3:04pm: St. Petersburg mayor Rick Kriseman does not sound quite as enthused by the idea as Sternberg. He says he previously informed the club that the city would not authorize talks with Montreal, John Romano of the Tampa Bay Times tweets.
12:46pm: In an eyebrow-raising development, Major League Baseball has granted authorization to the Tampa Bay Rays to explore the possibility of becoming a two-city franchise. The approval will allow the organization to pursue concepts in which the team would split its home games between Florida and Montreal. Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times first tweeted the news and has more in a story.
Notably, this does not mean that the Rays necessarily will move to Montreal. Even a part-time move would likely not occur for several seasons. Rather, commissioner Rob Manfred says there’s a “broad grant” for Rays owner Stu Sternberg to build out options, as Evan Drellich of The Athletic tweets.
In a statement, Sternberg says he remains “committed to keeping baseball in Tampa Bay for generations to come.” But he says he also believes “this concept” — referring to some kind of Montreal split — “is worthy of serious exploration.”
It’s hard to fathom a situation where a Florida/Montreal split represents a long-term solution. Presumably, that’d mean building (or rehabbing) and operating facilities in both cities, creating untold logistical hurdles on top of those that already exist.
As things stand, the Rays are contractually obliged to play at the Trop through the 2027 campaign. Getting local authorities to release even a portion of home games seems like a challenge. League owners and the MLBPA will surely want to see details and have quite a few questions answered. And with conceivable two-market opportunities come vast potential inefficiencies.
Montreal has a storied history with the game of baseball. But the club lost the Expos to D.C. after the 2004 season and hasn’t hosted a big-league club since. The city has hosted some late-spring contests at Olympic Stadium, but that venue poses many of the same issues presented by the Rays’ current home at Tropicana Field.
While this development does more to create possibilities than answer questions about the club’s future, it comes with immediate consequences. The Rays have struggled to gain traction in stadium talks in the St. Petersburg/Tampa area. Recent plans for an Ybor City complex fell flat, leaving Sternberg and company looking for new options — and, no doubt, also some leverage.