RIP, The Frank McCourt Era (2004-2012)

8 years later, it ends with a Tweet. That’s a sentence which wouldn’t have even made sense in 2004.

We survived, friends. Info to come on the press conference from new ownership.

Nineteen Scattered Thoughts on New Dodger Ownership

Okay, let’s try to make sense of all this, because there is a LOT happening here; apologies in advance for the list format.

  1. YAY! Yay. Yay. Yay. We’ve been waiting for this day since… well, I wanted to say since we learned about the divorce in October 2009, but that’s not accurate. We all had our issues with McCourt for years prior to that. Finally seeing him on his way out, well… it’s like Christmas multiplied by your birthday times twelve Super Bowls, plus kittens.
  2. I didn’t think this needed explaining, but apparently it does. Everything you’re reading and hearing saying that “Magic Johnson bought the Dodgers” isn’t exactly accurate. Trust me, Magic does not have two billion dollars or anything close to it. Mark Walter, CEO of Guggenheim Partners, is the new controlling owner, and the group includes film producer Peter Guber, baseball Stan Kasten, and Bobby Patton & Todd Boehly of Guggenheim. Magic’s the public face, Kasten’s the baseball guy, and Walter is the controlling interest. It may not seem like an important distinction, but it is, though it’s fair to note that Walter is not expected to be a hands-on owner in the Steinbrenner or Cuban tradition.
  3. That said, Magic will be the first minority black owner in baseball history, and while that’s irrelevant to some, it’s a nice feather in the cap of Jackie Robinson’s club.
  4. No Tony LaRussa! HUGE win, that.
  5. I know a lot of people have issues with Stan Kasten, but I generally like his involvement. He’s got a ton of baseball experience with the Nationals and Braves, and few know the ins and outs of the MLB executive world as well as he does.
  6. Frank McCourt is going to walk away with about a BILLION dollars in profit, AND he doesn’t have to give up full control of the parking lots. God bless America.
  7. That last part, about the parking lots, is important, because it’s an unfortunate fact that we’re not completely free of the scumbag just yet. In addition to the $2b for the team, the group is spending an additional $150m to form “a joint venture” which will control the parking lots. That’s sort of ill-defined, I think, so we’ll need to learn a lot more about it, and we should probably hold off on judgement until then. Still, I can’t pretend there’s not significant disappointment that McCourt is still going to be involved in some way. (Update: and literally as I pressed publish, Bill Shaikin tweets that the lots will be controlled by the Magic group. Details to come, I assume. Hooray!)
  8. Man, T.J. Simers is going to have to trademark “The Boston Parking Lot Attendant” now, isn’t he?
  9. Ex-wife Jamie, who once claimed she owned 50% of the team, walks a way with a comparatively puny $131m. That kind of cash is hardly poverty level, of course. Still, nice negotiating job there, Jamie.
  10. You probably didn’t need me to tell you this, but two billion dollars is a lot a money. An absurdly ridiculous amount of money. A ludicrous amount of money, nearly tripling the previous high sale price for an MLB team. Not to rain on the parade here, but we’re going to need to learn where that cash is coming from. There’s no way this is two billion dollars in straight cash, homey, and I’m at least a little concerned about what kind of debt is included. I should clarify that no one – no one – was going to buy this club without at least some debt, similar to the needing a mortgage on your house analogy I’ve made before. But how much debt? It’s a concern, and the main hope here is that MLB learned enough from their past mistakes that what they’ve approved is within reason.
  11. Adding on to that last thought, a question I’m hearing a lot is, “what kind of money can they have left for payroll after spending all that?” The simple answer is, well, we don’t know. I’ll say this, though: no one’s spending two billion dollars on a baseball team to run it on a shoestring budget that struggles to compete. That’s especially so if you believe that one of the main driving factors in the purchase price is the idea of setting up a lucrative television network; it certainly doesn’t help ratings to have your cornerstone product going 72-90.
  12. I’ll admit that after writing those previous two thoughts, a small part of me preferred the Cohen/Soon-Shiong group. Not enough of me that I’m wishing this turned out any other way, of course, because this is a great day. Just trying to be pragmatic until we know more about the funding.
  13. And so we’re clear, this still has to be approved by the bankruptcy court, which will convene on April 13. It’d be a shock if they denied it, since the group has been vetted so thoroughly, but it’s not yet a done deal. So for the next few weeks at least, McCourt still owns this club.
  14. I don’t think we know yet if the Magic group put up the highest bid. While it’s hard to think that anyone was topping $2b for the team, the Cohen/Patrick Soon-Shiong group certainly could have gone higher if they chose. So it’s worth asking; did McCourt factor how happy this group would make the fans at all? Not that he’s ever cared about the fans, but this may soothe some of the terrible feelings about him on the way out. Not here, though.
  15. Speaking of Soon-Shiong, is it too late for him to get back with his friend Magic?
  16. Money issues aside, Magic alone makes this a huge public relations coup. You could argue that the Cohen group made more sense financially, but there’d also be a backlash against another New Englander with a past and who had never been to Dodger Stadium. Magic’s a local hero, and that’s huge for this organization.
  17. Can’t wait for people to start asking the new guys about Ned Colletti. I’ll you this, they’re not firing him on their first day in charge, which could be as late as May 1. My gut feeling is that he lasts the season, unless the on-field product is atrocious, which it won’t be; while Colletti has built a potentially boring, low-upside team of veterans, it’s also a team that should be respectable at worst.
  18. And for what it’s worth, I hope Don Mattingly stays.
  19. YAYYY!

Frank McCourt Just Isn’t Going to Make This Easy, Is He

Like I was really not going to take advantage of the opportunity to bring this back

So Bill Shaikin brings us some good news

Rick Caruso and former Dodgers manager Joe Torre have withdrawn a joint bid to buy the Dodgers, three people familiar with the sale process said Thursday.

As you probably know, most of you know that I wasn’t all that excited about the possibility of Torre taking over control of the club, simply because he had to be considered by far the most likely of any of the potential new owners to retain Ned Colletti. So let’s enjoy a small victory there, and then jam our thumbs into our eye sockets as we see why it is that Caruso and Torre are no longer involved…

Caruso cited owner Frank McCourt’s refusal to include the Dodger Stadium parking lots in the sale, according to the people, who declined to be identified because they were not authorized to discuss the sale process. (snip)

Caruso and other bidders have believed the purchase of the parking lots would be negotiable. Caruso’s decision to withdraw offers the clearest evidence yet that McCourt intends to keep the lots and try to build on them.

…well, then. Shaikin also notes that McCourt claims he has at least one bid in hand that would allow him to retain the parking lots, and while I have absolutely no inside information to tell you who, it’s not too much of a stretch to wonder if that’s Stan Kroenke, since we’ve already heard suggestions that Kroenke might buy the Dodgers largely to team with McCourt in order to build a football stadium in the parking lots to bring the Rams back home.

Now before we all go off into a fury here, remember: this is Frank McCourt. As far as I’m concerned, he’d sell his own mother to North Korea if he thought it’d make him a few extra dollars, so it’s not at all hard to believe that McCourt may simply be playing hard to get when it comes to the lots in the hopes that some bidder will completely blow him away to get him to “reluctantly” include the parking lots.

Don’t also forget that McCourt has a legal obligation to sell the team by April 30. He can’t simply say that he didn’t get an offer he liked and change his mind, so he’s going to have to agree with somebody. It’d be nice if none of the bidders were willing to offer him deals that involve McCourt retaining the lots, so the indication that there’s at least one interested party who would let him keep the lots is quite disappointing.

But I’ll offer this: we just witnessed the winter of the “mystery team”. Who saw Prince Fielder going to the Tigers? Albert Pujols to the Angels? Yoenis Cespedes to the Athletics? You’ll notice that in the Shaikin story, the line that indicates McCourt has an offer that would allow him to keep the lots starts with the line, “McCourt has told people…” Well, I trust Bill Shaikin unconditionally, but that sentence might as well end with “…that Justin Bieber will be playing left field” or “…that he’s building parking lots on the moon.” Until we hear from a far more reputable source than Frank McCourt, we have no idea if there really is a bidder who is willing to let Frank stay involved. And if there’s not, then McCourt’s going to have no choice but to sell the team and the lots, if that’s the best he can do in the next few weeks.

As always, the clock is ticking, Frankie. See you in hell.

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.

The Final One Hundred Days of Frank McCourt

Across the country, most baseball fans are counting down the days until Opening Day (73 for the Dodgers, until April 5 in San Diego) or until pitchers & catchers report (30 for the Dodgers, until February 21). But as Dodger fans, we’re forced to approach things from a different perspective, and that means that as of tomorrow, our primary number is 100 days – the time left before April 30, the deadline for Frank McCourt to complete the sale of the team. It’s very possible that the sale is completed somewhat earlier than that, so we could even be under 100 days at this point, but then again, who among us really trusts this guy to do anything but drag the process out as long as he possibly can?

It’s currently been 2,914 days since McCourt officially took over on January 29, 2004, just shy of precisely eight years. By the time he’s gone, he’ll have been in charge for something very close to 3,000 days. I can’t pretend they’ve all been bad – plenty of good times in 2008 and ’09, you know – but let’s also not act like everything was totally peachy right up until the day we learned of his separation from Jamie.

2,914 days down, 100 or fewer to go. I say this every year at this time, as winter freezes over, the sports calendar empties out, and baseball news generally slows until camp starts, but never has it meant as much as it does now: the next three months simply cannot go quickly enough.