SBD/January 25, 2012/FranchisesPrint All
Tigers Owner Mike Ilitch yesterday "shocked the baseball galaxy when he gave the richest contract in club history" to free agent 1B Prince Fielder, according to John Lowe of the DETROIT FREE PRESS. A source said that the Tigers and Fielder agreed to a "nine-year contract worth around $214 million, an average of $23.8 million per year." It is "not known whether Fielder's deal contains any opt-out clauses that would allow him to become a free agent before its nine-year term is up." Fielder's signing "completely upends what Tigers officials had characterized all along as a low-key off-season without any big-name acquisitions." The Tigers last week likely lost DH Victor Martinez for the '12 season to a torn knee ligament, and the club replaced him in the lineup by "giving out the fourth-largest contract in baseball history." Lowe writes, "Never underestimate Mike Ilitch's desire to win the World Series." The deal indicates that Ilitch "decided to bust the club's budget in an all-out bid for Fielder." For the Tigers to "make money this season, they probably will now have to draw at least 3 million fans and host some postseason games." The team "drew 2.6 million last season." Ilitch, who turns 83 in July, "yearns for a World Series title for the Tigers and has a vast personal fortune of an unknown magnitude." Yesterday "more than ever, his attitude appeared to be that if the baseball club must lose money in order to win the title, he's willing to write that check" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 1/25). Lowe notes the Rangers and Nationals "also pursued Fielder." Tigers President & GM Dave Dombrowski recently said that he "didn't see Fielder as a fit with the Tigers." Dombrowski repeatedly has said this offseason that the team "already has two $20-million-per-year players" in 1B Miguel Cabrera and P Justin Verlander, and it is "tough to have a third." Lowe notes that "might mean this signing is something owner Mike Ilitch wanted to happen." Fielder is "represented by agent Scott Boras, who previously struck deals" with the Tigers on C Pudge Rodriguez and RF Magglio Ordonez. Fielder's deal is "only the fourth $200-million contract in baseball history" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 1/25). ESPN's Buster Olney said, "One of the strengths of Scott Boras as an agent is a lot of times he really develops the relationships with owners, and that has been the case with Mike Ilitch” ("Mike & Mike in the Morning," ESPN Radio, 1/25).
SCORE ONE FOR BORAS: ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick wrote as recently as Monday, Tigers officials "were telling agents they weren't going to be a player for Fielder." Crasnick: "What happened? At this point, we can only speculate, but it's easy to surmise Boras did a skillful job of circumventing the chain of command and going all the way to the top. It's no secret Boras has a productive history of cultivating ownership in deals of this magnitude" (ESPN.com, 1/24). Fielder played his first seven seasons with the Brewers, and Brewers VP & GM Doug Melvin said, "Scott said from Day 1 he wanted $200 million. When you see this kind of number, we couldn't get involved in that." He added, "It's somewhat of a sad day. Prince is one of the best young players in the game. You try to build teams around young, star players" (MIILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL, 1/25). In Detroit, Tom Gage notes across baseball, the signing "was met with outright admiration -- with the Tigers being described as 'coming out of nowhere'" to make the deal. The signing "ranks as another coup for agent Scott Boras, but it's not the first time a late knock on Ilitch's door has paid off" (DETROIT NEWS, 1/25). NBCSports.com's Chris Calcaterra said, "Scott Boras is a magician, and he pulled (the Tigers) out of his hat. We had heard all winter that Scott Boras was not having a great offseason for his clients. I don't know why people started doubting this guy" ("NBC Sports Talk," NBC Sports Network, 1/24).YAHOO SPORTS' Kevin Kaduk named Boras a "winner" in the Fielder deal. Kaduk wrote, "Just when we were starting to doubt him, the super agent turns what we wrongly guessed was a dwindling market for Fielder into his first 200-plus million contract since A-Rod. All with one of his infamous mystery teams, no less!" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 1/24).
ANYONE SEE THAT COMING? FOXSPORTS.com's Ken Rosenthal cites a rival exec as asking yesterday, "In what other industry do companies make $200 million decisions seemingly on the spur of the moment?" Another exec said of the Tigers' roster, which now includes Fielder, Martinez and Cabrera, "They're paying three guys who should DH $168 million over the next three years. So, what's the big deal?" (FOXSPORTS.com, 1/25). In L.A., Steve Dilbeck wrote Fielder's deal is "not only a stunning amount of dinero, but a stunning number of years too" (LATIMES.com, 1/24). ESPN.com's David Schoenfield wrote, "Scott Boras always gets his clients the money. Always. But I don't believe anybody saw this deal coming. ... Speechless? Indeed" (ESPN.com, 1/24). Fielder's father and former MLBer Cecil Fielder said of his son's deal, "That just shocked me. ... I didn't even see Detroit in the picture. I didn't even see that happening. I never seen Detroit making a move like this." Cecil Fielder, who played nearly seven seasons with the Tigers, added, "I know Mr. Ilitch is probably excited, because he's wanted that kid since he was a little kid. So he finally got his wish" (DETROIT NEWS, 1/25). In Chicago, Phil Rogers notes the Tigers have "joined the Angels, Rangers and Yankees as the cream of baseball's deepest league." Few "saw the Tigers coming in the Fielder sweepstakes," but Ilitch "might be as aggressive as any owner in baseball" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 1/25).
GO BIG OR GO HOME: In N.Y., Tyler Kepner notes Fielder's deal is the "richest Ilitch has given." Tigers LF Don Kelly said of Ilitch, "You think about everything he’s done for that city, with the Red Wings and the Tigers, and now he steps up and we get Prince. He’s a Detroit guy, through and through.” Kepner notes the deal is "mainly about Ilitch’s passion and Boras’s strategy of shopping his best clients directly to owners, persuading them to exceed their stated budgets" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/25). Tigers P Max Scherzer said Ilitch "deserves all the credit for this." Scherzer: "Given the market we're in, you wouldn't see too many owners go out and be as aggressive as he is" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 1/25). In Detroit, Lynn Henning notes the deal "was an incredible gesture by an owner who has succeeded George Steinbrenner as the boldest, most financially adventuresome man in the game." But Henning writes, "This contract has a chance to go bad deeper into Fielder's tenure. ... Going for broke in a win-now mission doesn't always work" (DETROIT NEWS, 1/25). Also in Detroit, Bob Wojnowski writes, "Go big, go now, or go home. That's the philosophy for Ilitch's Tigers these days, with the owner openly wondering how long he can wait for a World Series championship" (DETROIT NEWS, 1/25). ESPN's Jim Rome said, "They were about a bat away and they got a huge bat, but that is a huge swing financially” (“Jim Rome is Burning,” ESPN2, 1/24). The DETROIT FREE PRESS' Drew Sharp writes, "For eight or nine years, it's fiscal insanity" for the Tigers. Ilitch will "pay now and worry about cleaning up the mess later." It makes "absolutely no sense paying two guys [Cabrera and Fielder] who basically are the same player more than $45 million annually" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 1/25).
COMMITMENT TO WINNING: CBSSPORTS.com's Danny Knobler wrote Ilitch is "82 years old, and he's every bit as determined to win a World Series as Arte Moreno is in Anaheim, every bit as determined as the Steinbrenners are in New York." In this "wild winter, where the Yankees and Red Sox really do seem to be operating under some sort of budget concerns, the other AL superpowers (or superpower wanna-bes) were the ones operating under the 'make it fit' theory" (CBSSPORTS.com, 1/24). The FREE PRESS' Lowe wrote the Tigers "can afford any player owner Mike Ilitch really wants" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 1/25). In Detroit, Michael Rosenberg writes Ilitch is "one of the most impressive men in sports," and Dombrowski is a "spend-now, worry-later kind of guy." Rosenberg: "Boras steers Ilitch's thoughts with a remote control. Boras has now sent Pudge Rodriguez, Magglio Ordoñez and Fielder into Ilitch's open arms. All were a surprise. Let's try to not be surprised anymore" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 1/25). In Ft. Worth, Gil LeBreton writes Ilitch "must be more desperate than we thought" (FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, 1/25). In Detroit, Mitch Albom writes, "Big money. Big risk. Big upside. Big story." It is a "fantastic signing, and puts the Tigers right back in the title conversation." Albom writes, "Perhaps that is all Ilitch wants now. He is close. His team is a contender. He is 82. And we all know how passionately he wants a World Series champion in his lifetime" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 1/25). YAHOO SPORTS' Tim Brown wrote the "fit was as perfect as the timing." Fielder gets "a relevant franchise that helps lift a city, a contender that now boasts the best three-four pairing in the game." The Tigers get "a great ballplayer and a stronger man." Ilitch gets "another summer of hope for a World Series championship" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 1/24).
The Bruins "decided to withhold" G Tim Thomas from an afternoon charity appearance at the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Washington "because his presence would have been a distraction," according to Fluto Shinzawa of the BOSTON GLOBE. For several months, Bruins personnel "ranging from owner Jeremy Jacobs to the rank-and-file players knew that Tim Thomas wasn’t planning to attend Monday’s ceremony at the White House." A team source said that Thomas’s actions "detracted from a day of celebration." Bruins coach Claude Julien said, "I think our group is all mature enough to look past that." Before last night’s game against the Capitals, Julien was "asked whether Thomas’s act of putting himself before the team would cause problems with his teammates." The coach replied, "I don’t think I want to stand here and answer these questions today when we’ve got Washington tonight. ... It’s unfortunate what happened yesterday. It’s the reality of the world. We’re a team thinking as a team right now." Shinzawa writes Thomas’ decision "may be the first step in goalie and team parting ways," as his "no-movement clause expires at the conclusion of this season" (BOSTON GLOBE, 1/25). Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli acknowledged that the team "fully expected the storm of reaction that Thomas’ remarks about the size and reach of the federal government provoked." Chiarelli: "This didn’t just come across my desk last week. This has been three months. I wasn’t surprised (by the statement) because I know what Tim’s political beliefs are. That was entirely consistent with what Tim has told me his position was" (BOSTON HERALD, 1/25). However, ESPN's Jackie MacMullan said, "He’s really become a polarizing figure now, both locally and nationally. And I can tell you privately that there are members of his organization that are very disappointed that he chose to do this" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 1/24).
VOICING THEIR CRITICISM: In Arizona, Paola Boivin writes Thomas has the "right to skip a White House visit" and "I have the right to call him self-serving and misguided." Boivin: "I find his choice symptomatic of a nation that has allowed bad taste and disrespect to increasingly define who we are" (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 1/25). In Montreal, Pat Hickey writes under the header, "White House Boycott Was Just Rude." Hickey: "As a believer in free speech and individual freedom, I have no choice but to defend Thomas's right to make his stand. As a believer in civility -- a virtue that is in decline in our society -- I see his boycott as an expression of bad manners. ... It's good to see Thomas paid attention in civics class, but you would think that somewhere along the line he would have learned some manners" (MONTREAL GAZETTE, 1/25). An ARIZONA REPUBLIC editorial is write under the header, "Goalie's No-Show Was Disgraceful" (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 1/25). In Montreal, Red Fisher writes under the header, "Thomas Put Himself Before His Team." Fisher: "His name is being mentioned everywhere today for all the wrong reasons" (Montreal GAZETTE, 1/25). Dallas Morning News columnist Tim Cowlishaw said, "You’re not supporting the President by going, you’re supporting your team. It’s a team event and he should be part of that” ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 1/24).
GOOD INTENTIONS, FLAWED LOGIC? In Toronto, Damien Cox wrote Thomas' decision, while "presented as somehow moral or above politics, was simply political in nature." Cox: "That's okay, too. He's entitled to that view in a democracy. But to present this as somehow a decision borne of a conscience is misleading." Cox continued, "Thomas, while a reasonably thoughtful athlete and quite likely well-meaning in his intent, simply got a little mixed up. He thought he was snubbing Obama, specifically, and the federal government, in general, but what he was really doing was snubbing the very Constitution he and his ilk insist only they understand and interpret correctly" (THESTAR.com, 1/24). In Boston, Ron Borges writes Thomas "broke no laws." He simply "exercised his constitutional right to free speech." Free speech is something "patriots like him like best about America." Borges: "What I wondered though was how come he didn’t say this when he actually had something to lose? How come when he had skin in the game he silently went off and represented the same United States in the most political arena in sports -- the Olympic Games?" (BOSTON HERALD, 1/25). ESPN's Dan Le Batard said, "I’m not the person to decide what the honor is for Tim Thomas, he gets to decide that. And he’s made a political stand here by turning what was an honor into an insult. He has insulted the office, insulted the President -- and if that’s how he wants to use his American rights, I’m glad he lives in this country” ("Dan Le Batard Is Highly Questionable," ESPN2, 1/24).
STICKING BY THEIR MAN: In Boston, Donna Goodison reports Arbella Insurance Group, which in November teammed with Thomas for an ad campaign that broke this month, "is backing the goalie." Thomas shot his “first television commercial for Arbella last month,” and the company said that the ad is “currently still in production.” His radio spots “already have been released.” The company in a statement said, “Tim’s political views and recent public comments have nothing to do with his relationship with Arbella.” Boston-based ML Strategies Senior VP Nancy Sterling said, “I don’t think it will hurt his long-term marketability unless he continues to pull similar stunts” (BOSTON HERALD, 1/25).
Outgoing Dodgers Owner Frank McCourt and his investment bankers "received more than 20 bids to purchase" the team, according to an MLB official cited by Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY. McCourt "anticipates receiving $1.5 billion" in the sale, which would "be a record for a North American sports franchise." MLB Commissioner Bud Selig said, "The number of groups is impressive. The people are impressive." McCourt will "submit a maximum list of 10 bidders to Major League Baseball for pre-approval, but he will make the final decision" on the buyer. Nightengale examines the "premier groups" in the running (USA TODAY, 1/25). In L.A., Bill Shaikin reported Grand Prix of America Exec Chair and former YES Network Chair & CEO Leo Hindery "is involved in the bidding" to purchase the team. Shaikin noted Hindery's involvement "could give Frank McCourt more confidence that the Dodgers might sell for more than $1.5 billion." A bid from Hindery "could trigger a surge of media interest that could lift the Dodgers sale price," putting it in the "range of $1.5 billion to $2 billion, rather than in the range of $1 billion to $1.5 billion" (LATIMES.com, 1/24). In St. Louis, Jim Thomas cites a baseball official as saying that he "was unaware" if Rams Owner Stan Kroenke "had followed through and actually made a bid" for the Dodgers. NFL sources said that any "interest Kroenke may or may not have in purchasing the Dodgers is mutually exclusive from anything going on with the St. Louis Rams -- be it the current stadium lease situation or any possible franchise relocation to Los Angeles, London, or wherever." Thomas: "One has nothing to do with the other" (STLTODAY.com, 1/25).
FORMER INVESTOR SPEAKS: In L.A., T.J. Simers notes former Dodgers Managing Partner Bob Daly "joined Fox in selling the Dodgers" to McCourt. Daly said, "We made a horrible mistake. We didn't realize what a bad guy he was." He added, "When we were going through the process of selling the team, McCourt seemed like an OK guy. I sat down with him and told him people here were under contract, but they've been like a family and so if he wanted to make changes, do so with respect. As everyone knows he didn't, so I told him off. ... He did some good things, but inherently he was not a nice guy. He put himself before the Dodgers, and this is a team owned by the fans and the city of Los Angeles." Daly said he has "zero desire" to join a group to purchase the Dodgers. He said, "At the right price it's a good investment. I can see over a billion, but that's if everything is included. ... Here's the test to see if we get a smart or stupid owner. If you make a deal and allow McCourt to keep the land and parking lots, you are out of your mind. At some point you are going to have to rip down Dodger Stadium and move it downtown. You don't want to deal with someone else owning the land" (L.A. TIMES, 1/25).
MCCOURT'S LEGACY: ESPN.com's Buster Olney wrote McCourt "will be remembered as the Richard Nixon of baseball owners, as someone who inexplicably squandered enormous opportunity and went out the door in shame." Olney: "But here's the thing -- only because the team was run into the ground, so deeply that it went into bankruptcy, is McCourt now in position to operate the sale of the franchise mostly out of the control of Major League Baseball. Only because the team was run into the ground is McCourt now in position to sell the Dodgers for more than a billion dollars more than he paid for it" (ESPN.com, 1/24).
Eighty-percent of more than 11,000 respondents "were against" a change to the Astros' name, according to a HOUSTON CHRONICLE poll cited by the paper's Zachary Levine. There were “plenty more nays” amid suggestions for the Houston Generals, Houston Hurricanes, Houston Buffs and even the Oilers. New Astros Owner Jim Crane and CEO George Postolos on Monday announced a number of fan-friendly initiatives and the Astros’ “relenting on their ban of outside food, lowering of ticket prices, and proclamation of an open mind on the future of the uniforms and even the 47-year-old team name had the town abuzz.” For one day Houston “was a baseball town again.” Levine wrote, “Headlines were about the Astros. Airtime was given to the Astros. Social media were blowing up on the topic of the Astros, with 819 comments on the team’s Facebook page by 7 p.m. Tuesday.” If the Astros “were looking for a larger focus group than their packs of season-ticket holders, they got one.” And if they “weren’t, they got one anyway” (CHRON.com, 1/24). In Houston, Steve Campbell wrote Astros fans “should have at least some cautious optimism after Crane’s first two months as owner.” Crane “may not be the glad-hander that his predecessor is, but he is building up a track record of saying what’s on his mind even when it’s not always what people necessarily want to hear.” Crane caused “a bit of a stir with his admission on Monday that the Astros name might be subject to review.” Campbell asked, “Is it a bad thing that he wants to at least explore all plausible options?” With a move to the AL having been “foisted upon Houston starting in 2013, with the team coming off its worst season in history, there is no time like the present to consider just about anything” (CHRON.com, 1/24). In Austin, Kirk Bohls noted the Astros no longer play in the Astrodome, the stadium for which the team was named after. The MLB Giants “vacated the Polo Grounds and went all the way across the country, but didn't change their name.” The same is true for the Dodgers, who “said goodbye to Brooklyn and Ebbets Field but remained the Dodgers” (AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN, 1/25).
Glendale Mayor Elaine Scruggs has "raised questions about whether the NHL's asking price" for the Coyotes will force the city to pay more, according to Lisa Halverstadt of the ARIZONA REPUBLIC. The NHL reportedly hopes to get $170M for the team, though Forbes recently valued the team at $36M less. Scruggs said that "that difference complicates bidders' dealings with Glendale, which must pay off its debt on the city-owned Jobing.com Arena." Scruggs: "It has kept other potential buyers out of the process of trying to purchase the team and I think it is definitely impacting the financial burden that's being asked of the city of Glendale." The Glendale City Council met behind closed doors yesterday for an update on the Coyotes negotiations, and Scruggs said that she "wants more substantive updates and more progress." NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly yesterday "defended the league's asking price for the team." He said that the NHL is "dealing with 'a number of parties interested' in the team and hasn't looked outside the Phoenix market." He "would not specify the number of bidding groups interested in the team" (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 1/25).
DOWNGRADED BOND RATING: The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Kelly Nolan reports Glendale is selling about $136M in debt in the municipal-bond market this week, "just days after Moody's Investors Service cut its bond rating because of the desert city's obligations to cover losses" on the Coyotes. Moody's "downgraded Glendale's general-obligation bond rating a notch, from Aa2 to Aa3, last week, noting the city's 'strained' financial position after a 'significant' payment to the NHL" for the Coyotes' operating losses. Moody's "has a negative outlook for Glendale, because it may have to pay the NHL as much as $25 million more, for 2012, if the team doesn't secure a new owner in the coming months" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 1/25).
The Mavericks before tonight's game against the T'Wolves will receive their "diamond-heavy" championship rings, which were "designed in part by Jason Kidd and other players, with input from several other Mavericks staffers," according to Eddie Sefko of the DALLAS MORNING NEWS. The design was built "around the Mavericks’ horse-head logo on the top of the ring." On one side, the "M" logo has "15 diamonds," and on the other side, the NBA logo has "one diamond and a star representing the first championship for the Dallas franchise." Around the outer border of the main logo, there are "31 Princess-cut diamonds, representing the 31 years the franchise had been in existence before it finally won a championship" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 1/25). ESPN DALLAS' Jeff Caplan notes the crowd at Monday's home game against the Suns got "brief glimpses of the ring in a video showing the making of the diamond-encrusted beauties." Not even the players "have seen the finished product." The design is "similar to the one chosen by the 2009-10 Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks." One side of the ring will "include the player's name engraved above the team logo with the player's jersey number." Mavericks G Jason Terry said that he also "believes the team's postseason motto, 'The Time is Now,' is engraved on the ring" (ESPNDALLAS.com, 1/25). Cuban said that he spent $1.4-$1.5M on the rings, which "will be awarded to players, coaches, support staff and front office personnel." In Ft. Worth, Dwain Price reports more than 140 "full-time employees will receive rings, with players and coaches getting the more expensive version." Terry "plans to purchase a ring similar to the one the players receive and raffle it off through his foundation to some lucky fan for $10 per raffle ticket" (FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, 1/25).