28 May 2009

Whither the SJ Giants?

When discussing an A's move south, it can be easy to ignore the fact that a professional baseball team already lives down there. Plenty of people from outside the region don't know the team exists, yet the San Jose Giants have been an institution at venerable Municipal Stadium that goes back over two decades. They have been undoubtedly the most stable franchise in the patchwork history of pro baseball in San Jose.

MLB and MiLB rules dictate that when a major league team enters a territory occupied by a minor league team, the MLB franchise has the right to kick the little guy out, with the proviso that the little guy is duly compensated. Imagine my surprise when Lew Wolff indicated to me that his ownership group would have to buy the SJ Giants. Should this be an eventuality, the SF Giants will have made an incredibly shrewd investment in the High-A club, one that could pay off big when taken in combination with MLB territorial rights compensation.

What then, is to be done with the San Jose Giants? The A's can't exactly buy them and operate them as the SJ Giants. Let's take a look at a few possibilities, and you can chime in with your own ideas as well.

A's swap Stockton for San Jose, sell SJ franchise to a new owner
This would keep the High-A's a short drive from the MLB A's. While this could be compelling for certain local fans who are really into tracking player development, it's not without issues. Both teams could play to the finite - yes, I said finite - South Bay baseball market to some extent, causing cannibalization. The 21-year relationship forged by the SJ Giants and local fans would be broken and not easily mended, especially by the archrival organization. Long term, there remain questions about Municipal Stadium, which for all its charm lags severely behind its much newer Stockton counterpart in terms of amenities. The ballpark situation combined with the market saturation dilemma could contribute to a dilution of the future value of the minor league franchise, which means Wolff/Fisher could fetch only a fraction of the a price they paid to facilitate the swap.

A's swap Stockton for San Jose, move SJ franchise to North/East Bay and sell
Market saturation is not an issue in this situation, but finding a viable new market for Single-A baseball is. Assuming that the other existing Cal League markets are well served by their existing franchises, there are few places to turn to in the end. The best and perhaps only options are markets that are either unproven or have failed to significantly back teams in the past. The North Bay appears to be ripe for a franchise, but there are no clear options. Petaluma has been talked up especially since the demise of the Sonoma County Crushers, but it would require public money that simply isn't there. Same goes for Napa. Vacaville's stadium at the old Nut Tree was dismantled and shipped up to Redding, where it will be used by Simpson University. (Trivia: former A's reliever Greg Cadaret was recently an assistant coach on the Simpson University baseball team, and he helped broker the move. He's now the manager of the GBL's Chico Outlaws.) There may be options in the East Bay, though it's hard to say where. Oakland? Richmond? Concord?

A's swap Stockton for San Jose, move SJ franchise south or east and sell
The Quakes have for the moment halted plans to build a training center near the Morgan Hill Sports Center, citing economic concerns. There is ample space for both the Quakes' facility and a small ballpark, though the latter is not in Morgan Hill's immediate plans. Population for the combined Morgan Hill-San Martin-Gilroy area is less than 100,000, making it way too small to support Single-A baseball on its own. A better option may be to explore Salinas, which still has the bones of an old ballpark which used to be home to the Single-A Salinas Spurs. Central Valley communities are largely spoken for, and cities further south along 101 are too spread out to yield sufficient population to support a team. Reno is having fun with its new AAA franchise and ballpark.

San Jose allows Giants' lease to expire, forcing them to move elsewhere
The SJ Giants are signed to play at Muni through the 2013 season, which makes for interesting timing considering 2013/2014 is a likely start date for A's. Could the City of San Jose, whose pols (some of them at least) have expressed displeasure at the SF Giants "investment" in the SJ team, simply allow the lease to expire and then leave the Giants to fend for themselves? While that would work from a legal standpoint, I'm pretty sure that it wouldn't preclude the A's from having to compensate the SJ Giants. The Giants would still be a legacy team and its business would be harmed by the move. The San Jose Arena Authority may be faced with conflicting interests, since it oversees Muni and would presumably do the same with an A's ballpark.

Whatever ends up happening, it promises not to be clean or simple. However, it's not big enough to derail the deal. Minor league franchises move with far greater frequency than we're used to with MLB teams. As I write this post, Richmond, VA interests are looking to buy the SF Giants' AA affiliate in Connecticut, with the intent to move them south to Richmond and a future ballpark. They're doing this to replace the recently departed AAA Braves, who moved to Gwinnett County, GA to be closer to the parent club. (More trivia: Robert Bobb was recently involved in a Richmond ballpark plan.) Moving, at least in the minor league world, is very much the rule, not the exception.

Note: The poll was removed/revised to reflect an edit to the post. The "North Bay" option is now "North/East Bay."


Zonis said...

I think the last option is best.

Jeffrey said...

Oh I love this kind of topic!!!!! I grew up watching the Visalia Oaks on a regular basis and have a deep affinity for the Cal League as a result.

Ultimately, the San Jose Giants are moving (provided the A's invade San Jose).

The places I would look to put 'em... Merced, Santa Rosa and Chico (In that order). Merced because it is on 99, along with the rest of the Northern Division teams, and would make travel simple. Bring back the Merced Bears!!!!

Santa Rosa because I want to see a Prune Pickers revival.

Chico because it supports GBL okay.

Other places that I think would be cool but not as feasible- San Ramon/Dublin/Pleasanton, Salinas, Santa Cruz and Monterey

Brian said...

Bakersfield is likely losing its Cal League team next year along with High Desert, with both franchises moving to the Carolina League. While the High Desert market has never made sense to me, given that it's in the middle of nowhere, Bakersfield is a relatively large market with a severely outdated stadium. While there are the obvious money issues that there are everywhere, give them a few years to build and that could be somewhere to go.

Marine Layer said...

That's a bit distressing. Having only 8 teams in the league kinda sucks. Having Bakersfield potentially available is not a bad option. Merced is a bit small isn't it?

Tony D. said...

Mr. Wolff indicated that the A's would have to buy the SJ Giants (key words being "would have to"). Nothing else to say on that one :o).

My choice is Salinas: to tap into the Monterey Bay region and Central Coast/Steinbeck country. Here's to your SJ A's affiliate "Salinas Wrath" or "Central Coast Sardines."

bbison said...

Chicago has 2 MLB teams and a very successful Class A team in the Metropolitan area, as well as an independent (Frontier) league team. Renovate Muni and keep them there, or choose one of the Bay Area options. People like the family-friendly atmosphere and prices at the SJ games, it will be a shame to lose that.

Salinas may have the population, but not necessarily the demographics or financial resources.

Sam said...

How about the A's move the SJ Giants to Oakland and build them a stadium in the Jack London square area?

Jeffrey said...

Yeah. Merced is small (64k or so per the infallible wikipedia)... but I love the name Merced Bears. I know. Illogical and all. Easy transportation.

I went to a few Crushers games back when I lived in Santa Rosa. If they could build a ball park somewhere downtown in Santa Rosa that would be a sweet spot to watch a game. It's such

Heck what about Tri Valley?

Does anyone think the increase in high minor leagues teams (Sacramento, Fresno and Reno are all ex- Cal League cities) is watering the market for low minor league ball?

Zonis said...

Crazy idea here, and it would take some creative scheduling, but why not build Cisco Field, buy the SF Giants franchise, and have them play at Cisco Field when the A's are away? Couldn't the schedule be matched?

Or when they both play at home at the same time, send them to Muni.

It would definitely give Cisco Field more dates, and increased revenue from that. It would keep customers (Albee lower numbers than A's games) coming into the area for businesses. And the A's prospect aficionados get to see the A's prospects more.

Anonymous said...

I like how this question is asked, when a deal in san jose hasn't even happend with the A's.

Marine Layer said...

Jeffrey - Someone should do a study on that. Preferably not me.

Zonis - It's so much more expensive to run an MLB ballpark than a MiLB one. The electrical bill alone has to be a killer even if multiple decks are shut down. If operating costs were fixed regardless of the number of events it'd make sense. That's not the case here.

11:03 - It's called conjecture. No harm, no foul.

Anonymous said...

Move the SJ Giants to Oakland. They can play in the Coliseum where they'll draw just as many fans there as the A's are now.

FC said...

Can someone explain to me the relationship between a MLB ballclub and it's MiLB affiliates.

How is it that a MLB team signs its draft picks, then send them to MiLB. Who pays the draftees their salary, and how is payment handled when a player is called up or promoted to the next level?

Ezra said...

The best place for a Cal League team to move is southern California. To Thousand Oaks to be exact. It has the highest MSA population with no team other than Contra Costa County.

While Contra Costa County could be an option, it has a good system of public transit which enables it's residents to go in to Oakland and SF for games. Thus it would not have the draw that Thousand Oaks does, as it is a 45 minute drive (with no traffic, and when does that ever happen in Los Angeles) to Dodger stadium. More realistically it's an hour and a half to Dodger stadium, and Angel stadium is even further.

I doubt there will be many supporters for this option reading this blog, but if you're interested check out the Conejo Valley Ballpark Supporters website.

Jeepers said...

Is there really a place on this blog for insults like the ones being hurled by anon 1:25?

Tony D. said...

BBison 8:36,

You could also add Monterey/Carmel to the Salinas area demographics/financial resources.