Prepare Yourself For the Steven Cohen Era

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.

Wednesday Notes: Nomo, Prospects, and Owners

Seventeen years ago today, the Dodgers signed Hideo Nomo out of Japan. Nomo won 81 games over two stints and seven years with the Dodgers between 1995-98 and 2002-04, winning the 1995 Rookie of the Year and finishing 4th in the Cy Young voting in each of his first two seasons. The year before Nomo arrived, Chan Ho Park made his first appearance with the team and stayed through 2001. Nomo returned and was joined by Kazuhisa Ishii for the next three years, and though they each left after 2004, Hong-Chih Kuo made his Dodger debut in 2005. With Kuo now in Seattle and Hiroki Kuroda off to the Yankees, the 2012 club looks like it will be the first edition of the Dodgers to not field any Asian players since 1993, a sad state for a team once seen to be on the forefront of international scouting.

Enough about the past, though: there’s plenty to talk about regarding the future, both in terms of prospects and in the ownership process.

* At ESPN, Keith Law ranks each farm system in baseball, and I have to admit, I’m somewhat surprised to see him place the Dodgers 12th:

If pitching wins championships, the Dodgers are in pretty good shape going forward, as their system is loaded with power arms but is relatively light on position players.

* Jon Weisman of Dodger Thoughts checks in with an interview with DeJon Watson, a lengthy and fascinating look at a variety of young Dodgers who should be seeing the big leagues within the next year or two. My favorite part:

With the six-pack of Eovaldi, De La Rosa, Lee, Gould, Webster and Withrow taking up so much conversation time, there was hardly time to discuss others — such as lefty Chris Reed, the 2011 first-round pick from Stanford who has impressed Watson — especially given the need to address other areas of the system.

We talk a lot about how the Dodgers are really lacking in offensive talent throughout the system, particularly in the infield, and while that’s a valid concern, perhaps we do allow it to overshadow just how solid the pitching coming through the pipeline really is. In addition to the seven names listed above, you’ve got Clayton Kershaw & Chad Billingsley in the big-league rotation, Javy Guerra, Kenley Jansen, Scott Elbert, & Josh Lindblom in the MLB bullpen, and Shawn Tolleson, Steven Ames, Angel Sanchez, Ethan Martin and others making their way up. Even assuming the standard rate of flameout for young pitchers – this one’s for you, Chuck Tiffany, Greg Miller, & Justin Orenduff – that’s a pretty deep list of arms that ought to help stock the staff for years to come.

* Throw another name in the ring as far as owners go

Michael Heisley, the billionaire owner of the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies, has emerged as one of the remaining bidders for the Dodgers.

Heisley, 75, leads one of 11 bids that survived the initial cut in the Dodgers’ ownership derby. His bid, which had not previously surfaced publicly, was confirmed Wednesday by three people familiar with the sale process but not authorized to discuss it. (MSTI: Shaikin later tweeted that if Heisley were to get the Dodgers, “expect Jerry West to play some sort of role with team”.)

…and then take another one right out, because despite his own claims, Josh Macciello did not actually make it to the second round of the bidding. I think we all knew from the start that this was never going to be anything that would go anywhere – I believe I initially placed his odds at something along the lines of “less than Juan Uribe winning the MVP unanimously in each of the next twenty years” – but it’s not hard to see why his supposed rags-to-riches story really resonated with people. I have no idea if he’s really got the cash he claims that he does, but at this point it doesn’t matter – and he was never, ever going to get approved by Bud Selig anyway.

* Yesterday, Shaikin wrote that obscenely rich Patrick Soon-Shiong is all but certain to get involved but had yet to decide which group to partner with. Soon-Shiong is well-known to be a good friend of Magic Johnson, which is great news since Magic’s group is my preferred choice, though he did take a meeting with the Joe Torre group as well. This is really the massive wild card hanging over the proceedings, because not only does Soon-Shiong bring a massive amount of wealth, he’s also taking the time to choose the group he thinks has the best chance of winning. Whomever he joins has to be considered the overwhelming favorite… so lets hope he chooses wisely.