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December 18, 2011 at 12:05 AM

Two court-ordered appraisals of Mariners peg their value at far more than Forbes magazine ever has

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Spent this past week at the divorce trial of Mariners minority owner Chris Larson, which has wrapped up closing arguments and is awaiting a decision.
The most interesting stuff for us pertained to the Mariners and some court-appointed appraisals of what the team is worth. We’ve heard and read lots of guesswork from folks about what the team can afford and can’t afford in regard to free agents. Heard talk that Prince Fielder might break the bank if he’s signed to a long-term deal.
Maybe so,
But rather than listen to talk, we decided to hear what the experts themselves had to say.
One expert doing an appraisal for Larson’s side pegged the team’s value at $551 million. The expert doing the appraisal for Larson’s wife, Julia Calhoun, put the franchise value at $750 million.
We’ve been arguing for a while now that the Mariners have the money to not only go after Fielder, but to sign a bunch of supporting cast members as well.
In making that argument, we were going off figures from Forbes magazine, which in March suggested the team was worth $449 million.
Well, guess what?


Turns out that Forbes, which has been criticized in the past by M’s management for lacking accuracy, may have erred on the conservative side.
Because now, with analysts who were given far more inside access than Forbes, we learn that one feels Mariners financial value is at least $100 million more.
That came from the appraisal done on behalf of Larson, who has a vested interest in seeing his stake in the team appraised lower because it could reduce the amount of any settlement he has to pay his wife.
On the higher end, we’ve got a $750 million appraisal that blows the previous Forbes estimate out of the water.
Some baseball analysts have tried to make the argument that the Mariners could be crippled by a Fielder contract. That it will prevent them from making future moves that could help the team down the road.
They could be right. But I just don’t see it. If these analysts have facts or other information to support their theories, I’m all ears.
I see a team where owners have put in $212 million since 1992 and have not had to add additional cash since Safeco Field was built. I see two experts now pegging total franchise value at anywhere from 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 times what was put in.
Remember, this isn’t the same as a stock market investment, so you can’t gauge returns that way. That’s because Safeco Field has generated much of that franchise value and was built primarily with taxpayer money. It’s like a stock market investment with the public guaranteeing you can’t lose on the deal. Anyone found that on the stock market lately?
Anyhow, when I make an argument in favor of signing Fielder, it comes after having tried to find out as much as I can about a team’s financial situation. What you will never see me do, is argue that a team can’t “afford” a certain player or contract without actually checking to see whether that’s true or not.
We’ve written about this team’s surplus money before. About its television contract that kicked in this past season.
So, what I’m not going to do is argue in favor of cost-effective, lower-risk moves for less-proven players until I see this team at least attempt to sign a premium guy it very well can afford. Maybe it will come to that, where lesser players are the only answer. But I’d like to see the M’s at least try to get Fielder first. If he doesn’t want to come here, then fine. Settle for second best. But the time to try to do something more is right now and I will again suggest that the resources are there.
Because when I look at these appraisals, I don’t see a team getting any poorer. In fact, despite all the 90+ loss seasons and declining attendance, this team appears to be doing better than ever on its balance sheet.
Don’t take my word for it. I wasn’t the one who testified in court. All I did was sit there and take a lot of notes, about stuff I’ll continue to write about as the days move ahead. It was very educational. What can I say? These are the facts that were presented, by people with far more economic expertise than I have.
I don’t think I know more than they do. And hopefully, some of this information will help you formulate an opinion about the Mariners and their free agency abilities. An informed opinion.

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