SPRING TRAINING: Rays owner unsure about season, new stadium

By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports

PORT CHARLOTTE — When it comes to both on-the-field projections and the future of the Tampa Bay Rays, owner Stu Sternberg isn’t quite sure what to expect.

Sternberg, who is entering his 12th season as principal owner of the franchise, spoke with members of the media a few days ago, and didn’t portray much confidence in the team’s on-field prospects.

“I’m less optimistic than I was (at this time) last year,” Sternberg said looking to 2017 with a 68-94 record for 2016 as a backdrop. “I recognize there was probably a 20-game swing of where we’d end up and I think we were at the well low end of that. I thought we could be anywhere from a 70- to a 90-win team last year.

“I’m a big believer using the most recent data available, and as a 68-win team, it’s tough to say you’re going to turn into a 90-win team. But when I look at the team itself, it’s better now than it was a year ago today, but a year ago today I thought we had a mid-80s win team who could get into the 90s.”

He also addressed the team’s offseason moves, which received mixed reviews by both fans, some media outlets and even players in the clubhouse.

Of all the different ways the Rays reshuffled the roster, none received more attention than the trade of second baseman Logan Forsythe. Evan Longoria, the face of the franchise, was the most vocal in sharing his displeasure with the move.

Sternberg tried to put the move in a better perspective.

“I think the order of the moves we made maybe didn’t play to the perception of where we ended up,” Sternberg said. “We made some signings early on and we traded Logan Forsythe later on, so it looked a little different.

“I think if you reverse that, and we sign (Wilson Ramos) and brought in (Colby) Rasmus further on in the offseason, people would’ve thought we had momentum.”

When it comes to a new stadium, no progress has been made, which could possibly be troubling for the team to remain in the Tampa Bay area. When asked about his confidence about there being a solution in the area, Sternberg didn’t appear very assured.

“It’s unknown at this point,” he said. “We had some ideas on locations that just weren’t available that I thought would’ve worked perfectly, but just weren’t available.”

It did seem clear, however, that he wants to stay in the Tampa area, whether that be on one side of the bay or the other. Rumors have floated about a relocation to Montreal, but it doesn’t appear as if that’s what Sternberg wants.

“We’re sort of moving down our list to numbers two three and four,” Sternberg said of locations to build a new stadium. “Sometimes it’s like starting pitchers. You have five of them and sometimes No. 4 is better than No. 2. They’re rarely better than No. 1. The No. 1 is the No. 1 and I hate to be mixing these metaphors, but it sort of works in this case.”

Sternberg had originally said, back in February, that a plan would be in place by roughly August. Now he says it could possibly be October, November or December, but that something absolutely needs to be done in 2017.

The Rays have a contract with Tropicana Field which lasts until 2027, but have an opt-out ability prior to that if they choose. The team just put $1 million in new turf into the stadium over the offseason.

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