If the Oakland Athletics construct a new baseball-only stadium at the current Coliseum site, they would continue playing in the Coliseum until the new facility is completed, A's managing partner Lew Wolff informed CSN California. Talk of a new stadium erupted after A's general manager Billy Beane explicitly stated that his acquisition of highly regarded low-minors players was partially based on him being "hopeful and optimistic about the venue situation here changing sometime in the near future," according to the San Francisco Chronicle's Susan Slusser.
Billy Beane brought up the new stadium idea on his own, according to 95.7 the Game A's Talk host Chris Townsend, citing a conversation he had with Susan Slusser. Townsend was surprised to hear Beane sound optimistic, as he was dismissive of the topic when the two were filming some commercials last year. However, Townsend also said that he thought the way the three trades over the last week came about looked quite a lot like how the Cleveland Indians got themselves set up to move into Jacobs Field (now Progressive Field).
With these reports also came news, from the Bay Area News Group's John Hickey, that Major League Baseball would kick in money for a new stadium in lieu of a direct public subsidy:
Wolff did say that new commissioner Rob Manfred was fully behind the A's getting a new venue as soon as possible. And the A's owner said Major League Baseball would likely kick in some money to help the A's get a stadium done at the Oakland site, public money not being available.
Beane and Wolff's comments have gotten a number of people speculating that Beane actually knows something that he can't reveal about the A's quest for a new stadium, and that that stadium is coming soon. Good Twitter follows Keith Barnard (@Keith2TheCity), Richard Fong, III (@Sniff009), and Nick Mediati (@dtnick) have written at their new site, Flipping Tables and Players, that in the nine days between signing Billy Butler and trading Josh Donaldson to the Toronto Blue Jays, "Beane must have learned something [about the] team's future long term status."
Asserting that Beane suddenly learned something in that time period is perhaps a bit of a reach, but I have an alternative explanation. Part of the incentive for Major League Baseball to kick in some money is to push the Oakland Athletics off of revenue sharing. At present, the collective bargaining agreement between the players and owners guarantees Oakland's participation in revenue sharing until Oakland builds a new stadium for the sake of investing in players.
The A's fellow owners, however, would probably frown upon Oakland simply not spending money until a new stadium is built. If there is a grand plan to have a young core of players begin to peak just as a new baseball stadium opens around 2020 or 2021, the A's still need to spend money now on players to support MLB's justification of ensuring parity via revenue sharing. Hence the A's signing Billy Butler to a three-year deal and reportedly offering a deal to Chase Headley, who ultimately accepted a four-year deal from the Yankees.
It can still be true that Beane did not want to trade Donaldson until Brett Lawrie was on the table from Toronto, but mainly because Beane was otherwise going to wait until next year to make that sort of blockbuster move. He probably was genuinely concerned that Brandon Moss was on the wrong side of 30 and coming off hip surgery, that Jeff Samardzija was far more valuable for who he could get from the White Sox than keeping him for a single season, and that Derek Norris and John Jaso would have durability issues.
For all of those guys but Josh Donaldson, Beane was right. Moss and Norris are below average players on offense this year, Jeff Samardzija's ERA and peripheral stats have taken a hit, and John Jaso has only recently returned from a wrist injury suffered at the start of the season.
But are we reading too much into this?
This is not the first time Beane has been optimistic about new stadium construction. When would you guess an article titled "A's trade done with eye toward new home" written by Jane Lee of MLB.com was written? Last weekend? Try Christmas Eve 2011, after the A's traded Gio Gonzalez to the Washington Nationals. Lee wrote:
Beane would like to emulate the plan created by the Indians, who in 1994 entered a new stadium with a contending team in hand.
"They did it first, and they did it best," he said. "Nobody's done it the same way since. We're going to take the same approach, and if there's a little bit of pain in between, so be it.
"They did it where the core of the team enters a stadium and they're already productive Major League players, based on giving them the opportunity before you go in there, and it's a team that sustains itself for a long, long time. The Indians were arguably one of the most dominant teams of the '90s, and to me that's the blueprint and the template of the way to do it."
That Gio Gonzalez trade netted Tommy Milone, Derek Norris, A.J. Cole, and Brad Peacock, who have in turn yielded seven of the players on the current 40-man roster and many more prospects not there yet.
But the A's did not construct that new venue in San Jose or anywhere else, the Blue Ribbon Panel never issued a public report, and the A's roster found itself peaking while the Oakland and Alameda County-shared Coliseum Joint Powers Authority could barely put together a lease for the Athletics in the current facility much less work together to come up with a viable plan for one, two, or three teams at the Coliseum site.
There was even a dispute, in October 2014, over whether the Joint Powers Authority should even be the entity in charge of stadium development matters. Then-City Council President Pat Kernighan said, "They don't have the authority to hire someone to advise them on stadium development because their powers do not extend to any redevelopment of the Stadium site," wrote Matt O'Brien and Matthew Artz for the Bay Area News Group.
Which takes us to Wednesday's news that "Alameda County leaders want out of the pro sports business, and have told Oakland officials they are ready to sell their stake in the Coliseum complex that houses the Raiders, A's and Warriors," writes Phillip Matier and Andrew Ross for the San Francisco Chronicle. Writes Matier & Ross, "Miley said county representatives delivered the message Wednesday to Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and NFL executives at a meeting at the Raiders' Alameda headquarters."
Says Alameda County supervisor Nate Miley, "It's been extremely challenging to negotiate a deal with the city, the county, two public entities and three sports teams. ... So let's just get out of this, and let the city negotiate whatever deals it wants because frankly, Oakland is going to benefit much more from this than the county."
Miley says the county is losing money on the Coliseum each year because of the debt service on the Mt. Davis renovation and because they don't receive revenue on parking taxes and other sources, unlike the City of Oakland. Oakland would probably have to come up with several hundred million dollars to buy out Alameda County, but taking out the often fractious relationship between the City and County and giving the sports teams just one entity to work with that has the authority to follow through on its promises will help.
It just might be the case that the only sports team left in Oakland by the time that gets done is the Oakland Athletics.
On Billy Beane's optimism
There is a timeline for which the A's would be the only tenant left on the entire Oakland Coliseum-Arena complex by 2018. It goes something like this:
- August 2015: Floyd Kephart's final development plan is presented to all stakeholders.
- August 2015: At the NFL's special August meeting specifically about Los Angeles, the Raiders, Chargers, and Rams update NFL ownership about their stadium efforts.
- End of 2015-16 NFL regular season: NFL announces it will endorse the efforts of the Raiders-Rams joint project in Carson. The Raiders will temporarily play at the Rose Bowl beginning in the 2016-17 season.
- Winter 2016: The A's present a plan, promising financing from Major League Baseball, to construct a stadium in the Coliseum parking lot while requesting land sale and infrastructure assistance from the City of Oakland and Alameda County. Newballpark.org's Marine Layer suggests a stadium in the southeastern portion of the Coliseum site is what Wolff is considering.
- Fall 2016: The City of Oakland and Alameda County, after negotiations, approve a deal to sell Coliseum land and make infrastructure improvements around the Coliseum for a new ballpark.
- Fall 2017: Ground breaks on a new baseball-only stadium. The Warriors are still playing in Oracle Arena while the A's play at the Coliseum. It took a little over two years to construct AT&T Park from groundbreaking to opening day, so we'll use that timeline.
- 2018-19 NBA season: Targeted opening for Golden State Warriors new arena in Mission Bay neighborhood of San Francisco.
- Bay Bridge Exhibition Series 2020: The new baseball-only stadium opens.
- End of 2020 baseball season: The old Oakland Coliseum is imploded to great fanfare.
The earliest parts of this are not unrealistic. Floyd Kephart's confidential preliminary proposal for a football-only stadium at the Coliseum site, leaked to the Bay Area News Group, was roundly panned. Many accounts state that the NFL will have a team playing in Los Angeles for the 2016-17 NFL season, and the NFL has already begun seeking temporary Los Angeles venues beginning that season.
The middle parts of the timeline requires a lot of hand waving over things like "negotiations", political opposition to selling public land to a sports franchise, lawsuits, moving utilities, et cetera. What will change is that the A's will be the only one left that wants to stay at the Coliseum site. The A's can keep the various governmental players involved dedicated to their own needs and can negotiate in their own terms without having to deal with the Raiders or the Warriors worried about their needs.
Here's the dangerous part to the people of Oakland. By the time the city has lost two of its teams to greener pastures, the City will be desperate to have someone, anyone, remain at the Coliseum site. The Athletics will take advantage of this not because they're evil but because it's in their self-interest. It will be up to the citizens and their elected representatives to protect their interest and insist on the best deal possible.
Here's the fun part. If this all works out from here on in, and if you're thinking about the various players the A's have hanging out in Double-A and Single-A ball, those players will probably start graduating to the majors, if they make it, in 2017 or 2018 and begin to enter their peak years just as a ballpark opens in 2020 or so.
In the meantime, the A's will muddle through, trying to sign short-term free agents, finding diamonds in the rough, and hoping for the best until a new stadium is built. It worked from 2012-14.
The Cleveland Indians model indeed.