Houston, we have a problem

After a lengthy delay and a lot of questions, Jim Crane may be on his way to becoming the next owner of the Houston Astros. Word out of Houston tonight is that Crane met with his board after another meeting with MLB. It’s hard to think that any information about Crane’s bid isn’t already out there for Selig and the higher-ups to review, so this looks like a matter of prepping the transition (which McLane desperately wants). The change would have to be approved at the upcoming owners meetings, along with the CBA and perhaps the A’s territorial rights matter.

Houston realignment to the American League

A key item in that blog link is that Crane is willing to accept compensation in exchange for moving the team to the American League, where it would be part of the West division. My wild guess at this point is that the compensation would be a franchise sale price guarantee as long as Crane’s group owned the team for a significant enough tenure – say five years or so. That would provide some protection for the heavily leveraged Crane group as they “endured” the transition. I’m sure the hardship of trading the Cubs and Cards (25k per game x 15 games) for the Red Sox and Yankees (35k per game x 12 games) will make the other owners highly sympathetic.

The preliminary 2012 schedule was released a couple weeks ago (more on that later this week), and it appears that MLB wants to bake it in ASAP, which would render a 2012 realignment impractical. In theory, it should be easier to make changes to the schedule since starting next year, there will be only one team who has to share a multipurpose facility with another franchise (I’ll give you one guess as to who that is). Another thing to consider is the schedule format, which could continue in the unbalanced method MLB now employs (15-19 games in division, 6-9 outside), or move more towards a balanced format. Some examples are listed in the table below.

Comparison of existing scheduling format vs. three potential realignment formats

Option A mostly retains the spirit of the existing schedule. Option B sacrifices interleague series for more interdivision games. Option C nearly achieves a balanced format, whereas Option D again reduces interleague matchups. Key to this is the question of how many interleague games are truly necessary, especially now that the games will be played throughout the entire season. Another thing to consider is that by starting the season with an interleague series, it gives MLB an excuse to always have an opening series in Japan, Korea, etc.

Astros fans aren’t taking this threat lying down, though one has to wonder how strong the opposition truly is. As of tonight, a petition at SaveOurStros.org has 633 signees. The Keep the Astros in the National League Facebook group has only 50 members. Not that MLB cares about what a few fans think. I’d feel bad for them, but they’re going to have a very strong rivalry with the Rangers in short order, which should be great for both franchises. As for the effect on the A’s, there isn’t much of one. They’d just be trading two opponents in the AL Central/East for one in the Central time zone. No big deal.

There’s also talk of adding another wildcard team for a one-game playoff prior to the divisional series. I didn’t have strong feelings one way or another on the subject until the final day of the 2011 season, in which the action was so riveting that it would be highly anticlimactic to eliminate it by creating game 163.

What are your thoughts on this? Personally, I’m glad MLB is creating an equal amount of interleague games for every team, which IMHO is far more important from a competition standpoint than confining interleague play to May and June. It’s something that has been impossible to address because of the 16-team National League. Now it can be fixed, and baseball will be better off for it.

83 Responses to Houston, we have a problem

  1. Marine Layer says:

    @all – City has been consistent in saying that they will not pursue anymore land acquisitions until MLB rules on T-rights. There is little reason for Wolff to pick up an option unless that happens. Even if any developer (including Wolff) were interested in the land for something other than a ballpark, it would be foolish to buy it now with the amount of upheaval that’s due for the area long into the future. SJDDA met earlier today so there may be something that came out of that closed session, but we probably won’t know for a while.

  2. Tony D. says:

    Mr. Wolff could always develop Diridon with residential/commercial/retail along with Barry Swenson and build a ballpark at North San Pedro/Brandenburg ;o). Sorry R.M., NSP/Brand is my personal version of the 980 freeway floating ballpark.

  3. Marine Layer says:

    @Tony D. – That ship sailed a long time ago. Fat chance.

  4. Genaro says:

    That’s exactly what I was getting at, you would wait the whole situation out before making a deal.
    .
    Some can hedge their bets, but I’m extremely confident that the A’s are going to get the OK to move to Diridon. There is just too much noise pointing that way without a reciprocal response from Oakland, as what happened when Dellums introduced the Victory Court project. Was that not the same period the infamous gag-order was ordered yet Oakland still spoke out a year into it?

  5. baycommuter says:

    It would be interesting if we had something like the “how are you feeling about the Athletics?” poll on the front page of AN that would indicate the aggregate level of sentiment that San Jose will/won’t happen. I would set my pointer at 60-40 that MLB will grant approval, and 50-50 that a move actually occurs.

  6. jk-usa says:

    Lew sure likes collecting acres of dirt. The Fremont site will take decades to develop; the SJ site not as long, but a nice mid-sized strip mall would fit rather nicely there. Gotta have a Starbucks, a Jamba Juice, a Quizno’s, a Curves (for the ladies), a beauty/nail salon, a sushi place, a Panda Express, a Trader Joes to class it up some, a donut shop for the cops, a CVS for all your personal needs, and a Mattress Discounters.

  7. SantaTeresaHills says:

    There was another Diridon area plan before the current one. The original one did not have an A’s stadium nor did it have High Speed Rail but it did have BART.

    The spark for the area to be developed in the original plan would be BART. The reason that BART is so important is that an underground station needs to be planned for when developing the parking lots just south of HP Pavilion. Currently there is a project schedule for BART to Berryessa Station in San Jose. There is no schedule yet for the part to Diridon and then Santa Clara. I think development would be scheduled for the Diridon area to be completed about the same time as BART. The area nearest HP Pavilion would be built first with the area south of that being done as demand requires.

    Now that High Speed Rail and the A’s stadium may be built in the Diridon area, a realistic scheduled completion date for any one of HSR, BART, or the A’s stadium would cause the whole area between the A’s stadium, HSR, or BART to start to be developed. I don’t consider any of the 3 guaranteed to happen. BART to Diridon may never be built. HSR may never be built. A’s stadium may never be built. If all of these 3 things never happen, San Jose may just sit on the other Caltrain parking lots until downtown San Jose expands to that area. That is why it doesn’t make any sense for any developer to purchase any of the San Jose land because there is too much uncertainty at this point.

  8. GoA's says:

    @jk–is it any wonder that people trash you with your constant slams to SJ—grow up man—and for once post something of substance here

  9. Sid says:

    @JK-usa- Hahah! I love the comments, that made my day. CVS? That is a good one! :)

    @Jeffrey- That area is not slated to be developed for years to come. Hence why the city will not use ED on the ATT parcels now.

    If it was to be developed in the near future the city would use ED on ATT now since a train station is considered something for “public use” much like a stadium.

    ED would not work for shops, office buildings, etc….since those are not considered for “public use”. SJ would be kicking out one private business for another…..not going to work, ATT has deep pockets and would have a good case in court.

    Stadiums are a rare exception to the rule and ATT would lose hands down on that one as there is precedent across the country around that.

    Therefore for Wolff to buy those pieces of land now before MLB rules is quite frankly a “huge risk”. He must know something we all do not as for him to sink another 25M-35M on top of the 30M he is sitting on in Fremont does not make sense.

    Especially without the ATT parcels included. ATT could easily hold up any development in the area since a new EIR would be needed for any new development other than a ballpark at this point.

    ATT is half of the 14 acres alone, without those pieces he is just buying small areas around them, Wolff in order to do something special with that land (ballpark or no) would need ATT to move.

    I ask why not wait another month? It is not like it would make a difference in the grand scale of things considering how slow MLB has been thus far.

    Wolff is jumping the gun because he knows San Jose is about to be opened up. Otherwise he would sit back and relax.

    I do admit, you could be right and he may have ulterior motives besides the ballpark. But it just does not make sense even if the land was cheap with ATT sitting there taking up such a huge chunk of the area.

  10. Sid says:

    One more note:

    My guess is Selig gave Wolff a “verbal go ahead” on the land so that MLB can hit their 2015 deadline.

    By moving now, MLB rules in November/December. ATT is forced out in the new year, 6-9 months to get the site ready and get permits.

    Then break ground in January 2013 for a March 2015 opening.

    It is a theory but Wolff starting now on the land pieces tells this theory might have something to it.

  11. bartleby says:

    @ Sid “ED would not work for shops, office buildings, etc….since those are not considered for “public use.”
    .
    I believe you are mistaken. “Public use” is typically construed very broadly. In Kelo v. City of New London, 545 U.S. 469 (2005) the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the authority of governments to take non-blighted private property by eminent domain and transfer it to private developers solely for the purpose of increasing municipal revenues. Since then, there have been two ballot initiatives in California two limit this power, but both failed. To my knowledge, there has been no other California legislation since then limiting this power (though I will admit I am not an expert on eminent domain law).
    .
    In California, my understanding is that a property must be “blighted” to be subject to ED. However, again, the term is construed very broadly. Being located in a redevelopment zone constitutes being “blighted” by definition. “Economic underutilization” is another grounds for being considered “blighted,” even for thriving businesses.
    .
    The vast majority of challenges to ED actions fail.

  12. GoA's says:

    SJ City Council approves a series of economic development areas of focus including pursuing development of baseball and soccer stadiums- significant? Only in the sense that it continues to show political will to make this happen

    http://www.mercurynews.com/bay-area-news/ci_19142451

  13. Anon says:

    SJ City council is the reciprocal of Oakland’s. Glad our leaders have the vision and foresight to attack issues for the city and its people, and not their own political agendas! Nice catch there Go A’s!

  14. Sid says:

    @Bartleby- Yes, I agreed with you that ED is very broad and can be used for multiple things.

    The difference is stadiums are 100% considered “public use” by the Supreme Court hence ATT in this case would have a hard time in court if San Jose uses it to remove them for one.

    That was the point I was trying to make as across the country ED has been used for stadiums in several locations as ML has pointed out.

    Plus the fact for Wolff to buy all that land around ATT without them leaving does not make sense and it would prohibit Wolff from taking full advantage of the land.

    Another theory I have is even with ED SJ cannot buy out ATT because they are broke.

    Therefore by selling the other parcels to Wolff the city will then take the 20M from that and use ED on ATT, then buy them out with that money.

    Then in turn sell the ATT parcels to Wolff and walk away with some cash in their pocket for the state raid on RDAs.

    Wolff then in turn would own all the parcels.

    @ML- If Wolff owns all 14 acres why would there be a need for a referendum? I read the previous posts but I am confused since if it were an office building going up for example no referendum would be needed.

    It is not like San Jose is “donating the land”…..They are selling it off to Wolff.

  15. Marine Layer says:

    @Sid – As long as eminent domain is needed, so will a referendum.

  16. bartleby says:

    @Sid My point was the Kelo decision established that taking property and giving it to private developers for things like shops, offices, etc. could be a “public use” just as much as building a stadium. That’s why it was such a controversial decision.

  17. gojohn10 says:

    All this talk about ED isn’t very stimulating ;)

  18. Sid says:

    @Bartleby- Yes, but ED is far less likely to succeed with offices, shops, etc….A stadium would be much different.

    @ML- We would need a referendum for the ED part itself on ATT? Or one for the A’s to actually build a stadium?

  19. Sid says:

    @ML- Nevermind….It is both.

  20. Rayburn's Son says:

    ED talk is monumentally premature. Whatever Kalra was spewing in SD was loose talk without much substance. That, most likely, will be borne out fairly soon.

  21. GoA's says:

    Actually even LW has intimated that ED may be required-

    ML- any idea I’d ED can be initiated before MLB gives the ok to SJ and any referendum is complete- or does it need to await the outcome of these actions before the city can proceed?

  22. Marine Layer says:

    @GoA’s – I doubt it. As I said before, the likely course of action will be to get the green light from MLB, then make one last offer and provide the threat of eminent domain. Then we’ll see how intransigent they are.

  23. bartleby says:

    @Sid “Yes, but ED is far less likely to succeed with offices, shops, etc.”
    .
    What is your basis for this statement? 99% of all ED challenges fail. I believe this was true even before Kelo, and Kelo dramatically lowered the bar.

  24. Eric 19 says:

    FYI Oakland is committing some resources to the Coliseum area. This link should be on another page but it should be mentioned.

    http://www.bizjournals.com/sanfrancisco/print-edition/2011/10/14/oakland-has-big-plans-for-area-near.html

  25. David says:

    @Eric19 – Go Oakland!!

  26. EddieVegas_NRAF says:

    Not to hijack the thread back to the topic, but in any of those scenarios ML listed above, I’m sure the interleague schedule would include the annual regional matchups (i.e. A’s-Gnats, Slegna-Bums, MFY-Mets). That puts the schedulers in an even tighter box, doesn’t it?

  27. jk-usa says:

    @Eric19&David–Yup, Go Oakland!!!

  28. Marine Layer says:

    @Eric19 – I addressed the RFP in Friday’s news comments thread. Once a firm (or firms) is chosen to do the work, we can study it in kind. I’ve read the RFP and it’s fairly standard language for this kind of project. One of the alternatives being requested involves what to do if the A’s leave the Coliseum.

  29. Genaro says:

    Very interesting; they’ve made the leap towards what would really be necessary to make any new site at that area work. If anything, this sort of project is for the Raiders though as focusing on one team and making the hub to which they build off of is the only way that area can be revitalized.

  30. Eric 19 says:

    Sorry for the misplaced link and not reading the another
    post about it. So the Astros are going to the AL and there will be an interleague series throughout the season. Add that Instant replay is being expanded. Hmmm. To me the appealing aspects of MLB was its resistance to change and appreciation of i tradition. With that in mind Bud Selig will definitely give the go ahead for the A’s move to San Jose.

  31. Sid says:

    @bartleby- ED has been used for ballparks across the country on several occasions. If you are right then the city would have used ED already on ATT.

    Why haven’t they? Because they cannot justify it without MLB giving permission for the A’s to move to San Jose.

    But ML makes a great point….ATT will get one last offer from the city before it goes down that path.

    My guess is ATT once MLB gives the go ahead will see the writing on the wall and bounce but are stringing this out in hopes they can stay.

    Wolff without ATT leaving would be stuck with a bunch of land around them that would be tough to develop as ATT would fight tooth and nail to stop it.

  32. Eric 19 says:

    Who is compensating the Astros for the move to the AL? If it is MLB, I would imagine a better use of such funds is to compensate the Giants for the T-rights.

  33. bartleby says:

    @ Sid “ED has been used for ballparks across the country on several occasions.”
    .
    Yes. It has also been used in furtherance of other private projects.
    .
    “If you are right then the city would have used ED already on ATT.”
    .
    This does not logically follow. They haven’t used ED because they don’t have an imminent need. This doesn’t mean that need would have to be for a ballpark.
    .
    “Why haven’t they? Because they cannot justify it without MLB giving permission for the A’s to move to San Jose.”
    .
    Again, they need some imminent need, not necessarily a ballpark. Also, don’t overlook the difference between what constitutes “justification” from a legal standpoint and what constitutes “justification” from a political standpoint.

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