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A’s stadium discussion key for Rays, Montreal plan

Rays Tales | As Oakland’s situation heads toward a resolution, the Rays will move from the on-deck circle to batter’s box.
The Oakland A's are trying to find a better home than RingCentral Coliseum. Once their ballpark problems are sorted, the Rays are on the clock.
The Oakland A's are trying to find a better home than RingCentral Coliseum. Once their ballpark problems are sorted, the Rays are on the clock. [ JEFF CHIU | Associated Press ]
Published Jul. 17, 2021

ATLANTA — The A’s are the hot topic of stadium conversations in baseball right now.

Commissioner Rob Manfred made that clear at the All-Star Game. First by saying that “really crucial votes” by governmental bodies over the next few months are “going to determine the fate of baseball in Oakland.” Then by adding if this plan fails, the next step is relocation, whether to Las Vegas — which the team has already explored — or for a “broader array of cities” to be considered.

“Thinking about this as a bluff is a mistake,” he said at a meeting of Baseball Writers’ Association of America members in Denver.

He had no such strong words — yet — for the Rays’ decades-long quest.

When asked for an update on the Rays’ search for a new stadium — or under the Montreal split-city plan favored by principal owner Stuart Sternberg, stadiums plural — Manfred said there is not as much urgency given the use agreement at Tropicana Field runs through the 2027 season.

“Tampa (Bay’s) on a different timeline,” Manfred said. “They’ve got an unbreakable lease, right?, that has several years left to run.

“Stu is still actively engaged with the possibility of a two-city split. That’s a complicated undertaking. But he has had progress in his conversations both in Florida and in Montreal, and I can’t really say more than that.

“But the timeline on that is longer. Not because we’re not doing anything, but because they’re in a lease they can’t get out of.”

But how much time really is left? Probably not as much as you think.

The actual building of a stadium takes several years, then block out extended time for design, financing and permitting.

There also is the factor of whether the stadium, or one of the stadiums, is in the Tampa Bay area. Or if the Rays are heading down the path of potential relocation. That would require more time at the front end that the Rays would want.

Manfred is right in saying the Oakland situation is more urgent and needs to be resolved. But once it is — and certainly by the end of 2022 or spring 2023 — the Rays are going to be the hot topic.

Draft reviews

So, how did the Rays do in the draft? According to senior director of amateur scouting Rob Metzler, their 21-pick class was “a positive outcome” for the annual process. Realistically, they won’t know for several years.

Reviews from some of the experts were mixed.

ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel wrote: “I tend to always like what Tampa Bay does on the whole, and they added another deep crop of talent. Carson Williams, Cooper Kinney and Ryan Spikes are some of the higher-probability bats among prep infielders, while (second-round) Washington State infielder Kyle Manzardo qualifies among their college picks.”

Keith Law of The Athletic was not as impressed: “The Rays seemed to go all in on contact bats in this draft, eschewing some upside in the process,” noting concerns about Williams and Kinney long-term. He did call Manzardo “the sleeper” of their class, noting his low rates for strikeouts (12.6) and swing and miss (5 percent) with the chance to add power.

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Washington State infielder Kyle Manzardo met near universal approval as a Rays draft pick.
Washington State infielder Kyle Manzardo met near universal approval as a Rays draft pick. [ TYLER TATE | Associated Press ]

The crew did not rank the Rays among its seven best classes, but did like Manzardo, saying the lefty swinger “could be a quick climber to St. Petersburg.” Baseball America’s experts didn’t rank the Rays in their top four classes. Bleacher Report gave the Rays a C for their top three picks — Williams, Kinney and Manzardo.

Among their more noteworthy picks:

⋅ Eighth-round pitcher Patrick Wicklander of Arkansas, who deemed their most interesting selection given his medical history. Wicklander was diagnosed last May as a Type 1 diabetic, was hospitalized for a week as his blood sugar levels nearly sent him into a diabetic coma. He later returned to the mound, with his doctors referring to him as “a walking miracle.”

⋅ Tenth-round pitcher Austin Vernon, who likely will be the last player drafted from North Carolina Central, a historically black university that dropped its baseball program after this season due to budgetary issues stemming from pandemic.

Rays 14th-round draft pick Antonio Menendez was 6 when his parents, Rick and Sandy, took him to Baltimore to see his idol, then Rays first baseman Eduardo Perez.
Rays 14th-round draft pick Antonio Menendez was 6 when his parents, Rick and Sandy, took him to Baltimore to see his idol, then Rays first baseman Eduardo Perez. [ Special to the Times - Eduardo Perez ]

⋅ Fourteenth-round pitcher Antonio Menendez already had a bit of a Rays connection. His family is very close to former big-leaguer and current ESPN analyst Eduardo Perez, who has been an inspiration and mentor. Close enough that Perez lived with the Menendez family during his junior year of high school in Miami, close enough that the family (which moved to Virginia before Antonio was born) came to Baltimore to see “his idol” Perez play for the Rays in 2005, close enough that Perez keeps close tabs on Antonio, who is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. “He’s going to get to the big leagues,” Perez said.

Rays rumblings

Potentially the most interesting — though probably unavailable — name among starting pitcher trade candidates for the Rays? Charlie Morton, though the Braves seem unlikely at this time to be sellers. … A starter seems to be their top priority at this point, more so than a right-handed bat (Nelson Cruz? Kris Bryant?) or reliever. And it makes sense they’d be aggressive, and willing to pay more now than at the July 30 deadline, to get an extra start or two. … Among players on the Trop turf for the weekend Perfect Game showcase event is Justin Crawford, the now 6-foot-3, 175-pound high school junior son of former Rays All-Star Carl Crawford. Justin, no surprise, is also fast, running a 6.11 60-yard dash. … Whatever the perceived competitive reasons are, sure seems Bally Sports should have allowed Rays reporter Tricia Whitaker to be part of the historic all-female broadcast crew Tuesday for the game that is being shown exclusively on YouTube. ... Of the five-member crew, only field reporter Alanna Rizzo will be at the Trop, the others working from the MLB Network studio in New Jersey. ...’s David Schoenfield gave the Rays an overall A–minus for their half, saying with help from Wander Franco and Randy Arozarena “a division title, and a return to the World Series, are still in the books.” … Per, Arozarena is second in line for the AL Rookie of the Year award at 3/1, with Texas’ Adolis Garcia a 2-1 favorite. And to think the Cuban countrymen were teammates in the Cardinals’ minor-league system. … Tyler Zombro, the Rays’ Triple-A pitcher struck in the head by a line drive June 3, tweeted last week “my cognitive function has improved greatly, and I have tested out of both speech and occupational therapy. I continue (physical therapy) sessions with concussion specialists at Duke.”

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