Pujols, Fielder may bail out Dodgers

Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder may help the Los Angeles Dodgers' money woes.

If the Dodgers’ new owners were in place, do you think they would bid on Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder?

You bet they would, given the team’s need for a slugger at first base.

Which begs the question:

Why shouldn’t the Dodgers sign Pujols or Fielder right now?

They should — and call it a parting gift from their ever-generous owner, Frank McCourt.

A whopping free-agent signing would be typical McCourt, piling on debt. But unrealistic as the idea might sound, it actually would be the right thing to do for the franchise.

Yes, the Dodgers are being sold. Yes, the sale is unlikely to occur before Opening Day. And yes, as Bill Shaikin wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “It would not be in (McCourt’s) best interest to take on a nine-figure liability if his bankers say that might lower a potential sale price.”

I get it. But who’s to say the addition of Pujols or Fielder would lower the potential sale price?

If anything, the signing of such a player might be the perfect first step as the Dodgers prepare to negotiate their new TV contract and rebuild their season-ticket base.

“If you’re going to optimize the TV value, you’re going to do it with ratings and stars,” said agent Scott Boras, who represents Fielder.

“If the bankruptcy-court judge is smart, he will allow the team to pursue premium players and retain premium players so that the TV contract negotiated is in the best possible state it can be in. And anybody interested in purchasing the Dodgers would welcome that.”

Obviously, it’s in Boras’ best interests for the Dodgers to bid. Also, the bankruptcy-court judge won’t decide how much the team can spend; that’s up to McCourt, according to a high-ranking baseball official. However, for such a large expenditure, McCourt might need the judge’s approval.

Commissioner Bud Selig, on the other hand, could not stop McCourt from signing Pujols or Fielder, sources say. The Dodgers, after filing for bankruptcy in June, dismissed Tom Schieffer, the MLB-appointed monitor for the team's finances, telling him he had no authority over their day-to-day business operations.What, then, is the problem?

So, why wouldn’t McCourt just go ahead?

Well, he might not want to take on a huge contract before even identifying his buyer. The idea would make more sense once one or more ownership groups emerged as legitimate possibilities — and endorsed such a move.

Still, Boras’ point is well-taken.

The Dodgers’ current TV deal with Prime Ticket, a regional sports network owned by FOX, expires in 2013. Their next TV package, according to some estimates, could be worth $4 billion. The Yankees and Red Sox are examples of teams that recognize the value of stars in helping build their TV audience.

Some might argue that the signing of a star would have little actual impact on the value of the rights deal, saying the final number would be exorbitant regardless of which players were on the Dodgers’ current roster.

OK, but at the very least, the arrival of a Pujols or Fielder would be a public-relations bonanza, fueling ticket sales, sponsorship deals and heaven knows what else.

LA loves stars, or maybe you’ve forgotten its over-the-top infatuation with Manny Ramirez in 2008.

Neither Pujols nor Fielder is as loopy and Hollywood-ready as Manny was. But I’m guessing Dodgers fans somehow would appreciate the excellence of either player.

There is something else to consider, too — something that should motivate not just the Dodgers but other clubs that are considering whether to pursue Pujols and Fielder.

The upcoming free-agent classes are almost devoid of sluggers.

Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp and Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton will be the top offensive free agents after the 2012 season. The Dodgers’ new owner almost certainly will sign Kemp long term. Hamilton, who has averaged only 114 games the past three seasons because of injuries, is not exactly a sure thing.

After the ’13 season, the free-agent class could include Reds first baseman Joey Votto, Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano and Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury. Of those players, Votto is the closest to Pujols and Fielder. Cano, too, might be approaching that level, but what are the odds the Yankees will let him go?

It’s thin out there — real thin. And while it’s certainly fair to question the wisdom of going six to nine years on Pujols, who will turn 32 on Jan. 16, or even Fielder, who will play next season at 28 but whose weight concerns teams, good luck finding alternatives in the future.

The time is now for the Dodgers to make a big move, stick it to the Angels and begin to reestablish their dominance in LA.

I know McCourt cares only about McCourt — I’ve seen the court documents. But considering the number of prospective ownership groups that already are jockeying for the Dodgers, it’s doubtful that signing Pujols or Fielder would prevent McCourt from securing the highest possible sale price.

Do it, Frank.

Do it, and your legacy won’t be all bad.
 

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