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What will it take for A’s to land in San Jose?

With Fremont out of the picture, the way for the Oakland A’s to make the move to San Jose has never been clearer. Here’s what will need to happen before the team makes the move.
With Fremont out of the picture as a future home of the Oakland A’s, the chattering has already begun in baseball circles on where the team will end up. While nothing will happen immediately, the informal oddsmakers have already pegged San Jose as having the best chance to land the team, followed by Oakland running weak second.

After that, there really are no other contenders: officials in Portland and Las Vegas, two cities that pitched a lot of woo at MLB when the Montreal Expos were on the market, have been conspicuous by their silence with the A’s in play. In Portland, the big sports-facility issue is whether to convert PGE Park to a baseball-only facility and build a new ballpark for the Portland Beavers (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League), and the discussion of a Bevos facility has focused solely on where the minor-league facility should be located. In Vegas, Mayor Oscar Goodman has apparently decided pro sports would not be a boost to the finances of his struggling city; discussions of MLB and a new NBA arena are all but dead.

Besides, we’re not so sure Lew Wolff and crew really want to leave northern California; he pointedly said yesterday his goal was to keep the team in the region, and there’s nothing in his actions to suggest otherwise. Unless some city like Santa Clara is clamoring to get a piece of the A’s — which is highly doubtful — that really leaves the team with only two options: Oakland or San Jose.

And right now the betting line is that the A’s are San Jose’s to lose, provided the team can navigate some tricky political waters. But Wolff is a successful developer, and you don’t become successful in that field unless you have some mad skills. He’s already convinced MLB Commissioner Bud Selig that he deserves a shot at San Jose; a letter from the commissioner last fall basically gave him carte blanche to negotiate with anyone for a new home anywhere. Here’s what will need to happen before the A’s can call San Jose home.

Bud Selig and MLB COO Bob DuPuy play rough: they’re not above threatening local officials with a move if they feel they’re not receiving a fair deal — but the problem is that they consider a fair deal to be one where MLB receives 99 cents of every dollar.

In San Jose, hardball tactics are not going to work. Hardball works only when you have some leverage. Wolff and the A’s have no leverage here. What’s Bud gonna do — threaten to stay away?

Yeah, we know the owners of the San Francisco Giants control the San Jose territory, and we know they said once again yesterday they have no intention of giving it up.

That’s called a negotiating stand.

Selig has the power to make this work. He managed to placate Baltimore owner Peter Angelos when the Montreal Expos were moved to Washington with a financial deal that’s actually proven to be beneficial for the O’s, no matter how much Angelos complains. A financial deal could be worked out with the Giants — especially now in the post-Bonds era, where team revenues and attendance are down.

San Jose has one thing the A’s need: a 14-acre parcel of land in downtown San Jose. Right now San Jose’s stand is that the A’s should buy the land from the city and privately finance a ballpark.

That’s not gonna happen. But San Jose officials need to be convinced why that’s a bad idea.

First off, Wolff needs to convince the city to give him the land. That may not be as tall an order as you think: the land is sitting empty, and a new ballpark there would surely aid downtown business owners.

If the land is given over to the A’s, then voters must weigh in. San Jose law provides for a referendum if the city financially assists on any sports facility with 5,000 or more seats, and there’s just no way to dance around that provision if land is given to the A’s.

But voters may be willing to approve the project if Wolff privately finances the ballpark. He already agreed to do so in the two scrapped Fremont plans, and there’s no reason he won’t do it again. By doing that, Wolff is telling voters he isn’t seeking public subsidies, nor is he looking for a handout. He’s already a local of sorts, first as a hotelier/developer and then as a sports owner with MLS’s San Jose Earthquakes. He has a lot of local goodwill built up by the way he’s approached the city on discussions of a new Earthquakes stadium: he’s sought land while offering to put up construction costs on his own. The same playbook should come in handy when looking for help with the A’s.

There are a lot of things that can go wrong in this process, of course; you never know if Bud will take an inappropriate public stance or whether some politician will oppose the ballpark proposal as a good career move. But the current situation with the A’s represents San Jose’s best chance to land Major League Baseball.

RELATED STORIES: Wolff: Goal is team in "Northern California"; A’s officially drop Fremont ballpark plans; Wolff says there’s no backup plan; A’s suspend Fremont plans; will reevaluate future home for club; A’s: No new ballpark until 2014; Wolff: A’s still committed to Fremont ballpark; A’s cancel community meetings as opposition to new ballpark plan accelerates; New A’s ballpark opposed by hundreds of protesters; Oakland admits original plans for Cisco Field are all but dead

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