Rob ManfredThe Tampa Bay Rays are about to embark on yet another season with poor attendance and countless national news stories about how they should move to Montreal. However, we now have yet another good sign that Major League Baseball is going to be in the Bay Area for a long time.

During a recent session with the media, commissioner Rob Manfred was asked about the possibility of MLB expanding from 30 to 32 teams.

“Expansion is important,” Manfred said. “I think baseball is a growth business. There are huge advantages to getting to 32 teams.”

The advantages would be to split each league into four 4-team divisions which would create a more balanced schedule and more road games for teams aired to their home fans in prime time.

More importantly for the Rays, 32 teams mean two fewer cities they could move to, increasing the likelihood that Tampa-St. Pete will continue to be a big league city.

But there is a catch. Manfred did say that while expansion is important, he also said it is not an immediate issue until the Rays and A’s get new stadiums.

“I don’t see [expansion] as an immediate issue for us,” Manfred said. “I can’t see baseball expanding until [the stadium] situations are resolved.”

In other words, MLB still needs the threat of Montreal to force the state of Florida to fork over money for a new stadium.

This leaves open the possibility that the Rays could still leave the Bay Area and fly north for the summer and forever. But that brings us back to the headline above. Even if the Rays were to leave, the absence of Major League Baseball on the gulf coast would likely only be temporary.

If the Rays were to move to Montreal and then MLB wanted to add two teams, where would they go?

JP Morosi of Fox Sports recently looked at the cities best suited for expansion. Each one has issues:

  1. Montreal — Montreal would either be an expansion team or the future home of the Rays.
  2. Austin, Texas —  Austin could be a viable option, but will face the objection of the Houston Astros whom MLB already screwed over once by blackmailing them into switching to the American League.
  3. Vancouver — Faces the same issue with the Seattle Mariners.
  4. “Mexico City or another site in Latin America” — If the Rays were to move to Montreal, that would give MLB two international franchises. Adding two more in expansion seems unlikely. That would seem to eliminate at least one of these last two.

Of the four cities listed, only one is in a U.S. television market and two are dangerously close to current teams.

And then there is television market sizes. One reason Manfred wants 32 teams is because local television is so important. Say what you want about the Rays’ attendance, but their TV ratings are consistently among the top 15 in baseball and the market is the 11th-biggest in the U.S.. Major League Baseball is not giving up on the area anytime soon.

It doesn’t matter how you cut it. If MLB wants 32 teams, one of those teams will almost certainly be in Tampa or St. Pete.

So maybe the Rays get a new stadium and stay. If not, Stuart Sternberg will likely sell the team to somebody who will move them to Montreal. A few years later MLB will find a new owner with deep pockets — one who is likely friends with Derek Jeter — they will build a new stadium wherever the hell they want, and buy an expansion team for this area.

It may not be the Rays, but it will be baseball.

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6 Comments

  1. doug says:

    I don't like your last paragraph. If Sternberg were to sell,why does it have to be to a suitor from Montreal? If there is a group locally ready "in a few years" to step into a new franchise, why would one not be ready to step into the sale of the Rays?...This kind of speculation is NOT going to make the new stadium any easier becoming a reality, and probably will make it harder. We need to be all in on the stadium, period. If that falters, then we can set up these other scenarios.

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  2. Mike M says:

    As relations open up with Cuba, you think there is any chance they become another market that gets used against us for a stadium?

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  3. JonBJovi says:

    Stadium on outskirts of Ybor. Count on it.

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  4. monte says:

    I don't understand all this talk about Montreal. Has anybody ever bothered to check out the attendance record there when the Expos were a team?

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  5. CA says:

    This story is a stretch. The best sign yet that the Rays are staying in Tampa Bay is the allowance for them to pursue stadium sites in Tampa. Does anyone really believe the Rays will be anywhere other than Tampa? Data shows it is the best viable market in North America by far. Can we put a moratorium on further stadium talk and just move forward with the fact that the Rays are moving to Tampa?

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  6. mep645 says:

    All the "business channels" talk about TB area is that is poised to explode in the 2020's when the Panama Canal is done widening. TB is the closest major port in the USA. It will become more of a major port, major cruise ship port when a new cruise terminal gets built outside of the Sunshine Bridge and gain even more population of the younger variety with more job opportunities. The future looks bright! RAYS UP

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