The Dodgers' ownership battle may be coming to a close, but Ned Colletti must endure uncertainty for one more offseason as he tries to improve the team's offense and sign a veteran starter.
- Ted Lilly, SP: $25.5MM through 2013
- Chad Billingsley, SP: $35MM through 2014
- Juan Uribe, IF: $16MM through 2013
- Matt Guerrier, RP: $9.75MM through 2013
Arbitration Eligible Players (estimated salaries)
- Matt Kemp, CF: $16.3MM
- Andre Ethier, RF: $10.7MM
- Clayton Kershaw, SP: $8.4MM
- James Loney, 1B: $6.5MM (non-tender candidate)
- Hong-Chih Kuo, RP: $2.5MM (non-tender candidate)
- Tony Gwynn Jr., OF: $1.1MM (non-tender candidate)
- Hiroki Kuroda (SP), Jonathan Broxton (RP), Casey Blake (3B), Juan Rivera (OF/1B), Jon Garland (SP), Rod Barajas (C), Jamey Carroll (2B/SS), Vicente Padilla (RP), Mike MacDougal (RP), Aaron Miles (2B/3B)
Dodgers fans hope the end is in sight for the battle over ownership of their team. The bankruptcy hearings begin on Halloween, as current Dodgers owner Frank McCourt seeks the ability to auction the team's television rights while Fox and MLB seek termination of McCourt's ownership. Josh Fisher of Dodger Divorce said selling the TV rights is McCourt's only path to survival as the team's owner. The hearings will certainly keep Fisher and the L.A. Times' Bill Shaikin busy, but there are still crucial player personnel decisions to make for the Dodgers this offseason.
Dodgers GM Ned Colletti said he has a basic idea of the team's budget. In September, he said his aim is improving the offense in "the most dramatic way," implying Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder could be targets. I just can't see the ownership situation resolved quickly enough for that to happen, though. Even if MLB does force the sale of the Dodgers, it'd take months to get new ownership approved. In the interim, it seems unrealistic for MLB to approve adding a massive amount of debt.
It'll be costly just for Colletti to resolve the Dodgers' internal business. Out of 209 arbitration eligible players, Kemp's settlement projects as the second-highest salary, Ethier's the fifth-highest, and Kershaw's the ninth-highest. Unless their salaries are reduced through multiyear deals, the trio could cost $35MM next year. If payroll is cautiously trimmed to say, $100MM for 2012, the Dodgers will have less than $20MM to work with to fill all kinds of holes.
Extensions for potential award winners Kershaw and Kemp should be Colletti's primary focus. We've seen top pitchers extended for about $30MM, but Kershaw might need $35MM just for his three arbitration years, and that might be a discount over going year-to-year. I think we'd be entering the $100MM range for a six year deal, which is incredible given that three of those would be arbitration years. Kemp's 2011 season could be under $15MM in a multiyear deal, but each season thereafter should cost at least $20MM. There's no harm in Colletti laying groundwork now for either player, but ideally a prospective new owner would have final say in March. Kemp does not want to negotiate once his potential contract year begins.
A non-tender decision is due on Loney on December 12th, and one more season at around $6.5MM is the right move for the Dodgers. If they somehow later sign Pujols or Fielder, they could probably move Loney's contract before the season begins. Uribe is penciled in at third base and Dee Gordon at shortstop, leaving an opening at second. An offensive-minded player like Kelly Johnson could be a good fit over internal options Justin Sellers and Ivan DeJesus. Jerry Sands merits an extended look in left field, while Tim Federowicz and A.J. Ellis will probably sit behind the dish. Gwynn and Rivera could return as bench players.
The Dodgers' rotation could be a strength again, especially if Kuroda is re-signed. It'd be difficult to replace Kuroda without overpaying someone else on a multiyear deal, though Colletti could look to other starters coming over from Japan. Nathan Eovaldi would be the fifth starter. Colletti likes his bullpen, but he'll look to add a veteran reliever.
Kelly Johnson alone wouldn't fix the Dodgers' offense, though decent seasons from Ethier, Uribe, and Sands would help. Hopefully, the Dodgers' ownership situation becomes resolved by July. If the team is in contention at that point, Colletti can explore the trade market. The Dodgers' 2011-12 offseason will be overshadowed by the Frank McCourt drama, perhaps for the last time.