Rob Manfred: Rays’ Montreal plan legitimate, gaining momentum

Commissioner says: "I don’t think this is a crazy idea,'' sees merits to be in both markets
Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred takes questions about the Houston Astros during a news conference at the Atlanta Braves' spring training facility Sunday in North Port.
Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred takes questions about the Houston Astros during a news conference at the Atlanta Braves' spring training facility Sunday in North Port. [ CURTIS COMPTON | Associated Press ]
Published Feb. 16, 2020|Updated Feb. 17, 2020

NORTH PORT — Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred continues to embrace and endorse the Rays’ radical plan to split future seasons in Montreal, and says it is gaining momentum toward approval from the other owners.

“The Rays are working very hard to move this plan forward,” Manfred told the Tampa Bay Times on Sunday after a spring training media session dominated by questions about the Astros’ scandal.

“I’ve been called crazy a lot this week — I don’t think this is a crazy idea. I think that it is a really legitimate effort to try to preserve baseball in Florida for the benefit of the Rays fans. And I do think there is some momentum to it.”

Manfred said earlier this month that the plan, which the Rays are looking to implement for 2028, was gaining “increasing receptivity” among owners, who would have to approve it, as would the players association.

Asked Sunday if he felt the other owners would go along, he said: “I think the right arrangement could be approved on the ownership side and I think with some creativity it could be approved with the players.”

Manfred said he sees the plan benefitting both communities and Major League Baseball, and would like to see it resolved.

“I am excited if when I finish (my term) one of the things I can say was that baseball was preserved in Tampa Bay, broadly defined," he said. “If it preserved baseball in Tampa Bay and quite frankly gave us another international market, I see that as kind of a two for one. It would be a good thing all the way around."

The Rays recently met with Tampa Mayor Jane Castor to discuss the plan, which includes have new open-air stadiums built in both markets, and they and Montreal group leader Stephen Bronfman are working on an aggressive timetable to get details worked out and in place by the end of 2020.

Bronfman’s willingness to partner with the Rays on the shared plan, in which the team plays roughly the first half of the season in Florida and the second in Montreal, would seem to eliminate the chance of getting a full-time team through expansion.

“Montreal could be a standalone market. I think the judgement you have to make, if you’re Montreal, is if and when we’re going to 32 (teams)," Manfred said. “You’ve got an opportunity to have some baseball here, might be a good plan. So they’ve just got to make that judgement."

Manfred said he was not concerned about contradictory statements over the weekend between Bronfman and Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg about the Montreal group buying a minority stake in the team.

Bronfman was quoted in Le Journal de Montreal saying talks were advanced and a deal for hundreds of millions could be closed within three-four months; Sternberg told the Times he would be open to doing so after the sharing plan was in place but there had been no negotiations yet.

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Manfred said he talked to Sternberg, didn’t consider the issue newsworthy and that a deal at some point would make sense.

“If in fact he can make the two-city situation work you obviously want to have some hook in the Montreal community in terms of your ownership," Manfred said. “That happening down the road, or the idea that people have said, Gee it would be nice if you had some Montreal ownership down the road, that doesn’t surprise me."

This story will be updated