ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Rays have been given permission to explore becoming a two-city team.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred made the announcement Thursday at the end of the owners' meetings. Manfred said the MLB executive council had given permission for the Rays to explore a split season

There is no timetable for the possible plan. An idea under consideration is for the Rays to play early in the season in Tampa Bay and later in Montreal.

The Tampa Bay Rays tweeted a statement from team owner Stu Sternberg Thursday afternoon:

"My priority remains the same, I am committed to keeping baseball in Tampa Bay for generations to come. I believe this concept is worthy of serious exploration."

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said the news did not come as a surprise to him, but some in the city and around the nation might have been taken aback that the idea had been proposed.

But, "I want to be crystal clear here: The Rays cannot explore playing any Major League Baseball games in Montreal or anywhere else for that matter prior to 2028 without reaching a formal memorandum of understanding with the city of St. Petersburg.

"Ultimately, such a decision is up to me, and I have no intention of bringing this idea to the city council to consider."

Kriseman said he respects Sternberg and the team's membership, "but after 12 years of indecision, including three years of exploring its options throughout the Tampa Bay region, like many in Tampa Bay, I am tired of the games that are being played related to getting a new stadium built."

He said he is ready to discuss financing a new stadium with the team.

But "sharing this team with Montreal is not an option on the table."

10News anchor Ryan Bass discussed the news and answered questions from viewers on Facebook. Can't see it? Click here.

”Tampa’s love of baseball began in the streets of West Tampa and Belmont Heights, giving birth to some of baseball’s finest heroes," Tampa Mayor Jane Castor told 10News. "Our region demands a Major League Baseball team, and I look forward to working with the Rays leadership to find a way to keep this team at home where they belong.”

Tampa Bay is averaging 14,546 fans per home game, ahead of only the Miami Marlins. The Rays have played at Tropicana Field since their inception in 1998 and drew their lowest home crowd of 5,786 against Toronto last month. They had looked into building a new stadium for years but in December abandoned a plan to build across the bay in Tampa.

The Montreal Expos existed from 1969-2004 before they moved to Washington and became the Nationals. In their last two seasons before moving, the Expos played 22 games per year at San Juan, Puerto Rico..

TIMELINE: Tampa Bay Rays' Stadium Saga

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