Best Interests of Baseball (Conclusion)

So egregious was the treatment of the Expos by MLB and Commissioner Selig that a group of Canadian business interests associated with the Montreal Expos tried to file a RICO complaint, listing Jeff Loria, David Samson, and Bud Selig as defendants. An arbitration panel ruled that, although Loria had not exactly done business in a stand-up manner, he had not committed fraud as it was laid out in the complaint. Selig promptly announced on the final day of the 2004 that Montreal Expos baseball was being relocated to Washington, D.C. under new ownership. This time the movie did not have a happy ending. But it did have a sequel.

Despite winning the World Series in 2003, Jeff Loria ordered the dismantling of the team, selling off all the high-priced talent until, in 2006, the Marlins were operating with a 40-player team payroll under $15 million dollars (smaller market Colorado spent over $40 million).  Jeff Loria would go on to be the subject of SEC investigations and the Major League Baseball Players’ Association would cite him for pocketing revenue sharing dollars instead of reinvesting them in the team and talent. In 2008, despite over five years of pocketing massive amounts of money from MLB, Jeff Loria went to the Miami commissioners and made it clear that, without a publicly funded stadium, baseball would be dead in Miami and all the money and work dumped into the team to that point would have been for naught. Unlike Montreal, Miami decided in a very controversial move (that led to the SEC investigations and the ousting of several politicians) to publicly fund a stadium for Loria and the Marlins. The move would go on to burden the Miami-Dade taxpayers to the tune of over $634 million dollars, all to save baseball in the area. The amount would represent approximately 80% of the cost of the new stadium.

In 2012 Marlins Park was completed. To usher in the new era, Loria and Samson proceeded to spend wildly on talent to establish goodwill within the community.  The team negotiated over $100 million in heavily back-loaded, guaranteed contracts. Superstar Free Agent Shortstop Jose Reyes was signed, along with star pitchers Mark Buehrle, and Heath Bell. Spirited Latino manager Ozzie Guillen was brought in to lead the team. The Marlins even made a serious run at MLB’s biggest and brightest star, Albert Pujols. Negotiations with Pujols broke down however, when the team refused to include a no-trade clause that would guarantee Pujols would not be moved at a future date. It was a matter of organizational policy that no-trade clauses were never issued, and, no exception would be made for the game’s biggest star and future Hall of Famer.

Before the first pitch of the regular season, turmoil developed on the team. Ozzie Guillen made public remarks that upset a large portion of Miami’s Cuban expatriates. The team’s star shortstop balked at moving to third base, claiming, quite rightfully, he was a lesser player there. However, he was forced to move anyway in order to make room for newly acquired Reyes.  Despite the talent that was brought in during the offseason, the Marlins still fielded a team that was largely made up of developing players. This, combined with personality conflicts between Guillen and the team, led the Marlins to have a rough start. On July 25, 2012 with the Marlins holding a record of 45-53, Hanley Ramirez was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers. The trade of arguably the team’s best young pitcher, Anibal Sanchez, to the Detroit Tigers soon followed.  The Tigers rode Sanchez’s arm to the World Series; while the Marlins, not sure of their identity, and fielding an even more inexperienced team, finished in last place.

After the season, on October 22, 2012, major offseason acquisition Heath Bell was moved, along with $8million to the Arizona Diamondbacks for a minor league player. The next day, on October 23, Ozzie Guillen was fired as manager. Less than one month later, on November 13, the Marlins sent team ace Josh Johnson, newly acquired Mark Buehrle, newly acquired Jose Reyes, super-utility speedster Emilio Bonifacio, and catcher John Buck, along with $8.5 million to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for a troubled star shortstop in Yunel Escobar and a handful of minor league prospects.  Escobar, making $5 million was then traded less than two weeks later to the cross-state Tampa Bay Rays for a middle-quality prospect.

Less than one year after the Miami taxpayers watched Jeff Loria usher in a new era of baseball to the community, the entire new product was gone, every last piece of it. The team that went into the season with high hopes and over $100 million in payroll for the season was gone. In 2013 the Miami Marlins will be fielding a team with payroll obligations, including the $12.5 million owed to Toronto and Arizona, of just under $34million. The Marlins will be spending a fraction over $20 million on talent actually fielded by the team (by comparison there will be 21 players in MLB in 2013 making more than that individually). Because he was developed by the Miami system, Giancarlo Stanton, the team’s rising star, and a bonafide up-and-coming superstar of MLB, will be making league minimum while playing on a team filled with minor leaguers.  In 2014, after subtracting the final $4 million dollars to be sent to Arizona, Loria’s Marlins are currently slated to spend $1.5 million on guaranteed contracts.

So much for saving baseball in Miami. The night that Loria shipped out all the newly acquired talent and the back-loaded contracts, Giancarlo Stanton turned to social media outlet Twitter. “Alright, I’m pissed off!!! Plain & Simple.” Giancarlo Stanton was upset. The people of Miami were upset. Baseball fans and enthusiasts were upset. Yet, unlike during the McCourt fiasco, Bud Selig was nowhere to be found defending the “best interests of baseball.”  It’s beginning to look like the sequel may end even more tragically than Loria’s first go-around at recreating Major League. At least the people of Montreal are only saddled with bad memories, and not a generation’s worth of tax debt.

A few days ago I asked a very pointed question:  If an owner fielding a competitive team that finds a way to clean up his own financial messes can be stripped of a team, then how is it an owner found to be in violation of the CBA, that fails to regularly field competitive teams, and may have defrauded an entire city still has his team?

Answer: Bud Selig takes care of his friends, especially those from the days when MLB played fast and loose with the good-ol’-boy glad-handing of franchises.

Not too long ago, the country saw a Powerball jackpot of over $500 million awarded. I admit, I had five tickets invested in the drawing. Going into the night of the drawing, I wondered; if I won, would I have enough financial clout to partner with others and run Jeff Loria out of Major League Baseball? After all, if Bud Selig isn’t going to look out for the best interests of the game I was raised on, someone needs to.  I’m not sure I’m up for the task, but at this point, I would sure be willing to try.

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Bud Selig and “The Best Interests of Baseball” Part I

Last year, after a rather long, drawn-out feud, Bud Selig managed to wrest control of the Los Angeles Dodgers away from owner Frank McCourt using the “Best Interests of Baseball” clause of the powers granted to the Commissioner’s office. The reason McCourt was stripped of his ownership was, he and his wife had been caught with their hand in the cookie jar, using the team’s assets as their own personal slush fund/piggy bank. That’s a big no-no. Things got so bad that, for a while, there were questions about whether or not the team would be able to meet its payroll commitments.

Obviously, when fielding a sports team, about the worst thing that could happen is not being able to afford to put players on the field.  This led Bud Selig to invoke the little-used “Best Interests of Baseball” clause to strip Frank McCourt of ownership, putting the Office of the Commissioner in charge of the team. This action was taken to protect the integrity and reputation of one of the most storied franchises in the league. Los Angeles fans rejoiced. The egomaniac McCourt was going to be gone and magically, the Dodgers were going to be a perennial contender again. But therein was the rub. From 2004 through 2012 (the period during which McCourt owned the team), the Los Angeles Dodgers made the playoffs four times, winning the NL West three times and settling for the NL Wild Card once. Additionally, McCourt managed to find a way to clean up his financial mess by convincing Fox Communications to provide a lucrative $1 Billion television deal to put the Los Angeles Dodgers back on track.

However, Selig was unhappy with McCourt’s solution. By “settling” for $1 Billion, McCourt was devaluing the value of future lucrative television deals for other teams in other markets.(In fairness to the league, this was a deal light in cash – but it was a deal negotiated between one team and one broadcaster in a free market, and both sides were happy.)  So, despite fielding a team that was still winning (even if there were areas for significant improvement) and getting his financials in order, McCourt was stripped of the team. This set a precedent.

Shortly after the league kicked McCourt to the curb, the Los Angeles Dodgers were sold to a group that included NBA legend Magic Johnson. The new ownership, looking to redefine the team, and to make a bold media statement that a new era had begun then proceeded to make a historic trade of mind-boggling proportions with the Boston Red Sox. The Dodgers received Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Nick Punto in the biggest waiver trade in league history. In return, the Red Sox received salary relief, James Loney, Rubby De La Rosa, Ivan De Jesus, Allen Webster and Jerry Sands. In one fell swoop, the Los Angeles Dodgers acquired a stable of star names, and a quarter of a billion dollars in salary commitments. On the other side, Boston shed their commitments, obtained some marginally decent talent, and the financial freedom to rebuild the storied franchise.

The trade took place after the non-waiver trading deadline. No one else was able to offer counter-proposals. And all it took was a phone call on a Saturday afternoon in August. Despite the enormity of the deal, and the dearth of comparable talent going to Boston, the Commissioner’s office signed off on the trade, and it was done. It seems that, in this case, the best interests of baseball were served by allowing the Dodgers to suddenly take the sort of debt and contracts that would render a smaller market team insolvent. This should have been a warning sign. This is where sane minds should have spoken up. But, they didn’t  Apparently, the deal was so mind-boggling that no one ever imagined anything like that might ever happen again.

Question: If an owner fielding a competitive team that finds a way to clean up his own financial messes can be stripped of a team, then how is it an owner repeatedly found to be in violation of the CBA, that fails to regularly field competitive teams, and may have defrauded an entire city still has his team?

What’s Happening to Baseball?

I started out composing a rather lengthy post about the recent trade between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Miami Marlins and how the many warning signs that this sort of thing was coming were ignored; beginning with Commissioner Bud Selig unceremoniously stripping horrible owner Frank McCourt  of ownership of the Los Angeles Dodgers last year, followed by the post-deadline trade between the Boston Red Sox. However, I found myself taking forever to get to the point. It’s not a simple subject to discuss by any means. So, instead of one long post about the situation, I’ll be spending the next few days putting up various sections about what happened and, my reaction to it all.

While Baseball may be experiencing unprecedented prosperity, if recent bullshit shenanigans continue, that could change in a heart-beat. If the game as a whole is unable to right the ship quickly, smaller market teams across the country are in a world of trouble.