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12/15/08 11:00 AM EST
Moores seeking buyers for Padres
Owner hires firm to aid search, reiterates commitment to on-field success
By Barry M. Bloom / MLB.com
San Diego Padres owner John Moores told MLB.com this weekend that he has hired Goldman Sachs to identify potential buyers for the ballclub. Moores, who bought the team in 1995 for approximately $80 million, said the international banking firm has been hired as a financial advisor to study selling the team either in its entirety, in part or not at all. "My strong desire is to stay involved, because the last decade and a half has been a terrific experience," Moores said in a telephone interview. "But I have no idea how long this is going to take or how it's going to turn out. I don't know at this point what the combination will be and whether I'll be involved in it." With the start of Spring Training two months away, Moores said he didn't think the possible sale would have an impact on the 2009 season. Moores said selling any part of the club does involve a much-publicized personal wrinkle: the pending divorce between him and his wife, Becky. Together, they own 90 percent of the team, and because of community property laws in the state of California, Becky shares 50 percent of that asset. She must agree to any sale, and in the event that they can't come to an agreement, the California state court presiding over the divorce would be the arbitrator. "But that strikes me as very remote," Moores said. "There's a cooperative process between me and Becky ongoing now through Goldman Sachs." Last April, Forbes Magazine valued the Padres at $385 million, 19th among the 30 Major League teams. Moores said he isn't sure what the 40-year-old franchise is worth. "Everything is worth what somebody will pay for it," Moores said. To underscore that assessment, Forbes valued the Cubs at $642 million, but with that franchise on the brink of being sold, bids reportedly have come in as high as $1.3 billion. As for current Padres ownership, Moores' daughter, Jennifer, owns five percent of the team and the other five percent is owned by Glenn Doshay, a San Diego businessman. A book compiled by Goldman Sachs that describes the club, the environment and the financials will be presented to qualified buyers early next year. Despite reports last month in San Diego to the contrary, Moores said he has had no discussions with anyone about selling the team this year. Whether some of the property developed around the ballpark by JMI Reality Inc. is included in the transaction remains to be seen. That company is also owned by Moores. The development was mandated in the deal the Padres made with the city of San Diego to build PETCO Park at a cost of $456 million. The ballpark, after two years of court delays, opened in 2004 and the Padres assumed about $150 million of the construction cost in long-term debt. It has been speculated that Moores has reaped considerable profits from the ancillary development around the ballpark, which includes a hotel just across the street. "The club owns a couple of buildings down there, but I'm not sure a buyer would want them -- it's not clear," Moores said. "This was a huge amount of risk. My first preference would've been to develop nothing, but that simply wasn't possible. It's a process that's ongoing, and it's very difficult for me to say that on balance we've made a lot of money. But the notion that we've made billions of dollars is simply made out of whole cloth." The news of a possible sale comes at a time when the Padres are trying to downsize their 2008 player payroll of $72 million, mostly in response to the slumping economy. Moores said he's invested $100 million in the team since he purchased it from executive television producer Tom Werner and Werner's group of 14 minority partners during the strike that ended the 1994 season and delayed the start of the 1995 season. "And I haven't taken a dime out of it," he said. Moores said last year's 99-loss season showed that the organization has to go younger, developing players through the farm system and filling the gaps with well-devised trades. The signings of high-priced free agents are simply for the big-market teams like the Mets, Red Sox and Yankees, Moores said, not the Padres. "For us to do it the Yankees way is just utterly foolish," Moores said. "I think most baseball people would agree with that. On top of it, it's been a bad year, going through a divorce and headed into a recession. That's as bad a combo as you can find. We're not going to risk the franchise by signing contracts that don't make any sense and put us in long-term debt. "I don't want to go through another 2008. I think it was terrible. I think that shocked the system. It's not going to happen again in 2009. We're going to put together a much better team." That process is ongoing. The Padres have already traded shortstop Khalil Greene and his $6.5 million salary to the Cardinals and taken an offer off the table worth $4 million to bring back free-agent closer Trevor Hoffman. The Padres picked up a $9 million option to retain right fielder Brian Giles. And it's likely, Moores said, that Jake Peavy will be the Opening Day starter. Peavy earns $11 million this season of the $63 million remaining on his four-year contract. Trade talks regarding Peavy with the Braves, and most recently the Cubs, have fallen through during the past month. Peavy's contract was eclipsed last week when the Yankees agreed to terms with CC Sabathia ($160 million over seven seasons) and A.J. Burnett ($82.5 million over five seasons), making the 2007 National League Cy Young Award winner a bargain in comparison. "Jake Peavy may well be our [Opening Day] starting pitcher in 2009," Moores said. "I believe he represents good value in today's baseball economic system. However, it is team policy to consider the trade value of all players to see if the club can improve its competitiveness. The only player on my watch that was never remotely considered for a trade was Tony Gwynn." Giles and Peavy alone would mean the Padres have already spent close to half of their projected payroll. That may preclude the Padres from reconstituting talks with Hoffman, who's been exploring other options in the market since discussions broke off last month. "That's a good question and I don't have an answer," Moores said. "In reality, what price would you like to have him back? I've told Trevor that he was clearly the best Padres pitcher ever. In a way, he's like Gwynn. He is the Padres. "It's a very hard issue for me to deal with. I don't like the idea of not seeing Trevor out there, but it's all about putting the best team on the field with the resources we have. That will be a baseball decision and that will rest with the club. I'm not going to go telling them you've got to sign Trevor, as fond as I am of him."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.