Bill Shaikin of the L.A. Times reports that Frank and Jamie McCourt may settle soon. That’s the good news. The bad news — or, at the very least, the uncertain news — is that the settlement may once again involve a scenario in which part of the payoff to Jamie comes in exchange for Frank making a new deal with FOX for the team’s broadcasting rights. This could be a problem.
Why? Because last time that came up, Bud Selig rejected the notion. The reason, it seems, was because the deal apparently had FOX lending McCourt money in exchange for a discounted broadcast rate. This new deal, Shaikin reports, would be a bigger, longer broadcast deal — Shaikin says $3 billion over 20 years — that more closely reflects the market rate for Dodgers telecasts.
Yet, Shaikin says, it’s not certain that Selig would approve the deal. And indeed, he could again reject it, possibly with the intent of squeezing McCourt out. And if that happens many in the game think that McCourt would sue Selig, which would be seventeen kinds of ugly.
It seems to me that it could be more than wanting to squeeze McCourt out that would animate Selig to reject the deal. Rather, it could be that baseball would really, really like a marquee team in a major market to do what the Yankees, Sox and Mets have done and form its own cable network someday. If FOX had long term rights, that couldn’t happen. We haven’t seen that level of meddling in TV deals by the commissioner’s office before, however, so maybe that’s just too pie-in-the sky.
Either way, it seems that the endgame is near. Or, if Selig decides to get tough, the end of the first chapter of an even longer game is near.
The Rays were busy over the weekend, trading starter Jake Odorizzi to the Twins, designating All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, and then picking up C.J. Cron in a deal with the Angels. The Rays saved about $4 million — Odorizzi’s $6.3 million less Cron’s $2.3 million salary — and picked up a prospect. They’re still on the hook for Dickerson’s $5.95 million salary until they can find a trade partner, which seems likely.
Those are some head-scratching moves if you’re a Rays fan or a member of the Rays. Dickerson hit .282/.325/.490 with 27 home runs, 62 RBI, and 84 runs scored in 629 plate appearances last season, part of which resulted in his first trip to the All-Star Game. Designating him for assignment is strictly a financial move, assuming he can be traded. The Rays are currently operating with a payroll below $70 million. This comes just a week and a half after Rays ownership proposed the public footing most of the bill for the club’s new stadium. And the Rays had traded third baseman Evan Longoria — then the face of the franchise — to the Giants earlier this offseason.
Longoria expressed sympathy for Rays fans for having to put up with this. Via Andrew Baggarly, Longoria said of the curious Dickerson move, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base. … I’m not going to take too many shots but it’s pretty obvious that guy is a valuable player and didn’t deserve to be DFAd. Corey was our best player last year.”
Longoria isn’t quite on the money there. By WAR, Dickerson ranked fifth among position players on the team, according to Baseball Reference. FanGraphs is also in agreement. Still, it’s indisputable that Dickerson, who turns 29 years old this May, more than pulled his weight. The Rays do not have a surfeit of starting outfielders, so it wasn’t like they were making room for other capable players. Mallex Smith, who put up a .684 OPS in 282 PA last year, is slated to start in left field at the moment. Designating Dickerson for assignment, as well as trading Longoria and Odorizzi, were simply cost-cutting decisions.
The Rays’ M.O. has been part of the problem leading to the current stagnant free agent market (sans Eric Hosmer‘s eight-year deal on Saturday). Teams like the Rays, Phillies, Reds, and Tigers have been explicitly putting out non-competitive teams in order to facilitate a rebuilding process. Longoria is right to express sympathy for Rays fans, who see their favorite team worsening a roster that went 80-82 last year. The Rays haven’t finished at .500 or above since 2013 and doesn’t figure to halt the streak this year.