Friday, May 28, 2010

On Chicago, and assorted thoughts.

Had a terrific time yesterday on my first trip to Wrigley Field. I don't know about you, but I love 1-0 games. I was floored by Ely's approach, but was less happy about only getting to see one Manny at-bat. Special thanks to Tom and Dominic Volini for hosting my brother, Chris, and I. 

When looking around for divorce news upon my return, I found this Bomani Jones item on ESPN. Discussing Jon Lovitz' and others' debts to the Dodgers, Jones writes:
And these guys thought they weren't going to have to pay up? Not even Richard Pryor in his prime -- let alone the 2010 model of Jon Lovitz -- was funny enough to joke his way out of this one. You'd have an easier time borrowing $100 from Eddy Curry than skipping out on a debt to McCourt at this point.
Even Mike Tyson thinks McCourt has a cash flow problem.
First of all, I dislike the premise; don't we want Frank (and the club) aggressively pursuing its accounts receivable? Isn't that a good thing? And what's more, if cash flow was ever an issue here, it would have happened in the offseason. You know, when people aren't buying walk-up tickets, food, beer, and merchandise.

I also disagree with the hyperbole; while we've spent a lot of time discussing the impact the divorce is having on team spending, there's been no suggestion Frank or the Dodgers have had any trouble paying bills as they come due. Indeed, if the rumors about silent partners with convertible bonds are true, Frank's been paying those guys as scheduled at the peril of losing some interest in the team.

I believe the divorce may be affecting spending, at least in the short term. I don't believe Frank (or the Dodgers) to be insolvent, however, and we're not at the point that characterizing them as such brings anything to the table. 

While the piece, which ran on ESPN's irreverent 'Page 2', might have been meant mostly in satire, I think the joke is too close to the truth to be all that funny. Many probably do think Frank and the Dodgers are indeed in serious financial trouble as a result of his obligations to Jamie and the debt-heavy way the team funds its operations. I'm not one of them. While the long-term future of the team is surely up in the air due to the divorce, I don't think the team is in any sort of immediate jeopardy. 

Taking on salary in a trade, though, would go a long way toward assuaging concerns. I'm just not sure this guy is the answer. And, of course, I would certainly not advocate making a move for the sake of making a move. That never ends well. Everything must be about advancing the cause of the team. All other concerns are secondary.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Two McCourt sons are on the payroll--do we care?

Last week, amidst all that hubbub about silent partners and shady cash movement, it was noted that the two McCourt sons, Drew and Travis, were on the Dodgers' payroll to the tune of $600,000 per year combined. Drew is 28, Travis 27. As of last fall, Drew was attending business school at Stanford and Travis worked at Goldman Sachs in New York.

Jamie's divorce filings include the couple's budget for supporting the children, including a substantial amount allocated to Drew and Travis, both earning Dodgers paychecks. I'm reluctant to get into too much depth about the McCourt children's expenses and lifestyles, as that has little to do with the Dodgers. What's more, Frank and Jamie willingly invited a high level of scrutiny when they bought a baseball team. The McCourt kids didn't have the luxury of choice. But their positions with the club are certainly on topic.

To tell the truth, I'm just not that outraged about this $600,000 per year. Yes, that's a decent draft pick or a player earning the minimum salary. And it's true: every little bit counts. It's difficult to hear about the Dodgers' plans to keep payroll near or below current levels when these sorts of expenses persist. There's a strong urge to lash out at the roster construction when it's so abundantly clear that a moderate budget for players is a choice, not a necessity.

But like I said, I'm having a tough time drumming up the anger on this one. To me, the bigger problem isn't the $600,000 to Drew and Travis, but what it says about the team's attitude toward expenses generally. Jamie's filings allege that a great deal of the couple's luxurious lifestyle was funded directly by the Dodgers. Essentially, the line between Dodgers finances and McCourt finances was, at best, blurry. Having two of the McCourt children on the payroll despite full-time obligations to other callings is more of the same. The $600,000 annually won't be missed, but it raises questions about efficiency throughout the rest of the organization. And at a time when the club's owner pleads poverty and the payroll budget is shockingly low for a major market, those questions matter.

Friday, May 21, 2010

What's best is not always what's easy.

A few days ago, ESPN's Jerry Crasnick wrote about several overdone storylines for his weekly feature 'The Starting 9." His chief gripe? The ongoing McCourt divorce saga. Crasnick wrote:

No celebrity enjoys seeing his or her personal life played out for the world to see, and Frank and Jamie McCourt are pushing the envelope big-time. There's a Web site devoted to their split, with links to newspaper stories and court documents about "slush funds'' and money spent on hairstylists and vacation trips. Everything in Dodgerland -- from the Matt Kemp-Ned Colletti spat to Joe Torre's future -- inevitably seems to come back to Frank versus Jamie.
Dodgers fans are entitled to ask some hard questions when the team payroll drops from $100 million to $95 million and the big offseason pickups are Vicente Padilla, Jamey Carroll and Reed Johnson, but the McCourts' marital squabbling is a better fit for TMZ than ESPN. This movie has played out already, and it ended with Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner hanging from a chandelier before crashing to the floor.
There are lots more sordid details to come, with a trial scheduled for Aug. 30 to determine custody of the team. On second thought, the McCourt divorce is a baseball hybrid of "War of the Roses'' and "Kramer vs. Kramer.''

I couldn't agree more with Crasnick that much of the divorce news is better-suited for TMZ than ESPN. We spend very little time here talking about the more sordid items, and that is by choice. To me, it's not an issue of fair or unfair, private or public. Simply, I'm just a ton more interested in this unprecedented look into how a professional sports team is run. As has been ably noted, fans and media, generally, would be naive to think that many (if not most) teams engage in the complex, intricate processes in play here.
Silent partners, sleeper equity, slush funds, minimization of tax liabilities, funneling money through several entities...that's just how it works. And I find it all fascinating. So, while Crasnick's point concerning the cratering of the McCourt marriage is well taken, this stopped being about Frank and Jamie, the couple, a long time ago. More than anything else, the issue at the heart of things is the erosion (some might say evaporation) of the relationship between the Dodgers and the team's large, devoted fanbase.
This is a test case for what really matters in sports today. As I type, the Dodgers are the hottest team in baseball, nearly fully recovered from an extended season-opening slump. Despite myriad injuries resulting in the inexplicable presence of Garret Anderson, the club is performing at a high level. And the acrimony between the organization and its fans hasn't kept the denizens of Chavez Ravine from supporting their Dodgers; the club is third in average home attendance despite the dismal start. Really, the club is right where we expected: headed toward a meaningful September on the field.
September, of course, has meaning in a courtroom as well. And that is why the divorce still matters. The outcome of September's litigation will shape the direction of the franchise in the short, medium, and long term. The ownership of the club is the most important issue facing the Dodgers today. I'm tremendously excited watching Clayton Kershaw (the player) become Clayton Kershaw (the idea). And I'm anxious for baseball's best offensive outfield to, you know, play together at some point. And Lord knows I have a lot of my own feelings invested in Chad Billingsley's don’t-call-it-a-comeback.
But in the absence of clarity concerning ownership, what happens on the field has a depressing tinge: we don't know if any of it really matters. And that's where this is still a little about Frank and Jamie. Not pools, or bodyguards, or drivers, or Project Jamie, or Frank's aloofness. No, this is about figuring out just who (or what) is going to own this team when the dust settles.
Many of us have a pretty clear notion of how the future should look. Mark Cuban has long been a popular choice, and I've heard calls for Eli Broad, Jerry Buss, and even (jokingly) David Glass and Al Davis. Still, many fans' leader in the clubhouse is the always-popular Anyone Else, famous also for his exploits as a backup NFL quarterback and opponent of incumbent political candidates.
And that makes sense. The McCourts had some credibility issues early on--just who are these people, and what are they doing in Los Angeles?--and it was rumored they didn't have the money to make this work. Toss in a healthy amount of public awkwardness, a pinch of financial short-sightedness, and a couple dashes of postseason failure and you've got some problems on your hands. The secret ingredient, of course, is an ugly divorce pulling back the curtains on team finances, and exposing ownership's long-term goals for the franchise--goals which probably don't match fans' expectations.
So rises the cry for Anyone Else. There's a problem, though: not so long ago, the McCourts were Anyone Else. The previous ownership was so eager to be rid of the Dodgers that it sold the club at a bargain basement price, encouraging the sort of leveraged transaction enabling the McCourts to buy (and then operate) the club. And, in a masterstroke, Fox ownership justified the price (and hamstrung the McCourts) by cutting a sweetheart deal for TV rights. Gate receipts and merchandise sales are neat and all, but control of the media rights is what separates baseball’s minor deities from its titans. Because Fox held the TV rights, the McCourts had to turn to the sort of financial sorcery so loathed by the fans today.
It goes without saying that the ownership situation is messy now. Even as a happy, intact family unit, selling the Dodgers would require the McCourts to untangle a string of affiliated companies and debt facilities so complicated it's taken several months of expensive discovery just to unveil them. Should Jamie win half the team or a cash award so great the team must be sold, it's going to happen at a discount, and an entity which might not have the wherewithal to operate the Dodgers would be encouraged to bid. Sound familiar?
The impassioned cries for Anyone Else are understandable, reasonable, and entirely defensible. But I'd urge everyone to consider just what that means: several likely years of turmoil. The sale itself would be an arduous, difficult process, and the new owner would likely experience significant growing pains. What's more, there are just fewer folks out there right now who can afford a baseball team than there were three years ago. A fresh start has its advantages, to be sure--especially if whoever's next is a true Southern Californian. But it's likely to be a long, painful slog.
There is a significant possibility that the right answer for the long term is Frank McCourt. It's hard to argue with the team's success during his regime, and all indications are that he has moved past the perilously-thin margins characterizing the early days of McCourt ownership. The team is profitable, the fans are still engaged, and there is room to grow. Perhaps, with the financial strictures of the divorce behind him, he'll be able to invest in the future of the organization, addressing shortcomings of the last few years. The TV rights come back in-house after the 2014 season, which will make the Dodgers all the more valuable. And, if things don't work, a sale several years down the line will be without the urgency that would dramatically devalue the club in a sale this winter.
I'm not ready to throw my full support behind Frank just yet. Emotionally, it's difficult to embrace a figure who has brought so much negativity to the Dodgers. But maybe that's my point: there is no panacea here, no cure-all. Clamoring for Anyone Else is emotionally and philosophically justified, but we should be careful to remember that Anyone Else comes with problems, too. And this is where we come back to the divorce as a test case for fans' attitudes towards their teams: what do we want? 
If we want a fresh face we can relate to, an owner for whom the Dodgers are the reason to exist, an owner who truly understands what the Dodgers mean to Los Angeles, then yes: Anyone Else could be that owner. But Anyone Else could also be a relatively faceless group of investors that sees the Dodgers as a vehicle for growing and accumulating wealth. The team might be available for a song this winter, and those TV rights are so close you can taste them. Anyone Else might be everything we've grown to distaste about Frank McCourt, but at least he's cut his teeth as an owner. 
If we want to win above all else, Frank McCourt could be the answer. He’s got more money than even his wife knew, he’s had some experience in figuring out what works and what doesn’t, and he’s learning how to stay out of the way. And there’s another factor at work, here, too: should he come out of this mess with the team intact, he’ll need to win. It’s the only way back into the fans hearts (and wallets). I know it, you know it, Frank knows it. Say it along with me, Frank, “The difficult events of the last several months have made me reconsider my priorities, and after my sons, the Dodgers are the most important thing in my life.” And so begins the rest of the McCourt era. If, over the course of several years, Frank’s actions match his words, everything is forgiven.
It’s with a great deal of reluctance I sing the praises of Frank McCourt, Potential Long-Term Solution. And, obviously, whatever degree I support Frank is based only on what we know; yet more skeletons may lurk. But my interest in the entire fiasco has never been about Frank or Jamie, pools or jets, stadiums or campaigns. It’s always been about the Dodgers.
So, for the moment, I’m not going to write Frank off. However these next few months play out, my end-game is the same: I will support the candidate best able to sustain an organization I can be proud to call my own. As it is with analysis, the past only matters to the extent it colors the future. And, for everything that’s happened, I’m not sure the future is better left to Anyone Else than Frank McCourt. Not quite yet, anyway. Lord knows we've got plenty of time to sort it out.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

On the money trail.

Over at Fanhouse, John Weinbach offers some troubling news:
Over the past 18 months, the Los Angeles Dodgers paid nearly $4 million in "consulting services" to [the John McCourt Company], an entity that has done virtually nothing for the club, even as the team has made a concerted effort to raise ticket prices, trim payroll and acquire players on the cheap. Moreover, the club paid two of Frank and Jamie McCourt's adult sons large salaries -- $400,000 and $200,000 per year, respectively -- for services that are undefined and could not be described by either Frank or Jamie McCourt, according to court documents filed in the couple's divorce case. 
FanHouse has also learned that the Dodgers' ownership includes two limited partners who provided loans to help the McCourts finalize their purchase of the club in 2004, according to people familiar with the matter. One of the limited partners is Franklin Weigold, a long-time executive with Analog Devices, Inc., a Norwood, Mass.-based maker of electronic equipment. Weigold lives part of the year in Los Angeles and was also part of the McCourts' failed bid to purchase the Boston Red Sox in 2001. 
It is not clear who the other limited partner is, but that entity and Weigold both own convertible bonds in the Dodgers that would transfer into "sizable" equity in the team in the event of a default on the loans, according to the source. (The McCourts have not missed any of the payments since they became owners six years ago.) 

Weinbach also goes on to note that the consulting fees were nominally for services related to exploring development of the acreage surrounding Dodger Stadium. This land, of course, has had several suggested purposes over the years, from high-end condos and retail to a potential NFL venue. Much of the land is currently being used as a state-of-the-art 405 Freeway simulator, around 80 times per year.

The crux of the problem seems to be that artificial cap on Frank's income. You know, the one he hid behind when he claimed poverty and which Jamie complained was a complete sham. In fact, the entity which has paid the John McCourt Company has been Blue Landco, LLC, the very entity Jamie suggested Frank would use to get around the $5 million cap on his income. Jamie's attorneys are describing the John McCourt Company as a "slush fund," implying it is nothing more than a holding tank for soft cash to be used at Frank's discretion. 

Perhaps the more surprising allegations concern the limited partners whose interests in the club were previously unknown. As recently as 2009, documents submitted to Major League Baseball described the Dodgers as 100% owned by Los Angeles Dodgers, LLC. The rest of the chain of ownership is below:

If you're following along at home, the Dodgers run through:

  • Los Angeles Dodgers, LLC 
  • Los Angeles Dodgers Holding Company, LLC
  • LA Holdco LLC
  • LA Partners LLC
  • The McCourt-Broderick Limited Partnership
  • The McCourt Company, Inc.
  • Frank H. McCourt, Jr.
Simple it ain't, and no mention of Weigold. The Dodgers are standing behind the above maneuverings, asserting that Frank McCourt owns 100% of the team. "Ownership" is not a concrete term; what is, after all, when lawyers get involved? It's important to remember here that the limited partners' convertible bonds have not turned to equity, as Frank (and/or the club) has not defaulted on the terms of the offering. It wouldn't surprise me one bit, though, that somehow losing half the club in a divorce could be a default event, triggering the conversion of debt to equity.

Basically, things just look a bunch messier today than they did yesterday. One has to wonder what the Commissioner's office knows of this arrangement. The Major League Constitution provides, "A sale or transfer of a non-control interest in any Club shall require only the approval of the Commissioner." Here, the argument would likely be whether offering debt in the form of convertible bonds constitutes a transfer of control. It's entirely possible the club wouldn't have to seek Baseball's approval unless the bonds converted to equity and a transfer of a non-control interest occurs.

The questions I usually get every time this gets more and more complicated concern the potential for disaster. Well, in this case, I'd have you look a thousand-and-some miles to the southeast, to Arlington, Texas. There, a bitter battle has erupted between owner Tom Hicks, his and the team's creditors, and Major League Baseball. MLB has essentially threatened to invoke a little-known power to seize the team "in the best interests of baseball," leaving the creditors with a bunch of claims against Hicks and his non-Rangers assets. Which: best of luck, guys.

As Craig Calcaterra has noted, this would be a sort of nuclear option, with baseball-wide ramifications. After all, what does the market for lending money to teams look like after Baseball shows a willingness to forcefully strip remove a team from creditors' reach "in the best interests of baseball?"

I'd urge you not to take this doomsday scenario too seriously at this point; we're a ways off from talking about Baseball seizing the Dodgers--for better or worse, I suppose. The takeaway here is two-fold: first, financing of baseball teams and ownership groups is more complicated than most thought. Second, if this sleeper debt turns into sizable equity, the entire process gets that much more twisted and we're left much further from organizational stability than we expected.

And, really, I think our expectations have been pretty damn low the last several months. 

I've heard for months now that there were shoes left to drop, and I guess today's news makes those claims prophetic. There are other fingers in the club's ownership, despite repeated assertions to the contrary. And it looks like Jamie's contention that Frank was skirting the lender-imposed caps on his income might have had a little bit of truth. Hard to say where this will lead, and how the club's other creditors might react to these revelations. Isn't it just bitter...right when the team looks like it'll never lose again, we're hit my more McCourt chicanery. 

Thursday, May 13, 2010

So just what does the support award mean?

Last week, Los Angeles County Superior Court Commissioner Scott Gordon awarded Jamie McCourt $637,159 per month, retroactive to December. $225,000 of that sum is the general "temporary spousal support" award--money Jamie may use for whatever expenses she incurs. The rest of the figure--$412,159 each month--is meant to cover the mortgages on several of the couple's properties over the duration of the divorce. The two numbers provide contrary indications of which way the court is leaning on the validity of the post-nup.

The most significant victory for Frank last week was that Jamie will not be compensated for the loss of Dodgers benefits, perquisites, and emoluments. In English, this means: no NetJets. A sizable portion of Jamie's support demands consisted of cash to make up for the perks she used to enjoy as an owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers. As you know, she's contending that the post-nup severing her legal claim to the Dodgers is invalid, and the court should determine she has a half-stake in the club and related entities. A victory on this point would be worth hundreds of millions of dollars to her, and would likely result in the team's sale. That the court didn't grant her request for owner's perks suggests her claim to the club might not be as strong as she thinks.

On the other hand, the court also declined to stick her with all the debt service on the residential real estate she owns according to the contested post-nup. Had Commissioner Gordon ruled, as Frank asked, that Jamie would have to sell some of the properties to cover her expenses, we'd have a much clearer idea about the status of the post-nup. Instead, the court ordered the couple's Cabo San Lucas property sold, and the proceeds split between the two. This is certainly a victory for Jamie, as the court implicitly refused to acknowledge the post-nup's validity. For now.

I'm not inclined to draw conclusions from how the court handled the support issues. California family courts have broad leeway to make decisions in the interest of fairness and practicality, especially on a temporary basis. The consequences of strict adherence to the post-nup at this stage of litigation would be severe; Jamie might not have recovered. While the outcome here can't please Frank, it was really the only way the court could save the battle for the Dodgers until the appropriate time. To honor the post-nup now might have resulted in a fatal blow to Jamie's case, so the court took the middle road.

An old Calvin and Hobbes cartoon once showed the strip's precocious protagonist grousing, "A good compromise leaves everybody mad." And that's certainly the case here. Neither party really got what they wanted, and all this drama is really just the undercard. It's still several months until the team's long-term future is up for discussion. Barring a settlement, we'll have playoff tickets in hand (or not) by the time this is all resolved.

I apologize for how slow it's been this week. Busiest time of my year. Looking forward to finishing it out and spending more time in our little corner. And thanks to master-of-all-trades Jon Weisman for catching a typo in this post; not content with a couple full-time jobs, he's a keen editor as well.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Doing the math.

My high school teachers always badgered me about not showing my work, so here it is:

X          5

That's how much Frank owes Jamie in a lump sum, assuming the payments must date back to the beginning of December (and don't factor in May).

X          5

That's how much Frank owes Jamie from May through September, when the litigation is scheduled to conclude.

X             2

That's how much spousal support is going to cost Frank McCourt, owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, from December through the conclusion of the divorce. This figure doesn't include professional fees, estimated to run about $10 million for each divorcing spouse.

It'd sure be a lot easier to accept these kind of numbers if the Dodgers were, you know, good at the moment. They aren't, so you can bet that what it's costing to get through the divorce--never mind the outcome--is going to be a lightning rod for critics of the team's roster construction.

Finally, some real, live divorce news.


Carla Hall of the Times has jumped in, confirming that the $225,000 temporary support figure is monthly. Combining it with the mortgage payments, that puts Frank's support obligations at $637,159 each month for the duration of the divorce. A long-term solution will be worked out as part of the proceedings going forward.

TMZ is reporting that Commissioner Gordon lit up the bat signal has ordered Frank McCourt to pay Jamie  $225,000 in temporary support in addition to $412,159 per month to cover the mortgages on several of the couple's properties. Jamie's request for the monetary value of her Dodgers perks--everything from access to club legends to private jet travel to on-call stylists--was rejected.

Frank will have to make those mortgage payments retroactive to last December--meaning he must write her a seven-figure check. That $1 million per month Jamie was seeking? Forget about it. The biggest damage to Frank coming out of today's news is that Commissioner Gordon didn't buy Frank's neat little attempt to have the court bless the post-nup. Frank, you'll recall, wanted the court to order Jamie to dispose of some of the couple's real estate to help pay her bills. Such an order would have implicitly acknowledged the validity of the post-nup, which stipulates that the residential properties are Jamie's and the Dodgers Frank's in the case of a divorce.

Instead, the court ordered the couple's Cabo San Lucas property sold, and the proceeds split between the two. The property is valued at approximately $6 million, so Jamie's take from the sale won't cover even half her legal bills, currently standing at about $8 million.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

I wasn't expecting this.

So, as I've referenced several times, I don't live in Los Angeles. Not anymore. I grew up in the South Bay, though, starting with pre-school and kindergarten in Palos Verdes. There I met Patrick, who would be my "best friend" for as long as such things really mattered. As things turned out, one side of his family is from Minnesota, where I live now. They have a lake home a few miles outside St. Cloud, Minnesota, a town about half the size of Torrance, which makes it very large for central Minnesota. Patrick and I manage to spend a couple weeks a year up there, and it's largely how we've been able to stay close.

All this is a roundabout way to express my surprise that the Saint Cloud Times ran an article by Mike LoPresti discussing the divorce. Crystallizing an analogy I'd heard used loosely before, LoPresti writes,
The stakes are high, and the other team is powerful. To win, you're going to have to spend money to bring in enough talent.

The Dodgers building their pitching staff to win the National League pennant? Nah. Frank and Jamie McCourt stockpiling attorneys for their divorce battle.

The Dodgers are in last place, and while injuries and a fat earned run average have been factors, a persistent question is what the cost has been for one of the sport's blue chip franchises by marital war in the owner's box.

If only they spent this much money on their rotation.
As the club continues to scuffle along, the club's shortcomings are inevitably pinned on the McCourts' personal drama. Frank and Jamie were really in a no-win situation here. If the team succeeded, it would be in spite of the McCourt saga. Should the team lose, the failures would be because of the divorce. Fair or not, this was bound to happen.

And folks are reacting with various thoughts and feelings on the poor start. Jon Weisman runs through the rotation's struggles, the bullpen's issues, the defense's problems, and the roster's injury-fueled turnover. He closes with an important reminder that there is still time for this to work out. Or get uglier. Eric Stephen has run out of regular words to address the situation, so he turns to pig Latin. Everyone else is pretty down, too.

Yes, at some point it's no longer "early." And maybe that point is sooner than we'd like. Still, the Dodgers are closer to the division lead than either the Red or White Sox, both of which are looking up at much fiercer competition than the general dreck above the Dodgers. Should the Dodgers' 5.5 game deficit turn into 10 by the end of the month, yeah--the team will start looking to sell. But I'm not convinced that this team is anything close to buried yet.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Logan White is out of character.

So I've discovered this delightful journalist named Bill Shaikin. No, I had never heard of him either. But here he comes out of the woodwork with an interesting piece on the machinations of the Los Angeles Dodgers' front office. How does this happen? How does someone I've never heard of, who hasn't written about this sort of thing before, get this kind of access? Well, I suppose only the fates know. Anyhow, Bill Shaikin--who I think has a future in this business--brings us to the mind of one Logan White, the man in charge of the team's scouting operations. Proceed, Mr. Shaikin:
The Dodgers no longer spend big bucks on free agents, so White and his staff must sign enough prospects to replenish the major league roster and provide General Manager Ned Colletti with a stash of trade chips as well. Yet the Dodgers also have stopped spending big bucks in the draft and abroad, effectively restricting White from signing some premium amateur talent.
Well now just wait right there. I'm sorry, Bill. I'm quite interested in how the rest of this goes, but: really? The Los Angeles Dodgers can't spend on free agents, draft picks, or amateur international free agents? I'd go on here, but it's just tres de Mayo (el tercero de Mayo? I've never really understood this) and I ought not spend my entire month's allotment of indignation at once. Going on:
"I don't want people to think that because we're not spending the money the way some teams are, we're not getting players," [White] said. "That is so far from the truth."
Well, for that to be the case, White and his pals simply need to be better than their competition. Growing into something of a fan of White over the years, I'll see where he's going with this. After making the valid--but stale--point that the Dodgers' Baseball America farm system ranking--23rd and 24th the last two years--has a great deal to do with graduating talent to the majors, the piece continues:

The Dodgers don't put too much stock into how much money they spent in the draft, since the teams with the worst records draft the highest and, generally, pay the most.
"For Pittsburgh and Kansas City and all those teams that have outspent us, what do their fans have to be happy about?" White said. "They're still going to have 18 or 19 losing seasons in a row. We're not."

Well, that's sort of silly, isn't it? I mean--the Dodgers would gladly trade farm systems with the Royals right now. There's some great pitching there. And the 'recommended' slot system actually favors large-market teams in the draft to an extent. What's that you say? Mystery scribe Shaikin covered this? Oh. Indeed:

Yet the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox spend freely in the draft, stocking up by selecting players whose demands for high bonuses have scared off poorer teams and aggravated Commissioner Bud Selig. The Dodgers, with rare exceptions, refuse to pay above the bonus recommended by the commissioner's office.
"We've tried to be a team player within MLB and address the unreasonable bonuses," White said, "and stay within what we feel is fair money for a pick.

Oh good grief. We've been over this together, so I'm not going to tear open old wounds, but: give me a break. The Dodgers need to be looking out for the Dodgers. Putting a consistently-excellent product on the field via sustainable processes is how this works. The Dodgers need to be taking advantage of their spot in the market, not apologizing for it! And besides...what in the world is "unreasonable" about going over slot in the draft? For all the market correction that's been taking place the last couple years, spending an extra $5 million on the draft is still much more efficient than spending it on, say, I don't know...Vicente Padilla.

White goes on to discuss the club's philosophy regarding the premium amateur free agents, which can be summed up as "we're not even going to try." And, you know what, that's fine with me. A bad plan is probably better than well-intentioned haphazard spending. And the plan might not even be bad; White cites internal studies showing that the expensive commitments to 16-year-olds are not efficient uses of resources. Whether that's true or not, who knows. White has a reason for his actions, and he's committed to following a plan. I can live with that.

It is not that the Dodgers cannot contend without pouring money into major league free agents, draft picks and international signings. However, given the prices they charge for tickets and parking, and given that they led the major leagues in attendance last season, it is unconscionable that ownership won't pour money into at least one of those areas, to leverage the advantage of playing in Los Angeles into the best possible chance to dominate the National League West.
On that score, White sounds almost defiant.
"We've made some mistakes on our own, but it's not been for lack of money. Since I've been here, I've always had the amount of money I need to spend," he said. "If I spent another $10 million, could I produce any more? It's near impossible. It's certainly not a money thing."


I said I was going to keep my indignation in check here, and I will. Suffice it to say that it is both wrongheaded and professionally foolish for White to say he wouldn't be able to improve prospect quality and quantity with more money. Telling your boss you wouldn't be able to do better with increased resources is just asking to have some of the resources you've got reallocated. And, judging by the current state of the Dodger farm system, further cutbacks could be disastrous.

As I said earlier, I like Logan White. I think he's been a big positive for the organization over the years, and I'm happy he hasn't been lured elsewhere. For everyone's sake, I hope he's just playing company man here. I hope he really doesn't think the organization would not benefit from increased spending on young players. And I certainly hope he doesn't truly believe in the slotting system. Scouting directors should be salesmen as much as decisonmakers; if I'm running a baseball team, I want my scouting director always championing the young player as the most efficient tool of organizational stability and growth. Let the next guy up the ladder make--and be accountable for--the decisions on how to allocate limited resources.

Hearing White espouse the virtues of frugal spending on player development is like listening to a too-old-for-his-years child from a struggling family make too-old-for-his-years decisions on what he wants to eat, play with, and wear. You admire the restraint, but there's something awfully sad about it. Even where there's not much to go around, the burden of those decisions should fall on someone higher up the ladder. This shouldn't be Logan White's job.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Those seats are ok, I guess.

Cousin-of-the-blog Ryan Eberhard passed along this photo taken during last night's game.

Though last night certainly went well, the beer hiding the scoreboard seems fitting, given the club's sluggish, injury-riddled start. No word on whether Frank McCourt was in his usual seat in this vicinity. If he was, Ryan was wise not to trumpet our relation!