Maybe I was wrong about the Tampa Bay Rays relocating to Montreal… or maybe not!

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Almost two years ago, I posted a blog entry opining that 2016 would be the last season that the Rays would play in St. Petersburg.  Perhaps I was a little aggressive in my prognostication, some would say dreaming in color, or even as a reader from Tampa called me, insane!

On Sunday November 6, Pierre Trudel tweeted that the Rays’ owner, Stuart Sternberg, had recently commissioned a feasibility study for a baseball stadium in the Griffin Town section of Montreal.

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Brian Auld of the Rays quickly issued a statement, yet did not refute the rumor.

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Canadian Press journalist, Frédérique Daigle, tweeted me that he tried to get information from the Rays and nobody was talking.

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Sternberg needed the permission from MLB to commission such a study. Fred Daigle also tried to get an answer from MLB… nothing.

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At some point, Commissioner Manfred or Sternberg will have to address this.  If either of them respond with their usual hyperbole or not confirm nor deny, you can bet it’s true.

The next question begs to be asked: How recent was this feasibility study? According to Trudel, very recently, a matter of only a few months ago.  A few months ago?  This is big.  If true, this means that Sternberg, like Manfred, appear to be talking out of both sides of their mouths again.  They both stated how Tampa is a viable baseball market, yet there is in all likelihood, a feasibility study for a baseball stadium in Montreal that was green lighted by Major League Baseball.

You can listen to Trudel being interviewed (en français) by clicking on the banner below.

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Do I believe Trudel? You betcha!  Pierre Trudel is Quebec’s version of Keith Olbermann, he gives it to you straight, no BS.  Unlike journalists in the mainstream, Trudel has no affiliations; he can say what he wants.  The mainstream journalists agree that Major League Baseball will be back in Montreal, expansion being the likeliest scenario.  This is the more genteel position to take.  Safe.  Don’t ruffle any feathers.  A mainstream journalist will never say that there is no hope that Florida tax payers will agree to shell out billions to fund a new stadium.  Trudel, like me, is of the opinion that baseball will not work in Tampa, even with a new stadium.  Silently, Sternberg and Manfred know this too.

Sternberg is an entrepreneur.  These guys can sniff out opportunities and he sees one in Montreal.  Will Sternberg swoop in and relocate his team here in Montreal?  It’s possible, very possible.  He is also leveraging all the work of the prospective ownership group comprising of Stephen Bronfman, Mitch Garber, and Bell Media.  Everything is in place to relocate now and from the point of view of an opportunity seeker – why not?

The writing has been on the wall for many years in Tampa and even more so for 2017. The nebulous terms of the Rays’ TV contract and the so-called “good” ratings.  If the ratings are so good, then why not renew the TV contract?  The answer is simple.  A TV contract in the Tampa / St. Pete region is crumbs compared to the billions waiting in Canada.

Perhaps, the biggest indicator that the Rays are essentially a lame duck franchise is their ever depleting payroll. Brandon Guyer was due for a nice raise by way of arbitration – gone!  The only notable payroll commitments in 2017 are for Evan Longoria, Chris Archer, and Logan Forsythe.  Forsythe and his $7,000,000 salary for 2017, may well expect to be dealt.  As for Longoria, the Dodgers will inquire on his availability.

We shall see what the Rays plan to do with other arbitration eligible players due for hefty pay increases such as Erasmo Ramirez and Kevin Keirmaier.  Keirmaier is the running for a second Gold Glove and will command big dollars and also big interest from other teams.   Once again, I expect that Sternberg will order his baseball operations people to field a team under the constraint of a wafer thin budget.  These actions are straight out of the Jeffrey-Loria-Leaves-Montreal playbook.

This will not play well with the Rays’ fan base.  More bad press for Sternberg .  Furthermore, if there is no solid commitment to build a new stadium very soon, expect even smaller crowds at the Trop.

Time will tell if, how, and when Sternberg and Manfred will address Trudel’s revelation.

BP-sign-off Copyright © 2016 BaseballPoutine.com. All Rights Reserved.

 

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Mr. Bronfman, It’s time to take Center Stage

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Spring training has arrived.  Pitchers and catchers reported last week and the remaining players will be reporting shortly in Florida and Arizona.  As we get ready to host another pair of Grapefruit League games in Montreal, February also signals what seems to be an annual tradition of cranking up the PR machine and tell the baseball world of how worthy and deserving we are to get our baseball team back.

Sure enough, we will get another 100,000 people jammed into Olympic Stadium.  Commissioner Manfred will once again tell us how impressed he is with our level of excitement.  Mayor Denis Coderre will continue to say, “Montréal est une ville de baseball.” and “Ce n’est pas de la nostalgie, c’est de l’ADN“.   We know this Mr. Mayor.  Enough already!

Don’t get me wrong.  Coderre and Warren Cromartie have done an exceptional job promoting the project and getting it along this far.  It is time for the movers and shakers, the ones with the deep pockets and chequebooks in hand to take the forefront.

Behind the scenes, Stephen Bronfman and Manfred have been speaking.  Manfred has made it clear that the priority for 2016 will be to complete a Collective Bargaining Agreement with the MLB Players’ Association.  Great idea!  In Montreal, we have already been cursed by players’ strikes twice.  Let’s get this out of the way.

Make no mistake however.  Platitudes sent our way about of how great Montreal baseball fans are has its limits.  How many more years will we endure paying $200 for a pair of tickets to a meaningless game?  My guess is one more.  In 2017, we will celebrate Tim Raines’ induction into the Hall of Fame and another pair of games would be the perfect platform for this.  OK, then what?

Mr. Bronfman, if you happen to be reading this, it’s time to take center stage.  The politicians and all the associated PR has runs its’ course.  Rumors generated by journalists, bloggers, politicians, and others coming out of the woodwork will only cheapen the message.

Mr. Bronfman, Montrealers are ready to back you up.  What do you need? Seat licenses? Names on bricks? Deposits on season tickets?  You know that we are behind you.

Copyright © 2016 BaseballPoutine.com. All Rights Reserved.

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Why it makes sense for Montreal to host regular season MLB games in 2016

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Earlier today, François Cormier tweeted that Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre will be making a baseball related announcement this coming Friday September 18.  This motivated me to publish my first blog post in over five months.  Merci François!

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The safe money says that Coderre will be announcing that the Blue Jays will once again be playing two Grapefruit League games on the eve of Opening Day 2016.  I don’t know about any of you, but,  have been there and done that… twice!  I am done with shelling out $64 for tickets, nine-dollar beers, and another five bucks for inedible hot dogs, in the name of meaningless games.  If this happens to be Friday’s good news, OK fine.  However,  I will leave someone else the chance to buy the 12 tickets that I did in each of the last two years.

What I am really hoping is that the announcement will have to do with Montreal hosting regular season baseball games in early April.  Are there hurdles to this happening?  Certainly!  Getting the Big O up to MLB code is the most compelling one.  But we are Montrealers and we have gone this far in the journey to get our team back.  We got this!

It would make perfect sense if the announcement has to do with the Cleveland Indians “hosting” the Boston Red Sox for three games from April 4 to 6.  There are many reasons why this would be a plausible scenario.

Attendance in Cleveland has been dismal.  Only the Tampa Bay Rays figure worse.  It’s cold in April on the shores of Lake Erie.  Games can be played indoors in Montreal.

New Englanders travel well.  People from the Boston area and Red Sox Nation love to travel to Montreal.  I would not be surprised to see thousands of them show up for these three games.  Fenway Park always plays to near capacity, even in April, so it will be easier to score tickets for Red Sox games in Montreal.

The Red Sox have a fan base in Montreal.  When we lost the Expos, Montreal baseball fans were looking to adopt a new team.  Many Montrealers began to support the Red Sox in lieu of the Blue Jays.

The weak Canadian dollar vis à vis the greenback obviously means Americans’ tourist dollars will go a lot further.  More money for beer, smoked meat, bagels, and night life.

Having games in Montreal supports Commissioner Manfred’s mandate broaden the game’s profile internationally.   There have been regular season games in Tokyo and Australia.  Montreal?  Pourquoi pas?

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Tito.  By all accounts, Terry Francona will be back as the Indians’ manager.  Tito was a popular player when he played for the Expos.  It’s a shame that his career was cut short due to injuries.  Francona may not receive the same ovation as Raines, Carter, or Dawson, but he was still part of the 1981 NL East Champion team.

Last but not least… MONEY!  Three regular season games played at Olympic Stadium means 120,000 to 150,000 people passing through the turnstiles and that’s like 10 or more games in Cleveland.

Here’s hoping for some really, really good news on Friday.

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Agenda: Meeting Between Denis Coderre and MLB Commissioner Manfred

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I began to record some thoughts for this post into my iPhone as I was sitting in traffic on my way home from Saturday’s game between the Blue Jays and Reds at Olympic Stadium.  Here are my thoughts:

Once again, Montrealers responded in great numbers: another 96,000 people attended the games on April 3 and 4.  This year was a little different in that lots of buzz had been created over the winter.  There was lots of news from St. Petersburg, mostly bad, and lots of news from Montreal, mostly good.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Commissioner Rob Manfred stated that the attendance at the two Spring Training games would be an important litmus test for determining a city’s viability to obtain a MLB franchise.  Manfred also stated that the game is looking to expand internationally, namely Canada and Mexico.  Canada, you say, Mr. Commissioner?

There are currently no imminent plans for expansion and no team is available for relocation.

But…

“But we have always been realistic,” he said. “At the end of the day, relocation to another market could be the only solution.”

If you are an Expos fan, this statement was like Warren Cromartie snagging that line drive in 1981 clinching the Expos’ first berth into the postseason.  More great news came from the mouth of Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre.  In a discussion during Friday’s game with Rodger Brulotte and Jacques Doucet, Coderre announced that a meeting has scheduled between himself and Manfred.  The meeting will take place in May in New York.

Verbal note in my iPhone: Wonder what Manfred and Coderre will talk about…

Obviously, I don’t have an idea of what will transpire.  Their agenda could cover the entire spectrum from a simple meet and greet, all the way to plans for relocation of a team.  I thought it would be fun to come up with a couple of scenarios:

Scenario 1 – Mostly good news

Manfred will state that the Rays are not available at the moment, but sight tight Denis.  Stu needs to fully play out his options in St Pete.  Manfred does not need to see shovels hit the dirt for the new stadium but wants to see with his own eyes an executable plan to make it happen.  “Don’t worry Denis, you will get your team in five years, as long as you have a plan for a new baseball stadium.”, Manfred will conclude.

“Ben oui.  Ben oui.  Inquiètes-toi pas, mon Rob.  We have a plan.”, Coderre will confidently state.

Scenario 2 – All great news

Manfred will state that Sternberg is ready to make the call: 2016 will be the Rays’ last season in St. Petersburg. Stu will make the announcement the day after the 2015 World Series.  Sternberg has exhausted all options in the Tampa / St. Pete area.  Six years of kicking the can down the road for the new stadium is enough.  Sternberg will obviously not renew the TV deal in Tampa.

“Denis, we need to double check the legalities, but we need your support to host as many 25 of the Rays’ home games in 2016.”, Manfred will say.

Ouais, like San Juan in 2004, you mean?”, asks Coderre.

“Denis, right here, right now, tell me we can have a new stadium built in time for the 2019 season.  You can play for two seasons in that shithole but no more than that.”, Manfred will demand.

“Tab***! We are getting a team? OK. OK. You already know who the business partners are.  We can also make the announcement for a major infrastructure investment that includes the baseball stadium whenever the time is right.”, says a teary-eyed Coderre.

“Salut et merci, mon Rob!”

Copyright © 2015 BaseballPoutine.com. All Rights Reserved.

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Montreal Baseball Project: It’s time to kick it into overdrive

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Today and Saturday, April 3 and 4, Montreal will host two spring training games between the Cincinnati Reds and the Toronto Blue Jays.  There appear to be more than 90,000 tickets sold for both games and despite it being Passover and Easter, I would not be surprised if that figure went to 100,000.

That’s great!  There will be thunderous applause for Russell Martin, Vladimir Guerrero, Orlando Cabrera, and others.  Both teams will field what should be their opening day lineups so the quality of baseball should also prove to be entertaining.  After the final out is recorded on Saturday, and the Reds and Jays start their season, as Montrealers, we have to ask ourselves: OK, what’s next?

By next, I don’t mean “I can’t wait for two more spring training games next year” and repeat the fun we had in 2014 and 2015.  Montreal is not a carnival stop for Major League Baseball.  I am not so sure that the fans will continue to pay $89 for tickets to meaningless games indefinitely.  I don’t believe this line of reasoning is sustainable.  So again, I ask, what’s next?

Cromartie, as the mouthpiece for Montreal Baseball Project, preaches, taking it slowly.  Yesterday, in an interview, Mayor Coderre interrupted a reporter and said, “… on se calme…”, further stating one step at a time.

One step at a time is fine but the pace needs to be picked up.  There have to be more concrete steps towards bringing back a team here.  A season ticket drive à la Las Vegas for the NHL would be quite timely, for example.

The fan base is not asking names to be made public, we get that.  However, greater momentum is the order of the day.  In my very first post, I talked about the stars beginning to align.  Well, guess what?  The stars are aligned and it’s time to kick the project into overdrive.

The “aligned” stars are:

Team availability – The  greatest opportunity for Montreal to get a team is for the Rays to move here.  That’s the cold, hard truth.  Sternberg is dragging his feet in Florida.  He clearly does not want to keep his team in St. Petersburg, or Tampa, for that matter.

Ownership – Coderre and Cromartie are clear on the fact that an ownership group is in place, solide!, says Coderre.

Political Will – We have an ambassador at the municipal level and a provincial government in power that will stay out of the way.  This very good political climate has a shelf life: 2018.  Quebecers are a fickle electorate and I would not be surprised to see the Parti québecois in power in late 2018.  How much positive energy can we expect from a sovereignist government towards Montreal? Can we afford this needless distraction?

The Stadium – Again, Coderre is clear that he wants a stadium near the water.  A project, financed by the Caisse de dépôt, that would include the Pont Champlain, a new baseball stadium, and a light rail system, makes perfect sense.

Major League Baseball will return to Montreal, one day, I am 100% convinced of this.  I have given the opinion that the Rays will leave St. Petersburg by the end of the 2016 season.  Now that the stars are aligned. it is possible the Rays will be relocated to Montreal as early as the 2017 baseball season.  Aggressive but possible.

One thing is certain: If we don’t start turning soil for a new stadium by 2018, we need to be realistic and hold off on the Expos’ return until at least 2028.

Copyright © 2015 BaseballPoutine.com. All Rights Reserved.

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Sending signals to MLB: Montreal deserves a Major League Baseball team

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Last month I wrote “Target: Sell-Out – 2014 was a party, it’s for real in 2015”.  The post stressed the importance of selling out the upcoming Spring Training baseball games to be held at Olympic Stadium on April 3 and 4.  Well ladies and gentlemen, we did it!  As of this writing, one cannot purchase two consecutive seats for either game.  There are singles sparsely located throughout the seating chart.  You can try it yourself by going to the evenko site.

From this point forward, no one can say that last year was a fluke.  This year, Major League Baseball will be shining a bright on Montreal.  Rest assured that people involved in eventually granting Montreal another franchise will be in attendance.  I am looking to one key signal: if Rob Manfred, the new MLB Commissioner is in attendance, it’s done.  One way or another a team is coming here.  Will it be the Rays or an expansion franchise?  In the nearer term, I will continue to be of the opinion that the Rays are moving to Montreal.

Speaking of signs, the Rays and the City of St. Petersburg have sent a sign or two of their own:

1) In December of 2014, the St. Petersburg city council voted against adopting the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) which would have allowed the Rays to explore for stadium sites outside their county.  In turn, the Rays stood firm on the provisions of the MoU.  Politicians and journalists called for a cooling of period.  Cool all you want, the damage has been done.

2) The Rays offloaded players and salaries reminiscent of the San Juan Expos.  Sternberg clearly signalled restraint to his baseball operations staff.  After all is said and done with arbitration eligible players, the Rays will be under last year’s $77M salary base.  Look for further decline in attendance.

3) Silence may also be a signal.  Not a single business person with major wealth has said that baseball in either Tampa or St. Pete is viable.

Back in Montreal, we are ready.  Mayor Denis Coderre sent a signal about a major overhaul of baseball infrastructure in Montreal.  The Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, essentially Quebecers’ pension fund, may become an investor in the construction of a baseball stadium, at least this is how I interpret the agreement.  This was a brilliant move in the name of Montreal economic development.  This had to be done while there was a Liberal majority in place.  The Parti Québecois would never enact such an agreement favoring Montreal.

So the stage is set.  We have two sell-outs for the Blue Jays vs Reds exhibition games.  With newly elected Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez hopefully in attendance, it will be insane atmosphere.  There will likely also be some timely announcements demonstrating progress in our journey for the return of major league baseball.

Play Ball!

Copyright © 2015 BaseballPoutine.com. All Rights Reserved.

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Will the 2016 season be the last for the Rays in St. Petersburg?

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I was expecting the time leading up to the Christmas Holidays to be quiet in regards to the fate of the Tampa Bay Rays and the ever more plausible scenario that the Rays will eventually be sold and relocated to Montreal.  A St. Petersburg city council vote to allow the Rays to explore sites outside of the county was expected to be favorable.  This would have started a three-year journey for the Rays to look at alternate sites to build a stadium across the bridge in Tampa.  This was not the case and a political dust up ensued.  There was a call for a cooling off period.  In my opinion, there is no need for cooling off nor a three year analysis for sites in Tampa.  I talk about this in another post.  The damage has been done over the course of the last six years.  Consider the Rays gone.

I am not alone with this opinion.  Accomplished journalists like Bill Madden state it very directly:

“With no prospects for a new stadium, the Rays are doomed and might as well trade Ben Zobrist, a free agent after next year, and even Evan Longoria. Nobody will care. Here’s an educated prediction: Owner Stu Sternberg sells the team and, in three years, the Rays are playing in Montreal.”

A bold statement indeed.  Recall that Madden first broke the story about Sternberg meeting with Wall Street associates about moving the Rays to Montreal.  I am convinced that many other journalists that are not from the bay area agree but are staying silent.  The Rays are purging payroll and like Madden, I would not be surprised if either of Longoria, Loney, or Zobrist are traded away before long.  This is exactly what happened from 1999 – 2003 when the writing was on the wall in Montreal and we ended up losing our team to Washington.

After that fateful vote, many in the Tampa / St. Pete media stated that there is still plenty of time, 2027 is a long way down the road.  The Rays can never get out of the Use Agreement.  Besides, Montreal has neither an ownership group nor a stadium, they said.  Well Montreal does have an ownership group lined up.  One of the potential owners, Bell Media, is flush with cash and will instantly broaden the team’s reach from 2 million people in the bay area to 30 million across Canada.

What about a stadium?  Last Friday during a radio broadcast, the mayor or Montreal, Denis Coderre dropped some subtle hints about baseball and baseball stadium(s).  First, he wants to improve the baseball infrastructure in Montreal, spruce up the parks, better fields, better draining, etc.  Building from the ground up, he called this.  Coderre also wants to be the host of high level baseball, and “…non! pas de Can-Am”, he states emphatically, referring to the Can-Am Independent Baseball League.  Certainly, Coderre wants to see the World Baseball Classic in 2017 in Montreal and more professional baseball beyond that.

There is also this pesky issue about fixing the roof at Olympic Stadium.  The price tag for this is about $400M.  The Mayor talked about the possibility of going roofless, avoid the expenses for repair and maintenance.  He also has 2026 FIFA Soccer in his sights.  So the question remains: Fix the roof or put the $400M towards a baseball stadium?  Coderre, a deft politician, skated away from a response.  During the interview all other questions were answered unequivocally.  Not the stadium question.  Something is simmering and we await for some sort of an announcement.

I have been following the situation in St. Petersburg intently.  Why did so few citizens speak at City Council on December 18?  One report had it at only eight people!  I have read some of the citizens’ comments about the stadium saga and they are giving Sternberg much more credit about his business savvy than the media chooses to report.  Citizens know that the writing is on the wall.  On Shadow of the Stadium, one of the best written blogs anywhere, a commenter wrote:

“… why would a businessman continue putting up with this and continue trying what hasnt worked in the past? they are not staying at the Trop until 2027, thats for sure.”

Copyright © 2014 BaseballPoutine.com. All Rights Reserved.

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