One immediately got the sense that something strange was brewing when freight-forwarding magnate Jim Crane was permitted to re-submit his ownership bid days after the original December 7th deadline for bid modification had passed, and it now appears that whatever might have been brewing has come to a head, as numerous sources -- including MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan -- are reporting that Crane has emerged as the front-runner in the Texas Rangers ownership sweepstakes.
Not impressed yet? Today is the purported baseball-imposed deadline by which Tom Hicks must offer his ownership recommendation. And, thusly, time is now of the essence.
According to Daniel Kaplan of the SportsBusiness Journal, Crane's bid -- which is apparently north of the $500 million mark; the values of the proposals presented by Dennis Gilbert and Chuck Greenberg are less certain -- would offer two appealing features to Hicks and his close-trailing creditors: (a) Crane would allow Hicks to remain on board as a minority investor in the franchise and (b) Crane's bid is thought to be financially superior to the competition and offer the best terms to the banks.
From the outside looking in, there seem to be numerous variables holding varying amounts of sway in the bid-selecting process; whichever offer best satisfies Hicks' creditors is the inherent favorite (and rightly so), but then there is Hicks' desire to retain some sort of ownership stake, the value of the backing of numerous regional investors, the influence of Nolan Ryan, the lobbying of Jerry Reinsdorf and friends, the owners' disdain for Crane, the manipulation of Bud Selig ... did I miss anything? There's so much talk about the value of the human element in the game of baseball itself, but never has the human element seemed more consequential than it has in this sale process to date.
The other main thought that springs to mind concerns the apparent division of the ownership-concerned fan base into pro-Greenberg or pro-Gilbert factions, a phenomenon which I'll freely admit to having contributed to. See, I'm part of the problem. I readily bought into the "Beware Dennis Gilbert!" hype on the basis of work from non-impartial columnists such as Jon Heyman and Randy Galloway; in actuality, both have their own personal agendas and biases, with Heyman's seeming preference of Gilbert being reflected in his writing and Galloway obviously preferring the Ryan-backed Greenberg.
When you get right down to it, we think we know who these guys are, but in reality we don't really know them at all -- 90-plus percent of what we do know about the Greenberg/Gilbert/Crane trifecta has been disseminated through the mainstream media, and that's fine and all for informational purposes, but it's simply not enough to discern whether one prospective owner is really better for the future health of the franchise than the other. Losing Ryan in the event of Gilbert's triumph is a certainly a compelling reason to root for Greenberg, but what would that really tell us about the business acumen or the baseball knowledge or, heck, the all-around competence of any involved party? Not much.
After filtering out the hearsay and the speculation and the personal biases, here's what we're pretty much left with: Greenberg has allied with Ryan, has the backing of local investors and has been successful in running several minor league franchises; Gilbert has some very progressive ideas (Mexican baseball academy, regional sports network, etc.) and wants to work in baseball operations; Crane has lots of money. Those are really the only relevant and irrefutable facts. That's the fact sheet that we should using. Nobody is going to, of course, and I can't fault anybody for that, but we simply don't have the requisite knowledge to categorically state that "Owner X would be bad for the Rangers."
It wouldn't appear that Tom Hicks deserves that same benefit of the doubt, however, because we know what he has done: leveraged not only the Rangers, but also the Dallas Stars -- whom he couldn't leverage in advance of the February 2007 Liverpool FC purchase because he had already saddled them with $200-plus million in debt well beforehand -- to a point where the debt exceeded 80-plus percent of each of his teams' values.
That stratagem could have theoretically paid off if the economy hadn't tanked, but it did tank and it didn't pay off, and now Hicks has, in effect, financially crippled his baseball team, ticked off MLB and the NHL, incensed his lenders by funding operating losses for the Rangers and Stars out of an interest reserve connected to his defaulted $525 million loan, and backed himself into a corner from which there doesn't appear to be any escape. That's a pattern of financial irresponsibility across multiple professional sports franchises that should prompt his eternal banishment from the local sports scene.
Quick Hits: The Max Ramirez-for-Mike Lowell trade remains on hold indefinitely, with no apparent timetable for completion; NESN's Peter Gammons reported on Monday that Lowell may require thumb surgery, further jeopardizing the deal ... If the three-team megadeal that might send the Mariners' Phillippe Aumont, Tyson Gillies and J.C. Ramirez to the Phillies in exchange for ace left-hander Cliff Lee ultimately goes down, the Rangers need to be very worried, and here's why ... Boston is reportedly close to signing free agent right-hander John Lackey to a five-year, $82.5 million contract.
Before recently non-tendered ex-Royals catcher John Buck was snapped up by the Blue Jays with a one-year, $2 million deal, the Rangers offered Buck a one-year contract with less guaranteed money that was, of course, rejected ... ESPN.com's Buster Olney reports that Nelson Cruz recently incurred an ankle injury while playing in the Dominican Winter League, but an MRI determined it was merely inflammation.