On Thursday, Jeff Passan (ESPN) broke a bombshell report that Major League Baseball has granted the Tampa Bay Rays permission for the preliminary exploration of splitting the season in Montreal. The Rays would occupy a newly built stadium in Tampa Bay for the first half of the season, before moving the second half of the year’s games to Montreal.
While the plan is in its nascent stages, the Rays have embraced the two-city solution as the most feasible to saving baseball in the Tampa Bay area after years of failed attempts to build a new stadium in the region, according to sources.
Under the plan, the Rays would play in new stadiums in both the Tampa Bay area and Montreal, according to sources. The ability to play games early in the season in Florida would preclude the need for a domed stadium, cutting the cost of a new building.
A month ago, Bronfman — who along with Montreal businessman Mitch Garber has expressed interest in taking a minority stake in the Rays alongside owner Stuart Sternberg — reached an agreement with a developer on a site in Montreal’s Point-Saint-Charles neighborhood to potentially build a new stadium. The number of home games each city would receive has not been determined, according to sources.— Jeff Passan
Daniel Russell (DRaysBay) emphasized that, at this time, it would appear this is the leading plan for the 2028 season and not necessarily something that is in the works under the Rays current use agreement at Tropicana Field.
As one would imagine, the hot-takes on the subject have not been favorable, although some, like the ones below, have been pretty damn funny.
Stu Sternberg has not reached out to the city about the desire to negotiate a new memorandum of understanding which would allow the team to play home games outside of the Trop. And if we are taking the Rays principal owner at his word, he did say the “concept is worthy of serious exploration,” with “concept” being the operative word. Be that as it may, since the Rays are prohibited from talking to Montreal officials about playing a single game anywhere other than Tropicana Field prior to the 2028 season without St. Petersburg’s permission, one should chalk this up to nothing more that leverage-building 101 — no matter how crazy, or cockamamie, as this leverage building scheme might appear to be.
Never forget the immortal words of Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf when he said, “A savvy negotiator creates leverage,” after he used Tampa Bay to get his team a stadium on the south side of Chicago in 1995.
Playing devil’s advocate, and assuming this isn’t a PR stunt to build leverage, even though we all know that it is, there are myriad other questions about the proposal, which Marc Topkin (Tampa Bay Times) intimated well:
— How much harder would it be to get a new stadium financed and built in the Tampa Bay area for only 40 or so home games than 81? Related, would the Rays then be more open to staying at the Trop, or a new stadium at that site? Also, if the Rays were to play the early and perhaps later part of their schedule in Tampa Bay, could they now be interested in an open-air stadium, which would be less costly to build?
— Would the leaders of the Montreal effort, who have been working for years to get a team back, be willing to go ahead with plans to build a new stadium for a similarly limited number of home games?
— How could a split schedule work? Would the Rays play the first half of the season in Tampa Bay and the second half in Montreal, or would they alternate homestands? And what about postseason games?
— How much opposition would there be from the players union, given how it would impact players the most, and also the potential to lure free agents.
Players union officials declined to comment Thursday given the preliminary status of the plan, but among some current and former players reacting on Twitter, Brad Ziegler, who served as a player rep, posted: “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.”
To even explore the idea of splitting time with Montreal before 2027, the Rays would have to come to a memorandum of understanding with the city of St. Petersburg. Mayor Rick Kriseman called Sternberg’s bluff and quickly poured cold water on the proposal during a late-afternoon press conference Thursday.
Kriseman didn’t mince his words, outright rejecting the proposal within the first few minutes of the press conference, saying, “sharing this team with Montreal is not an option on the table.”
I believe this is getting a bit silly.
I have great respect for Stu Sternberg and his leadership team. But after 12 years of indecision, including three years of exploring his options (in Tampa) … like many in Tampa Bay, I am tired of the games being played in the name of getting a stadium built … we all deserve better and should not take this too seriously.— Mayor Rick Kriseman
What’s more, Sternberg’s proposal sends a poor message to the local community and chips away at any relationship or goodwill the team had built up with fans, says state senator Daryl Rouson.
I think the Rays need to commit one way or the other, and stop treating the city and its citizens as a part-time lover.— Daryl Rouson
Sternberg recently moved to St. Petersburg ostensibly for the optics, as well as a sign of commitment to the region. The team is also working feverishly to make connections within the business community since many companies dropped their partnerships with the Rays, due to the fact that they did not feel like the team is devoted to the area. A public relations stunt like this will only further scare off local corporations, smaller businesses, and fans from supporting the team financially.
At the end of the day, Tampa has no money, so the idea of a new facility across the bay is a foregone conclusion. Meanwhile, St. Petersburg has no desire to sink considerable cash into the Rays for just 41 home games a season. If Sternberg’s idea of negotiation is to disenfranchise everyone who counts, to use baseball fans in other cities as leverage, and to make it incredibly difficult on the team’s marketing and PR departments, then I’d imagine he had a great day. I’m just not certain how effective a shot across the bow of fans and businesses who aren’t buying tickets might be.
And now we wait until Tuesday, when Sternberg and Presidents of Baseball Operations Brian Auld and Matt Silverman will host a press conference of their own at the Dali Museum.