Hicks Sports Group Creditors Threatening bankruptcy for the Rangers

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It’s hard to tell if this afternoon’s BusinessWeek report represents something truly new or if it’s more of a rehash of what we already know, but for the record:

The Texas Rangers, the Major League Baseball team
controlled by billionaire Thomas Hicks, may be forced into bankruptcy
unless terms of a planned sale of the team are improved or another buyer
is found, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Creditors led by Monarch Alternative Capital may
block Hicks Sports Group LLC, which defaulted on $525 million of debt
last year, from selling the Rangers and try to put the team into
bankruptcy, said the people, who declined to be identified because the
debt talks are private. The creditor group, which includes CIT Group
Inc. and Galatioto Sports Partners LLC, is seeking at least $30 million
more from the team’s sale, one of the people said.

The dynamic is the same that we’ve seen all along: Hicks’ creditors want more money, they’re threatening to force the team into bankruptcy if they don’t get it. Based on the tone of the article and based on the positions the parties have taken in the past, my guess is that the source for this specific report is one of the creditors, trying to ratchet up the pressure. The whole thing works best if you read it in a “and this time we really, really mean it” tone.

Not that it’s an empty or meaningless threat. No one ever gets rich forcing one’s opponent into bankruptcy, but this may one of those situations where it makes some amount of sense. The biggest problem of bankruptcy is the delay it causes in the asset in question getting liquidated, which often diminishes its value. The nut of this dispute, however, is Hicks’ proceeds from a land sale to Greenberg along with the Rangers. Land for mixed-use development — which is what this land, next to the Ballpark, is — is likely about as down in the dumper as it’s ever going to be right now.  Yes, bankruptcy will cause everyone to incur costs in the short term, but if the whole thing gets tied up for months or longer that same piece of land is still going to have to be disposed of in the end, and there’s every reason to believe that it will be worth more later than it is now.

But however that shakes out — and there are a million ways it could shake out — this report can be viewed as a signpost.  A week ago it was reported that Major League Baseball was stepping in to try and persuade the creditors to get the deal done. At the time Greenberg made noises that it would get done next week. The next thing we hear from the creditors is a renewed bankruptcy threat.

What to make of it? Perhaps they are not all that impressed with Mr. Selig’s efforts to play peacemaker. Perhaps they are not all that impressed with Mr. Greenberg’s public statements of inevitability.  Perhaps no one — not Hicks, not Greenberg, not baseball, not anyone — has enough money to wave at Hicks’ creditors to make them think that they’d get all that worse a deal in bankruptcy court. Hard to say.

The only thing that is certain in all of this is that Greenberg will come out with a statement in the next 48 hours in which he tells us, once again, that the deal is almost done. Because that’s what he always does.

(Thanks to Kevin T. for the heads up)

The Cubs are in desperate need of relief

Associated Press
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Tonight in Chicago Yu Darvish of the Dodgers will face off against Kyle Hendricks of the Cubs. If this were Game 1, we’d have a lot to say about the Dodgers’ trade deadline pickup and the Cubs’ budding ace. If this series continues on the way it’s been going, however, each of them will be footnotes because it has been all about the bullpens.

The Cubs, you may have heard, are having tremendous problems with relief pitching. Both their own and with the opposition’s. Cubs relievers have a 7.03 ERA this postseason, and have allowed six runs on eight hits and have walked six batters in seven innings of work. And no, the relief struggles aren’t just a matter of Joe Maddon pushing the wrong buttons (even though, yeah, he has pushed the wrong buttons).

Maddon pushed Wade Davis for 44 pitches in Game 5 of the NLDS, limiting his availability in Games 1 and 2. That pushing is a result of a lack of relief depth on the Cubs. Brian Duensing, Pedro Strop and Carl Edwards Jr. all have talent and all have had their moments, but none of them are the sort of relievers we have come to see in the past few postseasons. The guys who, when your starter tosses 80 pitches in four innings like Jon Lester did the other night, can be relied upon to shut down the opposition for three and a half more until your lights-out closer can get the four-out save.

In contrast, the Dodgers bullpen has been dominant, tossing eight scoreless innings. Indeed, Dodgers relievers have tossed eight almost perfect innings, allowing zero hits and zero walks while striking out nine Cubs batters. The only imperfection came when Kenley Jansen hit Anthony Rizzo in Game 2. That’s it. Compare this to the past couple of postseasons where the only truly reliable arm down there was Jansen, and in which Dodgers managers have had to rely on Clayton Kershaw to come on in relief. That has not been a temptation at all as the revamped L.A. pen, featuring newcomers Brandon Morrow and Tony Watson. Suffice it to say, Joe Blanton is not missed.

Which brings us back to Kyle Hendricks. He has pitched twice this postseason, pitching seven shutout innings in Game 1 of the NLDS but getting touched for four runs on nine hits while allowing a couple of dingers in Game 5. If the good Hendricks shows up, Maddon will be able to ride him until late in the game in which a now-rested Davis and maybe either Strop or Edwards can close things out in conventional fashion, returning this series to competitiveness. If the bad Hendricks does, he’ll have to do what he did in that NLDS Game 5, using multiple relievers and, perhaps, a repurposed starter in relief while grinding Davis into dust again. That was lucky to work there and doing it without Davis didn’t work in Game 2 on Sunday night.

So it all falls to Hendricks. The Dodgers have shown how soft the underbelly of the Cubs pen truly is. If they get to Hendricks early and get into that pen, you have to like L.A’s chances, not just in this game, but for the rest of the series, as bullpen wear-and-tear builds up quickly. It’s pretty simple: Hendricks has to give the Cubs some innings tonight. There is no other option available.

Just ask Joe Maddon. He’s tried.