Rays owner Stuart Sternberg is trying to get a new ballpark, but he’s got almost no leverage to do so. He’s locked in an iron-clad lease with St. Petersburg, keeping the Rays in Tropicana Field. The city is willing to at least entertain the idea of another ballpark someplace else in St. Pete, but Sternberg is prohibited from exploring moving the team across the bridge to Tampa.
So what can he do? Offer vague and ominous threats, mostly. He went before the Hillsborough County Commission, and said this about the current prospects of the Rays:
Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg said Thursday that he wants to keep his team in the region, but “Major League Baseball at this point no longer believes in the Tampa Bay area.”
The nature of the league’s lack of faith in the region was lest unspecific, but he hinted that contraction of the Rays, while not necessarily a priority of the league, is “an option.” This is nothing new for Sternberg, of course, as he has said in the past that he thinks the league will “vaporize” the Rays.
In reality, no, it’s not an option at all. Indeed, as we’ve noted several times here, it’s basically fantasyland stuff, inasmuch as contracting a team would cost Major League Baseball and its owners something on the order of a billion dollars, plus lawsuits and the risk of government meddling in the league’s business. They’d do it if the game was in some existential crisis, but it’s not. One owner has a bad lease and is scraping by. That’s a small problem, all things considered, not one which will ever inspire the league to wade into the muck of contraction.
I feel from Sternberg because, yes, his and the Rays’ situation is awful for them. But it’s one that is simply going to require some creativity and maybe some guts (and the defense of a lawsuit from St. Petersburg), not the nuclear option of contraction.