Rangers bankruptcy judge absolutely reams Chuck Greenberg

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As I said this morning, the bankruptcy judge presiding over the Rangers case had initially set the hearing for July 9th, switched it to July 22nd, but then today switched it back to July 9th after Chuck Greenberg and Nolan Ryan moved him to do so in order to make sure they can own the team before the trade deadline rolls around.  Schedules just kind of jump around like that in litigation, and as I said before, it’s not of great consequence.  What can be of great consequence, however, is the machinations behind the changing of the schedules, and on that score Chuck Greenberg may have just shot himself in the foot.

According to Evan Grant, when the judge initially pushed the schedule back to July 22nd, Chuck Greenberg said, audibly, and in open court, “Rome is burning.”  See, that was really stupid, because rather than merely to serve as a means of voicing his displeasure at the schedule, it served to directly insult the judge. That phrase does not say “but we need to move more quickly.”  It says “you, judge, are like Emperor Nero. You’re a careless tyrant who does not care that the city is burning down while you sit and fiddle.”

This is not mere speculation on my part. You see, I once filed a brief in court in which I made reference to “Rome burning” in an effort to get the case moved along more quickly.  It wasn’t really my choice — higher ups and the client inserted the phrase and demanded that it stay in there — but my name was on the brief and I was responsible for its contents. I should have deleted it, though.

Why? Because the day it was filed I was called down to the judge’s chambers and was torn a new one. The judge saw it as his integrity and his character being called out. Saying “Rome is burning” to a judge is like using the magic words on an umpire (See “Bull Durham” for what those words are). He also told me that if he really thought I was the one who wrote the phrase — which he didn’t, because he was basically aware of who was really calling the shots — he would have held me in contempt. As it was, it was a pretty stark lesson in professional decorum.

While the Rangers judge ultimately moved the hearing date at Greenberg’s request, he clearly felt the same way about the motion and, in all likelihood, the “Rome is burning line” as my judge did. Just listen to what he said today:

“You need to understand that this court will decide whether to
approve this plan . . . and will not decide based on what the fans want . . . what the media wants . . . what Mr. Nolan and Mr. Greenberg want . . . or what Bud Selig wants. If the
plan fails to meet (the requirements of the bankruptcy code), I will deny
confirmation and we will be back to square one, and it will be on the
head of those who supported this motion . . . For the sake of the Rangers, I do not want to
see this team stuck in Chapter 11 until this fall. You guys
— not me — you guys are the ones who pushed for this date.”

Does that mean that the judge won’t ultimately approve the plan and let the team get sold?  No. But based on those comments I think it’s clear that the judge will be much more critical of it than he would have been otherwise.  What he said was, without question, a warning to that effect.  And you can probably bet the farm that if there are minor differences between the creditors and the Rangers following the mediation, the judge will be inclined to rule in the creditors favor, potentially costing the Rangers some money and maybe some time. 

But even if it doesn’t, what does this say about Chuck Greenberg? I understand his sense of urgency here, and Rangers fans should be
pleased that he’s fighting hard to get this done. But he’s a lawyer, remember. One with far more experience than I have and who should therefore know far better than I do about how one should and one shouldn’t talk to a judge. By forgetting that these past few days he and his team really got under the judge’s skin here, and did so needlessly.

Despite doing so, he won the battle over the case schedule.  But did he unnecessarily risk losing the war?

Mariners interested in free agent outfielder Nori Aoki

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New Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto has kept pretty busy in his short time on the job and Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune reports that free agent outfielder Nori Aoki could be his next target. The club recently pursued a trade for Marlins outfielder Marcell Ozuna, but the asking price has them looking at alternatives.

Aoki, who turns 34 in January, has hit .287 with a .353 on-base percentage over four seasons since coming over from Japan. He was having a fine season with the Giants this year prior to being shut down in September with lingering concussion symptoms.

The Giants decided against picking up Aoki’s $5.5 million club option for 2016 earlier this month, but he should still do pretty well for himself this winter assuming he’s feeling good.

Report: Johnny Cueto is believed to be looking for a $140-160 million deal

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It was reported Sunday that free agent right-hander Johnny Cueto had turned down a six-year, $120 million contract from the Diamondbacks. He’s hoping to land a bigger deal this winter and ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick has heard some chatter about what he’s looking for.

Jordan Zimmermann finalized a five-year, $110 million contract with the Tigers today, which works out to $22 million per season. Arizona’s offer to Cueto checked in at $20 million per season. A six-year offer to Cueto at the same AAV (average annual value) as Zimmermann would put him at $132 million, which is still a little shy of the figure stated by Crasnick. Of course, Cueto owns a 2.71 ERA (145 ERA+) over the last five seasons compared to a 3.14 ERA (123 ERA+) by Zimmermann during that same timespan, so there’s a case to be made that he should get more. Still, he’s the clear No. 3 starter on the market behind David Price and Zack Greinke.

CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reports that the Dodgers, Giants, Red Sox, and Cubs are among the other teams who have interest in Cueto. One variable in his favor is that he is not attached to draft pick compensation, as he was traded from the Reds to the Royals during the 2015 season.

Report: Around 20 teams have contacted the Braves about Shelby Miller

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The rebuilding Braves have already been active on the trade market and they might not be done, as CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reports that right-hander Shelby Miller has been a very popular name. In fact, around 20 teams have checked in.

Nothing is considered close and the Braves have set a very high asking price, mostly centered around offense. They asked for right-hander Luis Severino in talks with the Yankees and would expect outfielder Marcell Ozuna among other pieces from the Marlins. The Diamondbacks and Giants are among the other interested clubs.

Miller is under team control through 2018, so there’s not necessarily a sense of urgency to move him, but anything is possible with the way the Braves are doing things right now. The 25-year-old is coming off a year where he went 6-17, but that was about really rotten luck more than anything else, as he had a fine 3.02 ERA and 171/73 K/BB ratio over 205 1/3 innings. The Braves gave him the worst run support of any starter in the majors.

Mets expected to tender a contract to Jenrry Mejia

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 12:  Jenrry Mejia #58 of the New York Mets reacts as he walks off the field after getting the final out of the seventh inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Citi Field on July 12, 2015 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
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Jenrry Mejia appeared in just seven games this past season due to a pair of suspensions for performance-enhancing drugs, but Adam Rubin of ESPN New York reports that the Mets are expected to tender him a contract for 2016.

While the Mets were vocal about their disappointment in Mejia’s actions, it makes sense to keep him around as an option. Had he played a full season in 2015, he would have earned $2.595 million. He’s arbitration-eligible for the second time this winter and figures to receive a contract similar to his 2015 figure, but he’ll only be paid for the games he plays. He still has 100 games to serve on his second PED suspension, which means that he’ll only be paid for 62 games in 2016. This likely puts his salary closer to $1 million, which is a small price to pay for someone who could prove useful during the second half and beyond. He also won’t count toward the team’s 40-man roster until he’s active.

Mejia, who turned 26 in October, owns a 3.68 ERA in the majors and saved 28 games for the Mets in 2014. He’s currently pitching as a starter in the Dominican Winter League.