Earlier today, Rays owner Stuart Sternberg went before the Hillsborough County Commission meeting and said that MLB “no longer believes in the Tampa Bay area.” Per Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, MLB has since released a statement on the matter:
“The Commissioner has had conversations with Stuart Sternberg and is disappointed with the current situation in the Tampa Bay market. The status quo is simply not sustainable. The Rays have been a model organization, averaging nearly 92 wins per year since 2008 and participating in the Postseason three times, including their inaugural World Series in 2008. Their .565 winning percentage over the last five years is second among all American League Clubs and third in all of Major League Baseball. Last year, the 30 Major League Clubs averaged nearly 2.5 million in total attendance; the Rays, who finished with a 90-72 record, drew 1,559,681, which ranked last in the game. The Club is an eager contributor to worthy causes in the Tampa and St. Petersburg communities and takes pride in meeting the social responsibilities that come with being a Major League franchise. We are hopeful that the market will respond in kind to a Club that has done a marvelous job on and off the field.”
The main issue for the Rays is that they are locked into their current lease at Tropicana Field until 2027. They have requested the ability to discuss other locations in Hillsborough County, but St. Petersburg mayor Bill Foster is standing in the way, presumably because the team would simply hop over to Tampa. MLB stopped short of threatening relocation in their statement today, but it appears they are happy to play the role of the bad guy if it can sway public opinion and put pressure on the local government.