Montreal idea sets stage for Rays’ eventual departure from Tampa

Stephen Brunt joined Tim and Sid in studio to talk about the wild idea floated that Tampa and Montreal are interested in splitting an MLB team, and why it at least signals a path for Montreal to return to the MLB somehow.

Predictably, a whole bunch of people missed the point behind Major League Baseball approving the idea of the Tampa Bay Rays exploring a split-cities concept with Montreal that would see the club play games in new facilities built in each city.

It’s not going to happen unless a strong economic case can be made to a wide range of constituents, including a Major League Baseball Players Association that, come to think of it, showed in its most recent round of negotiations that it seemed more interested in creature comforts than wider financial issues. Hard to see how any group that would view ensuring they each have an open seat beside them on a bus as a bargaining chip would go for the inconvenience of living in two cities.

At any rate, this news — first reported by ESPN’s Jeff Passan, with more details expected Tuesday at a news conference at St. Petersburg’s Salvador Dali museum — is in truth more about setting the stage for the eventual departure of the team from St. Petersburg.

Never mind how long the Rays lease is at Tropicana Field, or the idea that the Rays are precluded from talking to other cities about playing home games outside of the Trop until 2027. This has become a real estate and political story, with Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg shifting focus to the value of the land on which the Trop now stands after the failure of a bid to build in the eastern part of Tampa in everybody’s preferred Ybor City location.

Sternberg’s argument is that the 85 acres could bring in more revenue as, say, a mixed use development and that the last thing the city of St. Pete wants is to fail to take advantage of an offer and find itself "settling" should the economy deteriorate when it comes time for the rubber (or in this case, the Rays, to hit the road.) Reports are the team will receive 50 per-cent from the sale of that acreage for development. What if that percentage is negotiated down as a means of allowing the team to leave?

Rob Manfred, who has been baseball commissioner since January of 2015, has been more nuanced than his predecessor Bud Selig when it comes to dealing with the two outstanding stadium issues facing baseball: Tampa Bay and Oakland. Part of that is because the games economics are changing, to the point where attendance is less a reflection of economic health than it is interest. Advanced media, regional sports networks, and soon legalized gambling will continue to mitigate against attendance ever again becoming the barometer of franchise health.

Selig wouldn’t entertain the notion of moving a team to a city unless there were at least shovels in the ground for a new ballpark. Manfred has already said that in the case of Montreal, financing, plans and a timetable are more important. That lack of pressure has helped the potential Montreal ownership group speak to both civic and provincial levels of government, hugely important in Quebec where an NHL-ready arena sits waiting in Quebec City for a team that doesn’t seem close to coming. Manfred is also said to be OK, at least theoretically, with the idea of a publicly-traded company owning a significant stake in a team, less afraid of the relative financial transparency than Selig.

This won’t go over well with the people in Tampa Bay, but this much is clear: Montreal is closer to getting a new ballpark at this time than either St. Petersburg or Tampa. Make of that what you wish. Stephen Bronfman has reached a development deal on land in the Montreal’s Peel Basin. There is serious money involved — more of it, likely, than when Stephen’s father, Charles Bronfman, ran the Expos — and one of the major players, Mitch Garber, has significant knowledge in the world of casinos, gambling and online gaming, serving from 2013-2017 as CEO of Caesars Acquisitions, leaving after shepherding a merger between Caesars Acquisitions and Caesars Entertainment. Not a bad guy for Manfred to have in house as you enter a relationship with legalized gambling.

But there is another aspect to this story that must be considered: what if by making a very public signal that one of the 30 Major League teams is interested in "sharing" games, Manfred is sending a wider signal to other locales who might be interested in a big-league team.

It’s not like the good old days out there any more, with cities falling all over themselves to out-bid each other for teams and opening public coffers wide. Montreal and Portland, Ore., seem to be the cities most primed for either expansion or relocation. Mexico City or Monterrey are always intriguing options. If you ever want a big-league team, now’s your chance.

But the fact it’s Montreal first out of the gate makes me think Major League Baseball is returning on a full-time basis maybe faster than we think.

NOW TWEET THIS

In which we wonder about the details of Bud Selig’s book, and get our revisionist history decoder rings out… Think of Straw and Doc and Tom Terrific and – Peter Alonso?… Feel some vindication about Cavan Biggio… look Yonder at the Astros… and promise that like Charlie Montoyo’s Blue Jays we will never quit…

• Probably not a reason to make the deal but with P.K. Subban on board the Devils are no longer one of the most faceless franchises in the history of sports. #witnessprotection

• I said at the start of the year that I was more intrigued with Cavan Biggio’s season than Vladimir Guerrero, Jr.’s or Bo Bichette’s, because as a rare Jays’ lefty his impact could not be under-stated. What’s also clear is he’s going to set the tone for that clubhouse. #leader

• Speaking of the Blue Jays, I’m hopeful the manner in which Lou Lamoreillo grossly over-paid for "leadership" in the form of Patrick Marleau has been duly noted by all concerned. #waste

• They’ve been keeping track of RBIs since 1920, and the Astros’ Yordan Alvarez is the only player to ever manage seven home runs and 16 RBIs in his first 11 games. #richgetricher

• The Mets have had some amazin’ rookies through the years so seeing Pete Alonso already set the club rookie home run record with 27 is remarkable. No cheapies, either: his 11 HRs of 110 miles per hour plus trails Gary Sanchez by one for the Majors lead. #breakthrough

• Marcus Stroman has a 0.75 ERA in two games against the Red Sox and has held them to a .233 average. There aren’t a great deal of serious playoff contenders in the Majors but if I thought there was a chance I’d face the Red Sox I’d be all over him. #tradebait

• You know I love Charlie Montoyo, but, really: we don’t need to hear after every game that his Blue Jays team doesn’t quit. Half of them are in their first year; the others are fighting for jobs. It should go without saying. #notthetryleague

• Former baseball commissioner Bud Selig has a book coming out in July entitled "For the Good of the Game," just in time for the 25th anniversary of the baseball players strike. #revisionism

THE ENDGAME

I’ve been no fan of Marcus Stroman’s passive-aggressive guerilla war with Blue Jays management or the local media. I’m not his friend — don’t need to be; don’t care to be. But good on him for rounding on NESN Red Sox’s analyst Dennis Eckersley on Sunday after Eckersley, famous as a fist-pumping, finger-pointing and trigger-pulling reliever with the Athletics, called out Stroman for his expressiveness on the mound. Geezus … of all people do it.

It’s not the first time Eckersley’s views have rankled both opposing or Red Sox players — David Price took offence to something he said, too — and that’s not a bad thing for an analyst, to be frank. But, man: while I’ll listen to Eckersley talk pitching, I won’t let him get off calling out someone else’s mound demeanour as being excessive. Good on ‘Stro.

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