Rays’ two city plan sounds like negotiation ploy

Rays tweet about Breonna Taylor
Getty Images

I’ve been thinking about yesterday’s announcement that the Rays are going to consider becoming a two-city team for nearly 24 hours now and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a load of hooey.

I’m not just talking about the logistical difficulties of a team playing in two cities, though those are considerable. Players would have to have multiple homes, the team would need front office redundancies, fans would feel shortchanged in both cities and team name and marketing angles of it all seem daunting. But that’s not the stuff I’m thinking about. I’m thinking about the basic logic of the plan as stated by the report.

To review, the idea requires both cities to get new stadiums. “Cheaper,” open-air stadiums that would make it OK for spring games to be played in Tampa and summer games to be played in Montreal. But “cheaper” does not necessarily mean “cheap” and the price tag of even a basic, small-capacity open air stadium the sort of which the Rays might be envisioning will likely run north of a half billion dollars.

You may recall that the now-scuttled plan for a domed Tampa stadium was estimated at around $900 million, with the Rays balking at the idea of paying even half of that and the country balking at it all in the end. Now, somehow, the Rays are going to find, say, $600 million — in some private/public combination — for a place that they won’t even play in beyond the first month or two of the season? How on Earth is that in Tampa’s interests? Meanwhile, Montreal may or may not be willing to build something to lure the Rays, but why would they do that if, again, they’re only getting them part time? Given that it’s been a multi-decade ordeal to get anyone in that city to go all-in on a stadium, what would possibly make them want to go half-in? The answer is not “because it’s cheaper!” because, in the end, the cities would be getting even less for their money.

If there is no logical basis for either city, let alone both cities, to build a stadium for a perpetually itinerant team, the entire plan is a dead letter. But Major League Baseball’s powers that be are no idiots and they know this too. Which makes me think that they have no real intention of carrying through with a two-city plan at all.

It is my belief that yesterday’s announcement is a negotiating tactic. It’s the baseball equivalent of the Joker’s “two pool sticks, one job opening tryout” in “The Dark Knight.” While no one will wind up dead out of all of this, the hope on MLB’s part is that, if they can get the gears moving, even a little, on a cheaper, partial plan, inertia will get them to fully spin, resulting in a new, full-time ballpark. The hope is that Montreal will think it’s getting half of a new treat and Tampa will think it’s getting half of its dessert taken away. One of them, they then hope, will decide that all is better than half and go the rest of the way in on a plan that, if they were the only ones in the bidding, they may not go for.

Again, this is just my belief. I’m open to someone — anyone — explaining to me how half a team is something either city would want badly enough to build a new ballpark. If they can, great, we can then start talking about what nickname the team will go by and why any free agents would ever sign with the Rays knowing that they’d have to move an extra time a season. That stuff is kinda fun to think about on some level, and that’s the stuff I suspect MLB wants fans to think about now. I mean, the more we all chat about how fun and weird a two-city team is — the more fun and wacky columns from MLB-friendly writers comparing them to some barnstorming team from the 30s and talking about how great an opportunity it is for players to see more new cities — the more real it becomes and the more easily MLB can pressure Tampa and Montreal.

Until that happens, though, I contend that yesterday’s announcement is nothing more than a play for leverage to further MLB’s and the Rays’ interest in getting one city to fork over a billion bucks for a new, full-time park.