By JAY COHEN | AP Baseball Writer
PHOENIX (AP) — Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred says Oakland Athletics owner John Fisher has focused on Las Vegas of late as a new home for the franchise.
Manfred, speaking Wednesday at baseball’s Cactus League media day, isn’t closing the door on the team remaining in Oakland, though he said he also hasn’t spoken to new mayor Sheng Thao.
“I think Mr. Fisher wants to make the best deal to secure the future of the A’s, whether it’s in Oakland or in Las Vegas,” Manfred said. “They need a new stadium. I think that’s kind of beyond debate.”
The A’s have played at the Coliseum since 1968, and their lease expires after the 2024 season. After withdrawing plans for ballparks in Fremont and San Jose, the team announced in November 2018 it had found a waterfront location for a new ballpark at Howard Terminal, close to Jack London Square.
But the Howard Terminal proposal has been stalled by money and concerns about affordable housing in the area.
“I don’t think they are in agreement on the affordable housing issue,” Manfred said. “The threshold issue right now I think in Oakland is how to handle the funding for the infrastructure.”
Shortly after Thao took office on Jan. 9, replacing Libby Schaaf, the city was denied a $182 million federal grant that could have provided roughly one-third of the money needed to hold up its end of the Howard Terminal proposal.
The A’s also have been working with funding issues when it comes to a possible ballpark in Las Vegas.
Oakland’s uncertain future is one reason it had a major league-low payroll of $49 million last year.
The gap between baseball’s big spenders and its small-market clubs prompted Cincinnati Reds President Phil Castellini to reportedly tell a supporters group in January that an increasing amount of clubs were out of contention on opening day.
“I think that most people who pay attention to our game realize that we do have a disparity issue in the game, both on the revenue side, and consequently on the ability to spend on players,” Manfred said when asked about Castellini’s remarks.
“I think sometimes in markets that produces frustration that leads to what I regard to be unfortunate comments, not helpful.”
San Diego is considered a small market, but it has one of the majors’ biggest payrolls after finalizing a $280 million, 11-year contract with Xander Bogaerts in December. Manfred praised Padres owner Peter Seidler for his investment in his club and said the Padres have gone from a revenue-sharing receiver to a team that pays.
“The trick for small markets has always been sustainability,” he said. “Hats off to Peter Seidler. He’s made a massive financial commitment, personally, to making this all happen. The question becomes how long can you continue to do that, and what happens when you have to go through a rebuild.”