Monday Notes: Ownership & Prospects

Plenty to keep track of on this last Monday of January…

* While we’re still waiting to hear more details on the (at least) eight bidders who proceeded to the second round, Bill Shaikin notes that one of the eight has a substantial new partner. Tom Barrack, a Santa Monica investment banker, has joined up with the Leo Hindery / Marc Utay group. This is a group we really haven’t looked into all that closely, but considering that Hindery helped build the YES Network cash cow for the Yankees and Barrack brings significant financial muscle, it’s time to start taking them more seriously.

* Shaikin also sheds some light on Peter O’Malley’s bid, identifying a South Korean company, “E-land”, as his main financial backer. E-land is a worldwide conglomerate which largely deals in fashion, and has reported holdings of approximately $7 billion. O’Malley would reportedly also bring in local investors, though nothing has been made official yet. I don’t really have a problem with foreign money being involved – let’s try to keep the xenophobia to a minimum, you know? – especially with the Dodgers having had such a positive history with Asian baseball, but I’m still not really high on O’Malley’s group for the same reasons as I was earlier this month. While the O’Malley name clearly carries a lot of weight in the world of the Dodgers, it’s not like he left the organization in such great shape the first time, and I’d prefer someone younger than 74 to take the reins in transforming the Dodgers from an embarrassment into a club that is looking towards the future.

* Somewhat buried in Shaikin’s story about O’Malley is that Beverly Hills real estate tycoon Alan Casden did in fact make it to the second round of the bidding. That, plus the Barrack and O’Malley details, means that the most up-to-date list of eight that we know of is this:

1) Magic Johnson/Stan Kasten/Mark Walter
2) Joe Torre/Rick Caruso
3) Steven Cohen
4) Stanley Gold/Roy Disney family
5) Peter O’Malley / E-land
6) Stan Kroenke
7) Leo Hindery/Marc Utay / Tom Barrack
8) Alan Casden

I would caution again, however, that we do not know that these are the only eight. Just as Casden’s name wasn’t included originally, other bidders could still be in play, and we still don’t know what the hell to make of Josh Macciello.

* Jon Heyman reports that at least one bid is in the range of $1.5 billion, and if that’s true, it’s likely we are looking at a final sale price that’s between $1.5-$2 billion. I worried a few weeks ago that such a ludicrous sale price could have repercussions down the road, and that has the even more unfortunate effect of me having to agree with T.J. Simers, who wrote basically the same thing this weekend:

Some folks probably thought the Dodgers could do no worse than Fox’s ownership.

Change is difficult. This one will certainly involve higher ticket prices as the Parking Lot Attendant has lowered them for this season and the new guy will be paying more than $1 billion to please McCourt.

The payroll and stadium are going to need an upgrade. And just because the new guy isn’t McCourt doesn’t mean he’s not going to eventually hit Dodgers fans with the bill.

If he’s a loser, and there’s no guarantee just because he’s replacing McCourt that he’s going to be a winner, it’s going to take more than Magic Johnson waving to the crowd every night to keep folks happy.

Simers, for once in his miserable life, isn’t wrong. While we’re all hopeful, there’s no guarantee that the new owner is really the savior we hope they’ll be. However, I’m not going to let that bother me too much. The new owner might be terrible, but they might not be. There’s hope there. There was absolutely zero hope that McCourt was ever going to build a franchise we could be proud of, so even if the future is uncertain, I’ll take that over the certainty that the status quo was not going to work.

* At Baseball Prospectus, Maury Brown looks into the possibility that Kroenke could be involved in large part so he can move his St. Louis Rams back to Los Angeles. I’m sure that would actually make a lot of Dodger fans who grew up cheering for the Rams pretty happy, though of course Steve Dilbeck has already looked into this and inserted a terrifying theory that Kroenke could try to partner with McCourt to make this happen. Uh, no thanks.

* Getting back to baseball, Baseball Prospectus‘ Kevin Goldstein has his Top 10 Dodger prospect list out today. Obviously, all of these kinds of lists are educated guesses at best, but there’s few prospect reporters I respect more than Goldstein. Anything stand out to you on this list?

1. Zach Lee, RHP
2. Nathan Eovaldi, RHP
3. Allen Webster, RHP
4. Chris Reed, LHP
5. Garrett Gould, RHP
6. Chris Withrow, RHP
7. Alfredo Silverio, OF
8. Joc Pederson, OF
9. Alex Castellanos, OF/2B
10. Angel Sanchez, RHP
11. Shawn Tolleson, RHP

The first six players listed, and nine of eleven, are all pitchers – with only Lee seeming to still have a shot at stardom. We’ve known for a while that the Dodger system was pitching-heavy – the graduation of Dee Gordon & Jerry Sands off of lists like these doesn’t help, of course – but this really lays the flaws in the offensive side of the minors bare.

* Might we actually have a Ronald Belisario sighting this year? ESPN’s Tony Jackson claims that Belisario is already in Arizona, weeks ahead of schedule.

* Finally, the softball tourney Mike from The Left Field Pavilion is putting together is fast approaching, and it looks like some teams still need players. It’s for a good cause, so participate if you can.

And Then There Were Eight…

Well, in theory. The Los Angeles Times is reporting that “at least eight” bidders have advanced to the second round of bidding for the Dodgers, so it’s not certain that there’s not other groups still in the running who we don’t know about.

But here’s what we do know so far: Mark Cuban & Dennis Gilbert are each out of the running. While Cuban’s departure will disappoint a lot of Dodger fans, this is hardly a surprise, since he’s been saying for a while that he placed a certain value on the Dodgers and likely wouldn’t be tossing out numbers above a billion dollars. Gilbert missing out is a bit more newsworthy, since he’s been rumored to be a serious bidder for years and I came away with a largely positive impression when I took an initial look at the bidders earlier this month, but with the dollar figures skyrocketing it’s quite possible he could keep up. (Or it could be what Peter Gammons is reporting, that Frank McCourt would never have selected Gilbert due to his relationship with Bud Selig.)

As for the eight survivors…

1) Magic Johnson/Stan Kasten/Mark Walter
2) Joe Torre/Rick Caruso
3) Steven Cohen (1-3 via Bill Shaikin in the Times)
4) Stanley Gold/Roy Disney
5) Peter O’Malley
6) Stan Kroenke (4-6 via Shaikin on Twitter)
7) Leo Hindery/Marc Utay (according to Wall Street Journal, via Dodger Thoughts)
8) Josh Macciello?? (perhaps – according to Macciello’s own Twitter)

Of course, it’s hardly as simple as that. We haven’t heard anything about some of the other groups, like the Orel Hershisher/Steve Garvey pairing, or Alan Casden, or Ron Burkle, or a few others, so since all we know is “at least eight” they could still be in. (And we’re just guessing about Macciello at the moment). Besides, even if these are the eight, they won’t all stay exactly as they are. We’ve already heard rumors that the O’Malley group might join the Gold/Disney team, and it’s still possible that Patrick Soon-Shiong or someone like him joins a group to add some financial muscle.

So while we’re making progress… there’s still a long way to go over the next two months until April 1, when McCourt has to make a choice. For the moment, I favor the Magic Johnson group over the others, with the Cohen, O’Malley, and Torre groups all having significant flaws in my eyes.

******

Ghosts of Dodgers past: two of my least favorite Dodgers of recent years, Ryan Theriot and Juan Pierre, have found new homes. Theriot collects $1.25m to join the San Francisco infield, even though he can’t really hit or play shortstop anymore, and Pierre landed with the Phillies on a minor-league deal, even though he’s a poor fit for them despite the zero-risk deal he received. Fun fact: over the last two seasons with the White Sox, Pierre has a .277 batting average along with a .335 OBP and a 71.5 % success rate on stolen base attempts. In 2005-06, two seasons immediately preceding his arrival in Los Angeles, he had a .284 batting average to go with a .328 OBP and a 75.6% on steals. One of those two-year stretches earned him a non-roster invite to big league camp, and one earned him a five-year, $44m contract. And you wonder why the idea of a Joe Torre ownership, one that would potentially retain Ned Colletti, scares me?

The Dodgers Were In On Prince Fielder, and The Last Time We’ll Be Writing About Him For a While

I was really looking forward to not having to discuss Prince Fielder anymore, but how can I ignore a bombshell like the one Jon Heyman just dropped on us?

Although they managed to stay under the radar all the while, the Los Angeles Dodgers pushed hard for weeks to try to sign Prince Fielder and thought for a while they might have a legitimate shot at their own secret signing. The Dodgers were a surprise entrant in the sweepstakes, making a major push to sign the star slugger with an offer that guaranteed him seven years but provided a sweet four-year opt-out. And for a couple weeks, they looked like a real possibility for Prince.

The Dodgers surely gave a spirited effort to secure Fielder, even flying to meet with him at an undisclosed neutral location a few weeks ago, but somehow managed to keep the entire undertaking under wraps, save for a few internet rumblings from fans speculating that they may have been a mystery team in the mix.

Heyman goes on to state that the Dodger offer was nowhere near the massive nine-year, $214m commitment Fielder just procured from Detroit, figures I wanted no part of. Rather, the supposed Dodger offer would have been “in the low $160m” range, with the first three years coming in at $26m apiece ($78m total), after which Fielder would have been able to opt out, then four years in the low twenties range, totaling about $85-90m and bringing the deal into the $160m range. About a month ago, I heard from a source who claimed that Ned Colletti had offered Fielder a 3/$80m deal, and while I couldn’t confirm it enough to run with it, that it pretty close to the first half of this supposed offer.

If that’s in any way true, well, I like that idea a lot. Sure, paying Fielder $26m a year is somewhat outrageous, but that’s only over his age 28-30 seasons, after which he’s either someone else’s problem or taking a pay cut. That’s also, of course, almost certainly why a deal like this had almost no chance of happening, considering how much more he eventually ended up getting from Detroit; the Dodgers were likely extending themselves just to get that far, hoping that the market would never materialize and Fielder would have no choice but to land with them. (There’s a conversation happening on Twitter right now about whether Victor Martinez‘ injury cost the Dodgers Fielder, since they may not have been in on Prince until they were short a bat; it makes sense, though I’m not sure if I fully buy that simply due to how much they did end up giving to Fielder.)

But that’s all behind us now, because Fielder is a Tiger now, and we won’t be seeing him in Dodger blue until he’s inevitably signed to a back-loaded contract in 2022. If anything, we can be impressed with the Dodger front office for not allowing anything more than unsourced speculation to leak during this process. Of course, the best part of Heyman’s story has nothing to do with Fielder, and the emphasis on this is mine:

The Dodgers tendered their longtime first baseman James Loney a contract and expect him to be their first baseman. They are not unhappy with him at all but merely saw Fielder as a rare opportunity to land one of the game’s best hitters.

Wonderful.

So How Good Does Matt Kemp’s Contract Look Now?

Back in November, the Dodgers locked up outfielder Matt Kemp for the next eight years for the enormous sum of $160 million. At the time, not only was it by far the largest in Dodger history, it was the seventh-largest contract in baseball history and the largest in National League history. While we noted that the deal wasn’t entirely without risk – Kemp was just one year off a hugely disappointing 2010 and tying up that much money in any single player can easily turn sour – we were generally very happy with the outcome. As I said at the time, “if you’re going to make that gamble, making it on an athletic outfielder that you know well and who is just entering his prime is a much smarter choice than doing it on a player already into his 30s who is an uncertain commodity.” Kemp ended up finishing second in an MVP race that he probably should have won, even before Ryan Braun‘s testing issues became public, and the combination of few available free-agent bats likely to be had next winter and Kemp’s youth meaning that he’s only signed through 34 made the deal seem extremely appealing.

Besides, beyond the obvious baseball reasons for needing to retain Kemp, this was a move that had to be made from a pure public relations standpoint. After all the garbage Frank McCourt has put fans through over the last few years, and considering that the Dodgers haven’t had a homegrown star stick with the team in decades – the last two players who made it ten years with the club were the decidedly non-elite Eric Karros & Dave Hansen, who each left after 2002 – the idea of letting Kemp walk was probably more than this fractured fanbase would have been able to handle. If you had to overpay slightly to avoid that, then so be it.

All of which is to say, at the time the deal was signed just before Thanksgiving, we were all pretty happy with it, one of the few Dodger roster moves this winter which was met with something other than disdain.

Two months later, Kemp’s contract has been absolutely blown away by the mega-deals received by Albert Pujols (ten years & between $246m-268m from the Angels, depending on incentives and personal-services deals) and the nine years and $214m Prince Fielder collected from Detroit yesterday. Considering what Kemp brings to the table that neither Pujols or Fielder do, the fact that the Dodgers kept him for $54m less than Fielder and about $100m less than Pujols – over a shorter term than either – makes the Kemp deal look even better than it does the day it was signed.

Compare Kemp to Pujols. As much as I love Kemp, it’s crazy to argue that he’s a superior or even equal hitter to Pujols, who will probably be one of the five best to ever play the game when he’s done. I mean, Pujols hit .299/.366/.541 with 37 homers last year, and people were complaining it was a down year; the man is a beast. But Pujols, who turned 32 earlier this month, is nearly five years older than Kemp, and perhaps more, if you believe the constant (yet unverified) rumors that his age may not be accurate. He’s a very good baserunner, but of course doesn’t offer close to the speed Kemp provides on the bases. While he’s an excellent defensive first baseman, one of the best in the game, the mere fact that he’s limited to the least-important defensive position curtails his value. You can argue both the accuracy of WAR and how it rates Kemp on defense, it’s for that reason that only once has Pujols had a season that beats Kemp’s 2011 in rWAR, back in 2003 when he put up an obscene 10.9 mark that ranks as the 16th-best season since World War II.

Younger, $100m cheaper, more dangerous on the basepaths, playing a far more valuable defensive position, and not coming off his worst (though of course, still great) season? I think I know which deal I’d rather have.

What about Fielder, whose own youth – born just four months ahead of Kemp in 1984 – was a major selling point for him? Fielder is of course an offensive force, since his .981 OPS last year was nearly the equal of Kemp’s and because has surpassed that mark twice before. The obvious big problem with Fielder is that not only is he a first baseman, he’s a bad first baseman, ranking as perhaps the worst in the sport since he became a full-time player in 2006. While his youth is an asset, his body type most certainly is not; you could argue that on hitting alone, he’s maybe better than Kemp, but when you consider baserunning and the enormous defensive gap between the two, Kemp seems like a better bet for the future. Not only that, Fielder is getting a year more and comes with $54m in additional risk.

I liked Kemp’s deal a whole lot in November, and I like it even more now. That’s in large part because unlike Pujols and Fielder, Kemp had not yet reached free agency, when the ability to negotiate with other clubs would almost certainly have inflated his price. Great job by the Dodgers to get him secured now, before an entire season of questions about his status and an even bigger payday next winter.

Prince Fielder Just Broke the Internet

As has been reported by every outlet short of smoke signal and carrier pigeon over the last thirty minutes, Prince Fielder has finally come off the board, agreeing to a nine-year, $214m contract with the Detroit Tigers. This ought to allow Dodger fans to put the idea of signing Fielder – which was never going to happen, sadly – behind us for good, and resign ourselves to another long, cold year of James Loney and the Fun Bunch. That sounds kind of depressing when you write it like that, but… well, I don’t quite know how to end that sentence.

More importantly, though… holy crap. How does Scott Boras keep doing this? Nine years! Two hundred and fourteen million! Particularly when it’s coming from a team that already has a stud first baseman in Miguel Cabrera and has to deal with $35m more to another 1B/DH type in Victor Martinez, at least after he returns from his knee injury next year. After weeks upon weeks of hearing how the Fielder market was depressed because traditional spenders like the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Mets, and Phillies weren’t involved, Boras goes and pulls this out of his hat. Though many personify Boras as everything that’s wrong with baseball today, I can’t even be angry with him. Frankly, I’m just impressed. The man is simply a wizard.

Back to the Dodgers, well, if this is what it was going to take to secure Fielder, then I’m just as happy to pass. It’s one thing to swallow hard and choke up ~$160m when you’re already paying Matt Kemp and have to deal with Clayton Kershaw (especially when his closest comparable, Tim Lincecum, is extracting $40.5m over two years from the Giants because he hasn’t been locked up yet). It’s quite another to commit nearly $24m per year for nearly a decade to a bad-bodied player when you don’t have the luxury of the designated hitter to shift him to in a few years.

We now return you to your regularly-scheduled moping over the Dodger offense, at least until we get further news on the ownership bidding process.