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.

Split Squad Dodgers on St. Patrick’s Day

Minor movement in the ownership bidding process, as Steve Cohen has been cleared by the MLB vetting committee to move forward, according to the New York Post. Since he had previously been approved to purchase a minor share of the New York Mets (albeit in a less thorough investigation), this news was expected. Besides, if MLB had rejected the bidder who had included the most straight cash of anyone in his bid, you can bet that Frank McCourt would have taken that as reason to send this whole process back to a mediator and delay this mess even further. (That said, there’s still the potential for that, as rejected bidders Leo Hindery and Stanley Gold are each appealing their exclusions.) We’ll find out soon enough whether the other three groups have made it through – expect that they have – and then we move on to McCourt’s final decision, which is due two weeks from tomorrow.

Other news…

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Remember this when Dee Gordon lands on the disabled list with a broken finger at some point this year:

After singling leading off the bottom of the first inning on Friday against the Rangers, the Dodgers’ Dee Gordon attempted to steal second base with a feet-first slide and was called out by umpire Mike Muchlinski.

“I’m not doing that again,” said Gordon. “I’ve been working on not sliding headfirst, so I thought I was going to be safe and figured I would try it. And I was safe. I was like, ‘Really?’ That’s what I get for thinking.

“Feet first? I’m over that. I gotta do what feels natural.”

Increased risk of injury because of a possibly blown call in a spring training game in mid-March? Got it.

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Vin Scully will be calling fewer games this year. Tony Jackson:

Scully, 84, now will call road games within California (San Diego, San Francisco and a June interleague series at Oakland) and at Arizona. The reduction means he no longer will travel to Colorado and won’t call an interleague series at Seattle in June.

Disappointing – in no small part because that’ll subject us to additional games with Steve Lyons – but completely understandable. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Vin decides to scale back even further to only home games if he continues past 2012, but we should really be happy we even have him for one game a year, much less over 100.

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MLB Network continues it’s “30 Clubs in 30 Days” spring training series with the Dodgers, Sunday evening at 10pm PT:

Hosted by Matt Vasgersian with analysts Larry Bowa and Mitch Williams, the one-hour show will feature an in-depth look at the Dodgers’ pitching staff and lineup, whether they compete in the NL West and analysis of the team’s farm system.  The episode includes interviews with Don Mattingly, Clayton Kershaw, Matt Kemp, Chad Billingsley, Andre Ethier and James LoneyJavy Guerra also gives a tour of the Dodgers’ facility in Glendale.

Williams is atrocious – possibly the worst analyst on television right now – but the MLB Network crew generally does a pretty solid job with these pieces.

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Lineups for today’s split squad games…

1pm PST at Colorado: Gordon (SS), Mark Ellis (2B), Ethier (RF), Adam Kennedy (1B), Juan Uribe (3B), Tony Gwynn (CF), A.J. Ellis (C), Cory Sullivan (LF), Nathan Eovaldi (SP)

7pm PST vs San Francisco: Justin Sellers (3B), Ivan De Jesus (2B), Kemp (CF), Juan Rivera (LF), Jerry Sands (RF), Loney (1B), Luis Cruz (SS),  Matt Treanor (C), Aaron Harang (SP)

The later game will be seen live on Prime Ticket and MLB Network, and will be Vin’s first call of the spring.

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.