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McCourt's divorce will put Dodgers in an inevitable retreat

BILL SHAIKIN / ON BASEBALL

Frank and Jamie haven't been shy about rewarding themselves or asking fans to pay a premium for the product, but how will there be any positive returns under these circumstances?

November 04, 2009|BILL SHAIKIN | ON BASEBALL

NEW YORK — The Dodgers are the talk of the World Series, and not because of Matt Kemp. The buzz is about all those titillating details in the his-and-hers McCourt divorce filings, about how Frank fired his wife and branded her with a scarlet letter, about how the annual expenses Jamie claims she needs to maintain the lifestyle of a baseball owner are greater than the combined salaries of Kemp, James Loney, Clayton Kershaw, Jonathan Broxton and Chad Billingsley.

This is too bad, first and foremost for the McCourts. We wish divorce upon no one.

This is also too bad for Dodgers fans, for the team that finished three victories from the World Series appears headed for a sadly inevitable retreat, for reasons that involve no salacious details.

Baseball season ends tonight, or Thursday. The initial court hearing takes place Thursday, with Jamie McCourt asking for immediate reinstatement as the Dodgers' chief executive.

Commissioner Bud Selig is watching, warily. He has intervened in ownership disputes involving the Arizona Diamondbacks and New York Mets, but he does not plan to involve himself in the Dodgers' divorce drama, at least not yet.

Frank McCourt claims the Dodgers belong solely to him. Jamie McCourt claims she owns part of the team. For now, Selig believes the daily club operations are running smoothly, under the direction of President Dennis Mannion and General Manager Ned Colletti.

The courts can handle the ownership issue.

The fans are left to handle this issue: According to a document filed by Jamie McCourt as part of the divorce proceedings, she and her estranged husband took home between $7 million and $8 million a year "in salary and/or distributions."

That would have more than covered Cliff Lee's salary this season.

When the Philadelphia Phillies could not get a deal done for Roy Halladay, they moved aggressively toward Lee, quickly agreeing to trade four upper-level prospects and closing the deal the morning of July 29, more than 48 hours before the trade deadline. By the time the Dodgers relented on including their top minor league prospect, Class-A shortstop Dee Gordon, in a trade for Lee, the Phillies all but had Lee sealed and delivered.

Colletti might have gotten Lee if he had Carlos Santana to offer. Santana, a catcher, is a more advanced prospect. Yet the Cleveland Indians already had him, because Colletti had to sacrifice him last year in order to get the Indians to pay the balance of Casey Blake's contract.

That balance was $2 million. The McCourts could have paid themselves a little less, and the Dodgers could have kept Santana, perhaps enabling Colletti to get Lee.

If the Dodgers truly plan on building from within, if they decide not to offer CC Sabathia a contract even when he tells Colletti he wants to be a Dodger, then they have to fund their scouting and player development operation with the full force of a major-market team.

Manny Ramirez was the third-best outfielder on the team this year. Kemp and Andre Ethier emerged from the Dodgers' farm system, and so did Loney, Kershaw, Broxton, Billingsley and Russell Martin.

Yet the Dodgers have done relatively little to replenish the organization. Baseball America last spring ranked the Dodgers' farm system 23rd among the 30 teams.

Gordon and pitcher Chris Withrow emerged as elite prospects this season, but the minor league depth is limited by the Dodgers' limited investment in it.

The Dodgers have paid $8.5 million in signing bonuses for draft picks over the last two years -- the lowest figure among all major league teams, according to Baseball America.

The Dodgers, so proud of their heritage in Asia and Latin America, today are a non-factor in bidding for top amateur players abroad. In 2008, according to Baseball America, major league clubs combined to sign 115 such players for bonuses of more than $100,000. The Dodgers did not sign one.

"They're definitely not the pioneering team they were," Baseball America editor John Manuel said. "They've squandered that advantage."

We wanted to discuss this with Logan White, the Dodgers' assistant general manager for scouting. He was not available for comment.

We also wanted to ask Mannion about how the Dodgers had spent the $18.8 million that covered the insurance payment for Jason Schmidt's contract and the money saved by the suspension of Ramirez. He was not available for comment.

The numbers speak for themselves. The McCourts have not been shy about asking fans to pay top dollar and, at least according to the divorce proceedings, they have not been shy about paying themselves top dollar.

It's time to invest top dollar in player development. It's better to be the talk of the World Series for what your players do, not for what your lawyers say.

--

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

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