Somehow, after all of Frank McCourt's mistakes and missteps, it looks
like he's going to make out OK. The property he bought in 2004 --
baseball's blue diamond -- is so durable that it can withstand any type
There are billionaires lining up to buy the Los Angeles Dodgers
in a couple of weeks, after the team is put up for auction, because no
matter how ugly the McCourts' divorce became, or what an embarrassment
it was when the franchise went into bankruptcy, or that the organization
faces a lawsuit stemming from the brutal beating of San Francisco Giants fan Bryan Stow last spring, the team remains a model brand.
The Dodgers are to baseball what the beaches are to California.
Despite the cracks and chips, this is and always will be the franchise
of Jackie Robinson and Sandy Koufax and Vin Scully; it is what Walter
O'Malley wanted it to become when he moved the club out of Brooklyn and
dropped it onto a hill above Los Angeles. The next owners will ride into
Chavez Ravine and be viewed as conquering heroes who will restore the
franchise, and somebody is going to pay McCourt a staggering sum for
that privilege -- maybe a little more than a billion, maybe a lot more
than a billion.
As I wrote here last week: The
folks who are bidding for the team are incredibly successful and wealthy
and not accustomed to losing. They will go into this process knowing
they have to beat other successful billionaires, and it's going to be
competitive. Think of the Dodgers as a lone tuna in the midst of a dozen
great white sharks; one of them is going to outmuscle the others and
hit it hard.
There's one more thing McCourt can do to add to the feeding frenzy, however. He should go out and sign Prince Fielder. Right now.
McCourt did the right thing in signing Matt Kemp to a long-term deal earlier in the offseason, locking up the guy who finished second
in the MVP voting; he's a foundation piece. But now McCourt has an
opportunity to make the team even more attractive, by jumping on the guy
who finished third in the MVP voting -- a slugger who mashed 38 homers and drove in 120 runs last season.
talent makes this a unique situation, of course; there aren't a lot of
players like him in this era of drug-testing. An NL general manager
noted recently that the most coveted commodity in the sport now is not
necessarily pitching -- it might be big-time power. "You can't win
without pitching," he said. "But it's a lot easier to find pitching
these days than someone who can hit 40 homers."
And somehow, on Jan. 11, Fielder is still without a job, because the market forces have worked against him. The New York Yankees normally covet left-handed sluggers like Fielder, but they have Mark Teixeira locked up. The Boston Red Sox traded for Adrian Gonzalez 13 months ago and locked him up to a long-term deal. The Los Angeles Angels gave their $240 million to Albert Pujols. The Miami Marlins
were interested in Pujols but continue to say they don't want Fielder;
the presumption in the organization is that this is because Pujols is
more marketable in the Miami community than Fielder.
Some of the teams linked to Fielder in this offseason seem lukewarm in their interest, for various reasons. The Chicago Cubs
are rebuilding, and they have seemed interested in Fielder only at
their price -- maybe a five-year or six-year deal. The same goes for the
Texas Rangers, who are still haunted by the experience they had investing heavily in one player, Alex Rodriguez; they might like Fielder, but only on their terms. For Texas, he's not a must-have item.
Within the industry, the expectation has been that the Washington Nationals
would jump in, but some highly ranked Washington executives are telling
others: We are not in the Fielder market. The first year of their
seven-year, $126 million investment in Jayson Werth
went very badly, and some in the organization are scared by the idea of
owing two players $40-45 million. "What if it goes badly?" one official
asked rhetorically. "With our budget, it'd wreck us for years."
Similarly, the Seattle Mariners are telling other folks that their reported interest in Fielder has been overstated. The Milwaukee Brewers
are interested in keeping him, but Fielder himself has already
indicated that he expects to leave. Only Scott Boras, Fielder's agent,
truly knows what offers he has, but it would appear that the market
affords him little leverage at the moment.
Where, then? Well, if the Dodgers or the New York Mets
were on strong footing, either team could be a natural fit. The Mets
are still digging out from the Bernie Madoff scandal, prying nickels out
from underneath couch cushions to sign the likes of Miguel Batista.
Dodgers, however, are not that far away from being in an
extraordinarily strong position. The next owner may well be in place by
the All-Star break, and after some group spends between $1-2 billion for
this franchise, the new owner won't suddenly pull back the reins.
Instead, the new owner is going to be aggressive. A few weeks ago, Magic
Johnson -- part of one of the powerful teams
fighting for ownership of the Dodgers -- mused over the phone, with
some regret, that this winter's free-agent period is passing by.
fall, if he were a Dodgers owner, he said, "At 12:01 a.m., I'd be on
the phone" calling the next players the Dodgers would want to target.
"This is going to be fun."
And while McCourt has debt -- the franchise has debt -- there are almost no long-term contract obligations besides Kemp. Ted Lilly is signed for a couple of more years, and so is Matt Guerrier. But the Dodgers' budget for 2012 is $90 million, in the same range as the Cincinnati Reds and Milwaukee Brewers.
Dodgers' next owners are going to get an enormous injection of
television revenue after the team's next contract is negotiated, and it
figures that the club's payroll will rocket into the same range as that
of the Angels, who will be close to $160 million.
McCourt signed Fielder now, the expenditure wouldn't be beyond the
means of the franchise. And while a $25 million annual salary for a
first baseman might seem like a lot of money to the average person,
remember who is bidding for the team. A $25 million annual expenditure
to someone with access to $100 billion is equivalent to five ATM charges
for someone making $50,000.
You could call the
signing of Fielder a financial pimple, in the big picture, if not for
the fact that it could actually make the Dodgers more attractive, more
The Dodgers might be able to get Fielder
for seven years and $175 million, or maybe eight for $192 million. Add
Fielder to their lineup, and they could contend for the NL West
championship in 2012. They would sell more tickets, draw higher ratings
and give the next owners a little more leverage in negotiating that next
television contract. Fielder would be to the Dodgers what Shaquille
O'Neal was to the Lakers.
McCourt probably flinches
reflexively at the idea of spending money these days given the amount of
debt he has and considering how many lawsuits he's been involved in.
But signing Fielder now would be a smart investment, some gasoline to
throw onto what should already be an extremely hot bidding war for the
It's a great opportunity. McCourt should jump on it. Right now.
McCourt settled his dispute with Fox Sports, writes Bill Shaikin. This clears the decks for the auctioning of the team. Tom Barrack is the latest billionaire to join the bidding process.
• Bud Selig is staying on, which isn't a surprise to the executives for whom he works. "He was never leaving," said an AL owner. "He loves it."
It's fair to say that Selig has exercised a commissioner's
prerogative to change his mind. From Josh Kritz of ESPN Stats &
As head of search committee for new commissioner:
December 1983: "I don't want to be commissioner." (NY Times)
As acting commissioner:
November 1993: "This is all very flattering, but I have no interest in becoming permanent commissioner." (USA Today)
January 1994: "I have no permanent interest in this job. I have many other things I want to do." (LA Times)
December 1997: "I am not and have never been a candidate. I don't know what more I can say about that." (LA Times)
July 1998: "Many had said to me they wanted me to stay in some capacity. We argued. The rest is history." (LA Times)
2001: "[The contract extension] wasn't my idea. I hadn't even thought
about it, but [the owners] felt the timing was right." (LA Times)
2003: "There are other things I really would like to do. I told my wife
that I was going to be doing this for two to three months, but it
turned into 14 years. I've had a great run." (Orlando Sentinel)
2004 (at time of second extension): "In September 1992 [when he became
acting commissioner], my wife asked how long it would be, and I said,
'Two to four months.' It's the longest two to four months in history."
December 2006: "I plan to retire. My contract
runs for the next three-plus years. I'll be 75 years of age and I want
to teach and write a book and do some other things." (Reuters)
2008: "This is clearly it. I could say this without equivocation. ...
When this is over, I'm going to be 78 years old." (AP)
• The Mets are close to raising $100 million in minority shares, writes Andy Martino.
• If you weren't convinced by the Sean Marshall trade that the Reds were loading up for 2012, well, maybe the signing of Ryan Madson -- for $8.5 million, as Jerry Crasnick reports -- puts it over the top for you; Cincinnati has a chance to have an excellent bullpen.
From ESPN Stats & Info: In his first
season as a full-time closer, Madson had the second-best save percentage
in the NL (32-of-34, 94.1 percent), just behind John Axford (46-of-48, 95..
The Reds were tied for 10th in blown saves last season with 22. The Philadelphia Phillies, who Madson closed for last season, had eight blown saves, the fewest in the majors.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. Howard Kendrick says staying with the Angels was his priority, as Lance Pugmire writes.
2. The Phillies cut John Bowker, so he could pursue other opportunities.
3. Scott Boras says the Tampa Bay Rays remain in play for Carlos Pena and Johnny Damon.
4. The Toronto Blue Jays are still looking for help, writes Richard Griffin.
5. The Kansas City Royals named their minor league coaches.
6. Miguel Batista signed with the Mets.
7. The Rangers raised their ticket prices.
8. The Rangers are going to give some of their prospects a shot in spring training.
9. A top Detroit Tigers prospect has been invited to spring training.
10. The Tigers shouldn't trade top prospects, writes Lynn Henning, who notes that Dave Dombrowski has told Theo Epstein no when the Cubs GM has discussed Matt Garza.
11. Juan Nicasio is already facing hitters, and is on track for spring training -- a great development for him, of course, but also for the Colorado Rockies.
12. The Mariners signed Aaron Heilman, as Larry Stone writes.
13. Carlos Gomez agreed to terms, writes Adam McCalvy.
14. It's time for the Red Sox to step up and get a starting pitcher, writes Michael Silverman.
15. Dan Duquette talked about some of the changes the Baltimore Orioles have made.