The Tampa Bay Rays have received permission from MLB to explore playing their home games in two different cities, reports ESPN's Jeff Passan. The first is their current home of Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. The second is Montreal, former home of the Expos. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred acknowledged and addressed the news on Thursday.
Now here's what you need to know about this surprising story.
This isn't a done deal
Mark Feinsand adds that the arrangement is not guaranteed to happen; rather the Rays are now free to consider the option and seek out final approval should they choose to move forward. More:
Rob Manfred says the Rays have a "broad grant" to explore a split season in Montreal. That could be in an old stadium or a new stadium. "That's really up to Stu Sternberg." There's no commitment yet, just exploratory.— Evan Drellich (@EvanDrellich) June 20, 2019
"Exploratory" would seem to be the operative word. "Permission to get serious about it," would be another way to characterize this development. What it doesn't mean is that the Rays are definitely undertaking a partial relocation to Montreal. Whether trial balloon, strategic posture, or genuine consideration, this is all in the very early stages.
If it does happen, it's not likely to happen right away
This flows from the preliminary nature of things noted above. The Rays haven't yet decided they want to pursue such a groundbreaking arrangement, and even if they do opt to move forward it's going to take some time to get final approval and satisfy the logistical demands. As such:
Manfred on the Rays: “In 2020, it’s pretty darn clear they’ll be playing in Tampa.”— Mark Feinsand (@Feinsand) June 20, 2019
The implication is that the 2021 season is the earliest that the Rays would be able to undertake this experiment.
This appears to be more than just playing a few games in a different city
Under the unusual plan, the Rays would play their early-season games in St. Petersburg and then relocate to Montreal for the latter portion of the baseball calendar. Beyond that, the specifics aren't known.
Rays ownership has acknowledged interest
Here's the word from principal owner Stuart Sternberg:
"Committed" is certainly an interesting choice of words.
The Rays also announced that Sternberg and team presidents Brian Auld and Matt Silverman will be available to the media on Tuesday to discuss Manfred's announcement.
This all flows from the Rays' uncertain ballpark situation
The Rays of course play in Tropicana Field. In part because of the park's outdated aesthetics and location, attendance has been a constant concern for the Rays. No doubt, ownership's reluctance to invest in the on-field product plays just as great a role in the turnstile issues, but the ballpark is the most convenient foil from their standpoint. The point, of course, is to extract tax dollars to buy the Rays a place of business, and in that sense the Montreal plan/threat could be an attempt to gain leverage. If that's the case, then ideally that threat will be met with resounding civic apathy.
A recent proposal for a new ballpark in the Ybor City section of Tampa Manfred didn't seem to think much of the fledgling project. The reality is that the Rays are under lease at Tropicana Field until 2027 and don't presently have a path toward a new ballpark in the Tampa-St. Pete region. This Montreal plan could be a good-faith exploration, or it could be an attempt to improve the club's bargaining position, such as it is., and in a likely related matter
There may be local hurdles to consider
Regarding a potential half-move to Canada:
Such considerations are typically more low-slung hurdle than insurmountable barrier, so if the Rays decide they wish to move forward they can likely do what's necessary to ensure council approval. The mayor, however, seems less inclined to bow to their wishes:
Mayor Kriseman said:
"The Rays cannot explore playing any Major League Baseball games in Montreal or anywhere else for that matter prior to 2028, without reaching a formal memorandum of understanding with the City of St. Petersburg.
"Ultimately such a decision is up to me. And I have no intention of bringing this latest idea to our city council to consider. In fact, I believe this is getting a bit silly."
Former St. Pete mayor Bill Foster gave the quote of the day.
Here's Foster pulling no punches with regard to Sternberg and the Rays:
Needless to say, current and past city leadership does not seem enamored of the Rays' latest gambit.
Players aren't going to like this
It goes without saying that players aren't going to be fond of playing home games in two cities. This sums it up nicely:
Splitting time between the 2 cities would be an absolute nightmare as a player… Potentially moving your family/pets back-and-forth, finding pediatricians, doctors, vets, paying rent on multiple houses, even when you’re not there. No thanks.— Brad Ziegler (@BradZiegler) June 20, 2019
One is tempted to make the point that having two homes would hurt the Rays when it comes to luring top free agents, but such a concern assumes the Rays have interest in luring top free agents.
This all seems doomed to fail
The best thing you can say about this idea is that it's innovative, but innovation is not always fruitful. You have a current lack of interest in Tampa/St. Pete. What this idea does is take some of that lack of interest and relocate it to Quebec. Fans in either city will almost certainly feel only a partial connection to the team on the field since that team won't wholly belong to them. This does nothing to erase the ongoing issues with the franchise in St. Petersburg and certainly won't sate Montreal's desire to get Major League Baseball back in town on an embraceable basis. Call it a half-measure.
Or call it an attempt gain the upper hand and wring public funding -- i.e., corporate welfare -- out of this or that municipality. If that's what's going on, the this is really a new take on an old grift.