MLB commissioner says time has come for Ray’s stadium solution

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MLB commissioner says time has come for Ray's stadium solution

NEW YORK — Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred didn’t quite start the clock in solving the Rays’ ongoing search for a new stadium in the Tampa Bay area before considering relocation options, but he did seems to at least check the batteries.

“I think there’s urgency about Tampa Bay,” Manfred said Thursday at the close of quarterly owners’ meetings. “I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, there has to be a solution in the Tampa Bay area for the Rays. Obviously, the end of that lease (at Tropicana Field after the 2027 season) is a tough deadline. But you have to take into account that building stadiums takes a little time, right?

“So we’re getting to the point where they have to get there anywhere in the region that has an interest in 162 baseball games. Get with the club. I know the Rays are anxious to get something done. And see if a deal can be made.”

After the league scrapped the Rays’ plans in January to pursue splitting seasons between new stadiums in Tampa Bay and Montreal, community and team leaders said they would open talks about finding a full-season home resume.

Five months have yielded no apparent significant progress, although St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch is urging the team to decide which side of the Bay they want to be on by June 30.

“We remain optimistic about reaching an agreement with the Tampa Bay Rays regarding their future in St. Petersburg,” Welch said Thursday. “We renewed the city’s relationship with the team leaders and had several productive conversations.”

Ray’s principal owner, Stuart Sternberg, didn’t provide much insight into the state of the talks.

“We have and are working hard to keep baseball in Tampa Bay,” he said via email. “We speak regularly with Mayor Welch and appreciate his focus on keeping the Rays in St. Petersburg.”

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor declined to comment through a spokesman.

Manfred said the focus remains on finding a solution in the Tampa Bay market, but acknowledged a move would be considered at some point.

“Right now my focus is on Tampa Bay,” he said. “I think a great man once said that all good things must come to an end. Right now we are concentrating on Tampa Bay.”

The Rays have been looking for a new stadium since 2007, exploring options in both St. Petersburg and Tampa without completing a deal.

The A’s have also been looking for a new home for years. While the team is still in talks with Oakland, team officials were given permission to pursue an alternative option in Las Vegas, which Manfred says is a market MLB likes.

“(Oakland is) in the same category as Tampa Bay,” Manfred said. “We need a solution for both markets. And the time for this solution has come.”

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Manfred has previously said that MLB would not consider expanding and reaching a more feasible 32 teams until the Rays and A’s stadium situations are resolved. This makes sense as moving one or both teams would include some of the markets that would be eligible for expansion teams.

Also Thursday:

• Manfred said he was “encouraged by the results” to use the pitch clock in the minor leagues but would allow the newly created Competitions Committee (including players) to discuss this and an expected cap on defensive travel for next season, with Hopes for a resolution before spring training. He also said the use of the automated strike zone will not be discussed for next season.

• Owners are concerned about the “reach” of local media options, and Manfred said there are discussions that MLB should “particularly enter the digital space to offer fans greater and more flexible ways to watch games.” Doing this as direct-to-consumer streaming could clash with some of the regional sports networks, such as B. Bally Sports, which is showing the Rays and plans to launch a similar service later this month.

Authors Colleen Wright and Charlie Frago contributed to this story.

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