It will be an interesting offseason for the Oakland Athletics, as the fate of a new ballpark will determine whether the team goes into rebuilding mode or brings back established players to spiff up the franchise for a sale.
The backstory, for those living in a cave the last few baseball years. Like many fans and others in baseball, Lew Wolff, Billy Beane and the rest of the Athletics are waiting for word from an MLB special committee to determine the team’s ballpark fate. Wolff has reached an agreement to put a new ballpark in downtown San Jose, but the move has been opposed by the San Francisco Giants, who control the territory. The work of the committee has been done for some time, but Commissioner Bud Selig is holding off on implementing a plan based on its recommendations. Part of the holdup: California courts are still determining the fate of the state’s economic redevelopment agencies. There’s little chance a new ballpark could go up in San Jose (where the city’s redevelopment agency would put together the land deal for the privately financed facility) or Oakland (where the city’s redevelopment agency would be a player in any new-ballpark construction) without some agency involvement. To balance the state budget, the California Assembly ordered city and county redevelopment agencies to halt new work and turn money over to the state. That’s been challenged in court already and will be decided by the state Supreme Court, and today another lawsuit was filed to prevent the loss of redevelopment funds by cities. Nothing is imminent, though: the state Supreme Court will decide the first lawsuit by January.
And this is why no decision is imminent on the A’s ballpark situation: it’s certainly not a given that there will be a new ballpark possible in either city.
Another strong factor: a move to San Jose means working out a deal with the San Francisco Giants over the territory. Outsiders don’t realize how important territories are in MLB ranks: they are the reason why large teams keep control over huge populations (New York/New Jersey could certainly support one more team; Boston could support another team; the greater Los Angeles area could probably support one more team) and why smaller markets retain baseball. Whether it be MLB territories, TV territories or MiLB territories, they are sacrosanct in baseball, and one just doesn’t announce a move into another team’s territory without prior approval. The Giants have been vehemently against the move of the A’s into the team’s territory and might sue MLB if it happens.
Still, GM Beane will need to decide on a player-development plan at some point. If it doesn’t look like a new ballpark is inevitable, the team will re-sign vets like Josh Willingham and Coco Crisp in an effort to put a competitive team on the field and make the franchise more attractive to potential buyers. If it looks like the A’s will have a new ballpark in three years, then the team will go into rebuilding mode, promoting youngsters and releasing expensive vets.
Image from happier days at O.co Coliseum, when the upper deck wasn’t closed off to fans.
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