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Ross Newhan ON BASEBALL

Selling Points Aren't There

January 12, 2003|Ross Newhan

The new year has not brought any swift or sudden movement in the Southern California real estate market as it pertains to the Angels and Dodgers.

Despite those periodic and mysterious reports from some strange Web site in Australia, Austria or Albania that Rupert Murdoch has a cash flow problem and is desperate to sell the Dodgers, high-ranking baseball officials insist they have received no applications to see the club's red-stained (according to club executives) ledger.

The way News Corp. officials put it is that the club is not for sale, period.

The reality, however, hasn't changed.

If some deep-pocket individual (Ed Roski's name keeps circulating) or corporation walked in with an overwhelming offer that would allow Murdoch to recoup his initial $311-million investment and subsequent losses (which some club officials project as high as $40 million in this year of a $46-million commitment to six starting pitchers and more than $80 million over the last two years), the Dodgers would definitely be for sale.

There is no indication of that happening soon.

Neither is there any indication that Disney is close to unloading the Angels.

That may change as the club gets into spring training and all the World Series vibes start percolating again, but amid the uncertain economy there doesn't seem to have been a rush on the investment bank handling the sale.

And while the three suitors known to be interested -- theater impresarios James and Robert Nederlander, former commissioner Peter Ueberroth and Mexican billionaire Carlos Peralta -- retain interest, there is said to be no hot movement on those fronts either.

A person with knowledge of Ueberroth's interest said, "Peter is not a bidder. He's a buyer. He's not interested in an auction. He's seen what he needs to see [regarding the Angels' financial status] and met with [Disney chairman Michael Eisner]. Michael has an inflated vision of what the club is worth, and it's not close to what Peter thinks it's worth."

If the price dropped below $200 million last summer, it can be speculated that it has soared above that figure again with the World Series victory and a ticket boom unfazed by an increase in the average ticket from $16.88 to $21.15 and a $5 surcharge for the most attractive games.

The sale of season tickets -- 13,400 last year -- may approach 16,000, and the projection of 2.7 million in attendance could be low, depending on how the team performs.

Still, despite that revenue assurance and Disney's willingness to increase the payroll 43%, General Manager Bill Stoneman has followed a financially judicious course this winter, choosing not to make Brad Fullmer an offer before re-signing him for $1 million or $2.5 million less than he made last year; putting $1 million on the table for Eric Owens, David Justice and Robert Fick to decide who would be the first to take it (Owens was), and leaving Scott Spiezio's agent, Barry Meister, with the impression the club could not respond to a multiyear contract proposal "in part because of the ownership transition issue."

Stoneman denied that was a factor, but it will be interesting to see how negotiations with the valuable first baseman play out. It may be that the Angels simply don't want to make a multiyear commitment at a position likely to be occupied in another year or so by Casey Kotchman. It may be that Meister was right, that Disney doesn't want to make multiyear commitments with Spiezio, Jarrod Washburn and Adam Kennedy, among others, because it doesn't want to obligate potential buyers.

In the first month of the new year, no potential buyer appears close to a deal.

I Man

Ivan Rodriguez has become the poster boy for a depressed market that is being closely scrutinized by the players' union. The best catcher of the last decade, a 10-time All-Star who was the American League's most valuable player in 1999 and is still only 31, has received only two free-agent offers -- similar three-year, $18 million proposals from the Chicago Cubs and Baltimore Orioles. That translates to about $5 million a year less than agent Jeff Moorad had in mind and can be viewed, in the context of the market, as ongoing coincidence or collusion.

Either way, Rodriguez told the Forth Worth Star Telegram, "It's frustrating. I can't believe teams are doing this to me. I don't think people believe I'm healthy. If that's the problem, then they are completely wrong."

A certain caution is understandable.

Rodriguez, long indestructible behind the plate, has not appeared in more than 111 games the last three years.

Still, he batted .314 with 19 home runs and 60 runs batted in despite sitting out six weeks because of a herniated disk last year and it's somewhat stunning -- or another example of the falling market -- that the Orioles, for example, would offer a catcher who appeared on his way to Cooperstown a lot less than the four-year, $28-million package they gave David Segui two years ago.

No Certainty

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