St. Pete mayor reopens talks on future of Rays stadium site

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The mayor of St. Petersburg, Florida, is reopening talks about the future of the Tropicana Field site where baseball’s Tampa Bay Rays play their home games.

Mayor Ken Welch that two previous proposals for the 86-acre (348,000-square-meter) downtown location are being scrapped, with a new round of plans to be solicited beginning in mid-August. Welch, St. Petersburg’s first Black mayor, has made a priority of including such things as affordable housing and greater job opportunities along with Rays baseball.

Welch said the goal is to choose a new redevelopment plan by year’s end. The Rays’ Tropicana Field lease is up in 2027 and Welch said the new plan should envision including a stadium at the site.

“I don’t believe waiting a few months to get this right is unreasonable,” the mayor said at a news conference near Tropicana Field. “I think St. Petersburg is the best opportunity for the Rays. It’s about making sure we’ve got the right plan for where we are in 2022.”

The Rays have played at the domed, tilted Tropicana Field since their inaugural 1998 season. The site is in the former Gas Plant neighborhood, where Black-owned businesses and homes were uprooted for the stadium’s original development and, before that, interstate highway construction. Welch said a goal is to restore some of that former neighborhood, where his father ran a wood yard business years ago.

“It’s about rebuilding a community that was there and was dispersed,” he said, holding an axe handle from his father’s business.

Despite regular success on the field, the Rays consistently have among the lowest attendance figures in Major League Baseball. The team has looked into moving, perhaps in Tampa’s Ybor City area, and also discussed splitting the season between St. Petersburg and Montreal until MLB called a halt to that idea.

The previous bidders for the plan – developers Sugar Hill and Midtown Development – can submit new proposals under the new process, Welch said. The former mayor, Rick Kriseman, had chosen the Midtown plan just before leaving office.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said in June that the Rays and Oakland Athletics need to reach new ballpark deals soon and left open the possibility of considering relocation if agreements are not struck.

“There is urgency with respect to Tampa,” Manfred said during a news conference following an owners meeting. “There needs to be a resolution in the Tampa Bay region for the Rays.”

Welch said the new redevelopment plan should bring certainty to the Rays and rebuild, to some extent, the community that was torn apart by previous projects.

“We’ve been waiting for decades,” the mayor said. “The Rays stadium question has to be answered.”

RHP Fairbanks, Rays agree to 3-year, $12 million contract

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Reliever Pete Fairbanks and the Tampa Bay Rays avoided arbitration when they agreed Friday to a three-year, $12 million contract that could be worth up to $24.6 million over four seasons.

The deal includes salaries of $3,666,666 this year and $3,666,667 in each of the next two seasons. The Rays have a $7 million option for 2026 with a $1 million buyout.

His 2024 and 2025 salaries could increase by $300,000 each based on games finished in the previous season: $150,000 each for 35 and 40.

Tampa Bay’s option price could increase by up to $6 million, including $4 million for appearances: $1 million each for 60 and 70 in 2025; $500,000 for 125 from 2023-25 and $1 million each for 135, 150 and 165 from 2023-25. The option price could increase by $2 million for games finished in 2025: $500,000 each for 25, 30, 35 and 40.

Fairbanks also has a $500,000 award bonus for winning the Hoffman/Rivera reliever of the year award and $200,000 for finishing second or third.

The 29-year-old right-hander is 11-10 with a 2.98 ERA and 15 saves in 111 appearances, with all but two of the outings coming out of the bullpen since being acquired by the Rays from the Texas Rangers in July 2019.

Fairbanks was 0-0 with a 1.13 ERA in 24 appearances last year after beginning the season on the 60-day injured list with a right lat strain.

Fairbanks made his 2022 debut on July 17 and tied for the team lead with eight saves despite being sidelined more than three months. In addition, he is 0-0 with a 3.60 ERA in 12 career postseason appearances, all with Tampa Bay.

He had asked for a raise from $714,400 to $1.9 million when proposed arbitration salaries were exchanged Jan. 13, and the Rays had offered for $1.5 million.

Fairbanks’ agreement was announced two days after left-hander Jeffrey Springs agreed to a $31 million, four-year contract with Tampa Bay that could be worth $65.75 million over five seasons.

Tampa Bay remains scheduled for hearings with right-handers Jason Adam and Ryan Thompson, left-hander Colin Poche, third baseman Yandy Diaz and outfielder Harold Ramirez.