Montreal sharing Rays with Tampa the best way forward according to MLB

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MLB commissioner Rob Manfred is backing up the idea of the Montreal Rays. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred is backing up the idea of the Montreal Rays. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

A proposal for Tampa Bay and Montreal to split seasons as the home city of the Rays is gaining favour among Major League Baseball owners and officials, according to commissioner Rob Manfred.

Manfred reportedly told Marc Tompkin of the Tampa Bay Times that the two-city plan is “100 percent” the best way to keep a team in Tampa Bay and that many of the figures in the league feel the same way.

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The only of those figures to speak on the issue was Toronto Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro. As the only Canadian team in the league currently, it can be argued that — other than the Rays themselves — the Blue Jays would feel the most impact as a result of this potential change.

“Favourable to them exploring it, and interested to see how it turns out,” Shapiro said to the Tampa Bay Times. “Certainly in favour of anything that impacts the baseball landscape in Canada positively. We are supportive of them exploring it.”

It does make quite a bit of sense to be supportive of the idea from Toronto’s perspective. The Blue Jays will play exhibition games in Montreal to close out their spring training schedule for the sixth season in a row this year, and you don’t have to squint that hard to see a divisional rivalry that has the potential to be a small boost to the attendance for both teams.

Rays principle owner Stuart Sternberg was the one who made the case for the two-city timeshare, and his energy and devotion to the project resonated with Manfred.

“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.

It would be unfair to look much further through the rose-coloured glasses here without acknowledging the reality that at this stage this is all positioning and discussion, with stadiums being built and lots of money being spent one way or the other to achieve the ultimate goal. The lease at Tropicana Field ends after the 2027 season and the mayor of St. Petersburg is not interested in moving games before then.

Furthermore, the players union is unlikely to be greatly in favour of a plan that involved a team having to switch cities midway through a season.

“There will be issues, but I don’t think they’re insurmountable issues” said Manfred of the players union.

New open-air stadiums in Montreal and either Tampa or St. Petersburg are the foundation of the proposal. The idea of the Rays simply building a new full-time stadium instead is still on the table, of course, with Manfred leaving that decision to Sternberg and the team.

For now, at least, Rays officials are still saying that a half-season schedule is how they want to move forward.

“I'm open to whatever alternatives. But I think it's unfair to expect that you can proceed full speed on different alternatives,” Manfred restated. “Right now the focus is on the two-city alternative.”

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