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BASEBALL DOWN THE LINE

Dodgers could be in payroll limbo

If divorce case of Frank and Jamie McCourt goes to trial, the club could spend another off-season not knowing where it stands financially.

July 10, 2010|By Bill Shaikin

The trial to determine who owns the Dodgers is six weeks away, with lawyers for Frank and Jamie McCourt trying to negotiate a settlement before then. If the case goes to trial, the Dodgers could spend another off-season in payroll limbo, since the court's 90-day window to rule almost certainly would extend past the winter meetings.

If the case is settled, the pivotal question would involve how Frank McCourt finances the hundreds of millions he might need to pay off his estranged wife. He could try to add to the Dodgers' debt, perhaps with loans against future broadcast revenue. He could solicit investors, but a large coalition of limited partners could be challenging to assemble.

Major investors willing to provide that money might do so on the condition they eventually take over the team, sports consultant Marc Ganis said.

"Anybody who is going to invest a nine-figure amount," Ganis said, "is going to want control."

Dodgers attorney Marshall Grossman declined to say whether Frank McCourt has recruited investors to finance an agreement.

Hold or fold?

The Milwaukee Brewers play in baseball's smallest market, but they have sold more tickets this year than the New York Mets. The Brewers should sell 3 million tickets for the third consecutive year, loyalty that owner Mark Attanasio feels compelled to reward.

"We need to compete every year," he said.

As the San Francisco Giants swept the Brewers last week — outscoring them, 36-7, in four games — vultures circled Milwaukee first baseman Prince Fielder, second baseman Rickie Weeks and outfielder Corey Hart. All three are eligible for free agency next year.

The Brewers still might trade one, but Attanasio decries the expectation that teams with losing records need to sell off key players for prospects. While fans debate whether their team should be a buyer or seller, Attanasio takes a more nuanced view.

"We're not making those binary assessments," he said. "It's not like this is a fantasy league. If you dismantle your team one year and you need to buy the next year, you can't get back to where you need to be."

Star search

Nine free agents last winter signed contracts for more than $15 million.

Matt Holliday, who signed the most lucrative contract at $120 million, will play in Tuesday's All-Star game. None of the other eight — John Lackey, Jason Bay, Chone Figgins, Aroldis Chapman, Randy Wolf, Placido Polanco, Joel Pineiro and Mike Cameron, listed in order of guaranteed money — made the All-Star rosters.

If not for injury, Polanco might have filled Omar Infante's utility role. Chapman, the touted Cuban, has yet to pitch in the majors.

California dreaming

This is an All-Star summer in California, but it could be an empty autumn. For the first time in 11 years, the state might not have a team in the playoffs.

The Texas Rangers, with Cliff Lee aboard, might bury the Angels and Oakland Athletics in the American League West. And the resurgent Colorado Rockies — with a 14-6 record without their best player, injured shortstop Troy Tulowitzki — could force the Dodgers, Giants and San Diego Padres to fight the rest of the National League for the wild card.

"They scare the heck out of me," Dodgers Manager Joe Torre said. "They have a lot of belief in themselves. They don't lack for confidence."

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