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What's next for troubled Dodgers?
The Dodgers need to sell — in a way that has nothing to do with Frank McCourt.
Yes, the iconic franchise devolved to a new low on Monday, filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The CliffsNotes for the legal brouhaha go something like this: Major League Baseball wishes for someone else to own the Dodgers, McCourt appears willing to fight until the last paperclip, and federal bankruptcy court is about to pinch hit for Bud Selig as the designated adjudicator.
Meanwhile, the schedule marches onward. And the news there is only a little more encouraging for Dodgers fans.
Los Angeles is running fourth in the National League West, nine games behind the defending champion (and archrival) San Francisco Giants. The Dodgers have numerous players on the disabled list, their farm system is thinning, and it’s readily apparent that they will not play a meaningful game this September.
Of equal importance, their fans are expressing apathy. Crowds are down at Dodger Stadium by an average of nearly 8,000 per game — and that’s paid attendance. The actual turnstile count is much lower.
And so it has come to this for one of baseball’s proudest organizations. They must punt on the ’11 season and look to the future, irrespective of how much is left in McCourt’s checking account.
As hard as this may sound, set aside McCourt, Selig and the deep, talented roster of the American Bar Association. Look at the Dodgers, on the field, as they entered Monday's series opener in Minnesota. What do you see?
• 297 runs scored, 12th among 16 NL teams.
• a 3.92 rotation ERA, 10th among 16 NL teams.
• a 4.55 bullpen ERA, 15th among 16 NL teams.
• a .699 team defensive efficiency rating, according to Baseball Prospectus, 14th among 16 NL teams.
When a team is below-average in just about everything that matters, it’s really difficult to win.
And so it’s time for General Manager Ned Colletti to send out word that he’s open for business. Outfielders Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier must stay, along with ace starter Clayton Kershaw, to preserve some of the leftover dignity in this outfit.
Kemp, in particular, ought to be untouchable. He’s on pace to become only the second 40/40 man outside of the Steroid Era (joining Alfonso Soriano). He’s a viable MVP candidate. He’s not due to be a free agent until after next year. “We trade him,” one member of the organization told me, “and we’re done.”
But Colletti should listen to offers on just about everyone else.
The Dodgers are, in many ways, a West Coast version of the Mets — with less desirable trade commodities. The ownership of each team is in turmoil, to varying degrees. New York began the week with an identical 9 1/2-game deficit in the NL East. It is a fait accompli that the Mets will be “sellers” before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. The same thinking should apply to the Dodgers.
Who should Colletti look to trade? Well, here are the top candidates.
Hiroki Kuroda: In a trade market short on high-end starters — at least right now — he’s the Dodgers’ best trade chip. The righty is 0-4 this month despite a 2.12 ERA, and one major-league source told FOXSports.com that “a lot of clubs” already have shown interest in acquiring him.
The Rockies and Reds scouted Kuroda’s most recent outing, although it’s not clear if they did so as part of regular coverage. Kuroda is owed around $6 million and is eligible for free agency after this season. He has a full no-trade clause.
Jamey Carroll: The versatile infielder has postseason experience and could be valuable to any team that needs help at second, third or shortstop. Carroll, 37, has followed up a strong 2010 season with an even better one this year. He’s on pace to finish with more than 500 plate appearances for the first time in the big leagues.
Carroll could fit nicely with the Reds, Tigers, Indians, Brewers or Giants.
James Loney: It’s becoming more and more likely that Loney won’t be back as the Dodgers’ everyday first baseman in 2012. His OPS has dropped for the fourth consecutive year, and now he’s offering below-average production for his position.
But this is the same player who averaged around 90 RBI for the past three seasons. Loney is still only 27, and a trade could revive his bat. He’s a good match for teams that need a left-handed first baseman and could hit him sixth or seventh in the order.
Casey Blake: Blake’s value isn’t close to what it once was. Entering Monday, he had a .488 OPS in 25 games since returning from the disabled list last month. Blake is due about $4 million, including the buyout on next year’s club option, and the Dodgers would probably need to eat most of that in order to move him. But Blake is a postseason veteran who could mentor a young team while picking up at-bats in the corner infield and outfield spots.
Colletti’s job will become easier if some of the wounded come off the disabled list before July 31. The infirmary includes shortstop Rafael Furcal, former closer Jonathan Broxton, starter Jon Garland, catcher Rod Barajas and reliever Vicente Padilla. All are prospective free agents after this season. Any who demonstrate their health will become automatic trade candidates.
The Dodgers shouldn’t, and probably won’t, hold a “fire sale” in the classic, ’09 Cleveland Indians sort of way. The commissioner’s office, which assumed day-to-day operations of the Dodgers in April, wouldn’t allow it, anyway. But as long as Kemp, Ethier and Kershaw remain, any activity would fall under the heading of “reasonable baseball trades.”
As the Rangers demonstrated last year, bankruptcy court is no excuse for a team to stink. Right now at Chavez Ravine, not enough veterans are performing. Not enough prospects — particularly pitchers, such as Chris Withrow, Scott Elbert and Josh Lindblom — have panned out. The Dodgers need an on-field overhaul, soon, no matter which guy has the better lawyers.
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