Dodgers Owner McCourt Sends MLB Letters, Overseer Schieffer Visits Selig

Los Angeles Dodgers players could file for free agency if the team can’t make payroll this month, Major League Baseball players union spokesman Greg Bouris said today.

The Los Angeles Times reported two days ago that the Dodgers don’t have enough cash to make payroll at the end of May. Major League Baseball spokesman Pat Courtney declined to comment today on whether MLB would step in and provide the money.

Bouris said in an e-mail that the MLB Players Association is “confident that payroll will be met.” If not, players would be allowed to start the process toward free agency, he said.

“If a player filed a default notice, the club would have 10 days from the filing date to cure the default,” Bouris wrote. “If they fail to cure the default, then the player can seek free agency.”

MLB Commissioner Bud Selig appointed former Texas Rangers President Tom Schieffer on April 25 to oversee finances and day- to-day operations of the Dodgers because of what Selig said were “deep concerns” about the club’s finances.

Schieffer is in Milwaukee today for a second day of meetings with Selig and other MLB officials about the Dodgers. Also at the meeting are John McHale Jr., baseball’s executive vice president of administration, and Rob Manfred, baseball’s executive vice president for labor relations and human resources, Courtney said.

Attorneys for team owner Frank McCourt sent MLB letters yesterday accusing Selig of “a conscious decision to put the Dodgers in this state of distress.” The letters seek immediate approval of a proposed 17-year TV contract with News Corp. (NWSA)’s Fox Sports that Selig has put on hold until completion of a probe of Dodgers finances.

‘State of Distress’

“The commissioner’s continued delay and his conscious decision to put the Dodgers in this state of distress and make it a matter of public discussion is harming Mr. McCourt and the Dodgers,” said one of the letters, which were reviewed by Bloomberg News. “Mr. McCourt reiterates his request that the commissioner immediately approve the Fox transaction.”

McCourt, who said at an April 27 news conference in New York that he was weighing whether to sue MLB, said the proposed deal with Fox was worth about $3 billion and that it would include an immediate $300 million infusion for the Dodgers.

“The press is now discussing the Dodgers’ ability to make its payroll at the end of May,” one of McCourt’s letters said. “There would be no issue whatsoever about that issue -- or any other issue involving the Dodgers’ financial strength and viability -- had the commissioner timely acted on Mr. McCourt’s request for approval of the Fox transaction or were he to approve it now.”

Dodgers’ Payroll

The Dodgers’ player payroll is about $104 million this season, ranking 12th among the 30 MLB teams, USA Today reported. Dodgers spokesman Josh Rawitch said the team doesn’t release payroll information.

McCourt offered in the letters “in conjunction with approval of the Fox transaction, to have an independent accounting firm come in and review the team’s finances and report to the commissioner.”

The letters, from Robert A. Sacks of the law firm Sullivan & Cromwell, were addressed to Bradley I. Ruskin of the Proskauer Rose LLP firm that is representing MLB.

Manfred said in response to McCourt’s letters that “any financial problems faced by the Los Angeles Dodgers are the result of decisions made by Mr. McCourt and his management team over a period of years.”

‘Dodgers’ Failure’

“The pace of the commissioner’s investigation has been adversely impacted by the Dodgers’ failure to produce documents in a timely manner and by the complexity of the financial structures surrounding the club,” Manfred said yesterday in an e-mailed statement. “The commissioner intends to complete the investigation promptly, but will not accept less than a thorough investigation.”

The Dodgers, in turn, said they had created a virtual data room that would include all documents requested by MLB.

“As of this morning, almost all of the documents and information requested in the commissioner’s letter have been deposited in the data room, and access to the room has been given to Major League Baseball’s representatives,” the Dodgers said in the e-mailed statement.

To contact the reporter on this story: Rob Gloster in San Francisco at rgloster@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Sillup at msillup@bloomberg.net

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