TV deals give West clubs an edge
Padres hope to become latest team to sign long-term contract
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Power in Major League Baseball has been swinging west for several seasons. The Giants won the 2010 World Series, and the Rangers represented the American League in the past two Fall Classics. And that just may be the beginning of it.With the Astros moving into the AL West next season and gigantic cable-television dollars now being lavished upon the Southern California teams, that pendulum seems to have swung toward the West Coast. The Los Angeles Times reported in December that a 20-year, $3 billion contract sealed between the Angels and FOX Sports was the reason that owner Arte Moreno was able to sign Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson this offseason. And that lofty figure may be the starting point for the Dodgers in the cable disputes between FOX and Time Warner in the Los Angeles market once the Dodgers are sold. Now comes word from Padres majority owner John Moores that his club is on the verge of signing a 20-year contract with FOX worth $1 billion to form a San Diego County regional sports network. The deal, which will start at $30 million this season and end at $70 million if it's approved in its proposed form, could change the landscape for a franchise that has endured financial difficulties since it joined the National League as an expansion team in 1969. The Anaheim Ducks of the National Hockey League, who own San Diego as part of their territory, will be the other big beneficiary. The hockey team is expected to be the winter programming anchor for the new RSN. The cable deal the Padres concluded last year paid $14 million in the final year of a 10-year agreement. The Ducks already have a cable deal with FOX to broadcast their games in the Los Angeles market. "It's been slow, but a long time coming to the west," Moores said in a telephone interview on Tuesday night. "All this means is that there's more revenue to chase after the same 750 players. But the new contract will pull the Padres more toward the middle rather than keep us on the bottom." The Padres will be a partner in the new RSN. Even as Moores is trying to sell his remaining 51 percent of the club to a group headed by chief executive Jeff Moorad, he is contemplating retaining his position in the RSN, which only stands to grow in the years to come. Moores said he's heard nothing about the expedited sale of the club to Moorad since it was belatedly pulled from the agenda last month at the quarterly Owners Meetings in the Phoenix area. An MLB spokesman confirmed there is no news on Moorad taking control of the Padres, a move that needs approval of 75 percent of the remaining 29 clubs. Moores said there's opposition to Moorad from other owners. Plus, there's concern that an expected up-front bonus from FOX of $200 million might be used by Moorad to buy out Moores. That probably couldn't happen if Moores retains his position in the RSN. In any event, Commissioner Bud Selig rejected such an up-front bonus from FOX to Dodgers owner Frank McCourt last year that would have extended their TV deal. So the optics wouldn't look good if he approved a similar exchange between FOX and the Padres. It's complicated, but with the start of the regular season on the immediate horizon, approval of the San Diego TV deal must come in a matter of weeks. In his original agreement with Moores, Moorad has two more years to complete his purchase of the franchise, which means Moores could be around for awhile. "I'd be disappointed, but that certainly could happen," Moores said. "Jeff has the right to buy, but he doesn't have the obligation. He can wait for two years and then decide." The future impact of all this on the NL West is obvious, but the AL West is feeling the impact right now. The Angels and Rangers are awash in FOX television money. The Texas team inked a 20-year extension with FOX reportedly in the $1.5 billion range; the new deal begins in 2014. That gave the Rangers the money to spend $111 million in posting fees and a contract to recently sign Japanese right-hander Yu Darvish. That leaves the A's and Mariners on the outside, with the Astros about to move in. The A's are still waiting to hear from MLB whether they will be able to explore building a new ballpark in San Jose, which is no fait accompli, even if MLB gives them the nod at this point. The Mariners are in the middle of the pack in terms of revenue and chose not to compete in the open market this winter for talent such as Darvish or Prince Fielder, who signed with the Tigers for nine years and $214 million. Jack Zduriencik, the Mariners' general manager, said in an interview on Wednesday that all he intends to do is remain on a trajectory to rebuild the club from within. Because of Zduriencik's ties with the Brewers, there was an assumption that Fielder would land in Seattle. It didn't happen. "From our standpoint, you just do what you have to do," Zduriencik said. "We put a plan in place three years ago when I got here that we were going to rebuild this thing. We're going to stay the course. As things unfold and different things happen that affect other clubs, we'll see where that takes us. Things happen in the game, and we'll adjust to it." Evidently, the massive adjustment by the rest of MLB to what's happening out west has only just begun.
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.