The proposed sale of the Dodgers to Boston real estate developer Frank H. McCourt could adversely affect the club's off-season plans if the process drags out much longer, baseball executives said Wednesday.
News Corp. is moving quickly to complete a deal with McCourt, with whom it has negotiated privately for weeks, for the Dodgers and their property holdings, hoping to finalize a purchase agreement and begin baseball's approval process.
The Dodgers' parent company is determined to unload the franchise that cites losses of $40 million annually, executives said, and McCourt is eager to get into the game after twice failing in attempts to purchase clubs.
The negotiations might produce an agreement by the end of October, sources close to the talks said, and the other owners would be expected to eventually approve McCourt. But the potential length of that process has stirred concern at Chavez Ravine. .
The club's baseball and business-side operations might be slowed while the ownership committee considers the proposal of McCourt and his investment group, believed to be about $330 million, and conducts background checks.
That would be especially problematic for the Dodgers entering a winter in which General Manager Dan Evans is under pressure to improve the National League's worst offense, and the club hopes to be a player in the free-agent market after dropping more than $19 million from the 2004 payroll.
The Dodgers said throughout the season the potential sale of the club would not affect day-to-day operations and continue to maintain nothing has changed because News Corp. is still operating the team.
"[Chairman] Bob Daly continues to stress to all management that it's business as usual," said Derrick Hall, senior vice president. "It will continue to be just that."
Spokesmen for News Corp. and McCourt declined comment. Baseball executives, however, said News Corp. is hesitant to move forward with Dodger issues while trying to wrap up a deal with McCourt.
For his part, McCourt is aware of the Dodgers' losses under News Corp. because of his access to their books.
News Corp. wants McCourt to take the operational reins as soon as possible, so it won't have to subsidize an unwanted subsidiary through another budgetary cycle. Dodger officials have acknowledged their concern about the timing of the negotiations, and the delays it could cause in making off-season moves, to counterparts on other teams.
Meanwhile, News Corp. and McCourt are trying to resolve the remaining issues and anticipate forwarding a purchase agreement to the commissioner's office soon, sources said, but there recently has been some contentiousness to the talks.
McCourt, realizing he is currently the only viable bidder, apparently has taken a hard-line stance on some of the remaining issues.
Although it is unclear how much News Corp. is willing to concede in its efforts to rid itself of the franchise it purchased for $311 million in 1998, it appears McCourt represents the only immediate option for the media giant to end its ownership of the Dodgers.
McCourt's attempts to purchase the Boston Red Sox in 2001 and the Angels this year probably would help accelerate the approval process of his Dodger bid, executives said, because baseball officials conducted background checks at that time.
Moreover, Corey Busch, a former San Francisco Giant and Major League Baseball executive, is a member of McCourt's group, providing another familiar face for the owners.
Having the situation resolved as quickly as possible benefits everyone involved -- the Dodgers in particu- lar.
Based on the luxury-tax formula, the club has almost $68 million committed in guaranteed contracts to only nine players. In real dollars, however, the figure is at more than $78 million.
All-Star closer Eric Gagne -- expected to receive a huge raise after a 55-save season -- is among seven key players eligible for arbitration, and the Dodgers acknowledge they must improve their woeful batting order.
How much McCourt is willing to spend is unknown, but he is not expected to continue bailing out the Dodgers with loans as News Corp. has done throughout its ownership tenure.
Starter Hideo Nomo (right shoulder) and reliever Paul Shuey (right hip) underwent arthroscopic surgery and are expected to be ready to start spring training.