New ownership continues Dodger makeover

LOS ANGELES — The 2012 season was a combination of triumph and disappointment for Stan Kasten and the Guggenheim Baseball Management group in their first year of ownership of the LA Dodgers.

The group’s purchase of the Dodgers from the McCourt regime and one of the biggest trades in baseball history provided a much needed boost to the Dodger fan base, but it wasn’t nearly enough to propel the club into the postseason.

Now in the group’s first offseason, the organization looks to continue to improve the team both on and off the field.

Renovations continue on Dodger Stadium and the biggest news to come out of Nashville might be the signing of Angels’ free-agent right-hander Zach Grienke, who along with Texas outfielder Josh Hamilton are the true prizes of this free-agent class.

“If there are people that we really, really love that would be a perfect fit, we can be aggressive,” Kasten said when asked about the potential of making a major free-agent acquisition this winter. “And we certainly want to do that. Let’s not oversimplify any one move we make, but I do agree with the general impression that we can be very aggressive. And I hope we get to do that.”

Last season the Dodgers acquired All-Stars in Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett and Brandon League, and it appears if they really want to add Grienke, they’ll do it. If you’re a Dodger fan, you probably can’t believe what you’re reading. After years of penny-pinching under Frank McCourt, you now have an ownership that truly cares about doing anything it can to put a winner on the field and making sure that reaching the postseason is a regular occurrence. But while the new Dodgers are making moves to improve right now, they haven’t lost focus of what made Kasten’s former team — the Atlanta Braves — pennant winners in 14 consecutive seasons.

“My belief during my whole career,” Kasten said, “is that the most successful teams — the teams that have sustained success — have done it on a foundation of scouting and player development. That’s what we decided to do from the day that we got here.

“We had an excellent draft and signed some international players. We’ve brought on a whole slew of new scouts who we feel are the best in the business to begin that process. But that’s a longer-term process — two, three, four years down the road until that starts bearing fruit. So we’ve been doing things that get more attention. The trade we made in the summer with Boston and the free agents we hope to sign this offseason.

“Those are short-term moves, and though we’ll always be aggressive, I feel free-agent signings should be final pieces in the puzzle. And scouting and player development is really returning to the roots of who the Dodgers are. They pioneered the process of developing their own players, They’re the ones who had the Rookies of the Year. And they’re the ones who started wide-scale international scouting.

“They abandoned it in the last few years, but we have big plans to move things that way in the future.”

Another goal of the Guggenheim group is to make the experience for fans and players as good as it can be.

For decades, the Dodgers have had one of the worst clubhouses in professional sports. That will no longer be the case, as serious work is being done to renovate the clubhouse before the April 1, 2013, opener.

Most of the seats have been removed down the third base line to give workers access to the area from above the current clubhouse. Dodger players will be in for a nice homecoming when they open the season. And the visiting teams will finally get a batting cage, so they won’t have to walk through the Dodgers’ clubhouse area and use the home team batting cage.

“That may be one of the craziest things I’ve ever heard of,” Kasten said, “and it won’t be happening anymore.”

The fans will also be getting a better ballpark in which to watch games and enjoy different ways to mingle with other fans.

They’ll be widening the concourses and adding more restaurants and bars — “hang-out places” Kasten calls them — and there will be free wi-fi for all. Dodger Stadium is jumping headfirst into the 21st century.

“I look back to some of the things we said at our introductory news conference,” Kasten said, “and I’m very pleased to observe that we’ve made real progress in delivering on our commitment that we made.

“We’re hard at work doing all kinds of things to make this a better stadium and a better team right now, not making the fans wait years for it to happen.”

Now if they want to make their fans really ecstatic, they’ll come back from Nashville with another big free agent in Dodger blue.