Rays owner: No dice on St. Pete stadium unless you let us talk to Tampa, too

Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg has responded to St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster’s offer to discuss a possible stadium in the Carillon business park, and he’s said the same thing he always says: We’ll talk the minute you let us talk to other cities, too.

On Thursday, principal owner Stuart Sternberg sent a letter to Foster requesting an amendment to the team’s contract for Tropicana Field, allowing the Rays to look across the bay.

“Since an evaluation of only one site would clearly be an incomplete and inconclusive exercise, the Rays seek to collaborate with interested governmental and private parties to evaluate all potential ballpark sites in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties,” Sternberg’s letter states.

Foster says he’ll consult with the city council and issue a response within a couple of weeks, but it seems clear we’re back to the same old standoff: Foster doesn’t want to allow Sternberg to negotiate with the Tampa side of the bay because the team’s lease says he can stop it, and why allow someone to bid against him when he doesn’t have to? And Sternberg is intent on using Foster’s desire to resolve the team’s stadium situation to force the mayor into letting him out of his lease — though since it’s Sternberg who wants a new stadium, not Foster, there’s more than a little “Stop or I’ll shoot myself!” to it.

Sternberg did offer to include lease language that would prohibit a new stadium deal elsewhere “until the Rays and the City of St. Petersburg have reached a mutually-acceptable resolution regarding how best to wind down our lease of Tropicana Field,” but again, it’s hard to see what Foster would gain here: He’d be allowing Sternberg to get all the way up to crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s on a stadium deal in Tampa, and then be forced to negotiate a settlement of the current lease while being charged with obstructing that deal if he didn’t bend. My old Baseball Prospectus colleague Jason Collette speculates that Foster might try to negotiate a cash buyout in exchange for amending the lease; as I’ve noted before, it’s not a terrible idea, since getting some cash out of Sternberg for letting him walk is almost certainly going to pay off better for St. Pete than getting stuck with having to build him a new stadium. Unless you want to argue that you can’t put a price on not having to drive across a bridge to see a ballgame, that is.

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