The 2009 National League runner-up Los Angeles Dodgers have locked in almost all of the core players that brought them their success.
Today’s signing of Vicente Padilla to a 1-year $4 million contract solidifies four of the five starting pitcher spots on the 2010 rotation. Chad Billingsley, who struggled in the second half of last season, signed a 1-year contract with the team earlier this week for $3.85 million. The other two starters – Clayton Kershaw and Hiroki Kuroda were not up for contract renewal this year. Last season’s national league divisional series opening game starter Randy Wolf went to the Milwaukee Brewers in a free agency pick-up and has raised a question mark about the effectiveness of the starting rotation.
Signing a big name ace in the offseason free agent period has eluded the Dodgers so far, but they have up to seven capable pitchers who could make a run at the fifth spot: James McDonald, Scott Elbert, Josh Lindblom, Charlie Haeger, Ramon Troncoso, Carlos Monasterios or Eric Stults.
The Dodger bullpen is intact and braced for improvement in 2010 with the completion of a 2-year, $11 million deal for top closer Jonathan Broxton. Broxton went 7-2 with 36 saves in 2009 along with a 2.61 ERA and 114 strikeouts in only 76 innings. He will continue to be lofted by set-up pitchers George Sherrill and Hong-chih Kuo who also signed with L.A. this week – the only difference being that they signed 1-year deals.
Besides Broxton, the other players of major concern to Dodger fans everywhere – Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp – were signed to 2-year deals each with a price tag over $10 million. For Ethier, the National League leader in walk-off hits to go with his 31 home runs and 106 RBIs, he will make a reported $15.25 million including a $500,000 signing bonus.
Kemp, the gold glove winning centerfielder, is the recipient of a $10.95 million contract to reward him for his 26 home run /101 RBI /97 run /34 steal campaign in 2009. He is also a dependable, injury free player, having played in 159 games.
Dodger role players James Loney and Russell Martin also agreed to 1-year contracts. Loney, who is a steady presence at first base, got one of the biggest pay raises percentage-wise going from $465,000 to $3.1 million. And Martin, who had a down year in 2009 in terms of batting, got an increase from $3.9 million to $5.05 million. Should his negative performance trends continue, Martin will be feeling the heat in 2010 from minor league hot shot AJ Ellis who is expected to make a run for the club’s major league roster in spring training.
The only question mark besides the 5th starter void appears to be who will be the everyday second baseman to replace the stellar 2009 performances of recently departed Orlando Hudson and Ronnie Belliard. Right now, that answer is uninspiring: Blake DeWitt or Jamey Carroll or a platoon of both.
All in all this was a successful outcome for the Dodgers. Making the core players happy was great, but the moves also provide a degree of certainty financially for a team who apparently is watching payroll carefully. The Dodgers’ payroll, $120 million in 2008, fell to $100 million in 2009 and is projected to drop again in 2010 to around $85 million to $90 million.
How can this be – considering the large increase represented by the aforementioned signings? Well remember they have financed this pool of increase money by letting go some big names from the 2009 squad, most notably free agents Randy Wolf and Orlando Hudson. Ronnie Belliard and Juan Pierre, were traded this offseason. Finally and thankfully, Jason Schmidt has retired. The departures of these five players alone add up to an annual savings of around $35 million.
Regarding the decline in payroll and the Dodgers forecast, alleged owner Frank McCourt assured fans he will retain control of the franchise, that he remains committed to fielding a sustainable championship team, and that he should be judged by what happens on the field, where the Dodgers have reached the League Championship Series in consecutive seasons for the first time in three decades.
Indeed, it’s hard to argue with the owner’s current approach to finding talent. By far his record of acquisitions mid-season (Ramirez, Padilla, Sherrill) have worked out better than his pick-ups pre-season (Andruw Jones, Jason Schmidt).
There was “Money Ball” in the 90s, and perhaps we will now have “Divorce Ball” in this decade due to the inventive, prudent personnel moves made by Mr. McCourt as shepherded by brilliant general manager Ned Coletti. The players in this model prove to be valuable additions to the team and payroll’s are minimized which may be necessary in a costly divorce proceeding.
McCourt backs this up, “”We’ve spent a huge amount of money during my tenure as owner. We’re a big-market team and fans deserve a great team on the field,” he said. “One of our core promises is to consistently put a championship-caliber team on the field. I wish there was a direct correlation between how much you spend and how many games you win. Unfortunately, there is not. The key is how wisely you spend the money.
The Dodgers report to their spring training facility in Camelback Ranch-Glendale, Arizona the week of February 20th. They also are having an exhibition game against the Cincinnati Reds at Las Vegas’ Cashman stadium on March 31st at 7:05pm.
How well the Dodgers do in 2010 without the coveted ace starting pitcher and competent second basemen – only the heavens can make that judgment.
Speaking of judgment, the McCourt divorce has a trial date of May 24. According to court papers, Jamie McCourt is contesting ownership of the club and the validity of a marital property agreement she signed providing full ownership of the franchise to Frank McCourt and ownership of most of the other assets of their marriage to her.