Tampa’s relocation talks could be Montreal’s gain

Manfred explained MLB would need a strong commitment from Montreal for a new stadium before the league could seriously consider relocating a team or expanding there. (Frank Gunn/CP)

Major League Baseball and Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg are too smart to not take advantage of the crisis created by Joe Maddon’s shocking departure as Rays manager, which I think means we’re about a year away from seeing the Rays notify baseball that they want to move.

It’s no surprise that just hours after Maddon informed the Rays he was opting out of his contract with a year remaining – he is said to be seeking a five-year, $25-million deal, and might sit out a year to do television work – Bill Madden of the New York Daily News had sources whispering that Sternberg had sounded out investment banking peers about moving the franchise to Montreal. Since Rob Manfred was named the replacement for commissioner Bud Selig, there has been chatter that Sternberg has been given a quiet nudge and wink to take one last run at getting a stadium built in Tampa. The Rays have a lease at Tropicana Field that runs through 2027, but sources say baseball may be prepared to offer the Rays financial assistance to get out of the deal.

A new twist – and one that should give baseball fans in Montreal no small amount of hope – is the idea that Sternberg wants to retain ownership of the team should it move to Montreal and hook up with local investors. This, for now, is baseball ratcheting up the pressure on the local yokels to get a stadium built in Tampa, but in terms of the Rays leaving St. Petersburg, it’s not hard to find people in the game who will tell you the ball’s moved farther down the field this season than anyone imagined.

I figured that at some point a Toronto Maple Leafs skid would bring out the anti-analytics crowd in the local media. What I didn’t expect was that head coach Randy Carlyle would get it going.

Nazem Kadri and Joffrey Lupul and whoever’s been alongside them have turned into a test of people’s faith in assistant general manager Kyle Dubas and his numbers crunchers. That is patently unfair – but also so, so Toronto. “The analytics say … their puck possession time is good and this is good and that’s good, but they haven’t scored any goals or provided enough offence, so what does that say?” Carlyle asked following Saturday’s 4-1 loss to the Boston Bruins.

Carlyle went on to say he believed that continued possession will result in more chances, which will equal more goals. He almost made it sound as if he believed it, too. Frankly, there are three ways the Leafs can go here: make a deal to bring in a more talented forward to augment Kadri’s skill-set; throw the top two lines into blender, or ask the hard questions about Kadri or Lupul that need to be asked.

The things you learn in a week hosting a sports talk-show:

“We’re not talking about awarding players salaries in the hundreds of thousands of dollars like they might be entitled to in the NCAA. We’re talking about minimum wage, the minimum across the country that any employee is entitled to receive whether they’re at the beginning of their career … or at the end of their career.”

(*)Ted Charney, a lawyer representing former players seeking $180 million in a class-action lawsuit against the CHL, believes the opportunity of significant future earnings shouldn’t be a defence against paying junior hockey players. Full interview

“What I will tell you is the Islanders, with the trades they made before adding the two defencemen, had really set the team up for an opportunity to make the playoffs. Johnny Boychuck and Nick Leddy joined a hockey club that was much better and had a different attitude going into this season.”

(*)New York Islanders TV analyst Butch Goring believes hockey people were underselling the Islanders before general manager Garth Snow’s acquisitions at the end of training camp. Full interview

“When the shooting happens … the people are inside, just a wall away from where those gunshots are going off. If you are inside, you would hear that noise, but it would be so incongruous … it would sound like gunshots, but of course it couldn’t be gunshots because this is parliament. That which is unimaginable would be unbelievable.”

(*)Ken Dryden, hockey Hall of Famer and former Liberal MP, tried to take us inside the opposition party’s caucus room the day after the shootings in the Centre Block of Parliament Hill. Full interview

(*)While the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago Cubs are the clubhouse leaders despite claims of loyalty to their current managers and the threat of tampering charges, the most intriguing potential destination for Joe Maddon might be the St. Louis Cardinals. Mike Matheny’s managing in the post-season disappointed club ownership, and the Cardinals and Maddon are philosophically simpatico. Maddon might need to spend a year in an advisory capacity, though; Matheny has a three-year extensiuon that kicks in next season wouldn’t be out of work long, though – and, yes, it would behoove the Toronto Blue Jays to keep an eye on the situation;

(*)Steve Nash dominated the news among Canadian-born NBA players last week; this week’s newsmaker might be Brampton’s Tristan Thompson. The Cleveland Cavaliers have until Oct. 31 to agree to a rookie-scale contract extension or Thompson would become a restricted free agent in 2015, meaning he’d be free to sign with a team only after the Cavaliers had a chance to match the offer sheet as well as attempt to sign him themselves. Thompson, who averaged 11.7 points and 9.2 rebounds in 31.6 minutes last season, is not expected to start for the Cavaliers early in the regular season, because the team will go with Anderson Varejao, LeBron James and Kevin Love up front;

(*)MLB’s U.S. World Series ratings were down seven percent through three games, and commissioner Bud Selig must be disappointed in how the attention being accorded his final October is being usurped by off-field news. This is shaping up as a strange winter, what with Maddon’s availability, the sense that the Kansas City Royals may spawn a whole bunch of copy-cat offensive teams and the Detroit Tigers announcement that Triple Crown threat Miguel Cabrera is out for three to four months after surgery to remove bone spurs in Cabrera’s right ankle revealed a stress fracture as well on the top of the foot. The Tigers might need to swallow hard and re-sign one of free-agents Victor Martinez or Torii Hunter – or it’s possible that they might turn their attention to Blue Jays free-agent Melky Cabrera. Either scenario helps Cabrera’s market value, since as one scout told me in September: “Teams are looking at him for the type of hitter he is, not the position he can play. Low-maintenance swing … good contact … good eye. He’s the kind of guy a contender might over-pay to be a DH.”

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