Thursday, December 31, 2009

A lump of coal?

And to think I nearly escaped the holidays with nary a dud gift. Well, unless you count socks with cell phones on them, but that was a joke. I think. Anyway, Ken Gurnick passes along some news:

The Dodgers have opened discussions on a multiyear contract with Matt Kemp, but his agent said Kemp might prefer to go year to year.
"We've only talked about it a little bit, so who knows where it's going to go?" said former Dodgers pitcher Dave Stewart, who represents Kemp and pitcher Chad Billingsley.
I'm just a little confused. The title of the piece is "Agent: Kemp not thinking long-term deal," but nothing in the body itself indicates that he's leaning one way or the other. I certainly hope they can lock him up, buying out a couple years of free agency in the process. But I suspect that's just the sort of financial commitment the Dodgers are avoiding right now, whether they admit it or not. If they're worried about the possibility of Randy Wolf making $12 million in 2009, I can't imagine they're looking to add a Markakis-like commitment. The winter after he'd ticked past three years of service time (like Kemp now), Markakis signed a 6-year, $66 million extension with the Orioles. I'd expect that deal to be the touchstone of any negotiations on a Kemp extension.

On Billingsley, it would thrill me to no end if the Dodgers could buy low on him, as it were. For reasons I don't fully understand, people are down on the guy. I see him as a cornerstone of the franchise. He can start two games for my team in the World Series, that's for sure.

Jon Weisman's got 33 theses for you to check out at Dodger Thoughts, including his prediction on the outcome of the McCourt litigation. If you haven't stopped by there in a couple days, it's well worth a few minutes.

Also, I posted a blog item about Kemp's comparables at The Hardball Times. Carlos Beltran? Yes.  Andruw Jones and Nick Markakis? Not necessarily.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

It hasn't been all bad.

We tend to focus on the doom and gloom around here, and for generally good reasons. But as Tony Jackson, who I'm happy to see at ESPN Los Angeles, points out, it's been a damn good run on the field:
When Frank McCourt took ownership of the once-proud franchise in 2004, a point at which the Dodgers had gone seven seasons without reaching the playoffs and 16 years without winning so much as a postseason game, one of his stated goals was to restore the Dodgers' "brand." For the most part, that seems to have been accomplished. The Dodgers have reached the playoffs four times in the past six seasons, and they have advanced to the National League Championship Series in each of the past two.
Tony has a point. So my question to you: 

If it ended tomorrow, was the McCourt regime successful?

Define success however you'd like.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Has the value of the Dodgers peaked?

The Long Beach Press-Telegram's Bob Keisser thinks it might have. He writes:

If you wanted to buy the Dodgers today, how would you possibly squeeze another nickel out of the franchise? New TV money? Nope. The current deal runs through the 2013 season. Sell naming rights? That industry is in the pooper. Develop the adjacent land? That requires development capital and political blessing, neither of which is in great supply.
Demand a new stadium with taxpayer money? Find a new city willing to pay beaucoup bucks?
Let's not go there.
The answer, of course, isn't quite that simple. The problem with the Dodgers isn't their worth as an asset, it's how much of the asset's worth is tied up in debt. Keisser's article is full of fresh takes on the McCourts, the Dodgers, and Bud Selig, including an assertion that Selig has taken advantage of the small market clubs in his battle against the union. I recommend you check it out. 

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Holiday link round-up, and a bit of site news.

Today's first link comes from the Sporting News, which suggests that the Dodgers are having a rougher season than the Anaheim Angels (no, I'm not over it). Stan McNeal writes
Since season's end, the Dodgers have watched their most consistent starter, lefthander Randy Wolf, sign with the Brewers without even offering him arbitration. They gave away reserve outfielder Juan Pierre to the White Sox and have grown resigned to losing free agent second baseman Orlando Hudson. 
Alright, so losing Hudson and Wolf are blows. But we all know that "most consistent" can mean a lot of things, including "not the most talented." We're going to miss Wolf, but it's not out of the realm of possibility that both Billingsley and Kershaw are better next season, right? And unless I just don't have the pulse of the community down, most people seem pretty pleased with the Pierre move.

Next, we turn to our new friend Tracy Ringolsby, this time writing for Baseball America. Dude is like a ninja or a nuclear sub. By the time you figure out where he's coming from, he's attacking from somewhere else entirely. Cowboy Tracy notes...wait. Wait just a minute. Um, here's a quote: 
It's why the team could shed more than $40 million in salary from 2009, and celebrated the holidays with two major holes in its rotation, a major question at second base and deficiencies in its bullpen. 
The offseason so far had consisted of shipping Juan Pierre to the White Sox--which came only when the Dodgers agreed to pick up $8 million of the remaining $18.5 million that Pierre will earn in the next two seasons--and the signing of versatile Jamey Carroll to a two-year deal worth less than $4 million.
It's not like the rest of the division has been shaking up the baseball world. 
If that sounds familiar, it's because I quoted the nearly-exact same text from this Ringolsby article which ran on Fox Sports a few days ago. The details on Pierre's trade to the Cubs White Sox have been cleaned up, and the more recent piece has some additional content (and a different dateline--now DENVER rather than CHEYENNE). I know Ringsolsby writes for both Baseball America and Fox Sports, but I'm not aware of any other relationship between the two outlets. I'm sure it's an arrangement between them with respect to Ringolsby's work. You know what...I'm confused. Let's leave this one behind.

Our last link today is to the Times' sports blog, "The Fabulous Forum." In the featured poll, 94% of voters don't believe the Dodgers' party line: the divorce isn't affecting baseball and business decisions. That's pretty amazing to me. While it's easy to play off that kind of disparity as the result of an intelligent and discerning public (which is true), I think there's something more fundamental at work. 

I believe the McCourt regime has lost the fans. I think Frank McCourt could publicly say that charitable giving is a productive use of extra cash during the holiday season and most Dodger fans would react skeptically. The relationship between the organization and its fans is broken, and Frank and Dennis must be mindful that the folks who buy tickets and merchandise aren't supporting the club's leadership, but rather the team on the field and the Los Angeles community in general. 

This brings me to my holiday wish for the Dodgers: that whatever is done be done for the team on the field--next season and into the foreseeable future. If that's cutting costs and streamlining processes, fine. We can accept that. What won't be tolerated are decisions motivated by concerns unrelated to the on-field product, all aspects considered. I mean this sincerely: Dodger fans can be proud of a struggling team. We cannot abide by a struggling infrastructure which causes its own problems.

Beginning early next week, I will be contributing a weekly article to The Hardball Times. The articles will rarely be Dodgers-centric, and you will miss nothing relevant to the divorce should you choose not to follow me over once a week. Nothing will change about our conversations on the divorce, and how it affects the Dodgers on and off the field. Actually, that's not quite true--I'm hopeful that some folks with new perspectives  will join our discussion and add some interesting views. The DodgerDivorce Twitter account and e-mail address ( will remain the best external ways to interact with me about the divorce (and the team in general). I know I'm beating a dead horse here, but your comments, tweets, and e-mails have been the most gratifying part of my experience in this little corner of the internet.

To those of you celebrating the holidays this weekend, everyone who recently came out of a holiday, and especially those who attack every day like a holiday: the season's greetings to you and yours. I imagine things will be fairly quiet around here for the next few days, barring a bout of cabin fever which can only be cured by blogging.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Shaikin asks, Mannion answers.

I've avoided a Shaikin pun thus far, and, as my holiday gift to you, I will continue to do so. Here are some selected queries and responses from a lengthy interview I'd highly recommend:
How would you say the divorce proceedings between Frank and Jamie McCourt have impacted the Dodgers' spending this winter? Have you been asked -- by Frank McCourt, by Major League Baseball or by anyone else -- not to take on major long-term contracts this winter?
Our baseball and business decisions have not been impacted by the proceedings. Neither [General Manager] Ned [Colletti] nor I have been asked by anyone to limit long-term liabilities.
Maybe it's the conspiracy theorist skeptic in me, but I'd sure rather hear "are not limiting" than "have not been asked by anyone to limit" future obligations. But this line is nothing new. Remember that Mannion has implied that the divorce wouldn't affect the club's spending until 2011.
So how would you explain to skeptical fans why the Dodgers are not in on any of the best free agents?
Ned has demonstrated a fantastic ability to read the talent market. We made back-to-back NLCS appearances for the first time in three decades as a result of Ned's ability to make the right acquisitions at the right time. We want the same thing our fans want, a team that can compete for a world championship year in and year out, and we've been in that position for the last two seasons. We expect that to continue.
This one sort of stings, right? I mean, yes, the Dodgers have been in as good a position as a fan can ask to win a championship each of the last two seasons. But the acquisitions which Mannion considers vital to those opportunities came at extraordinarily out-of-whack costs. Namely, Colletti gave up Carlos Santana for 233 league-average plate appearances from Casey Blake. Santana, as you likely know, is one of the best prospects in baseball.

And though Blake was a Dodger during one of the more remarkable stretch runs in recent years, he was hardly a driving factor of the team's success. The perception that he was, however, led to a 3-year, $17.5 million contract extension for the already 35-year-old Blake. The Dodgers will be paying him $5.25 million as a 37-year-old, and then another $1.25 million in 2012 just to make him go away. Granted, he had an improbably good 2009 campaign--as in career-year good--but it's hard to see his sustaining that level of play for one more season, let alone two. Extending Blake also closed the door on--

--Josh Bell, who became expendable. And indeed, Bell was expended in July, when the Dodgers dealt Bell, one of their best prospects, to Baltimore for 27.2 innings of George Sherrill. Let's not forget: the Dodgers won the West by three games, and that includes a fairly ridiculous September swoon. While arguing that Blake made the difference in 2008, when the Dodgers made the playoffs by two games, is at least plausible, the 2009 team didn't need Sherrill in the least.

I should quit this rant now--there's something powerful to be said about making whatever moves necessary to put a playoff team in even better position to win the October lottery. I get it. But the reality is that such future-foreclosing moves get a free pass if the team wins the World Series. If the team doesn't, the moves are fair game. That's how this works, mostly. So while we're patting Ned on the back for these sorts of moves, let's not forget how dramatically he's mortgaged the future in the process.

I'd better run one more Q-and-A before I go off on the Wolf non-offer...oh boy...Shaikin beat me to it:
[Shaikin runs through a long bullet-point list of examples of the Dodgers' financial corner-cutting over the last few years, including the Wolf non-offer. Seriously, people, go click the link and check this out. In fact, here's the link again. There's stuff in there I didn't even know about.]
For example, with Wolf, this is a very complex economy. Folks were building five-year strategic plans a long time ago. They're now into five-month strategic plans. So to take a guy and say, we're going to offer him arbitration, and put yourself in a position where you may have been able to acquire a similar pitcher for less money later on, isn't prudent use of a civic asset.
Oh dear Lord. "A similar pitcher for less money later on." A similar pitcher. For less money. Later on.

Really, Dennis? What in the world are your criteria? "Breathes oxygen?" "Possesses knowledge of baseball?" "Can grow a wicked goatee?"

Look around!

A similar pitcher.

This might be easiest: here's an all-inclusive list of pitchers with as many 2009 innings as Randy Wolf with a better K/BB ratio. I know that's some corner-cutting of my own, but hey, it's a down economy.

Halladay, Haren, Vazquez, Greinke, Verlander, Lee, Lincecum, Wainwright, Shields, Hernandez, and Sabathia.

Um, yeah. That's it. So "a similar pitcher" is one who is arguably in no lower than the third-tier of all Major League starters. I mean, look at that list. Halladay, Greinke, Lee, Lincecum, Hernandez, and Sabathia pretty much define the top shelf. The other guys are studs in their own right. And what else strikes you about that list? Not a single guy is available. Not for anything the Dodgers can reasonably offer, anyway.

But you know what I'm doing here, right?

Joel Pineiro had a slightly better K/BB ratio than Wolf and accounted for one fewer out on the season. He is "a similar player."

For less money.

This is where it gets fun. I'm not an expert on the arbitration process, but what would Wolf have received? $8 million? $10 million? $12 million? And that on a one-year commitment to a player who, according to Fangraphs, was worth $13.6 million last year.

And of course, he wasn't going to accept arbitration.

So what will Pineiro cost? Well, given that he is now "the best free agent starter available," a lot. Jayson Stark says his price tag is "north of Randy Wolf." So--similar player? Yes. For less money? Unlikely. And it would take a multi-year commitment.

Later on.

Later on? When is later on? After Pineiro, the free agent starting pitching market plummets to the take-a-chance guys like Bedard, Martinez, and Sheets and the innings-eaters like Garland and Padilla. Similar to Randy Wolf, they are not.

My lengthiness alarm is pounding through my skull as I type. And I know you're here for divorce stuff. But I feel like Mannion's 'similar player, less money, later on' thinking deserves treatment. Which, speaking of, can also be found here (True Blue L.A.) and here (Dodger Thoughts). And if you have some of your own, please link it in the comments.

I'll leave you with one last quote from Mannion in response to a Shaikin follow-up about Wolf and the cst of the draft picks the Dodgers would have received when he signed elsewhere. Now, I'm warning you in advance, Mannion backed off this statement, and what I am doing is cherry-picking in its purest form. But still, he said this to a reporter. That makes him accountable:
Those millions that are potentially in play, they can manifest themselves where the opportunity is. If the opportunity is in buying more portable concession stands, then that's what you do.
Worse than Jamie's Manny-or-the-kids gaffe, right?

Tomorrow: my warmest holiday wishes and some site news.

Monday, December 21, 2009

A new journalistic hat in the ring, and fallout from a bad joke.

I have a whole lot of respect for Tracy Ringolsby. He did very good work for a number of print outlets, including a long and productive stint with the Rocky Mountain News until it folded in February. He's also served as the President of the Baseball Writers Association of America* and he's moved his voice to the 'net, writing for and the blog Inside the Rockies. Love or hate his take, it's pretty cool that he's adapting to new media. He's also, of course, a Hall of Famer. And, like any self-respecting baseball writer, he wears a cowboy hat in his picture.

*Another reason to admire Tracy: how many long-time print journalists and presidents of the BBWAA managed to escape the ink-seeking missiles of Fire Joe Morgan? I don't know the answer, but it's darned impressive. Of course, he hasn't dodged all bloggy ire, but with due respect to MSTI, FJM was the big dog of journalist takedowns. It's sort of like Greek get smote by Zephyrus is one thing, but if Poseidon comes after you...well, you've made the big leagues.

Usually, this kind of exposition is a set-up for a firestorm. Not here. I just respect the guy as a journalist. Anyhow, of the McCourt divorce, Ringolsby writes:
General manager Ned Coletti claims the marital problems of his bosses are not affecting the Dodgers. But what is he supposed to say? A franchise that had to start being careful with what it spends because the McCourts don't have deep pockets in good times now has its hands completely tied, because the only thing the ownership can agree on is they don't want to hang around together anymore.
It's why the team can shed more than $40 million in salary from 2009, and is still celebrating the holidays with two major holes in its five-man rotation, a question about its situation at second base and a need to bolster its bullpen. Their offseason has consisted of shipping Juan Pierre to the Cubs, which came only when the Dodgers agreed to pick up $10.5 million of the remaining $18.5 million that Pierre will earn over the next two seasons, and the signing of versatile Jamey Carroll to a two-year deal worth less than $4 million.
It's not like the rest of the division has been shaking up the baseball world.

That last sentence of the excerpt, I think, is the important one. For the sake of the 2010 NL West race, anyway. The Dodgers will still likely be favorites to win the division, on the strength of their awesome outfield. Seriously, folks, it's sort of amazing. Kemp is a budding superstar, Manny can still hit at that level, and Ethier's got to be the best #3 outfielder in the majors. I don't know what else I can say on this topic, but if the divorce's main impact is to preclude extending Kemp into his prime years, that alone is a disaster.

Elsewhere, in the Department of Dumb Metaphors and the Overreactions They Elicit, two West Hollywood City Council Members have criticized Jamie's attorney, Dennis Wasser, for telling the court that Frank has come down with "RAIDS -- recently acquired income deficiency syndrome." Shaikin has more here.

Two quick thoughts:

  1. Offensive or not, Wasser--like everyone else--has to know better than to say things like this. Not because they should be blasted as offensive. But because they will be. There's just no good that comes out of off-color statements before the court. I promise you, no judge (or, in this case, court commissioner) keeps a tally of witty phrases offered by counsel and relies on it in making a decision.
  2. If Wasser is to be lambasted for this metaphor, it shouldn't be for possibly making light of a dreadful condition. No, rather for the terrible hacky-ness of the joke. It's not funny. Not even to people who aren't offended, like me. And what's more, if he was trying to make a point, he really should have gone for the gusto. "Acquired Income Deficiency Syndrome" would have made the same point while avoiding the trite, contrived feel. What's more, adding "Recently" shows that Wasser was, indeed, concerned about backlash from referring to AIDS in the court proceeding. Generally speaking, self-conscious comedians are not funny. No one likes jokes where the apology precedes the punchline.
However you look at it--offensive or just plain unfunny--Wasser's RAIDS quip only weakens his main point: Frank can't be telling the complete truth about his current cash situation. The joke is completely superfluous--the facts themselves make a much more compelling argument than an ill-conceived, awkwardly-contrived attempt at humor. There's an old adage in public relations that adapts nicely to law:

When the facts are on your side, they should speak for themselves.

While Wasser might have to pull off some legal sorcery to gain ground on the post-nup fight, he's got a compelling case, as it is, on the issue of Frank's personal liquidity. In the end, it's not that difficult. Frank claims to have dropped as low as $167,000 in cash recently, and yet he spent $700,000 on lawyers in November. Something here doesn't add up. And Wasser should let the facts speak for themselves.

The best way to make someone think what you want them to think is to let that person believe he is making his own conclusion. Presented with the facts and minimal spin, Commissioner Gordon will likely have the same reaction to Frank's claims that we do. Presented with self-conscious, saccharine jokes, Commissioner Gordon might begin to hear everything from Wasser as hollow and contrived. Courtroom humor is risky and, while a potentially powerful tool, must be used in cautious measure. And, of course, it had better be funny.

Friday, December 18, 2009

This is costing how much?

At the end of this Bill Shaikin blog post about how Tiger Woods figures into the McCourt divorce, we learn:
In yesterday's court hearing . . . the lawyer for Jamie McCourt said that [Sorrell] Trope's firm had charged $239,000 for work during the month of November alone. Dennis Wasser, the lawyer for Jamie McCourt, said two other firms had charged a combined $461,000 in November for work on behalf of Frank McCourt.
So that's where Frank's money is. Frank spent $700,000 on legal work related to the divorce last month. All of the sudden, I'm reconsidering the motivation behind his desired early start date. I do wonder if the team is somehow paying some or all of the fees, as the litigation stands to dramatically affect the organization. I suppose it's possible that this was why the team had asked to be a party to the proceedings. I generally like to avoid assumptions, but we know how lavishly the McCourts lived on the Dodgers' dime. Is it possible that the club's footing the bill for the divorce, too? And if so, the failure to land a notable free agent (or extend the budding superstar) will be an even tougher pill to swallow.

The road to May 24 is going to be a long and expensive one.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Is Frank hiding assets?

Jamie's lawyers seem to think so, according to this KTLA report.
[Jamie's attorney Dennis] Wasser also said the issue of spousal support -- set for hearing on March 29 -- is not close to being resolved. He said he expects the evidence to show that Frank has spent money on other things than his family and the team.
"We're going to explore where the money went," Wasser said.
Well, the first part of that is sort of ridiculous. Many people have this notion that when a team signs a player, the owner takes his horse-drawn carriage down to the general store and withdraws an bag of silver doubloons on deposit with which he pays the player. It doesn't quite work like that. So to say that Frank hasn't been spending money on the team is, well, to be expected. During the period Jamie held herself out as an owner, I'd like to ask, how many times did she spend personal money on the team? From the sound of things, it was the other way around.

Wasser's point is a valid one, though. Remember a few weeks ago when Frank claimed that, at one point, his personal liquidity fell below $167,000? That can't be completely true. Or, at least, I don't want it to be true. I don't want the owner of a professional sports franchise with a value approaching a billion dollars to be that cash poor.

Think about this. Let's call Frank McCourt's assets, assuming a post-nup win, $1 billion--$1,000,000,000. He claims to have been down to $167,000 in cash recently. I'm no mathemagician, but watch this:

$1,000,000,000 in assets, $167,000 in cash.

If your assets were worth one million dollars and you were as cash-poor as McCourt says he was, you would have one hundred sixty-seven dollars.

Does that make sense to you? Surely you see why I don't want to believe this. Such dismal liquidity would make misusing Dodgers assets a little more attractive, wouldn't it?

I'm inclined to believe Jamie's lawyers here. I cannot imagine Frank was in that bad shape. The key question then, will be: where is the money? If he started shuttling cash around in anticipation of a judicial inquiry into his balance sheet, you can bet there will be a whole lot of folks who smell blood in the water. And the line will form behind Dennis Wasser.

Any sixth grader can tell you that if you cheat on a test, you're better off not getting a 98%. And if you hide cash, you'd better leave a plausible amount behind.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

It's a date.

Today, Commissioner Gordon decided that the trial on the validity of the McCourt post-nup will begin on May 24, reports the Times' Bill Shaikin. The Times' Dylan Hernandez also had it on Twitter. Jon Weisman has an interesting link at Dodger Thoughts, as well. The decision is something of a compromise, as Frank was seeking a February start while Jamie wanted to wait until fall. So today's something of a win for Frank, and I think the decision was perfectly reasonable.

Jamie definitely deserves time to build her case, which won't be an easy one. That said, she's got five months--that should be plenty. What's more, today's proceedings likely put the court (and Frank's legal team) on notice of the type of information Jamie needs to make her case. This, combined with a hard deadline, means that she'll have some judicial remedies should Frank's lawyers drag their feet on document production.

So what's it mean on the field? Well, it's tempting to suggest that Frank may have outright ownership of the team (and certainty going forward) by the time of year when adding a piece or two might be appropriate. But even if Frank wins on the post-nup, does that change the availability of funds for this season? Remember, it's only been a week since honcho Dennis Mannion said that whatever impact the divorce had on club finances wouldn't hit player payroll until 2011. As we've discussed, the Dodgers' financial problems aren't limited to the divorce. Cash isn't flowing, possibly due to ugly debt service.

What I hope is that whatever happens will be done before the season is over. Whether that's Frank solidifying control or some alternative, it's in the club's best interest not to hit next offseason with uncertainty. Because if you can't extend Kemp this winter, next year might be the last chance. And you'll have those Kershaw and Billingsley folks to deal with, too.

Bottom line today: A minor win for Frank, and a potentially significant win for the franchise. May 24: save the date.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Frank's in a bit of hot water.

Here is the body text of a letter Major League Baseball sent Frank McCourt (obtained by TMZ):
Attached is a letter we sent to our associates in Taiwan today. The Commissioner has asked me to urge you to resolve this matter as quickly as possible to avoid further problems of this type.
"This type," of course, being Jamie's lover-driver-bodyguard Jeff Fuller going on a foreign relations mission on faux-Dodgers business. And yeah, that's the whole body. Frank submitted that to Commissioner Gordon to support his request for an expedited schedule. Now, maybe it's just me, but that letter's got a nasty tone to it, doesn't it? Selig may say publicly that he's not worried about the Dodgers, but he's got a Vice President of a multi-billion dollar enterprise sending Come to Jesus letters to Frank. This one incident certainly isn't determinative of anything. But this is how it starts, isn't it? If little events like this accumulate and grow toward critical mass, you have to wonder if MLB might pull some of the behind-the-scenes chicanery for which it is well known.

Be advised, Frank. Selig is displeased.

The Times has notes on the attached letter referred to above here. Interestingly, MLB's letter says that Fuller was purporting to represent the Dodgers, which Jamie's spokesperson refutes.

EDIT: Technical difficulties with the link. Stand by.

DOUBLE EDIT: Those TMZ folk are a crafty lot. Their watermark obscures the text when I try to convert the PDF to an image. If it helps, the PDF didn't load for me the first time. I clicked the navigation box (highlighting the URL) and hit enter. Worked right away.


McCourt_PIC.jpg (52 KB)

Either the program I used to convert that sucks, or that letter was printed in the late 18th century by some sort of future seeing guy.

All is quiet...

...and strangely so. Tomorrow, as you probably know, marks the beginning of the battle for the Dodgers. The issue figures to hinge on the validity of the post-nup Jamie McCourt signed which purports to give all of the Dodgers assets to Frank. The litigation over the enforceability of this document will be the bitterest of the divorce.

Jamie will paint Frank as a conniving, ruthless manipulator. At best, Jamie will say, he noticed an opportunity to get the bulk of the couple's net worth all to himself and jumped at the chance. At worst, they will suggest that he's been cold-heartedly scheming for years and years, devising an intricate plan to use her for what she's worth and toss her out.

Frank doesn't have the same ethos on his side. His lawyers will need to stay as clean as possible, though they will be baited. They will rely on the facts and suggest that Jamie got exactly what she wanted in the agreement. That it turned out badly for her is, while unfortunate, irrelevant.

But none of that is happening tomorrow. Tomorrow, Jamie's lawyers will seek a delayed start to the litigation, saying they deserve time to build their case. Frank's lawyers will counter that it is in the best interest of everyone involved--including Jamie--for this to be resolved as quickly as possible.

Thing is, they're both right.

I have no kind of feel for how this will go tomorrow. If I had to make a guess, I'd say that Frank won't get his earliest date. While the consequences to the franchise of a drawn-out process are significant, a hasty trial would be very prejudicial to Jamie's side. Furthermore, if the proceedings start on the very early side and Jamie loses, the entire issue might require an appeal--which would take even longer.

At the end of the day, it just seems that the risks of starting too soon outweigh the benefits of getting things underway. I suppose we'll find out together tomorrow.

Friday, December 11, 2009

I don't know what to make of this.

Bill Shaikin reports on a popular rumor mill conversation from yesterday:
In a twist that has Frank McCourt threatening legal action, the driver with whom he alleges Jamie McCourt had an affair met this week with a Taiwanese legislator interested in strengthening ties with the Dodgers.
Jeff Fuller presented a Dodgers jacket and an autographed baseball from Manager Joe Torre to Sen. Justin Chou. In turn, Chou invited Jamie McCourt to visit Taiwan.
Fuller represented himself as a personal assistant to Jamie McCourt. This is pretty outrageous conduct on Jamie and Jeff's part, something that makes little sense in light of everything swirling around the Dodgers. Either Jamie made a horribly misguided decision that she needs to be publicly associated with the Dodgers, or Jeff made a monumental misstep and is likely the subject of Jamie's lawyers' ire. This is just bizarre.

Frank should channel his inner Judge Smails here and "slap an injunction on them so fast, it'll make their heads spin."

Certainly one of the odder moments in the saga thus far. If you have any thoughts about this, I'm game for a discussion in the comments. This just doesn't make sense.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Details on timing.

Yesterday, Shaikin provided a few more details on the McCourts' recent agreement and the shape of things to come. Having come to formal terms on temporary financial support until an April hearing to officially resolve the matter, the purpose of Tuesday's hearing seems to be to set a trial date for the post-nup litigation. Shaikin reports:
Frank McCourt . . . has asked the court for a February trial date. Jamie McCourt . . . has asked for a later start.
This seems to jive with my reading of the parties' arguments in their filings. From my perspective, the facts put forth on Frank's side, if proven true, are stronger than Jamie's counter-arguments. Given that Frank has the advantage, an early trial date is certainly preferable. Jamie, on the other hand, has the more difficult challenge of first finding evidence outside of the post-up itself which might invalidate the agreement, and second of figuring out how to convince the court to admit that evidence into the record. A validly executed agreement carries with it a presumption that it embodies the parties' full intent, and employing a hindsight bias to attack a duly negotiated and documented contract is generally disfavored. Because of the issues complicating an assault on the post-nup, Jamie wants all the time she can get.

Frank will likely say that a February trial date is more convenient for him, as the baseball season begins in April. Setting aside the hollowness of this argument--it can be said that April, May, and June are the least important months of the front office calendar--Frank's recent abdication of day-to-day responsibilities probably works against him here. Frank's main hurdle in arguing for the earlier trial date is that it would be unfairly prejudicial to Jamie, who deserves more time to put her case together. Frank's best approach is to convince the judge that the marital asset at issue--the team--is being damaged by the pendency of the litigation over the post-nup.

I like this argument, because it forces Jamie's hand. I could absolutely see a judge (or, in this case, a commissioner) asking Jamie why the court should sanction a timeline which devalues the very asset from which she seeks wealth. It's a delicate balance; Jamie would have to convince the court that her case would be so harmed by an early trial date that she is willing to put the value of the asset she seeks in question. That's really awkwardly worded--just imagine Jamie having to argue she's so worried about the impact of an early trial date that she accepts the possibility of a lesser take should she win.

I don't have a prediction at this point about which way Commissioner Gordon will rule. Maybe as the hearing draws closer, we'll have more information at our disposal and can talk with a little more certainty about things to come.

Oh, and lest you feel downtrodden about the Dodgers' lack of activity at the winter meetings, remember that sometimes inaction is preferable to movement for sake of movement. I recommend Keith Law's take, as well, but do know that it requires Insider. Sneak preview: the words inexplicable, outrageous, staggering, and hobbling all come up. And, of course, "wrong."

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

I need the sim cold and dark.


- Here's the order of what I want to do. I want to sign a couple pitchers off the scrap heap, resign our aging back-up catcher, snag a second baseman somewhere, and find a way to extend Matt Kemp.

- The Kemp extension's gonna put you overbudget for when the divorce hits the books, Ned.

- Well, he's a 25-year-old superstar. He's the best center fielder in the National League, Dennis, he's got to be locked up.

- Fine, then trade away Clayton Kershaw or Chad Billingsley. Someone.

- Well, without great young pitching, what's the point?

- Ned, you're telling me what you need, I'm telling you what we have to work with at this point. I'm not making this stuff up.

- We're gonna need all these players, Dennis.

- We do not have the cash, Ned! We just don't have it.

- Okay, I'm going to go back down to the lobby and find someone to take Pierre's contract, probably along with a prospect. Let's start from scratch. Clear the board.

- I don't know where the hell we're gonna find it.


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

McCourts have "amicably resolved" support...for now.

Remember that $488,000/month Jamie was seeking in temporary spousal support? Not anymore. According to the LA Times' Bill Shaikin, that issue has been amicably resolved. It sounds like it will still be a point of contention long-term. And, of course, the fight over the post-nup (and, effectively, the Dodgers) still looms.

As far as long-term impact goes, this doesn't rate very high. The only thing I really take away from this is that it at least demonstrates that the sides can work together on some level. It's entirely possible the motivation behind the agreement was that fighting over the temporary support amount would be costlier to each party--in dollars and publicity--than simply meeting somewhere in the middle.

Shaikin also quotes Frank's recent filing as saying that the divorce is "creating a hardship for Dodgers management." As Shaikin points out, this contrasts with the "business as usual" message we've been hearing from various players in this drama at other points.

A change at the top.

I can't imagine Dodger fans have to be all that disappointed by the news that Frank McCourt is stepping away from his day-to-day responsibilities with the club. Dennis Mannion, hired originally to Jamie's old position as President of the Dodgers, now has everyone in the organization but Frank reporting to him. This includes GM Ned Colletti, who will take payroll directions from Mannion. T.J. Simers, whose apparent approval of Mannion is conveyed in the way only Simers can, writes,
In addition to sweeping the floors, Mannion sets the payroll with [Frank] McCourt's approval. He won't say what it will be this season. He says it makes no sense to divulge it to the competition -- or to fans, I presume, who might be interested in knowing how dedicated the Dodgers are going to be this season.
As for Frank McCourt, he was so bullish on running the Dodgers, he now works out of an office in Beverly Hills.
"Frank has had a desire for quite a while to separate himself from the day-to-day operations and focus his time of the developmental opportunity," Mannion says. "Additional ventures to look at are the development of the 360 acres around the stadium and ballpark improvement."
I say Simers approves of Mannion because he goes on to note Mannion's impressive track record, and even that he is likable, despite his Philadelphia roots. Simers does express concern over the team's owner distancing himself from day-to-day baseball and business operations. This is surely some residual pain left from the News Corp. era, but it's a fear I don't share with Simers.

We've seen time and again that owners who demand to make ground-level decisions have a tremendously difficult time fielding competitive teams. These magnates of industry figure they can master the business world, so, after all, how hard could a child's game be? The answer, of course, is that baseball is really, really hard. There are JD/MBA's in the mail room. People kill to get to decision-making positions in the game, and ascension usually doesn't happen by accident. Buying a team with the goal of assuming baseball operations authority is a quick recipe to field a loser.*

*Full disclosure: my dream in life is to buy a minor league team in retirement, and yes, take every bit of power I can grab. But that's life, isn't it? We can all do better than the next guy.

Point is, in my view, we shouldn't be upset that Frank is telling Mannion what he can spend and letting the baseball guy take charge. This, of course, leaves the matter of exactly how much money Colletti actually has to play with. Dylan Hernandez is on the case. Noting no current plans to decrease player payroll, Hernandez reports:
Colletti didn't rule out that payroll could increase, and downplayed concerns that have been raised about owner Frank McCourt's divorce proceedings and the club's decision not to offer any of its free agents salary arbitration. The club began last season with a payroll around $100 million.
"A lot of it depends on how the winter unfolds with revenue and different things along those lines," Colletti said. "If we see good signs, it goes up. If we don't see good signs, it probably doesn't go up."
I should be very clear right away: this is not how I want my baseball team run. I do not want player payroll to be highly correlated with the previous winter's season ticket sales. Why? Two reasons.

1. Investment in the organization should not be a year-to-year decision. There should always be $7 million available for a top-shelf amateur free agent. There should always be flexibility to add payroll through trade if the price (in prospects) is right. A player should never be passed over in the draft because of cost concerns. None of these points are meant to read that the Dodgers should always seek the most expensive players. Just that if your baseball guys run up the ladder and say that Player X at $7 million is an absolute steal, that $7 million needs to be there. It must not be dependent on season ticket renewals.

2. That 2010 payroll decisions are based on this winter's revenue forecasts suggests that the Dodgers are indeed running on perilously slim margins. Yes, it doesn't look like the payroll will decrease. But short of doing something completely insane--say, trading one of the team's premium young players who is arb-eligible--the payroll really cannot decrease. These guys are getting raises. At last year's $100 million mark, there just isn't room for free agents this winter.

Bottom line is that a major-market team should never have to operate like this. Either the team just really doesn't have the cash to make long-term investments, or the divorce really is casting a cloud of such uncertainty over the future of the franchise that spending is effectively frozen. Because--make no mistake--it is.

In the Simers piece, we get a rare acknowledgement of the divorce's potential impact from the Dodgers' front office:
As for the impact McCourt's divorce might have on the team's budget, Mannion says, "I do not believe this year, 2010, the Dodgers will be impacted by anything relative to the McCourts' personal life.
"I can't predict what will happen in 2011. I'm not a family lawyer and don't understand what might happen in the long term."
I'm not a family lawyer either, but I do understand this: if we are to believe Mannion, the club's penury this offseason is unrelated to the divorce. The Dodgers would have had no flexibility this winter, divorce or not. And even the man who doesn't understand what might happen in the long-term is already thinking the divorce's impact won't be felt until 2011.

There's no cash now. Investment in young players has ebbed for years. And the divorce hasn't hit the books yet.

I'm going to make a special effort to enjoy the 2010 team. Whatever flotsam and jetsam Colletti is able to stuff into the last two rotation spots, the team will be competitive because of its young core. If the club can't invest in young players and can't retain its developing stars, next year's team might be the last competitive one for a while.

I'm sure that there are many of you out there rooting for Jamie in the divorce, simply because it's the quickest way to new ownership. I can't say I blame you.

Monday, December 7, 2009

McBroke...get it? Like McCourt, but with a twist.

T.J. Simers, ever quick with the nickname, tells us that Frank owes us an explanation. Speculating on the Dodgers' offseason plans, Simers writes,
Joe Torre and Ned Colletti can say they're not expecting the divorce to affect their efforts their efforts to improve the Dodgers, but they don't know.
A Dodgers spokesman, who usually knows nothing, said McCourt's private bank account is different from the one used to run the Dodgers.
Maybe that's where he's stashing the money you'd expect to find in his personal checking account, the little kids at Mattel [Children's Hospital] being swindled then if they go ahead and become one of McBroke's Little Buddies.
Or maybe Frank dips into the Dodgers' funds to pay off the old lady every month, and what's one less starting pitcher? We just don't know.
Simers goes on to tell us that Frank really ought to be more public about how the divorce is affecting team finances. The answer, for now, is easy: any adjustments made to Dodgers spending based on the divorce would be preventative in nature. The only cash sent Jamie's way thus far, to my knowledge, is a half-million bucks (presumably from the Dodgers) to cover Jamie's salary for the remainder of 2009.

Anything else is pure speculation.

Personally, I think it's irresponsible at this point to take preemptive pot shots at Frank which suggest that he's going to use the Dodgers to finance the divorce. Or at least any more than any divorcee uses his or her career to make money to pay the bills.

To the best of my understanding, Frank's on something of a fixed income. One of the conditions of the private placement financing, it appears, is that Frank is only allowed to take a certain amount of money out of the team. I've heard conflicting reports on exactly what that figure is, but it's probably not enough to even meet the high end of Jamie's demands, let alone cover Frank's expenses.

Of course, it's pretty evident at this stage of the game that the McCourts used their positions with the club to their significant financial advantage beyond their nominal salaries or distributions. Which makes Jamie's demands very interesting. She's seeking nearly half-a-million bucks each month in addition to a yet-undetermined amount to compensate her for all her lost benefits, emoluments, and perquisites.

How she pursues her claims here will be most enlightening as to the true financial states of both Frank McCourt and the Dodgers in general. If it's conclusively shown that the McCourts essentially hid income by having the Dodgers fund their extravagant lifestyle, we'd have quite the can of worms on our hands. The IRS wouldn't be too keen on that, and neither might the club's financiers.

While the Dodgers are kicking the tires on the Noah Lowrys and Nick Greens of the world this week, my eyes are already firmly fixed on next Tuesday.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Might Jamie still sue over the firing?

Vicki Iovine, writing for (at?) The Huffington Post thinks it's possible:
I can't help wondering if Jamie sued Frank and the Dodgers, for firing her for an illegal reason - say maybe, sexual harassment. I can imagine a juicy little case in which she maintains that her employer fired her because she rejected his sexual advances (perhaps Jeff-the-Bodyguard would testify here) and thereby violated public policy.  She would most certainly be sticking it to the man, and really, isn't that what she really wants to do?
Maybe. But if she wins on the pre-nup, does she really want to go to the trouble of getting a couple million more for sexual harassment? Is it worth it at that point? I guess, from my point of view, she's got enough on her plate with the divorce. And remember that while she could (and did) petition the court for money from Frank to cover legal fees for the divorce litigation, she probably can't do the same for a sexual harassment suit.

Iovine's post has some other interesting thoughts on the issue of the firing and how it relates to the divorce. I'd encourage you to check it out, especially if snark is your thing.

Time for me to get some more work done and call it a week. Usual Friday drill...happy hour, hockey game, and the rest. It's a great day in my alma mater fired its coach, and it's getting cold enough up here in the hinterlands that my snowmobile trip in a couple weeks might happen after all. Have a great weekend, everyone, and I'll be back if anything of note pops up over the next couple days.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Well hold on just one minute US Weekly.

So Tiger Woods is in a little bit of trouble. This seems to be a much more divisive topic than the McCourt divorce, mostly in that everyone seemed to already hate the McCourts, while everyone loves Tiger Woods. There are people who are legitimately disappointed by this. I mean, this was Tiger! He was supposed to bring balance to the force, not leave it in darkness.

But I digress. CBS discussing an US Weekly report I can't seem to find:
US Weekly has reported that the couple has a prenuptial agreement worth $300 million, which would make this the most expensive celebrity divorce in history. Right now, Michael Jordan holds that record when his wife, Juanita, received an estimated $150 million settlement.
Now, I suppose one could say that the McCourts aren't celebrities, but...come on. They're celebrities. We can agree on this. For heaven's sake, their divorce has spawned a niche blog. That is celebrity.

So the question: where will the McCourt divorce land on the "most expensive celebrity divorce ever" spectrum? It seems to me that, in both the cases above, the size of the divorce was determined by what the athlete's wife took away from the divorce.* So we'll measure ours in Jamie's take.

*A quick caveat, of course: Tiger and Elin might not divorce. In fact, I'd be surprised if they did. We're just spitballin' here.

If the post-nup holds, Jamie might struggle to beat out Juanita Jordan. While the real estate was, at some point in time, probably worth over $150 million, that doesn't seem terribly likely anymore. And there's some debt, too. While she does have other assets--jewelry, artwork, an investment fund, vehicles--I don't think she's a slam dunk to eclipse $150 million.

If the post-nup falls, though, Jamie might threaten Elin's possible $300 million figure. As we've discussed in the past, I think a $600 million net worth for the McCourts is probably on the high side, but it's within the realm of possibility.

I don't know much about Elin, really--do any of us?--but I would tell her that if she has some twisted desire to land the biggest payout in celebrity divorce history, she might want to cast her gaze to the West. There's a battle for the Dodgers in the making.


To those of you who have e-mailed asking if I plan to jump headlong into the Woods situation: not at this point. It's still far too TMZ-y for my tastes, and I have enough on my plate already with the McCourts. Lest you forget, I'm sort of a nerd...numbers and contracts and courtrooms are more interesting to me than mistresses around the globe. Plus, let's be honest...Tiger's one of the most powerful people in the entire world, and if he's passionate about one thing, it's golf. But if he's passionate about two things, they are golf and his privacy. I'd rather avoid even the appearance of threatening his Tiger cocoon.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Late to the party.


So I probably don't need to tell you that the Dodgers didn't offer a single departing player arbitration. While folks around the 'net are most upset about the non-offers to Will Ohman, Ronnie Belliard, and Guillermo Mota, I'd like to discussed the oft-overlooked cases of Orlando Hudson and Randy Wolf.

What's that you say? Oh, you've heard of them. So we don't need to talk about the four draft picks which would have come back. Or the fact that even if the players had accepted the offers, they would be terrific values in 2010 (Wolf in particular). Or just how gosh-darned valuable those four draft picks are. 

No, I suppose I don't need to go over all that. Not when you have Jon Weisman calling the day "discouraging" and "depressing." Any of you who read Jon know that's about as gloomy as he gets over baseball. Phil Gurnee says that while we should be disappointed, we shouldn't exactly be shocked. MSTI envies Royals fans. And let me tell you, having spent over four years in and around Kansas City, that's quite a statement.

But it's Eric Stephen who addresses the most ominous aspect of this development. After being rendered temporarily speechless, Eric notes:
Could it be that the Dodgers are so strapped for cash that they can't accept even the slightest risk of paying two talented players for one season?
Or is it worse than that?  Do the Dodgers not want the burden of having four extra draft picks in 2010, the burden of four extra signing bonuses, possibly totaling somewhere in the $4 million range? 
Yeah. To me, that’s simply terrifying. From my angle, there are really only three-and-a-half possible explanations for this debacle.

1. It was a baseball decision.

This is almost unfathomable. I mean, we all are relatively hip to the arbitration offer and compensatory draft pick system now, right? And we’re not the ones paid to know these things. Purely on a baseball level, what could Colletti be afraid of? I don’t know about you, but I’d love to have Randy Wolf and Orlando Hudson back on one-year deals. And heck, they’d probably be Type A’s next winter as well.

I don’t need to go further. You go elsewhere for your hardcore analysis, and that’s not my aim here. I’ll leave it at this: if this was a baseball decision, I’d be more confident in a squadron of 12-year-olds who have simmed through multiple seasons in baseball video games than I am in the current leadership.

2. The Dodgers couldn’t afford the risk of either player accepting.

We’re getting closer to reasonability here, especially in Hudson’s case. But come on…he left on bad terms and will probably get a nice deal somewhere. And Wolf was no threat whatsoever to accept the offer. At least with this reason, I could understand the decision, even though I would still condemn it.

3. The Dodgers can afford neither the one-year deals (in the case of acceptances) nor the draft picks.

This is almost unspeakably awful. $4 million spent on early round draft picks is a better investment than $4 million in player payroll many, many times over. I promise you that this will be brought up when the Dodgers spend $4 million this winter on a nondescript reliever and a Juan Castro replacement. The failure to invest in young talent is the dead canary in the coal mine. This is horrible.

Okay, so I just crushed the Dodgers for not offering Hudson and Wolf arbitration. Me and everyone else (and rightfully so). But while I can’t claim to have Weisman-like levels of optimism, I will at least allow for the possibility of a mitigating circumstance:

3.5. Wolf and Hudson had handshake agreements that the Dodgers would not offer arbitration if they were Type A’s.

Last winter, in the midst of Hurricane Dow, the Elias rankings and draft pick compensation structure cannibalized itself. Instead of benefitting small-market teams losing pricy talent to big-market clubs, the system drove the marginal cost of Type A free agents so high that only the premium players were attractive. Remember that, generally speaking, free agency dollars are inefficient to begin with. Add the cost of draft picks (and the growing understanding of their true value), and the Type A label was a scarlet letter on all but its best wearers. Hudson, you might recall, had been seeking a multi-year deal with an average annual value in the $10 million range. Because of the declining economy and that scarlet A on his chest, he got a one-year deal worth just $3.38 million in guarantees.

Both Wolf and Hudson signed with the Dodgers in February, well after the system imploded. By that time, agents and team executives had seen how damaging the Type A label was to good-but-not-great players on the open market. In fact, just two weeks after Hudson signed, Orlando Cabrera inked a deal with the A’s which prohibited them from offering him arbitration—thus sparing O-Cab the dreaded Type A designation. Indeed, Cabrera achieved Type A designation this season but hits the market unencumbered by the added cost of two draft picks.

Is it possible that the concerns which motivated Cabrera’s agent, Dan Lozano, to get that agreement in writing also affected Wolf and Hudson’s negotiations with the Dodgers?

It’s a long shot, but I have to hope so.

It’s clear that Colletti’s hands were tied with respect to arb offers. The question is: by what? The answer is probably finances. But the implications of such a conclusion are so distressing as a fan that I’m going to hold out just a little bit of hope that there’s more going on here than we know. 

Also, for those of you subscribed to the feed, sorry for the double post. Formatting disasters.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Hop in the wayback machine.

It was winter of 2003-04, but the arguments were heated.

It was about Dodger blue, but the issue hinged on whether McCourt had enough green.

Whoa what happened...I blacked out for a second and turned into Bill Plaschke! Really though--I punched up the old 'puter seeking a little bit more background on Frank McCourt's original purchase of the Dodgers. None of what follows is new information by any means, but maybe the revelations of the last couple months will shine a different light on the past.

I suppose we should start in the winter following the 2001 season*. The Yawkey Trust, which owned the Boston Red Sox, had solicited bids from prospective buyers the previous summer. At least six different candidates emerged. I know this will shock you--no way you could have known this was coming--one of the groups was led by Frank McCourt, Boston real estate developer. McCourt's bid was anchored by the promise of a shiny new ballpark on his waterfront acreage. Early in the process, McCourt partnered with Lehman Bros. (yikes!) on the bid, but he later relegated the investment bank to an advisory role (which: still terrifying). McCourt then teamed up with multiple Boston-area venture capital firms. The premise behind the bidding process, according to the Yawkee Trust, is that the Trust was duty-bound to sell the club to the highest qualified bidder.

*You might remember this season by such events as: the christening of Mr. November; the peak of Bret Boone; or Barry Bonds' 73 home runs.

Questions about McCourt's ability to finance a purchase dogged him throughout the process. While the Red Sox grudgingly allowed him access to team financial records for the purpose of preparing a considered bid, there was a great deal of skepticism that this king of leverage could make it work. The South Boston property on which the new park would be built was the chief weapon in Frank's attempt to buy the club. City officials were adamant that McCourt's land was the only acceptable site for a new Red Sox yard in the attractive South Boston area.

Frank eventually dropped out of the race when he couldn't adequately satisfy the Yawkey Trust's questions about how he could afford the purchase. Though he made a last-minute attempt to partner with Miles Prentice, a New York lawyer who had submitted the highest nominal bid, the package did not impress the Yawkey Trust, still uncomfortable with the financial chicanery required to make the deal work. The Trust sold the Red Sox for $660 million to a group led by John Henry and Tom Werner. Incidentally, the Henry/Werner bid was, at least at one late stage of the process, the only bid which proposed keeping the Red Sox in Fenway Park.

Some observers blasted Major League Baseball for the deal, characterizing it as a sham sale, a process designed behind the scenes to award the franchise to Henry and Werner, who had previously held ownership interests in the Marlins and Padres, respectively. Major League Baseball's owners are famously protective of  their small fraternity, and many alleged that a desire to shun outsiders drove the sale to Henry and Werner. It didn't hurt, these observers claimed, that the new group was pro-revenue sharing.

So Frank McCourt wasn't allowed to join the club. But funny things happen, and three years later, News Corp. desperately wanted out of the Dodgers. Unlike the Yawkey Trust, which was the last vestige of Yawkey family ownership, News Corp. didn't have any ties to the franchise outside of its investment. For a variety of reasons, the competition for the Dodgers did not rise to the level of the Red Sox sale. While such luminous names as Alan Casden and Red McCombs were bandied about, a bidding war of the Boston scale never materialized. When Frank McCourt, now a familiar figure among baseball officials and owners, emerged with an offer, Major League Baseball had everything it needed.

Sort of.

As you know, McCourt hardly came to the transaction with cash in hand. Los Angeles observers balked. It wasn't enough, they said, that McCourt was a New Englander trying to buy the quintessential Southern California sports franchise. He was trying to do so on the cheap! Hollywood isn't good with cheap. Nevertheless, the sale to McCourt--an apprentice member of the owners' club through his bid for the Red Sox--proceeded on schedule. Though questions about his wealth continued to follow McCourt, News Corp. had so devalued the franchise through the forced nature of the sale that Major League Baseball saw it fit to rubberstamp the purchase.

Late in the game, of course, billionaire developer--and actual Southern Californian--Eli Broad offered to pay, mostly in cash, the same purchase price as McCourt had agreed to finance through a variety of debt instruments. However, much as Frank now scoffs at Jamie's claim that she will buy Frank out of the Dodgers, Major League Baseball essentially told Broad that the Dodgers were no longer for sale. With nothing but formalities separating Frank McCourt from a leveraged purchase of the Dodgers, Broad's offer was largely ignored.

So what does it all mean?

Well, in the most immediate sense, the transaction cost the Dodgers Vladimir Guerrero. McCourt's business plan, according to insiders, projected the Dodgers' payroll to be in the $65-$75 million range, allowing reasonable increases as the market advanced. An annual commitment of $10+ million to Guerrero would screw up Frank's projections and jeopardize the sale.

That's how close it was. Think about that for a moment. The sale of a $430 million dollar asset would fall apart if another couple million bucks hit the payroll. Nevermind the obviously stone-age mathematics behind this; we, as a baseball community, had yet to accept that we could assign dollar values to performance. Just consider that Frank had so little room to spare on the financing that he couldn't project his payroll $10 million higher (Guerrero would cost more than that, but deduct the cost of carrying another player) and expect MLB to approve the sale. Scary, right?

Now consider that the Dodgers' opening day payroll was over $92 million. Without Guerrero.

It's awfully easy to jump to some pretty aggressive conclusions here. The plan approved by Major League Baseball figured for $65-$75 million in payroll. The Dodgers could not pursue Vlad Guerrero, who would make $12.5 million for the Angels in 2004, because it would alter the financial projections so dramatically as to jeopardize the McCourt bid. After McCourt had sufficiently convinced the owners' group to approve his bid, and free of the strictures of the approval process, McCourt still authorized an opening day payroll $17-27 million higher than he believed Major League Baseball would approve.*

*It should be noted that McCourt characterized the failure to sign Guerrero as a News Corp. decision and that he personally had set an unofficial $100 million cap on 2004 payroll. Under this theory, it was News Corp.'s fear about what the commitment to Vlad might do to the bid which kept the Dodgers from signing the then-great hitter. For the sake of this discussion, this is a distinction without a difference. One of the parties involved was afraid that an extra $10 million in payroll might torpedo the sale.

Fun stuff. From the outside, it sure looks like Frank bought as much house as his mortgage lender would allow, and then took on even more debt to finance further capital improvements after taking deed to the property. Now, in the absence of perfect information, this is all just conjecture. But I started this morning wanting to know a little bit more about how Frank came to own the Dodgers. This whim certainly unearthed some interesting information. The Dodgers are certainly much more profitable now than they were in the News Corp. days. I don't have a great deal of concern about the solvency of the franchise. But once upon a time, the margin for error might have been as little as $10 million bucks.