So the Mets have unleashed Thor, the deGrominator and a sinister rotation that should be arrested for possessing illegal firearms. And the Cubs aren’t to be pitied in October but envied for years, their potent talent guided by wacky-old-uncle Joe Maddon. The Dodgers have dumped Don Mattingly, addition by subtraction. The Nationals have gusto if they ever locate a manager. The Cardinals always will be the Cardinals, hacking away in more ways than one. The Pirates are legit, cursed only by geography and a divisional Midwestern grouping.
The National League is a beast. How, then, do the no-longer-champion Giants — whose halcyon days may be behind them if they don’t respond in kind — intend to contend with such a substantial competition clog?
By putting up apartment buildings and parking structures, of course.
Driving westward on the Bay Bridge, I’m always concerned about crashing the car. The incoming view of the skyline still has a mesmerizing effect on me, as it does on the filmmakers who directed that GMC truck commercial — yes, the perpetual-rotation ad that uses the opening keyboards, drumbeat and bass line from The Who’s “Eminence Front” to show AT&T Park in all its nocturnal beauty. Same goes for a morning walk along The Embarcadero; I’m not sure I want my beautiful ballpark view cluttered by dwellings that couid rise 240 feet.
But if building, owning and operating residential mid-rises, retail stores, office space and parking garages allow the Giants, as part of their Mission Rock mixed-use project, to pump more money into their baseball product — ahem, the player payroll — then the aesthetics-vs.-banners topic becomes a way different political animal. This won’t be just another residential complex in a crane-delirious city that is wedging new housing projects into every parcel and alleyway. This one could have the added bonus of a champagne party, civic parade and large trophy, which sure beats the finger sandwiches and warm beer at most apartment gatherings.
That is, assuming the Giants actually DO use Mission Rock profits for the player payroll and other competitive purposes, which they’d be forced to do now that two of their leading executives are on record as saying they will.
I asked Giants CEO Larry Baer, who will be a step closer to becoming The City’s newest landlord if Proposition D passes a week from Tuesday, if I’m reading this correctly: That Mission Rock becomes a feeder system that removes some of the payroll burden from team ownership. Such a strategy may seem like a travesty considering the wealth of the franchise’s biggest stakeholder — Charles Johnson, worth $6.4 billion according to Forbes — and you know and I know that the Giants already can afford more than their $187 million this past season. But should a fan really care where the money is coming from as long as more is coming? Rather than let the plot adjacent to the ballpark remain a flat-surface parking lot, why not beautify it, include housing (40 percent offered at below-market rate) and shops and enhanced parking — and enrich the team coffers?
Specifically to Baer, I referenced remarks by Jack Bair, the team’s executive vice president and general counsel, that emphasized Mission Rock would help ensure the Giants remain competitive as a ballclub. Will profits from Mission Rock indeed be used to fund the baseball business? Is this a smart way of circumventing Major League Baseball’s revenue-sharing paradigm, meaning the Giants wouldn’t have to use Mission Rock money to fund the Athletics and other bottom-feeders? Or is this project completely detached from having impact on the baseball business?
Baer made it clear: Mission Rock revenue is Giants baseball revenue.
“We have a long-term interest in our ballpark (in early years of a 66-year lease) and our primary interest in developing the adjoining land is in enhancing the surrounding neighborhood,” Baer wrote in an email. “We also want to provide our fans the best possible game-day experience, given this development will house our main parking resource. Additionally, revenue from this development will allow the Giants to remain strong and stable as we compete with teams in larger markets.”
Now that Baer and Bair have planted the seed publicly — promising that the development of stadium-adjacent land and creation of a waterfront community will help the Giants remain title-competitive — it means they can’t go back on their word. Even as they continue to live off the honeymoon of three World Series titles since 2010, the franchise can’t tempt potential voters with the payroll carrot and then pull back after Prop. D is passed.
Payroll is a sensitive issue for the Giants. The ballpark was privately financed, remember, which allows Baer the public-relations leeway to have a payroll in the upper fifth of MLB’s 30 franchises and settles in at about two-thirds of the $300 million invested by the 2015 Dodgers in their ongoing tragicomedy. No one can say smarter spending hasn’t been a triumphant formula at the corner of Third and King, but when the Giants are using their championship leverage in asking voters to believe in Mission Rock, they are obligated to raise the payroll commensurate with additional revenues from the project. A bulldozer isn’t coming anytime soon, with approval also needed from the city boards. And remember, Prop D. is about height limits — up to 240 feet for rental housing, 190 feet for office and retail use — that will impact the watefront aesthetic.
But Mission Rock will happen because, you know, the Giants could sell used socks and succeed. And the goodwill advanced by voters, many of whom are Giants fans only saying yes because they think their team will benefit financially, should be rewarded with a representative payroll hike.
Starting this offseason, the front office must make considerable expenditures if they want their next even-numbered season to include a playoff run. They need another front-line pitching ace to pair with Madison Bumgarner, and now that it appears the Dodgers won’t re-sign Zack Greinke, there’s a $200 million purchase right there in a free-agent pool that also will include David Price, Johnny Cueto and Jordan Zimmermann. Greinke best fits the immediate need — dueling dominance with Bumgarner, a righty-lefty powderkeg, and a chill fit in a chill clubhouse — while Cueto has been erratic in Kansas City. Problem is, the Yankees, Tigers, Red Sox, Dodgers and Angels also will be among those throwing megamillions at superarms. Zimmermann, the 29-year-old righty whom Giants fans know well, continues to throw 93.5-mph fastballs and might fit the cost-efficiency plan of baseball bosses Brian Sabean and Bobby Evans.
Every year the dumb-money Dodgers fail, the Giants look even better to have won three championships with smarter spending. Yet the NL landscape has changed radically with the sudden ascent of the Mets and Cubs. The median rent of a one-bedroom apartment in America’s most expensive city now tops $3,700.
Larry Baer has done the math. So, probably, has Bruce Bochy.