MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred once again pushed the need for a new Tampa Bay Rays ballpark, while also acknowledging automated ball-strike (ABS) systems are unlikely to make MLB debut in 2023.
The Oakland A’s and the Rays are both seeking new ballparks to replace old, dated facilities; the A’s have made plenty of progress toward a new Howard Terminal ballpark as part of a larger $12 billion development (we’ll have the latest today) and have some the outline of Las Vegas Plan B in place, but the Tampa Bay Rays seemingly lagging in the planning process. There are some huge differences between the situations of the two: the A’s are under a firm set of deadlines to meeting governmental needs, while the Rays don’t need to be out of Tropicana Field after the 2027 season.
Still, it will take 3-4 years to design and construct a new ballpark, much less receive government approval and line up financing, so there there is an increasing sense of urgency to the matter. After MLB owners rejecting a plan for the team to play both in Tampa Bay and Montreal, the Rays had to regroup and think about a new ballpark plan in Tampa Bay. There have been some quiet talks with St. Petersburg, Tampa and Hillsborough County officials, with St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch saying he wants to see a decision on where the team ends up by the end of the month. St. Petersburg officials have been eager for this info; the Tropicana Field parcel is seen as prime for redevelopment with or without the Rays. There are plenty of moving parts in play, which is why Manfred is arguing for action and once again invoked relocation as a long-term solution for both teams, per the Tampa Bay Times:
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.”
(Yes, the song remains the same for Manfred: here’s our February story where Manfred argues for action on the two ballpark situations: Manfred: Rays ballpark search now requires “sense of urgency”.)
The other reason for a sense of urgency in both situations: Manfred has maintained MLB won’t consider expansion until the Oakland and Tampa ballpark situations are resolved. Moving to 32 teams makes sense: expansion fees would cover much of the debt incurred during the COVID-19 crisis. Relocating either team would be bad news for MLB: It would take potential expansion markets off the market.
In other Manfred news: ABS systems likely won’t make a debut in 2023, as the technology continues to be refined. While there’s plenty of sentiment for a unified strike zone across baseball, we’re still not there. We are likely to see a pitch clock sooner or later; many in the industry are pleased with how the pace of the game has been quickened when used in the minors, and in a year or two we’ll see plenty of players who played under and used to the pitch clocks in the minors.
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