MLB commissioner says ‘time has come’ for Rays stadium solution

NEW YORK — Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred didn’t quite start the clock on resolution of the Rays’ ongoing pursuit of a new stadium in the Tampa Bay area before considering relocation options, but he appears to be at least checking the batteries.

“I think there is urgency with respect to Tampa Bay,” Manfred said Thursday at the conclusion of the quarterly owners meetings. “I’ve said this before and I’m going to say it again, there needs to be a resolution in the Tampa Bay region for the Rays. Obviously, the end of that lease (at Tropicana Field after the 2027 season) is a hard deadline. But you need to take into account that stadiums take a little bit of time to build, right?

“So we are getting to the point where, wherever it is in the region that has an interest in having 162 baseball games, they need to get to it. 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 in January killed the Rays’ plans to pursue splitting seasons between new stadiums in Tampa Bay and Montreal, community and team leaders said they would resume conversations about finding a full-season home in the market.

Five months’ time has not yielded any apparent significant progress, though St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch is pushing for the team to decide which side of the bay it wants to be on by June 30.

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

Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg did not provide much insight into what stage the talks were in.

“We have been and continue to work 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 comment through a spokesperson.

Manfred said the focus remains on finding a solution in the Tampa Bay market but acknowledged that at some point relocation will be considered.

“Right now, I’m focused on Tampa Bay,” he said. “I think a great man once said all good things must end at some point. Right now, we’re focused on Tampa Bay.”

The Rays have been seeking a new stadium since 2007, pursuing options in both St. Petersburg and Tampa without being able to get a deal consummated.

The A’s also are years deep into a search for a new home. While the team is still talking with Oakland, team officials were given permission to pursue an alternative option in Las Vegas, which Manfred said is a market MLB likes.

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

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Manfred has said previously that MLB would not consider expansion, and getting to a more workable 32 teams, until after the Rays and A’s stadium situations are resolved. That makes sense, as relocation of one or both teams would include some of the markets that would be considered for expansion teams.

Also Thursday:

• Manfred said he was “encouraged by the results” of using the pitch clock in the minor leagues but would allow the newly created competition committee (which includes players) to discuss that and an expected limit on defensive shifting for next season, with hopes for a resolution before spring training. He also said use of the automated strike zone is not being discussed for next season.

• Owners are concerned about “the reach” of local media options, and Manfred said there was discussion that MLB “should step into the digital space in particular to provide fans with greater and more flexible opportunities to watch games.” Doing so as direct-to-consumer streaming could conflict with some of the regional sports networks, such as Bally Sports, which shows the Rays and is planning to launch a similar service as soon as this month.

Staff writers Colleen Wright and Charlie Frago contributed to this story.

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