Manfred: Baseballs not juiced, but decreased drag puzzling

Commissioner Rob Manfred watches as the American League players warm-up for the MLB All-Star Game on Tuesday in Cleveland.

CLEVELAND (AP) — Giving the Rays permission to explore playing part of their home schedule in Montreal is seen by baseball owners as “a way to preserve baseball in Tampa,” according to baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred.

Major League Baseball’s executive council last month told Rays owner Stuart Sternberg he could explore the two-city possibility but did not specify a timeframe. The Rays have been unsuccessful in gaining approval and financing in place for the new stadium they want in the Tampa Bay area.

“I think that it’s just too early to make a judgment as to how likely it is to be successful,” Manfred told the Baseball Writers’ Association of America on Tuesday. “I think that the approval from the June owners meeting was reflective of the fact that Stu has worked really hard over a long period of time on the Tampa side and the St. Pete side to try to get something done from a stadium perspective. And then it was sold to the owners, or to the executive council, as a way to preserve baseball in Tampa.”

Tampa Bay has played at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg since the franchise took the field in 1998 and has a lease through 2027. The Rays are averaging about 15,500 fans per home game, 29th in the major leagues and ahead of only the Miami Marlins.

“To address what has been an ongoing issue, I think the owners are prepared to live with the idea that they would operate in two markets,” Manfred said. “We have an issue in Tampa. It needs to get resolved somehow. If it means we give up a potential expansion site to solidify where we are, so be it.”

Manfred said there had not been any discussion of a full move by the Rays. He also said MLB will remain at 30 teams for the foreseeable future.

“No way that we’re biting into expansion until I get Tampa and Oakland resolved one way or the other,” he said.