We finally have an answer to the question of what Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg’s plan is for finding someone other than him to pay for most of the cost of a new $900 million in Tampa before a December 31 lease opt-out deadline and it is: He doesn’t have one. Yesterday Rays baseball operations president Matt Silverman announced that the team was giving up on its Ybor City stadium plans for now, and would not seek an extension of its option to seek a stadium elsewhere in the region, meaning the Rays will be locked into Tropicana Field through 2027:
“As much as we want this to move efficiently, three years wasn’t enough time,” Rays President Matt Silverman said. “Now it’s time to regroup and all options are on the table in Tampa Bay.”
While the timeline as reported is a bit unclear, it looks like the Rays’ announcement was at least partly prompted by a letter sent yesterday from MLB commissioner Rob Manfred to stadium negotiation Irwin Raij, in which Manfred pointed out that as Sternberg didn’t have any details on how either the public or private portion of the stadium tab would be paid for, he couldn’t take a position on it. Not that Sternberg wasn’t aware of this, but it would have been difficult to keep on plugging away for a last-minute stadium financing deal what with your own league commissioner saying, I’m not seeing this, guys.
That “all options are on the table” comment from Silverman presumably means that the team owners will now consider St. Petersburg sites as well; St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman issued a statement saying, “I stand ready, if asked, to continue the conversation related to the organization’s future in St. Pete,” which coyly didn’t specify whether this would mean a new stadium or an extension of the team’s lease at Tropicana Field. Either way, Sternberg has nine years to make a decision now — okay, more like six or seven years, since it’ll take a while to build a new stadium if that’s what he wants — so he has plenty of time to regroup and try to find someone to stick with the bill.
Resetting the clock for 2027 also changes one other thing, of course: While his current opt-out clause only allowed him to move elsewhere in the Tampa Bay region, in 2027 he’ll be free to move anywhere else in the world. There are plenty of reasons why a Rays relocation is unlikely — it’s still a larger market than most other alternatives, and other cities like Montreal and Portland aren’t promising to throw any more money at him than Tampa is — but you know he’ll be rattling that saber, anyway.
Finally, this announcement almost certainly slams the brakes on any thought of MLB expansion anytime soon, since Manfred has said he wants to get the Rays and Oakland A’s stadium situations resolved — which translated means “get them new stadiums without their owners paying more than they want to” — before considering adding new teams. You can stop holding your breath, Monterrey.