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Stingy McCourts should sell Dodgers
With Philadelphia acquiring Roy Oswalt, the Dodgers ensure that yet another season will pass without a legitimate No. 1 starter.
Their search for such a pitcher precedes the current regime, which began with the hiring of Joe Torre in late 2007. The years since have seen the Dodgers manage to somehow not get Oswalt, Dan Haren, Roy Halladay (twice), Cliff Lee (three times), John Lackey, C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett (OK, he's not a No. 1, just someone the Yankees overpaid).
Still, the Dodgers led the majors in attendance last year, and despite being seven games out to the $38 million Padres, are currently third. But now, as then, they refuse to pay the price. Hearing that the Dodgers failed to get another all-star caliber starter is like hearing Andrew Bynum had another procedure on his knee. Out here in Los Angeles, this is what passes for tradition.
Of course, the high command at Chavez Ravine will tell you that this has absolutely nothing at all to do with the pending divorce of their owners, Frank and Jamie McCourt.
And you know what? I'm starting to believe it.
They were too cheap and too leveraged and too cautious before the divorce. If anything, the recent acquisition of Scott Podsednik — yes, the Scott Podsednik, fourth-outfielder extraordinaire — might be cause for Dodgers fans to rejoice. I quote from Thursday's Los Angeles Times: "Unlike some of the deals made by the Dodgers in recent years, they did not receive cash from their trading partner."
Is that great or what? The team with a stronghold on America's second-biggest market is willing to assume the remaining $600,000 on Podsednik's deal for this year. Happy days are here again.
In a way, the McCourts are perfect for this town, where every other divorcee seems to have put a Bentley on the Visa. And while symbolism falls short as an excuse, it's more than enough reason for me to second the sentiments of my friend and colleague, Bill Plaschke of the L.A. Times. Frank and Jamie should celebrate their divorce by selling the team.
By now, you've heard what terrible chiselers they are. Their two grown sons (one of them a grad student) were on the payroll for $600,000 per. They paid a 71-year-old Russian physicist a six-figure sum to telepathically send the team positive energy. He lives outside Boston, and watched the games on TV. Then there was the PR guy who, according to the New York Times, was paid $400,000 for running the Dodgers $1.6 million charitable foundation in 2007. And did I mention the McCourts didn't a pay a penny in income taxes on $108 million made between 2004 and 2009?
Don't tell me you're shocked. These are the allegations that fly in big-league divorce cases. They are reasons for the couple to be mortified, but not, by themselves, reasons to sell the team. Remember, this all happened when the McCourts were together, and the Dodgers enjoyed consecutive first-place finishes.
Rather, the failure of their ownership is emblematic of something larger. The purchase of the Dodgers, like a lot of things that seemed sensible earlier this century, was financed with debt. But debt only buys time, just not an eternity. Now the divorce serves notice that the bills are coming due.
So think of the Dodgers as baseball's answer to the mortgage crisis. It's not a local problem. It's a national one. This ownership is not in the best interests of baseball.
And while it's too much to expect the commissioner to force Frank and Jamie to sell, the commissioner's displeasure should be more evident. At the least, Bud Selig should be on the phone, telling them to sell out or pay up. (God knows, David Stern would do that much).
There's no shame in being a $95-million team. But there's no excuse for the Dodgers to be one. No excuse for them to lag behind the Minnesota Twins in payroll.
Just like the people who brought you the mortgage crisis, the McCourts stand to make a killing here. They bought the team in 2004 for $371 million. As of April, it was worth $727 million. What's more, Forbes estimates annual revenues at $247 million. Selig is an owner's man through and through. He doesn't endorse spendthrift ways. Still, even by his rule of thumb — which calls for player compensation to be about half the team's revenue — the Dodgers fall woefully short. In 2008, player payroll was $118,588,536.
You want context? Consider the drop relative to other teams. In 2007, the Dodgers were 6th in player payroll. Then they were 7th. Then 9th. And now, 11th.
The team has a plausible-sounding excuse for every coveted starter it didn't get. They weren't going to give up James Loney for Oswalt. They weren't going to come close to the Yankees' offer for Sabathia — even though Sabathia wanted to be in California. They never thought John Lackey was that good. They almost had Lee last year, and didn't have the prospects to land him this year when he went to the Rangers, who, by the way, are only in bankruptcy court.
But this has nothing to do with the front office. You can beat up GM Ned Colletti for obvious mistakes, like Jason Schmidt and Andruw Jones. But it's even more obvious that he's done an excellent job. Hey, this is the guy who got Vicente Padilla, Manny Ramirez and Casey Blake for no money down.
Padilla, the Dodgers's opening day starter, had been already been cut. Ramirez and Blake were purchased with prospects. But now Colletti is out of prospects. And so are the McCourts. Like I said, the bills are coming due.
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