The New York Post is reporting that Jim Crane’s price for moving the Astros to the American League is not, as I speculated, a future franchise sale price guarantee. Instead, Crane wants the value upfront, asking for a $50 million discount off the $680 million sale price. Assuming that MLB and Crane meet somewhere in the middle, we’ll see how desperate Drayton McLane is to finally unload the franchise. Based on previous reports, McLane is quite desperate. (Additional coverage available from The Biz of Baseball.)
Crane’s argument is that moving to the AL West will cause more games to be broadcast at 9 PM Central time because of frequent trips to the West Coast. Let’s do some math on this. Setting aside the interleague rotation, the ‘Stros currently play 4 NL West opponents roughly 6 times apiece. Cut that in half and it translates to 12 road games against the West Coast, then take away a third of those games as daytime games for a total of 8 games at the 9 PM start time. If they play in a 5-team AL West, they’ll play 3 West Coast opponents 18 times (assuming the format stays unbalanced). Half of those games will be at home, translating to 27 total games on the West Coast, or 15 more than before. Roughly a third of these games will be either weekend daytime or weekday getaway day games, reducing actual number affected by the two-hour shift to 18, or 10 more 9 PM starts than before. Is a 10-game delta worth a $50 million discount?
Crane is actually coming into a very good situation with the Astros. $12 million was spent last year to upgrade the big scoreboard. Renovations to club areas have also been completed. The Astros will be moving to CSN Houston, of which they’ll own 40%, in 2013. They’ll be partnering with the NBA Rockets, who will move starting with the 2012-13 season. With the ‘Stros in full rebuild mode, it would make sense for Crane to keep payroll low until the team sniffs contention again.
Moreover, Crane’s request seems to fall in line with the thinking that, when it comes to dealings between teams and owners on the business side, money generally does not change hands. If Lew Wolff gets territorial rights and the Giants are awarded compensation, it’ll be interesting to see what form that compensation takes. Based on this news and the historical pattern of how franchises work out deals (other than player trades), cash payments are not the likely form of compensation.