Making sense of Wolff’s latest Coliseum letter

Last Friday, we got the first taste of what could be a long and uncertain process surrounding the A’s negotiations with the JPA on the Coliseum lease. The lease expires in less than a year, after the 2013 season.First, the Los Angeles Times published a story. It said Wolff was looking to extend the lease to 2018. Wolff followed up with aletter describing some of his lease terms. Oakland Mayor Jean Quan also released a statement on her Facebook page, saying she is enthusiastic about keeping the A’s in Oakland.Looking back it, we question how Wolff played this one. But that really isn’t new. He has made similar mistakes since buying the team nearly eight years ago. Since then, he frequently has claimed Oakland hasn’t presented viable sites, such as in 2006, when he announced his Fremont stadium plans or, in 2009, when Wolff wrote a letter, saying he did not want to “cover old ground” in Oakland.

Of course, much of what he claimed isn’t true. In the past three years alone, Oakland has touted three sites that could work for the A’s (Victory Court, Howard Terminal and the Coliseum parking lot), and each time Wolff has refused to work with Oakland officials. He instead has stayed focused on his pipe dream in the South Bay.
As the years have passed by, it has become apparent that a move to the South Bay will not happen. And Wolff and co-owner John Fisher, as a result, have definitely lost some leverage here. As the organization has tried to bend the city and A’s fans over a barrel with constant threats to move, the JPA now has the opportunity to make certain demands for a new lease agreement. Nothing wrong with that, is there? Why would there be? It’s not personal, Sonny, it’s business. And the A’s are/have been doing the exact same thing.
Occasionally, Wolff has threatened to move the A’s out of the Bay Area or even out of state. But where could the A’s go? Remember, that because of the anti-trust exemption that MLB, and only MLB, possesses, a team’s owners does NOT have the freedom to just pick up and move, like NBA or NFL owners have. That gives MLB Commissioner Bud Selig more power on franchise relocations than other league commissioners, and he can stop any franchise moves that he doesn’t prefer.
That is why, when Wolff threatens to move the A’s in his recent letter, it makes very little sense. Yes, a lease where the A’s are forced to cough up a few bucks will impact his precious revenue streams. But any temporary move might negatively affect the A’s annual revenue greater than any lease payments, because it will be difficult to find a sweetheart lease more team-friendly than the one the A’s have had at the Coliseum for nearly 20 years. Threats of building a temporary structure are empty as well because not only will that cost at least $50 million, it will also need site planning, a time-consuming EIR, etc. And if it’s out of the East Bay, it will require MLB approval, which just takes us back to square one.  Even temporary buildings cannot just pop up quickly in a city, that’s why there are strict and time-consuming land-use laws in California. Besides, do you really think the notoriously cheap Wolff and Fisher are going to spend that kind of money on a temporry building? They weren’t willing to spend a measly extra few million last season, during the team’s first pennant race in half a decade. (Remember, they didn’t acquire Stephen Drew’s big contract for the stretch drive until they dumped Kurt Suzuki’s big contract. It was a big roll of the dice to go with a rookie catcher, Derek Norris, to lead four rookie pitchers during a pennant race, but the owners’ penny-pinching won out over baseball logic.)But we digress …
As with all contracts, the devil is in the details for  the A’s lease agreement talks. We shall wait and see what the two sides can agree upon. But like it or not, Lew is getting close to the point where he is going to have to commit or sell. Either one would be the sensible thing to do. Yet, those are the two possible solutions he quite insensibly is resisting.

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