Neyer: Are Rays And A's Heading For Contraction?

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - APRIL 03: Infielder Felipe Lopez #45 of the Tampa Bay Rays was called up today from the minors just before the start of the game against the Baltimore Orioles at Tropicana Field on April 3, 2011 in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)

Last year, the Tampa Bay Rays won more games than any other team in the American League. More games than the Yankees, more games than the Red Sox, more games than everyone.

This year, the Rays' 34,078 Opening Day attendance was the lowest figure in the majors. All of which has Peter Kerasotis using the dreaded c-word ... contraction:

And you wonder why MLB recently held secret meetings to discuss contracting the Rays as a franchise. That's right, MLB is talking about eliminating the Rays along with the Oakland A's.

At least, that's what the New York Post reported, with other news outlets subsequently reporting and speculating about it.

Going, going . . . gone.

There are two really good reasons why Major League Baseball would hold "secret meetings" about contraction.

I'm not saying these meetings have actually been held. But if I were Bud Selig, I might convene them.

Why? The Collective Bargaining Agreement, and two prospective new ballparks.

The first is about leverage, and so is the second (unless you prefer the word "extortion").

Look, everyone expects the owners and the players to agree on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement without any major battles, thus avoiding a strike or lockout. But that doesn't mean both sides won't jockey for position before the negotiations begin in earnest. Both sides want as many arrows as possible in their quivers, and the prospect of contraction, however flimsy, is one arrow the owners might like to have. Obviously, the Players Association wouldn't relish the idea of losing 80 members -- two teams, two 40-man rosters -- and the MLBPA just might be willing to give up something for a guarantee that MLB will continue to feature 30 franchises.

Probably not. But maybe.

Meanwhile, the best way to pressure municipalities -- Oakland, San Jose, St. Petersburg, you choose -- to get some work done on new ballparks is to suggest that if they don't get to work soon, those teams might just disappear from the earth before a single shovel of dirt has been turned.

Realistically, though? The players would go to war over contraction, and there's plenty of room in North America for 30 Major League Baseball franchises. It wasn't so long ago that the Minnesota Twins and the Montreal Expos were (supposedly) contraction candidates. I didn't believe it then, and both franchises eventually settled into comfortable new homes.

I don't believe it now, either.

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