New CBA approved including possible revenue sharing rollbacks for A’s

MLB and MLBPA burned the midnight oil the last couple of days to get a CBA approved before tonight’s midnight deadline. Though the talk did not include the same kinds of contentious items other leagues normally argue over (salary cap, players’ percentage of revenue), the sides still worked hard to avoid any kind of work stoppage. As of this post, both sides are touting a tentative agreement with much of the fine print to be worked out over the coming weeks. Like the last CBA, the new one will run for five years through the 2021 season. Major items that were up for grabs, such as the international draft and 26-man rosters were left by the wayside in order to get the deal done. What did apparently get through was a tweaking – if not an overhaul – of baseball’s revenue sharing system.

That news got started by Jeff Passan:

And was built upon by Ken Rosenthal:

Okay, let’s start with the Rosenthal scoop. As a way to “motivate” the A’s to build a new ballpark, they will be phased out of revenue sharing. This was the plan under the last agreement too, except that the A’s were given an exemption as long as they continued to play at the Coliseum. Since that didn’t net a change in the A’s venue, the owners (with the union’s help?) may have decided to light a fire under A’s ownership to build that. Nevermind that the A’s would already be in a new home in San Jose if MLB actually supported the A’s plans in 2012, that’s water under the bridge. Now John Fisher has the reins of the efforts to build in Oakland. And by phasing out the A’s revenue sharing check over the life of the CBA, the A’s won’t realize up to $90 million over the five years. That’s just as well for many A’s fans and rival owners who believe ownership has been pocketing those checks for years. The A’s weren’t spending it on payroll anyway.

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As you can see from the table above, the previous CBA called for revenue sharing to be phased out for all of the Top 15 “Big Market” teams. The A’s are in a big market, but they are a relatively low-revenue franchise thanks to the dilapidated Coliseum. MLB carried over the last agreement while it also more-or-less imposed a deadline to complete the ballpark of 2021 or 2022. There’s always another side to the story, which makes me wonder what MLB will offer to the A’s to make the stadium project worth Fisher’s while. After all, if Fisher’s going to take all the risk while not getting monetary help from either MLB or the City of Oakland, what’s in it for him? The A’s aren’t guaranteed to get a

Rob Manfred called for the A’s to be more proactive in the stadium pursuit. The recent ownership change and other moves indicate that the A’s are serious. Still, the Raiders are the biggest obstacle to getting the Coliseum site as well as a competitor for scarce infrastructural funding should both teams get Oakland projects going. MLB’s pitch to Fisher may be “Once the Raiders and Warriors leave you’ll have the East Bay all to yourself. We’ll throw our weight behind your plans when that happens.” Will MLB provide funding to the A’s to get through lean years? Will Manfred finally play the heavy when it comes time to negotiate with the City?

Now about that performance factor. Performance factor is a key feature of the revenue sharing scheme. There are two parts of the scheme, the 34% straight pool Base Plan and the (14%) Supplemental Plan.  The Base Pool plan is simple: every team contributes 34% of their local revenue after deductions regardless of how little/much that is. All teams above the average (mean) amount lose the difference between the mean and their contribution. Those below the fold receive the difference between their respective contributions and the mean.The Supplemental Plan takes the aggregate of 14% of local revenue for all teams, pulls from the Top 15 teams based on each team’s Performance Factor and sends that to the Bottom 15 based on their PF’s. It’s unclear whether MLB got rid of the Supplemental Pool altogether or calibrated revenue sharing by folding the Supplemental Plan into the Base Plan. That would make the whole plan a 48% straight pool Base Plan, one that would penalize rich teams for being rich less than before. Elements of the new plan may be released in the coming days. Eventually we’ll know what it is and what the A’s have to deal with.

A’s brass were hoping revenue sharing would stay intact, but the writing’s on the wall. The business model should stay intact, in that they plan their payroll limits and roster makeup based on regularly-sourced revenue (stadium, TV/radio, streaming) not including the revenue sharing receipt, which is received in December after the usual rash of free agent signings. I always figured that if the A’s needed that last piece for a championship roster, they’d dig into that receipt. Now Fisher will have to make a cash call to himself. The dynamic of trying to field a more competitive team to hopefully help sell a new ballpark vs. the need to save pennies for the ballpark by reducing costs is plenty fascinating on its own. Which way Fisher will turn will show us what his priorities are.

Wolff, Crowley step down for Fisher, Kaval to take over

To call today momentous would be an understatement. For now I’ll post a bunch of links, with commentary to follow.

The tenure of Lew Wolff (left) has come to an end, John Fisher (center) will replace him

The tenure of Lew Wolff (left) has come to an end; John Fisher (center) will replace him

Susan Slusser first broke the news that Lew Wolff would step down and sell most of his stake in the A’s. John Fisher is taking over as the control person (managing partner) of A’s ownership, a.k.a. the Athletics Investment Group, LLP. Fisher was approved to day as control person by MLB during the owners’ meetings in Chicago today. Wolff will maintain a small share of the team and a Chairman Emeritus title. Mike Crowley is also stepping down as team president, to be replaced by Earthquakes president Dave Kaval. Crowley will remain a senior advisor, while Kaval will continue to run both the A’s and Quakes. Now the links:

A’s shakeup: Wolff, Crowley out as team redoubles stadium efforts (Susan Slusser, Chronicle)

A’s: Wolff exits, more change coming; may bode well for future in Oakland (John Hickey, BANG)

Lew Wolff would not be stepping down if he was 20 years younger (Joe Stiglich, CSN)

Purdy: Wolff outlines reasons he stepped aside, predicts Fisher will decide on A’s ballpark site soon (Mark Purdy, BANG)

Earthquakes, A’s promotion increases profile of new soccer GM (Elliot Almond, BANG)

Will A’s ownership shift hit stadium plan out of the park? (Ron Leuty, SFBT)

New A’s president Dave Kaval focused on stadium, community (Susan Slusser, Chronicle)

New A’s man Kaval tasked with performing stadium-sized magic (Ray Ratto, CSN)

And the A’s press release:

This is not moving the deck chairs, as Bruce Jenkins would suggest. Nor is it clearing the decks, as Fisher is still the money man and majority partner in shifted ownership group. What matters is Fisher’s commitment to the ballpark effort and the presence of Kaval, a gifted salesman/marketer who was a key player in completing Avaya Stadium. Kaval is bringing over many of the tools he used during his Quakes tenure: social media, accessibility through regular office hours, and thinking outside the box. That said, the Quakes bear one very similar operational trait as the A’s: a resistance to big expensive player contracts. That’s despite a new stadium and a league salary cap designed to prevent profligate spending by teams. MLB’s a few levels up from MLS economically, so that could potentially be different for the A’s, but it will all depend on revenue in the short term, and projected boosts if the A’s get an Oakland ballpark deal done. Still, there is much greater hope for a ballpark than there has been in several years. Kaval is an engaging, smart guy who knows how to read a room. Just the fact that he’s much more approachable than Wolff, Crowley, and especially Fisher should help the A’s standing in Oakland. It can’t hurt. The A’s will need strong community support to build their ballpark. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll see a plan in the coming months. Wolff and Fisher have experienced success with Kaval running point. They’re hoping he can repeat that success with a much tougher project.

More tomorrow.

Baseball’s pretty great

So here’s what happened. I got home and the power was out. While reporting the outage, I jumped on a bus to head into Old Town (<5 minutes, no driving tonight). Got off and went over the Jack’s, a nearby sports bar. When I got to the door I found out that Jack’s had closed two weeks ago. So I walked further into downtown Scottsdale, settling upon Scapegoat, one of my favorite bars. The goat reference was coincidental, yet I took it all the way. I ate a lovely sandwich called ‘The G.O.A.T.’ If the bar had Celebrator I would’ve loaded up.

When I entered it was still largely an after-work crowd with a handful of Cubs fans watching the game. Scapegoat is not a sports bar and only has one TV. It’s also a quite small bar, so when a crowd of 20 people come in they can practically take over the place. So I chatted up a bunch of Cubs fans that came around the 5th inning and a couple Indians fans, me being the neutral observer. As the tension rose the Cubs fans got more jokey (a well-developed defense mechanism I have seen elsewhere), but still desperately hopeful. Even as the Cubs lost the lead the fans didn’t get depressed. They saw the prize in the near distance. And as Kris Bryant smiled while fielding the last grounder and threw to first for the final out, I sat there and watched the gathered fans. I realized that I’ll never truly appreciate winning like they are right now. The fans have been down for so long, so much failure and disappointment, and now the ultimate in sheer joy. It was beautiful.

As I left I shook hands with them and said, “Enjoy this. Next year the Cubs will be hated by America like every other team.” I’m sure they enjoyed it to the fullest. I walked home.

Baseball’s pretty great, indeed.

Manfred insists Oakland effort is progressing, hints at groundwork for deal

Months ago I pleaded with the A’s to start communicating more regularly with the public on the state of the ballpark effort, if only to give fans some confidence in the effort. With MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred’s answers to questions about Oakland during the current postseason, it appears that the A’s are relying on Manfred to be the credible source. Might as well, since Manfred isn’t (yet) reviled the way A’s ownership is among many locals.

Before I get too far into Manfred’s role, let’s reset the situation. The A’s and Raiders both positioned as preferring the Coliseum for their prospective Oakland stadia, which put the City of Oakland in a bind. The A’s pledged to look at other sites in Oakland in case a football stadium pushed them out. While the A’s are more-or-less bound to Oakland, the Raiders have put a lot of effort into a glitzy venue in Las Vegas. Raiders owner Mark Davis has also flirted with Los Angeles, San Antonio, even San Diego if the Chargers vacate for LA.

In August A’s majority partner John Fisher brought staff with him on a tour of Howard Terminal, Oakland’s best hope for a waterfront downtown ballpark site. No findings have been released, with John Hickey’s article referencing how Howard Terminal remains a difficult proposition due to cleanup and infrastructure costs. There’s also a mention of Brooklyn Basin, but given how the developers for that project weren’t able to pick up a key piece of land that now effectively splits the project in two, it’s highly unlikely that something will magically open up for a ballpark there.

That brings us to Laney College, which sits between Howard Terminal and the Coliseum physically and perhaps also in terms of rank. I tweetstormed about Laney in April. The important thing to note about Laney is that it’s actually two sites separated by E. 8th Ave. The north site is familiar to most as the Laney College athletic fields The south site is the collection of Peralta (Laney’s district) administration buildings. Laney was studied as part of the 2001 HOK presentation, and at first glance it would seem to be a highly favorable location. The land is mostly fields with few structures and is publicly owned. It’s close to Lake Merritt BART and there is some – though not much – parking to the west.

Some of the Oakland sites under consideration. Peralta is below Laney.

Some of the Oakland sites under consideration. Peralta is below Laney.

Unlike the Port and City, who have public land reserves to draw upon, Laney/Peralta have their facilities concentrated among 50 acres straddling Lake Merritt Channel, and they have shown little interest in disposing of any of that land. A planning document published in 2011 showed that the college wants to expand, mostly into the undeveloped parking lot in the southwest corner. Coincidentally, this is where the Raiders’ pre-Coliseum home, Frank Youell Field, was located.

Making a ballpark work at Laney College would require a multi-phase approach because the facilities would continue to be in use for significant portions of the development cycle. If the Laney fields become the site, it’ll be up to the college to figure out how to accommodate practically the entire outdoor athletic program. There’s no obvious place to relocate them. Some might look to a land swap with the Coliseum, but that wouldn’t make sense since the fields would be five miles away, nearly as far from the campus as Merritt College. If the Peralta site is chosen, the administration offices and support for all four campuses in the district would have to be relocated. Perhaps a solution could include a large parking structure with offices atop. That could help serve parking needs for Laney, Peralta, and the A’s. It could also be crazy expensive on its own.

There will be more time to ruminate on sites known and unknown. For now let’s get back to the commish. There’s a lot there to support the notion that Manfred is pushing Lew Wolff and John Fisher towards a solution in Oakland and holding them to account. That’s good PR for baseball in Oakland. Then there was another quote from Manfred about Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf that caught me off guard:

‘The Mayor in Oakland has made it clear to me that baseball is her first priority. She would like to keep both teams, but baseball is her first priority. And I think that’s a good spot for baseball to be in.’

Schaaf has gone to great pains to never express any outright favoritism between the A’s and Raiders, though she has admitted that the sheer number of games the A’s play (82 vs. 10 for the Raiders) is a better economic driver. And there have been whispers that she has backed the A’s privately, biding her time until the Raiders eventually leave. Of course, there’s no guarantee that “eventually” will ever happen, so she has to keep Oakland in play for a football stadium despite a funding gap that is no closer to resolution since the issue was raised during the Quan administration.

Now comes word that Manfred is walking back his assertion about Schaaf, though neither of their respective offices have made any statements to that effect yet (2 PM PT). Given the lack of such statements, it seems that Schaaf is not getting any serious blowback. It also confirms a certain journalistic truism:

Messaging is tough, though not as tough as getting a stadium privately built in California. Manfred wants to accelerate the process regardless of the restrictions placed on the A’s. His vague timeframe of “within the next year” follows similar statements made by Wolff and Oakland pols. It’s likely to slip. No one would be surprised if it did for myriad reasons. That said, Manfred’s desire to get a site picked is a tactic designed to inevitably put the ball in Oakland’s court. Oakland and the A’s have to this point skated on the dual-dilemma scenario with the Raiders. Manfred’s shaking the tree is meant to put some pressure on both team and City. He can do that directly with Wolff and Fisher. He can’t do that to Oakland, not until there is a site and some level of commitment. The key is Manfred’s admission that he’s not sending anyone to Oakland full time to work on the project. In the past that was either Manfred or Bob DuPuy acting on Bud Selig’s behalf, or Eric Grubman doing the same type of field work for Roger Goodell.

When that site is decided, Manfred will turn around and say to Schaaf,  Look at all I’ve done for you, I got the owners in line, there is a site and a plan,what are you going to give baseball? By give I mean the pledges of infrastructure, land, or whatever is needed to offset the enormous investment Wolff and Fisher will have to undertake to build a ballpark. That’s when messaging gives way to dealmaking. It’s a better tack than what the NFL is doing as it looks more generous. Will it ultimately be more successful? Hell if I know.

P.S. – Laney’s in the news, but remember, the A’s still consider the Coliseum the #1 for now. We’ll see if their study changes their assessment.

Lott-Perry group provide $167 million offer for Coliseum complex

Updated to include poll:

BANG’s David DeBolt reports tonight that the investment group led by Ronnie Lott and Egbert Perry offered to buy the Coliseum complex for $167.3 million. The offer comes during the 90-day MOU between the City of Oakland and the investment group. They would get the Coliseum stadium, arena, the surrounding parking lots, and additional adjacent properties bought by Oakland over the past several years.

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The $167.3 million offer would also retire debt on the Coliseum. There’s still $113 million of debt left at Mount Davis after 2016, making the remainder for the land worth $43 million. Or is it? The arena’s debt after the Warriors leave is still very much in dispute. That figure could be upwards of $88 million even if the Warriors stay through 2019 as they announced earlier in the summer. Lott-Perry’s first pitch looks like a serious lowball, especially if they have to factor in the arena’s debt.

Perhaps this is why we got another update late:

Chances are that the two parties are not exactly close on the sale price, an issue Perry encountered in Phoenix. In that case Maricopa County is looking to sell Chase Field, not so much because of debt (which has been retired), but because of $187 million of deferred maintenance due for the venue. The maintenance costs and revenue generating potential combined to suppress the ballpark’s appraised value, $40-50 million in 2010. That could rise with a reappraisal, though there are no guarantees. Either way, it’s somewhat absurd to think that a large, modern MLB facility could be worth less than the average project cost of a AAA ballpark, such as the one planned for San Antonio.

The City has no reason to sign anything right away since their own property appraisal hasn’t yet been released. They’ll be guided by that document to counter Lott-Perry. Lott-Perry will be under pressure to minimize this particular cost as much as possible, since every dollar spent on land means another dollar that isn’t spent to bridge the gap on the new Raiders stadium, $300-400 million and rising with every day.

NFL relocation heavy Eric Grubman visited Oakland on Sunday and Monday to see how things were progressing. For now there’s little to report. By the end of the MOU period it will be imperative for Oakland to show something substantive that represents all parties, including the so far non-participatory football franchise. As for the A’s, they are under no pressure to make any deals right away, somewhat to the chagrin of MLB commissioner Rob Manfred. At the very least, the process is moving forward.

MLB 2017 Travel Grid Available

I think I finally got the hang of this.

Usually it takes a couple days of patched together free time to put together the Travel Grid. This time I did it in a couple hours. As usual it’s available on Google Drive in various formats, in both multiple sheet and one-sheet formats. Have at it!

  • Excel (.xlsx)
  • PDF (alphabetical)
  • PDF (regional)
  • PDF (one-sheet alphabetical)
  • PDF (one-sheet regional)

preview-travelgrid

If you’re wondering what the font is in the PDF versions, it’s Futura, used in so much 20th century signage and print. It’s a nod to Vin Scully, who was born the same year as Futura, 1927. Scully will hang up his microphone at the end of the 2016 regular season. Futura will go on indefinitely, including on the walls of Scully’s professional home, Dodger Stadium.

My one definite trip to take will be the A’s-Rays doubleheader on June 10. I’ll probably figure out a way to head up to Cobb County to catch a couple of Braves games as well.

Enjoy planning your trips everyone.

 

 

It Takes Two to Contract: Cal League Edition

Last week, Minor League Baseball announced two huge moves within the High-A level. The California League franchises in Bakersfield and Adelanto (Bakersfield Blaze and High Desert Mavericks, respectively) will fold at the end of the 2016. Their player development contracts would not be renewed, and two new Carolina League teams would rise in Fayetteville and Kinston. That would leave the Cal League with only 8 teams, whereas the Carolina League would grow to 10. The Florida State League would stay at 12 teams, the largest of the three leagues.

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Sam Lynn Ballpark entrance

Bakersfield had a plan for a privately developed ballpark a few years ago, but the financing never materialized. Next, Salinas tried to lure the team north. That too went nowhere. With no relocation sites on the horizon, Bakersfield was on the clock to replace antiquated Sam Lynn Ballpark. The LA Times’ Bill Shaikin wrote an obituary on the 75 years of baseball in Bakersfield, a city of 300,000 that also lost its NBDL (D-League) franchise earlier this year. As for the fate of the westward-facing ballpark, the city’s trying to figure that out. Bakersfield’s exit makes San Jose Municipal Stadium the oldest remaining venue in the Cal League.

In tiny Adelanto, fewer tears are being shed over the Mavericks. The city even went to the lengths of threatening to evict the team over tensions related to the Mavericks’ onerous $1-a-year stadium lease. Instead, they made a deal with the San Bernardino County Fair to reuse Mavericks Stadium, a facility that opened in 1991. 25 years? It’s been a good – albeit sparsely attended – run.

It’s important to note that these contractions and expansions would not have been possible if not for both teams being in dire straits. No avenues remained in California, with Salinas fizzling out and Chico seemingly satisfied for now with independent ball. The serial, everyday scheduling of baseball makes it impractical to contract only a single team. Whether we’re talking the California League or the American League, it would take two teams to contract. And in the American League, that’s a payout that could reach $1.5 billion, though it should be noted that contraction is not in the cards for the next round of CBA negotiations.

Baseball America’s podcast last week covered the Bakersfield/High Desert contractions in great detail, with hosts John Manuel and J.J. Cooper talking about what ailed the markets, along with the issues facing California in general – including our own Oakland Athletics. It’s worth a listen.