New hope for free-spending Dodgers

LOS ANGELES — It was five-and-a-half hours after the non-waiver trading deadline had passed, and Dodgers GM Ned Colletti walked into the press box with a weary smile on his face. “Busy day,” a reporter said to Colletti as he opened the door to the dining room. “Yeah it was—but not now,” Colletti replied, the weary grin turning into a full-fledged smile.

And so it goes when you’re running baseball’s New World Order: aka the Guggenheim Baseball Group.

Beginning with last week’s trade with Miami to acquire Hanley Ramirez, new Dodgers ownership continues to live up to its word about doing whatever it took to build a championship team.

Monday night they added right-handed reliever Brandon League from the Seattle Mariners—maybe as much to keep him away from the rival San Francisco Giants as to help out their own bullpen. League’s arrival made it possible for the Dodgers to make another deal early Tuesday morning.

This time, it was a former Dodger coming home, as outfielder Shane Victorino—twice taken from the Dodgers in the Rule Five Draft–was dealt to LA from Philadelphia in exchange for pitchers Josh Lindblom and Ethan Martin. Victorino was drafted by LA In 1999 and helped the Phils’ to a World Championship in 2008. The trade almost didn’t happen, though.

Colletti said that without League, they wouldn’t have been able to meet the Phillies’ asking price of Lindblom and Martin. “We were able to make three big trades within a few days, including two back to back. Monday night’s was a key move for us. I’m not sure we would have traded Josh Lindblom had we not had Brandon League available.”

Right before the 1 p.m. PT deadline, the Dodgers GM was trying to make it a clean sweep by trading for Chicago Cubs’ starter Ryan Dempster, who expressed a major desire to play in Los Angeles. However, when Cubs’ president Theo Epstein kept insisting on a combination of young Dodgers righties Rubby De La Rosa, Zach Lee and Allen Webster or lefty Chris Reed as part of any deal, the Dodgers said no thanks and began to let their cell phones cool off.

Their National League West rivals in San Francisco made a couple of nice pickups as well, landing All-Star outfielder Hunter Pence from Philadelphia on Tuesday and last Friday night, getting infielder Marco Scutaro from Colorado. But they didn’t come close to accomplishing what Los Angeles has done.

It was a monumental week for the suddenly free-spending Dodgers, who were usually out of the running for any meaningful players because of the financial constraints insisted upon by the previous owners. This year, they got three quality players to add to Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Clayton Kershaw and an excellent group of reserves, proving that proclamations by the management team were more than just a lot of hot air.

“When you know that ownership is saying ‘make the necessary moves so that we can win the championship’ that’s a big boost to the players,” said Dodger co-owner and all-time Laker great Earvin “Magic” Johnson.

“When Jerry West was with the Lakers and Dr. (Jerry) Buss would would tell Jerry to make any necessary move to win, that’s what we’re trying to do here. The (players) are feeling it, and the fans are feeling it, too.

“I think that we are a championship team, but everybody has to play their A-game. I think that when you get a boost like this, it breeds confidence. Sometimes you just need something to give you that confidence. I think that in the National League, we can compete against anybody.

“Ned and Stan have been on the phone. They’ve been working the phone lines. We’ve been getting calls…it’s been a whirlwind, but it’s been a good whirlwind for the Dodger organization.

“What we told Ned was, ‘Look, you and Stan just go out there and whatever moves you want to make, you make them. Even if we have to give the other team dollars, or whatever. We want to improve this team. That’s the job that they did, and when (co-owner) Mark (Walter) and I sat down, that’s what we decided. We want to win now. We got off to a great start, and even today, with all the things that we’ve gone through, injury-wise, we felt really good. Hanley was the first move that we made that was a good move, but now all the moves that we’ve made since then. So we want to win right now. We want to win right now.”

Manager Don Mattingly is one of the immediate beneficiaries of the Guggenheim graciousness, and he’s especially thrilled about not having to face Dodger-killer Victorino anymore.

“He was really a thorn in our side, really since I’ve been out here,” Mattingly said. “It’s good to get a guy like that to put at the top of our order.” Mattingly also said that The Flyin’ Hawaiian will move from center field to left field and bat in the leadoff spot.

“I looked at it like I don’t want three guys changing (outfield) spots. I want one guy making the adjustment, not three guys. He was good with it. He’s all good. He wants to play it again.”

With the addition of the new players, the Dodgers have improved in nearly every area possible.

Ramirez replaces the perpetually struggling Juan Uribe at third base, while League gives the team a reliever who had 37 saves last year with Seattle. Victorino gives the club a reliable leadoff hitter and defender, plus a base-stealing threat, averaging 25 stolen bases in the past six seasons. He’s already swiped 24 so far in 2012. And when Dee Gordon comes back from thumb surgery, Mattingly says he will once again be the starting shortstop.

So, with all the new and returning talent being placed into the starting lineup and back of the bullpen, the bench also gets better. Displaced players such as Bobby Abreu, Tony Gwynn Jr., Juan Rivera, Uribe and eventually Luis Cruz will likely fortify the reserves and make the Dodgers a very difficult team to beat.

Ethier gives credit to the new owners, who earlier this season began this baseball club makeover by signing him to a five-year, $85 million contract extension.

“They’ve made a point to come in and change (things) right away,” Ethier said. “There’s no more sitting around and wondering ‘what if?’ and ‘if we’re going to do it’. We’re going to do it, and it’s just a matter of time when. They want this to be a place where players are holding their heads high and never shrugging them because of the lack of support we’re getting from above.”

So far, mission accomplished. writer Jon Rosen also contributed to this story.