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T.J. SIMERS

If Frank McCourt is living on borrowed money, Dodgers are living on borrowed time

GM Ned Colletti's chances of improving the team after an 80-82 season look bleak, with ownership apparently low on cash, or out of it entirely. Colletti doesn't appear to know anything about next year's budget, but the signs aren't good.

October 04, 2010|T.J. Simers

The Dodgers called the media to the stadium Monday to hear from GM Ned Colletti and Manager Don Mattingly.

Here's what we learned:

Colletti said he doesn't have an answer from Frank McCourt on how much money, if any, will be available this off-season to improve the team.

The Dodgers have exclusive rights to negotiate with seven players before free agency begins. But he said those talks depend on what he has to spend and he doesn't know that answer.

Colletti said he doesn't anticipate many changes with this team, the one that just finished so flat in 2010.

So why should Dodgers fans buy tickets for next season?

"They can make up their own minds," Colletti said, once again lacking an answer.

As for marketing the 2011 Dodgers in the entertainment capital, Colletti said, "I don't know if we have one superstar," which was his way of saying they have none.

"I'm not sure it's the right priority," he continued.

That would require the owner to spend money.

Asked whether the McCourt divorce proceeding has affected the Dodgers' ability to put the best team on the field, he said, "I don't know if it has or hasn't."

Asked which it is, he said, "We thought we had a good team coming out of spring training. . . ."

I have been to court enough recently to know such an answer would have been dismissed by the judge as nonresponsive.

"What do you want me to say?" Colletti said.

If anyone should know whether the McCourt divorce has affected the Dodgers' ability to field a good team, shouldn't it be the general manager?

"It hasn't affected the team," Colletti said, clarifying earlier testimony. And I'll remind you at this time, he was not under oath.

It appears the Dodgers don't know who will be playing for them next season or how much money they will have to spend. So is the inexperienced Mattingly concerned?

"Should I be?" he asked.

"In a word," I said, "yes."

Mattingly then walked away, probably looking for Joe Torre to advise him on what he should have said next.

Colletti carried on, but still without answers. He said he doesn't know what the Dodgers need to improve the most.

Reminded that he had just sat through 162 games, he said, "I don't have an answer."

The conclusion: Colletti really doesn't know much.

So why were reporters called to Dodger Stadium?

"I thought we were all going to have lunch," he said.

"The Dodgers buying?" I asked with skepticism.

Colletti couldn't be sure. "I hope so," he said.

A few minutes later, the interview ended and a Dodgers spokesman announced there would be no lunch for the media.

It's only a guess, but having heard McCourt's lawyer say of his own client, "His livelihood is doing projects on borrowed money," I'm guessing he didn't get loan approval for lunch.

Are the Dodgers this broke?

That's the thing — we don't know.

We suspected the lovey-dovey-acting couple from Boston did not have the money to operate the Dodgers before they arrived in town. When we wrote it, Frank and Jamie reacted with outrage and denials.

Well, we've now learned the lovey-dovey couple wasn't so lovey. And court documents confirmed the suspicion they lacked the money to oversee the Dodgers.

All along, though, Frank insisted money was never an issue. We've repeatedly been told the same about the McCourts' divorce proceedings.

Now we'll see.

Frank didn't respond to a request to chat about his team. He never seems to want to talk about the Dodgers anymore unless it has something to do with the money he might owe his wife.

He has spent millions on lawyers to prove he owns the Dodgers, but moved his office out of Dodger Stadium. His best friend is the guy who received a $400,000 bonus from money raised by the Dodgers Dream Foundation. Obviously his dream was answered.

McCourt probably has some work to do to become more than just a punch line in town. It will take money — spent on an outfielder who can hit home runs, or maybe a third baseman.

If money is not an issue, as he has repeatedly said, then he has an off-season to prove it.

The suspicion here is he has none — therefore the emphasis being placed on the "core players," as Colletti calls them.

The core players, though, have been nothing special. Special things happened with them for two seasons primarily because of Manny.

This season, the core players failed to finish .500.

The Dodgers will most likely re-sign Scott Podsednik to play left because he's cheap by baseball standards — probably around $2 million a year. Colletti will have to piece together a pitching staff and the bullpen needs help.

But everything you want to know about these Dodgers under McCourt's leadership rests in Mattingly's announcement that Jonathan Broxton will be the team's closer next season.

What other inexpensive choice does he have?

t.j.simers@latimes.com

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