NEW YORK — Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred says he feels “sorry for the fans in Oakland” about the Athletics’ plans to relocate to Las Vegas but denies claims by Oakland’s mayor that the franchise used negotiations with the city as leverage.
Manfred discussed the plans during a meeting with the Associated Press Sports Editors, adding that he believes the last-place A’s can field a more competitive team in Nevada.
The franchise announced last week it has signed a binding agreement to purchase land for a new retractable roof ballpark close to the Las Vegas Strip after being unable to construct a new venue in the Bay Area. The A’s had been trying to escape the run-down Oakland Coliseum for years, exploring options in Fremont and San Jose before shifting focus to Oakland’s waterfront.
After the A’s announced the land purchase, Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao said in a statement that she was disappointed the A’s didn’t negotiate with the city as a “true partner.”
“It is clear to me that the A’s have no intention of staying in Oakland and have simply been using this process to try to extract a better deal out of Las Vegas,” she said.
Manfred refuted that, saying owner John Fisher negotiated exclusively with Oakland from 2014-21 before beginning to look elsewhere.
“I feel sorry for the fans in Oakland. I really do,” he said. “But for the city of Oakland to point fingers at John Fisher, it’s not fair.
“We have shown an unbelievable commitment to the fans in Oakland by exhausting every possible opportunity to try to get something done in Oakland,” he added. “Unfortunately, the government doesn’t seem to have the will to get it done.”
The A’s will work with Nevada and Clark County on a public-private partnership to fund the new stadium with a seating capacity of 30,000 to 35,000. The team hopes to break ground by next year and move to their new home by 2027.
The timeline for Oakland’s move remains uncertain, Manfred said. The A’s lease at the Coliseum expires after the 2024 season, and there’s been discussion of the A’s temporarily playing at the home of their Triple-A affiliate, the Las Vegas Aviators. Manfred said he did believe it was feasible schedule-wise to have the A’s and their top minor league team share a ballpark.
A year after finishing last in the American League, the A’s have the worst record in baseball at 4-18. They also opened the season with the sport’s lowest payroll at $58 million.
Fueled in part by Billy Beane’s Moneyball strategies, Oakland has made the postseason in 11 of the past 24 seasons despite modest payrolls. The A’s have also finished last in the AL West four of the past eight seasons, raising concerns in Las Vegas that fans may be inheriting a cellar dweller.
Manfred believes the relocation could improve the on-field product, pointing to what the front office has previously accomplished despite lesser resources than other clubs.
“Their attendance has never been outstanding, let’s put it that way,” he said.
“To me, it ought to be all positive on the competitive front,” he added. “You got really smart baseball operations people. You got owners that want to win, and I think Las Vegas will present a real revenue enhancing opportunity. So I think you’re going to have a good product.”
Manfred has previously said that expansion to 32 teams will be a serious consideration once the A’s and Tampa Bay Rays resolve their long-running stadium woes. He said that he is hopeful about the Rays finding a resolution that keeps them in the Tampa area and reiterated that expansion would then be up for discussion.
Several cities have already begun planning for potential bids to add teams, including Nashville, Charlotte, Montreal, Portland and Salt Lake City. Manfred acknowledged that “Nashville is on everybody’s list.” He also said that while he’s eager to grow the game in Mexico, but he’s “never been close to the idea of Mexico as an expansion opportunity.”