The cities of Sacramento and Seattle yesterday both "made moves to strengthen their claim" to the NBA Kings, according to Tony Bizjak of the SACRAMENTO BEE. Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson "released a list of 24 businesses that have pledged $50 million in team corporate sponsorships for the next five years." He also said that he "plans to gather 10,000 season ticket purchase pledges to take with him" to the NBA BOG meeting in N.Y. next week. As of yesterday, a website compiling the pledges had 7,369 of them. But Seattle "scored a big headline of its own." Court documents showed that the Seattle group seeking to buy the Kings, led by hedge fund manager Chris Hansen and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, has "signed a tentative $15.1 million deal in bankruptcy court to take control of the 7 percent of the team owned by Sacramento businessman Bob Cook." Court officials said that Hansen's 7% purchase is "not final." Any of the team's other four minority owners "has the right to match that bid in the next 15 days." Johnson said that he would "announce a countermove in the next few days." Cook: "I would be surprised if a local group didn't match that" (SACRAMENTO BEE, 3/28). In Seattle, Bob Condotta notes Cook said that he "might even attempt to match" Hansen's purchase of the 7% stake. SI.com & NBA TV's Michael McCann said of Hansen's bid for Cook's stake said, "I don't think it's a total game-changer. But it puts the NBA in sort of an awkward position -- would it approve him as a minority owner but not as a majority owner? Why wouldn't they? It's a strategic move. It puts him in a position where the NBA has to sort of really come up with a reason not to approve him as an owner" (SEATTLE TIMES, 3/28).
POWER PLAY: In Seattle, Nick Eaton noted if the league "rejects Hansen’s plan to buy and move the Kings to Seattle," team Owner the Maloof family could "entertain a counteroffer" from the ownership group organized by Johnson. However, if Hansen's acquisition of this 7% is approved, "as a minority owner he could, with his newfound right of first refusal, block a potential later sale of the Kings to that Sacramento group" (SEATTLEPI.com, 3/27). In Sacramento, Ailene Voisin writes within the past five days -- perhaps the "most important five days in the history of the Kings -- Sacramento thrust itself back into the game." The league's owners "have some serious studying, evaluating and reviewing ahead" (SACRAMENTO BEE, 3/28). A SACRAMENTO BEE editorial writes under the header, "A Rush To Judgment By City Council On Downtown Arena Term Sheet." The editorial states, "Committing so much public money to one project comes with levels of uncertainty -- and the way the council reached its decision was a sham of the public, transparent process that should have happened" (SACRAMENTO BEE, 3/28).
WHERE WILL THE TEAM WIND UP? The S.F. Chronicle’s Ann Killion said despite Sacramento approving a new arena deal, the city will not be able to keep the Kings because the “momentum is with Seattle.” The San Jose Mercury News’ Mark Purdy said the decision is "really going to be determined by what (NBA Commissioner) David Stern wants,” as he can "organize the owners and get them to vote whichever way he wants.” Purdy: “I believe that they want to keep Seattle open as that threat for any team to move there. It’s more valuable for them that way almost and if this plan is real in Sacramento … I think the Kings do have a very good chance of staying in Sacramento.” CSNBayArea.com's Ray Ratto said, “This has always been Seattle’s to lose from the moment that the Maloofs agreed to sell.” Ratto noted Ballmer, the "money guy" behind Hansen's bid, is worth $15B. Ratto: "You only get to say no to guys like that one time. ... They would rather have him in the league; they’d rather have the Seattle market taken care of than Sacramento. Unless Chris Hansen does something incredibly stupid … it’s going to Seattle” (“Chronicle Live,” Comcast SportsNet Bay Area, 3/27).
MLB Commissioner Bud Selig yesterday said that he "fully understands" Astros fans' complaints, but the “only ‘logical choice’ for baseball was to relocate the Astros to the AL,” according to Brian Smith of the HOUSTON CHRONICLE. Selig "believes fans won't question the move five years from now." Smith noted the team agreed to relocate after Owner Jim Crane purchased the club in November ’11, and since the deal, the Astros “often have said in news releases that the relocation was mandated by MLB.” Selig said that the “primary reason” for the move “came down to simple geography.” With the Cardinals, Brewers, Reds, Pirates and Cubs in the NL Central, the Astros were “the odd team out.” Selig said those four teams have "tremendous" rivalries. He added that the Astros “did not” because of “their isolation.” Selig: “We had to move a team, and ... the fact of the matter is when you looked at all the other things that could happen, the only logical thing was for Houston to move.” Selig also is “sold on the rebuilding Astros.” The team is “expected to enter 2013 with an MLB-low” $25M payroll. Selig said that neither he nor MLB “has a problem” with the payroll. Selig: “I do trust the organization. Look, every organization goes through certain phases. They have chosen the path with some very qualified people. And the only way you can really build a solid organization, a solid team, is through a very productive farm system. And I think they're doing it the right way” (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 3/27).
DON'T GO THERE: ESPN.com's Buster Olney wrote it is "a bad idea for anybody within the institution of baseball to endorse 'getting good draft choices' as a good thing." To make roster decisions to "foster a worse record and better draft placement is really dangerous, because what it boils down to is this: It's a strategy to lose." Rival execs privately "really like what the Astros are doing, in stripping down the organization and rebuilding from the ground up." But there is "queasiness about the question of whether Houston is angling for better draft picks, in fielding a team onwhich the highest-paid player," P Bud Norris, is set to make $3M. It would be a "really, really bad thing for baseball if some team made a concerted effort to lose games and then was rewarded for that" (ESPN.com, 3/27).
WE COOL? In Houston, David Barron reported former Astros broadcaster Larry Dierker “after an hour-long meeting with” Crane said “everything is fine” between them. Dierker said that while he “will not have a contract for the 2013 season, he is willing to make limited appearances on a voluntary basis as his schedule allows and will revisit his association with the team after the season.” Dierker: “I’m willing to do some things for them. If they need some help and reach out to me and I’m going to be here, I’ll do it.” Dierker said that he “explained to Crane that while he is not interested in studio work on Comcast SportsNet Houston, he would like a chance to return to game broadcasts if circumstances warrant” (HOUSTONCHRONICLE.com, 3/27).
SportsNet N.Y.’s Jonas Schwartz asked whether this is the “year we will really find out what” Yankees GM Brian Cashman is “made of” because the payroll restrictions the Yankees are operating under. Schwartz said Cashman now is “in a position where there are actually some real budget restrictions.” The N.Y. Daily News’ Bob Raissman said it “certainly matters what he does, but I don't think the organization, the way it's structured now, he's going to be under that much pressure because I don't think they like change.” He added, “I think he knows he could be around," but he has “always had that monkey on his back of living off the big check.” The N.Y. Daily News’ Bill Madden said, “I think he's proving that he can’t do it with a limited payroll and even though you're right in the past that they have not wanted to have change and they don’t seem to hold people accountable, I think this is the time that they're going to hold Brian Cashman accountable because he's been saying all along, ‘What, me worry? This team is going to be alright.’ All these garbage players he's picking up off the scrap heap, he's insisting that he's smarter than everybody else.” Raissman asked who is “going to hold him accountable? Where are the politics inside that Yankee organization now?” Raissman: “I'm not so sure that they have the heart or guts to pull the plug on any of these guys.” Madden said Yankees Managing General Partner & co-Chair Hal Steinbrenner is “hearing it from other people in the organization” about the day-to-day of the Yankees. Madden: “He's really going to hear it when the turnstiles aren't clicking the way they normally have been clicking over there and the TV ratings take a plummet when this team becomes unwatchable. If that happens, Hal Steinbrenner’s attention is going to be gotten and I can see him finally getting the message that he needs to clean house” (“Daily News Live,” SNY, 3/26).
ON THE HOT SEAT:SNY's Marc Malusis said Cashman is “between a rock and a hard place” with expensive contracts for 3B Alex Rodriguez, SS Derek Jeter, OF Curtis Granderson and 1B Mark Teixeira, who are all hurt. Malusis said, “You can’t go out there and replace” players like Granderson and Teixeira and “balloon your payroll to $250 million, that’s unrealistic.” SNY’s Eamon McAnaney said Cashman will “take a hit” this season. But he added, “I don’t think he gets fired if they struggle and don’t make the playoffs. I think he has enough collateral built up and he’s been around long enough that they’re not going to have a knee-jerk reaction and can him.” McAnaney said it does “put a bigger bullseye on his (back) for the next year” (“The Wheelhouse,” SNY, 3/25).
The Dodgers have become the “new free-wheeling Yankees,” and the ownership group's “hubris does not sit well with rival owners, many of whom already were troubled by the Dodgers' driving up the price of talent,” according to Bill Shaikin of the L.A. TIMES. A comment indiciative of the sentiment is Dodgers Chair Mark Walter recently saying the Braves' run of 14 consecutive division championships would be repeated "on the West Coast." Former Dodgers Managing Partner Bob Daly said, "There were certainly people who resented the Yankees for spending so much money. I think everybody knows now that the No. 1 team in baseball, as far as spending money, is the Dodgers." Shaikin notes Dodgers President & CEO Stan Kasten is “not concerned with the opinions of rival owners.” He said, "The most important thing to me is how our fans feel. I think our fans feel really good about it." Kasten added that the team has “sold a record 31,000 season tickets.” Shaikin writes what would happen if the Dodgers “fail to reach the playoffs is anyone's guess.” MLB Commissioner Bud Selig said that he had “not felt a need to explain to the new owners that money does not assure success.” Selig said, "They're smart people" (L.A. TIMES, 3/28).
HEY JEALOUSY? Mets VP/Player Development & Amateur Scouting Paul DePodesta appeared on CNBC’s “Fast Money Halftime Report” yesterday and was asked whether he would rather have the financial flexibility of the Dodgers or the Mets' current fiscal approach. DePodesta, who served as Dodgers GM from '04-05, said he “was comfortable dealing with any framework we have, and then trying to be as creative as possible with what we have." DePodesta: "We have great resources in New York (and) we have tremendous support from ownership. ... The resources aren’t just about paying up for talent, but it’s also about paying up for resources in the front office” (“Fast Money Halftime Report,” CNBC, 3/27).
In St. Louis, Derrick Goold reports the Cardinals will wear a patch on their uniforms “to honor Stan Musial,” and there is “no black in any of the three patches.” The Musial patch will “make its first appearance on the road jerseys the Cardinals will wear Monday" in Arizona, where they open the '13 season against the D'Backs. The patch is “a circle defined by a red thread border and it features Musial’s number, 6, in red, with his signature looping through the number.” The field -- or “negative space -- within the patch is the color of the jersey: gray for the road, white for home, and a cream color for the Cardinals’ alternate jersey, which debuts this year at home.” The patch “will be worn on the left sleeve this season” (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 3/28).
THE CUBS CLUB:In Chicago, Lewis Lazare wrote the Cubs' new "Committed" TV commercials “may not satisfy those Cubs supporters who like their advertising messages loud and in your face.” Each of the three new ads posted yesterday on the team’s website “spotlights Cubs fans in a way that is more about charm and less about boisterousness.” The ads showcase “some of the true believers and their undying devotion to a baseball team that hasn't won a World Series in over a century.” Cubs Senior Marketing Dir Alison Miller said that she and ad agency Schafer Condon Carter, Chicago, “wanted to produce a campaign with a genuinely authentic ring to it” (BIZJOURNALS.com, 3/27).
WALLET WOES:In St. Paul, Mike Berardino reports the Twins “appear set to enter the 2013 season with an Opening Day payroll of $81.01 million, the lowest in Target Field history.” That gives the Twins “their lowest season-opening payroll since 2009 ($65.3 million), their final year at the Metrodome.” They opened the past three seasons with “an average player payroll of $103.8 million, including a franchise-record $113.2 million in 2011” (ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS, 3/28).
LET'S BE HONEST:The AP’s Jimmy Golen noted the Red Sox purchased billboards around Boston and a full-page newspaper ad with the team’s motto "What's broken can be fixed." Red Sox President & CEO Larry Lucchino said, "It's a marketing slogan. But I think this one has the added virtue of being true and transparent" (AP, 3/27).