MLB commissioner hints at Montreal, Mexico City expansion teams, someday

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred was asked about baseball expansion on Thursday (on a White Sox broadcast, for some reason), and said “growth businesses tend to expand” but that “I would love to see us expand” and “my personal, sort of, frontrunner would be Montreal or Mexico City.” Which, naturally, got people in Montreal and Mexico City all excited.

Manfred did say he wanted to settle on a new labor agreement and resolve the Oakland A’s and Tampa Bay Rays stadium situations first (for those not following along: the situation is that the A’s and Rays owners want new stadiums, and nobody’s offering to pay for them/provide land for them yet), which all makes sense. Still, you’d normally think that a league commissioner would be more hesitant to identify frontrunners without demanding that stadium deals be in place first. Possible explanations are: Things are so preliminary around expansion that Montreal and Mexico City need carrots more than sticks at the moment; MLB is more excited about potential expansion fees (and/or wooing TV partners with the possibility of expanding into new markets) than about shaking down cities for maximum stadium money; or Manfred just isn’t very good at this whole extortion racket.

Some Canadian suggests Montréal and Tampa sharing Rays, people take it seriously because February

How can you tell it’s a slow time for sports news? When you get a Montréal newspaper (La Presse, in this case) writing that hey, what if the Tampa Bay Rays didn’t totally move to Montréal, but just played half their home games there? Via Google Translate:

According to information obtained by La Presse, the idea of “joint ownership” of Rays with the current owners circulates behind the scenes, not to completely relocate the team to Montreal, but to have “shared custody” in some so.

The Rays would play half their games of the season “regular” in Montreal and the other half in Tampa. One way to help the club in Florida and reduce the bill for potential buyers, here.

“The bite would be less fat, says a source involved in the reflection. You do not have to sign a check for 600 million US, but 300 million. That would dampen spending, but also the risk, given that the team would be attached to both markets simultaneously.”

Hey, that actually makes … no real sense at all. Both cities are fine enough smallish MLB markets, but if what Rays owner Stuart Sternberg is after is a new stadium, he’d then be faced with figuring out how to get two built instead of one — the only place to play baseball in Montréal right now is Olympic Stadium, which is even older and more unpleasantly domed than Tropicana Field. La Presse seems to think that the Rays could make more TV money this way somehow — “‘There would be no 50% discount for the sponsor because the TV rights are sold to two different broadcasters. It’s win-win!’ said an anonymous source” — but this assumes that both Tampa Bay and Montréal fans would be just as interested in half a team as in a whole team, which seems dubious from here.

The last team I can recall trying something like this on more than an interim basis was the Virginia Squires of the ABA, who split their time among Norfolk, Hampton, Richmond, and Roanoke, which are at least within driving distance of each other, not to mention in the same country. The Montreal Bay Rayspos, on the other hand … sorry, there’s no reason to take this seriously based on “reflection” “behind the scenes.”

Unless you’re Tampa Bay Times sportswriter Marc Topkin, who’s never met an opportunity to stump for a new Rays stadium he didn’t like, of course:

A creative, if not desperate, idea to bring baseball back to Montreal was floated today in the the French language newspaper La Presse — buying the Rays and having them play half their home games in Canada and half in the Tampa Bay area.

The idea of “joint ownership” and “shared custody” is said to be circulating “behind the scenes” among Montreal baseball interests, François Cardinal writes.

How many more days till pitchers and catchers, already?

Canadian government rules out federal funding for Montreal baseball stadium

I don’t know if there’s anyone out there who was waiting on the Canadian federal government to step in and build a new baseball stadium to bring back the Montreal Expos, but if so, you can stop now:

In an interview with La Presse, Minister of Infrastructure and Communities Amarjeet Sohi said helping finance new arenas or stadiums for professional sports teams does not top the list of infrastructure needs. He said that any type of application for funding wouldn’t be accepted.

This isn’t real surprising — Canada’s federal government hasn’t funded many stadium projects — but with Quebec’s provincial government also expressing no interest in funding a ballpark, it’s going to leave boosters of Montreal baseball having to figure out how to build a stadium with private funds plus whatever it can shake loose from the city. That’s not necessarily impossible — if you cut out the bells and whistles and build something for $400 million or so, it just might be possible to turn the $25 million a year in profit needed to pay it off, especially with the revenue-sharing breaks offered by MLB for new stadiums. Still, when the Expos themselves tried it in the 1990s, it failed for lack of funding.

All this is assuming, of course, that anyone would want to plunk down $1 billion or so for an MLB franchise (existing or expansion) to play in Montreal, which has a large population and a strong baseball tradition but not exactly a long history of attendance success — and then dedicate any future profits to paying off a stadium. Of course, MLB franchises wouldn’t go for $1 billion if they weren’t so heavily subsidized via stadium deals in other cities … it’s tough to be Canada, is what I’m saying.

That Montreal hospital site really is too small to fit a baseball stadium, guys

I finally did what I should have done this morning and took a look at that proposed Montreal baseball stadium site on Google Maps, and … wow, that is small. Like, really small. Like, let’s compare it to the smallest current MLB stadiums on Google Maps:

hospitalThat’s the old Montreal Children’s hospital at lower center. Now, let’s look at Target Field in Minneapolis, same scale:

targetAnd Wrigley Field:

wrigleySo, yeah, you’re going to need a bigger boat. And there doesn’t seem to be much of a way to make more room on the Montreal site: Avenue Atwater (pronounced by the Montreal Metro announcer, deliciously, as “at-wah-teah”) and Boulevard René Lévesque are major thoroughfares, and aren’t going anywhere, You could take over Cabot Square, a public park, I suppose, but that would still mean a crazy-short fence in left field — here, you know what, let’s bring in Fenway Park as well to see if that would fit:

fenwayYeah, this looks like beyond a tight squeeze, unless you get rid of the public park and knock down the Pentacostal church across the street — and even then, you’d be talking about by far the smallest ballpark built for an MLB team in more than a century. It’s not impossible, but it just might be infinitely improbable.

Montreal hospital site could be used for MLB stadium, says guy not planning to pay for it

There’s a guy in Montreal who wants to build a new baseball stadium! Okay, really there’s a guy in Montreal who just bought a plot of downtown land and wants somebody else to build a baseball stadium maybe, but come on, feel the excitement:

“I have a meeting scheduled in the next week with one of the biggest major league baseball persons,” [Luc Poirier] said.

“I have only one [person], but a big one. A big, big one.”

A big, big one. Cue the Bartolo Colon jokes.

Aside from the fact that this is almost certainly just a landowner trying to drum up some attention for his new purchase, it’s questionable whether you could even fit a stadium on the site, which is both small and oddly shaped. Former Expos star and current Montreal MLB advocate Warren Cromartie called it “a little too small,” and former Grantland sportswriter (and Expos fan, and old Baseball Prospectus colleague of mine) Jonah Keri called it “pretty small,” and … you get the point. I’ve been wrong before about making small sites work — I memorably predicted that a Nets arena could never be built in Brooklyn because it would require knocking down a whole block of buildings, and that would never happen, right? — so don’t rule this out entirely. But do feel free to file it under “take it seriously once somebody actually flashes some cash.”

Montreal mayor courts MLB on new team, deploys metaphor that probably sounds even better in French

The mayor of Montreal is meeting with MLB commissioner Rob Manfred to tell him he’d love to have a baseball team again, which isn’t really news. But the way he said it is just so awesome:

“We need a plan, we need a step-by-step approach,” [Mayor Denis] Coderre said. “You don’t pull the flower to make it grow faster.”

I have no idea whether that’s some kind of Quebecois French idiom or if Coderre came up with it himself, but either way, I plan on making it my new catchphrase.

New MLB commissioner is worst ever at explaining stadium blackmail demands

Okay, it’s official: New MLB commissioner Rob Manfred really sucks at shaking down cities for stadium deals. Or rather, he sucks at putting those shakedowns into English. I mean, listen to this:

“I think it is really important for baseball to have viable alternatives with respect to expansion and relocation,” Manfred said [of a possible team in Montreal]. “It’s just good business to make an effort to make sure that we have alternatives available to us in the event that there is a problem. I’m reluctant to characterize them as only relevant on the context of relocation, because I think our sport’s a great sport. It’s tremendously healthy and it has the potential to grow so that I see it as both an expansion and relocation issue.”

I had to read that three times just to figure out even partly what Manfred meant by it; how on earth are the poor francophones in Montreal supposed to suss that out as a “build it with taxpayer loonies, and we will come” ultimatum? I mean, come on, “characterize them as only relevant on the context of relocation,” who talks like that? Sheesh, lawyers.

Anyway, the upshot of all of Manfred’s verbiage is that Montreal might get a team someday through expansion, or it might get a relocated team, but it’s way too soon to talk about either of those, especially without a stadium. But you knew all that already, as did everyone in Montreal, so all this was going to do was maybe get some scare headlines in Tampa Bay, since Manfred made his statement at a Rays game in Toronto. Scare headlines in Tampa, anybody?

Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred talks about Rays stadium issue

Yeah, that’s probably about the best he can hope for. Oh dear, oh dear, doesn’t anyone know how to haggle anymore?

MLB commish tries to shake down Montreal for new stadium, mostly says “commitment” a lot

New MLB commissioner Rob Manfred is back on the stadium-grubbing trail — can he shake down Montreal any better than he has Oakland? Let’s watch!

“The key thing in Montreal would be to have a plan for an adequate facility that could support baseball over the long haul,” he told The Canadian Press just a few days before Montreal hosts two exhibition games between the Toronto Blue Jays and Cincinnati Reds at Olympic Stadium.

Manfred said the league would need a strong commitment from Montreal for a new stadium before the league could seriously consider relocating a team or expanding there.

“I don’t expect people to go into the ground and build a facility without some sort of commitment that they are going to get a team,” he said. “But I do think that you need a plan and a commitment to how that plan is going to be executed.”

Hmm. I’d give that at best a B for threatmongering: Manfred gets the general gist across (no new stadium, no team), but his stodgy rhetoric betrays his background as a lawyer, as opposed to the used-car salesman who preceded him. (Yeah, yeah, I know, Bud Selig only worked leasing cars, not selling them, but close enough for blog work, right?) Where’s the challenge to Quebecois to “show their support for baseball”? Where’s the wild claims that lots of teams out there could host major-league teams, now it’s up to Montreal to step up to the plate and distinguish itself? Where’s the pathos?

In all seriousness, Montreal is a fairly good potential MLB market (while metro area populations aren’t always directly comparable, it’s roughly the size of Seattle, a mid-size MLB market) with one of the few stadiums that I’m willing to agree is terrible for major league baseball: Olympic Stadium, which was a lousy idea at the time and hasn’t looked any better with age. However, this doesn’t necessarily have to be the city of Montreal’s problem: If Montreal is such a great market, an existing team owner should be willing to move there (or a new team owner to pay expansion fees to locate there) even if it means having to pay to build a stadium that fans might actually want to go to. Back in the Expos days, things got as far as designs for a new ballpark, but nobody was interested in paying for it, no surprise given that the Expos owner at the time was Jeffrey Loria. I’m always skeptical whether the mammoth cost of building new stadium can ever be repaid through stadium revenues — though a small-scale ballpark with limited bells and whistles would have a better shot at it — but it’s worth at least asking the question. Maybe Warren Cromartie could launch a Kickstarter.

New MLB commish tries to shill for Rays, A’s stadiums, lacks Selig’s flair for crazy-ass threats

With everything else that’s been going on (like me getting ready to be on the teevee), I utterly failed to welcome new MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, who officially took over from commissioner-since-the-last-millennium Bud Selig last weekend. (Yes, he’s finally gone. Yes, you are now invited to dance a bit on his grave.) And Manfred immediately showed that he knows what his job is, chiming in about how the Oakland A’s and Tampa Bay Rays need new stadiums, and he’s gonna help them get ’em, by gum:

“I share your view that Tampa and Oakland are situations that need to be addressed, and believe me I will be making myself available to both owners, both clubs to play whatever role they want me to play in helping them get their situations resolved because I do think both of them are really important to the game.”

I’d give that about a B-minus as commissioner rhetoric goes — it hits all the usual points (teams need new stadiums, the league will throw its weight around to help get them) but without the flair of his predecessor: It’s no “Don’t make me come in there,” that’s for sure. Manfred should know that the job of a blackmailer commissioner is to always include at least an implicit threat, to let cities know who’s boss and

“I think Montreal helped itself as a candidate for Major League Baseball with the Toronto games that they had up there last year. It’s hard to miss how many people showed up for those exhibition games. It was a strong showing. Montreal’s a great city. I think with the right set of circumstances and the right facility, it’s possible.”

Well, it’s a start, anyway.

Rays-to-Montréal rumors heat up after some guy says Sternberg said something about it once

Here we go again: After longtime Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon abruptly quit on Friday, New York Daily News columnist Bill Madden dropped this into the tail end of an item about Maddon’s future and his former team’s:

After last year’s disappointing 77-85 fourth-place finish, they both realized they’d done all they could do in Tampa, and despite consistent 90-win seasons with one of the lowest payrolls in baseball, the Rays played to a half-empty (or worse) stadium night after night. That, more than anything, wore on Maddon and his players, the manager told confidants. Rays owner Stuart Sternberg has been frustrated in his efforts to get out of Tropicana Field in St. Pete and move to a new stadium in Tampa, but there is growing belief that the economically depressed Tampa Bay area won’t support the Rays no matter where they play. And according to sources, Sternberg has had discussions with wealthy Wall Street associates about moving the Rays to Montreal, which has been without a major-league franchise since the Expos were transferred to Washington in 2005. As one major-league official put it to me Friday: “Say what you will about Montreal, but the Expos drew well over two million fans four times there in their heyday, while the Rays did that only once, their first year.

We’ve heard this rumor before, though this is the first time I’ve seen claims that Sternberg has actually had discussions about Montréal as an option. And Montréal is by far the biggest North American market without a team, ever since the Expos left in 2005. Still, it has a big problem in that its only major-league-ready stadium is even less loved than the Rays’ Tropicana Field, and there are no immediate plans for a new one. And you have to consider the source — Bill Madden loves to predict things, many of which turn out not to be true — and that the phrasing could mean just about anything: “discussions with wealthy Wall Street associates” could just mean that while shooting pheasants over sherry at the club, Sternberg sighed forlornly, “Some days I think I’d be better off in Montréal. I hear they have really good bagels there.”

Anyway, everybody and their sister has now been reporting on this unsourced rumor, and Sternberg is sure to try to use it as leverage for a new stadium in the Tampa Bay area, even though it’s pretty weak leverage when your lease says you can’t move for another 13 years. And Bud Selig, in his final week as MLB commissioner, is eager to help, saying he’s never heard from Sternberg about a Montréal move threat, but adding:

“The team has to have a ballpark that makes them competitive,” Selig said before Game 4 of the World Series. “It doesn’t produce the kind of revenue they need.”

Does Selig consider Tampa Bay a viable major league market?

He paused — a long pause — then declined to answer. He said he prefers to leave that judgment to the owner in each market.

We’re going to miss you, Bud. Nobody does passive-aggressive threatmongering like you.