The Tampa Bay Rays formally closed the three-year negotiating window that permitted the team to search both Pinellas and Hillsborough and counties for a new stadium site.
— Noah Pransky (@noahpransky) December 18, 2018
The team sent a two-sentence letter, drafted by Senior Vice President of Administration John P. Higgins, to St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman which was similar to the announcement made by Rays principal owner Stu Sternberg last week at Major League Baseball’s winter meetings in Las Vegas. You can read the text of the letter below.
Dear Mayor Kriseman:
This letter shall serve as the “Decision Notice” [as that term is defined in that certain Memorandum of Understanding between Tampa Bay Rays Baseball Ltd. (the “Rays”) and that City of St. Petersburg (the “City”) dated January 15, 2016 (the “MOU”)]. Please be advised that, as required by Section 9.B. of the MOU, the Rays hereby notify the City that the Rays will not attempt to negotiate the “New Agreements” (as that term is defined in the MOU) or prepare a “Termination Agreement” (as that term is defined in the MOU).
If you have any questions, please let me know.
Very truly yours,
John P. Higgins
The team — which stands to net 50% of the development rights at the Tropicana Field site — remains silent on its future, although there is far more money available for the Rays if they choose to renegotiate in St. Petersburg. In fact, when asked by Noah Pransky (WTSP) if Sternberg would sign away the developments rights at the Trop in July, the answer was pretty clear: “no.”
At the moment, St. Petersburg can contribute $100-million+ in county bed taxes, $75-million+ in county infrastructure funds, and $40-million+ in general revenue funds.
St. Petersburg City Council Chair Charlie Gerdes said it’s time to make sure the team stays here for the long haul.
I don’t have a sense of relief, said Gerdes, who said he’d rather see the team find a long-term home in Pinellas County, but would also rather the team stay in the Tampa Bay area than leave altogether. It’s not time to be relieved, it’s time to make sure they stay here for a long time.
I want them to find a place where they can keep ‘TB’ on their hats for a long time.
The Rays decision to pull out of the Hillsborough County stadium proposal not only marks the second time the team hasn’t seen a proposal through in a decade but has also stoked local sportswriters dire warnings that if you don’t build it, the team will leave. That, however, is patently false in most cases, yet many people continue to believe it. That narrative has been driven home by those sportswriters, not the team which up to now has been very clear that it remains committed to finding a new stadium in the Tampa Bay area.
Neil de Mause (Field of Schemes) attempted to quell the fears of Rays fans, saying:
Look, Tampa Bay is, it has now been well established, a middling MLB market, but that’s still better than most non-MLB markets, since they are non-MLB markets precisely because they can’t even manage to be middling. All things being equal, would Stuart Sternberg make as much money running a team in Montreal as in Tampa Bay? Maybe! Would he make more? Probably not, all things being equal. Could all things not be equal, like if Montreal throws the kind of money at Sternberg that Tampa Bay is so far refusing to? Conceivably, but that didn’t go so well the last time, and the current Montreal mayor sounds at least somewhat skittish about promising piles of cash — saying “We need to evaluate what kind of participation, how we will collaborate, but so far, so good” and “if it comes to asking Montrealers for money, for example to build a stadium, yes, I will ask Montrealers” — so probably won’t to the degree that this is likely to turn into an international bidding war.
It is absolutely important to remember at all times that sports leagues have a monopoly on franchises, and can use that as leverage — but it’s also important to remember that there are only so many cities with the population (and TV eyeballs) to enable a pro sports team to make fistfuls of money, and cities can use that as leverage, too. Romano is right about one thing: This is a business negotiation, and team owners are just trying to maximize their profits (plus maybe their egos), and will use any advantage they can to do so; but there’s nothing stopping elected officials from doing the same. Right now, the Rays and Tampa/St. Pete are still in the staring-each-other-down phase of negotiations, so there are likely at least a few more summers of baseball left before anybody starts storming off and slamming doors.
All of which is to say: Everybody take a deep breath, okay? I know it’s bad for clicks, but it’s good for making sensible policy decisions, and journalism is still about trying to inform people so they can make the world a better place — or at least that’s what the internet tells me.
The Rays previously said they had no interest in getting into the real estate business, yet they commissioned a study on real estate opportunities in Ybor City. It could be assumed that Sternberg could be coming around to the idea of property development since the study also identified downtown St. Petersburg and Mid-Pinellas/Carillon as two of Tampa Bay’s largest areas of growth.
— Per Marc Topkin (Tampa Bay Times), the two-year, $30-million deal with Charlie Morton expected to be announced later this week. The Rays still have to make room on the 40-man roster.
In other news, the race is still on for catcher J.T. Realmuto. The Rays, Astros, Padres, and Dodgers are said to be in on the catcher.