Rays have potential buyers, both local and for relocation, interested in franchise: Sources

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At a time when the Rays appear closer than ever to completing their 15-year quest for a new ballpark in the Tampa Bay area, their options are only multiplying.

At least one local businessman is trying to buy the franchise, according to sources briefed on the discussions who were granted anonymity so they could speak candidly. The team also is drawing interest from groups that would relocate the club to one of the cities that is a candidate for major-league expansion.

Building a $1.2 billion ballpark in St. Petersburg or Tampa remains the Rays’ primary focus, however. Owner Stuart Sternberg is in talks with potential investors and other sources of capital that would help fund the project, the sources said.

The potential local buyer is Dan Doyle Jr., chief executive officer of DEX Imaging, a Tampa-based company that professes to be “the nation’s largest independent provider of office technology with a local touch.” Prior to starting the company in 2002, Doyle Jr. was the founder and managing partner of a real estate development and holding company in St. Petersburg.

Tampa Bay Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg (Kim Klement / USA Today)

Attempts to reach Doyle for comment were unsuccessful. The Rays declined comment on where their talks stand with Doyle and other potential buyers. But the expiration of the team’s lease at Tropicana Field after the 2027 season will force Sternberg to make decisions, one way or another, in the near future.

Commissioner Rob Manfred repeatedly has said the league will not expand to 32 franchises until the Rays and Athletics resolve their ballpark issues. The A’s, the team with the worst record in baseball, are trying to move to Las Vegas. The Rays, the team with the best record, hold far greater appeal as a relocation possibility.

The fee for an expansion club is expected to be at least $2 billion; Manfred mentioned the $2.2 billion range in 2021. The Rays likely would sell for a lesser amount, and a new owner would inherit one of the game’s best-run organizations while bypassing the uncertainty of the expansion process.

If the Rays departed, Tampa Bay would become a candidate for expansion, just as Oakland would be if the A’s left for Las Vegas. The A’s, though, are meeting resistance from Nevada lawmakers in their desire for public funding. The Rays could face the same obstacle in their efforts to remain in the Tampa Bay area.

In other ways, the two situations are not all that similar.

The Rays are making progress toward a new ballpark locally, particularly in St. Petersburg, where their discussions are more advanced than they are in Tampa. In addition, Manfred told the Tampa Bay Times, “I think we see the potential in the Tampa market dramatically different than we see Oakland.”

The Rays’ plan is to build a new, 30,000-seat ballpark on the site of Tropicana Field and develop the surrounding 86 acres. In January, St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch selected the Rays and the Hines development group over other bidders to spearhead the project.

“We’re engaged and hope to be married very soon,” Welch said then.

The Rays, though, continue to talk to Tampa, where the corporate base is larger than in St. Petersburg and the future population growth projects to be higher. Manfred called public funding “the largest single hurdle” in St. Petersburg, and the same presumably would be true in Tampa.

In either locale, the Rays would want money from the city and/or county. The state of Florida likely would not contribute; Gov. Ron DeSantis opposes using taxpayer dollars to build sports facilities for professional teams.

A local buyer would face the same obstacles as Sternberg in trying to get a new ballpark built. A buyer seeking to relocate the franchise probably would need to pay Sternberg a premium to persuade him to give up on the Tampa Bay area.

If the Rays cannot secure financing for a new park, all options will be open. Those options extend beyond Sternberg as owner, and Tampa Bay as the Rays’ permanent home.

(Photo: Julio Aguilar / Getty Images)

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