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Pricey free agents don't fit into plans, Dodgers' Ned Colletti says

The club is cutting payroll in 2012, so taking on Prince Fielder or anyone else who would demand a large salary is not feasible, the general manager says.

December 05, 2011|By Bill Shaikin
  • Former Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder and infielder Jerry Hairston Jr. (15) celebrate a victory over the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 4 of the NLCS.
Former Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder and infielder Jerry Hairston… (Jim Young / Reuters )

Reporting from Dallas -- Prince Fielder is there for the taking. The Dodgers aren't playing, but Ned Colletti had a thought.

"Can we sign Prince for $3 million this year and $30 million the next year?" the Dodgers' general manager said.

It's too bad the question was rhetorical. As Dodgers fans await the sale of the team, and the accompanying deliverance from headlines about the likes of Chris Capuano, the unsettling truth is that a new owner might not be able to turn the Dodgers around in a hurry.

Frank McCourt's sign-now, pay-later approach could haunt a new owner. So could next winter's uninspiring class of free agents.

The Dodgers need Fielder, now. McCourt said last month that nothing prevented Colletti from pursuing any free agent.

Legally speaking, that is true. There is no Bankruptcy Court restriction on the Dodgers' winter spending.

However, McCourt wants the highest possible sale price for the Dodgers. If McCourt's investment bankers say that prospective owners might bid lower if they had to inherit the nine-figure liability of a Fielder contract, why try signing him?

"I know what my payroll is," Colletti said. "I don't believe anybody of that stature would fit into it."

The Dodgers are cutting payroll for the 2012 season. Salaries large and small will double for 2013, for Capuano, for Matt Kemp, for Mark Ellis and Jerry Hairston Jr.

With the expected signing of Aaron Harang, the projected second-year arbitration salary for Clayton Kershaw and $8 million still due Manny Ramirez, the Dodgers' 2013 commitments should top $110 million.

Without, that is, a first baseman, left fielder or right fielder.

Josh Hamilton? Might not be the best long-term investment.

Other than him, the best free-agent corner outfielder next year might be Andre Ethier. The best free-agent first baseman might be James Loney, if Mike Napoli signs as a catcher.

When Kemp signed his contract last month, he essentially agreed to play for half-price in 2012 to save the Dodgers some money so they could get a big bat or two behind him.

"He'd like to get somebody else there that they can put in the lineup that can help him, help the team win," Kemp's agent, Dave Stewart, told ESPN.

No disrespect intended, but we suspect Kemp was thinking more along the lines of Fielder, less along the lines of Ellis.

"Matt will be here for eight years," Colletti said. "There's a likelihood, in that period of time, we will have additional flexibility with the payroll."

By the time additional flexibility matches up with available top-flight talent, the Dodgers could be staring at 2014.

Not that Colletti is conceding this season. You never know when a sputtering club could make a big bat — maybe one of the Uptons — available in trade.

"I think, this year, because of what lies ahead ownership-wise, it will perhaps be built in two stages," Colletti said. "You try to put together a club that can compete and put you in the race and, when you get to July, you may have more financial flexibility to do something else."

If Fielder would take $10 million this season on a back-loaded contract, and if the Dodgers cut Loney and his projected $7-million salary, they really could sign Fielder for $3 million this year and $30 million the next year.

Not so sure that last part would work. Alas, the question was rhetorical.

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