It's not on their official agenda, but when the owners of Major League Baseball's 30 teams gather Wednesday in Scottsdale, Ariz., for their first meeting of 2012, observers say a proposed relocation for the Oakland A's to San Jose is an almost unavoidable topic of discussion.
Many believe a decision on a move is expected soon -- and that the A's are running out of time for an up-or-down nod from commissioner Bud Selig over breaking the San Francisco Giants' territorial rights to the South Bay. Three-quarters of the owners also must agree.
Timing is crucial for a variety of reasons: The A's would like an answer before the season begins in March; they've recently cleared their roster of much of its high-priced talent in anticipation of assembling a more competitive squad once they get their new ballpark -- whether in San Jose or Oakland; and their contract at the O.co Coliseum runs out next year.
Here's a recap of the situation for A's fans in Oakland and the South Bay.
Q A's co-owner Lew Wolff has said a discussion about the relocation is not scheduled nor is any vote expected during his visit to the desert. But is a decision imminent?
A Rumors have been swirling that the A's may soon get their wish, and Wolff last month even purchased the Sainte Claire Hotel in downtown San Jose for about $17 million. Real estate experts say the savvy developer got in early on the hunch that downtown
Q How long has this decision been in the making?
A Since late March 2009 when Selig appointed a three-member committee to study the A's options.
Q So, are they about done?
A Sources say that the report has been transmitted by the committee to Selig and is now in the hands of a small group of team owners.
Q Why has this been such a torturous process?
A Selig is a painstaking, methodical consensus builder, and sources say he's not going to call for a vote unless he knows he'll get a favorable outcome.
Q Why don't the Giants want to allow the A's to move?
A They say they built their $357 million AT&T Park in the mid-1990s with Major League Baseball's promise that the Giants would own the lucrative South Bay market. They insist the A's should honor that rule and find another place to play within their East Bay territory.
Q Would any baseball owners balk over the deal?
A Possibly. Some observers say messing with territorial rights makes certain owners nervous, particularly those in the other two-team markets of New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. "Once it starts, how do you protect your franchise?'' said one source close to the league. Yet sports economists Roger Noll at Stanford University and Andrew Zimbalist at Smith College contend there's likely no cause for worry.
Q Which teams would likely be in favor of such a move?
A Noll said he wouldn't be surprised if support comes from the 10 teams with the largest revenues who are "tired of paying all this money" into a revenue-sharing pool for the weaker teams, including the A's.
"The guys in the bigger markets would like to see the A's go to a place where they make substantially more revenue," said Noll, who believes the A's in San Jose could take in $25 million to $30 million more annually than they do now.
Q Could the Giants convince a group of owners to block the vote?
A Maybe not, said Zimbalist. "(Selig) has very cleverly managed important decisions in such a way that it's unlikely people would go against his recommendation," Zimbalist said. "He has a variety of ways of rewarding cooperation.''
Q What could make the A's move more palatable to either the Giants or other team owners?
A Sources close to the league say that in exchange for a vote, Selig could grant certain owners a range of favors, from promising to schedule a moneymaking All-Star Game in their stadium, to moving their training camp, or changing something in a team's minor league operation, among other possibilities.
Q Are Wolff and Giants CEO and President Larry Baer trying to lobby other owners?
A Wolff said Selig has not told him he can't, but Wolff said he believes it's "in the best interest of baseball'' to refrain from doing that. A Giants spokeswoman declined to comment. But observers say it would be naive not to think that it's happening.
Q What else could be holding up a decision?
A Noll and Zimbalist both agree that money is at the heart of the matter -- even though the Giants have publicly said a deal that would allow the A's to move is not even negotiable. Though there is no confirmation about what price the A's might have to pay to move to San Jose, Noll believes it's in the $25 million to $35 million range.
Q What does Noll base his figure on?
A First, precedent: the fees that have been paid in the past when one team invaded the home territory of another. Second, it's an upper estimate of the effect of the A's move to San Jose on the revenues of the Giants. Like others, he believes the Giants stand to benefit almost as much by gaining fans from the East Bay as they lose from the South Bay. Noll said the most important factor affecting the Giants' revenues always has been and will continue to be the quality of the Giants, not the quality or location of the A's.
Q What has Wolff agreed to shell out for a ballpark in San Jose?
A In 2009, the A's co-owner said he would pay for the $461 million to build a stadium (now likely closer to $500 million). San Jose recently offered to sell him about 5 acres of city-owned land on the site for a discount price of $6.9 million.
Q If the A's get the nod, could anything hinder their move?
A Lawsuits could be filed by groups related to the Giants.
More crucial is a vote by San Jose residents, who will be asked if they agree a ballpark should be built using public land.
Contact Tracy Seipel at 408-275-0140.