Jeff Smith noon, March 8
Pretending to set the opening day roster of the Padres is easy compared to solving the question of whether the ownership of the club will somehow become resolved before April. Technically, John Moores still owns the Padres, regardless of the fact that Jeff Moorad has been the mouthpiece of the ownership group that has been buying out Moores (on scheduled payments) since a couple of years ago. Moores is still the guy who votes in the owners meetings. Moores is still the guy you hold responsible for everything related to ownership of this Major League Baseball franchise. Whether he likes it or not, John Moores is still the guy in charge, even if he isn't hands-on running things there.
Sports columnist Nick Canepa of the San Diego Union-Tribune was lucky enough recently to get the rare interview with Moores. Softball questions yield softball answers. But the answers are still revealing. Not so much in the content, but in the lack of content. "I don’t understand all the issues and don’t know the time line,” said Moores, according to Canepa, concerning Major League Baseball's pending approval of the transfer of ownership of the Padres from Moores to Moorad.
You know how much money you have in your pocket and you know how much money you have in the checking account and you know who owes you what and you have a pretty good idea when that's coming. The very fact that Moores states this is unbelievable. However, there is some awesome consistency here. After all, it was just around a month ago that Jeff Moorad claimed that he didn't know the details of the proposed media deal from Fox Sports.
Come on, fellas, we're not that dumb.
John Moores made his money early, in software. Then he made even more money in investments, venture capital stuff. Smart man. In 1994, Moores purchased the Padres from Tom Werner, and Padres fans breathed a collective sigh of relief. Werner wasn't well-liked in San Diego. Werner and the term "fire sale" are symbiotic for Padres fans. Claiming that the Padres had lost money, Werner proceeded to cut loose all of the better players with the bigger contracts before selling 80% of his share of the club to Moores. If Tom Werner was a clown, John Moores was Werner's non-comic relief. Werner wanted to sell the Padres out as some sort of a sit-com while Moores brought back the right amount of drama and a little more respect.
The biggest problem with Moores as the Padres owner? The farm system went to hell. The best talent available early in drafts was passed over for lesser talent signed for smaller signing bonuses. Werner was guilty of selling his drafted talent, while Moores didn't draft the talent in the first place. Former general manager Kevin Towers made do using his keen ability to find players either from free agency or by trade. In 1998 this method took the Padres all of the way to the World Series, only to be swept by the New York Yankees.
Building a team via free agency isn't sustainable. Large market teams like the Yankees and the Red Sox have the image of being wealthy teams able to purchase the best players in baseball, but that image isn't the reality of their success. Their farm systems are robust, providing them with a source of players to call up, and most of their better players come up through their farm systems. Free agents are then used to fill any holes left.
The end of the Moores era saw the beginning of a shift in the direction of building a farm system. The Padres built a baseball facility in the Dominican Republic where they currently operate a Rookie League team and an academy devoted to teaching baseball fundamentals. Some of those players are starting to show up at higher levels in the organization. More will soon follow.
Jeff Moorad was a player agent, teamed up with Leigh Steinberg, when they ultimately sold the partnership for $120 million in 1999. Moorad then struck up his own agency and continued to represent players (Moorad was the agent for Manny Ramirez during the $160 million deal between Ramirez and the Red Sox in 2000), until 2005, when Moorad agreed to partner with Ken Kendrick and join the ownership group of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Moorad's stay in the Arizona Diamondback's ownership group didn't last long. In 2009, Moorad rounded up some partners and offered to buy out John Moores to gain control of the San Diego Padres. Moores' impending divorce brought on the sale, and Moores and Moorad agreed to a buy-out that would terminate Moores' ownership after incremental payments ending in 2013. In the process of leaving the Diamondbacks ownership group to pursue his managing partnership in the new owners group of the Padres, Moorad upset Diamondbacks managing partner in ownership Ken Kendrick. Kendrick remains upset to this day over the abrupt departure of Moorad, and initially refused to purchase Moorad's 12% share of the Diamondbacks.
Acting as the managing general partner of the ownership group, Moorad let long time general manager Kevin Towers walk, refusing to renew his contract. Instead, Moorad hired Jed Hoyer away from the Boston Red Sox organization and made him general manager. When the Diamondbacks fired general manager Josh Byrnes, Moorad hired Byrnes as senior vice president of baseball operations.
Hoyer's era will be remembered most for the two drafts he was responsible for (along with some excellent trades for key prospects), until Moorad made it clear to Hoyer after the 2011 season that the new opening of general manager in the Chicago Cubs organization was Hoyer's if Hoyer wanted to pursue it (Hoyer asked for a contract extension from Moorad and Moorad declined to offer one, which was a nice way of suggesting that Hoyer should go to Chicago without having to actually utter the words). In a very brief amount of time, Hoyer did the Padres a great service. With Moorad's blessing, Hoyer loaded up the farm system very well. In only a few short years, the Padres have come from having one of the worst farm systems in baseball to having one of the baseball's best.
By either irony or coincidence, depending on how one views it, Kevin Towers wound up becoming the general manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks while Josh Byrnes is now the general manager of the San Diego Padres.
At the owner's meetings over the winter, Moorad came up with enough cash in order to buy out Moores early. Apparently, that money still sits in escrow, gathering nothing but dust. All sorts of excuses have been offered up on both sides as to why the deal can't be completed. None of them make any sense. The only known quantity is that Major League Baseball and Bud Selig refuse to allow it to be voted on.
At first the other owners and Selig cited that certain information was required before voting. That information has been in Bud Selig's in-basket for some time now. Moorad's attempt at buying out Moores early is one of the most upstanding moves he's made since he arrived in San Diego. The move offers stability, direction, a fresh start for a fan base tired of losing and tired of unstable ownership since the Ray Kroc era.
Bud Selig seems to be preoccupied with other matters.
According to Canapa, Moores said, “I don’t know what people are thinking. I don’t even know a lot of the owners. I don’t know how the vote will go. I do know Selig likes unanimous votes.”
It's as well-known that in general MLB owners are quite fond of John Moores as it is that White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf and Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick do not like Jeff Moorad. That doesn't occur by not knowing those owners. Moores knows, so does Moorad. It's the Padres fan base that doesn't know. And if Selig really liked unanimous votes, then he would have voted Ryan Braun's drug testing results as invalid because MLB's own policy was breached. Instead, a very good player will have a tag attached to his name for his entire career, because apparently the Commissioner of Major League Baseball is more concerned with his own legacy that with the game itself.
Canepa goes on to quote Moores. “I’m ready to move on. After 17 years, I’m ready to close the door. I’m ready to sit in the cheap seats. Life’s too short. I don’t even think I have to sign anything. Mail me the check. I keep opening the mail … nothing.”
To tell the truth. Nothing more. Something is going on here, and while the frustration of John Moores is obvious, what's the deal with Moorad, anyway? With Kendrick, it is recent, as noted. With Reinsdorf, rumor has it that it's something going back to Moorad's days as an agent, possibly something while Moorad represented Manny Ramirez. It could even go as far back as Reinsdorf and Selig both being owners and involved in the collusion case that saw them partially responsible for the owners having to pony up a lot of cash to select players. The only people who know for sure are Moores, Moorad, Selig, and the owners of MLB franchises.
What Selig pretends not to realize is that the big victim in all of this is the loyal fan base of the San Diego Padres.
The Padres kick-off Cactus League play on Sunday with the annual charity game against the Seattle Mariners, with whom they share the Peoria Sports Complex. The starting pitcher for the Padres will be Anthony Bass. Bass is expected to go two innings, unless his pitch count rises higher than expected.
Pitchers are now throwing off of the mound and hitters are hitting live pitching. In general, everyone's progression is reported as being on schedule with no drawbacks. Some other clubs have already seen a few devastating injuries, but thus far the Padres have escaped anything more than expected soreness associated with having taken the winter off. Let's hope that continues.
(Image: John Moores and Jeff Moorad L-R, courtesy of sfgate.com/Lenny Ignelzi AP)