The last public statement Bud Selig made on the A’s-San Jose lawsuit was at the beginning of the World Series, when he held court for the assembled national media. The session included the obligatory question on the A’s situation, which included Selig’s reflection on the lawsuit because Judge Ronald Whyte had recently thrown out many of San Jose’s claims in the case. Here’s what MLB.com’s Paul Hagen wrote then:
A judge, ruling on a lawsuit filed by San Jose against Major League Baseball, recently upheld MLB’s right to determine when and where franchises may relocate, but left open the question of whether the city of San Jose may sue for damages. Selig said, however, that this doesn’t impact the timetable for a resolution.
“I wouldn’t say so. We were very pleased with the decision, obviously. But nothing has changed,” Selig said. “We’re working on details. Look, I know everybody says it’s taking so long. But the more our group has gotten into it, the more complex it is. If people really understood all the complexities, they would understand. But it’s a situation that needs to be dealt with.”
Selig was asked if the complexity was the San Francisco Giants’ claim that they have territorial rights to San Jose.
“The complexities are all the parties,” Selig replied.
A month earlier, Selig went on John Feinstein’s radio show to complain about the A’s and Rays’ stadium problems. At the time Selig referred to the state of the Coliseum.
“It’s a pit,” Selig said. “It reminds me of old County Stadium and Shea Stadium. We need to deal with that. I’ve had a committee working on it for two or three years, and there’s no question we’re going to have to solve that problem.”
But hasn’t the committee been working on it for a long time? What’s the hold-up?
“We have, John, but I’ll tell you it’s far more complex,” Selig said. “Look, you have one team that wants to move and the other team doesn’t want them to move, and it’s a very complicated situation. Before I leave, I’m satisfied we’ll work out something.”
Now let’s pivot to the most recent revelation of a letter “formally” rejecting the A’s proposal to San Jose. MLB didn’t release the letter with the recent court filing, so we’re left to guess as to what the letter truly contained. The filing characterizes the letter as a final decision on the A’s move request. Since the news broke, several reporters have gotten unnamed sources to characterize the letter as a rejection of the proposal as written, but not a rejection of San Jose. Selig’s statements above – made three and four months after the rejected proposal letter – don’t sound like any decision, final or not, has been made.
Since we know nothing about the proposal, we can only speculate on its terms. Some of the discussion on this blog has been about the need for a greater public contribution. That may be the case, but I suspect that MLB wouldn’t focus on stadium deal terms that far afield. There’s always the matter of negotiation with between the team and the city when it comes time to write a DDA. Instead, I’m certain that the issue boils down to the overarching issue at play: territorial rights and compensation.
From the start of the San Jose talk in 2009, the Giants have never publicly stated a price. Lew Wolff has joked that he’d prefer to pay the same amount the Giants paid for Santa Clara County in 1992, which was $0. Since then, Wolff has hinted that he’d be willing to pay compensation based on actual demonstrable losses suffered by the Giants, not a big lump sum payment. Given that the Giants sell out regularly, demonstrable losses could be difficult to prove. If anything, MLB wants a serious compromise between the two sides, and isn’t satisfied with Wolff’s definition of compensation. While Wolff may be loathe to pay anything to the nemesis Giants, ponying up something is probably the only way to get down to San Jose.
At the same time, the proposal has to work within other written (and unwritten) rules MLB has set forth. Consider these additional issues at stake:
- How much additional debt does the club have to take on to make the ballpark happen?
- If the land encumbrance issues at the Diridon site can’t be resolved, what backup sites are being considered?
- Does the proposal involve the A’s staying on revenue sharing for some period of time?
- Are the A’s sticking to the small, 32,000-seat concept, or will they move to 36,000 or higher?
While all of these are legitimate concerns, I still think that it all comes down to the compensation issue. In February, Bill Shaikin reported that MLB gave the A’s temporary guidelines in order for Selig and the owners to approve the move. If there were guidelines given to the A’s, then it’s up to Wolff and John Fisher to comply with those guidelines. Otherwise they’re just spinning their wheels. Shaikin wrote then that compensation was not “among the list of matters for the A’s to resolve.” Sure, as long as the A’s are in compliance. If they proposed a different form of compensation or different terms, suddenly that issue is front and center.
If MLB convinces Judge Whyte to grant a stay in the discovery phase of the lawsuit, we probably won’t find out the substance of that letter or proposal. That would be, to put it mildly, unfortunate.