Bill Shaikin, hit me with some truth:
Patrick Soon-Shiong, the richest man in Los Angeles, has joined the Dodgers bid group led by hedge-fund billionaire Steven Cohen.
The alliance is the strongest indication yet of Cohen’s intention to present outgoing owner Frank McCourt with a final bid that reflects prominent local support rather than just overwhelming East Coast money.
We’d been wondering about where Soon-Shiong was in this process, long expecting him to join the Magic Johnson group, and now we know. I don’t pretend to have any inside knowledge of this process, but I just can’t see how this doesn’t make Cohen the overwhelming favorite. His bid already contained the largest amount of straight cash of any of the remaining four groups, and it’s hard to think that adding the massively wealthy Soon-Shiong won’t now make his overall bid the largest. (Considering Soon-Shiong is a friend of Johnson’s, his decision to go elsewhere can also be read as something of a sign that Soon-Shiong is joining the group that he thinks is really going to win.)
As Shaikin notes, Cohen’s biggest flaw is simply who he is; he has little baseball experience, and it’s going to be tough to sell fans on another New Englander who has never been to Dodger Stadium and who has survived a divorce just as brutal as the McCourt fiasco. He’s shored himself up on the baseball side by recruiting prominent player agent Arn Tellem and has been linked with Steve Greenberg, the former deputy commissioner and son of Hall of Famer Hank; the partnership with Soon-Shiong not only adds cash but also a very respected Los Angeles citizen.
Now, I’ve been pretty clear how against Cohen I’ve been since the beginning of this process. Now that it seems he’s the clear frontrunner, I’m trying to look on the bright side here, and there’s one massive positive: Cohen and Soon-Shiong are estimated to be worth over $15 billion between the two of them. That means we may not have to worry so much about whether a record-setting purchase price would impact the ability to invest in the team and stadium; it also means that we may not have to worry about a large amount of debt being a part of the purchase price.
It’s also worth noting that a team owner doesn’t necessarily have to be out in front and charismatic, as McCourt tried (and failed miserably) to do. I don’t know if Cohen would plan to move to Los Angeles, and it might not matter. He could simply be the moneyman from across the country and allow Tellem or someone like him with baseball experience to run the team, and that’s fine. We all like the idea of the personable owner at the park every night shaking hands with the fans, and while that’s noble and potentially what a Magic Johnson ownership would be like, it’s also not always realistic. Plenty of owners simply let the smart people take the lead in public, and if the money is there and the meddling isn’t, that’s not always the worst thing in the world.
If this sounds like I’m trying to talk myself into this, well, I am. Of course, questions remain. What would Tellem’s style be like? (One fact I do like about him is his positive experience in importing Asian players, including Hideo Nomo and Yu Darvish.) Would we really be subjected to the unwanted involvement of Tony LaRussa? (Ken Rosenthal wrote earlier today that LaRussa’s presence could prevent interest from smart baseball execs.) And despite the financial muscle in this group, is this still going to end with McCourt hanging onto the parking lots?
The process isn’t over yet, of course. Johnson’s group could find some additional purchasing power, and it’s not like Stan Kroenke doesn’t have billions of dollars at his disposal. It’s just hard not to see tonight’s news about Soon-Shiong choosing Cohen and read it as anything other than a group vaulting into the lead.