Posted on: June 28, 2011 8:50 pm

Braun: At this point, Prince is MVP

NEW YORK -- Prince Fielder is already set to hit the free-agent jackpot this winter.

Imagine if he hits the market as the National League's Most Valuable Player.

Fielder has huge numbers, and teammate Ryan Braun set the MVP campaign going Tuesday, saying, "At this point, Prince has probably been the MVP in the National League. The only other guy in the conversation is probably Matt Kemp."

Mets fans would likely argue on behalf of Jose Reyes (but who knows if he'll even be in the National League by the end of the year). And with half a season to go, any number of other players could merit consideration.

But Fielder entered play Tuesday with a 1.037 OPS (second to Kemp), 21 home runs (one behind Kemp) and 68 RBI (leading the league). He had 41 extra-base hits and 44 strikeouts.

"He's been incredible," Braun said.

Brewers people say that Fielder has been able to avoid talking about free agency, in large part because the Brewers are in first place, but also because there's no real hint of an attempt by the team to sign him.

It's basically a given that Fielder will play elsewhere next year, but it's also a certainty that Fielder has given his all for the Brewers this year.

"He's had a great attitude and a great outlook," general manager Doug Melvin said. "He hasn't lost any focus. I talked to [agent] Scott Boras this spring, and we agreed that the best thing for the team and for Prince was to just worry about [the contract] later."

Boras will have plenty of time to make his case. And by then, perhaps the binder will include an MVP award, as well.

Posted on: June 27, 2011 10:32 am
Edited on: June 28, 2011 12:20 pm

Another court for Dodgers' Frank

Frank McCourt has already lost in the court of Major League Baseball, and in the court of public opinion (if you don't believe that, check out the letters section in the Los Angeles Times). And Frank McCourt already lost once in divorce court.

On to bankruptcy court.

Isn't this fun?

McCourt announced Monday morning that the Dodgers have filed for bankruptcy protection, saying that he has been a great owner whose only real problem is that the evil commissioner of baseball refuses to let him accept a great new television contract with Fox, one that would solve every single one of the franchise's problems, including left field (OK, so I made that last part up). He did say that he has $150 million in financing lined up as part of the bankruptcy filing, which would enable him to continue operating the team in the short run.

In McCourt's perfect (dream?) world, the court forces approval of the deal, he has the money to continue to operate the Dodgers for a few more months or a few more years, and everyone (except commissioner Bud Selig, his staff, Dodger fans and anyone else who cares a bit about one of the sport's flagship franchises) lives happily ever after.

There are some problems with this scenario, of course.

First off, as the Times reported last month, filing for bankruptcy carries huge risks for any baseball owner, and more for McCourt. The MLB constitution could allow Selig to revoke the Dodgers' franchise after a bankruptcy filing (although, as the Times said, the bankruptcy court could override MLB rules). Also, since the McCourt divorce remains in court, Jamie McCourt could challenge the filing.

More acts remain in this circus. Tuesday morning, MLB asked the court to consider an alternate financing plan, in which baseball would put up the money at much more favorable terms than McCourt would get elsewhere. Of course, baseball is hoping for a court ruling that will help shove McCourt out the door, once and for all.

And McCourt is hoping for a ruling that will allow him to sell the Dodgers' future TV rights, in order to give him the cash he needs to operate the team now (and to settle his divorce).

This isn't the end, not yet. But maybe (we can all hope) it's a step towards the end.

A few other simple questions you might be asking yourself now, with some attempted answers:

Didn't the Rangers file for bankruptcy a couple of years back?

Yes, they did, because like McCourt, Tom Hicks performed the difficult trick of running out of money while operating a baseball team. The big difference was that by the time Hicks took the team into bankruptcy, he had already accepted that he needed to sell and get out. McCourt has accepted nothing of the kind. He's using bankruptcy court as part of his desperate attempt to hold on.

The Dodgers are in a huge market. Even with McCourt's attempt to run the team into the ground, they're still averaging more than 36,000 tickets sold per game. Meanwhile, McCourt has pushed the Dodger payroll down, to the point where it was just over $100 million this year, just about middle of the pack in baseball. How could they possibly run out of money?

Great question, and one people in baseball have been asking for months. The answer, it seems, is that McCourt used so much Dodger money for his own luxuries (and Jamie's) that finally, the money ran out.

If the Dodgers -- the Dodgers, of all teams -- can be forced into bankruptcy, what does that say for other teams that don't draw nearly as well and aren't in the second largest market in the country?

It says nothing, not unless other owners operate their teams as poorly as McCourt, or spend as much of the team's money on personal luxuries as McCourt has. The only thing it says is that if you're a bad enough owner, you can actually run out of money. But it's tough to do.

If the Dodgers are in bankruptcy, and the players are in effect creditors, do they get paid on schedule Thursday (June 30)?

Of course they do. One way or another, baseball will ensure the players get paid, if for nothing else but to ensure that they don't have a case for becoming free agents and throwing the entire sport into chaos. And, with the bankruptcy filing and the $150 million in credit, the Dodgers would have the money (about $30 million) needed to make payroll this week.

If McCourt has pushed the payroll down, how can he owe so much money to his players?

As the bankruptcy filing proved, the Dodgers have been pushing contract payments into the future for several years. Manny Ramirez, who hasn't played for the Dodgers in nearly a year and retired from baseball earlier this season, is listed as McCourt's biggest creditor. The Dodgers owe Ramirez $21 million, although only $8.3 million of that is due this year. Andruw Jones, currently playing for the Yankees, is second on the list, at $11 million. Current Dodger pitcher Hiroki Kuroda is third, at $4.5 million, followed by shortstop Rafael Furcal, at $3.7 million.

This TV deal -- what's so bad about it?

Two things: First, because of his huge financial problems, McCourt agreed to a deal with $385 million in up-front money (a $385 million loan, as it is referred to in McCourt's proposed divorce settlement). When you take that much up-front money in a 17-year deal, it only stands to reason that you're going to get less money overall. Baseball never wants a team to accept a below-market deal, because of how it could affect other teams' negotiations. Second, McCourt's proposed divorce settlement provided for only 55 percent of that up-front money to actually go into the Dodgers' budget. The remaining 45 percent was going directly to him, to Jamie and to their lawyers. The overall effect was that if the TV deal gets approved, it could cripple any future owner, by depressing one of his biggest potential sources of income.

But with the Lakers leaving Fox, isn't this a great time to be negotiating the Dodgers' TV rights?

In normal circumstances, it certainly would be. After losing the Lakers to Time Warner, Fox would have a huge incentive to pay up to keep the Dodgers. The problem for baseball is that right now, McCourt has an even bigger incentive to come up with immediate cash.

When will this all end?

Another great question. Bill Shaikin of the Times, who has done incredible work covering the McCourt mess, suggests that this move could keep McCourt's battle to save his team going until "well beyond this season." It could be months before we find out who will own the Dodgers into the future. Among other things, that could mean that the Dodgers have no chance of bidding on any big-money free agents (Albert Pujols, etc.) this winter. Shaikin also suggested that the court could force an auction of the Dodger TV rights, which could possibly provide money to keep McCourt going -- at least for a while. The big answer: This isn't over, and it might not even be close to being over.

Category: MLB
Posted on: June 25, 2011 12:30 pm

More McCourt madness (will it ever end?)

So the latest news out of the Dodgers' circus is that Frank McCourt is willing to sell part ownership in the team in order to make payroll.

Two questions: Isn't it a little late for that? And is he selling part of half the team or part of the whole team, since he and Jamie still can't agree on who owns it?

This new attempt by McCourt to save his ownership, first reported by Tim Brown of Yahoo, isn't likely to be any more successful than his previous efforts. Even if baseball were to sign off on his plan (highly unlikely) -- and even if McCourt can establish how much of the team he actually owns (it's still tied up in divorce court) -- he wouldn't have money in place in time to meet payroll this week.

In McCourt's mind, it seems, he's only doing what the Wilpons did with the Mets, a bailout plan that commissioner Bud Selig heartily approved.

But the more McCourt acts, the more he proves that he isn't like the Wilpons, as flawed as they may be as owners of the Mets. The Wilpons didn't wait until the week that they completely ran out of money before seeking help from a minority partner, and thus gave the process time to work.

Instead of trying to add a minority partner last year, when his money problems began to become serious, McCourt kept insisting that his salvation would come from a new (and flawed) television contract with Fox, a deal that Selig finally and officially turned down last week. McCourt first said that all of the Fox money would go to the Dodgers, then revealed in a (since nullified) divorce settlement with Jamie that nearly half of the money wouldn't go to the team.

McCourt's explanation, according to sources, was that baseball had insisted he reach a divorce settlement before the deal could be approved. So we were supposed to believe that if Selig had approved the deal, McCourt was going to come up with money for an eventual divorce settlement from some other source.

What has become clear is that McCourt is simply looking for one more way to extend his ownership for another day, another week, another month. Eventually, the money will run out.

In all likelihood, that happens this week, when he misses payroll on June 30.

Does that mean the circus ends this week, and McCourt goes away as Selig seizes the team and sells it? Of course not. There will be more threats of lawsuits, and more crazy schemes.
Category: MLB
Posted on: June 20, 2011 4:59 pm
Edited on: June 20, 2011 7:14 pm

More trouble for McCourt as Bud nixes deal

Frank McCourt's slim chances of holding onto the Dodgers keep getting slimmer.

As expected, commissioner Bud Selig has turned down McCourt's proposed television deal with Fox, which means that McCourt's divorce settlement with wife Jamie is now "null and void" (meaning the divorce is back in court), and also that McCourt's money problems are neither null nor void.

The Fox deal would have provided McCourt with more than $300 million in up-front money, enabling him to keep the Dodgers running. Without that money, there's a very real chance that McCourt won't be able to meet his June 30 payroll, and that baseball will step in to pay the players, keep the Dodgers running -- and then take over the team with the intention of forcing a sale.

There's also a real chance that McCourt will respond with a lawsuit, and McCourt seemed to hint at that with a counter-statement issued two hours after Selig's official rejection. If he sues -- or even if he doesn't -- McCourt will claim that Selig's rejection of the Fox deal was unfair.

Selig, though, has in effect claimed that the proposed deal was unfair -- unfair to the Dodgers, to any future Dodgers owner and to other owners whose interest includes making sure TV rights are never undervalued.

In a statement issued late Monday afternoon, Selig said that he was uncomfortable with the "further diversion of Dodger assets for the personal needs of Mr. McCourt."

"As I have said before, we owe it to the legion of loyal Dodger fans to ensure that this club is being operated properly now and will be guided appropriately in the future," Selig said in his statement. "This transaction would not accomplish these goals.”

According to the terms of the divorce settlement (filed last Friday), only $235 million of the $385 million Fox payment (which is described as a loan) would actually go to the Dodgers. And even out of that $235 million, as much as 10 percent ($23.5 million) could go directly to McCourt, theoretically to repay personal money that he had "loaned" to the Dodgers.

That means that $173.5 million of the $385 million (45 percent) could have been funneled directly to the McCourts and their lawyers, even though McCourt had pledged last month that 100 percent of the money would go to run the Dodgers.

The divorce settlement, of course, no longer holds. The McCourts made their settlement contingent on Selig's approval of the deal, even though it was obvious by then that the commissioner had no intention of approving it.

Without a settlement, and without the Fox money, it's hard to see how McCourt can hang on, which is why it seems more and more possible that he will eventually head back to court to try to save his ownership.

"We plan to explore vigorously our options and remedies," McCourt said in his statement Monday.

McCourt has claimed that the Fox deal would be worth more than $3 billion over 17 years, but the Los Angeles Times reported that because of the way it was structured, baseball considered it to be worth only a little more than half that. Even if McCourt actually did get $3 billion, it's very possible that he was underselling the rights for his personal gain; agent Scott Boras told the Orange County Business Journal earlier this month that baseball thinks those rights should be worth $4.5-5 billion.

"And I agree with them," Boras told the paper.

McCourt continues to claim that the deal would be good for the Dodgers and said in his statement Monday that Selig's rejection of the deal "is not only a disappointment, but worse, is potentially destructive to the Los Angeles Dodgers and Major League Baseball."

He said the deal would have made "the Dodgers financially secure for the long term and one of the best capitalized teams in Major League Baseball."

McCourt also repeated his previous positions, insisting that he had done everything MLB asked him to do in regards to the deal, including coming to last week's agreement with Jamie, in which she agreed not to contest the Fox deal.

In McCourt's view, baseball gives him a test, and then when he passes it, comes up with another test. In baseball's view, McCourt continues to operate with only his interests in mind and ignores the long-term interests of the Dodgers or of the game in general.

In baseball's view, McCourt was presumably willing to accept this deal because it was one of his few remaining ways -- maybe his only remaining way -- to keep the cash-poor Dodgers solvent. Even the stripped-down payment would have allowed McCourt to easily make payroll for months to come, and presumably would have taken away Selig's best case for seizing the team and forcing its sale.

Now the countdown to the June 30 payroll will resume, but it's not even clear that will be decisive. Even if baseball does take over, the possibility of a McCourt lawsuit would remain.

As I wrote last week, the circus goes on.

Category: MLB
Posted on: June 17, 2011 12:36 pm
Edited on: June 17, 2011 9:43 pm

McCourts settle, but Dodger circus could drag on

The feuding McCourts reached agreement on a divorce settlement early Friday morning.

Great. So we're done with them?

Think again.

First off, the settlement is contingent on baseball approving the long-term television deal Frank McCourt agreed to with Fox television. That approval is unlikely to come, even though by the terms of the settlement deal Jamie McCourt agrees not to challenge the TV deal herself.

There had been speculation that a possible Jamie McCourt challenge was one of baseball's main issues with the prospective Fox deal, because of a fear that she could step in as possible co-owner and try to block it. But according to sources, baseball has other other issues (such as whether it represents true market value) that commissioner Bud Selig considers more significant than whether Jamie McCourt would challenge it.

Again, it's highly unlikely that baseball approves the deal, which would make Friday's settlement "null and void," according to the document posted on the DodgerDivorce.com website.

Without the TV deal (which according to the court document includes a $385 million loan), not only is the settlement in jeopardy, but Frank McCourt is still in serious danger of running so low on cash that he can't meet the June 30 Dodger payroll. If he can't pay, baseball will, but that would almost certainly mean that baseball would take control of the team and force a sale.

The settlement provides for a one-day trial to determine whether Frank McCourt owns the team, or whether the Dodgers are community property, which would give Jamie McCourt a 50 percent stake. If the court determines that Frank McCourt owns the team by himself, the settlement provides for him to pay Jamie $100 million. If the court finds the Dodgers are community property, the McCourts would then sell the team.

But remember, the settlement deal is "null and void" if Selig doesn't approve the TV deal, and he isn't expected to approve it.

So this isn't over, no matter how great that word "settlement" sounds to everyone who is tired of this circus.

Maybe it gets closer to an end on June 30. Maybe it drags on all summer, or into next summer.

There's no way to know that yet. All we know is it's not over.


And if you're not already disgusted by this case, feel free to read the actual court filing on the settlement, from DodgerDivorce.com.

Category: MLB
Posted on: May 18, 2011 4:43 pm
Edited on: May 18, 2011 7:03 pm

Dodgers tickets are going . . . cheap?

I know the Dodgers have problems. I know Dodger Stadium has problems, which is a little sad for me, since it was my first big-league ballpark.

But I wasn't prepared for what I just saw.

According to the website seatgeek.com, which tracks ticket prices on the secondary market, Dodger tickets are worth less this week than any other ticket in baseball. They're 30th out of 30. They're behind the Marlins, the Rays and the Pirates (although, actually, it's the Braves who are 29th).

The site says that tickets for Wednesday night's game against the Giants -- the arch-rival, world champion Giants -- can be had for as little as $8. The average ticket, it says, is going for just 46 percent of face value.

Compare that to the Yankees, where tickets for Friday night's game against the Mets are going for 110 percent of face value.

I shouldn't be surprised. I've heard all the stories about how unfriendly a place Dodger Stadium has become under the McCourt ownership. I've heard from scouts who absolutely hate to go there, and I've heard scouts say that this year, after the ugly incident on opening day, they've been at Dodger games where it seemed there were more police officers than paying fans.

The people at SeatGeek also tell me that Dodger tickets tend to be a little cheaper on the secondary market, because the team has so many season-ticket holders who are often willing to sell their tickets. Contrast that to the Blue Jays, who rank high in part because few tickets hit the secondary market.

I guess there's one bit of good news for Dodger fans. If you do want to go to a game, there are plenty of cheap tickets out there. Not only that, but because the tickets on the secondary market are so cheap, you won't even be tempted to hand your money to McCourt.

And if no one gives him any money, maybe he won't be able to make payroll, and Major League Baseball will have the justification it needs to take over the team and sell it.

Category: MLB
Tags: Dodgers
Posted on: May 7, 2011 10:58 pm

At 30 games, Ethier's streak is history

This was the day Andre Ethier was sure to keep the streak going.

"I'll just pencil him in for a hit," Chris Young had said, knowing all too well the success Ethier has had against him.

But Young didn't start for the Mets Saturday, scratched just before gametime because he had trouble getting loose.

And Ethier didn't get a hit.

His hitting streak is over at 30 games, like so many streaks before his. The last four hitting streaks to last 30 games -- Willy Tavarez in 2006, Moises Alou in 2007, Ryan Zimmerman in 2009 and now Ethier -- all ended without getting to 31.

In fact, for whatever reason, 30 has been by far the preferred ending spot for longish hitting streaks.

Of the 20 streaks that lasted 29 games or more, 11 ended at exactly 30 games, as opposed to just one streak ending at 29 games, two at 31 and one at 32.

Who knows why that is?

At least we can blame Young's inability to get loose for the end of Ethier's streak. The two met regularly in the National League West when Young pitched for the Padres, and Ethier went 12-for-29 (.414) against him, with six home runs and two doubles.

Maybe this time Young would have stopped him. We'll never know.

We do know that fill-in starter Dillon Gee stopped him, with help from relievers Michael O'Connor and Tim Byrdak. Ethier walked, flied to left and flied to center against Gee, grounded out against O'Connor and struck out against Byrdak.

And so this streak is over, one game shy of equaling Willie Davis for the longest streak in Dodger franchise history, 14 games shy of Pete Rose's National League record, and 26 games short of Joe DiMaggio's record.

Ethier did go six games farther than his manager ever had. Don Mattingly's longest hitting streak ended at 24 games in 1986.

Mattingly also had streaks of 20 games, 19 games and 17 games (twice).

"I told everyone that every time I'd get to 20, Joe DiMaggio would come in and say something and I'd go 0-for-4," Mattingly joked Friday. "So Ethier's all right."

DiMaggio didn't come by, but Chris Young couldn't get loose.

And Ethier's streak is over.

Posted on: May 6, 2011 7:38 pm

Dodgers lose closer Broxton for a month

NEW YORK -- The Dodgers could be without closer Jonathan Broxton for a month or maybe more, after Broxton was diagnosed with a bone bruise on the back on his right elbow.

Broxton won't pick up a ball for 2-3 weeks, and will need time to build up his arm after that. Manager Don Mattingly said it's likely Broxton will need a minor-league rehabilitation assignment before returning.

Mattingly said he plans to use Vicente Padilla as the closer in Broxton's absence.

The Dodgers suspected something was wrong with Broxton, because his velocity would drop significantly when he was used in back-to-back games. Broxton said he was told by the doctor that the bone bruise was the problem.

Broxton said he was told he could keep pitching, but that he wouldn't be able to pitch on back-to-back days.

Broxton has pitched on back-to-back days five times this year, and the results on the second day haven't been good. In 3 1/3 innings, he has allowed six runs (four earned) on five hits and five walks. In his other nine appearances, Broxton has allowed four runs (all earned) in 9 1/3 innings, with 10 hits and four walks.

Category: MLB
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