Jared Kushner Emerges In Dodger Bidding, But That’s Not a Good Thing

It’s somewhat amazing to me that in an ownership battle as high-profile as this one has been, we’re still finding out about bidders who have somehow managed to keep their interest in the dark. Bill Shaikin breaks another name this morning, but, well, don’t get too excited:

Jared Kushner, born into a prominent New York real estate family and son-in-law of Donald Trump, has emerged as a candidate in the bidding for the Dodgers.

Kushner, who became owner and publisher of the New York Observer in 2006, has played a key role in expanding the family business beyond real estate. At 31, he would be the youngest owner in Major League Baseball.

I’ll admit that the idea of a youthful owner is attractive. It’s part of the reason why the potential of groups led by Joe Torre or Peter O’Malley don’t really interest me. I’d much prefer someone energetic and with new ideas, rather than relying on dinosaurs with the same tired direction. On the other hand, well, I’m not all that far away from being 31, and if someone who is just a few months older than me were to own the team while I am decidedly not anywhere near the stratosphere of owning a baseball club, I’d probably find that a bit depressing. (Thanks, mom and dad, for not being media moguls.)

Age aside, of course, there’s some giant red flags here. Regardless of your political viewpoint, I have a hard time seeing Donald Trump as anything but an enormous scumbag who ought to be avoided at all costs. Kushner’s father, Charles, was sentenced to two years in prison back in 2005 for tax evasion and illegal campaign contributions; the elder Kushner’s brother-in-law Robert was convicted on similar charges in 2009. (Okay, I’ll get political for just one second: Charles Kushner is a major donor to Democrats. The Donald, obviously, is a far right-wing Republican. That must make for some hilarious family meals for poor Jared.)

Now, Shaikin notes that the bid does not include Charles, but would be funded primarily by the Kushner family and… you know what, let’s just stop right here. Two nightmare fathers with criminal pasts, a guy who married into Trump money, seems to have little professional experience other than playing with his family’s money, has no sports experience… just no. If you remember all the reasons why I disliked Steven Cohen, this falls into the same category. I don’t want any part of this, no matter what kind of money they have.

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In a related topic, no one – Shaikin included, and he’s unquestionably the media leader as far as this story goes – seems to want to acknowledge the existence of upstart Josh Macciello. We still haven’t seen any official word that he’s made it to the second round of bidding, other than suggestions from his own Twitter feed, but it’s beginning to sound like he’s prepared to drop a ludicrous amount of money to get in the game. How much? He tweeted last night that his bid was “almost double” that of others, and then this morning Mike Szymanski in something called the Studio City Patch (where the picture at right is from) puts a number to that bid:

Sources close to the deal confirm that the bid he laid out recently is about $2.2 billion for the Dodgers and the stadium. Macciello would only confirm that, “with the money I’m bidding, I could buy three sport teams.”

Is that for real? I have absolutely no idea. But I do know that if someone like him is going to have a prayer of a chance in this, he’s going to have to completely blow all of the other bids out of the water, and I can’t imagine anyone’s topping $2.2b right now.

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In happier news, David Laurila at Fangraphs has a pretty nice interview with Logan White today, touching on the process in drafting high school pitchers and specifically speaking about Zach Lee, Nathan Eovaldi, Chris Reed, Allen Webster, and Ethan Martin. Some highlights…

On Lee:

The Biomechanical assessment was very important to our decision to draft Zach. We rank guys on athleticism, and he’s in the upper percentage in terms of that. Mechanically — how his delivery works — he was in the upper echelon. The only negative he had in his delivery was that he threw across his body a little bit, but we feel that is correctable. A lot of significant pitchers have thrown across their body, so you just have to fix their line a little bit. But in terms of arm action, Zach’s front side, his lead arm, how his legs work, his lower half and stride to the plate — all of that — was in the top percentages. I’d say he was in the upper 10 percent of the draft.

On drafting Clayton Kershaw over Tim Lincecum:

Getting back to the original question, we didn’t have any of those guys ahead of Kershaw on our list. We took him based on the fact that he was the best player. From there, everything came together.

On Reed:

He’s 6-foot-4 and athletic as can be. He’s in great physical shape. He throws 95 from the left side, with a hard slider and a good changeup. We’re also talking about a guy with good makeup who is bright. To me, if he would have gotten seen more, I don’t think there’s a chance he gets to the 16th pick. I think we got lucky. Time will bear that out. We might be wrong.

The entire piece is a fascinating look at the draft process, and it’s well worth your click.

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In addition to Russ Mitchell getting DFA’d by the Dodgers yesterday, former Dodger Blake DeWitt was cut loose by the Cubs. I have to say, I’m somewhat surprised by how many fans I’ve heard from suggesting that the Dodgers go and pick him up. I suppose I understand the thought, because Adam Kennedy is both ten years older & useless, and DeWitt was a popular player here, but what people need to keep in mind is that DeWitt really hasn’t done much to prove himself in Chicago. A .265/.305/.413 line in 2011 isn’t a whole lot to lust after, and it says a lot that he was cut in favor of Adrian Cardenas, who has no position and not enough of a bat to make it anywhere but the middle infield.

All that being said, DeWitt is still young and was a plus defender at third base, where the Dodgers have absolutely zero organizational depth, so if he’s willing to take a minor-league deal and start in Albuquerque, then sure, why not. Otherwise, let’s not lose any sleep over it.

Thursday Notes: Old Money, New Money, and the Unlikely Prince

We have another potential new name in the Dodger bidding war and an update on another, and holy good lord, could these two guys not possibly be more different. First, Bill Shaikin in the Times brings us the news that developer Alan Casden is throwing his hat in the ring. Sound familiar? It should – he tried unsuccessfully to purchase the team from FOX in 2003.

Shaikin:

Casden’s name has been submitted to MLB for consideration, according to a person familiar with the process. Casden, whose net worth is estimated at $1.2 billion by Forbes, has not returned calls from The Times.

In 2003, Casden proposed buying the Dodgers, moving them to a new downtown ballpark and tearing down Dodger Stadium to build housing on the site.

“They knock down stadiums all the time,” Casden told The Times then. “Dodger Stadium is not an antique. It’s not Frank Lloyd Wright. It’s a nice place to play baseball, but there are far better.”

Casden offered about $450 million to buy the Dodgers from Fox — more than McCourt paid — but the bid stalled amid MLB concerns over an investigation into illegal campaign contributions to city politicians.

Oh, that’s just lovely. You can put him down with Time Warner and Stephen Cohen at the head of the “DO NOT WANT” list.

At the absolute opposite end of the spectrum, ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne brings us an outstanding look at mystery man Josh Macciello. The entire article is fantastic and well worth a click, but here’s the main attraction:

“No, I always have to prove it,” he said, when I asked if people believe him when he says he’s a billionaire. “They ask for confirmation and we give them the claims showing that we own [the mines] and the actual assay and geologists reports that support that claim that’s been going on since 1999.” Then he corrects me on something.

“It’s not like Josh Macciello has billions in his bank account,” he said. “I am chairman and CEO of a company that’s partnered up with another company, and through those two companies we acquired several gold mines that are worth billions of dollars.

“Had it been five years ago we wouldn’t have been as fortunate, but due to the economy and where gold prices are now and where they’re projected to be in the next five years, we’re very blessed to be in the position we’re in, to be able to say we have billions of dollars of assets.”

Macciello says he intends to use those gold mines as collateral to finance his bid for the Dodgers.

I find Macciello fascinating, and I’ve at least begun to believe his intentions are real. (Even though, as a web snob, his new website joshfordodgers.com infuriates me because it’s all one background image.) Shelburne delves into a guy with an interesting past who really appears to be doing this for the love of the team, not as an investment, and that’s not something many of the rest of these guys can say. If by some miracle he got the team, you’d have to think that his policies would be incredibly fan-friendly and beyond entertaining in every way. I have to be honest, there’s a not insignificant part of me that’s really pulling for him.

Except.. well, look at that quote above. You could really replace “Macciello” and “gold mines” with “McCourt” and “parking lots”, couldn’t you? We had a discussion in the comments earlier this week that no one was going to simply write a check for $1.5 billion, and that’s absolutely true; no matter what, there’s going to be some amount of debt and loans involved in this. To a certain extent, that’s fine; to do it nearly entirely on that, well, we’ve seen that movie before. It didn’t end well.

Speaking of completely unlikely scenarios hinging on ownership… Prince Fielder. As long as he’s unsigned, people are going to speculate that he’ll end up with the Dodgers somehow, and that’s understandable. The thing people need to understand, however – and I point this out because I’ve been asked about it more than once – is that if Fielder somehow lands in Los Angeles, it’s not going to be because of a new owner. It’s going to be because of Frank McCourt. Spring training starts in about five weeks, and McCourt isn’t obligated to choose a winning bidder for about six weeks beyond that, and then it’ll take at least a month for the transfer of power. While it may be the new owner who would be paying the overwhelming majority of Fielder’s contract, there’s just no way that they’ll be in power soon enough to make it happen. (I was asked on Twitter by Jerrold [@JFK03] about the parallel of incoming Giants owner signing Barry Bonds in 1992, which is a good comparison, except Bonds signed on December 8 that winter. This process is just too far behind in the offseason.)

I bring this up because two prominent writers have brought up two complete opposing viewpoints on whether McCourt should bother signing Fielder before he’s gone. (When asked about it today, McCourt refused to comment.)

Buster Olney, ESPN:

If 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 valuable.

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 Dodgers.

It’s a great opportunity. McCourt should jump on it. Right now.

Shaikin, LA Times:

If the Dodgers signed Fielder for, say, $150 million, that would add $150 million to the liabilities a new owner would assume. That could persuade a prospective buyer to lower his bid accordingly.

As you can imagine, I tend to agree with Shaikin on this. While Olney’s points are valid, we’ve been talking a lot this week about just how much money the Dodgers are expected to go for – by all indications, it’ll be record-shattering. I find it hard to believe that a franchise which might already come close to doubling the previous MLB sale record would get an even further boost by adding Fielder; as Shaikin suggests, it might actually lower the price. Besides, if you’re willing to toss more than a billion dollars into purchasing a baseball team, you almost by definition have a large ego. I’m thinking that a new owner would prefer to be the one seen as rescuing the team and bringing in big stars, not inheriting someone that McCourt brought in.

At Least a Dozen Potential Ownership Groups Vying for Dodgers

With initial bids for ownership of the Dodgers due two weeks from today, it’s worth looking into the various groups we’ve heard publicly declare interest in the team. It’s a fascinating combination of Dodger legends, Los Angeles public figures, and financial backers worth absolutely obscene amounts of money.

What I do think people need to keep in mind, however, is that with the possible exception of Mark Cuban, if you’ve heard of any of these names, then they’re not providing the money. I’ve been amazed how often people will see an ownership group headed by, say, Steve Garvey, and say “wow! Steve Garvey’s a billionaire?!” Of course he’s not; he, like Joe Torre, like Magic Johnson, etc., are the sports- and Los Angeles-friendly public face on the front of a group of shady moneymen who are largely anonymous to most fans.

Let’s get down the list, knowing that there are probably still others who may be throwing their hats in the ring.

Joe Torre/Rick Caruso
Pros: No one on this list has anything like the continuous baseball experience that Torre brings dating back to 1960, and he remains a popular figure among many Dodger fans; in addition, his ties with MLB and Selig should make approval easy. Caruso, a real estate billionaire, certainly has the money, and Bill Shaikin’s tweet that “the banker in the Caruso/Torre group is Byron Trott of BDT Capital in Chicago, called by Warren Buffett “the only banker he trusts” seems positive.

Cons: Torre is decidedly old school, and might not be as open to new ideas as I’d like. I don’t consider it at all a coincidence that Matt Kemp broke out as soon as Torre and his staff left, and I’d worry that unlike most other new owners, Torre may not do the front office housecleaning I think we’re all hoping for. In addition, while I don’t think anyone is against sprucing up Dodger Stadium and the surrounding area, there could be concern that Caruso might push for something far too over the top.

Obviously, it all depends on the cash, but I’d have to guess this group is near the head of the pack; Torre likely wouldn’t have quit his MLB gig for a mere shot in the dark.

Stephen Cohen
Pros: Massively wealthy hedge fund executive, possibly worth around $8 billion dollars. Could include Arn Tellem, longtime player agent, and Steve Greenberg, former MLB deputy commissioner, in his group, which would provide plenty of baseball cache. Did I mention just how absurdly rich he is?

Cons: So, so, many. I don’t mind that he’s from the East Coast, but the fact that he’s reportedly never set foot in Dodger Stadium isn’t a plus. His firm is being investigated for a criminal insider trading scandal, and he’s been involved in a divorce so nasty that it might actually rival the McCourt mess. Looks like the unholy love child of Dr. Evil, Ham Rove, and Danny DeVito’s Penguin character from “Batman Returns”. After what we’ve all been through, I don’t think we can handle another scandal-ridden moneyman with no connection to baseball or the area.

Stanley Gold / Roy Disney Family
Pros: A relatively new name in the hunt, Roy Disney’s family has reportedly partnered with investment head Gold to try to purchase the team. Gold, a 69-year-old Los Angeles native, is perhaps best known for helping the Disney family push Michael Eisner out of the company. He has personalized autographs from Stan Musial and Babe Ruth in his home.

Cons: This group’s interest is so new that there’s been little further detail known about them, but they have a significant lack of baseball experience so far. Disney, of course, owned the Angels from 1996-03, which I’m guessing many Dodger fans would find as a detriment, though I would point out that “Disney, the corporation” isn’t really the same thing as “the late Roy Disney’s family”, at least as far as we know.

Magic Johnson/Stan Kasten/Mark Walter
Pros: Johnson is of course a tremendously well-known public figure in Los Angeles, and Kasten is one of the most respected men in baseball, having run the Braves and Nationals dating back to 1986. Walter is the head of Guggenheim Partners, an investment firm that has $125b in holdings. As described to ESPN’s Buster Olney, “their ownership of the Dodgers — if it happens — would work this way: Walter would write the big checks; Kasten would oversee the baseball operations; and Johnson, who recently sold his ownership share of the Los Angeles Lakers, would work as a president or vice president on both the business side and in recruiting players, when needed.” Johnson currently owns part of Cincinnati’s Dayton Dragons farm team, one of the most successful in all of minor league baseball; if this group won, he’d be one of the highest-ranking minorities in sports, which is notable.

Cons: Honestly, not all that many that I can see. Johnson has barely any baseball experience – I’m assuming he’s not really involved in the day-to-day operations of the Dragons – but Kasten’s long and respected track record ameliorates that somewhat. This is a pretty solid combination of local celebrity / baseball experience / financial backing.

Time Warner Cable
Pros: Uh… hmm. Let me get back to you on that one.

Cons: We’ve lived through corporate ownership that was mostly interested in television ratings once, right? Remember, that’s how Mike Piazza ended up being traded, thanks to FOX scuzzball Chase Carey. While it may make fiscal sense for TWC to just buy the team rather than pay billions for television rights, that could just hurt the Dodgers, because then they may not get the huge television contract they’re in line for – and don’t forget, that’s largely what fueled the Anaheim spending spree this winter. Does not want.

Tony Ressler
Pros: Like Gold, a new name in the process. Married to actress Jami Gertz, which I suppose is neither a pro nor a con, rather merely a thing that is true. Ressler was part of the Mark Attanasio investment group which purchased the Brewers in 2005, though it’s unclear if he’s still involved with Milwaukee. He’s a co-founder of investment group Ares Management, which has $40b in holdings.

Cons: So far, just a lack of information. Attanasio is pretty much my dream owner, and he and Ressler have been friends since the 1980s, so that’s promising, but we just don’t know enough about Ressler’s group to really say yet.

Dennis Gilbert / Larry King
Pros: Gilbert, a former player agent and executive for the White Sox, has been rumored to be a potential bidder for the Dodgers for years. King’s involvement is somewhat unclear since this appears to be primarily Gilbert’s group, though it’s worth noting that both King and Gilbert have had season tickets for years. Gilbert tried to purchase the Rangers last season but lost out; he’s aligned with Jason Reese and Randy Wooster, who run investment bank Imperial Capital. Gilbert’s baseball credentials are excellent, dating back to the two seasons he spent as a minor league outfielder for the Red Sox and Mets in 1968-69.

Cons: So far, nothing stands out. Gilbert has a great history and lots of appeal, but will the sticker shock be too much?

Fred Claire
Pros: Has obvious baseball experience in that he was the club’s GM from 1989-98, and worked for the club for nearly thirty years in total. We haven’t heard much about this group – including former Dodger batboy and biotech executive Ben Hwang & Andy Dolich, executive for several pro sports teams – since Claire first announced interested in early November.

Cons: Claire traded Pedro Martinez for Delino DeShields. I know it has nothing to do with his potential as an owner, and I know that at the time it was defensible. It still happened. More importantly, we need to know more about the financial backing in his group, of which little information is known.

Steve Garvey / Orel Hershiser
Pros: Obviously, the 27 combined seasons they spent as Dodgers is a fun draw for some fans. (Surprisingly, at least to me, they were never teammates; Garvey left after 1982, and Hershiser made his debut the following season.) Hershiser is well thought-of within the game, and this group reportedly passed the initial step of the bid process. A successful bid might make Sons of Steve Garvey implode in all the right ways.

Cons: Though Garvey and Hershiser have good name recognition, there’s very little information thus far about who would be the financial muscle behind this group. (Joey Herrick of Natural Balance Pet Foods is reportedly a minority investor, but we still don’t know who would be the primary backer.) Garvey was fired by McCourt from his community relations job last June, in part because he made his intentions to pursue the team clear, so there’s some question about whether McCourt would select Garvey’s group even if the numbers were right. In addition, Garvey is hardly without black marks on his record.

Peter O’Malley
Pros: Certainly is the only one here who can say they have actual experience owning the Dodgers, since he and his father owned the club for decades. Very publicly called for McCourt to sell for the good of the team back in 2010. One of the groups that passed the initial step. He’d be partnering with his nephews, Robert & Peter Seidler, who run their own equity firm, in an effort to return the team to family ownership.

Cons: It can be argued that O’Malley set this entire mess in motion by selling to FOX in the first place. He’s also 74 years old, and while that alone shouldn’t immediately disqualify him, the task of restoring the Dodgers is a large one, so I’d prefer someone under 60. Besides, it’s not like the Dodgers were in such great shape over the last decade or so of his reign anyway.

Mark Cuban
Pros: Successful experience in pro sports ownership, having turned the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks from a laughingstock into league champions. Young, wealthy, more in tune with the fan perspective than most other names on this list, and clearly has interest in MLB ownership, having previously been involved in bidding for the Rangers and Cubs. Would likely come into town with a flourish with grand gestures to win the fans back; all but guaranteed to cause Bud Selig heartburn with his public outbursts.

Cons: That last “pro” is also a con, because I’m far from convinced that Selig would ever let Cuban into his little club. It’s fun to think about, but the chances here are low. He’s said previously he’s not likely to bid if the price is over $1 billion, and I’m guessing it’s easily going to be more than that. Besides, he may or may not actually be interested in making a bid, and it’s fair to wonder if he’d be spread thin owning two teams.

Josh Macciello
Pros: Uh, let’s start with “cons” on this one.

Cons: May be completely full of it, to the point where I probably shouldn’t even validate it by including him on this list. Spelled Vin Scully’s name wrong, which is unforgivable. Impossible at this moment to verify just about anything he’s claimed. Even if he’s for real, you think Cuban would have a tough time getting approved? Just imagine Bud and his stodgy friends discussing this guy. I mean, look at him.

Pros: If this is for real, I have a hard time pretending that there’s not some appeal to a young, wealthy, fan type in a sea of soulless, dead-eyed venture capitalist scuzzballs. There’s definitely some fun in the anarchist idea of trying something completely new and non-traditional, even if by all accounts it’s a terrible idea. In the same sense that “I mean, look at him” is a con, it’s also a pro. You can only see the top part of it in this picture, but his T-shirt is Rocky Balboa, which he’s wearing because “he’s an underdog”. (This is a thing he said.) Hilarity would ensue. He’d probably have the national anthem sung by Megadeth or something.

If I had to put odds on this one, I’d go with “about the same as Juan Uribe winning the NL MVP… in each of the next twenty seasons. Unanimously. And to the point where they rename it ‘the Juan Uribe Award’.”

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So that’s 12 groups, at least that we know of. Tom Hoffarth of the LA Daily News appears to favor Torre’s group, which is fine – though as I said, Torre’s possible reluctance to want a new general manager worries me. At this early stage, I think the Magic Johnson/Stan Kasten and Dennis Gilbert groups appeal to me the most, since they have the right combination of local passion and baseball experience – if the money is right. As time goes on, it’s likely that some of these groups will disappear and others could join forces. We should know more in two weeks or so when the bid deadline has passed; until we know who actually has the serious cash to back up their interest, trying to guess who the next owner might be is mere speculation.