We're getting down to the wire in the bidding for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Owner Frank McCourt is expected to conduct a final auction in time to announce a winning bidder by the first week in April, with the money changing hands and the team officially emerging from bankruptcy by April 30.
Right now, with the bids all in, the various parties who want to buy the team are being vetted by Major League Baseball. Some of the final bidders have fallen by the wayside — notably surprise late entry Jared Kushner, who owns the New York Observer and is Donald Trump's son-in-law. Grant Brisbee has the most recent lowdown. Seems that five bidder-groups are likely to pass MLB muster.
I was a bit stunned to learn that Magic Johnson and Stan Kasten — the local favorites after Rick Caruso and Joe Torre dropped their bid — have put up the highest dollar figure at $1.6 billion. I didn't think anyone would outbid Steven Cohen, the hedge fund guy who's reportedly worth $8 billion on his own. Cohen's bid is evidently $1.4 billion, according to Brisbee. But Forbes thinks — as I do — that Cohen is the only bidder with enough money essentially already in the bank to write Frank McCourt a big check. That's the way Forbes' Mike Ozanian is spinning it, anyway.
Ozanian also advances what I think is a convincing thesis that has Cohen working with Bud Selig and MLB to help solve their New York Mets problem:
Over the past two months, as [Mets' owners] Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz have been slashing their team’s payroll and looking for nickels and dimes in every nook and cranny, the only investor not affiliated with the Mets who has offered to help keep the team afloat has been Cohen, offering $20 million for a 4% stake. The Mets are praying that their season ticket sales will look good enough by the end of April that they can restructure $430 million of debt due in two years. If not, two sports bankers familiar with the team’s finances I have spoken with believe it is likely the Mets will follow the Dodgers into Chapter 11. But at least Cohen is offering the Mets a temporary lifeline. Selig owes Cohen one for that.
Now you have to do some triangulation. Selig owes Cohen, who was rebuffed from a previous attempt to buy a stake in the Mets. McCourt would like to sell the Dodgers for as much as he can get — but he needs to make amends to MLB for doing such a poor job of tending to the storied franchise. And Cohen still has access to the biggest checkbook.
There's also some speculation in financial media that Cohen would like to get out if the hedge fund game and avoid having the SEC investigate his dealings, as it has with some of his former employees (there have been arrests).
At this point, it's looking very much like Cohen is the best-positioned bidder — even if he hasn't produced the highest bid.