News for 10/31/12

All Hallows’ Evening edition.

  • The state’s Department of Finance nixed a settlement that would’ve satisfied the 49ers and Santa Clara Unified School District over the split and repayment of $30 million of redevelopment funds. The district, city, and county will appeal on November 26 with a ruling expected by December 18. If the deal remains rejected, the 49ers will sue in March. The ongoing dispute over the $30 million will not stop stadium construction, which is already starting on the upper deck. [San Jose Mercury News/Mike Rosenberg]
  • Speculation: Following along from that last story, I don’t think a deal between San Jose and Santa Clara County over the Diridon land will pass muster, even if the County finds money to fill the gap. The State appears to be putting its foot down to restrict redevelopment, at least through the rest of Governor Jerry Brown’s term. That’s not to say that Wolff/Fisher won’t be able to get the land. They may have to go through the normal sale process to get it, that’s all. [Sacramento Bee/Loretta Kalb]
  • The 45-day window for the Dodgers and Fox to negotiate a new TV deal has opened. Per the terms of the current deal, Fox has first dibs for the duration of the window. Guggenheim Partners paid $2 billion with the idea that the next TV deal would be a bonanza, so it would be not be a shock if no agreement emerges from the talks. There is a catch: the Dodgers have to name their price during the window, effectively setting the market. How much is too much for Fox, which has lost the Lakers and Pac-12 sports in the past year and has two channels to fill? We’ll see. [LA Times/Joe Flint]
  • Speaking of channels, Time Warner Cable SportsNet launched without carriage on DirecTV, Dish, and any SoCal cable operator other that Time Warner and Charter. The Pac-12 Network continues to be unavailable on DirecTV, AT&T U-verse, and Verizon FiOS.
  • From the Department of Audacity: the City of El Paso’s Proposition 3 asks voters to approve a ballpark deal. However, only recently was it revealed what would happen if voters said “No”. If that happens, the $50 million ballpark will continue to move forward, but not financed by bonds backed by a hotel tax. Instead, it’s highly likely that the general fund would have to be tapped to fund the ballpark. Cray cray. [El Paso Times/Cindy Ramirez]
  • Today an architectural review of Barclays Center was published, which I read with glee. NY Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman talks of the arena’s rusting metal panels being akin to “ancient chains binding a giant Gulliver”, or its technological excellence, including an “underground turntable for trucks that may sound eye-rollingly dull but makes traffic engineers like the city’s transportation commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan, swoon”. The latter half of the review rightfully critiques the arena’s lack of integration into the neighborhood and Brooklyn in general. [NY Times/Michael Kimmelman]
  • The Texas Rangers continue with $12 million in improvements to Rangers Ballpark, highlighted by an extra row of high-roller seats and a club area behind home plate. That brings the total of improvements over the last three years to $35 million. [Dallas Morning News/Sarah Mervosh]
  • For tonight’s home opener, the Philadelphia 76ers are unveiling the world’s largest (and scariest) T-shirt cannon. [The 700 Level/Enrico Campitelli, Jr.]

Be safe out there on Halloween.

Baseball comes early in 2013 thanks to WBC

The new tradition known as the World Baseball Classic returns next spring. As reported earlier in the summer, San Francisco was chosen as the site for the finals, to be held March 17-19. The schedule is out now, if you want to plan for the event.

  • Pool play: March 2-6 in Japan and Taiwan, March 7-10 in Puerto Rico and Phoenix, AZ.
  • Second round (Double elimination): Pool 1 (Japan) – March 8-12, Pool 2 (Miami, FL) – March 12-16
  • Semifinals: March 17-18
  • Finals: Tuesday, March 19

Tickets are not yet for sale for the championship rounds. I’ll post anew when tickets are made available. All games will be broadcast on MLB Network. Some qualifying pool games have already been played, with two additional pools to commence mid-November.

Rod Carew Stadium in Panama City, Panama will host Qualifying Pool 3 starting on November 15. Image: Wikimedia Commons

During the last two WBCs, much attention was paid to ensuring that pitchers don’t get overworked, since spring training is meant to ramp their workload gradually. There are even rules to give pitchers an appropriate amount of rest between appearances. Rosters for the major contending teams aren’t expected to be set until winter. While the Giants appear to have numerous players who could appear on numerous rosters, it’s unclear what A’s might play in the WBC due to their relative lower profile. Yoenis Cespedes, who played in 2006 and 2009, can no longer play for Cuba due to his defector status.

Pitching concerns aside, the great thing about the World Baseball Classic is that it forces spring training to start a week earlier than usual. 2012′s spring training schedule started on March 3. In 2013 gameplay should start on February 23, with pitchers and catchers likely to report around Valentine’s Day as they did in 2009. The A’s first game is on 2/23 against the Brewers, only 117 days away from today’s date.

The inclusion of WBC games into spring training allows for a greater variety and schedule of games to watch in March, whether you’re in Arizona or Florida. Chase Field will hold First Round pool play March 7-10, while Marlins Park will stage Second Round games March 12-16. 2009′s semifinals games brought in 43,000 fans each while the final had over 54,000 announced attendance. The final rounds at AT&T Park should sell out as teams emerge from the elimination round. If 2009 is any indicator prices may be steep. Fans back then were encouraged to buy strips, just as they would for postseason games. That and the uncertainty regarding which teams would play slowed sales a bit, as pool play in Miami and San Diego last year frequently attracted fewer than 20,000 fans per game. Tickets for the 2013 WBC are expected to go on sale on December 3.

A couple more travel tools

First, a quick note of congratulations to the Giants for winning their second World Series in the three years. The new interleague format with home/home series should be even more tension-filled in 2013.

The two tables below show distances and travel times between ballparks. There’s also a Google Drive spreadsheet if you want to download the tables. Methodology is simple. Numerous queries were done via Google Maps and Sport Map World and assembled into tables. Travel times for driving are the distance divided by an average 55 mph speed. Air travel times are air distance divided by a 540 mph speed, plus 15 minutes to allow for takeoffs and landings. Air travel times are between venues, not airports, so factor additional transit time if you are planning a trip based on air travel.

Distances between MLB ballparks in miles by air (blue) and land (green). Click to enlarge.

Travel times between ballparks in hours (Blue: Air, Green: Road). Times are approximate. Click to enlarge.

A newswrap post should be coming tomorrow.

Update 10/30 12:00 AM – Added tentative Minor League Baseball schedule in Google Drive format, Excel, and PDF. Includes all games except for Rookie/Short Season schedules, which are not yet published. The schedule has not yet be reformatted into the grid used for the MLB schedule. That’s coming soon.

Tenuous grip

Athletics Nation honcho Tyler Bleszinski (a.k.a. Blez) put up his annual Billy Beane interview yesterday, and as usual it’s a treat. Fortunately, this offseason’s conversation was more occupied by what the team did instead of looking to the future. It’s a good read.

Once you’re done with that, contrast that conversation with one held with Mark “not Rincon” Shapiro and conducted by Fox Sports Ohio’s Pat McManaman. The 2012 edition of the Indians spent the first half of the season at or a few games within first place, only to sink like they wore cement shoes after the All Star Break. Their last winning season was in 2007, when the team went to the ALCS and squandered a 3-1 series lead to the Red Sox. Back then the team was well-stocked with quality youth in the field (Grady Sizemore, Jhonny Peralta, Victor Martinez, Ryan Garko, Franklin Gutierrez) and studs on the mound (C.C. Sabathia, Cliff Lee, Fausto Carmona Roberto Hernandez, Jake Westbrook). If the team could get over the hump, the malaise of the early 2000′s would give way to a resurgence, perhaps reminiscent of the mid-90′s clubs that dominated the AL Central. Instead, the team traded both Sabathia and Lee as they neared free agency, later traded Gutierrez, Martinez and Peralta while Sizemore and Hernandez were beset with injuries. It’s not a unique script. The A’s fortunes during that period played out much the same way, with Eric Chavez and Justin Duchscherer constantly rotating between the DL and the active roster, and Bobby Crosby simply not panning out after a RoY season. Poor yields on trades kept both teams from successfully rebuilding. It’s a script all revenue-poor teams have to follow, often with a boom season being illusory instead of trendsetting. Poor teams can afford to make fewer mistakes. Rich teams can afford to have Barry Zito suck for more than half of his contract until he redeems himself as a 4th starter. In Cleveland or Oakland, Zito’s contract is a pair of cement shoes.

That the Indians haven’t won the Series since the Truman administration is well-known. Not even a successful movie franchise has lifted the curse or healed the Cleveland fan’s psyche. No, it’s not as long as the Cubs’ endless suffering, but at least Chicago’s had other teams win in the meantime. The annual disappointment properly frames a snippet of the discussion between McManaman and Shapiro, as they talk about lagging attendance and the business side of the Indians. Shapiro was promoted to Indians president after the 2010 season, so he has his hands in more than just personnel work, now the task of GM Mark Antonetti.

Q: Is there a perception problem in town?

A: The biggest perception issue is probably the simplest one, which is we’re still to some extent always viewed in the backdrop of those ‘90s teams, when in reality that was a completely different business model. Those (Indians) teams were literally the Red Sox, the Cubs, the Dodgers. We were top five in payroll, as high as three. And our revenues generated that.

So I think there’s that general public sentiment that, ‘Hey if you win enough people will come.’ But that’s not necessarily true. We had a unique set of circumstances.

There was a new ballpark. That’s a huge multiplier. We hadn’t won in 40 years. That’s a multiplier. There was no football team in town. That magnified our revenues. The one that gets overlooked a lot is the industry was coming off a strike, so all of our revenues were amplified because all the other teams’ revenues were significantly tamped down at that point. So ours were amplified. Our spending power was amplified on the free agent market. And the city was economically in a better place. There were four Fortune 500 companies that were here that are no longer here.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? While the A’s didn’t have a new ballpark, they and the Coliseum Commission teamed up to make improvements to the Coliseum that made it arguably the best ballpark in the majors in the late 80′s. They were able to do this because the Raiders fled the stadium for Los Angeles. Wally Haas had the immediately competitive BillyBall teams of the early 80′s, then a rebuilding period, followed by the powerhouse Bash Brothers teams, during which Haas was a profligate spender. Dick Jacobs didn’t time the Indians’ rise to occur with Art Modell moving the Browns to Baltimore, but he sure took advantage of it. The Indians cashed in big by not having a major sport competitor in their midst other than the somewhat interesting Cavaliers. Like the A’s Moneyball era, the Indians’ run lasted about seven years. Among the Once the Browns were reconstituted via expansion, the novelty at Jacobs Field started to wear off and the more Clevelanders could turn their attention to an expansion team that, by nature of expansion, was doomed to struggle for several years. Like Haas, Jacobs and his brother David sold the Indians as the era was ending, and as a football team returned. In the twelve years since, the Indians have been above .500 three times and went to the playoffs once, that 2007 season. As long as Mike Ilitch and Jerry Reinsdorf own rivals in the division, they’ll always have more revenue and spend more than the Indians, just as the Rangers and Angels will in the West.

Shapiro then delved into what it means to spend more.

Q: That was a decade and a half ago, really. Fifteen years. Do you think people, the general populace still judges in those terms?

A: I think it frames that very guttural reaction, like, “Hey, if you win it’s already been shown people will come.” That’s what you hear all the time.

Q: Do you believe that?

A: I think more people will come. But the challenge is 2.2 million instead of 1.6 million doesn’t change the way we operate. Even that extra 500,000, 600,000 people, even if that’s $10-to-15 more million in revenue a year . . . one win in free agency is $9 million. So you’re not going to change the context. Again, I don’t think people want to intellectualize baseball, and I don’t believe you should have to intellectualize baseball . . . and we’ve made a conscious decision in most of our interviews not to get into these topics and just stay positive and talk about what our aspirations are.

But that revenue swing between 1.5 million in attendance and 2.2 million in attendance . . . meaningful dollars but not dollars that will have us plan dramatically different.

Q: It wouldn’t change the amount of money spent?

A: It would change the amount of spent to 15 million dollars a year. What does that buy you in free agency? Very little. One and a half wins.

The A’s pulled in 1.6 million in attendance in 2012. At $25 per head, a rise to 2.2 million puts the A’s at an extra $15 million in revenue, the top range of Shapiro’s estimate – and that doesn’t account for costs so it will surely be lower than $15 million. While Shapiro doesn’t want to go too deep into the numbers, he knows what every front office knows: that the poor teams are hurt doubly by the current economic system. Aspiring to an $80 million payroll is great, yet it provides zero guarantees, enormous risk, and the cost per win in free agency (at least with WAR as the leading statistic) is so out of scale that it’s absolutely prudent to spend wisely in the short and long-term. It also puts the lie to the idea that if the A’s just win fans will come out, and that will save the team in Oakland. Something more fundamental has to change for the A’s to get to the point that they are no longer poor. As much as many in the pro-Oakland group want to believe that can happen in Oakland, I remain skeptical that it can. Just look at Bud Selig’s throwaway line when he was questioned by Bill Shaikin the other day.

Q: Do you believe a new ballpark in Oakland is feasible?

A: I don’t know. That is one of the things we are checking.

Oakland boosters have had three years to make the case that Oakland is feasible. I know the obstacles facing San Jose: the Giants’ territorial rights and a referendum. In Oakland, the challenge is much deeper and just as impossible to ignore. How much can revenues be expected to rise? $40 million? $60 million? What will make the franchise turn the corner in that city? How much is enough to compete regularly? After three years, Selig remains as unsure about Oakland as ever. After three years, you’d think he’d have the confidence to hammer out a deal the way David Stern did with Sacramento by bypassing ownership, or by having Bob DuPuy deal directly with a municipality as was done in Miami. The fact that Selig hasn’t should tell you something, and that something is not good. Selig claims that he’ll be guided by the “best interests in baseball”. From an emotional standpoint that should mean saving baseball in Oakland. Unfortunately, emotion and business generally aren’t compatible.

The A’s 2013 doesn’t look like the Indians’ 2008. They don’t have a bunch of pitchers that are about hit their sixth year. The roster is pretty well cost-controlled through 2015, allowing for flexibility in terms of offseason and midseason trades along with free agent signings. For the collective A’s fans’ sake, I hope that the team doesn’t regress as so many others have done. Otherwise Beane’s interview this time next year won’t read like this year’s, it’ll read like Shapiro’s.

San Jose and SC County officials working out ballpark land deal

We expected a decision on the Diridon land transfer to be released by the State Controller sometime in the late summer. Or late September. Now it’s almost November, and a spokesman for the office has said to the Merc’s John Woolfolk that “there is no set timetable” for a decision.

That hasn’t stopped City and County officials for working on a contingency plan. If the transfers are upheld by the Controller, the ballpark land deal can move forward, with Stand for San Jose’s legal challenge the last real obstacle. If the transfers are declared illegal because of the new redevelopment law, the county-led successor agency would be required to sell the land for market value, at least double the negotiated $7 million land price. The big news in Woolfolk’s piece is that San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed and Santa Clara County Supervisors Dave Cortese and Mike Wasserman are working together to fill any gap that might arise.

“The county does have the capacity to assist in some manner,” Cortese said. “We do have an economic development director and are involved in economic development, so we are equipped to come in and assist if there’s a shortfall and a problem. It’s in our interest to see that this kind of economic development project goes forward.”

Wasserman added that “at the end of the day it could be a win-win if the property is sold at market rate” even if the county has to contribute toward that because “that accomplishes what the state wants and the land stays here” for a ballpark.

Reed, Cortese, and Wasserman will all say that besides the PR positives that would come with bring the A’s south, all sides, including the state, would benefit from $5+ million in property taxes every year, or possessory interest taxes that would approach that figure. When the parcels that make up the ballpark land were privately held, they were also held for long periods, making assessments and property tax bills rather low.

Behind the scenes, Cortese is a leading candidate to succeed Reed as mayor. Reed will be termed out, and the two frontrunners are Cortese, a former San Jose District 3 councilmember, and Sam Liccardo, who is the current D3 councilman. Cortese also has worked with Baseball San Jose in the past. Wasserman (no relation to the late Fremont mayor Bob Wasserman) hails from South County, representing Gilroy, Morgan Hill, South San Jose and Los Gatos.

Perhaps a tightened up land deal is the kind of signal Bud Selig needs to help him render a decision. In an article by the LA Times’ Bill Shaikin, Selig continued to the kinds of frustrating non-answers we can expect. We’ve learned not to expect, well, anything from Selig all these years, and there’s no reason to start expecting anything now. But just as an ace can get an umpire whose strike zone isn’t the size of a barn, or a grounder can bounce off the third base bag to trigger a rally, this is baseball. Anything can happen, and often does.

Update 5:00 PM – A flood of tweets have come in from local media and Shaikin as they bombarded Selig on the subject of the A’s. Selig is in town for the World Series, naturally.

As John Wooden once said, “Don’t mistake activity with achievement.”

NHL Islanders to move to Brooklyn, keep name as-is

Guess I’ll have to eat a little crow on this one.

It’s 14,500 because they have to cut into the seating bowl the same way US Airways/America West Arena was set up for hockey. This is not going to be acceptable long-term for either the NHL or the Islanders, no matter how much asbestos they find in Nassau.

Turns out that Barclays Center is perfectly acceptable to both the NHL and Islanders owner Charles Wang, because he signed a 25-year, “ironclad” lease at the new arena starting with the 2015-16 season. Wang, who grew up in Queens and went to high school at Brooklyn Tech, has owned the Isles since 2000. He lives on Long Island’s Gold Coast.

The Islanders play at the four decades-old Nassau Coliseum and have lobbied for a replacement facility for years. Seven months ago, complaints by arena employees led to an investigation that found asbestos in the building. While airborne asbestos was not detected in public areas, a cleanup effort started during the summer to ensure that employees wouldn’t face additional exposure. OSHA then wrote up 16 citations against the arena related to the asbestos problem.

Wang and Nets co-owner/developer Bruce Ratner had talked for years about a joint arena effort, but that appeared to go dormant when Wang campaigned for his own arena and master planned development on the site of the Coliseum. That project, which would’ve required $400 million in public funding, lost by a landslide in 2011. During today’s press conference at Barclays Center, Wang indicated that talks with Ratner started up again about seven months ago, making it appear as if the asbestos problem triggered Wang’s decision to give up entirely on Nassau County.

Already stuck in a smallish arena (16,250 for hockey) with incredibly poor attendance (11-13,000 per game on average over the past few years), Wang probably figured that even with Barclays’ hockey-compromised seating bowl and low seat yield (14,500 for NHL games), it’s better than staying at Nassau. Ratner and Wang will continue to figure out ways to add another 500-1,000 seats, according to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. If no new seats can be added, Barclays would have the lowest capacity of any active NHL venue, with 500 fewer seats than Winnipeg’s MTS Centre.

To illustrate how bad this is for hockey, take a look at the following seating chart from Barclays Center/Ticketmaster. Like Oracle Arena, the Barclays Center seating bowl is tight around the basketball court. Only one end has retractable seats, with the other three sides having poured concrete down to near the floor. Seats at the compromised end would be high above the ice, making the only good seats the first row. If you’re wondering, hockey at Oracle Arena would look much like this. If the Warriors build a basketball-first arena as has been the recent trend in the NBA, they’d have the same problem staging hockey games.

This chart indicates that most available seats will be used.

Now looking at this seating chart, released by the arena and the Islanders for an exhibition game that was supposed to be played there a few weeks ago. Looking at this in hindsight, it’s possible that the event was scheduled to help Wang and Islanders figure out how best to stage hockey games there. With the lockout wiping out all exhibition games and at least the first month of the 2012-13 NHL season, the parties may have felt that it was simply best to move forward with the announcement, knowing that the lockout could continue for some time to come.

Seats made available for sale for Islanders exhibition game.

Bettman played down the drop in capacity, noting Winnipeg’s success and the 1,000+ seat disparity between the new and old venues as being “little material difference”. Wang affirmed that the team would continue to be called the “New York Islanders” instead of the “Brooklyn Islanders”. Though, as Deadspin’s Barry Petchesky pointed out, the current Isles’ logo doesn’t have either Queens or Brooklyn on it.

Barclays Center sits on top of Atlantic Yards, a long-used yard for the Long Island Rail Road. It’s across the street from Atlantic Terminal, Brooklyn’s rail/subway hub. By virtue of that transit accessibility, Barclays will be more accessible to fans by transit than Nassau Coliseum, though many who are used to driving (most of the fanbase) may be inconvenienced.

Black and Blueprint

At the end of yesterday’s 2-2 draw between the San Jose Earthquakes and LA Galaxy, the Quakes’ shoo-in MVP candidate Chris Wondolowski headed to the supporters’ sections behind the north goal to do his ritual handshakes and celebration with the fans. A camera followed him over and suddenly, in view, was a large sign featuring a drawing of Lew Wolff’s head. The banner thanked him and John Fisher for, well, being the owners of the Quakes. There were no mustaches or devil’s horns drawn on the image, no effigies of Wolff hanging nearby. Whether it’s love is based on one’s perspective. Clearly, there is a level of appreciation among Quakes fans that isn’t being felt in Oakland, and perhaps never will. Being more tuned into what’s happening in Oakland, I thought my eyes deceived me at first. Thankfully, another observer saw the image on television as well.

That appreciation was on display earlier in the day, as the Quakes held their stadium groundbreaking ceremony on the other side of the tracks from Buck Shaw. 6,256 fans showed up at 1125 Coleman Avenue for what would eventually be declared a Guinness World Record for the most simultaneous participants in a groundbreaking. During the typically long __, Quakes President David Kaval thanked Wolff, his son Keith Wolff, and Fisher for bringing the team back and getting the stadium underway. That elicited hoots and hollers along with the expected applause. Lew was introduced and spoke briefly, thanking the fans. San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed and the City Council was there too, keeping the procession of dignitaries going.

Pretty shovels, all in a row.

Kaval and Quakes defender Jason Hernandez explained to the crowd how the groundbreaking was supposed to work. A large painted soccer ball was hooked onto the end of a crane. When the ball dropped and hit the ground, an airhorn would go off, signaling to the “crew” that it was time to start digging for two minutes. Thousands of commemorative shovels were stuck in the dirt field, which had painted lines and goals at each end. When the horn went off, the assembled crowd started digging. Since we were all in a fairly compressed space, many of us found that within a minute we had pretty much dug up most of the loose dirt in our respective vicitinities, leaving the next layer of hard clay to deal with. For me, that made the second minute of digging more a minute of manicuring. A countdown led to a second horn announcing the end of the two minutes. Public address man Danny Miller laid down a little suspense as he said that the Guinness people had to tabulate the crowd on hand. Miller announced “Six-thousand…” and was quickly drowned out by the crowd’s roar. Kaval held up a certificate in victory, and the masses started to depart.

Dig for two minutes and you get a free shovel.

It’s no secret that the stadium has taken longer than anticipated to get built. Whether it was concern over sponsorships needed to get it built or process issues like permitting, fans have been waiting long time for the first permanent, unshared home for the franchise to materialize. When AEG took the first MLS incarnation of the Earthquakes to Houston, Colts-style, after the 2005 season, a pall descended on the fanbase. The logos and branding would remain in San Jose, but there was no indication that a new franchise would materialize right away. AEG, which operates the Coliseum complex, Staples Center, and owns the LA Kings NHL team, is reviled in San Jose even more than Lew Wolff is in Oakland. Don Garber, the MLS commissioner who flew in to attend the ceremony, was AEG’s evil puppet and accomplice in December 2005.

Commemorative shovel

The expansion Quakes franchise took the field for the 2007 season, when Wolff and Fisher swooped in. For MLS, Lew Wolff and John Fisher represented enough money and local ties to keep the team going throughout what would be trying times ahead. Fisher may well have been the most interested person within the ownership group in getting a franchise. As for Wolff, building a stadium for the Quakes would be a good warmup for doing a much larger, more expensive stadium for the A’s, whatever the location. Wolff’s son Keith would focus on the details. As the recession struck and sponsorship dollars disappeared, the Wolffs pursued land deal concessions, which they received. The vision for the stadium was scaled back, then when the economy recovered, expanded. When the Earthquakes Stadium opens in March 2014, it will have been over 8 years from when the team was purchased to opening kickoff. If the Wolffs are tired of going through the “process”, the outward signs are slight. Still, Lew has talked about not being around for when a ballpark finally happens, and Keith has certainly dealt with enough that he may be gunshy about saddling up for an even bigger battle. Yet that’s what will be necessary if they want to get something built for the A’s. Maybe it’ll be in San Jose, maybe it’ll be in Oakland. However it proceeds, there are probably a lot of lessons from the Quakes stadium experience that are applicable for an A’s ballpark. Given how hard it is to get something funded and built in California, having that experience can’t hurt one iota.

Dare to dream of the $80 million payroll

At once insane and tantalizingly possible, the Oakland Athletics are buyers this offseason. Any questions about Billy Beane’s M.O. were answered swiftly when word came this afternoon of the first big winter trade (Winter? I was wearing shorts on a 71 degree sunny day today.). Middle infielder Cliff Pennington and prospect Yordy Cabrera were traded to Arizona for former All Star CF Chris Young and $500,000 cash. Cabrera was later sent to Miami for reliever Heath Bell, but we’ll ignore that for the time being.

Young will earn $8.5 million this year and $10 million in 2014 if the A’s pick up his option. If not, the buyout price is $1.5 million. Coco Crisp, the A’s current CF, makes $7 million in 2013 with a $7.5 million 2014 option ($1 million buyout). That puts the A’s investment in four outfielders – Crisp, Young, Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Reddick – at $24 million, nearly half the 2012 payroll. Even with that kind of money, the four players combined for 13.6 WAR in 2012, making the 2013 expenditure pretty good value any way you slice it.

When the news was first released, the most prominent immediate fan reaction was to wonder what would happen to Crisp. It was Crisp who was re-signed only nine months ago, and many fans wondered if that was a wise decision considering the number of nearly ready young outfielders in the A’s farm system. Once Cespedes signed with Oakland in February, it seemed as though Crisp’s days were numbered. When the A’s had their nine-game losing streak at the end of May, Crisp’s name surfaced as trade bait, despite his struggles throughout the first two months of the season. Yet Crisp got himself right in June, perhaps because he got the starting CF job back. His energy and skill at the top of the order made him arguably the most dangerous weapon in the A’s lineup by the All Star Break. Now Crisp seems almost indispensable among many fans, at least judging from reactions on Twitter. It’s a remarkable story that stands among many on the A’s squad. Crisp does have a lengthy injury history, though this year he was out at times because of illness (flu, pinkeye) rather than a muscle or joint problem.

If anyone is likely to be moved or non-tendered, it’s Jonny Gomes, Seth Smith, or both. Both contributed nicely in a DH+occasional OF platoon situation. Smith will hit his second arbitration year, and his value is strictly in that platoon role vs. RHP. Gomes is the opposite, mashing against lefties and coming in very cheap with a $1 million salary for 2013. Both players will command around $3.5 million, and both will want multiyear deals if possible and more plate appearances – which may be few and far between if the “Four Horsemen” stay healthy and get their 550-600 PAs. Young assumes Gomes’ role, which is a shame because Gomes is such a likable guy and a local, but that’s how the business works. Beane has already said on a conference call Saturday that Gomes would be affected by the Young acquisition.

I’ve put together a spreadsheet showing the A’s projected 2013 payroll. It makes certain key assumptions about the makeup of the A’s roster:

  • Stephen Drew’s $10 million mutual option is picked up. Drew showed improvement late in the season and appears healed from his ankle injury troubles. That’s not going to make the A’s or anyone commit to a really rich deal, no matter how much Scott Boras pushes for one.
  • Seth Smith is retained. I don’t think this is a given because of the reasons previously defined. If he stays it’s probably for $3.5 million. If he is replaced by someone in the A’s system like Collin Cowgill or Shane Peterson, the A’s will save $3 million in the process. Keep that in mind for future payroll projections.
  • Brandon McCarthy is re-signed. The elder statesman of the pitching staff, he’ll never reach 35 starts in a season because of lingering shoulder problems. But he is very effective when healthy and is a great clubhouse leader and spokesman for the club, and his (and his wife’s) media presence helps put a face to a team that might otherwise go relatively anonymous. He should be affordable to keep, and worth it.
  • Brett Anderson is not traded. If Anderson had not suffered elbow trouble that resulted in Tommy John surgery, Anderson might already be elsewhere. Having come back late in the season, he looked very good in limited action. He has ace-quality stuff, which as we’ve seen in the playoffs, can be pretty important.
  • No other big trades or free agents signings are done. This is the A’s we’re talking about, so nothing’s for certain when it comes to personnel. I’m keeping it like this to illustrate what the the payroll looks like now and to show how much headroom remains.

Minimum salary for 2013 is $490,000 per CBA. Specific salary estimates are based on previous published salaries for players with similar service time and/or performance.

All told, the payroll is as much as $65 million. Brandon Moss should have Super Two status, so he may earn more than what is listed. Without Smith (and Gomes), the payroll is only $62 million. The pattern for the A’s has been to respond to an encouraging season (2006, 2010) by bumping up payroll. In 2007 the A’s came off an ALCS appearance and boosted payroll to $79 million, with $46 million devoted to five players: Jason Kendall, Eric Chavez, Mike Piazza, Mark Kotsay, and Esteban Loaiza. None of those five produced in any meaningful way for various reasons, and all except Chavez were off the team during or shortly after the end of the 2007 season.

The 2008 season showed promise, with a solid young core and a .500 record. Payroll was bumped for 2009 from $48 million to $62 million. We know how 2009 went: Matt Holliday produced well but not like a superstar he was advertised to be, and Jason Giambi proved that you can’t go home again. So we know how this could play out if the team flames out. The A’s could easily spend another $10-15 million without much trouble, but if the team is 10 games back by July trading deadline, we could very well see another selloff. The Marlins tailed off in the NL East by the end of June, resulting in the trades of Hanley Ramirez, Anibal Sanchez, Omar Infante, Gaby Sanchez, Edward Mujica, and Heath Bell. Not even a new ballpark could keep the fans from leaving in droves, forcing the directive for Larry Beinfest to cut costs posthaste.

It’s not by accident. This is a script all low-revenue teams have to work with. The A’s pulled in 1.6 million fans this season. Say they brought another 400,000 fans in to bring the 2013 total to a cool 2 million. At $30 a person, that translates to $12 million in extra revenue, about half of that going to payroll. The annual winter revenue sharing payment should also help. Success has cascading effects, as there’s also a lower percentage of no-shows and greater revenues from media and sponsorships. It’s a snowball effect. We’ve seen it run positively in the last few weeks, and negatively in recent years.

That makes a $62-65 million payroll something of a jumping off point. The A’s could support an $80 million payroll if things continue to go well. $80 million isn’t still in the bottom third of MLB, but it’s a good deal of extra budget to play with. However, we know that free agent spending has yielded mixed results, and that cost per win can be very difficult to pin down at times from a GM standpoint. Fortunately the team is strong in the outfield and pitching staff, making the weak spots easier to live with. How should Beane and Forst use $15-18 million of headroom? They could stand pat. They could make another trade or pick up a free agent (or two). They could go into the international market as they have in the past (Cespedes, Iwakuma, Ynoa) to bid on a young arm like Japanese high school phenom Shohei Otani. They could save it for some midseason deadline deals. Whatever way the front office chooses to go, the possibilities are practically endless. The future is bright, it’s ahead of schedule, and the A’s world – from owner to fan and everything in between – can’t be anything but happy about it.

News for 10/19/12 (plus Young trade thoughts)

Update 10/20 3:00 PM – The A’s front office decided to kick off the hot stove league early by trading IF Cliff Pennington and 3B prospect Yordy Cabrera to Arizona for CF Chris Young (not that Chris Young) and $500,000. This has immediately led to speculation regarding the future of current CF Coco Crisp, who is scheduled to earn $7 million in 2013 and has a $7.5 million club option for 2014 ($1 million buyout). Young is due $8.5 million in 2013 and has a $11 million club option for 2014 ($1.5 million buyout). Cabrera was flipped to Miami for reliever Heath Bell. 

Pennington was either going to remain a mediocre shortstop or become an okay second baseman surrounded by many other okay second basemen in Oakland. That makes a trade for Young a steal, even if there’s no obvious place for him at the moment. Young came off a subpar 2012 season, especially compared to his 2010 All-Star campaign. September callup Adam Eaton (not that Adam Eaton) appears to be the CF of the future for the Snakes.

The A’s still have something of a logjam at 2B going forward. Jemile Weeks, Adam Rosales, Scott Sizemore, and Eric Sogard are on the 40-man roster. Grant Green waits in the wings. Expect more trades.

….

Much to go over in this edition.

  • The NHLPA rejected the NHL’s most recent CBA proposal, which would have had the owners/players revenue split at 50/50. The union responded with three different proposals which would’ve more gradually brought the split down to 50/50. In response, the NHL has cancelled all games through the end of October. At this point it seems highly unlikely that the proposed 82-game compressed schedule could be pulled off. [NHL | Washington Times/Steven Whyno | NJ.com/Charles Curtis]
  • The Raiders received a 24-hour extension to the weekly TV blackout deadline imposed by the NFL, and were able to reach the goal of 85% of seats sold for the game Sunday vs. the Jags. Next potential blackout date: the next home game against another Florida team: Tampa Bay. (Also – kind of weird that the Raiders are playing all three Florida teams this season.) [CSN Bay Area/Paul Gutierrez]
  • The City of Reno was able to get a ballpark built in the middle of the Great Recession by getting a $55 million short-term loan. That loan will be due before the end of 2014, and the City and Reno Aces are scrambling to refinance the loan. Property taxes used to fund a TIF plan for the ballpark have dropped drastically, forcing the two parties to come up with something else. The Aces, which are owned by Indiana Pacers owner and mall magnate Herb Simon, are willing to pay $1 million in rent per year, with the rest of the $3 million annual obligation split between the City’s general fund, a ticket tax, whatever meager redevelopment money can be scraped up, and other public sources. Simon has threatened to move the team if no deal can be met. The Aces won the 2012 AAA championship and were awarded the AAA All-Star Game for 2013. [Reno Gazette Journal/Brian Duggan]
  • Lew Wolff came out against San Jose’s Measure D, which would raise the city’s minimum wage from the state’s $8/hour to $10/hour. Wolff’s argument is that the hike is unfair to hotels and restaurants in San Jose, which could potentially lose business to Santa Clara and other neighboring cities. The hike would also presumably affect seasonal employees at the two stadia Wolff wants to build, the Earthquakes Stadium and Cisco Field. Wolff played down that issue, saying that there’s less direct competition there to affect the Quakes/A’s. The City Council is split on the measure, while Mayor Chuck Reed has come out against it, along with the Chamber and Restaurants Association. My take? I hope it’s passed in San Jose, because like the plastic bag ban that was passed a couple years ago that spurred similar bans throughout the county, it could lead to a minimum wage hike countywide. As I’ve mentioned before, I have relatives who work low-pay, low-skill hotel/restaurant jobs, and they could certainly use the hike – though they don’t work in San Jose proper. [San Jose Mercury News/John Woolfolk]
  • Speaking of the Earthquakes, their groundbreaking ceremony is Sunday at 11:30 AM at 1125 Coleman Ave, San Jose. At least 5,500 have RSVP’d for the event, which should break a Guinness record. Walkups are welcome if they bring their own shovels.
  • Teams are announcing their ticket prices for the upcoming season. At least in terms of season tickets, the A’s have no change from 2012. The Cubs have announced modest drops in response to a large attendance dropoff, and the crosstown White Sox have announced even bigger cuts. [Chicago Tribune/Paul Sullivan | ChicagoNow, James Fegan]
  • The A’s announced their 2013 promotional schedule, and while it doesn’t have everything yet, there are now six fireworks nights instead of the usual five on the slate. There will now be two in August, on the 3rd and 31st.
  • The Port of Oakland placed its executive director on paid leave pending an investigation into improper spending and expensing by Port employees. This included a $4,500 tab at a Houston strip club, and numerous other suspect charges in the US and abroad by the Port’s maritime director James Kwon. Abuses could be so widespread as to be institutional. Yesterday, port workers scheduled a protest against fiscal mismanagement. The blowback from this investigation could curtail or place a trained eye on certain Port activities, such as (pre) development at Howard Terminal. Knowing the Port’s history, it’ll probably be more of the same. [SFGate/Matier & Ross | KTVU | SF Business Times/Eric Young]
  • Cal may have trouble paying off the $11.6 million annual debt service on Memorial Stadium because of lackluster premium seat sales. This smells a lot like the Mt. Davis deal. [Daily Californian/Justin Abraham]
  • The Warriors further explain their SF arena vision, with the help of Snøhetta architect Craig Dykers. The form will be “soft” and “lozenge-shaped”. The Fiscal Feasibility Report unveiled earlier this week can be viewed here. [Golden State Warriors | SocketSite]

More as it comes.

49ers stadium finalist for Super Bowl in 2016 or 2017 + Raiders news

The NFL’s rules for building a stadium are simple:

  • City/municipality must have skin (money) in the game
  • Minimum capacity of 63-65,000, with potential expansion to 70,000+
  • NFL will provide up to $200 million for per team/stadium if new construction
  • If successful, NFL will award a Super Bowl at a future date

At the NFL owners meetings today, the 49ers were notified that they are one step closer to that last bit. According to Sports Business Journal’s Daniel Kaplan, San Francisco/Santa Clara is a finalist for Super Bowl L (2016) along with Miami. The city that loses out on L becomes a finalist for LI (2017), competing with Houston.

View from nearby Capitol Corridor/ACE train station. Picture taken 10/9

The Super Bowl is an award from the league for getting a stadium deal. It’s no small reward, as numerous cities would kill for the opportunity to bring in hundreds of millions in economic impact to a region. The actual amount of economic impact is up for considerable debate, but no one can doubt the amount of media coverage, blocks of hotel rooms booked solid, and plain spending from visitors that occurs with each big game. Last February we discussed what hosting a Super Bowl in San Francisco would be like and what it would entail. It’s worth a read if you’re interested.

View from Santa Clara Golf & Tennis Club of north side of stadium

Miami is the competitor for L, and despite its 10-time history of hosting the game, is at a distinct disadvantage. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has warned the Dolphins and Miami that if the region wanted to continue hosting the game, improvements such as a roof would be required. For now, all the NFL is looking for are some improvements to sightlines, lighting and sound, and a canopy over some of the stands. If those improvements don’t happen (and they aren’t funded at the moment), it’s easy to see the 49ers and SF/SC winning by virtue of its newer facility and novel location.

…..

Kaplan also had a key Raider-related tweet coming out of the owners meetings.

In addition, Davis talked about how outdated the Coliseum is (Shush! Can’t badmouth the Coliseum dude!), while saying that he has little interest in sharing the Santa Clara stadium with the 49ers even though the 49ers deserve great credit for getting the stadium project done. The Coliseum remains the default option simply because the land and location are already prime, but as Davis continues to talk up Dublin’s Camp Parks site, one has to wonder what Davis really wants. Is he looking to pit two East Bay cities against each other, the way his dad had done in the past? Davis has to be looking to minimize the team’s exposure. Yet it’s hard to see how the Raiders could put together as richly-backed a deal as the 49ers for a new stadium. It sure seems as though the Raiders will be sticking at the Coliseum until the best deal possible falls into Davis’s lap.