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Manfred Weighs in on A’s, Rays Ballpark Searches

Tampa Bay Rays Ybor City ballpark rendering 1

In comments on Tuesday, Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred weighed in on the ongoing ballpark searches of the Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland A’s

Both the A’s and Rays are working to find a solution for a new ballpark within their current markets, but the two teams are facing unique challenges. The Rays have zeroed in on their preferred site, taking the step last week of unveiling plans for a new ballpark in Tampa’s Ybor City neighborhood. The A’s, meanwhile, are continuing to evaluate two sites for a replacement for the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, including the Coliseum property and the waterfront Howard Terminal. In September of last year, the A’s announced that property near Laney College was their preferred site, but that effort hit a roadblock in December when discussions with the Peralta Community College District Board of Trustees collapsed.

As it pertains to the A’s, the commissioner reiterated his faith in the Oakland market, noting its significant potential. He did, however, explain that MLB is encouraging the A’s to settle on a site decision sooner rather later in order to proceed to the next step in the process. More from The San Francisco Chronicle:

“I believe that there is not another market in the United States that has the upside potential that Oakland has,” Manfred told members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America on Tuesday, “and I think we would regret leaving Oakland if we did that.”…

Manfred called the Laney College venture “an unfortunate misstep, but there is no human endeavor where you get it right every single time.” He said A’s owner John Fisher, who has not commented on any ballpark pursuits, would agree.

Both remaining sites are viable, Manfred said.

“We will be continuing to encourage the A’s to get to a decision point sooner rather than later on where they want to be so that you can get to the next step, which is determining whether you have economic viability in terms of financing and the like,” Manfred said.

For the Rays, perhaps the largest question in their ballpark proposal is whether a funding model can be finalized. Their proposed ballpark project comes with a price tag of $892 million, with $809 million of that figure accounting for the ballpark itself and the remainder allotted for related expenses such as infrastructure. As discussions over the proposal continue, the Rays will have to sort of how to fund a ballpark that could include public contributions.

When addressing that situation, Manfred emphasized that he has faith in Rays owner Stuart Sternberg‘s ability to complete an agreement. However, he acknowledged the importance of figuring out the financial aspect of the proposal. More from The Tampa Bay Times:

“We’re at a point in time where we need to figure out how those economics are going to come together,” he said. “And the point’s now. The point’s now.”

Sternberg said Tuesday he, too, was confident: “The commissioner has faith in our abilities and we have faith in the region’s abilities.”

Sternberg said last week the team would contribute more than the previously floated $150 million, “but it’s not going to be multiples” of that, and thus less than half the total cost.

Manfred pitched for those external contributions, saying he felt it “completely appropriate” for business and “governmental entities” to participate in the financing, and touting stadiums as “municipal assets” that are indicative of a region’s status as, well, “a major-league city.”

There are some interesting implications behind the statuses of proposed ballparks for both the A’s and Rays. Facility issues have been present for years with these teams, as their respective homes–the Coliseum for the A’s, Tropicana Field for the Rays–have long been eyed for replacements.

Clearing up both searches is also key for MLB as it tries to make future plans. Manfred has expressed interest in expanding to 32 teams at some point, and continues to indicate that it could be a possibility once the situations for the A’s and the Rays are settled. There are undoubtedly some intriguing markets that could factor into expansion, but MLB will want to see whether the A’s and Rays can resolve their current searches before moving forward with a plan to jump to 32 teams.

Rendering of proposed Ybor City ballpark courtesy Tampa Bay Rays.

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