On second thought, Frank McCourt may be ready to fight Bud Selig like there’s no tomorrow

16 Comments

“We need more people like Frank McCourt.”

You will not be at all surprised to learn that that is the assessment of Frank McCourt’s newest employee, Steve Soboroff, who was hired as the Dodgers’ Vice Chairman on Tuesday. Soboroff was hired in order to help the Dodgers get their security situation in order, but based on his comments to the L.A. Times today, he’s making protecting Frank McCourt his top priority.

His beef: McCourt has a deal in place for a $3 billion television rights package that he alleged would solve all of the Dodgers’ problems and put them in a position in which they’re as financially secure as almost any team in baseball.  Major League Baseball, however, is being unfair he claims:

“This is like having money in the bank and having somebody hold your ATM card,” Soboroff said. “The money is in the bank. The Fox deal is done. These actions are not allowing him to access money. That’s a lot different than saying he’s got financial problems.”

If you’re thinking that this is a warning shot from McCourt to Bud Selig, you’re right. That kind of claim — baseball is interfering with our right to make money! — is the stuff of a tort action.  And while I was somewhat dismissive of the prospects of a lawsuit in my posts earlier this morning — and on a straight “does baseball have the right to do this” basis, I still think McCourt has no legitimate claim —  these comments (and some more research into Frank McCourt’s more-litigious-than-I-remembered history) make me wonder if we’re not ready for Armageddon.

On baseball’s side are the contractual provisions McCourt and every other owner signs in which he pledged not to sue Major League Baseball. Which is great in theory, but when your new right-hand man starts claiming that baseball is acting in bad faith, all bets are off.  As I’ve written in the past with respect to team relocation and ownership approval rules, baseball has a whole series of regulations and procedures it makes owners agree to that only exist because no one is willing to challenge them. If someone — especially someone with nothing to lose — decides to fight, a lot of those rules may simply fall away as, like, totally illegal.

Then there’s the fact that McCourt has already been embarrassed publicly by virtue of years of litigation while Major League Baseball still, presumably, does not want to have its business opened up in litigation. Even if baseball’s right to push McCourt out and take over the team is vindicated, it will only come after a lot of the dirty business of baseball ownership is revealed, and again, McCourt has little to lose in this regard.

So, if McCourt makes it clear that he’s willing to scorch the Earth over this, how does baseball respond?  Does Bud Selig really want this fight?  And, on the very safe assumption that he has already anticipated it, what is his end game?

Just a wild guess: a sale of the team which McCourt agrees not to fight in exchange for him walking away with more money than he otherwise would have given his current debt level. In other words, baseball eating some of McCourt’s debt in the name of making him simply go away.

Whatever the case, while Bud Selig’s actions yesterday were audacious, it is starting to look like Frank McCourt’s response to them may be even more audacious.

The Phillies are trying out prospect J.P. Crawford at third base

Elsa/Getty Images
1 Comment

On Sunday, for the first time in his professional career, Phillies shortstop prospect J.P. Crawford started at third base. He picked up three hits in five at-bats, continuing his torrid pace. Since the start of July, he’s hitting .306/.397/.595 with 11 home runs, 28 RBI, 33 runs scored, and a 37/25 K/BB ratio in 199 plate appearances.

With September looming, the Phillies may be considering a promotion for Crawford. Shortstop, however, is currently taken by Freddy Galvis who has appeared in every game this season and has taken on a leadership role with the team. Meanwhile, third baseman Maikel Franco has been mired in a season-long slump as he’s carrying a devilish .666 OPS.

The Phillies haven’t been averse to trying their prospects out at new positions. Prior to his recent promotion, Rhys Hoskins had played only first base throughout his professional career, but the Phillies moved him to left field for a few games, then called him up to the majors. Hoskins has made nine starts in the outfield and two at first base in the majors thus far.

As MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki notes, the Phillies are also considering trying out second base prospect Scott Kingery at shortstop or third base before the end of the minor league season.

These aren’t long-term plans; it’s just a way for the Phillies to find meaningful playing time for their prospects and giving manager Pete Mackanin potential flexibility. Assistant GM Ned Rice said, “It benefits the player and benefits the team when more guys are able to play multiple positions. It just gives Pete [Mackanin] a lot more options at the big league level. The more guys we can bring up who have been exposed to different positions, the better.”

Players having great seasons under the radar

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
3 Comments

Yesterday, I watched a myriad of defensive highlights from Angels shortstop Andrelton Simmons (who also homered). Curious, I looked up his stats and found him among the leaders in Wins Above Replacement. And then I found a handful of other players having great seasons and realized I’ve hardly heard anything about them. Let this be my contribution towards raising them into the spotlight.

Andrelton Simmons (Angels): The 27-year-old is having the best offensive season of his career. He posted a .751 OPS in his rookie season, but that spanned only 49 games. From 2013-16, he had an aggregate .664 OPS. His defense never wavered, of course, which is why he kept getting regular playing time and why the Angels were eager to trade for him in November 2015. This season, however, he’s been a terrific hitter, batting .292/.345/.451 with 13 home runs, 57 RBI, 62 runs scored, and 17 stolen bases in 502 plate appearances. He’s four home runs away from matching a career-high. Simmons is 11th in baseball in FanGraphs’ version of WAR, heavily predicated on the valuation of his defense, but it’s not too outlandish for me to believe Simmons has added nearly two wins above replacement on defense alone. While Jose Altuve, Aaron Judge, and Mike Trout will fight for the lion’s share of AL MVP votes, Simmons could get some down ballot consideration.

Gio Gonzalez (Nationals): Gonzalez nearly threw a no-hitter earlier this season against the Marlins, which brought some eyeballs to his stat line. Still, he hasn’t been talked about much somehow. He’s 12-5 with a 2.39 ERA and a  150/62 K/BB ratio in 162 innings. It’s nothing new for Gonzalez, as he won 21 games with a 2.89 ERA en route to finishing third in Cy Young balloting in 2012. There’s also some reason to believe Gonzalez’s performance is in some part due to great fortune as his batting average on balls in play is about 50 points below league average and his rate of stranding runners on base is more than 11 percent higher than his career average. Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer have had better seasons and will be the first and second place finishers in this year’s balloting, but Gonzalez is looking at likely finishing third again, which is no small feat.

Aaron Nola (Phillies): After a dismal June 16 start against the Diamondbacks, Nola stood with a disappointing 4.76 ERA. After the first two innings of last Thursday’s start against the Giants, he briefly brought it under 3.00. Currently, it’s at 3.26 along with a 128/38 K/BB ratio in 124 1/3 innings. Since that June 16 start, he’s made 11 starts with a composite 2.21 ERA across 73 1/3 innings. The right-hander out of LSU showed promise in his rookie year in 2015, then struggled last year before succumbing to injury. Finally, it’s appearing that Nola is showing the promise the Phillies believed in when they took him in the first round (seventh overall) in the 2014 draft. Perhaps more importantly, he looks like a pitcher the Phillies can build around. If there’s one thing the Phillies have lacked since trading Cole Hamels, it’s a starter capable of throwing seven or eight innings and holding the opposition to one or two runs.

Chris Taylor (Dodgers): On a team that features Clayton Kershaw, Kenley Jansen, Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger, Justin Turner, Alex Wood, and recently added Yu Darvish, it’s understandable that Taylor would slip under the radar. He’s played five different positions this season — left field, second base, center field, third base, and shortstop — while batting .311/.383/.549 with 17 home runs, 58 RBI, 69 runs scored, and 14 stolen bases in 413 plate appearances. He’s played average to above-average defense at most of those positions, which is why his 4.6 fWAR ranks 13th in baseball and 10th in the National League. Before the Dodgers acquired him from the Mariners last June in a very little talked about trade, Taylor had been a weak-hitting utilityman. Now, he’s the starting center fielder for baseball’s best team.

Felipe Rivero (Pirates): The Pirates acquired Rivero from the Nationals last year in the Mark Melancon trade. It worked out well for the Buccos. Though the club sits at a disappointing 60-64 in fourth place in the NL Central, Rivero has been a bright spot, owning a major league best 1.31 ERA with 14 saves and a 73/16 K/BB ratio in 61 2/3 innings. The lefty took over the closer’s role when Tony Watson began to struggle in the first half. While Rivero has been terrific against right-handed hitters, limiting them to a .547 OPS, he’s been death to lefties (.227 OPS). After the season, Rivero will be eligible for arbitration for the first of four years, so it wouldn’t be shocking if he got traded at some point, but for now, they’ll enjoy his outstanding 2017 campaign.