- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
The financial stresses on the Mets and Dodgers are real and they are mounting, like the snow and ice piling up on the roofs of houses and stores in the northeast. There is a breaking point, when the realities of debt can collapse an ownership.
What is unknown is if or when the Mets' Fred Wilpon or the Dodgers' Frank McCourt will get there.
Tom Hicks, the former owner of the Texas Rangers, had no intention of selling his team, and fought hard to keep control of the franchise. Major League Baseball provided a line of cash for the Rangers to help with their day-to-day operations. Commissioner Bud Selig aided the franchise in that way, but mostly he stood by and observed. He didn't frantically attempt to rescue Hicks' control of the club, nor did he aggressively force him to sell.
In the end, the avalanche of debt caved in on Hicks and he lost the Rangers.
If McCourt's ownership of the Dodgers is to end, that is probably how it will happen. Sources in baseball say McCourt's financial problems are serious, and they are soon to be augmented by the payroll and day-to-day costs of running a team. McCourt badly needs cash, and while he has looked for other investors, he has indicated no interest in selling off a large share of the team, in the way Fred Wilpon has.
Major League Baseball is expected to take the same approach with McCourt as it did with Hicks. There will not be a takeover staged by Selig, in all likelihood, nor will he fight to rescue McCourt's ownership. It's much more likely that MLB will stand by and just let events play out -- and it appears that the problems of the Dodgers are much more immediate than those of the Mets.
But as a baseball lawyer said this week, the weight of financial obligations for the Mets are enormous -- a three-headed monster, really. There is debt owed to banks, as the New York Times detailed earlier this week. Second, there is debt related to the construction of Citi Field. And third, there is expected to be debt related to the Madoff case, which, if settled, will require an extraordinary amount of cash.
And meanwhile, the Mets' revenue stream has shriveled substantially because of diminished ticket sales. The decline of the Mets' coffers is to the point that some owners wonder if the team will be asked to contribute to the sport's revenue sharing fund -- which is almost unthinkable, given the Mets' standing in the sport's largest market.
The Dodgers and Mets should be signature franchises for the sport, two great teams. Instead, the ownership of both teams is in jeopardy.
Around the league
• The clock is ticking for Albert Pujols and the Cardinals, Bryan Burwell writes. A rival executive speculated on the top competing bidder that the Cardinals might face for Pujols' services, if the first baseman becomes a free agent. "The Cubs," he said. "I think their ownership is gearing up for that."
Again: This is pure speculation, from a longtime executive. And remember that six months ago, probably 95 percent of baseball executives thought that Cliff Lee would sign with the Yankees.
• With a Michael Young trade likely, he is expected to report to the team's camp in Surprise, Ariz., Jeff Wilson writes. Troy Renck writes about why a deal hasn't been worked out between Colorado and Texas.
It feels like this is a staredown between the Rockies and Rangers. The two teams once had made progress on a deal, and there is now some anger and frustration in the mix, among the negotiators.
What we don't really know yet is: How motivated are the Rangers to move Young? Do the owners of the team, including Nolan Ryan, feel a sense of obligation to honor the infielder's request to be traded?
• Barry Bonds' representation wants a recording excluded from his trial, Paul Elias writes.
Dings and dents
Moves, deals and decisions
1. Andy MacPhail says the Orioles need to stick with their long-term approach. Within this piece, Kevin Van Valkenburg writes that MacPhail asked Baltimore School of Law students to identify the worst deal in baseball history, to help explain his big-picture thinking. From the story:
"The answers shouted back at MacPhail were varied. Albert Belle. Mike Hampton. Darren Dreifort. Even Washington Nationals outfielder Jayson Werth, who has yet to play a game with his new team, earned a vote. Only one student came up with the answer MacPhail was looking for -- Alex Rodriguez -- and it says a lot about MacPhail's management philosophy as he tries to rebuild the Orioles, who have suffered through 13 consecutive losing seasons.
"Alex Rodriguez to Texas was the worst signing in the history of baseball in my view," MacPhail said. "Why? Because he played as well as you can possibly ask the kid to play. He had great years. And the needle didn't move at all. ... The team didn't improve. Attendance didn't go up. But hey, they got the lead story on ESPN. Well, if that's what motivates you, you're going down the wrong path. You want to put 35,000 people in the ballpark, win the games. That's what [fans] are there to see. That's what the Orioles need -- to win some games."
3. Larry Rothschild believes he can help with A.J. Burnett's mechanics. In the end, though, it won't really be about Burnett's mechanics; it'll be about his focus and confidence, and those who know Burnett believe he is in a much better place with that than he was last summer.
5. The Cubs will soon decide who will step into Ron Santo's role in the broadcasting booth, Toni Ginnetti writes.
6. The Astros worked out deals with three players.
From the camps
• The Twins have the talent to beat the Yankees, says GM Bill Smith.
• Here are five storylines from the Padres' camp, Dan Hayes writes.
From Anthony Rieber's story: "There's no doubt in my mind I'm going to be the same Jose Reyes that played in 2008," he said. "There's no doubt in my mind because I've been working so hard this offseason."
Reyes said he is going into spring training "100 percent healthy" and has packed on the pounds to prove it. The shortstop said he is about seven pounds above his usual playing weight of 198 because he was able to work his entire body.
A Few Good Answers
Yesterday, I asked about the baseball clips in "A Few Good Men" -- the context, the specific games -- and we received, in the inbox:
"The baseball scene in 'A Few Good Men' is I believe the game between the Orioles/Twins game that ended the Twins long winning streak in the 1991 season. I believe it is in May or early June." - Scott Christenson (Claremont, S.D.)
"There are two clips in the movie. One is definitely the end of the June 17th, 1991 Twins/Orioles game. Ted Robinson's call: 'Kirby racing, he won't get there ... and the Twins streak is over!' as their 16-game win streak ended. The other one is a Braves game, and I'm pretty sure it's the May 23rd, 1991 game against the Padres. They show a Dave Justice homerun, which the boxscore that day says he hit in the 10th, and the call seems to go along with what would have been a crazy 10th with both teams scoring four runs. (I may have watched this movie a few times.)" - Alex (Minneapolis)
"As a lifelong Twins fan, I think I can answer your 'A Few Good Men' question. If I recall, the game they show on TV is from June 17, 1991, Twins at the Orioles. What is notable is that Randy Milligan's double off Rick Aguilera in the 9th inning (the play shown) ended the Twins 15-game winning streak. One 'error' was that the broadcast featured in the movie featured Ted Robinson's call, who was the TV voice of the Twins at the time. Presumably, as they were watching on TV in the DC area, the TV call should have been the Orioles feed. Keep up the great work, and I enjoyed the book." - Chad (Washington, D.C.)
Two of baseball's assumed titans are in trouble. Frank McCourt is running out of cash as he tries to retain the Dodgers, and the Wilpons are looking to sell off a portion of the Mets to add cash to the coffers. What is MLB's strategy? Buster examines.