Dodgers need to lose distractions

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.

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