Ownership Swap

Note: This is another “what if” scenario for this week. The conjecture within is not based on any recent news or reports.

Several teams throughout MLB are in some form of transition, whether it’s a venue (Marlins) or a sale (Padres, Dodgers, Astros). Some of these teams are taking far longer than they initially expected to get their transitions completed, creating a bit of heartache for their constituent ownership groups and business partners.

In January I wrote about the problems facing Jeff Moorad in his quest to gain control of the Padres. As reported last week, Moorad withdrew his application to become the “control person” in order for the team’s new TV deal with Fox Sports San Diego to go through. Moorad’s deal to buy the team from John Moores was set to take as much as five years on a sort of layaway plan, though Moorad has already assumed operation of the team. He also has clearly been looking to accelerate the process, yet hasn’t made any headway within The Lodge for several months. The control person issue hasn’t even gone to a vote, unlike the uncontentious decision made in when Larry Baer was approved by MLB four months ago. Maury Brown thinks that in addition to financial concerns, there may be others among the other owners who have it in for Moorad, including Jerry Reinsdorf and Moorad’s former partner, Ken Kendrick of the Diamondbacks.

With the troubles that Moorad’s facing in San Diego and Lew Wolff is dealing with in Oakland, could the time be coming for the two to switch places? Moorad’s group, which famously includes Save Mart CEO and one-time A’s bidder Bob Piccinini, would be able to get in the club with a lower price ($100+ million less) in Oakland than in San Diego. The group, which is reportedly full of Modesto-area interests, would be able to see a locally-based team. There still the fundamental issue of what to do in terms of a venue, but I’ll get to that later.

For Wolff and John Fisher, it would be an acknowledgement of defeat in terms of trying to build a venue. However, Wolff and his family would at least be able to continue to be owners of a franchise, and a Wolff-Fisher ownership group would have more capital on hand to pass muster with the Elders at The Lodge. Wolff himself is based in LA, so a move to the San Diego franchise would also be relatively local. Future revenue streams are far more stable and predictable for the Padres than they are for the A’s at this point, so aside from the fact that there’s no dream legacy-piece stadium to build (except maybe for AAA), it’s a good investment.

There’s a $100 million difference between the A’s and Padres valuations (latter is higher), which would have to be accounted for. Politically, a franchise swap could be the catalyst Oakland needs to get its Coliseum City/Victory Court/980 Park/Flavor-of-the-week stadium plan moving. It would allow Piccinini the opportunity to prove that he could keep the team in Oakland. It’s possible that Andy Dolich, who Piccinini teamed with last time and recently lost out in the Dodgers bidding process, could come on with a minority share. And if Oakland can’t get its act together or if the cost to stay in Oakland were too great, the group would be well-positioned to move the team to Sacramento, which is closer and a more hassle-free drive from Modesto (and further away from the Giants, who would rent the Mayflower trucks for the move).

Obviously, swapping ownership groups is not nearly as simple as I’ve described. It’s only been done once in modern baseball history when John Henry took over the Red Sox while Jeff Loria sold the Expos and bought the Marlins. The important thing is that unlike the T-rights dispute, there is a real precedent for this. Whether you think this is realistic or farfetched is probably dependent on your view of current ownership and your opinion of Oakland or San Jose.

I look forward to the comments on this one. Fire away.