COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Commissioner Bud Selig, speaking to reporters on Wednesday at the quarterly Owners Meetings, said he is considering assigning someone from his office to become directly involved with what he called the "stalled" negotiations to build a new ballpark for the Tampa Bay Rays.
With Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg standing nearby, Selig said at a news conference that he had been briefed earlier this week by Sternberg, and he termed that report "very discouraging."
"We were optimistic that this was moving in a very positive direction," Selig said. "Unfortunately, we're stalled. It's serious enough that in the last 48 hours, I've given very strong consideration to assigning someone from MLB to get involved in this process and find out what's going on.
"They've been a model organization, extraordinarily capable. Under this ownership, they've done everything in their power to make their ballpark situation work. They have a very, very, very competitive club. Years have ticked by with no progress to resolve the situation. And frankly -- and this is coming directly from me -- baseball needs a resolution to this problem."
Selig declined to say whether relocation of the Rays to another market is under consideration. He also didn't say which MLB official might be sent to Florida to act as an intermediate negotiator between the Rays and St. Petersburg, where Tropicana Field is located.
Sternberg told the media in a side session that he'd hoped to have a deal with the city by the All-Star break to begin exploring building another ballpark elsewhere in the area. When that didn't happen, Sternberg asked Selig to give him another month until the meetings this week at the Otesaga Hotel.
Thus far, Sternberg said that city officials in St. Pete continue to threaten with a lawsuit any other city in the Tampa Bay area that is even open to exploring talks with the Rays about a new stadium.
"We just want to look at a number of spots in the Tampa Bay area," Sternberg said. "St. Petersburg has threatened to talk to anybody who talks to us. It's a free country -- we can do whatever we want to do -- but I guess it becomes a potential legal issue for anybody who wants to talk to us. Tampa, in particular, has decided not to because of the threats. We can't do the deep down dive to explore the situation because of this."
The Rays have played in domed Tropicana Field since 1998, their first year of existence, and are tied there through a lease without a buyout provision until 2027, Sternberg said. Despite entering Thursday with the fourth-best record in the American League at 67-51, the Rays are last in AL home attendance and next to last among the 30 Major League teams, averaging 18,330 per game through their first 60 home games.
The Rays pay a varying amount in rent each season based on attendance, but they also have to maintain an aging 23-year-old facility that opened on March 3, 1990.
Sternberg said the club is surviving on revenue sharing, but his fellow owners are beginning to wonder how long it's going to take for the Rays to reach some sort of self-sustained economic stability.
Sternberg added that the question of whether the club can survive anywhere in the Tampa Bay area is now open.
"That's very much open to question," said Sternberg, who bought the Rays in 2005 and has now enjoyed a run of six consecutive winning seasons that includes winning the AL pennant before falling in five games to the Phillies in the 2008 World Series. "The key here is to recognize that without the revenue-sharing dollars, we wouldn't even be able to compete or do what we're doing.
"The other owners are looking at this and saying, 'How many years is this going to be? How much money is this going to be to a failing situation?'"
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less