The commissioner's office has provided the Oakland Athletics with tentative guidelines for a potential move to San Jose, according to three people familiar with the matter but not authorized to discuss it.
The existence of the guidelines does not necessarily mean the A's will move to San Jose soon, or at all. However, if the A's can satisfy the concerns of the league office, Commissioner Bud Selig could let club owners decide whether to approve the move.
The San Francisco Giants hold territorial rights to San Jose and oppose the proposed move there by the A's. The discussions between the A's and Major League Baseball do not affect the Giants' ability to challenge such a move.
Larry Baer, the Giants' president and chief executive, declined to comment Wednesday. Lew Wolff, the A's managing partner, also declined to comment.
MLB limited its comment to a one-sentence statement referring to the work of a committee Selig appointed four years ago, after the A's first unveiled plans to relocate to San Jose.
"The committee continues to work hard on this very complex, complicated situation," MLB spokesman Pat Courtney said in the statement.
It is unclear exactly what criteria the A's have been asked to fulfill or how difficult that might be. However, compensation to the Giants — how much they would have to be paid for the loss of their territorial rights — is not believed to be among the current list of matters for the A's to resolve.
Under Rule 1 of the Major League Rules, the A's would owe the Giants whatever "sum of money as the Commissioner deems appropriate."
The commissioner's office has expressed concerns about the viability of the proposed San Jose ballpark site and the financial projections offered by the A's in support of a move, according to people familiar with the discussions. It is unclear if the A's have been asked for guarantees on either score.
The A's have pledged to pay for a $500-million ballpark in San Jose. Once they got there, they would no longer be eligible for tens of millions in annual revenue sharing, although they would expect to make millions more from ticket sales, luxury seats and concessions.
The MLB guidelines are believed to be fluid, with the objective of determining whether the A's can "satisfy the Commissioner as to the bona fides" of the relocation proposal "and as to the financial ability and character of the owners of such Club to maintain such Club," in accordance with Rule 1.
The A's would need 75% of the clubs to approve a move to San Jose and to rescind the Giants' territorial rights, so the Giants could stop the move by lining up seven clubs to vote with them. Even if the A's satisfy the MLB concerns and proceed to a vote, it is not incumbent upon Selig to endorse the proposal.
The Giants –- or other entities, whether on behalf of the team or independently — also could sue to try to halt a San Jose ballpark project.
It is unlikely the A's could move to San Jose before 2018.
In December, Wolff asked Oakland Coliseum officials to let his team remain there through 2017. In his proposal, he pledged the A's would not leave before then "regardless of the outcome of our efforts to obtain a new facility in the City of San Jose."
Selig has long said the A's need a new ballpark. Wolff joined the A's in 2003, as the vice president in charge of a securing that new ballpark, then led an ownership group that bought the team outright in 2005.
In 2009, after the collapse of a three-year effort to secure a new ballpark in the Alameda County city of Fremont, Wolff turned his attention to a site 15 miles away, in San Jose.
Under MLB's constitution, the Giants have exclusive rights to Santa Clara County, which includes San Jose. The Giants argued that those rights should be upheld and that they could suffer significant economic damage if the Santa Clara County fans and businesses that support their team switch their financial allegiance to the A's.
Selig responded by forming a task force to determine whether the A's might find a new ballpark in Oakland or anywhere else in their own territory.
"The A's cannot and will not continue indefinitely in their current situation," Selig said in the news release announcing the appointment of the task force.
That was four years ago. In the interim, Selig has been unable to broker a compromise between the A's and Giants.