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Dodgers need to lose distractions

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Tracy Ringolsby

Tracy Ringolsby is a Hall of Fame baseball writer. He is in his 37th year covering Major League Baseball, is a co-founder of Baseball America, and is in his fourth year as pregame and postgame analyst for Colorado Rockies games on Root Sports.

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CHEYENNE, Wy.

Are the Dodgers' hopes, along with the marriage of owners Frank and Jamie McCourt, on the rocks?

Publicly, all the right things are being said. Actions, however, say more than any words.

And what have the Dodgers done to get attention this offseason? Nothing. Or at least nothing that would rekindle fans' hopes.

While the Dodgers are coming off back-to-back NL West titles under the direction of manager Joe Torre, they haven't been to the World Series since 1988. That's the longest World Series drought in the NL West.

Among the 29 other major-league teams, Seattle, Texas and Washington have never played in a World Series. The Cubs haven't advanced that far since 1908. It's been since 1979 for Pittsburgh, 1982 for Milwaukee, 1983 for Baltimore and 1985 for Kansas City.

And then there are the Dodgers, who haven't been back to the World Series since their upset of Oakland, headlined by Kirk Gibson limping around the bases after a game-winning, pinch-hit home run in 1988.

A franchise that folks used to hate out of respect has become the butt of bad jokes, the latest of which has been the overly public divorce battle of the McCourts.

General manager Ned Coletti claims the marital problems of his bosses are not affecting the Dodgers. But what is he supposed to say? A franchise that had to start being careful with what it spends because the McCourts don't have deep pockets in good times now has its hands completely tied, because the only thing the ownership can agree on is they don't want to hang around together anymore.

Jamie McCourt has even challenged the validity of the 2004 agreement that hubby Frank is the sole owner of the franchise. And the courts won't even hear that argument until May 24. The expectation is if Jamie wins her claim for being an ownership partner, the Dodgers will have to be sold because neither McCourt, on their own, has enough resources to buy out the other.

That creates a bottom line that leaves the Dodgers in limbo.

It's why the team can shed more than $40 million in salary from 2009, and is still celebrating the holidays with two major holes in its five-man rotation, a question about its situation at second base and a need to bolster its bullpen. Their offseason has consisted of shipping Juan Pierre to the Cubs, which came only when the Dodgers agreed to pick up $10.5 million of the remaining $18.5 million that Pierre will earn over the next two seasons, and the signing of versatile Jamey Carroll to a two-year deal worth less than $4 million.

It's not like the rest of the division has been shaking up the baseball world.

But the needs are minimal in Colorado, where the Rockies' success or failure will rest on the ability of the home-grown likes of catcher Chris Iannetta and third baseman Ian Stewart to evolve into the impact players that scouts have projected, and left-hander Jeff Francis to prove he can bounce back after missing 2009 recovering from surgery.

San Francisco is desperate for offense, but then the Giants had the same need last year, and still were in the midst of the NL West and wild-card races thanks to a dominating rotation that will be enhanced this year by the arrival of phenom Madison Bumgarner.

Arizona did add right-handers Edwin Jackson from Detroit and Ian Kennedy from the Yankees in a three-team deal but to acquire those two the Diamondbacks gave up right-hander Max Scherzer, their No. 1 draft pick in 2006, and lefty reliever Daniel Schlereth, their No. 1 pick in 2008. They also added right-hander Aaron Heilman to the bullpen mix.

And San Diego isn't a factor, anyway, and doesn't pretend to be.

Then there are the Dodgers, knocked off by Philadelphia in the NLCS in each of the past two years, and now burdened by their role as a side attraction in Los Angeles' latest soap opera, which has become such a big public fiasco that the world has seemingly forgotten about the $20 million albatross that is Manny Ramirez.

The Dodgers do have reason to feel that their offense is capable of handling its end of the bargain to contend. But there is a need for depth in a bullpen, and there are major holes in a rotation that was such a mess by the postseason that Vicente Padilla, picked up after being released by Texas in August, started three of the Dodgers' eight postseason games.

Lefty Randy Wolf, who made two postseason starts, is now in Milwaukee as the Dodgers failed to make a serious bid to re-sign him off the free agent market. Wolf's 11 wins last year were second among Dodger starters, behind only Chad Billingsley, who was relegated to one bullpen appearance in the postseason.

Padilla, Wolf and right-hander Jon Garland, an August addition from Arizona, were three-fifths of the Dodger rotation down the stretch, and each became a free agent in November. Those losses offset any joy the Dodgers may have felt from having finally ridded itself of the oppressive contract of oft-injured Jason Schmidt, which expired at season's end.

There's nothing on the farm, waiting to harvest, to fill those rotation voids.

And from the looks of things, there's not much in the bank account that will allow the Dodgers to try and buy their way out of this mess.
Tagged: Brewers, Randy Wolf

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