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.