Friday, September 19, 2014

Pray for Mojo

If baseball is a game designed to break your heart than surely the A's are succeeding. Finding ways to lose is what bad teams do and the Athletics have been, if not a bad team in the second-half of the season, than just a plain unlucky one.

The reality is that as much as the Cespedes-Lester trade made sense on paper, it has become the focal point of fanbase furor and emblematic of the emotional hollowing-out of the team. When Josh Donaldson compares his own teammates play to that of a "circus," you know the stitching on the ball is coming unwound.

The A's prize in the Cespedes deal, Jon Lester, has said all the right things and fired off the standard cliches about "winning now" and "helping the team;" but, more than any trades in recent years, he is viewed as a hired-hand and a mercenary with his bag packed to head back to out of town as soon as the last game is completed. As unrealistic as it was, when Cespedes said he hoped to play his whole career in green-and-gold, it was like the most beautiful girl agreeing to go to the prom with the well-meaning, smart, glasses-wearing nerd with the severe overbite who had just asked her after emerging from being stuffed in a locker.

Maybe, just maybe, with Cespedes, the A's ownership would pry open their sizable wallets and dole out a contract that made a statement: we plan on being good, for a real long time and Cespedes is ours. And then, slowly but surely, all 5-tools would blossom and Cespedes would be the unstoppable force he seems capable of being. Instead, Jon Lester awaits to cash in his golden ticket to big money and Cespedes awaits a rebirth in Boston.

Rational, clear-minded arguments aside, when Cespedes left it felt a little bit like the fun departed with him.

In 2012, the team and Cespedes were unknowns and expectations were modest, at best. In 2013, the team was either poised to prove itself a fluke or push past the first round, "experts" seemed split. Going in to 2014, this team was supposed to win and maybe that has been the problem. However, games in June and games in August and September are entirely different. The A's are clearly the hunted these days, not the hunters.

Eliminated clubs like the Astros, White Sox and Rangers are relishing the opportunity to be a fork in the eye of playoff contenders. After all, what else do they have to play for? The role of the villain or the spoiler is a great motivator.

Fans of the game know that the Bartman catch didn't sink the Cubs in 2003. The Buckner boot in 1986 didn't cost the Red Sox the World Series. For A's fans, the Kirk Gibson home run in 1988 came in game one, not game seven of the World Series. And, everyone knows that Josh Hamilton dropping the ball in center was not the sole reason why the Rangers lost game 162 in 2012. (It was glorious and it sure did help.) The truth is Cespedes' departure did not seal the A's 2014 fate.

Cespedes departure needs to be added to a series of unfortunate events, including:

- Playing six games against the Royals just as they were peaking;
- An epic slump from Brandon Moss, whose power has all but dried up of late;
- John Jaso's continuing issues with concussions;
- Stephen Vogt's foot problems;
- Nick Punto's strained hamstring;
- Jed Lowrie's hand injury and subsequent fielding woes;
- Really poor starts in August by Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir; and
- Losing Sean Doolittle to an intercostal strain.

While true that the team's offense took a hit with Cespedes gone, focusing on that one hole in the ship ignores the dozens of others contributing to today's slow sinking out of the playoff race.

It seems the key word these days is "mojo" and fans are presented with two options: 1) abandon ship and watch the Titanic ease into the abyss; or 2) stay engaged and hope-against-hope that this "unsinkable" ship/season rights itself. As we aren't left with much else, get right with the deity(ies) in your life and send positive vibes to the A's. All we need to do is get in. The playoffs are a totally different environment.

We need that positive mojo!

Friday, August 1, 2014

Beane Proves It's Always Wins Over Shirseys in Oakland

Why was it so hard hearing that Yoenis Cespedes was gone, shipped off in another Billy Beane trade? The most obvious reason is that he was the clean-up hitter on the team with the best record in baseball, a man with electrifying power and blazing speed. On an emotional level, Cespedes was raw hope. In what seemed to be the bleakest-of-bleak offseasons in 2012, Cespedes was a reason to come to ballgames and to tune-in.

For fans that weathered the long winter that was 2007-2011, Cespedes was one of the main ties left to the magical 2012 team. It's nice to be 20+ games over .500 and leading the division. It was pure, intoxicating magic to win on the last day of the season -- at home -- against a team that tormented you with big stars and a big payroll and in a year when you were supposed to be a joke.

In life, we love people who are flawed. Our relationships are often pock-marked with personality deficits and laced with odd character quirks. However, we care deeply for the people we keep close and regularly paper-over or simply ignore faults. If you anonymize Cespedes, removing the hulking physique, the captivating and terrifying refugee story and the impressive YouTube tape, you get an outfielder who has a 2.1 WAR in 2014 and is batting .256 with 17 home runs.

Cespedes is also 28 years old and posted his highest WAR at 2.9 in 2012. He is making $10.5 million and signed for one more year. He was virtually guaranteed to leave either before or immediately upon conclusion of his contract, not because the A's couldn't afford him, but because they do not give long-term contracts to players who statistically should be in decline based on their age.

The thing about Yoenis Cespedes was that, at least prior to this year, he was the A's most-marketable player. Much of his name recognition was built on his titanic Home Run Derby performance at Citi Field in New York in 2013. The bat-flip GIF when he won the title was widely circulated. Literally no one in the national media -- ESPN's Chris Berman in particular -- could say his name, but he became a recognizable brand that night. Cespedes repeated this year, but really will anyone remember who won the Home Run Derby in twenty years? Probably not. You play to win the last game of the season, not to hoist the "Gillette Home Run Derby" trophy.

As lovable as Cespedes was, and as tantalizing as his potential was, he never truly became the 5+ tool player he was billed as being. Painful as it may be, he simply isn't Mike Trout (2014 WAR of 5.6). This is not an even comparison, but as amazing as the basketball players in the AND1 mixtapes are, they are exhibitionists and not NBA-caliber players and a similar argument could be made -- to a far lesser degree -- with Cespedes. Hitting designed meatballs in the Home Run Derby doesn't advance the goal of a winning a championship, and making 300-foot balloon throws isn't necessary when you take better outfield routes.

Beane and the A's worship at the church of Sabermetrics and Cespedes was expendable. They traded him for a pitcher -- albeit an expensive rental -- with a WAR of 4.6 whose previous years WAR's (08-14) are all stellar with a low of 3.1 (2012) and a high of 6.2 (2009). Lester will be too expensive and too old (31) for the A's to even consider re-signing. But, it doesn't matter. They flipped a good outfielder with a ton of unrealized promise and a slightly-less expiring contract for a power pitcher who is having a bigger positive impact for his team this season and whose intangibles include two World Series titles and a 2.11 postseason ERA. (Duly noted that Cespedes hit very well in two ALDS series. His postseason sample size is still smaller than Lester's.)

The Cespedes trade is a strange coda to the years when Beane flips serviceable, borderline stars for prospects and waves the white flag mid-season. On July 9, 2009 the A's were 49-42 and fives games out of the lead. They traded Rich Harden (5-1, 2.34 ERA) for a seemingly unremarkable haul that happened to include Josh Donaldson. Beane didn't think he had the horses to win and he sold high on a pitcher with shaky medicals and an outsized (based on his performance) contract. Now, he thinks he does have what it takes to win and he again sold high. The reality is if Beane really felt Cespedes was as good as he is perceived, he wouldn't have moved him.

The short-term losers in all of this are we the fans who can't help but fall in love with ballplayers. Now the Cespedes shirsey/jersey can be added to the collection of former A's. (I have one, too.) The other losers in this are the fans of teams with MLB front offices who lack the guts to do what the A's did and, instead, award huge contracts to declining ballplayers based on past performance. The Phillies (Howard) and Angels (Pujols, Hamilton) come to mind.

The A's front office plays for wins and they don't care about moving merchandise in the team store. If you asked Billy Beane what jersey to get, he would tell you to save your money. After all, those championship DVD sets can be pricy.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

A's vs. Raiders Ultimatum Facing City Council, Fans

The A's lease imbroglio continues to fester in the sun, wafting an acrid smell into the Coliseum as the team thumps their neighbors across the Bay. The Oakland City council, with a lease approved by the JPA, is risking nuclear fallout from MLB Commissioner Bud Selig who has already issued a statement letting the A's move should the lease not be approved.

Meanwhile, the Giants are salivating at the prospect of having the Bay Area all to themselves and the Raiders are increasingly getting restless as they want to control development of the Coliseum site.

The one positive thing, in this complete and utter mess attributable to long-term neglect more than anything else, is that definitive resolution seems inevitable. The option of the A's and the Raiders continuing to share the Coliseum is no longer tenable. What the future holds is anyone's guess.

Relocation to Where?

It was interesting to hear Oakland City Councilman Larry Reid mention that the A's threat of relocation, assuming lease peace cannot be reached, is actually a real possibility.

Reid apparently mentioned Montreal and San Antonio as possibilities. Realistically, either destination would be a stretch. Here's why:

Montreal -- On the plus side, the city has a stadium available that could host MLB games. Olympic Stadium did so just this pre-season for two Mets-Jays tilts. However, Olympic Stadium would move the A's to arguably a worse facility than the Coliseum. Montreal is also, for all intents and purposes, prime Blue Jays marketing territory. MLB would be crazy, just plain crazy to allow a franchise to move to Montreal without having a new facility fully planned-out, funded and approved by the provincial government (an additional hurdle in Quebec). Also, consider if the A's moved to Montreal -- even temporarily -- realignment would just about need to happen. A real mess to consider.

San Antonio -- The Alamodome can, sort-of fit a baseball game in it. To call the facility Major League-ready is beyond a stretch. The Rangers consider San Antonio part of their marketing territory and would be sure to oppose such a move. Moving the A's to San Antonio would stack three AL West teams in Texas and in the Central Time Zone, making following road games harder for Angels and Mariners fans. A minor concern, as well, is that the A's would need to compensate the Padres for displacing that team's AA club.

It is far more likely that MLB would either ask the Giants to share ATT Park or that the A's would consider moving north to Sacramento.

Why Sacramento?

1. The A's would not need to compensate the River Cats as they are affiliated with the team.
2. Sacramento's media market (Sacramento-Stockton-Modesto) is robust, ranking at #20.
3. Raley Field, while still not MLB-ready, is arguably a better temporary facility than either Olympic Stadium or the Alamodome. (As a historical note, the Seattle Pilots in 1969 played in a AAA stadium and the Montreal Expos began their existence by playing at Jarry Park, also a minor league facility.)

In light of all of these machinations, the news in May that the River Cats are being courted by the Giants -- as their affiliation with the A's expires this season -- is all the more notable. After all, a minor tactic employed by the Giants in San Jose is use and ownership of the team's A-level club to partially block the A's. At the very least, ownership of the little Giants ensures the parent team extra compensation should the A's ever be granted the right to move.

If the A's and Giants swapped AAA locations, there is basically no chance that Fresno would be considered a spot for the A's to decamp to.

Affiliating with Sacramento, and investing in the team if possible, would be a savvy move by the Giants and further the team's ultimate goal -- elimination of a major competitor. Of course, on the other hand, blocking Sacramento might lead to temporally sharing ATT -- a Catch-22 for sure.

Choose and Lose

Anyone who thinks that Raiders owner Mark Davis and the Athletics ownership could join together and build Coliseum City is utterly naive. (They are doubly-naive if they include the Warriors ownership in the group as well.) Witness today's news that the Raiders development group has issued a letter to Oakland Mayor Jean Quan and the city council basically imploring the city to pick a side:

"the current proposal ... simply allows the A's to buy more time to find a site outside of Oakland ... and disrupt the ability to deliver a stadium for the Raiders and the ancillary developments adjacent to that stadium."

Read:

  • Approve the lease and risk the Raiders. 
  • Deny the lease and risk the A's.

It is also important to note that the Raiders want to knock down the Coliseum next year.

In a world of limitless funds, free of CEQA and where sports teams were all owned by owners more concerned with community harmony than money, Coliseum City might actually happen. This is not the world we live in today. Note the Raiders' letter's use of the phrase "ancillary development." Both teams want this because club revenues cannot be counted on given the ebbs and flows of attendance and the endless upward march of salaries.

The Coliseum, despite its historic playing field, is emblematic of the sort of hybrid-Frankenstein that trying to satisfy both a baseball and football team has produced. Has a stadium ever undergone a renovation so universally poor? Witness even the Raiders, the team it was expanded for, tarping off 10,000 seats this past season. "Mount Davis" is miserable in terms of sight lines and truly an architectural blight blocking out the Oakland hills. The real cherry, however, is that the city and county are on the hook for bond payments for years to come. As of early last year, about $100 million was still owed for this 1995 "renovation."

Make no mistake, the A's lease situation is fast becoming a showdown. It is understandable and laudable* to want all three Oakland-based pro teams to stay. The reality is that fans are fast being asked to choose sides and there are really only two potentially viable options: 1) save the A's; or 2) save the Raiders. (The Warriors are gone and have no interest in Coliseum area development.)

There is no middle ground and hoping for a "White Knight" to buy the A's, move them to the Howard Terminal site (one rejected by MLB) and thus somehow satisfy the Raiders by freeing the Coliseum just seems unrealistic and dangerous. Oakland simply can't "split the baby."

The latest sordid turn in this affair is that Raider and A's fans are now poised to be pitted against one another.

*Editor's Note -- My intention is not to question the passion of fans interested in keeping all of Oakland's teams. I have enormous respect with such groups and individuals. Personally, I may even agree with their end goals. However, passion and realism are sometimes opposing forces. Unless a major sea change occurs, vis-a-vis team ownership, it seems unrealistic that the city will save even two of these teams.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

A's Lease "Extension" Just Prolongs Team's Limbo

In terms of the A's "announced" 10-year lease extension with the JPA that oversees the O.co Coliseum, the devil is really in the details.

First, we don't even know that the lease extension has been finalized. Per this San Francisco Chronicle report by Carolyn Jones yesterday:

"We are still negotiating, so were surprised by the announcement of an agreement," [Oakland Mayor Jean Quan] said. "We plan to meet (Thursday), continue negotiations, and hope there will be an agreement soon."

OK. Keep that in mind.

The Associated Press report in circulation regarding the agreement has several very interesting quotes:

Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig commended both sides for reaching a deal on a lease extension, while offering, "I continue to believe that the Athletics need a new facility and am fully supportive of the club's view that the best site in Oakland is the Coliseum site."

A certain professional football team happens to feel the same way as well...

An additional quote:

"We very much appreciate Commissioner Selig's support for Oakland to be the home of the A's," coliseum authority Chairman Nate Miley added in a statement. "We also agree, and we believe the A's do as well, that long-term the Coliseum is the best site for them in the East Bay."

OK. Either Miley is either giving the A's the push in the A's-Raiders stadium game. or he still believes in Coliseum City and Santa Claus while we are at it. (Perhaps the latter can deliver the former?)

As previously detailed, the Howard Terminal plan was DOA and remains off-the-table with the current ownership group. A's owner Lew Wolff hammered in another -- if not the final -- nail in the proposed waterfront park with this quote:

"Howard Terminal as a potential ballpark site has been and is totally rejected by MLB and the A's," Wolff said in an email to The Associated Press.

Selig chimed in on the issue in a separate AP article:

"I continue to believe that the Athletics need a new facility and am fully supportive of the club's view that the best site in Oakland is the Coliseum site."

Beautiful renderings do not a ballpark project make.

So, is San Jose dead?

If you read the last quote by Selig carefully, you will note that he qualified his comment with "best site in Oakland (emphasis mine)."

The Oakland Tribune later did some editorializing of its own:

[Rhamesis] Muncada (Newballpark.org blogger), who had supported the A's now-defunct bid to move to San Jose, said the problem for Oakland and Alameda County "is that they want to retain all teams but don't have the resources to keep more than one, and they've been unwilling to choose between the two."

So, according to Tribune writer Matt O'Brien, the move to San Jose is "now-defunct." I wonder if long-time A's-to-San Jose champion and current San Jose mayoral candidate Sam Liccardo feels differently?

The Raiders

Muncada hits the nail on the head with his additional comments in the Tribune piece on the Raiders and A's vying for the same small pool of public funds and, more importantly, the same site:

[Muncada] who has been following the negotiations called the deal a "double edge sword because both the A's and the Raiders are competing for the single most feasible site." 

 "The Raiders and the A's are making statements to appear as if they aren't competing, but it's clearly evident (they are)," said Rhamesis Muncada, a San Jose resident who runs NewBallPark.org. "Raiders will take lease approval as a step toward siding with A's, moving Raiders out. A's will think the same if Raiders reach a deal to build Coliseum City." 

That same article also contains this caveat:

Oakland leaders had recently expressed some misgivings about details of the tentative deal. So did Raiders owner Mark Davis, whose vision for a new football stadium could be complicated by the long-term A's lease on the site the two teams share.

Waiting to Exhale/Much Ado About Nothing

Despite how it may be wrapped up by public officials, the A's lease extension is little more than a short-term solution. There is almost a zero percent chance that, barring massive investment, the A's will play at their current stadium into the 2020's. This fact makes Oakland Councilman Larry Reid's comment all the more amusing:

Fans should not exhale just yet, but you know, we're getting close.

Close to what? To an eventual showdown pitting the city's professional football and baseball interests? In truth, even with an inked extension, pro-Oakland A's fans are no closer to retaining the team in the long run.

Just listen to Wolff:

"I think it's a more-than-fair deal for both sides. There is an exit clause if the Raiders come through with whatever they're planning."

If you are planning on streaking down Broadway shouting,"The A's are staying!," you might want to hold off.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Interview with Nancy Finley, A Living Link to the A's 70's Dynasty

With all of the much-deserved pomp and circumstance of the recent '74 A's reunion, the conclusion of a rare three-year run as World Champions, nostalgia for the Charlie Finley-era teams is high. A steward of Finley's legacy is his niece Nancy Finley. Nancy has built one of the definitive virtual vaults for those looking to explore the A's 70's dynasty -- http://www.oaklandathleticshistory.com. Of course, her connection to the A's runs deeper than just her uncle. Nancy's father, Carl Finley, served as de facto general manager and vice president from the Kansas City days until the team's sale in 1980.

The following is an email interview. Nancy's comments (NF) have been lightly edited for clarity.

SMB: Your uncle, Charlie Finley, is essentially missing from the National Baseball Hall of Fame (HOF). Is he deserving of the honor?

NF: I definitely believe Charlie deserves a place in the HOF. The last time I checked, in 2012, the HOF had a time period split down the middle of our dynasty. This is 1947-1972, then 1973 to current. I would make sure Charlie was nominated under both time periods. Also, I believe my father, Carl A. Finley, deserves a place in the HOF under the Executive Category. Also, for both time periods.

SMB: Did Charlie Finley's divorce, and subsequent cash crunch, kill both the spirit and the means needed to keep the A's 70-era juggernaut alive?

NF: It seems common for most couples to experience a kind of "cash crunch" during a divorce. During this time, Charlie threw himself even more into the business. I noticed Charlie started leaning on dad more. More than the divorce, the main issues were "pending free agency," and (then MLB Commissioner) "Bowie Kuhn." I believe what killed the "spirit" the most was when we were served with a lawsuit in March 1979, on behalf of the city and county (Oakland and Alameda, respectively). Actually, the Coliseum Board was who authorized this lawsuit. The causes of action were ridiculous. This suit was thrown out of court, in our favor, a few months later the summer of 1979. Still, the fact this suit was prepared, after all we gave this area, was the final straw.

SMB: Describe your father's role in helping run the A's. Beyond just being a GM, how else was he involved?

NF: Where do I begin? When dad agreed to join Charlie and the team in Kansas City, dad was promised a minority ownership. This was a "given."  Then, it seemed like if any employee wanted to speak with Charlie, he would go to dad first. I remember Pat Friday (general manager from 1961-65), in our Kansas City days, at our home often. Dad had a way of knowing how Charlie would react, and what his answer would be. It was uncanny. Dad oversaw everything at the stadium, "on site."  Dad's title would have been vice president; however, I noticed dad referred to himself with various titles, depending on the circumstances. I call it a "situational title," depending on the situation, or, circumstances. Dad could put whatever title he chose in our annual yearbook.

Dad moved to Oakland the Fall of 1967 to prepare for the 1968 season opener. Player, Rick Monday came with dad. Both attended Bay Area events to help promote the new team. In Oakland, I remember how Charlie called dad every morning between 4:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. We were PST, Charlie CST. 

When dad saw talent in someone, he would "sell" Charlie on that person. Dad did this for Debbie Syvyer, aka Mrs. Fields, and Stanley Burrell, aka MC Hammer. So when Charlie visited Oakland, dad would make sure to introduce them. Dad focused on running the team, so Charlie could continue running his medical insurance company in Chicago. In Oakland, during home games, it was dad who signed off every day by 5:00 p.m. on our roster. In 1975, dad started attending the annual MLB owners meetings alone. Charlie turned over his proxy to dad. From 1975 onward, I noticed dad starting to settle on the title of vice president. It was about time.

SMB: Did Charlie Finley give Oakland a fair tryout before he started angling to move the club to cities such as Denver?

NF: Oh yes, I believe we gave Oakland a fair try. Also, our fans always came first. Our search for a place to move stemmed from frustration with the Coliseum Board. The front offices needed finishing. It was drywall and cement everywhere. In Kansas City, we were told the Coliseum was ready to move into. Then, we found out otherwise. It would be like moving into a house, without any flooring, or painted textured walls. It may sound minor; however, this is not what we were led to believe. The Coliseum Board is who we dealt with. Dad didn't deal directly with any politicians. At that time, it was the Coliseum board. We were promised the inside front office would be finished. We waited, and waited. When we started winning, we thought this would get the Coliseum Board's attention. Still nothing. Dad loved the Bay Area, and didn't want to move. I do remember when meetings were held with Marvin Davis in Denver. I suspected this was also to put a fire under the Coliseum Board, to make them finish our front office, as they had promised to do.

SMB: Did you ever get to see the NHL California Golden Seals play? Was your father involved with this Oakland-based franchise as well?

NF: Yes, I attended many Oakland Seals games. How nice you remember our Seals. Not many do. For some reason, no one seemed interested in hockey at the time. Now, look at the Sharks. I asked dad why Charlie purchased a hockey team. Dad said Charlie thought we had the "golden touch" with any sports franchise, because the A's were starting to win. Charlie acted like dad felt the same way, and that dad would do the same with the other teams. Dad said Charlie should not have assumed this. Dad reminded Charlie their goal was to focus on the baseball team. Dad walked away because of this. This was about 1969. Dad was back with Charlie by the time I moved to Oakland permanently, in June 1970. Charlie didn't have the time to devote to the hockey or basketball (Memphis Tams) teams. He didn't have the time for the A's either, which is what dad did. This is why the other franchises floundered.

SMB: What would Charlie Finley think of today's stadium mess? Would he be pushing to move the team to San Jose or out of California entirely?

NF: Today, Charlie would be so pleased with the fan support. In the 1970's, we were also the "new kid on the block," which may have hampered things. However, Charlie (and dad) would have enjoyed the great fan support. Also, the A's seem to have been granted many more "perks" than we ever had. This seems to have to do with when the Raiders returned to Oakland. Because the Raiders were given so much, the A's were entitled to some of the same. The press is much more understanding today. This is what I see. I have read some (team-issued) statements, knowing that if we (Finley-era ownership) ever said the same, it wouldn't have been pretty. Charlie wouldn't have had an outside ad agency, or, a front office so large. I wouldn't see Charlie wanting to leave this location, because the fans are so dedicated. It was always about the fans. If it turned out there was a defect (construction, not up to earthquake standards, etc) in the Coliseum, we probably would choose a location similar to where the Giants did -- on the water.

SMB: My understand is that you have a book in the works. Can you tell us some details and when it is slated to hit the shelves?

NF: I have much more to add to my website. I am waiting until my book is closer to the end. Thank you for the compliment.

 SMB: Your website has a treasure-trove of vintage A's clippings and images. Does it pain you that the team's history is somewhat invisible at their current facility?

NF: Yes, it does pain me.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Are the A's Really Interested in a "Long-Term" Lease in Oakland?

The A's and the 10-year Coliseum lease extension talks are an interesting PR/community relations tactic by the team. In theory, signing a long-term lease to stay in Oakland should be great news for those that hope to keep the club in town, and zooming out, those who hope to keep the franchise in the Bay Area. However, the lease talks are really meant to serve as an ultimatum and are a very clever game of "chicken" with the city and Alameda County.

Oakland and Alameda County know that the likelihood that both the A's and the Raiders will stay in town and have new stadiums built -- without public assistance -- is slim. As recently pointed out, the Raiders, unlike the A's, actually have expressed potential interest in building in Oakland. The site they are eyeing, however, just so happens to be where the Coliseum is located.

San Jose Mercury News columnist Mark Purdy recently detailed the Catch-22:

If Oakland agrees to do what the Raiders want and the Coliseum comes down, then the A's would obviously have no place to play. On the flip side, if Oakland agrees to an extended lease with the A's, that would clearly make it impossible to satisfy the football franchise's desires. 

The pro-Oakland line of thinking at this point says that if the A's were forced to vacate the Coliseum, they could temporarily relocate while a new park is built by the waterfront. Setting aside the feasibility temporary accommodations, the Brooklyn Basin proposal is nothing more than a series of beautiful sketches. There is no financing in place to build the park and no will from the current ownership to make the project happen. There is zero chance that the A's are going to privately finance a ballpark to serve as the crown jewel, and a major revenue generator, for an outside group. One can look at what the Giants and Cardinals are doing to see why ancillary development is critical. (Worth noting is that in San Jose Wolff has office and hotel holdings.)

Could the A's owners sell? Possibly, but the league would require an extremely well-capitalized ownership group. Such an group will only materialize when a definitive new stadium path emerges. Only the craziest of crazies could see a long-term future for the A's at the Coliseum. Sure, it has its quirks and a rich history, but the sightlines are often terrible (Mount Davis), the amenities are few and the old-time (Wrigley/Fenway) charm lacking. It is one thing to agitate and commission some CAD drawings, it is quite another to secure upwards of $500 million in financing.

The White Knight Isn't Coming

Let's also be realistic about Warriors owner Joe Lacob. He's not going to buy the A's unless: A) Brooklyn Basin is actually feasible; and b) he is cut in to the project. Signature Development of Oakland, connected both to Doug Boxer's Let's Go Oakland group and the nascent Oakland Waterfront Ballpark LLC (housed in the same building, on the same floor and operating out of the same suite in Oakland) is the real driver of Brooklyn Basin and Lacob, like Wolff/Fisher, isn't going to buy a team without a longterm profitability path. The real question, unanswered and unposed to date by the media, is does the Chinese investor group behind the Brooklyn Basin project, Zarsion Holdings Group Co., have any interest/desire to build a ballpark or buy the team?

Notable in all of this is the role of Doug Boxer. Boxer is helping Lacob's Warriors-to-San Francisco relocation efforts, while spearheading the, occasionally active, stay-in-Oakland group Let's Go Oakland. Could one of Mercury News columnist's Tim Kawakami's "sources" regarding Lacob's interest in the team be Boxer? While it was an interesting story, there is simply no substance to the rumors. Kawakami's quotes from Lacob, for an article posted earlier this month had no context and were drawn from an email exchange last December.

One Last Shot

Matier and Ross' article detailing the A's interest in a long-term lease extension noted a key caveat: the lease will need to contain an escape clause should the Raiders Coliseum-based stadium materialize, leaving the A's homeless.

Wolff noted,"There's a clause (in the proposed lease) that if the Raiders build a new facility, with some notice we will evacuate."

The article also made clear that the Raiders are the priority. Here's Coliseum Authority board member Chris Dobbins, "We want to lock the Raiders in before we make a long-term deal with the A's."

Where might Wolff want to move to in Oakland if we assume the waterfront is out? He told Oakland Tribune reporter Matthew Artz in December, "[The ideal site] would be where we're at right now. On land controlled by (the city and county)." So, in other words, the Coliseum complex.

Sure, the "Coliseum City" concept includes new baseball and football stadiums, but -- again -- you can sketch out anything, financing is another issue. The news and then retraction of the Prince of Dubai's involvement was telling. If a real roster of investors was in place for this massive project, surely this sort of rumor would not emerge.

From Artz's Oakland Tribune article on the 11th:

Appearing on 95.7 The Game, Quan said that the developers working on Coliseum City "are partnered literally with the prince of Dubai, who is next in line to lead Dubai. And they have capital."

And, then, from Artz's follow-up piece later the same day:

Quan refused to discuss her comments Friday, but acknowledged through her spokesman, Sean Maher, that the crown prince had not partnered on the deal. 

Maher said one of the developers does have connections to high-ranking officials in Dubai, "but that the crown prince of Dubai is not involved in the Coliseum project."

Keep in mind, this was the mayor herself, not a "source" or a spokesperson. Such a gaffe necessarily lends doubt to the project's viability.

What Wolff and Fisher really want is one last chance to force relocation to either San Jose or somewhere else. If keeping the Raiders forces the A's out -- either now or years down the line -- Wolff can claim that he has nowhere to go and push once more for San Jose.

Wolff's quote may read like this, "We have literally nowhere to go in Oakland. We tried to stay in the city and, ultimately, keeping the Raiders was their choice."

Monday, December 9, 2013

The A's Were Given Permission to Move to San Jose...and Didn't Do It

In the ongoing saga of the A's quest for a new stadium, the general public has been left with precious few actual facts. Therefore, the revelation that MLB had formally denied the A's request to move to San Jose on June 16 was a significant development. If the key to the Watergate Scandal, as depicted in All the President's Men, was to "Follow the money," than the corollary here is "Follow the timeline."

This blog's previous post (admittedly from a shamefully long time ago) explored this issue. Now that we know there was definitive action on June 16th, let's add some perspective to the issues and do some speculation. (After all, that is all really anyone outside of Bud Selig's inner-circle really has.)

June 16, 2013
A's denied request to relocate to San Jose.
Veracity: FACT

June 16, 2013
Sewer backup occurs at Coliseum. Later blamed on a sweater that had been flushed down the toilet.
Veracity: FACT

June 18, 2013
USA Today's Bob Nightengale reports that MLB had previous given the A's a set of conditions that needed to be met for a move to San Jose. From the article:

Baseball's blue-ribbon task force, formed four years ago, earlier this year presented Wolff with guidelines that could possibly make it work.

Veracity: UNVERIFIED
*Apologies that I erroneously tweeted last night that Nightengale reported this information the day of MLB's denial as opposed to two days later. 

June 18, 2013
San Jose sues MLB over its antitrust exemption, claiming the league is impeding the A's move to the city.
Veracity: FACT

Let's now assume that Nightengale has an inside source and that he has been giving out accurate information. Such a leap of faith makes his tweet from 2011 very interesting:

All signs and top #MLB sources say that the #Athletics will be granted permission by Feb to move to San Jose.

However, nothing came of this news, at least publicly. Enter Bill Madden of the New York Post, who on March 3, 2012 reports that the A's will be denied by MLB.

This was followed by the dueling territorial rights press releases from the Giants and the A's on Mark 7-8 of that year.

A year later, San Jose starts to break its lockstep messaging discipline with Wolff and the A's. City councilman Sam Liccardo on March 4 is quoted as saying that he wants San Jose to file an antitrust lawsuit.

To be clear, no one knows the exact connection of all these items, but the timing seems more than a coincidence. Something happened in early 2012.

MLB's formal denial letter this past June was likely precipitated by both Liccardo's threat and any number of communiques from San Jose (such as mayor Chuck Reed's public request for a meeting). Issuing it before the filing was smart business.

What May Have Happened

It seems highly likely that MLB in early 2012 presented the A's with a list of conditions for a move to San Jose, and the A's failed to satisfy them.

The A's have been explicit about saying that litigation was not the way to San Jose. However, if faced with no tenable options (e.g. crippling revenue guarantees to the Giants or an overwhelming up-front payment) a lawsuit is the last best option in the arsenal as it holds the possibility of: a) an outright win and a possible reduction of costs in the term sheet; or b) forcing MLB to settle as the discovery process would prove too damning (e.g. revealing all the league's financial secrets).

Going Nuclear

To be clear, suing MLB is not a move to be taken lightly. San Jose has crossed Commissioner Bud Selig and the league. Unless the lawsuit's appeal is successful, it would seem that the city's chances have actually diminished.

Perhaps the greatest irony of all, however, is nestled within the aforementioned court filing revealing MLB's denial letter:

Defendants (MLB) assert that this Court should take action based on a June 17, 2013 letter from Defendant Bud Selig. Defendants have failed to provide this letter to Plaintiffs (San Jose) or to this Court.

Even in litigation, MLB continues to keep the truth locked away, and force all of us to trade purely in speculation.