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Uh Oh: Did Somebody Say 'Contraction'?

 

As if A’s fans didn’t have enough to worry about, what with owner Lew Wolff’s ongoing fascination with moving the team out of the East Bay, now, reports Ken Rosenthal, there’s renewed conversation about contracting them altogether.

From Rosenthal’s column for Fox Sports:

A major battle is brewing over revenue sharing, baseball’s method of rich teams helping the poor. Contraction would be an extreme solution, but one that addresses the big-market concern: Why keep struggling clubs afloat?

“At some point, if you don’t want to worry about teams in minor markets, don’t put teams in minor markets or leave teams in minor markets,” New York Yankees co-chairman Hank Steinbrenner told reporters Sunday.

While Steinbrenner did not explicitly say the “C” word, he was either talking about contraction or relocating teams such as the A’s and Rays to larger markets. . . .

Steinbrenner might be the Yankees’ crazy uncle, not to be taken seriously, but he is hardly alone in his complaints. A far more respected executive, Boston Red Sox president Larry Lucchino, also called for reforms to the current revenue-sharing plan this week.

This drum has been periodically banged for years now, with things reaching a fever pitch in 2002, when owners voted 28-2 to contract two teams. Names bandied about included the Expos, the Twins, the Marlins, the A’s and even the Pirates.

Needless to say, a variety of legal maneuvers prevented that from happening (although the Expos did move to Washington, D.C., before the 2005 season).

According to Rosenthal, the A’s aren’t in much danger this time around—yet. “The players union, sources say, would regard any proposal to eliminate 50 major-league jobs as an act of war,” he wrote. “Which, at this moment, is about the last thing the game needs.” (Still, he added, Wolff could use his potential buyout money to take over the Dodgers, a possibility that has been raised before.)

Being contracted in the next year or two doesn’t appear to be the team’s primary concern, however. Bud Selig is already in Wolff’s camp when it comes to potentially moving the team (as evidenced by his never-ending feasibility study on keeping the A’s in Oakland), and another critical mass of owner support would go a long way toward green-lighting the moving trucks.

There's something to be said for examining a system in which big-market teams give millions of dollars to the non-earning among their ranks, with no guarantee that the money will be spent on anything resembling baseball operations.

Contraction, however, is a major step, involving significant nuance beyond mere gate receipts. Distant as it may be, this is just the first step in what looks to be an ongoing argument.

Even if the small-market teams win this round, we must understand that the table is being set, one way or another, and the A's—or at least their fans—will be playing from behind.

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