Phil Rogers: Ownership headaches swelling

Several teams have problems at the top this season

March 13, 2011|By Phil Rogers, Tribune Newspapers

Nolan Ryan stood on the dirt behind the on-deck circle after a Thursday exhibition game at Surprise Stadium, politely signing autographs. The line of fans interested in having him sign a T-shirt, photo, bat or program ran all the way to the top of the stands, and then snaked around toward home plate.

Ryan, clad in khakis, red polo shirt and cap, seemed in no hurry to walk down the right-field line and into his office at the Rangers' spring training complex. It was exactly the kind of Rockwellian scene Commissioner Bud Selig must have envisioned when he enthusiastically welcomed Ryan into the fraternity of Major League Baseball owners last August, after he and partner Chuck Greenberg won a bankruptcy auction in which their competition was Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.

But this isn't an era of peace for baseball ownership.

So a few hours after making small talk with fans, Ryan and the deep-pockets guys in the Rangers' ownership group put the finishing touches on buying out Greenberg, who may have enjoyed the wildest ride of any owner in history.

Greenberg, with his successful background in running minor league franchises, was supposed to bring stability to a troubled franchise that Tom Hicks had crippled financially. But he somehow wore out his welcome with Ryan and the team's heaviest backers even before the American League pennant could be unfurled at Rangers Ballpark.

The Rangers join the Mets, Dodgers, Astros, Orioles, Athletics and Rays in having either serious ownership or stadium issues. And the Yankees again have a saber-rattling Steinbrenner (Hank) to keep things interesting at the start of what are anticipated to be perfunctory negotiations on a labor contract.

Selig has said he finally will retire when his contract ends at the end of the 2012 season. But with no heir apparent in place, and fires breaking out all over the once-tranquil landscape, will he really be able to walk away?

Nothing's more critical than having a New York franchise with a new stadium somehow on life support. That's the situation for the Mets, with the Wilpon family so strapped and under financial attack for ties to Bernie Madoff that the franchise has needed loans to operate and seems headed for a fire sale that could leave it in need of another miracle. Donald Trump is one possible savior.

Oh boy.

The McCourt divorce has been an embarrassing chapter for the Dodgers. But there are buyers for them, although the appeal process on the high-stakes divorce could leave the team in limbo for at least another two years.

The Astros' Drayton McLane Jr. has decided he would like to cash in but — based on his asking price — just might be bluffing. Peter Angelos stubbornly is clinging to an Orioles team that could have Cal Ripken Jr. involved in the style of Ryan.

The A's Lew Wolff and Rays' Stuart Sternberg have been unsuccessful in solving the stadium issues that limit the growth of their franchises. The Rays' outlook is surprisingly bleak, as Sternberg and general manager Andrew Friedman have done wonders with the organization yet haven't attracted enough fans to Tropicana Field to allow them to retain their homegrown stars, like Carl Crawford.

Barring further instability, the Rangers should be near the bottom on the list of matters vying for Selig's time.

It should be no surprise that Ryan is assuming Greenberg's CEO responsibilities for the Rangers. He's a hands-on executive. When he gets involved with something he wants control.

He has it now. Selig must hope he has no problem holding it.

Phillies like Young: The obvious rarely happens, so Michael Young probably shouldn't start packing. But even before the serious nature of Chase Utley's knee injury was known, the Phillies were talking to the Rangers about a possible trade for Young, who would address their need for right-handed hitting.

According to sources, the Phillies proposed sending right-hander Joe Blanton and third baseman Placido Polanco to Texas for Young but wanted the Rangers to pick up the $16 million owed Young in 2013, when Blanton and Polanco's deals will be off the books. The Rangers passed, but those talks may have put a framework in place that will lead to a deal.

Ryan and Phillies special assistant Charlie Kerfeld are very close from time as teammates with the Astros. Some people believe Ryan has told Young he would work out the trade that Young requested after his fallout with GM Jon Daniels. And the teams are a good match.

The Phillies might not want to do it, but with Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay at the top of the rotation they have the depth to send Roy Oswalt or Cole Hamels to Texas in exchange for Young and one of the Rangers' highly respected pitching prospects (Alexi Ogando, Michael Kirkman, Martin Perez, Tanner Scheppers, etc.). The teams have been following each other closely during spring training.

The last word: "I don't think they were playing H-O-R-S-E." — Brewers manager Ron Roenicke on how physical the pick-up game was in which Zack Greinke broke a rib.

progers@tribune.com

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