09 January 2006

Uh oh, now the Twins want out

Upset over the lack of progress in getting a new Minneapolis ballpark built, the Twins asked a Hennepin County judge to relieve them of their remaining lease at the Metrodome after the 2006 season. There are many issues at play including revenue sharing from new premium seats, but it really comes down to the Twins' new digs in the end. This promises to only get uglier.

What I don't understand is why Selig would allow both the Marlins and Twins to proceed in this manner simultaneously. If they want to get the most leverage out of negotiations with their existing home cities and their prospective relocation cities, it would make the most sense to let them work on different schedules so that they don't appear to be competing with each other.


Anonymous said...

Maybe the Twins plan on trying to relocate across the river in St. Paul. I am not very familiar with the geographical area, but aren't they just across the river and across a state line? Kind of an idea situation for them isn't it?

Anonymous said...

I'll assume you meant county line, not state line, as they are both in Minnesota, but different counties.

Anonymous said...

Doh....county....state...what's the difference? I seem to recall that their was a regional rivalry between the two...but as you can see, apparently I am very geographically challenged...

Ken Arneson said...

Why both teams at once? It's spelled c-o-n-t-r-a-c-t-i-o-n.

Georob said...

Now Rhamesis, before you shoot down the concept of contraction again, consider this: It IS a pretty useful threat for Bud Selig to use at Labor Negotiation time, which is coming up again in 2007. And, coincidentally this is when the A's lease is up.

So between us, the Marlins, and Twins, you have three potential teams that the comissioner can threaten to eliminate. He only needs two, and can move the third to Las Vegas or wherever.

Whether he'd actually do it depends on a lot of things that I won't spend time on. However, he DID make a compelling case for it back in '02. The question is, how compelling would that case be in '07?

What no one outside the circle of MLB owners knows is the true financial condition of the league. But as I posted before, if Bud Selig is willing to go into a risky Las Vegas market based on an unrefusable "sweetheart" deal, then that tells us a lot about the current state of baseball.

On the other hand, the last time contraction was brought up, the economy was feeling the effects of the dot-com bust and 9/11. My guess is that if things stay on an even keel, that we won't see it. But will Bud Selig threaten to do it anyway? Who knows.

gojohn10 said...

I'm sure this would will never happen, but if it ever came to contraction of the A's, wouldn't there be a public backlash against the elimination of one of the original baseball teams? This team has moved twice, but it is over 100 years old! With sport that prides itself so much on its history, you'd think the commisioners office would shy away from mentioning the A's and contraction in the same breath.

jrbh said...

My recollection is that the last deal that MLB and the player's union signed specifically takes contraction off the table as a bargaining issue. That is to say, Selig and his evil minions can do whatever they want after this agreement expires.

Also, Pohldad went on record last time contraction was raised as being just fine with it for the Twins. It's one of the reasons he's so completely loathed in Minnesota.

Marine Layer said...

He can and probably will threaten contraction. I question how effective it will be since anyone can cite how MLB's attendance has reached record levels and the last CBA gave the league many of the cost controls it's wanted for years. The crux of Selig's argument before was the financial health of the league and several teams. Remember how the D-Backs were going bankrupt? Only two years later they spent big money on Troy Glaus and Russ Ortiz. If the C-word comes up, it will be even more of a lie than it was before - and Selig will have to do more than trot out some silly spreadsheets to sway Congress.

It's a useful tool in negotiations with the union. Problem is that since then, they've gotten everything they've wanted outside of a salary cap - new drug policy and spending controls. They've also gotten new revenue streams from XM Satellite Radio and tightened their internet properties. Are the owners willing to jeopardize 2007 to put in a cap? That's their dilemma.

Plus the C-word brings up another C-word, collusion. The last thing MLB wants is for Ralph Nader to raise a big stink and get Congress involved.

jrbh said...

It's no longer an issue with the union; that was what I was rather imperfectly trying to say in my last post. In the last negotiation, the union gave up the future right to negotiate or object to contraction.

What stops contraction is that an owner who isn't in favor of it can demand a huge price for his team. But if Pohldad and Selig's pet owners in Florida, or -- nightmare scenario, Wolff and Fischer -- are on board, he can pay them $150M or $200M each and be done with it. From the point of view of the remaining franchises, it would pay for itself in not too long a time as each team gets a bigger slice of the network TV and website revenue pie.

Plus, as a bonus for Selig and his craptacular friends, Miami and Minneapolis would then be available for the A's, Royals or whoever to threaten to move to.

Major league baseball is protected against charges of collusion between the owners on non-labor issues by the Supreme Court ruling declaring it a game, not a business. And trust me, MLB should be so lucky as to have Ralph Nader leading the charge against it; Nader has about as much standing with the Democratic Party at this point as he does with the Republican Party.

Marine Layer said...

MLB is not immune to Congressional investigations. Midterms are coming up, and some feisty candidates can take up the anti-contraction cause with little effort and get maximum publicity out of it. MLB backed down shortly after the State of Minnesota threatened legal action.

If the new CBA isn't ratified prior to the end of the season, and a cap-vs.-contraction issue becomes the heart of the debate, MLB will needlessly cause a labor stoppage. Contraction is a labor issue - 50 union jobs.

The fact is that MLB can't cry poor, which was their initial, dubious justification in the first place. What would they hang their hat on now?

jrbh said...

I must not be saying this right.

In the last labor negotation, the union agreed that contraction is no longer a labor issue. That is to say, they agreed that Selig could contract two teams -- or more, I suppose -- without union objection or recourse.

Now, my personal opinion is that the union had it's head up it's ass when they did that. But it's what they did. It's the playing field we live with now.

The basic agreement currently in place expires at the end of the '06 season. The way schedules and promotions are scheduled in advance, it just wouldn't be feasible for baseball to contract in the '07 season. (Barring another calamitous labor dispute, of course.) I think the earliest it could happen is '08, with an announcement during the '07 season.

tony d. said...

The A's facing contraction...get real! I could just see Bud Selig calling his old frat brother with the "good" news..."Hey old pal, you can't get a stadium deal done in Oakland, so we're shutting you down!" I just don't see the "C" word happening at all. I really think R.M. that it would be in the best interest of MLB to simply relocate clubs (Twins) where they could get new digs and be highly profitable...just my opinion.

Anonymous said...

jbrh--you're saying it clearly, but I believe you're incorrect. What was agreed was that owners would stop threatening contraction, and that the union would stop threatening a walkout. That set the stage for the deal which was later struck. Neither of those commitments extends to future deals, so MLB can again threaten contraction, and the union can again threaten a walkout. Since contraction eliminates 50 union jobs, it's very much on the table in the union's eyes.

That said, contraction's going nowhere as an MLB strategy...too much good economic news to make a compelling case, and too much collateral damage potential from Congressional outrage.

Georob said...

In respose to GoJohn's statement:

Sad to say, but I think most people wouldn't give a flipping damn about the A's history. In between Connie Mack and Charlie Finley, you had 13 forgettable years in Kansas City, and by the time they got to Oakland, the "Athletics" had become the "A's". And although "A's" had been used in Philadelphia, it was Finley's three-time World Champs that pretty much cemented it in the public's consciousness.

Yes, the Haas family did re-introduce the elephant and use of the word "Athletics", but I'd venture to say that most people still prefer to use "A's" (Maybe it was all those jokes about being an "Athletic Supporter"...who knows?)

What I'm trying to say is that there is a considerable disconnect between this current A's team and it's history. In that respect, you have to give the Giants credit for constantly promoting their history and legacy going all the way back the days in New York. Maybe it's the snob appeal of NY and SF that Oakland, KC, and Philly just don't have.

And just in case contracting a "Charter AL Team" was seen as too controversial, you'd then be likely too see what was suggested only a few years ago when the Angels were struggling at the gate: Namely to contract another team and move the A's to that city.

Marine Layer said...

I hear you, jrbh. There are some twists to how the issue is being handled.

First, I need to correct myself on a couple of assertions. At first I thought contraction could be on the table for the entire season, but in fact it's on the table until July 15, 2006. So MLB has a three-month window in which they can make threats.

Second, the union did agree that it wouldn't be a bargaining item, and that they wouldn't make a grievance to the NLRB as a result. But that alone ignores the flipside, which is that that doesn't prevent the owners from using it as a bargaining chip. The owners can say, "Give us a cap or we'll contract." Knowing that there's a limited window, MLBPA may have thought that if it came to that point they could call that bluff. If MLB chose to contract, then it would have to fight the PR battle the rest of the way, while MLBPA looks aggrieved. It's a risky position, but it is somewhat calculated.

Third, the dangerous thing is that MLB doesn't have to inform the union which two teams it could contract. At some point that information will be released - formally or through a leak - and there will be a reckoning in the contraction candidates' home cities.

Which brings me back to my original point. The justification was crying poor. If MLB has 9 bidders just waiting to bid upwards of $450 million for a team that was bought for only $120 million four year prior; if it has relocation candidates champing at the bit for so called "failing" franchises, then I fail to see what specific argument MLB could make that wouldn't start the antitrust bandwagon against them.

jrbh said...

I went and read the relevant parts of the Basic Agreement today, and there is indeed language in the contraction section which states that the rules vis. contraction outlive the expiration of the current agreement. It was reported at the time that this settled the issue permanently, giving power to the clubs when it came to this matter.

However, when you read the document, which I imagine not a lot of sportswriters did, you can plainly see that it's boilerplate language which crops up any number of places in the document, essentially to keep certain parts of the agreement -- player grievances, for example -- in force during a labor dispute, or if negotiations go beyond the formal expiration of the agreement.

In fact the agreement *only* talks about contraction in one way: if it's decided upon during 2006 to take effect during the 2007 season.

So I think I was wrong. I think that the clubs have a window during the 2006 season in which they can contract without worrying about the union, but that after that, it's back on the table with the union. And in fact there's an addendum to the agreement in which both sides state for the record that their philosophical positions remain apart on this matter.

In terms of the A's or any other team and contraction, I think it's inconceivable that MLB would *force* an owner to dissolve his team. But I think if they offered $200M to Pohldad, or the shithead in Miami, or whoever owns the Royals, or Wolff and Fischer, they'd get at least two takers. And in St. Petersberg, a deal with the owners of the D-Rays and a pennies-on-the-dollar lease buyout would probably work.

Contraction *might* inspire Congress to get active in revoking baseball's anti-trust exemption, which is one of the things that makes it so scary for the A's: eliminating Oakland wouldn't deprive the market of major league baseball, so it'd be hard to bitch about in those terms, and what Congressmen there are here are Democrats with practically no influence in the Republican House. I don't see the House Commerce Committee holding hearings because Barbara Lee asks nicely.

Georob said...

From the very beginning, I've felt that Oakland is a strong candidate for contraction simply because you wouldn't be abandoning a major market. (Of course, every time I mention that on AthleticsNation, I'm hit with "But Oakland IS a major market"....Oh, Please!)

Of course, if you contract one, you have to contract two; unless MLB wants to institute "Bye" weeks like in the NFL. And now that the Expos have been fixed (right?) it may be a lot tougher to find a "contraction partner" for the A's or anyone else.

With that in mind, I'll repeat this for the umpteenth time: There is a very long and frustrating road to travel before we see baseball in San Jose.

Marine Layer said...

Well, if it helps anyone feel better, the contraction attempt in 2002 was blocked at the state level - in Minnesota and Florida.
Of course, if contraction occurs at the time Jerry Brown takes office as the new Attorney General - yikes.

jrbh said...

Wasn't contraction in Minnesota blocked by problems involved in fulfilling leases?