The Rays’ deliberations about splitting their season between Tampa Bay and Montreal have their fair share of logistical difficulties. Among them could be opposition from the team’s players, who would face unique living and family challenges if the plan were ever to get green-lit.
Until tonight, however, the Players Association had remained quiet about the matter. MLBPA executive director Tony Clark made his first comments in an interview with Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. Understandably, the union is wary of such a move.
“It would be our strong preference that the club and the players remain in Tampa Bay, and that they’re identified with playing in one market,” Clark told Topkin. He added getting the players to go along with a split-season arrangement would “be difficult.”
However, he didn’t foreclose the possibility of player approval entirely. “I’m not going to say it’s impossible that we couldn’t come to an agreement that’s acceptable for them to split between Tampa Bay and Montreal,” the union head told Topkin. He added the MLBPA would have questions and concerns, predictably, as details of the plan take further shape. The union hasn’t received specifics since the initial conversations were announced last June, Topkin relays.
Rays’ officials expected some opposition from the MLBPA but are optimistic any challenges could be sorted out, Topkin says. Specifically, owner Stuart Sternberg has posited that the move could be a boon for Rays’ players. The arrangement would be more profitable than the organization’s current situation, the thinking goes, enabling the club to expand its perennially low payrolls. That, obviously, would mean higher player salaries. That’s plausible enough, but the Players Association figures to want more than Sternberg’s word he’ll loosen the purse strings before signing off on such a monumental change.
No move is imminent regardless. The target date for the beginning of the split season is 2028, Topkin reports, perhaps because of opposition from St. Petersburg city officials. That leaves plenty of time for further discussion. It seems, however, the Rays have become increasingly serious about moving forward in recent months. The organization and officials from Montreal are working to sort out details, including approval from both the league and union, as well as the opening of new stadiums in each market, Topkin adds. There’s sure to be more news on this front as the plan becomes more defined.
The Rays’ long-term future will be one of many areas of focus for the MLBPA in the coming months and years. The collective bargaining agreement expires after the 2021 season. Between the icy free agent markets in the 2017-18 and 2018-19 offseasons, potential seismic changes to the game’s playoff structure, and perhaps some player resentment of the arbitration process, Clark and his staff will have plenty of issues to work through with the league.