NEW YORK -- Major League Baseball’s executive council has granted the Rays permission to explore the possibility of playing a split-season schedule between the Tampa Bay area and Montreal, a move which Commissioner Rob Manfred said would aim to “preserve baseball in Tampa, but improve the economics of the club overall by playing some of their games in Montreal.”
Manfred, who spoke to reporters at the MLB offices on Thursday afternoon at the conclusion of the Owners Meetings, noted that this is simply approval to explore the options and nothing more.
“There is no commitment on the part of the owners to ultimately approve a plan,” Manfred said. “The permission that was granted was simply a permission to explore this alternative in an effort to strengthen a franchise that has performed great on the field but continues to be pretty limited from an economic perspective.”
The plan, according to a source, would be for the Rays to play “roughly half” of their home games in each city, with the early-season games taking place in Florida and the late-season games coming in Montreal.
MLB presented no limitations to the Rays in terms of ballpark possibilities, allowing the club to explore existing venues in both cities as well as potential new ballparks.
“I think the Rays still are interested in having a new facility in Tampa,” Manfred said. “The limitations of the current facility in terms of the atmosphere and the location are pretty well known.”
The Rays have attempted to get a new ballpark built in the Tampa Bay area for more than a decade, but they have made minimal progress. Rays owner Stu Sternberg told the Tampa Bay Times that his priority remains keeping baseball in Tampa Bay, which he believes can be accomplished by this split-season concept.
“I am committed to keeping baseball in Tampa Bay for generations to come,” Sternberg told the paper. “I believe this concept is worthy of serious exploration.”
According to a source, the Rays view 2024 “at the earliest” as a possible date for such a split season to occur. Manfred noted that the club is committed to Tropicana Field through the 2027 season, calling this “a longer-term project” for the Rays.
“Obviously this sort of arrangement will involve complicated discussions between the Rays, governments in Florida, the governments in Montreal,” Manfred said. “Once you have people talking, I guess any outcome is possible.”
Manfred indicated that the split-season plan was not a precursor for a full-time relocation to Montreal. The Expos played 22 home games in Puerto Rico in 2003, the last team to split its home schedule between different cities, and they eventually relocated to Washington for the 2005 season.
“All that was presented to the executive council and the idea I endorsed to the council was exploring the possibility of keeping Tampa in baseball for part of the season and playing some games in Montreal,” Manfred said. “We’ve done this before; not an unprecedented step for baseball. But there was no commitment/discussion/grant on the issue of a permanent relocation. It was simply the split-season possibility.”