NEW YORK — Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said the Tampa Bay 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 Thursday during a news conference following an owners meeting. “There needs to be a resolution in the Tampa Bay region for the Rays.”
Tampa Bay’s lease at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida, where the team has played since its inaugural season in 1998, expires after the 2027 season. The Rays said in January that MLB had rejected the team’s plan to split its season between Florida and Montreal.
“Obviously, the end of that lease is a hard deadline, but you need to take into account that stadiums take a little bit of time to build, right?” Manfred said. “So we are getting to the point where wherever it is in the region that has an interest in having 162 baseball games, they need to get to it, get with the club — I know the Rays are anxious to get something done — and see if a deal can be made.”
Asked whether he was considering relocation, Manfred responded: “Right now, I’m focused on Tampa,” putting emphasis on “right now” and later adding he was referring to the region, not the specific side of the bay. “I think a great man once said, all good things must end at some point. And but right now we’re focused on Tampa.”
The Athletics have played at the Coliseum since 1968 and their lease expires after the 2024 season. The A’s have proposed a new ballpark at Howard Terminal and are working with Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf to gain the necessary approvals.
“There is really significant activity in Oakland. The political process has moved along significantly,” Manfred said. “I met with Mayor Schaaf last week. She has done a really good job at moving the process forward in Oakland. But as you all know, California political processes are their own sort of animal. There’s work to do on the Oakland side. I think the A’s prudently have continued to pursue the Las Vegas alternative. We like Las Vegas as a market. Again, it’s in the same category as Tampa. We need a solution in both those markets and the time has come for that solution.”
Oakland has averaged a major league-low of 8,283 fans this season and the Rays are 25th at 13,740, also ahead of Miami, Cleveland and Pittsburgh.
On other topics:
— The new competition committee will evaluate a pitch clock and limits on defensive shifts, and Manfred hopes for a recommendation ahead of spring training,
— MLB approved the sale of a minority stake in the Cleveland Guardians to David Blitzer, co-owner of the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers and the NHL’s New Jersey Devils. Blitzer will have the right to increase his stake to a controlling interest in several years.
— MLB hopes to increase digital offerings of games in an era of declining cable viewers.
“We are concerned about our reach,” Manfred said. “We think that we have fans who want to watch baseball, who don’t feel that they have an adequate opportunity to do that.”
Apple is streaming Friday night games this season and Peacock is streaming Sunday morning games starting at 11:30 a.m. and noon EDT.
“We see the Apple and Peacock undertakings as part of the effort to respond to a rapidly changing media environment,” Manfred said. “Having a relationship with Peacock and more broadly with NBC — important for us over the long haul. And Apple’s an innovator, and we need to be innovative in our efforts to deliver games to fans on platforms that they use and visit frequently.”
— On the proposed international draft. The labor contract set a July 25 deadline to reach an agreement with the players’ association.
“Our concern and I think this has been well documented over time, is situations where clubs make commitments to players before they’re technically age-eligible to sign,” Manfred said. “There are individuals involved in those negotiations that take a really significant piece of the compensation that really should be going to the player, off the top.”
Manfred said MLB has sent millions to fight corruption in the Dominican Republic.
“It’s easy to say that it’s the people that cut the check that are engaged in corruption, but somebody’s taking the check, right?” he said.
— On the new minor league housing policy.
“It’s been difficult because of housing shortages, availability of the kind of housing you want,” he said. “We’ll get better at that as time goes on.”
— On whether moving last year’s All-Star Game from Georgia over voting rights will lead to decisions to locate events based on other political issues such as gun control and reproductive rights.
“Individual clubs,” he said, “are going to make decisions about where they want to be in their market on particular issues. But I think the overarching idea is to be as welcoming to as many people as possible.”
— On Michele Meyer-Shipp resigning as chief people and culture officer last September after about a year with MLB. Her responsibilities have been split among Billy Bean, senior vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion; April Brown, vice president for social responsibility; Regan Waters White, senior vice president for human resources; and Mike Hill, senior vice president of on-field operations.
— Former President George W. Bush — the former Texas Rangers owner — was Wednesday’s guest speaker.