November 27, 2014

Breaking Down the McCourt Divorce Saga

I was preparing to write a story about how refreshed I was heading into the second half of the season, the performance of Ethier, Furcal, Kuo and Broxton in the All-Star Game and some of the good stuff we have planned for the next few months.  But then I read Molly Knight’s anticipated story on the McCourt divorce saga (the article is slated to appear in the July 26 edition of ESPN, The Magazine, but is also available online now).  My response? Ugh.

Molly is a great writer and does a fantastic and what must have been an exaustive job detailing the many twists and turns of the McCourt divorce.  This is no easy task, and frankly, I had allowed myself to forget about several of the numerous unfortunate moments since the couple bought the organization in 2004.

Rather than recap the article and what’s happened in the past, I’d like to discuss some of my big concerns for the future of the franchise:

First, I’ve long felt that the Dodgers are spending just enough to win the NL West, without really investing in putting the club “over the top” to win the World Series. 

Take your four best starters from the group of Billingsley, Kershaw, Padilla, Kuroda and Ely, and see how they stack up to the Yankees rotation. Right now, I just don’t think they have enough experience to win without the addition of a #1 starting pitcher; an ace.  I really love a lot of these guys (with Kershaw and perhaps Bills being #1 starters eventually), but my concern remains that the Dodgers just don’t have the pitching firepower to win it all this season.  And that’s a big problem.  Here are both sides of this issue, per Molly Knight’s article:

While the McCourts were living large, the Dodgers, in 2008 and 2009, spent less than any other MLB team on the draft and international-player signings, an area the team once dominated. Frank told reporters during spring training that the divorce has nothing to do with the payroll; and multiple former club execs say there’s truth to the claim. “It was Frank’s plan all along to run a team with a payroll of about $80 million,” says a former high-ranking club official speaking on condition of anonymity. “His thinking since he bought the team was: ‘This isn’t the AL East. Why would I spend $150 million to win 98 games when I can spend half that to win 90, if that’s all it takes to make the playoffs in our division?’ ” So while the Dodgers have spent money on free agents such as Andruw Jones, Juan Pierre, Jason Schmidt, Rafael Furcal and Manny Ramirez — plus Joe Torre, the game’s highest-paid manager — GM Ned Colletti has structured deals creatively, offering fewer years (Furcal, Jones) and deferring payments (Ramirez, Jones).When asked how the McCourts’ divorce is affecting the Dodgers’ payroll, Colletti, weary of the question, joked: “You think I can answer that?” He says he’s never “heard a number” like $80 million and holds the company line, saying the team would add payroll down the stretch if the right deal presented itself. If the Dodgers were to deal for, say, Cubs lefty Ted Lilly at the July 31 trade deadline, Lilly would be owed just $4 million for the rest of 2010, or roughly one-fifth of what McCourt will pay to divorce attorneys this year. “For the life of me, I cannot figure out why he hasn’t just settled,” says another former executive. “It’s like he’s lost his mind.”

Second, will the McCourt’s settle, or will this be a fight to the proverbial death?  Per a brief conversation I had with Molly via Twitter, she stated “As a fan you should hope they settle before Aug 30, though. And I think they might.”  That would indeed be great news, but how is Frank going to be able to pay Jamie off?  He can’t get a loan, and according to court proceedings, is borrowing money from his brother to make Jamie’s monthly spousal support payments.  If that’s the case, won’t the money have to come from keeping the Dodgers payroll in check and making a big enough profit to pay off Jamie?  Or am I missing something? (If I am, please let me know!)

Third, is Frank McCourt trying to hold on financially until the Dodgers’ television rights come up to bid after the conclusion of the 2013 season?  In February 2010, Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times discussed court documents (submitted by Jamie’s team) that reportedly showed that the club intends to shrink the percentage of revenues spent on payroll through the 2013 season and hold thereafter. Per Bill Shaikin:

The document anticipates a significant rise in club revenue, from $295 million in 2008 to $529 million in 2018, and in the average ticket price, from $29.40 in 2007 to $53.50 in 2018.

Dodgers attorney Marshall Grossman, asked via e-mail what the club would tell fans wondering why the rise in revenue might not be accompanied by a similar rise in the player payroll, responded with an e-mail that noted financial plans are subject to regular revisions.

“It is prudent for a well-run business to engage in ongoing financial modeling and planning,” Grossman wrote. “When the Los Angeles Dodgers have financial information relevant to the public and the fans, it will be made public by the Dodgers.

“The Dodgers’ commitment is to operate on and off the field as a premier baseball organization, for the benefit of the fans and the Los Angeles community. The Dodgers continue to honor that commitment.”

The Dodgers spent 46% of revenue on player compensation in 2007 and 42% in 2008, according to the documents. The projections call for that percentage to fall to 25% by 2013 and remain at about 25% through 2018.

Commissioner Bud Selig encourages teams to spend about one-half their revenue on player compensation, according to two high-ranking major league executives contacted by The Times.

If the document cited in the LA Times story is true, a new television network could give Frank McCourt the financial leverage to pay off Jamie in a settlement, right?  I’m definitely not a lawyer or an expert in divorce proceedings, so will leave this to others that are much more knowledgeable, like the always educational Josh over at Dodger Divorce.

And it continues today: both Molly Knight and Jon Weisman have short pieces on the legal wranglings around the post-nup agreement (it involves forensic scientists and staples….seriously!).

Regardless, this is all a LOT for the casual Dodger fan to take in.  I know a majority of the fans out there don’t care about all of this and just want the ownership to deliver the best possible roster of players and managers to make a run at a world championship.  Unfortunately, both sides of this divorce battle seem intent on keeping it in the public eye until the ownership of the Dodger franchise is ultimately resolved.

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Carlos Delgado (File)


  1. Sell the Dodgers to Dr. Laura! I know she will listen to me!