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Rob Manfred Backs Rays’ Pursuit of Split-Season Plan

Tampa Bay Rays

Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred is offering support for the Tampa Bay Rays‘ pursuit of a split-season arrangement between Tampa Bay and Montreal, saying he and MLB team owners view it as a viable plan. 

The Rays announced in June that they had received permission from MLB to negotiate a deal with Tampa, St. Petersburg and Montreal about an arrangement in which the team would play the beginning of the season in Florida and the end in Montreal. The plan could include new open-air ballparks in both markets, resulting in lower construction costs and allowing the Rays to plan their schedule around optimal weather conditions. Spring and early summer games could be played in the Tampa Bay region, with summer and early fall games in Montreal.

For the Rays, this plan marks their latest endeavor to work out a suitable ballpark plan to replace St. Petersburg’s Tropicana Field, where they are currently under a lease that runs until 2027. St. Petersburg mayor Rick Kriseman has pushed back against the split-season arrangement, instead called on the team to adhere to its current lease, giving the Rays at least one hurdle in the effort. In comments on Thursday, Manfred backed the team’s pursuit, saying that he and MLB’s 29 other team owners believe that Rays owner Stuart Sternberg is pursuing a plan that is a strong solution for keeping the team in the Tampa Bay region in some form. More from the Tampa Bay Times:

“People continue to believe that the two-city alternative they’re exploring is viable and could be a really good solution for keeping baseball in Tampa Bay,” Manfred told the Tampa Bay Times after a scheduled owners meeting.

“I continue to be impressed by the energy that they’ve devoted to the project. And to the fact there is significant receptivity among our group, and excitement in some quarters about the possibility.”

Manfred said Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg had made a strong case to the owners, which mirrors the comments team officials have made publicly about the Montreal plan being their primary focus.

“I am 100 percent convinced and, more importantly, the other owners have been convinced by Stu, that this is best way to keep Major League Baseball in Tampa Bay,” Manfred said.

The current Tropicana Field lease calls for the team to play all its home games there and prohibits the team from exploring a move elsewhere–a clause temporarily waived by St. Petersburg officials when the team embarked on a ballpark site search in neighboring Tampa. That is one hurdle in a pursuit that comes with several complexities, as any new ballpark plans in a split-season arrangement will require buy-ins from multiple governments across international lines and could run into push back from the players union. Ultimately, there are plenty of variables to sort through in order to determine if the split-season plan is something that the Rays can achieve, but the comments from Manfred–who has spoken favorably of the plan in the past–show that the league is behind the organization in its pursuit of the unique arrangement.

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