Nov 16

It’s whom you pay, not when you pay them


Ric Tapia/Icon SMIThe problem isn’t that the Dodgers are still paying Jason Schmidt; the problem is that Jason Schmidt couldn’t pitch no matter what date his paychecks arrived.

With a third of Hiroki Kuroda’s new contract coming in the form of a signing bonus to be paid in 2012 and 2013, naturally the subject of the Dodgers deferring salaries has come up again. On that subject, let me make these points:

  1. Though they have certainly turned it into an art form, deferred payments are nothing unique to the Dodgers or the McCourt ownership. They can’t even lay claim to the grand-deferred-daddy of them all, the Mets’ 35-year Bobby Bonilla plan.
  2. Deferred payments aren’t an inherently bad way to operate a business. To oversimplify, if you are making good investments with the capital as you hang onto it, you will come out ahead.
  3. The primary issue with the money the Dodgers owe players who are no longer on the roster isn’t the money — it’s the players. The problem is not that they’re still paying Jason Schmidt, Juan Pierre or Andruw Jones — it’s that those contracts were so unfortunate, period.  We could have taken Schmidt to a $47 million lunch at the Palm a few years ago and called it a day — it wouldn’t have made that deal turn out any better.
  4. Remember that some deferred contracts did not start that way. For example, Jones’ deal was restructured to accommodate the 2009 Manny Ramirez signing, so that the Dodgers would have other options besides Jones and Juan Pierre in left field. The ongoing flow of cash to Jones are less about a philosophy of deferring payments than about trying to make lemonade from lemons.
  5. Backloaded contracts that are used on productive players have the potential to be good. Keeping Ted Lilly and Hiroki Kuroda to single-digit millions now, enabling the team to spend more to address other pressing needs, is a viable strategy — especially if you believe that down the road, more TV dollars and a better economy might make the backloaded contracts easier to pay off.
  6. Certainly, there’s an argument that the Dodgers should reign their spending and stop buying players on credit. Heck, I’m one of those rare birds who would watch a homegrown, low-rent squad. But if you do that now, given the chaos in team ownership, you’d have to brace yourself for a 2011 team as leaky as a bad roof.
  7. Yes, the McCourt ownership could sell a house and take care of all this year’s deferred payments in an instant. But I’m not holding my breath for that.

In a nutshell, the timeframe for paying player salaries is fairly low on the issues bedeviling the Dodgers. Achieving a combination of good decisions and good luck regarding the roster is far more important. Even as the McCourt drama plays out, the Dodgers will thrive or dive depending on their personnel choices.

Eventually, the Dodgers will either operate one season on a limited budget, or they’ll find the revenue to bring their finances back to steadier ground.  I’m betting on the latter. In any case, what matters is that they spend their money wisely, whenever they spend it.

Oct 08

Dodgers make a (not-so?) noteworthy change at the top

Dodgers president Dennis Mannion has ankled the team, with Frank McCourt taking over his duties. (The story was first reported by Dylan Hernandez of the Times.) General manager Ned Colletti, who had been reporting to Mannion, will now be the sort to report to McCourt, unless the tort forces McCourt to abort; he dare not snort or hide in a fort, but must find port or he will be mort.

Sorry … don’t know what happened there.

There’s going to be some hand-wringing about McCourt (re)taking a bigger role in the team, but I don’t know that this makes much of a difference to the Dodgers on the field or in the front office. It’s the same administration either way, especially since Mannion had reported to McCourt anyway. I am curious about how much time Mannion had left on his contract, though.

Mannion’s legacy will include revenue-generating marketing endeavors like Mannywood but also one of the most ill-considered comments by a Dodger executive (Non-McCourt Division) in recent memory when he discussed player acquisition in the same context as acquiring portable concession stands. The tone-deafness of the comment was more noteworthy than the substance, but it was indicative of something that I’m not sure Dodger fans will miss.

For fun, here’s an Associated Press story from March 2009 about the promotions of Mannion and Jamie McCourt.

… “Jamie has done an outstanding job of assembling a talented management team, fostering a positive culture, and building a first-class business operation,” Frank McCourt said.

As CEO, Jamie McCourt will oversee the strategic direction and decisions of the organization, focusing on the development of relationships throughout the Dodgers community and Major League Baseball, and with corporate partners and public officials.

“It allows me to promote a strategic mind-set and build long-term relationships that strengthen our brand,” Jamie McCourt said. “The most important of those relationships is with our fans. So I will invest even more heavily in how we connect with them in every imaginable way.” …

* * *

  • Rafael Furcal makes too much money and gets hurt too often to be a viable trade candidate, but nonetheless, it is worth noting that he now must approve any trade the Dodgers might attempt. Furcal is a five-and-10 player (10 years in the majors, five with the same team), notes Ben Nicholson-Smith of MLB Trade Rumors, giving him a full no-trade clause.
  • Are you ready for 2011? The Dodgers’ Spring Training schedule is out. Opening Day is February 26 against the Angels, followed by the Camelback Ranch opener the following afternoon.
  • Former Dodger Dave Roberts, recovering from Hodgkin’s lymphoma, has been named the Padres’ first-base coach. He had recently been a special assistant in the baseball operations department.
  • As Reds manager Dusty Baker watched Brandon Phillips make the final out in Roy Halladay’s no-hitter Wednesday, he could recall making the final out himself in Nolan Ryan’s record-setting fifth no-hitter in 1981, writes Kevin Baxter of the Times.
  • One of my pet peeves in reading and talking about baseball is how little agreement there is about what a No. 1, No. 2, No. 3, No. 4 or No. 5 starter means. Bryan Smith of Fangraphs delves into the topic.
  • No worries, Roberto.
Sep 16

Report: O’Malley says McCourt ownership needs to sell

Former Dodger owner Peter O’Malley, who has publicly been almost completely silent on the current ownership issues with the team, told Bill Shaikin of the Times that he believes the team should have new ownership.

He said he is not interested in returning to ownership but would be willing to smooth the transition for potential new owners on what he called a “short-term” basis.

“For many years, the Dodgers have been one of the most prestigious institutions in our city and throughout professional sports,” O’Malley said. “Sadly, that is not the case today.”

McCourt responded through a statement from his spokesman, Steve Sugerman.

“Frank has made it abundantly clear he is the long-term owner of the Dodgers,” Sugerman said, “and he looks forward to the day when his four boys own and operate the team.” …

* * *

Dodger coach Bob Schaefer had some weirdly noteworthy comments today in an interview with Jim Bowden on XM radio. Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness has details.

One of them was a no-comment on Matt Kemp that was followed by a comment that indicates there is no love lost there. Another reportedly had Schaefer saying that Don Mattingly had turned down “managerial positions” to stay in Los Angeles, but I’m wondering if Schaefer really meant or said “managerial interviews.”

Also, it’s one thing for me to say the Dodgers have issues for next season, but it’s a bit unusual for a coach to say the team “will have to pull a rabbit out of the hat” to contend. Presumably, Schaefer has already plotted his own exit from the organization.

Schaefer said he doesn’t think Joe Torre will manage the Dodgers next season, but that he will stay in the game in some capacity. However, Torre told reporters that

* * *

  • David Brown has a barrel-of-fun interview with Vin Scully at Yahoo! Sports’ Big League Stew.
  • Russ Mitchell is the only Dodger since 1920 to start a game at first, third and the outfield in his first season, according to Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A.
  • One of my earliest memories as a baseball fan is reading in Baseball Digest about Rennie Stennett’s 1975 7-for-7 game, in which Pittsburgh shut out Chicago, 22-0. Chris Jaffe recalls the event in The Hardball Times.
  • Howard “Howie” Levine, the longtime Grant High School boys basketball coach whom I first met more than 20 years ago as a Daily News sportswriter, has worked as a Dodger Stadium usher for 38 years. On Tuesday, the night that the Dodgers honor their employees of 25 years or more, Levine will sing the National Anthem.
Sep 02

Potential appeal could keep Dodgers in McCourt hands for years

There’s an angle of the McCourt divorce trial that I think has been underplayed. From The Days and Tweets of Molly Knight:

To sum up (if Frank is losing): either Frank pays Jamie off and keeps team–which would be the sane thing–or Jamie wins and Frank spends 2 years appealing.

And also:

Whoever loses on MPA is likely to appeal. With the logjam in CA courts now, that could take up to 36 months, I’m told. Worst case, obvs.

It could be a while just to get a decision on this trial from Judge Scott Gordon, if there is no settlement.

Judge will have 90 days AFTER trial ends in late September to make his decision on MPA. So we night not know until Christmas. 

After this week, the trial takes a break, not scheduled to resume until Sept. 20.

* * *

Whenever I told people that the divorce wasn’t to blame for the current state of the Dodger finances, I tried to emphasize that it was because the finances would have been what they were even if the McCourts remained happily married. Bill Shaikin’s piece in the Times underscores that point.

The divorce didn’t cause the Dodgers’ financial problems. It’s what brought those problems up to the surface.

* * *

Other links:

  • Breath of fresh air: Hong-Chih Kuo played some catch with fans in the Dodger Stadium bleachers, as you can see in this post from Roberto Baly of Vin Scully Is My Homeboy.
  • Albuquerque had its own bullpen nightmare Wednesday, blowing a 13-6 ninth-inning lead. It was a key loss that could accelerate the end of the Isotopes’ season (and, if you’re looking for silver linings, possibly bring some callups to Los Angeles sooner). Christopher Jackson of Albuquerque Baseball Examiner has more; Jon Link gave up the final five runs in the shocking (note Jackson’s URL) 15-13 defeat.

    “We had one more (pitcher) but I can’t use everybody,” (manager Tim) Wallach said, adding that anyone left would not have been able to pitch for very long.

“That first night kind of set us up in a bad spot for the doubleheader (Tuesday) and then tonight,” Wallach added, referring to the Isotopes’ 20-9 loss on Monday that saw them use six relievers.

  • Not only have the Dodgers been muffing an opportunity over the past several days to make a surge in the National League wild-card race, they could have made a dramatic run for the NL West title, thanks to San Diego finally hitting a cold streak and losing seven straight games. Putting aside how slim their playoff hopes are, the Dodgers could technically be closer to the NL West lead than the wild card as early as Saturday if the Padres lose to the Rockies and the Phillies keep winning.
  • Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness points out some things to keep an eye on in the likely event that the pennant race goes on without the Dodgers. Among them: Whether to ease up on 22-year-old Clayton Kershaw.
  • As you might know, each year that James Loney’s salary increases, it becomes harder to tolerate his below average value as a first baseman — making him one of the decisions the Dodgers must confront in their busy upcoming offseason. Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. takes a detailed look at Riddle Me Loney.
Sep 02

The 2010 Dodgers and the reinvention of lying

White lies, little and giant, have always been part of baseball — even the creation of the game is rooted in myth. But I can’t remember a year since I’ve been following the Dodgers that seems as defined by misinformation as 2010.

The tone was set last fall by Frank and Jamie McCourt as they prepared to do battle for ownership of the franchise, with the he said/she said battle positions flowering during numerous public revelations this year, leaving us with the bouquet of stinkweed at the trial that began this week. I’m not saying that someone’s been trying to pull a lot of wool over someone’s eyes, but lambs across the country are shivering in 90-degree heat.

It hasn’t only been the McCourts. Matt Kemp is held out of the starting lineup for days at a time, and the explanations richochet like bumper cars. He’s tired, he needs to get his head together, he’s in a battle with a coach, he needs to go talk to Joe Torre, Joe Torre needs to talk to him.

Manny Ramirez is finally ready to play after a painfully long absence, and yet he’s not playing. It’s matchups against the pitcher, it’s the square footage of the opposing outfield, it’s Torre playing a hunch, it’s to protect Ramirez for his waiver sendoff to the American League, it’s Ramirez’s own pigheadedness.

And then there are the media columnists who will bend and even break the truth to suit the stories they are determined to write, heedless of the facts.

This all comes on top of the game’s typical lies, such as a player hiding an injury (often to the detriment of the team), that are so familiar and yet so tedious.

It has bred a cynicism so rampant in many of us that even when a Dodger executive of unimpugned integrity like Logan White said in June with complete honesty that he drafted Zach Lee with the full intention of trying to sign him, few believed him – and most of the few who did simply believed he was lying to himself.

Baseball in general, and the Dodgers in particular, don’t necessarily owe us the truth, and I understand little white lies will always be part of the game. Baseball is a business, a culture and a family, and in all three fib to protect themselves. But this year, the cumulative effect of the lying has had a punishing effect. Last week, when Ramirez missed his final four chances to start after reaching base in his final four plate appearances as a starter, I rolled my eyes so much that they bowled a 270. It would be a bit much to pull the “have you no decency” card, but surely there doesn’t need to be such contempt for the truth to operate a baseball team in Los Angeles.

The grievances of Dodger fans are many, perhaps too many and perhaps sometimes too petty. But the feeling is almost unshakable that the Dodger organization has gone too far in insulting the intelligence of the fans. If our expectations are sometimes too high, that doesn’t mean the Dodger players, coaches, manager, executives and ownership don’t need to aim higher. In the end, winning is all that matters, but integrity goes a long way toward soothing the spirit when you’re losing.

Let’s put it this way: If you as an organization choose to espouse the heart and hustle and grit and gristle of players like Scott Podsednik and Jamey Carroll, then maybe you need to apply those values to your own, you know, values. Character in a baseball team is defined by more than how fast you run down the line. You’re telling me character matters, yet you’re not acting like it.

Jul 14

Behind the scenes with the McCourts


Carlos Delgado/APJamie and Frank McCourt, Sept. 25, 2008

ESPN The Magazine reporter Molly Knight has devoted a fair part of her year to some investigative reporting on Frank and Jamie McCourt. Here is the published product of her efforts, which I suspect only scratches the surface of what she learned.

Knight was kind enough to take a break from the McCourt whirlwind to talk to Dodger Thoughts about the pair and their legal showdown:

Math quiz: How many hours did you spend reporting this story?

I couldn’t even begin to count. I’m sure I spent at least 60 hours talking with their lawyers alone.

So much of this case hinges on the post-nup agreement to give the real estate to Jamie and the Dodgers to Frank. What can we say for certain about its validity, and what is legitimately unresolved about it?

That it exists is the only certainty. Right now Frank and Jamie are arguing about the schedules on the back after the signature page. Schedule A is Frank’s take; schedule B is Jamie’s haul. Unfortunately for Frank, his lawyer Larry Silverstein sent a draft to Jamie via e-mail about a week before it was executed that said Frank’s take (on schedule A) excluded the Dodgers. Frank’s lawyer Stephen Susman told me that was just a typo and that it was fixed before she signed it. Yikes.

Then on March 30 – the day before they signed the marital property agreement (MPA) in Boston – Silverstein sent an e-mail to Jamie without the schedules attached. You start to get the feeling why she says she was confused.

There are six copies of the marital property agreement for some reason. Jamie signed all six in Boston. Frank signed three in Boston and three two weeks later in L.A. Those documents have been in a vault in a law office for the past six years. They were flown to Long Beach yesterday (via private plane, I’m sure) to be examined by forensic scientists. The copies Frank signed in Boston were determined not to have been tampered with. Meaning they proved that Jamie signed over the Dodgers. The copies Frank signed in L.A., however, did not have the original schedule A that was present when Jamie signed them. What I think may have happened is Silverstein realized the typo’d version not giving Frank the Dodgers had accidentally been stapled to three of them and switched them out. This could come back to kill Frank.

After spending five minutes with Jamie you can’t convince me this is a woman who would knowingly sign away the Dodgers. She wants the spotlight like Dodgers fans want Cliff Lee. Plus she’s a shrewd businesswoman. I don’t see a scenario in which she knowingly gave that up. I also don’t know that I buy Frank tricked her. I think the likeliest scenario (if she did in fact sign the MPA giving away the Dodgers) is that the family had so much to do before going to L.A. – so many papers to sign and things to pack – that she didn’t read it all the way through. I mean, when you have a stack of things on your desk to sign and you are moving cross-country the next day do you take the time to sit down and read every word? I know I wouldn’t. She may not have known she was signing away the team, but if she did sign it she’s pretty much toast. A contract is a contract.

Considering how much the McCourts borrowed, why didn’t it occur to them to maybe rein in personal expenses just a little?

They live in a different world than we do, is the best answer to that. Frank has spent his adult life borrowing Peter to pay Paul. The only thing that changed is he got his hands on some better collateral. I think they were riding the gravy train knowing that when the TV rights came up in 2013 they’d become rich beyond their wildest dreams. I also think they desperately wanted to be part of L.A.’s high society. Trouble is out here you have to be a movie star to be A-List. No one cared until this divorce hit.

Is Frank really running out of money, or is this just a shell game?

It’s not so much that he’s running out of money as it is he has no liquidity. There was a great memo I saw from Frank’s money manager in 2008 describing his “love/hate” relationship with cash. “Love to have it, hate to have it lying around.” I believe he is having a hard time paying her because he doesn’t believe in putting money in his checking account.

Was Jamie’s role with the Dodgers unclear from the start, or did it just turn out that way after she and Frank started having problems?

It was unclear from the start. I talked to a guy who was responsible for writing her bio in the media guide before the 2005 season, and he said they did it 27 or 28 times. They’d send it to her for approval and she’d send it back, etc. She was definitely very involved – probably even more so than Frank – and that might have pissed a lot of people off because they thought she gummed up the works by interjecting herself into the most random things. Another thing I heard from a few people – which didn’t make the story – is that she never bothered to learn the names of stadium employees she interacted with every day, from the security guards to the people who brought her drinks in her luxury box.

The PR department pleaded with her to take care of the people closest to her, because if you don’t do that you’re likely to get sniped. I think that’s what you’re seeing now in the press with both of them. Jamie acted a bit like Marie Antoinette (if these Dodgers employees are to be believed), and Frank created too many enemies by firing longtime Dodgers execs at will. I think that was their biggest mistake more than anything else they’ve done. They’ve created too many enemies to contain this PR nightmare. It wasn’t that hard to get people to talk.

What was her biggest impact on the organization?

I still have no idea. Oh, maybe the hiring of Ned Colletti. I’ve heard stories that she became close friends with Jeff Kent after he volunteered to help domestic violence victims as part of her WIN Initiative. Both she and Frank respected Kent’s willingness to serve the community. Jeff mentioned Ned Colletti to Jamie because he knew they were looking for a GM. Jamie suggested it to Frank. Ned killed in his interview because he didn’t ask how much money he’d have to play with. A few former execs told me all this, so take it with a grain of salt. But it starts to make sense that Kent was responsible for Colletti when you see the contract extension he was rewarded with after Colletti got there.

What was the most surprising thing you learned that you can talk about?

Besides the fact that Jamie Enterprises is 500 feet from where Frank now lives? Gosh. Um. Probably that they don’t hate each other and they’re both sad. They went to the homecoming dance together freshman year at Georgetown. Jamie told me she was ready to be with him forever until she died. That was sad. She is sad. He is sad. I asked her why they can’t just get together over a beer and put this behind them. She told me to ask Frank. Frank wouldn’t talk to me.

How shocked would we be by some of the stuff you can’t talk about?

I don’t think any of you would be shocked by anything anymore. I think your gag reflexes have been stretched.

At this point, do you expect the parties to settle?

Yeah, I do. I think the pressure to settle rises as the trial date gets closer. In addition to this being a PR nightmare, Frank has so much more to lose financially than Jamie at this point. They’re looking at staples and wondering if that MPA should be thrown out. If that happens he will be living a nightmare. I don’t think he can take that risk. If I’m Frank I pay her off with a backloaded deal. She can collect when the TV rights transfer to Frank in 2013.

Why do you think they didn’t settle this sooner, before more damage was done?

You’re asking me why Frank and Jamie are Frank and Jamie. I don’t think their split has anything to do with Jeff Fuller. I think Frank was tired of the figurative (and maybe literal) Project Jamie that was running wild on the Dodgers’ dime. I think he was annoyed that his wife considered herself the face of the Dodgers instead of, say, Andre Ethier. Eventually he’d had enough. But where he screwed up was in treating Jamie like just another adversary. This is a guy who Jamie alleges sued his own father-in-law because he didn’t want to pay him back. The man loves a lawsuit. And it’s worked out quite nicely for him, hasn’t it? He was in litigation for 17 years over a parking lot he parlayed into a baseball team. The trouble is this is the mother of his children. It doesn’t help public perception that he is a nice person.

If this goes all the way through trial, what do you think will be the ruling?

I have no idea, and neither does Frank, which is why he can’t take the risk of it going to trial. There is a chance that even if the MPA is found valid that the judge will rip it up because it’s patently unfair. (He can do that.) Jamie is the underdog, but if I’m Frank I don’t want to take any chances.

Who do you think will own the Dodgers next year? What’s going to happen to this franchise?

Frank McCourt. I think he’ll settle to get Jamie out of his hair. The franchise will probably be OK eventually. If they get back to investing in the draft and in the Latin American market, then they’ll have the prospects to trade for deadline rentals that will complement the team’s already fantastic core. At this point I think the success of the team has more to do with the performance of Chad Billingsley and Clayton Kershaw than of Stephen Susman and David Boies. I know Dodgers fans are sick of the McCourts, but there is no guarantee that a new owner would be any better. There is no owner’s manual, and no law that says the Dodgers’ owner must spend $140 million on payroll. It will be interesting to see if Frank ups the ante when more revenue starts rolling in with the TV stuff, though. That has certainly bankrolled the Yankees’ run.

Jul 13

CSI: McCourt – If the staple’s legit, you must submit?

Frank McCourt’s camp claimed a significant victory today in his battle royale with Jamie McCourt, with two sets of forensic scientists stating that a post-nup agreement that purports to give him control of the Dodgers is legitimate, reports Molly Knight of ESPN The Magazine. But surprise – Camp Jamie said, “Not so fast.”

… The agreement was extracted from a vault at the Boston law firm of Bingham McCutchen and examined by scientists from each team in Los Angeles on Tuesday.Jamie McCourt’s lawyers content that there are six different copies of the document, and tests show that three of them — signed at a different time than the other three, the lawyers said — did not include Schedule A when Jamie McCourt signed them. Schedule A lists the assets Frank McCourt claims he is entitled to — including the Dodgers.

Susman said the scientists found the document contained the original staple from 2004. In addition, an imprint of Jamie McCourt’s signature was determined to exist on the page that names Frank as sole owner — a potentially devastating blow to Jamie’s chances of being given half the team in the divorce settlement.

“We’ve got the same staple and her signature on something she claims she never signed,” says (McCourt lawyer Stephen) Susman. “Which proves all along she was not telling the truth.”

Jamie McCourt’s lawyers contend that because Larry Silverstein, the lawyer who drafted the document, has testified that he went over it with Jamie, he may have gone over a different version than the one signed by Frank McCourt. …

Frank McCourt still has other hurdles he must clear to walk away with the team after this goes to trial on Aug. 30, including Judge Scott Gordon’s right to throw the marital property agreement out on the basis of its fairness: The Dodgers are estimated to be worth nearly $800 million, and the team will be worth much more than that when it regains broadcasting rights from Fox in 2013.

If the team is able to establish a television station akin to the Yankees’ YES Network, it could potentially generate billions of dollars in revenue. The homes Jamie McCourt would walk away with would be worth around $100 million. …

Oh by the way — there’s more. Frank McCourt claimed in court today that his personal liquidity is down to $600,000 and that he borrowed money from his brother to make his latest monthly $650,000 spousal support payment to Jamie. (But, of course, we’re told that the Dodgers’ finances are not entwined with those of McCourt.)

Read the full story here.

Mar 06

McCourt meets the press and presses the flesh

Dodger owner Frank McCourt spoke with a group of reporters today. Michael Becker of the Press-Enterprise has the transcript; it doesn’t appear he said anything of note. (In case you missed it, here’s a link to the Dodger Thoughts interview with him.)

ESPN the Magazine’s Molly Knight said that when McCourt was mingling earlier with fans at Camelback Ranch, they offered him nothing but kindness. No boos rang out. Y’all missed your chance …

In case you were wondering, I had almost no reaction to Friday night’s news from Bill Shaikin of the Times that the McCourts are spending an estimated $19 million on divorce-related legal fees. It’s a ridiculous amount of money, but I don’t assume that any money they’re spending on lawyers would go into the team.

Feb 21

So, you were wondering about the Dodgers’ 2018 payroll?

Bill Shaikin of the Times has another batch of revelations from last week’s Jamie McCourt legal filings indicating that, while player payroll has remained steady through last year, the Dodgers planned on keeping it below 2009 levels for most of the next decade despite projected increases in revenue.

For my part, I don’t happen to think the Dodgers are capable of predicting what their team payroll will be eight years from now, as the documents suggest. As Vin Scully might say, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your 2018 budget.”

Furthermore, as Shaikin writes, the projected payroll (relative to projected revenue) in these documents is so low that even MLB commissioner Bud Selig (or, in all probability, his successor) would object.

… The Dodgers spent 46% of revenue on player compensation in 2007 and 42% in 2008, according to the documents. The projections call for that percentage to fall to 25% by 2013 and remain at about 25% through 2018.

Commissioner Bud Selig encourages teams to spend about one-half their revenue on player compensation, according to two high-ranking major league executives contacted by The Times.

“That’s Bud’s rule of thumb,” one of the sources said. …

In other words, while this seems juicy, I wouldn’t overreact. The documents, Shaikin writes, were “prepared by the McCourt management team in May to solicit Chinese investors for a partnership that could have included the Dodgers, a soccer club in Beijing and another in the English Premier League.”  They’re designed to make the Dodgers’ profiteering, if you will, look as glowing as possible. It doesn’t seem to me that the scenario they describe is any more realistic than one that suggests the Dodgers have cheap ticket prices and top-of-the-line payroll. The truth is somewhere in between.

There’s something about having this article come out while I was watching the latest episode of the chaos that is the fourth season of HBO’s “Big Love” that somehow seems all too appropriate. These families have all these ambitions, but the domestic conflicts threaten to destroy them all.

Feb 19

Jamie McCourt court filing shines spotlight on Dodgers’ three-ring circus

First, the links:

“Jamie McCourt doubles request for monthly support,” by Bill Shaikin of the Times.

“In Divorce Suit, Wife Disputes Dodgers’ Owner’s Wealth,” by John R. Emshwiller of the Wall Street Journal.

“Filings Running Wild,” by Joshua Fisher of Dodger Divorce.

* * *

Jamie McCourt’s various requests for monthly support from Frank McCourt are, in many ways, a sideshow in contrast to the springtime courtroom event that will determine whether one owns the Dodgers or both do. So I’ll just point to the most interesting tent attractions: Continue reading

Feb 09

In search of truth about Frank McCourt and the Dodgers


Frank McCourt has a lot on his mind.

Dodger fans might not believe. But Frank McCourt believes.

It’s not an act.  He’s not just saying the right thing to say the right thing.  Every so often, in fact, he says the wrong thing – something that raises more questions about him than answers – because his belief in his good intentions is so strong that he doesn’t always seem to realize when his words leave him open to second-guessing.

He wants the support of Dodger fans, in part because the support obviously will do him good, but also in part because he believes he’s earned it. He understands that fan dissatisfaction is part of the game any time you’re not celebrating a World Series title. He understands that he’s a target, though he doesn’t seem to accept all the reasons the red dot on his back has grown into the size of the flag of Japan. He even understands, though he’s not one to talk much about them, that he makes mistakes. But he believes he will be vindicated in the end, and he is not planning for that end to be this year, courtroom or not.

That’s my verdict after six years of observing McCourt since he (and, for most of those years, his wife Jamie) took over the Dodgers and, more to the point, after more than 60 minutes of a one-on-one interview with him Jan. 29, coincidentally the sixth anniversary of his news conference to discuss his purchase of the team.

Of course, what McCourt believes about himself ultimately isn’t relevant. What’s relevant is whether the Dodgers organization will thrive going forward. And I’m going to go this far: This team will live or die on its judgment – on the judgment of McCourt and the people he employs – rather than on McCourt’s finances. His bank account, despite what most people have concluded this offseason, is not destroying the team.

If the Dodgers falter, it will be because of insufficient intellect (or insufficient luck), not insufficient dollars.

The anti-arbitration defense
The pivotal moment of the 2009-10 Dodgers offseason was when the team didn’t offer salary arbitration to free agents Randy Wolf and Orlando Hudson. The twin decisions surrendered not only two players who made key contributions to the Dodgers’ 2009 playoff run – the team’s fourth in six years, McCourt would hasten to remind you – but also the potential for top draft picks that would come as compensation if the players signed elsewhere. The moves lit the flame of fan concern, whether you were more concerned with the short-term or long-term future. It seemed an unmistakable retreat.

Mark J. Rebilas/US Presswire
The Dodgers are betting that letting Randy Wolf go won’t come back to haunt them.

Wolf is probably headed for a decline after having an unexpected career-best year at age 33, but it’s still hard to say that he wouldn’t have helped the 2010 Dodgers in some way – or that the draft picks that would have come in place of him wouldn’t have helped down the road. So why not offer him arbitration, unless you couldn’t afford to?

“I think that the downside wouldn’t have been horrible,” McCourt said, “because he’s a very good pitcher, and he pitched very well for us and he was a model citizen. From the area, really classy young man and so forth. But the judgment was made, and again, judgments are judgments. They’re not perfect. No one has a crystal ball.

“I, by the way, can see both sides of this debate, very, very clearly. To me this is one really good baseball debate, in terms of ‘Do you or don’t you.’ I think, like I was saying before, what would have happened (if we had offered arbitration), maybe Randy Wolf knows, but I don’t. And I don’t think the downside would have been bad for the organization, because he’s a good pitcher and a good guy, but I think that the judgment was made that we (could) do even better for the club.”

That decision will certainly be tested, as will the one with Hudson. The second baseman’s signing last week of a one-year, $5 million contract with Minnesota might have vindicated the Dodgers’ decision on him, since Hudson could potentially have earned twice that amount in salary arbitration, based on the typical raise awarded to an arbitration-eligible player who earned $8 million the year before.

The roughly $5 million the Dodgers saved can help make up for the lost draft picks had Hudson refused arbitration – after all, the chances of a low first-round pick earning back the team’s investment in him, plus $5 million, aren’t all that high – while the combination of Blake DeWitt, Jamey Carroll and Ronnie Belliard could come close to approximating Hudson’s 2010 value, while saving another $2.5 million or so.

But speaking before Hudson had inked the deal, McCourt argued that too much about the Dodgers’ commitment to their future, whether the 2010 team or the 2013 team, was being inferred from the Hudson decision, no matter what kind of contract he was going to sign.

“I think anybody can pick one or two examples and jump to a conclusion,” McCourt said. “Their opinion is valid – I respect their opinion – but it doesn’t mean that their conclusion is right. There are 101 decisions that get made and judgments that get made every day.”

McCourt would argue that the Dodgers weren’t afraid to offer Hudson arbitration because they didn’t have the money, and it wasn’t that they didn’t care about the draft picks.

“I think it’s really important that the club invest in the long term,” McCourt said. “There’s no question about that.”

But do the actions of the McCourt Dodgers back up his words?

Developments in development
McCourt feels his regime isn’t given enough credit for its investment on the player development front, whether for scouting or for Camelback Ranch, the team’s year-old spring training facility in Arizona. In addition to being a boon for those fans who couldn’t make the journey to venerable Vero Beach (albeit a disappointment to those who could), Camelback has boosted the organization’s development efforts.

Morry Gash/AP
Opening Day at Camelback Ranch, March 1, 2009

“That went from vision to reality in like 15 months,” McCourt said, “literally from a napkin to the reality. It was tumbleweeds, flatland and nothing, and now it’s considered the single-finest spring training facility in all of baseball. We broke the Cactus League record for attendance in our first year. We’re gonna kill it this year because a lot of people didn’t even realize it was there … and we have what is the state-of-the-art development operation there for this organization. So it’s really as much [about] our farm system as it is about spring training.

“So that is an example I think of two things. One is execution on vision and finding a way to do that, but two, it’s also a way of being resourceful – taking a little bit of heat by the way, [because] there’s a lot of people who said ‘Don’t move from Vero,’ and I respected their viewpoint, but it turned out to be the right decision, and the organization is much better off in terms of our development, our ability to meet our goal to have the finest development system in the game by having Camelback Ranch. To me that’s much more tangible evidence of our commitment to [development] than not offering Randy Wolf arbitration.”

It’s too difficult to say whether McCourt is right about this, because it’s too difficult to measure the importance of what he’s extolling. Will Camelback Ranch turn borderline major-leaguers into legitimate ones? If it’s true, then the McCourt Dodgers have hit a home run in development, no matter how many Dodgers fans realize it.

But how would anyone know? After all, this is a team that already has a 17th-round draft pick from hockey country, Russell Martin, and a sixth-round pick who specialized in basketball, Matt Kemp, who have each won a Silver Slugger and Gold Glove in the same year. Both were drafted before the McCourts bought the team and developed long before Camelback was even imagined. Cinderella stories are part of the game. Teams have always depended on those.

So even if the Dodgers have made a step forward in development, the pressure remains to have the best possible draft scenario and to retain the right prospects to sustain the team over the long haul.

McCourt certainly claims to believe in this.

“Just thinking back over the last six years,” he said, “I think that the pressure on the organization has probably been greatest in terms of moving young talent for the quick short-term fix, and I think for the most part we’ve resisted doing that, and it’s paid off in a huge way. The consistency, the success we have on the field is I think directly related to committing to finding and cultivating that young talent, and being patient with that.”

Santana Mas
If there was a moment that really seemed to call into question the Dodgers’ ability to commit to prospects, it was when the team traded Carlos Santana and Jonathan Meloan in mid-2008 for a three-month test run of Casey Blake. (Blake re-signed with the Dodgers as a free agent after the 2008 season.) It was widely reported, to the point that almost no doubt remained, that the Dodgers included Santana, a catcher who was having an explosive year in A ball, so that they wouldn’t have to pay approximately $2 million in Blake’s remaining ’08 salary.

McCourt said in the interview that he had “no idea” about that aspect of the trade, that this was general manager Ned Colletti’s territory. This is an example of the plausible deniability McCourt periodically exercises that seems not quite so plausible, given the level of detail with which he’ll talk about other aspects of the Dodgers. Subsequent to the interview, neither Colletti nor anyone else with the Dodgers would comment about this on the record.

However, a source within the Dodgers organization insisted that the following was true: The Indians were not going to trade Blake to the Dodgers unless they got Santana in the deal. His inclusion had nothing to do with money.

If you know my policy on anonymous sources, you know that I always say you should take them with a grain of salt. So please do. But also realize that the original report was never confirmed on the record, either.

In any case, there’s still a baseball debate to be had on the trade, even if Santana was the centerpiece for the Indians rather than a money-saving throw-in. Was Blake worth the price of a red-hot catching prospect? Blake had immediate value but was aging. Santana had all the promise in the world, though he was a 22-year-old in A ball who might end up moving out from behind the plate defensively.

Even if the original reports about the trade were true and the Dodgers did it to save $2 million, it’s not like they haven’t spent that $2 million and more elsewhere since then, and rather recklessly at times to boot (Guillermo Mota fits this bill rather perfectly).  On the other hand, if my source is correct and the Dodgers simply believed Santana and Meloan for Blake was a smart move, was the team right to do it?  It was debatable then, is debatable now even after Blake’s presence on two division-winning Dodger teams, and will continue to be debatable for some time to come.

Focusing on the $2 million distracts from the real issue, which is how well the Dodgers evaluate players and needs, whether it’s Santana for Blake, Andy LaRoche for Manny Ramirez, Tony Abreu for Jon Garland, and so on.

“The Santana trade is an example of … the pressure to trade players in course of season,” McCourt said. “You give up real value for that. Sometimes you’re able to — sometimes it’s worth it, sometimes it’s not. Sometimes what you give up is less than what you thought it was, sometimes it’s more than what you thought it was. There’s always pulls and tugs on this.”

That war-o’-tug also applies to what the Dodgers are willing to pay players, whether they’re drafted as amateurs or signed as free agents.

Playing the slots
Just six months ago, at a time when we now know the McCourts’ marital strife was putting them and the organization on a path toward its current courtroom turmoil, the Dodgers did something very unusual for them. They exceeded major-league baseball’s guidelines on what they should offer second-round draft choice Garrett Gould, giving him more than $300,000 more than someone in his draft slot was supposed to get.

It was ammunition for both sides of the McCourt debate – for those who point out that he’ll sign the check when necessary, as well as those who wonder why such a gesture is so rare for the Dodgers. For his part, McCourt says he doesn’t plan to make a habit of going over slot.

“My personal opinion is that in the amateur draft, we do extremely well at living within the system that’s in place,” McCourt said. “We’re one of 30 teams. And even though we’re a big-market team, and we could step out and go on our own way and blow through the sort of recommended slotting for each of these, and just go ahead and turn our back on the other 29 clubs and go ahead and pay anything for anybody, I think it’s the wrong thing to do philosophically. We’re one of 30 clubs. We should play by an overall understanding that the draft is designed for a reason. It was designed to give teams that didn’t do as well the opportunity to sign the best players, if they were smart enough to identify those players, for a certain amount of money.

“You talk to baseball, they think the Dodgers are fantastic. We sign our players, and we generally sign our players within the recommended amount. Now nobody can make us not pay more, but I do believe in the fact that we’re part of a league, that the league designed the draft to achieve a certain objective, and I don’t believe the Dodgers should be the team that turns that whole system upside down.”

The Dodgers do sign most of their most coveted draft picks; they got their top 10 in 2009 and their top nine in 2008. But in each of the four years prior to that, the Dodgers drafted but failed to sign a pitcher who was coveted at the time: David Price (4.17 ERA/108 ERA+ through age 24 with Tampa Bay), Luke Hochevar (5.88 ERA/75ERA+ through age 26 with Kansas City), Alex White (first-round pick by Cleveland in 2009 after passing up the Dodgers and going to North Carolina, 21 years old) and Kyle Blair (now entering his junior year at the University of San Diego, after posting a 3.13 ERA in an injury-shortened sophomore season).

At least one is likely to make the Dodgers feel regret (though Price publicly emphasized that he wanted to go to Vanderbilt), while another is more like a bullet dodged (the failure to sign the disappointing Hochevar created a domino effect that enabled the Dodgers to draft — and sign — Clayton Kershaw). There are times the Dodgers should go over slot, and there are times they shouldn’t. If you grant that the Gould example shows the Dodgers are capable of doing so under McCourt, it’s again easier to believe that their success in finding and developing amateur talent will be driven by their baseball acumen, not their bank account – not completely, anyway.

And even McCourt admits that there has been places of weakness in amateur signings under the current ownership.

“We have to do better in the international arena,” he said. “That’s to me as much of a function of our ability to actually identify the talent that we want to sign.  I think we need to spend more money singing international players and young talent from around the world that we can bring here. Find me the talent, and we’ll sign it. But you’ve got to find the talent. We need to do a better job, and Ned is doing that now. He is now focused on expanding our scouting and the quality of our scouting and the quality of our identifying these types of players.”

Still, one might still wonder about McCourt’s altruistic posture regarding going over slot in the draft. For all that 30 Musketeers talk, baseball is a cutthroat sport – and certainly, no one’s laying their overcoat over a mud puddle in the major-league free agent market. So why hold back?

“Because we’re one of 30 teams,” McCourt reiterated, “and just like everything else in life, you can’t take the amateur draft and pull it out of the context of all the other discussions that you have with the other owners about what’s good for the game. The Dodgers can’t say, ‘Oh yeah, we want your support on this issue, whatever it is, to the other owners, that we think this would be good for the game if we could all agree on Issue X.’ And then on Issue Y, they say, ‘What we think would be good for the game would be for the big market teams to sort of live up to the spirit – and the letter, by the way – of what was agreed upon in terms of the draft and what the purpose of the draft is,’ and the Dodgers say, ‘On that, we don’t want to agree.’ You can’t just agree on what’s good for you and not agree on what’s not, if you expect any type of collaboration in the sport.

“We certainly have the flexibility of making exceptions, and I want to keep that flexibility, but I think as a rule, I want to be credible in the eyes of everybody. It’s obviously about winning and the fans – that’s Job No. 1 – but I also want to be credible overall, because there are things that the Dodgers need and want from time to time, that are good for the Dodgers and our competitive situation, that I want people’s support on. And you know how it works in life.  It’s hard to get support if you haven’t been supportive when it matters to other people.”

That last quote raises larger questions. What do the Dodgers want “support” on? In response to a follow-up, McCourt said he had nothing specific in mind, though one surmises it could mean things like the share of revenue a big-market team like the Dodgers gets from MLB.com, or what percentage the Dodgers give up in revenue sharing. (For an example of this kind of rationale from up north, consider San Jose Mercury News writer Andrew Baggarly’s recent blog post theorizing a connection between the Giants’ negotiations with Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum and the team’s effort to keep the Oakland A’s from encroaching on their territory in nearby San Jose.)

If the Dodgers were to preserve an extra 1% in revenue in some major area, that might have a lot more positive impact on the franchise’s long-term health than David Price could. I can’t tell you how real this is, but I will say it’s something I hadn’t considered.

Budget barriers
Of course, some fans reading the articles over the past six months about the McCourts’ personal spending would just say that the extra 1% would just be going to fund someone’s first-class vacation. The issue of whether the Dodgers are spending enough of their revenue on the current major-league payroll is a thorny one.

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
The McCourt ownership committed major millions to Manny Ramirez less than one year ago.

We know that spending the most doesn’t guarantee a World Series championship – even the Yankees just went nine years between World Series titles, and just look at the Mets and Cubs. But assuming you’re not just throwing money away, spending can increase your odds for a title. And so it’s legitimate to wonder whether the Dodgers are doing all they can.

“Generally speaking, we do spend at that level just below the Yankees and the Red Sox,” McCourt said. “I think our focus has to be on generating additional revenues so that we can spend and compete regularly. I’m not saying we’re going to get to the Yankees’ level, but I’d certainly like to close the gap.”

Contrary to popular perception, the Dodger payroll is not really down compared to a year ago, though it has been higher in the past. The Dodgers’ 2010 major-league payroll appears to rest just below $100 million at this moment, a figure not only far below the Yankees but also one that would barely have placed the team in the top 10 in baseball in 2009 (source: Cot’s Baseball Contracts). It’s almost exactly where it was at the start of the 2009 season. The big drop is in comparison to 2008, when it was approximately $118 million, but it is already about $15 million higher than it was in 2005. So there has been some reduction from the peak, but it hasn’t bottomed out. And the Dodgers’ payroll will increase later this year, if not from a midseason acquisition, then at least from paying out incentives they have already offered some current players (though the same could be said of many franchises).

Nevertheless, for some fans, the calculation is simple: A team in the No. 2 U.S. market that leads the National League in attendance should lead the NL in money spent. McCourt believes, not incorrectly, that this is an oversimplification, because revenue depends on many factors: not just attendance but ticket price, plus such other elements as the size of your local TV revenue (an area that the Dodgers, under their current contract, lag teams like the Mets).

“The Dodgers have had and continue to have very modest ticket prices,” McCourt said, “and if you look at where we stand in our ticket prices vs. where we stand in terms of our payroll, you’ll see there’s a pretty good symmetry there.”

With a typical Dodgers bleacher seat costing more today than a box seat in the O’Malley era, one could be excused for taking exception to the idea that Dodgers ticket prices today remain “modest.” Inflation is natural, and the cost of the cheapest Dodgers tickets can still be lower than the cost of a movie, but that doesn’t mean the Dodgers aren’t raking in some big bucks from admissions, and certainly parking and concession rates are anything but affable. While the Dodgers’ average ticket price (not including premium seats) was lower than that of the Cubs, Mets, Phillies and even Nationals in 2009, according to Team Marketing Report (pointed out to me by Maury Brown of The Biz of Baseball), the capacity of Dodger Stadium was more than 10,000 seats higher than any of their ballparks.

But it’s true that the Dodgers probably aren’t leading the league in ticket revenue, that other major-market teams also charge through the roof for food and souvenirs (TMR had the Dodgers’ sixth in their overall Fan Cost Index, with a dollar value unchanged from the year before), and that the Dodgers definitely aren’t tops in TV income. And so one might be able to prove that the Dodgers should be spending more for what they’re bringing in, but not necessarily very much more – especially if one factors in the amount of money deferred to future years to help pay for the team’s commitments to its 2010 roster. (Basically, payroll is higher than appears in your rear-view mirror.)

McCourt acknowledged even if his claims are correct, he can’t win a debate with the fans about whether the Dodgers are spending enough, and so his focus remains on further increasing the team’s revenue.

“It’s just what it is,” he said. “We have do to a better job of creating those connections (between revenue and spending) for our fans, so that they understand that investment in the team and where the money goes, or if there’s resistance there, do a better job of finding other streams of revenue to be able to supplement that.

“We’re very committed to Dodger Stadium. We’re committed to actually doing more at Dodger Stadium, (but) there’s no help out here whatsoever in terms of investment in a stadium. It’s all done by the owner’s checkbook. And it’s not like getting the city of New York or the state of New York to build a new stadium, or one of these other cities or whatever. So it all factors in and it’s just what it is. These are just facts. It’s not like we can’t figure out ways to be resourceful and be very successful with the facts as they are. And I think we have been. And that’s why I think we’ve laid the foundation to achieve the goals I set out when I came here, the first of which is sustainable excellence — a team worthy of the fans’ support that can compete in October on an annual basis – and that’s our goal, to be able to play every October. And then once we do that, we’ll be able to start winning in October our fair share of the time, or maybe more than our fair share.

“We can generate the revenue to be able to compete on an annual basis, and to do it without having a dysfunctional business. We’re not really doing it to make money. You don’t do it for that reason. If you do that, you’d be in a different business.”

On the precipice
In seemingly every interview he gives, McCourt points out the Dodgers’ triumphs since his name was put on the team: the four playoff appearances in six years, plus the first two NLCS appearances for the Dodgers in two decades. McCourt hasn’t reconciled himself to the fact that those accomplishments mean little to fans who believe a turning point in the franchise’s future came when divorce papers were filed. The past is not enough for everyone to keep the faith.

As I’ve pointed out before, there’s a very good chance that he’ll be a victim of his own success (however much of that success is his). Though McCourt would be the first to say that the Dodgers still need to achieve the ultimate goal of a World Series title, the reality is that they’ve much more room to descend than ascend, and that particularly this year, he’ll be a lightning rod for any downturn.

However much one buys what McCourt is selling, the Dodgers haven’t faced any real adversity in 2010 – yet.  What will he do if things go wrong? Will the Dodgers be toast? Would he sacrifice a year of contention to rebuild the team, or would he spend to get the team back on the beam?

“First of all, I’m never going to be thrilled about overpaying for a free agent,” McCourt said. “I think it’s not a smart thing to do organizationally, and we haven’t made 100% great decisions on some of those signings. It wasn’t like we didn’t have good intentions, and it wasn’t like we didn’t think when we signed the player (that) they were going to help the team.

“Having said that, I’ve been as clear as I’m capable of being that … we’re the Los Angeles Dodgers; we don’t have the luxury of saying, ‘OK, we’re not going to win this year — we’re going to wait until next year.’ We’ve made a statement to our fans that our goal is to compete each and every year. So that means that there might be times, in order to fulfill that promise to the fans, that we step away from our philosophy and our core, and we do it not because we’re ignoring or turning our back on our core philosophy, but we’re fulfilling our promise to the fans and we’re improvising. And under that hypothetical, if you have to improvise to continue to win, you improvise.

“To me, what I wouldn’t do is do something that was rash and short-term and give up a bunch of young talent which would have impact for years to come, in order to do something in the short term. But the one thing about signing a free agent that is beneficial is, it’s just money. It’s just money. And if you’ve signed the right player, that can help you then and there, and you can keep your prospects intact, it can be a very, very smart thing to do.”

Perhaps the most fascinating thing to me about McCourt is his insistence that fans understand the big picture of what he’s trying to do, because wherever I go — inside the world of Dodger Thoughts or outside it – I see little else but concern over the impact that the divorce between McCourt and his wife, Jamie, will have on the team.

“People know we care about them,” McCourt said. “I agree, we have to do better, but where I would respectfully disagree is that on the whole, fans I think do see the trajectory, do see the direction.

“And I know during the last quarter of last year, maybe, people were filling in the blanks, because I purposely wasn’t talking. And I felt No. 1 … and I’m steadfast in all this, that it was inappropriate to talk about my personal situation. It was a private family matter, and I’m not going to talk about it.

“As far as the team however, which I started to talk about after the holidays, I just felt that a period of time had to go by. I needed it myself. I just felt it would have been very inappropriate to act like nothing had changed in my life – because something had fundamentally changed in my life. And I think I just needed to take a step back and reflect on that. I wanted to respect my kids; I wanted everyone to know that I’m not without feelings. It’s a very sad, difficult thing.

“And I tried to add the only issue that I feel is relevant, and that’s the issue of ownership and the fact that I have a binding agreement that is crystal clear on that point – unfortunately a matter of public record now, never intended to be — but anybody can go read it. And so it’s business as usual. We’re just going to go ahead and try to win a world championship. …

“We can disagree whether people are excited. … That’s fair game. And the good part is, we’re going to see how we do this year. We’re going to see how fans respond. But I think from my perspective, I need to be focused more on trajectory. I can’t be focused on the daily “What does this mean? What does this mean?” We have a longer-term plan and longer-term direction, and we’ve got to stay the course and be relentless in putting it into place.

“I personally think Ned’s just hitting  his stride. I think he’s got solid talent; I think he has a real sense of where we’re going and where we want to go. And we do have to be clear on the next five years, in terms how we’re going to close some of these gaps, how we’re going to grow.”

Maybe it will turn out that the money really is the issue for the McCourt ownership, whether it’s because Frank was dead wrong about what his resources are or dead wrong about the strength of his post-nuptial agreement with Jamie.

But the evidence is more compelling that the Dodgers largely spend when they want to, that their relatively quiet offseason mostly reflected a lack of exciting options in the free-agent market, that their bargain-hunting is a strategy to avoid wasting money rather than a recourse to avoid spending money they don’t have. That’s why the fate of the Dodgers isn’t tied up in the possibility of McCourt going broke, but rather in the management’s ability to make solid baseball decisions.

One hundred million dollars is enough to buy a World Series title, if you know what you’re doing. The question is the same as it ever was: Do the Dodgers know what they’re doing? Frank McCourt believes they do. We’ll see if he’s right.