Alameda County approves A’s lease unanimously 5-0

After a relatively brief, much less heated discussion over the A’s lease extension than was had by the City two weeks ago, Alameda County’s Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 to approve the extension. The deal keeps the A’s in the Coliseum until at least 2018, and up to 2024 if the team chooses to stay there. Though the deal is characterized as a 10-year lease, the 2014 season runs concurrent with the new deal.

Supervisor Keith Carson asked the most pointed questions of JPA negotiator Jon Streeter, mostly about the debt and the characterization of the new lease as a better deal for the County (and City) than previous leases. Streeter noted that the more money comes in upfront, plus the A’s have to pay off the lease even if they leave the Coliseum early. Miley noted that the original A’s escape provision calls for no payoff if the team pursued a new ballpark elsewhere in Alameda County. The language was changed to Oakland only, meaning the A’s would pay full termination even if they made a stadium deal in Fremont or even San Leandro. Streeter also repeated the notion that the upcoming scoreboard project, which the A’s are paying for, means that the JPA no longer has a potentially big liability item to worry about, since the JPA has been to date responsible for the outdated, frequently failing scoreboard.

To recap the major deal points:

  • A’s stay until at least 2018, up to 2024. A’s must give at least 2 calendar years’ notice if they plan to leave early.
  • The JPA must also give the A’s 2 years’ notice if a Raiders stadium deal comes to fruition and forces the A’s to vacate.
  • Lease payments are $1.75 for this year, $1.5 MM in 2015, $1.5 MM in 2016-19, and $1.25 from 2020-24.
  • A’s will spend at least $10 million on new scoreboard system. A’s retain all revenue from A’s games, Raiders/JPA can split non-A’s game revenue as they see fit.
  • JPA sets aside $1 million per year (increasing 5% annually) to establish a stadium maintenance fund (presumably for fixing plumbing, leaks, etc.)
  • JPA will pay $200,000/year for the O.co signage caps above the scoreboards. A’s may end up replacing those caps as part of the scoreboard project.
  • A’s and JPA will continue stadium discussions on land at or adjacent to the Coliseum (nowhere else like Howard Terminal).
  • The parking arbitration matter is resolved, all claims dismissed.

The JPA and County clarified that there is $191.4 million in outstanding debt at the Coliseum complex: $106.5 million for the stadium, $84.9 for the Arena. Bonds will be retired in 2025 and 2026, respectively.

Next up is MLB’s expected approval of the lease, and the City of Oakland’s next steps in negotiating with the Raiders and BayIG over Coliseum City.

A’s approve City-revised lease, await County vote

No drama this week. The A’s approved the last-minute changes the City of Oakland made to the lease agreement. When Alameda County approves next week, everyone should be square. The A’s put out a press release, in short:

The Oakland A’s have come to an agreement with the JPA on all outstanding points regarding a new 10-year lease at the Coliseum. The Alameda County Board of Supervisors, are scheduled to vote on the lease July 29.

We appreciate the cooperation and efforts of Oakland city officials in this process and are optimistic that our negotiations have led to a fair and mutually-beneficial relationship. Most of all, we are happy for our great fans who, pending the county’s vote, will know that the Oakland Athletics will continue to play its games at O.co Coliseum.

More coverage is available from SFGate and BANG.

With the lease issue very close to resolution, the NFL is once again talking about a football team in LA – at perhaps a league-owned stadium, no less. Curious timing to say the least.

Still, there will be those who keep saying to never trust Lew Wolff, don’t give in, etc. I’ll just leave this snippet from another East Bay legend here:

If I speak at one constant volume
At one constant pitch
At one constant rhythm
Right into your ear
You still won’t hear

Wake up, Oakland

“Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.” – Confucius

There are any number of ways to rephrase the idiom above. Some might use “A bird in hand is worth two in the bush,” though the meaning is not the same. Voltaire coined the phrase a little more directly.

The perfect is the enemy of the good.

As I listened to Don Knauss make yet another sales pitch about the virtues of Howard Terminal (and Damon Bruce’s softball handling of it), I started to write a point-by-point rebuttal of everything he said. Then, thanks to BANG’s Matthew Artz, I read a 6-page letter from Lew Wolff to Oakland Interim City Administrator Henry Gardner. The letter outlined Wolff’s desire for a lease extension at the Coliseum before leading into the questions surrounding the future of the Coliseum.

Two pages of the letter are devoted to a section called “The Raiders”. Instead of pointing fingers at the Raiders or Mark Davis, Wolff mostly pans BayIG, the Coliseum City plan, and all of the work that has gone into it so far.

I contrasted words from both Knauss and Wolff. The Clorox CEO talked about a transformative project that could hugely benefit downtown Oakland, which it could. A similar description has been made about Coliseum City by its proponents, comparing it to LA Live among other developments. Then there was Wolff, going detail by detail about the process, the difficulty, tedium, and the obstacles. He even lashed back at “Negative Forces” agitating at every possible turn, which could be construed as a critique of Don Knauss or others allied with Knauss.

The argument, which has stretched as long as Wolff and John Fisher have owned the A’s, comes down to Voltaire’s quote. Wolff’s #1 job this entire time has been to get a ballpark. Let’s understand some of those efforts.

  • 2003 – Wolff was hired by Steve Schott and Ken Hofmann to be the VP of Venue Development. During that brief tenure, Wolff proposed building in the Coliseum’s A Lot and at the Malibu/HomeBase lots. The A Lot option went nowhere because Schott was only willing to put up $100 million for the ballpark. The Malibu option was not available because it was not JPA-owned land. Eventually the JPA bought the land in order to assemble a larger complex for what would be become Coliseum City.
  • 2005 – Wolff exercises an option to buy the team, phasing Schott & Hofmann out and bringing Fisher and numerous associates of Wolff in. Wolff soon proposes the Coliseum North (66th/High) plan, which would redevelop a large swath of industrial land north of the Coliseum complex into a ballpark and mixed-use (residential, retail, commercial) plan. The plan received great fanfare at first, but quickly died as numerous existing landowners showed no interest in selling.
  • 2006 – The Fremont Baseball Village plan is proposed in south Fremont near the Santa Clara County line. A compromise plan of sorts, the idea was to court Silicon Valley corporate interests without crossing into the Giants-held territory of Santa Clara County. Again, there is great immediate enthusiasm, this time from Fremont city leaders. This time, a combination of the Great Recession and big box stores vetoing any developments they didn’t approve of killed the plan. Another attempt in 2010 was made to put the ballpark near the NUMMI (now Tesla) factory across the Nimitz. That was met with hostility from well-heeled residents on the other side of I-680 and fell apart quickly.
  • 2009 – San Jose becomes the next plan, with a partially-acquired site downtown, major corporate and civic support, and a certified environmental impact report ready to go. Again the plan stalled as the Giants remained intransigent about their held territory. A lawsuit filed by people associated with the San Jose Giants (eventually a SF Giants-owned property) threatened the project and is still ongoing. The City of San Jose became frustrated and launched its own lawsuit in 2012 against MLB. That too is ongoing.
  • 2009 – Let’s Go Oakland launches with support of three sites in downtown Oakland: Victory Court, JLS West, and Howard Terminal. Victory Court becomes the preferred site in 2010. LGO promoted Victory Court as much as possible, backed by local developers. No significant activity occurs in 2011, and by the beginning of 2012 the site is dead due to the death of redevelopment and spiraling site acquisition costs.
  • 2012 – Not long after Victory Court goes away, murmurs about Howard Terminal becoming the new preferred (not by A’s ownership) Oakland site begin. In 2013, the Port of Oakland negotiates a settlement with SSA Terminals to vacate the site in order to consolidate facilities and kill a lawsuit against the Port. That allows the Port to look into non-maritime uses such as a ballpark, which it does in spring 2014. A new investor/support group, OWB (Oakland Waterfront Ballpark), emerges, led by Knauss and former Dreyer’s CEO T. Gary Rogers.
    While Wolff has been trying to deal with the on-the-ground demands of planning and building a ballpark, many in Oakland have been fixated on grand concepts like Coliseum City and the far-off promises of Howard Terminal and Victory Court. Even yesterday, Knauss couldn’t help but bring San Francisco into the discussion, talking up how a HT ballpark would have better weather and views than AT&T Park. Coliseum City would be a transformative project that could attract Super Bowls and give Oakland new cachet.

Oakland’s desires to become something bigger and better are completely understandable. But they’ve been so pie-in-the-sky, so big, that there’s always been huge doubts about what, if anything, the City could pull off. I’ve mentioned before that Oakland has never built anything by itself, and that it needed the County and the business community to come together to make the Coliseum work nearly 50 years ago. That need hasn’t changed, but the sense of teamwork has. In Oakland’s attempt to keep all three teams in place, it has gotten away from what got them the teams in the first place: strong partnerships and sensitivity to the teams’ needs. Nowhere is that more evident than in Coliseum City, where the County is playing the realist role in questioning the project and in looking to the A’s, while the City brings in big names with no commitments, entirely footing the bill along the way.

Oakland keeps searching for the perfect project, the ultimate solution, the one that will finally vault them past the City beyond its rival across the Bay. Some politician(s) would take credit when it gets done, a legacy-defining moment. So they keep dreaming, keep hoping, clearly not worried about the little details that need to be addressed or the problems that arise when undertaking big projects. At some point, someone in Oakland will recognize that the dreams need to be tempered with what can realistically be done, and understand the work that will be required to get it done – establishing partnerships with the teams and stakeholders for starters. If not, the teams will get frustrated and give up. Those dreams will die. The biggest pro sports Oakland will be able to get will be minor league (which for some is okay). And the Coliseum, home of six world championships, will end up unused, even more unloved, and ultimately, something generic like a shopping center. That’s what happens when the well-intended keep pursuing the ever-elusive perfect instead of understanding that good is actually pretty great.

Lew Wolff is getting ready to offer what could be a pretty good deal. If Oakland wakes up, they may be able to react in time to take it.

—-

P.S. – I’m removing comments from the site for the time being. It’s not because of the commenters or specific comments – although they can be especially inane at times – it’s because those comments and the constantly attacking spambots (which you don’t see) are causing heavy server load, for which I’ve been warned by my provider. I hope that by having no comments there will be less server load. Thanks for your patience.

Oakland City Council approves amended lease 5-2, now goes back to JPA/County/A’s for approval

A lease agreement was passed tonight. Not the lease agreement the JPA sent to Oakland’s City Council. Instead the Council voted 5-2 (with 1 abstention) to approve an amended lease that included fairly minor changes. Among those changes:

  • A clarification on how the A’s use their termination clause. Example: If the A’s provide notice on January 1, 2016, the lease ends on December 31, 2018. If they provide notice after 1/1/16, termination doesn’t occur until 2019. This was not actually a point of dispute, it’s just that the language was somewhat confusing so an example was provided.
  • A typo in the the agenda document indicated that the the developer fee/deposit for continuing redevelopment at the Coliseum (Coliseum City) was both $10 million and $20 million. This was clarified as $10 million, and was agreed upon in the lease approved by the JPA on July 3.
  • A new section 42.7 that codified lease practices defined in the 2013 (current) lease.
  • A section on Licensor (JPA) default was removed for some reason. It has been added back to the agreement.
  • If the A’s are sold, there is a clause (16.1) that explains how the team transfers the lease to the new owner without requiring JPA approval. The requested change is to include the fact that new owner must be MLB-approved.
  • Removal of language that makes the JPA liable for Raiders’ acts/omissions that are approved by the JPA. The language now solely deals with the A’s revenues and benefits going strictly to the A’s, not to any third party.
  • There’s also a need to clean up language, which is customary in contract negotiations. It’s unclear what those cleanups are.

All in all, there’s little reason for the A’s to decline the lease. On the other hand, these changes are so minor it’s a wonder why they had to be debated in public, with the exception of the typo in the second bullet point.

Council President Pat Kernighan put forth a motion early on to consider the lease with these amendments. That caused CM Larry Reid, who is also a JPA board member, to put forth his own substitute motion that would have the Council vote on the lease as is. At the end of the session, Reid’s substitute motion lost 4-3. Kernighan’s won 5-2. After the votes the Council tried to clear up whether or not the JPA or the Alameda County Board of Supervisors would have to vote on the revised agreement. Naturally, the answer is YES. The BoS will meet on July 29 to go over this new lease and perhaps the old lease two, so they may end up voting on both. The JPA will have to take another special session vote shortly thereafter, and A’s ownership will also have to sign off.

A’s President Mike Crowley was on hand to witness the festivities. After JPA counsel Jon Streeter presented the lease in great detail and asked questions, Crowley was asked to provide a comment on the amended lease. Kernighan was concerned about putting Crowley on the spot, while Reid encouraged Crowley’s opinion. Crowley said that he preferred the original lease as is, though he allowed for the typo correction. After the vote he said he was “disappointed” by the Council’s action. Whether he’s disappointed in the terms or in the fact that everyone’s in for 2 more weeks of gestation over a lease wasn’t clear. Crowley reserved further comment until he had a chance to review the terms.  Kernighan mentioned that she talked with Lew Wolff earlier in the morning, and with a caveat that she wasn’t representing him, revealed that the changes didn’t seem like showstoppers.

There was plenty of time for grandstanding, so several Council members took turns doing it. CM Desley Brooks considers the lease a regression from terms outlined last November. Streeter rebutted that, explaining the back-and-forth of the lease talks that dated back to a year ago. Streeter’s main points were that the A’s are paying double the annual rent of the pre-2013 deal, were guaranteeing $20 million even if they stayed less than the full 10 years, and provides flexibility for all interests (A’s, Raiders, BayIG, JPA, City/County). CM Dan Kalb was unusually high-strung,

Kalb went on to chastise the A’s in advance, in case the A’s don’t approve the deal with the changes. Reid and Noel Gallo were the dissenters, instead voting for the original agreement. They both sowed FUD in their comments, Gallo was more restrained while Reid pulled the full “do what you want, it’s not my fault” card.

Libby Schaaf’s comments were noticeably brief, calling an approved lease (without saying which one) a crucial step towards keeping the A’s in Oakland. Both Schaaf and Rebecca Kaplan opened with some campaign speak, which I necessarily tuned out. Schaaf, Kaplan, Kalb, Kernighan, and Lynette Gibson McElhany provided the Yes votes.

A bizarre moment came late when Alameda County Supervisor and JPA President Nate Miley took time to explain to Gallo how the City of Oakland’s Coliseum City discussions with BayIG worked. At least an hour was spent explaining details that the Council not only should’ve known weeks ago. Current former JPA members such as Reid, Kaplan, and Brooks talked up their knowledge of the issues, yet the rest of the Council seemed inexplicably in the dark. Before Kernighan made her motion, Brooks asked for a full presentation, this after Streeter answered numerous questions about the lease and negotiation.  Communication between the JPA, City, and County is so broken that it’s hard not to be skeptical about the group’s ability to work out a deal as large and complex as Coliseum City. The lack of preparation on the Council’s part was on full display and it wasn’t pretty.

Nearly 30 public comments were given. They included Raiders fans like Dr. Death and Bauce, who raged against the Council. Lil Bartholo spoke first about the team’s and MLB’s blackmail and extortion techniques. The anti-lease, generally anti-Wolff crowd was well represented. However, interspersed among them were several A’s employees who mostly spoke about simply keeping the A’s in Oakland. Out of the five employees I observed, only one overtly called for the lease to be approved. They talked about how they were both fans and employees, about how some of them had union jobs, about how they were trying to collectively bargain for benefits, but the lease fiasco puts such negotiations on hold. An SEIU rep even called for the lease to be tied to a 10-year labor agreement, which is probably an overreach. Regardless, the image of employees coming forth to stand for their jobs was powerful.

Also present was a rep from the scoreboard installation company that could be contracted to work on the Coliseum. The man (whose name I didn’t get) emphasized that the lease had to be approved soon to allow for the equipment to be ordered and installed in time for the next baseball season. Emperor Nobody got some good anger at the system in, though he ran out of time (he’s on the KTVU clip so that’s good, right?).

Attorney Streeter acquitted himself well, handling all of the questions that came his way. He had to explain the rent provisions at least twice, and covered all of the major lease aspects well. It took 2 hours and 10 minutes, but the $200 million debt elephant finally came up. There’s no obvious answer as to how it the debt gets retired. Miley mentioned that the A’s are looking to buy the Coliseum land. Those who distrust Wolff don’t believe that. Streeter then boiled down the whole point of the lease. 

Streeter addressed the A’s-Oakland parking fee dispute. Arbitration is pending. Oakland is asking for $5.4 million. If the City wins they could also be reimbursed $600,000 in legal fees. The amount that the A’s are willing to pay was not disclosed. Streeter factored a discounted amount of a potential arbitration award into the lease. Why? There’s the inherent risk that the City could lose the arbitration. That makes the lease a sort of hedge.

Finally, as further questions were asked about the leases of both the A’s and Raiders, especially the ongoing operating subsidy. While I’ve always known about the subsidy, I’ve never heard it explained in such simple terms. Basically it goes like this:

  • The A’s pay for all gameday operations: power, water, groundskeeping, security. This is for a 180-day season.
  • The A’s pay $1.5 million in rent per season.
  • The A’s receive revenue from pouring rights, stadium advertising, and a chunk of concessions.
  • The A’s keep parking revenue with the exception of the tax that has to be paid to the City & County.

Contrast this with the Raiders

  • The Raiders pay $400,000 per year in rent.
  • The Raiders split parking revenues with the JPA, their share being roughly $1.75 million for the 2013 season.
  • The Raiders pay for zero stadium operating costs, and are subsidized to the tune of $7 million per year, including the costs to convert the stadium between baseball and football (and vice-versa).

Late tonight, word came that the Raiders may want a year extension, though it wasn’t clear if that’s on top of the 2015 option year or something else. I hope the Raiders’ lease gets the same kind of scrutiny the A’s lease gets. It’s the painful yet needed part of the ongoing adult conversation.

P.S. – Wolff met with San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed yesterday at the SJ Fairmont. The meeting was described as a “check-in.”

Selig’s Tortures of Hell and Splitting the Baby

Update 8:50 PMJean Quan is trying to delay the vote, supposedly to get further concessions from Lew Wolff. Wolff’s comments today don’t sound like he’s giving any additional concessions. 

During today’s customary pre-All Star Game media session, Bud Selig addressed the A’s stadium situation for the umpteenth time. Not surprisingly, Selig’s answers yielded little for fans to be optimistic about. Selig answers that were actual answers were mainly confined to the ongoing lease negotiations at the Coliseum, with no hint as to what would occur in the future whether the lease was approved or not.

Somehow I doubt these were Selig’s personal tortures of hell. After all, he knowingly has created these conditions. It’s been much worse for A’s fans and even local media for being forced to report on this never-ending charade, not to mention little old bloggers who try to make sense of it all. Coupled with Selig’s imploring the Oakland City Council to get the deal done was the presence of Lew Wolff beside him at the Home Run Derby last night, as well as today during the session. It was a not-so-subtle reminder of who the commissioner will side with if Oakland can’t come to an agreement on Wednesday, when the City Council will hold a special session at 5:30 to consider the lease. Meanwhile, there continues to be an epic amount of finger pointing within the Council, as the mayoral candidates take stances for or against the lease and then pull 180’s days later. Those who aren’t running for mayor are sick of the politics. While MLB’s threats seemed to have cowed the Council enough to approve the deal, there’s no telling with could happen in the next 24 hours or so. Selig also acknowledged the success of the exhibition games held in Montreal in the spring, while shooting down Montreal as a potential A’s relocation target.

If anyone feels like they’re in hell, it has to be the members of the JPA board, the Oakland City Council, and the Alameda County Board of Supervisors. The mistrust and lack of communication all point to the JPA’s eventual demise, as the two City and County partners have differing visions for how to move forward. The City has been working with BayIG and Colony Capital, and for months has not expeditiously informed the JPA on the process. The JPA decided in recent weeks to figure out a potential deal with the A’s, which could threaten the Raiders’ future at the Coliseum as much as the Coliseum City deal threatens the A’s.

Last week I wondered if the idea of one party buying out the other would come up again from Nate Miley, and sure enough it has. About the only thing that the City and County can agree on is that there are too many cooks in the Coliseum’s kitchen. Miley even brought up a split-the-baby proposal.

“I would say if we could have one party responsible out at the Coliseum and the (Oracle) Arena, that would be the preference,” Miley said.

If there could be an easy way to break up the JPA, that’s it. The arena and stadium have separate financing and debt repayment structures. They’re even separate when it comes to the assessor’s rolls.

 

Most of area is the Coliseum complex, jointly owned by the City and County. Inset within is the arena land to the left. Not shown: additional land acquisitions to the east and north.

Most of area is the Coliseum complex, jointly owned by the City and County. Inset within is the arena land to the left. Not shown: additional land acquisitions to the east and north.

The County would probably be willing to take on the arena and let the City handle the rest of the complex and the development within. If Coliseum City or Wolff’s plan required the arena land, it would be a simple deal to pay off the estimated $70 million owed on the arena after the Warriors leave, assuming that the W’s aren’t liable for the remaining debt. All the County would require is a minimum amount of parking spaces (5,000 or so) to be available and continued access to the BART station via the bridge. That’s a much more manageable situation than the stadium’s $100 million owed after 2017 ($138 million after this year) and $100-400 million in infrastructure costs required to build out a complete development.

The downside of splitting the baby in this manner is that Oakland will find itself in a much riskier position. It alone will have to figure out what to do with the remaining Coliseum debt. It would also have to finance all the new infrastructure without the County’s help. Some state or federal grants could prove helpful, but are increasingly scarce. There’s very little hope of refinancing either the arena or stadium debt in the future if neither is going to have a tenant, so it’ll be up to the developer to pay it off, else the City & County eat it.

Let’s say that the County, as Miley suggests, wants out of this project altogether. Without knowing what the A’s are planning, it’s likely that their Coliseum redevelopment will be similar or smaller in scope than Coliseum City. The problem there is the mutual distrust between Wolff and the City. The City has only been working with the Raiders/BayIG, and would presumably have them as their preferred partner. But if the A’s lease extension is approved, it could jeopardize the existing Coliseum City relationship. Mayor Jean Quan and CM Kaplan can characterize this is not having to choose all they want. MLB and NFL (through proxies) are forcing that decision. Can’t dance with two partners the whole night, Oakland. Sooner or later, one of them’s gonna up and leave, or at least find a new partner.

Another sign controversy

It all started a few weeks ago, when the Oakland Fan Pledge guys reported that they had to take down their sign at a game. Was this a technicality at work, or the A’s putting the hammer on signs they don’t agree with? Since then, it appears that the takedowns have been more frequent. Sign makers are crying First Amendment violations, while defenders of the takedowns say that A’s games are private functions. Of course, they’re held in a publicly-funded venue, so there’s a gray area here*. This fans-with-signs vs. management battle has gone on for decades, and it has never failed to make management look bad. Let’s look at the A’s sign policy.

Banners and Signs:

Management reserves the right to remove any signs or banners at any time. Each sign and banner must comply with the guest code of conduct. Signs and banners may be displayed at games as long as:

• They do not obstruct the sight line of another guest

• They are not larger than 3′ tall x 6′ wide

• They are not in the field of play.

• They do not cover up any existing signage.

• They are not commercial in nature.

• They do not contain obscene or inflammatory language

• They are not paraded around the stadium.

Nothing in there explicitly discusses critiques of management, or even players. If the A’s are going to have a sign policy, they better stick to it and not go beyond their stated rules. Otherwise they’re asking for legal trouble. The backed down in 2010 after John Russo threatened to sue the A’s. Now that Russo has left the government he described as “morally corrupt” (on the way out, of course), is Barbara Parker or someone else going to step in? The only remotely sports-related opinion Parker has rendered so far has been about the City Council’s voting procedure with regards to JPA matters.

At the very least, OPD shouldn’t be helping with the takedowns. Leave Coliseum private security to do it. If someone in the legal field wants to take up the sign makers’ cause, let the chips fall where they may.

* Reason why I say the publicly-owned stadium principle is a gray area is because private isn’t always completely private, nor is public always completely public. AT&T Park is a privately owned and built stadium, yet it’s on public land. Does that make AT&T Park more or less suitable for similar protests?

Report from Modesto Bee suggests A’s could move AAA affiliate to Nashville

Here we go again. After May’s report about the River Cats looking to switch affiliations from the A’s to the Giants, we’ve got a new round of rumors to deal with. This time they come from Modesto Bee sports writer Brian VanderBeek, who has heard an even more sordid, complicated switch.

VanderBeek checked with “four sources within the Giants and A’s organizations” for his report. If it’s to be believed, the Giants and River Cats will hook up. However, he notes a huge difference from the May rumors in that the A’s would be pushing to leave the River Cats, not the other way around as was originally reported. In May, Susan Slusser reported that the River Cats were initiating the move, which would stop the renewal of the PDC (Player Development Contract) with the A’s.

There’s little the A’s can do if the River Cats want to drop the A’s (or vice-versa). Every couple years there’s something of a free-for-all in terms of PDC renewal. Most teams renew, but if major or minor league clubs find competitive or financial reasons to change affiliations, they’re well within their rights to do so. However they must make changes within a very narrow, specific window in September, and no earlier because discussions before September could be considered tampering. By rule MLB teams aren’t allowed to sweeten deals to provide more cash or assistance to affiliates other than the normal underwriting of baseball operations.

Currently there are 9 Pacific Coast League franchises and 4 International League teams whose PDC’s end this year. Teams that have a long-standing relationship or geographical convenience (Tacoma-Seattle, Colorado Springs-Colorado, Pawtucket-Boston) are likely renewal candidates. Other cities like Las Vegas or El Paso aren’t so steady. VanderBeek floated a three-way swap, which would have Sacramento pair with the Giants, Fresno with the Brewers, and Nashville with the A’s.

I’m at a loss to understand why such a swap would be helpful to the A’s or Brewers. Nashville, like Milwaukee, is in the Central time zone and the two cities are less than 500 miles apart. Shuttling players equates to a simple commuter flight, though that’s not as good as the 90-minute drive from Sacramento to Oakland. Nashville to Oakland is nearly 2,000 miles with few direct flights between the two. If anything, Nashville seems like a prime opportunity for the Mets to get their AAA affiliate out of Las Vegas. The Sounds are playing their last season at Nashville’s barebones Greer Stadium, home of the most uniquely shaped scoreboard in baseball. A controversial new ballpark is scheduled to open in 2015.

Should September turn into a game of AAA musical chairs, Fresno and Las Vegas would probably be the most up-in-the-air locales. Fresno’s ownership situation has not been stable, and the Grizzlies have frequently claimed losses and begged for enhanced stadium subsidies. Las Vegas is stuck for now with old, desert hot Cashman Field, which the A’s know a little too well as a temporary home. If the A’s are unable to willingly pair up with a minor league city/franchise, MLB and MiLB will step in and make a short-term assignment. The A’s Midland (AA-Texas League) and Beloit (A-Midwest League) PDC’s are also up for renewal in September. Historically, affiliations at the lower levels have been more volatile than at the AAA level.

Changing the affiliate to Nashville would make the team a little more difficult to follow for A’s fans, plus it would reduce the undersold, underappreciated convenience of having the MLB team and two affiliates within 60-90 minutes of one another. Anything’s possible, though this move doesn’t seem likely. It’s hard to see the A’s getting frozen out since the River Cats’ outstanding records throughout their tenure in Sacramento are something of a feather in the A’s cap. Yet if the A’s were to end up paired with Vegas, boy oh boy would that start the franchise move talk all over again. Former mayor Oscar Goodman may be retired, but he’s still alive and his wife is now mayor. The outspoken retired politician just had a new Vegas restaurant inside a casino named after himOscar’s Beef, Booze & Broads.