Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Sam Zell

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Closers, Ex-Govs and Caps. Oh my.

I don’t often agree with Sun-Times columnist Greg Couch. Hell, I’m not even agreeing with him now actually. I’m merely recognizing that the words he wrote today happened to fall into an order that made sense for about a paragraph.

In his most recent column, Couch wrote this...

“Something weird is happening here with the Cubs. Understand this: The latest news is about Carlos Marmol. It's not that Kevin Gregg is the Cubs' new closer, but that Marmol is not.”

He them promptly followed up this kernel of logic with about 700 words of non-sensical rambling. No wonder the Sun-Times is going bankrupt (Hey-O).

But Couch is right in the sense that the real news here is about Marmol and not Gregg, but for a reason that I think is less obvious. (Full disclaimer first: I am a supporter of Gregg as the closer over Marmol. Big deal. You wanna to fight about it?)

Kurt and Rob already discussed the two sides of the Great Closer Debate of 2009 with reasonable arguments for both pitchers, but maybe Lou is telling us something about the state of the bullpen. A while ago, I wrote a post about the bullpen turnover and how the current ‘pen looks almost completely different than the ’08 model. Now things look even more different. When it’s all said and done (and the fate of the Shark is decided), Marmol could very well be the only significant returning reliever.

While it’s true that Gregg had an excellent spring, perhaps Lou’s decision to give Mr. LensCrafters the closing role was based on his need to have some sustainability and familiarity in the bullpen. Lou knows what Marmol can do and he knows what Marmol is good at.  But for guys like Gregg, Heilman and Vizcaino, there’s going to be an adjustment period.

I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t think Lou would be afraid to take a chance on Marmol as the closer if he had confidence in the rest of his bullpen. So while I think Gregg is probably the right choice for the start of the season, I’m also worried about the state of the ‘pen.

Wrigley (expletive) Field

Strange article in the Trib today about Blago’s secret talks with Tribune Co. over the state purchasing Wrigley Field. The story has cameo appearances from familiar Cubs names like Sam Zell, Crane Kenney, John McDonough, Lou Piniella and even Larry Rothschild.

I knew Ex-Gov was a fan, but he might as well have been the third base coach with all the contacts he had in the organization.

Anyway, the article says that Blago was trying to save Wrigley from the evil powers of Old Man Zell, who wanted to demolish the stadium and erect a new park in the mold of Coors Field. Or maybe Blago just wanted to hold the sale of the Cubs and Wrigley Field hostage until he could force Zell to fire Chicago Tribune journalists who criticized him?

I highly doubt that Zell wanted to build a new stadium. The dude probably wanted to sell the Cubs and Wrigley from Day 1. Why would he waste time building a new stadium? so the hostage theory makes more sense to me.

The moral of this story is that Blago is not really a Cubs fan. How do I know this? Well, if he was threatening to slow the sale of the team/stadium for his own personal gains, then that means he had no regard for the Cubs’ attempt to trade for Jake Peavy. Clearly the team cannot get Peavy until the sale is final. Why would a true Cubs fan get in the way of that? Answer that question sir!

Plus all those expletives makes him sound more like a Sox fan to me.

Victory over the Red-Bill Caps?

On cubs.com, everyone’s favorite “journalist” Carrie Muskat had one of her always entertaining mailbag articles in which she answered questions from fans just like you.

One reader asked about the disappearance of the CoolFlo helmets and the reemergence of the standard batting helmet.

For those of you not as uni-obsessed as I am, the Cubs wore the new, futuristic CoolFlo helmets last season. The new helmets have fancy vents and are supposedly more comfortable than the older models. However, the team returned to the standard model this spring and will use the older version in the 2009 season. According to Muskat, this is because the CoolFlo helmets broke too easily. Tell that to Sammy Sosa’s face.

Anyway, while this was something I have been wondering for the past few weeks, Muskat drops some intriguing info in at the end of her answer.

“Also, no red bill on their caps,” she writes.

Wait, what? Does this mean the Cubs have finally decided to ditch the horrendous red-bill road caps that I despise with my every waking breath? Or are the simply not going to be wearing red on their away batting helmets anymore?

Damn you Muskat! Why do you taunt me like this? These 7 words are going to haunt me until Opening Day!

Viva la all blue caps. The revolution lives.

The most important April in a long, long while

I can't link it because I'm at work - and via fun filter or some sort of deal, ESPN doesn't work well here - but The Premier Sports Network* is reporting that the Cubs sale might be complete by as soon as April of 2009.  I can't emphasize how huge this is, and how important to the future of the Cubs it is.

*which had me on a segment last year, making this The Premier Cubs Blog by default

First, let's just get out of the way one thing - Mark Cuban's ship has left the port.  His rocket has experienced premature lift-off.  His hand has already been dealt.  His game has already ended.  Insert your own lame metaphor here.  He won't be the next owner of the Cubs.

Whoever is the next owner will have a huge burden of expectations on his shoulders.  If his interest is in winning, rather than hoarding profits, then we have a 50-50 shot of being alright.  But if his intent is to meddle, or get richer, then we again will be screwed.

That is the primary reason why I've been nervous about this whole process.  It may work out, but at this point Cub fans should be used to buying the shiny new car with under 10,000 miles on it only to discover later on that it in fact is the victim of a shady paint job, speedometer tampering, and has sawdust in the transmission. 

So, as we propel forward to a better future, I in fact will sit back, keep my fingers crossed, and hope - at the very least - that the next owner of the Cubs is blogger friendly and hungry to pay us for our work.

TribCo Files for bankruptcy - Cubs supposedly uneffected

In news that should not have surprised anyone, the Tribune Company filed for bankruptcy today. The filing, a chapter 11 variety, keeps TribCo in business and means that operational changes will be minimal. The goal of the bankruptcy declaration is to force creditors to negotiate with the company and accept less favorable terms on their debt. In many bankruptcies, the debt holders become the new owners and equity holders (prior owners) are forced out. (It is possible that Sam Zell's time at the helm of HMS TribCo is severely limited.)

While the news of Tribune's filing is not good for Cubs fans, their is a silver lining. Arguing that the team is a separate (healthy) business, TribCo excluded the club and the stadium from the filing. In a charmed world, this means the sale of the club would continue unimpeded... but a glance at the headlines this year indicates 2008 does not lend itself to the description: 'charmed world.'

The first hiccup in the sale process is likely to focus on the portion of Comcast SportsNet that was originally intended to be sold along with the club. (Without inside information, I'm not sure the following is true, but I can speculate.) The three bids that have been filed most likely included a purchase of the ComCast channel. However, the ComCast channel is included in the bankruptcy filing, so the bids received Dec. 1 are likely invalid, or in need of substantial modification. There are (at least) two scenarios in play here.

Scenario 1: The club and ballpark ("the two assets") are sold without ComCast. Either the bankruptcy judge allows the decision not to include the two assets in the bankruptcy filing to stand (possible), or the Creditors don't petition the judge to force Tribune to include the two assets in the bankruptcy filing (unlikely). Regardless, if the two assets escape the bankruptcy filing, the sale would proceed along the same timeline as planned, with the only modification being that the bidders reduce their bid by the amount of value they had previously assigned to the ComCast share.

Scenario 2: The interested parties still plan on selling the club, the ballpark, and ComCast together. If this is the case, the sale process would be delayed at by at least a few months because when an asset is subject to bankruptcy, the creditors may object to a sale if they feel that it is not valued properly. In this case, not only do the other MLB owners have a say in the sale, but so do the Tribune creditors and the bankruptcy judge.

In another related note, I can easily see MLB's antitrust exemption coming under close scrutiny because of this filing. I am predicting right now that creditors will object to today's filing. TribCo will be forced to include the club and ballpark as part of their assets in an amended filing. The sale of all three assets will then be subject to creditor approval, judicial approval, and MLB owners approval. If the MLB owners were to reject the highest bidder, the probability of the antitrust exemption being challenged by the creditors would be nearly 100% in my estimation.

Of further interest, let us also remember that the antitrust exemption is not so much an affirmative exemption as a refusal by federal courts to take jurisdiction in matters related to Major League Baseball. The exemption was established and upheld when the Supreme Court laughably decided that MLB did not participate in 'interstate commerce' and thus was not subject to federal antitrust laws. The Supreme Court indicated that Congress had the power to pass legislation and revoke this exemption, but Congress never has. However, the legal reasoning behind the case was severely flawed and the Federal courts now operate under a much broader interpretation of interstate commerce. (Counterpoint, TribCo apparently filed in Delaware state court, but its certainly possible that creditors will push for a change of venue to a federal appeals court, thus settling the jurisdiction hurdle to challenge the antitrust exemption.)

What then are my conclusions?

No one is happy tonight.
• Sam Zell might be relieved that he's likely done at the Trib, but I believe he's lost over a billion personally.
• Tribune Company employees who are fortunate enough to still be employed may have their entire Employee Stock Ownership Program wiped out (if my understanding of TribCo's capital structure is correct.)
• Cubs bidders are probably upset because this will delay the sale of the team.
• Cubs fans are upset because this will delay the sale of the team.
• Cubs management should be upset because the club will be included in the bankruptcy before long and budgets will be slashed accordingly.
• Bud Selig and the MLB owners are upset because there's now another viable avenue to attack the antitrust exemption, plus they're really going to be pissed that one of their club members is going to be in bankruptcy court.
• Don Fehr and the players union are uneasy because in the nightmare situation, the club is included in the bankruptcy filing and all of the players' contracts could possibly be declared null and void.

Byron Clarke is a CPA with no detailed knowledge of bankruptcy laws, legal jurisdictions, or the Tribune Company's specific situation. He is, however, a baseball hobbyist who finds the business of baseball thoroughly interesting and has generally followed baseball business proceedings in the media. Everything above was pure speculation. If you want to read an actual piece of journalism about the bankruptcy filing, check out the NYTimes.

Cubs Sale Update

The Wall Street Journal is running a story that indicates the Cubs sale may be postponed again. (Deadline Bends in Cubs Bidding: WSJ.com (subscribtion required)

Just days ago, finalists to purchase the storied baseball franchise were told to deliver revised bids and financing plans by Nov. 27. But with continuing instability in the credit market making the process more arduous, groups vying for the team learned late this week the deadline was now considered soft, according to two people involved with the sale.

Snip

Now bidders say uncertainty among major lenders has made determining the value of the team and the costs of a bids more difficult and time-consuming, making the Thanksgiving deadline all but impossible to meet. Mr. Zell's recent offer to keep as much as 50% of the team for an undetermined period would make buying the Cubs more affordable. But Tribune's worsening debt problems have heightened the risk of a potential leveraged partnership with the distressed company.

At the rate this sale is progressing, I'm guessing we don't see a finalized transaction until November 2009.

Don't tell Sam Zell

Don't tell Sam Zell, or else this might be a reality next year as we wait for him to figure out a plan where he can sell the upper deck to one ownership group, the concourses to another, and the field to a third.

Cubs add 2,000 short center seats
Spoof image from the Heckler
From The Heckler

Honestly, read the article. It's pretty good.

Goat Riders vs. G-Rod - TKO for GROTA

On Saturday, your humble, but hard working correspondent was pretending to attend the St. Patrick's Day Parade in downtown Chi-town. In reality, I was laying in wait for the Governor to come strolling down Columbus Drive, shaking hands of all the conveniently gathered voters.

As Governor G-Rod approached, flanked by half a dozen black-coated-sunglass-sporting Illinois State Policemen, I moved into position and took aim. The giant of a man reached out with his left hand and awkwardly shook my hand... the kind of hand shake that is really about letting the masses extract some sort of reflected glory... I 'shook' the Governor's hand today!

Anyhow, after securing my awkward hand shake, I said loudly enough to let my voice carry over the marching band and troupe of traditional Irish dancers, "Governor, Don't buy Wrigley Field!" Much to my amazement, G-Rod stopped his hand shaking and addressed me. Now, I'll take a moment away from my recounting to offer a few caveats. First, I don't think he's that great of a governor... so I should disclose that... but I've also seen him personally on a few other occasions and he always seems to be a decent guy.

Well, decent guy that he is, and with at least two dozen voters in attendance. G-Rod replied by telling me that I shouldn't worry about the state of Illinois buying Wrigley Field because it won't cost the taxpayers anything. Now, G-Rod probably hadn't counted on me being the most informed fan... and maybe he thought I was half-way in the bag like many of the other parade attendees... but I peruse Chuck's site often enough to understand the basics of the transaction, so I replied that I've read the papers and it would indeed cost the taxpayers money because the state plans to divert tax dollars that currently go to things like police and hospitals and into the financing of Wrigley Field.

G-Rod, now quaking in his boots because he'd made the mistake of engaging an informed, sober Chicagoan decided it would be a good time to attack both Chicago dailies. He alleged that the Sun-Times and the Tribune have a rivalry and that the Sun-Times would pretty much print anything to keep the Tribune from getting a win. He then declared that the press coverage has been wrong and that I needed to contact his office to get the details of why this would not actually cost us taxpayers anything.

Now, I'm sure G-Rod thought that might shut me up, but I'm persistent. So, I argued that even if it doesn't cost us taxpayers anything, it's still not right for the state to buy the stadium and the only reason they're planning to do this is to make Sam Zell more money. And G-Rod replies... and I'm quoting him here. "Well, there is that." Then, covering over his momentary lapse into transparency, G-Rod suggests that if the state doesn't buy Wrigley Field, the Cubs might move away... and we just can't have that.

I might have said something derogatory like, 'You're kidding me right? There's no way the Cubs are leaving Chicago or Wrigley. Any new owner would be a fool to move the team.' I think the Governor realized he'd really stepped in it there... because it's pretty much impossible to suggest that the Cubs would actually leave Chicago. Where are they going to move? Durham? Portland? Good grief, no one is that dumb, and no one believes they'd actually leave Wrigley... Plus, so what if they leave Wrigley. The state's stated purpose in that the point of purchasing Wrigley is to preserve the Ballpark. If the Cubs move, the state can preserve away at that point.

So, the governor replied again that it wouldn't cost the tax payers anything. I said something about the state enriching Sam Zell at taxpayer's expense, and then he moved on down the line to shake other people's hands.

The judges' decision: TKO to GROTA. (Thanks to my friend Jackie W for the photo of G-Rod, right before I bruised him with my prodigious debatin'.)

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