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Power rankings: No. 14 Dodgers

Dodgers sale will bring big money, if only because of TV rights

Phil Rogers

On Baseball

6:22 PM CST, February 2, 2012

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No. 14 Dodgers: 17th in a series counting down to spring training. Next: Giants.

How about that Frank McCourt? Who knew he secretly was growing his wealth when he and his ex-wife Jamie were running the Dodgers into the ground?

McCourt might have battled harder to keep control of his team if the divorce and the couple's extravagant spending hadn't left him without the war chest necessary to engage Major League Baseball in a lawsuit that would have generated lengthy appeals. But it turns out that the forced exit is going to make him rich again, as the Dodgers have become the most aggressively pursued franchise in baseball history.

More than 10 potential ownership groups submitted bids for the team, and the field subsequently was whittled down to eight. Those groups include the likes of Peter O'Malley, Magic Johnson (his bid led by sports executive Stan Kasten), Joe Torre (teamed with developer Rick Caruso), civic leader Stanley Gold (teamed with the family of the late Roy Disney), St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke (a threat to move the Rams to Los Angeles if he gets the team), and YES Network founder Leo Hindery.

Larry King, a part of an effort led by the classy Dennis Gilbert, told SiriusXM Radio that his group bid $1.25 billion but didn't make the cut. That's a sign that the final figure for the team is going to be closer to $2 billion than $1 billion.

No baseball sale ever has netted a 10-figure return. There was a thought that the Cubs sale might but the recession allowed the Ricketts family to get one of baseball's iconic franchises for a mere $845 million — not a bad return for Tribune Co., which bought it from the Wrigley family for $20.5 million in 1981.

Why would the Dodgers, after McCourt plundered their revenues and strip-mined their reputation, bring more than twice what the Cubs did?

That's an easier question than you would think.

Baseball's television rights fees have exploded, with the Rangers ($1.6 billion, 20 years) and Angels ($3 billion, 20 years) leading the way. Both McCourt and then-Rangers owner Tom Hicks tried to cash in on the sale of TV rights on their way out of baseball but Commissioner Bud Selig delayed deals that would have provided short-term relief for the strapped owners, keeping them in play for new ownership groups to use in building their teams.

The Dodgers rights are expected to go for $4 billion over 20 years — a cool $200 million in revenue before the first ticket or replica jersey is sold. While everyone involved wants to help the Dodgers regain their standing as the Yankees of the West Coast, it's the TV rights that are fueling the frenzy.

"They're buying the TV rights deal first and the team second,'' Mark Cuban said.

Cuban, the Dallas Mavericks owner and HD Net founder, would love to get into baseball. He bid for the Rangers in a bankruptcy auction and made a play for the Cubs. But the Dodgers' sale advanced beyond his choking point.

"It just didn't work out,'' Cuban told Access Hollywood this week. " I wanted to buy a baseball team; they were selling a media rights deal. … The economics got so out of control because the Dodgers' TV deal's up for bid and so there's a lot of groups coming in going, 'This TV deal's worth so much money that we're gonna pay whatever it takes to get the Dodgers.'"

Selig hoped to have a new ownership group in place for spring training, but that target has moved back to Opening Day in April. It's going to be a busy month for McCourt, who has to feel awfully good about Jamie agreeing to take $130 million to settle their divorce.

And furthermore

•While the Dodgers epitomize mediocrity (162-161 the last two years), they are as well situated with foundation pieces as any team. Matt Kemp, the 27-year-old center fielder who was runner-up to Ryan Braun in 2011 MVP voting, is signed through 2019; Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw is under control through '13.

•Prince Fielder, who would have made the Dodgers instant contenders, might have been a Dodger if Victor Martinez didn't tear up his knee. McCourt was secretly in negotiations with agent Scott Boras before the nine-year Tigers deal materialized.

•Billy Beane is a real possibility if the new owners decide to replace Ned Colletti, their general manager since 2006.

•Rebuilding a farm system ranked 23rd by Baseball America should be a priority for new ownership. Colletti and his scouting director, Logan White, have been good stewards (as was former GM Dan Evans before them) but McCourt underfunded everything, especially the team's traditionally rich Latin American pipeline.

•Right fielder Andre Ethier, a .291 career hitter who is eligible for free agency after this season, will be watched closely by the Cubs. He's a Theo Epstein favorite, and reportedly would love to play at Wrigley Field.

progers@tribune.com

Twitter @ChiTribRogers