Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Colletti-Kemp drama

Being more of a baseball thing than a Dodger Divorce item, I've posted my thoughts on the situation at The Hardball Times. The meat of it:
[M]ake no mistake: Matt Kemp is their best player. On the list of factors contributing to the Dodgers' ugly start, Matt Kemp's defense and baserunning don't make the top 10, and probably fall somewhere between 'George Sherrill is having some control issues' and 'oh dear God, Garret Anderson has been allowed to bat 39 times.' Which is to say: yes, Kemp's defense and baserunning could be better. But a good team doesn't play poorly because one thing this mild goes badly; it takes a combination of several bad things happening at once, and that's precisely what's happening.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The divorce gets the New York Post treatment.

Joel Sherman has an article up today mostly discussing the fractured relationship between Joe Torre and current Yankees brass. He does dish some McCourt, though:
He left an untenable relationship with Yankees ownership to work for something that has become worse with the Dodgers: deadbeat owners.
The divorcing McCourts have reduced a flagship franchise into an organization that behaves like a scrounging, small-market club. The payroll has diminished to less than the Twins, and the club is among the most penurious in the draft and international market. And the coffers will be closed again come the July trade deadline since Jamie McCourt's claims of co-ownership with Frank McCourt are not to be determined by the courts before August.
The distance from Torre's old job to his current one was stark yesterday: The Yankees were at the White House enjoying a final victory lap for last year's championship while Torre was at Citi Field not yet ready to identify which bottom-of-the-barrel option he was going to start tomorrow in place of the injured Vicente Padilla in what already was a rotation impaired by frugality.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Sometimes, you have to tip your cap.

In Wednesday's Times, Eric Sondheimer wrote about an effort to help keep the Los Angeles Unified School District's sports programs active. An excerpt:
A projected $640-million deficit in the 2010-11 school year prompted the school district to institute a 25% budget cut in the sports program. In the fall, football programs were going to be reduced from having six paid coaches to four and freshman-sophomore basketball teams were expected to be eliminated. Additional cuts were planned for the spring.
McCourt said he learned of the proposed cutbacks to sports after inviting a group of civic leaders to the Dodgers' spring training facility at Camelback Ranch in Arizona late last month.
"Everybody was quite alarmed," he said. "We went to work in a collaborative way. I indicated right then and there they should count me and the Dodgers in."
McCourt pledged that the Dodgers Dream Foundation would help support baseball and softball. 
I grew up playing baseball in the South Bay. One of the glorious things about Southern California is you can play it year-round, and I mostly did for about ten years. Look at this sort of thing how you will: kind-hearted and altruistic or shallow and made-for-TV. Whatever it is, it's keeping kids on the baseball field. And in my book, that's a wonderful thing.
Bringing things back to the Dodgers organization, I'm happy to hear that Frank does things like the sit-down with civic leaders mentioned above. Much criticism has been leveled at the McCourts for failing to connect with Los Angeles. While it's easy to see that the fans are generally down on the McCourts, if Frank intends to be around for the long haul--which he says he is--then having the private support of the movers and shakers is a must. The fans will come back, too, as the wins stack up and the organization builds toward sustainable excellence.

Since today is We Love Frank McCourt day at Dodger Divorce, I'd be remiss to ignore Tony Jackson's great piece on Ned Colletti up today at ESPN Los Angeles. How Frank closed:
Giants owner Peter Magowan didn't want Colletti to go, especially not to the archrival Dodgers, and certainly not until after the GM meetings, which were in Indian Wells. When those meetings concluded, Colletti drove to Los Angeles and met with Frank and Jamie McCourt for eight hours.
"You could tell the process was going to be very quick,'' Colletti said. "They had a lot of questions on a vast array of topics, and it was very much a rapid-fire Q-and-A. I had a lot of questions for them, too."
That was on a Friday. Magowan, who had granted a 72-hour window for the McCourts, met with Colletti on the following Monday.
"We talked about where we had been as an organization,'' Colletti said. "I said I really had to follow through. Frank called and asked for a second interview and I said yes, but we needed a 24-hour extension on the window. Peter said he would only give me until noon on Tuesday. I went home, grabbed a suit and flew to L.A. We met at the Beverly Hills Hotel from 2 until midnight, with a 45-minute break for a salad at the Polo Lounge.''
The interview was intense, challenging, exhausting, but Colletti gave as good as he got, which was exactly what McCourt was looking for. Colletti pretty much heard what he wanted to hear, as well.
"I talked about the goals and objectives of the organization and how serious I was about those,'' McCourt said. "I wanted him to have a very clear sense of what he was walking into, and he was undeterred by it. It was what he wanted.''
McCourt left at midnight and returned the following morning at 6.
"By 10, Frank had offered me the job,'' Colletti said. "By noon, we had a deal.''
If you're any sort of Dodgers fan, you need to go read the whole thing. It's excellent work. And it's only the first part of two.
Ok, ok, ok, back to business. A few weeks ago, I somehow missed this Boston Herald article, now behind a pay wall (sorry!). It has some interesting nuggets, including this:
[Frank's] attorney, Sorrell Trope, told the judge his client can't tap credit lines to maintain Jamie McCourt's high-falutin' lifestyle. 

"If we look at this case, realistically, you can't order Mr. McCourt to borrow money to pay support,'' Trope toldSuperior Court Commissioner Scott Gordon.

This is a little funky. If Trope was referring to Frank's operating lines of credit, this argument doesn't do much for me. Using lines of credit to pay for expenses is how the McCourts live--and that's fine. It's how extraordinarily folks should do it. So to say that Frank would have to go into debt to pay support is a wee bit disingenuous. 
How about that Matt Kemp kid? Keep an eye on that youngster. He might be a pretty good player someday. Have a great weekend, Dodger fans. I'm counting down the days until my first (but hopefully not only) Dodgers game of the year: next month in Chicago.
Oh, and Dodger Divorce still believes in Chad. 

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Going backwards.

Joe Posnanski has an interesting post up about the relationship between revenue and payroll. As he's so skilled at doing, he turns a common assumption on its head:

You know, we focus a lot here on team payrolls … and those payroll numbers can be pretty stark. This year, for instance, the Yankees $206 million payroll is $44 million more than any other team and at least double the payroll of 22 teams (and six times the payroll of the Pittsburgh Pirates).
But people who know a lot more about accounting and such have told me for a long time that payroll is not the issue — REVENUE is the issue. And when you look at the Forbes numbers, yes, it does seem to ring true that salaries are driven by revenue and not the other way around … that is to say that your ticket price didn’t go up because Roy Halladay got a $60 million extension, but instead Roy Halladay got a $60 million extension because of the price of your Philadelphia ticket (and all the other Phillies revenue streams — the Phillies made $233 million in revenue in 2009, sixth-most in baseball).
As you surely know, the Dodgers are trending in reverse. After bringing in $247 million last season, fourth-most in baseball, the Dodgers have trimmed their payroll to about $95 million (according to USA Today). Those Phillies, on the other hand, parlayed their $233 revenue in 2009 to a 2010 payroll of about $142 million. 
To put this in some perspective, using Posnanski's methodology: the Dodgers' revenue grew by $7 million from 2008 to 2009, yet the payroll dropped about $30 million from 2009 to 2010.* Conversely, the Phillies' payroll jumped by $13 million from 2009 to 2010* on the strength of a $17 million revenue increase from the corresponding previous seasons.
*The 2009 figures are Forbes', which accounts for total player costs. The 2010 USA Today figures only consider the Opening Day roster.
The Phillies aren't the only example, of course. Suffice it to say that the norm is exactly what Posnanski suggests: increased revenues lead to increased payroll, not the other way around. Another way to approach the topic is the percentage of revenue spent on baseball operations (a figure which includes payroll). If a team spends 100% of its actual revenue on baseball operations, it neither gains nor loses money on the year. In 2008, the Dodgers spent 93% of club revenue on baseball operations, 61.5% of which went to payroll. In 2009, the Dodgers spent 86.5% of club revenue on baseball operations, 58.4% of which went to payroll. This season, the Dodgers figure to do wonderfully at the gate, while the team carries the second-lowest payroll of the McCourt era.
I'm not sure that any hard conclusions can be drawn from this data. Forbes' figures aren't gospel, and we know the financial structure of the Dodgers is quite complex. It's certainly interesting, though, that the Dodgers' ratios are inverted. The club is spending a little more on non-player expenses while taking more of the revenues out of the team. All winter long, Frank McCourt wanted us to know that the divorce hasn't affected the organization. And yet, every time numbers come out tracking the Dodgers' income and expenses, spending on the team looks down and profit-taking looks up. Considering, as we've been asked, that Frank doesn't have any cash to spare, one has to wonder where the heck it is.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Quote of the (Fri)day.

In this New York Times article by Billy Witz, Clayton Kershaw said of his impact, "I'd rather [we] win because of me than in spite of me." I'm sure I speak for all of us when I say: same goes for you, ownership. While the first week-and-a-half of the season might not have been perfect, there's little to suggest the Dodgers won't be around in September. Of course, some youth in the 'pen wouldn't kill the club, would it? Have a great weekend, everyone. I'm heading out into the sunshine for Greinke v. Twins.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Some Opening Day notes

Happy Vin Scully Day, everyone! I hope you're as excited as I am for your first welcome to 2010 Dodger baseball from the man himself. In the mean time, some quick notes:

  • According to the Times' Dylan Hernandez (among others), musician of the Black Eyed Peas will throw out the first pitch today. If that's not odd enough, LeAnn Rimes will sing the national anthem. Rimes spent the winter mired in marriage trouble rife with allegations of infidelity. Does that sound familiar to anyone besides me? What a strange selection, considering the circumstances.
  • Per Daily News wire services, we get a neat quote from Joe Torre on the divorce's potential effect on the team this season: "We can't let it." When approached for comment, Dodgers' general manager Ned Colletti ran away covering his ears with his hands and singing, "I can't hear you, I can't hear you!"
  • Gary Suess (not the doctor. He spelled it differently) of Bleacher Report lists the Dodgers as the #1 potential destination for Pedro Martinez to materialize midseason. Suess suggests that Pedro would have to accept a rock-bottom salary with the Dodgers, who finances are presumably constrained by the divorce. Personally, I don't think Pedro's in line for a big payday wherever he lands.
Enjoy Chavez Ravine baseball, everyone. 

Monday, April 12, 2010

When's the time to panic?

Not about the season, of course. The team will be just fine, I suspect. But what about the organization as a whole? While he doesn't use the 'P' word--yet--the Long Beach Press-Telegram's Bob Keisser does think it's time to worry. Keisser:

Dodgers fans were so thrilled to have the Fox era of ownership end that they accepted the McCourts at face value even though we hardly knew their faces. They had no baseball background, and it was widely reported that they bought the team on credit thanks to good financing terms from Commissioner Bud Selig.
Now we know. They feathered the nest they're now going to break into pieces, and this will not end well for the team on the field.
It is talented enough to compete for another playoff spot, but less so than a year ago. The team isn't likely to spend for a needed bat or arm down the stretch. If things go south, the team could be sellers, not buyers.
While most of the young players are committed for a few more years because of free agency rules, they're not going to be so quick to stay with a franchise when their time comes if the team is in the dumps and acting like a small-market team. Once Joe Torre retires, there will be a leadership vacancy. And anyone who thinks there isn't a chance of attendance decline hasn't been paying attention to the recession.
Keisser's last point is the crux of it all, and something I've been very curious about. Nothing's going to change if 3.8 million fans are still walking through the turnstiles. People love the Dodgers; at what point does the shattered relationship between ownership and fans start affecting gate receipts? My guess is that it's fairly simple: when the team stops winning. 

For as bitter as fans feel toward the McCourts, we don't show up to spot Frank in the owner's box or Dugout Club seats. We come for what happens on the mound and in the batter's box, and to share traditions with our fellow fans. Like so many of you, I compare all of my baseball experiences with my earliest memories of Dodger Stadium. And none of those memories concern ownership.

As long as the team is winning, the relationship between ownership and the fans will be secondary to the product on the field. Frank had better hope things remain this way; Dodger Stadium is a big, big place that doesn't do well half-empty. 

Keisser also calls out Frank McCourt for his frequent references to the improvements to Dodger Stadium. As Keisser sees it, the bulk of updates serve McCourt more than the fans; newer ways to advertise, more outlets for folks to drop money on food and souvenirs, and new premium seating areas. He's got a point. While fans certainly appreciate more seating options and quicker concession lines, such things are as beneficial to ownership as they are to the fans. 

Thursday, April 8, 2010

So just how much are the Dodgers worth (part two)?

A few weeks ago, as Frank and Jamie fought about just how wealthy the couple actually is, I wrote:
As for the Dodgers, I'm inclined to believe they're currently worth around $900 million, not including the stadium, land, or tax liability. Not a terrible return on a $371 million investment.
Forbes disagrees with me, valuing the Dodgers at $727 million. So what's with the disparity? Well, to start with, mine was (mostly) a guess. An educated one, but I don't exactly pay my bills valuing baseball teams. Some folks at Forbes do. The magazine also values teams by a variety of factors--sport, brand, stadium, and brand management--as opposed to the simple revenue multiplier used by other industry watchers. Interestingly, Forbes also shows the Dodgers as running at least $13 million in the black each year since 2006--a figure I'm sure Jamie's lawyers have noticed.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

What's bad for the Dodgers is good for the Giants.

Yes, that's how it works. The Sacramento Bee's (love that!) Bill Bradley writes:

Maybe the Giants have a chance to win the National League West after all.
That's because their rivals, the Los Angeles Dodgers, are writing the script for a great Hollywood drama, with no happy ending in sight.
The owners of the Dodgers, Frank and Jamie McCourt, are getting a divorce. As part of those proceedings is an Aug. 30 trial to determine who will run the team. Oh, and Jamie is asking for $1 million a month in temporary spousal support.
So how will the divorce hurt the Dodgers as the season opens? First, it will mean the team will be a seller, not a buyer, at the trading deadline. Second, if the team falters early, it could replace manager Joe Torre with his cheaper bench coach, Don Mattingly.
Plus, their biggest offseason acquisitions were pitcher Ramon Ortiz, 36, and Garret Anderson, 37. Oh, and Manny Ramírez is in his contract year, which means he'll start pouting about June 15.
A few things: (1) The trial beginning August 30 is to determine who owns the team, not runs it. Nit-picky, yes, but a very important distinction; (2) Saying the team will be a seller is a little aggressive. And really, what sorts of players on this team are even sell candidates? Maybe Blake, Furcal, Kuroda, Padilla, and bullpen flotsam and jetsam. But certainly not the cost-controlled core of the team; (3) Replacing Torre with Mattingly wouldn't likely save a dime--Torre's under contract; and (4) Being in a contract year could well have the opposite effect with Manny--he needs to show he's still an elite hitter if he wants anything approaching his current deal.

Happy Tuesday! And happy baseball!