It’s officially Resort Season in Major League Baseball.
MLB’s Winter Meetings concluded last week at the Walt Disney Swan & Dolphin Resort in Lake Buena Vista, outside of Orlando. While most headlines focused on player movement, many mitts’-full of key business stories took place away from the field.
Among the storylines, the $55 million MLB distributed in postseason player compensation was down more than $4 million from what players got in 2009. The World Series champion San Francisco Giants, for example, received a portion down 7% from what the Yankees got last year. That’s not stopping their 2011payroll from increasing exponentially: Giants executives confirmed in Florida that the franchise will likely spend around $120 million on players next season, compared to slightly over $100 million in 2010.
Player, transactions, of course, take center stage during the Hot Stove season and the Winter Meetings, and front and center is the Washington National’s seven-year, $126 million deal with Jayson Werth. While the signing increases the Nationals’ chances to be a contender in their division next season, the long term magnitude of the deal – especially for a franchise that counts on revenue-sharing payments from richer siblings to survive – has tongues wagging in Florida and elsewhere. While $17 million a year seems a reasonable price for the Yankees to pay for captain and proven leader Derek Jeter in his waning years, roughly the same sum for the largely unproven Werth is viewed by many as a precedent the league really doesn’t want to set.
Also top of mind in Lake Buena Vista boardrooms is Tuesday’s decision by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Scott Gordon that Frank McCourt is “not the sole owner of the Dodgers, " a decision that likely keeps the Dodgers’ front office and finances in a state of flux for a couple more seasons at least. Gordon upheld the contention of lawyers representing Jamie McCourt that the couple’s 2004 marital agreement concerning Dodgers’ ownership was invalid, keeping her, for now, as a legal owner of the team. Frank McCourt is expected to appeal the ruling, but in the meantime, the Dodgers have inked several significant player transactions, especially to shore up their bullpen.
Perhaps wanting to get a jump on finding a qualifier buyer before the McCourts are forced to sell their franchise, long-time Houston Astros owner Drayton McLane has officially put the ball club up for sale, citing estate planning and a desire to “move forward.” The sale is expected to be a six- to 12-month process, with McLane seeking $700-800 million for the team.
Meanwhile, the Florida Marlins are taking a unique approach to sponsor partnerships at their new ballpark. Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria, a fine art collector, is dividing the stadium into red, yellow, green, and blue sections based on the works of Spanish artist Joan Miró. Each partner’s brand must match one of the stadium’s four primary colors – good for the likes of Coca-Cola and Sprint, not so good for UPS and Home Depot!
The Cincinnati Reds surely wish they had some of that sponsorship revenue. Hamilton County, Ohio, has proposed surcharges on Reds tickets to bail out the county’s stadium fund. The fund has an anticipated shortfall of $130 million over the next five years, but that could grow to $700 million.