Questions mark O's worth

ON BASEBALL

Baseball

A Look Inside

April 20, 2003|By PETER SCHMUCK

The Anaheim Angels play in one of the most populous baseball markets in the nation. They have a brand-new world championship banner hanging at Edison International Field and an exciting team that has a chance to add to its trophy collection during the next few years.

So why did the Walt Disney Co. just agree to sell the franchise for a reported $180 million, which is well under the club's assessed value and - if the sale is completed - would represent a $30 million overall loss to the current owner? Several reasons: Bad economy. Bad baseball business environment. Too much competition for the local entertainment dollar.

The Angels just might be the canary in the mineshaft - the proof that the equity gravy train is coming to an end for all but a small handful of the most valuable baseball franchises.

The New York Yankees are believed to be worth about $800 million. The Boston Red Sox sold last year for $700 million. The Los Angeles Dodgers are expected to sell at a healthy premium over the price that Rupert Murdoch paid for them in 1998.

The Orioles, who were purchased by Peter Angelos and his partners for a record $173 million in 1993, used to be one of those elite franchises, but the soft market for the Angels raises questions about how much the team is really worth.

Forbes magazine recently published a financial study that estimated the value of the Orioles' franchise at $310 million, an amount that would give the team ownership a solid profit if Angelos were to sell the club for that amount. But the Forbes study incorrectly estimated the value of the Angels at $225 million and reached its evaluation of the Orioles based on an estimated net profit of $12.4 million last season.

Angelos and other Orioles officials maintain that the team has been losing money the past few years, and that the club lost almost as much money last year (about $10 million) as Forbes claims it gained. If that's true, it would have a significant impact on the overall value of a franchise that also faces the possibility that a second team will move into the region as soon as next year.

Though rumors periodically surface that Angelos is trying to sell the club, he is known to have been furious at the Forbes earnings estimate, which argues against any imminent attempt to abandon his ownership position.

If the Orioles really are on the market, it would be very much in his interest to allow the $12.4 million profit figure to circulate because it would support a higher sales price (at least until the prospective bidders get to look at the books).

Angelos has never said publicly that he intends to sell the team, but he hasn't made any strong denials lately either. Even if he has grown tired of taking the heat for the declining performance of the club, he almost certainly would have to wait until the Washington baseball situation is decided before putting the franchise on the market.

Until everyone knows where the Montreal Expos are going, it is impossible for anyone to know just what the Orioles are worth.

Coming along

Texas Rangers rookie Mark Teixeira enters today batting just .160 in his first month as a major leaguer, but club officials appear prepared to give the former Mount St. Joseph star time to settle into his new role as part-time designated hitter and backup to first baseman Rafael Palmeiro.

"This is a kid we care about. We all believe in him," said Rangers general manager John Hart. "We certainly wouldn't have brought him up here if we were going to get him out of here in two weeks. Right now, he's not even a guy we're thinking about. We haven't even talked about that."

Teixeira has had his moments, hitting two homers and driving in seven runs so far.

What did he expect?

Three-time Cy Young Award winner Pedro Martinez, who recently got a $17.5 million option year added to his contract, got quite an earful from the Fenway faithful after the Orioles handed him one of the worst beatings of his career last week.

So, was it the money or the manner in which he pitched?

"I'm used to Boston and I know how the people are," Martinez said.

"The first thing I heard once I got to the dugout was a reminder of how much I got [for the option year]. That's not anything new. I heard that in '98 when I was here for the first time. When I had my first terrible game at that time, I heard about every cent I signed for - for about a week.

"It's not anything new. I respect what other people expect and have to say. I'll come back [next time] and try to give them what they expect."

Bullpen committee

The Red Sox have been criticized heavily for their decision to open the season with a closer-by-committee arrangement in their bullpen, though manager Grady Little insisted from the start that one of his relievers could evolve into the regular closer.

But don't think for a minute that he imagined that it might be young Brandon Lyon, a 23-year-old middle reliever who was waived by the Toronto Blue Jays last year.

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