacts the baseball landscape in Canada positively. We are supportive of them exploring it.
"You can argue that both ways: It's nice to be the only team but it also would be nice to have that increased interest there as well.''
The players union is expected to have strong objections to the plan, which would require players, staff and team officials — and their families — to relocate to Montreal in the middle of the season.
Manfred acknowledged “there will be issues” with the union, "but I don’t think they’re insurmountable issues.''
With the Rays lease at Tropicana Field expiring after the 2027 season, and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman refusing to allow the Rays to explore moving any games anywhere before then, progress toward resolution remains slow and somewhat convoluted.
The Montreal plan is based on new open-air stadiums being built in Montreal and either Tampa or St. Petersburg, which, while less expensive than a new full-time stadium, is still a significant undertaking.
Manfred said it will take a group effort, with a preference to get an answer as soon as possible.
"It’s a combination of the club devoting time and energy, the community being behind the effort and the business community stepping up in terms of support and the politicians doing their part,'' he said. "It’s a multi-party solution.''
The commissioner’s comments were validation for the Rays, who have been feverishly working on the proposal despite skepticism and opposition, including from some Tampa Bay area leaders.
“Folks around the game and others we have spoken with have gotten more interested in seeing this sister-city concept happen,” Sternberg said after leaving the meeting with team presidents Brian Auld and Matt Silverman.
So how do they get others to see it as a good plan?
“We keep at it,” Sternberg said.
Contact Marc Topkin at email@example.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.