The team's recent request to explore sites in Hillsborough County has a potential downside: It could weaken the city's legal position if the Rays try to leave town without permission, several lawyers said last week.I've covered the issue of leverage before, as well as what Mayor Bill Foster is thinking in standing behind St. Petersburg's contract.
"The more aggressively defensive the city is, the more litigation oriented they are," (Stetson University professor James) Fox said, "they could weaken their negotiating position to get a more advantageous settlement."
Council member Charles Gerdes said that very juggling act is his main concern: How to balance contractual strength with negotiating possibilities.
Sure, every year that goes by diminishes the city's leverage in seeking compensation if the Rays leave, but every year that goes by also means another year of MLB in St. Petersburg, so it's basically a moot point.
The Times even pointed out Minnesota got a one-year injunction against the Twins when contraction was on the table and only one year remained on their contract.
Of course, Hillsborough County Commission Chairman Ken Hagan says he's moving forward with his Tampa-based Rays stadium discussions anyway...he just won't mention specific sites:
When Rays leaders travel to Tampa to speak with the County Commission, Hagan said, he’ll ask if they want to move to Hillsborough County, assuming the county attorney doesn’t stop him from asking the question. Hillsborough County should be fine as long as it doesn’t talk about specific streets and sites for a new stadium, Hagan said.WFTS-TV also quotes Hagan as saying the Rays "(a)re not going to remain at the Trop until 2027." Of course, the station didn't ask the commissioner what he was basing that assumption on, but there's no evidence there are any viable markets right now for the Rays to move to, nor the legal grounds for them to break their contract.
Still, Hagan said, "I don't want to see them be the Charlotte Rays, or the Las Vegas Rays, or the San Antonio Rays."
In Hagan's defense, he has always said he supports a Pinellas stadium if it means keeping the team in Florida. But asking the team if they'd like to play in Hillsborough does neither Pinellas County, nor the taxpayers who could one day pay for a new Rays stadium, any favors.
Meanwhile, the Rays lay low in the discussion, awaiting their day in front of Hillsborough Commission. Because saying anything more right now could disrupt the cycle of newspapers, television stations, and sports talk hosts negotiating down the region's leverage themselves.