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Changes for the Rays: Q & A

By BRUCE LOWITT

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 28, 2001


Q: Are the Rays for sale?

A: Not yet. But managing general partner Vince Naimoli said Friday that "discussions are under way to retain an investment banker to advise the Tampa Bay Devil Rays ownership group regarding strategic alternatives, including the possible sale of the team." In other words, the ownership could be preparing the team for sale.

Q: Will Naimoli and his fellow owners move the team?

A: No. Naimoli says that as long as he's part of the team it will play in Tropicana Field. However, he does not offer the same reassurances if the team is sold.

Q: If the team is sold can the new owners move it?

A: Possibly, if the new owners can find a way out of their lease, and if 75 percent of the other major-league owners (23 of 30) approve it. The last franchise to move was Washington, which became the Texas Rangers in 1972. When a Naimoli-led group tried to buy the San Francisco Giants in 1992 and move the franchise to Tampa Bay, National League owners voted against it.

Q: Isn't the team locked into Tropicana Field?

A: The lease says the club shall "not permit relocation of the franchise from the dome." City Attorney John Wolfe said "it's a 30-year-obligation," one the city could take the team to court for breaking.

Q: Why are the Rays hiring a chief operating officer?

A: Naimoli says it's to get him out from under 18-hour workdays seven days a week. The COO will take over the day-to-day running of the franchise.

Q: Is Naimoli relinquishing any control of the Rays?

A: He will be chairman of the franchise and its "Control Person," representing it at major-league meetings and so on. But he is no longer the managing general partner. The new COO eventually will become the "face" of the franchise.

Q: With Commissioner Bud Selig threatening to withdraw the Florida Marlins franchise, is there any chance this could switch his focus to Tampa Bay? Could major-league baseball make the team "evaporate"?

A: The difference is the Marlins don't have a lease or concession contracts. There has been talk of "contraction," but the rest of the owners would have to pay a lot of money to buy out Tropicana Field's lease (if it can be bought out) and would have to satisfy the players union, which won't give up all those players' jobs without a fight (and the union almost always wins its fights). Even then, baseball likely would find itself enmeshed in litigation.

Q: Is there a chance of the team dumping salaries like the Marlins did a few years ago?

A: There aren't that many big ones to dump. Outfielder Greg Vaughn's four-year, $34-million contract expires after the 2003 season and pitcher Wilson Alvarez's five-year, $35-million contract expires after 2002. The other big ones -- Fred McGriff's, Vinny Castilla's, Juan Guzman's -- expire after this season.

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