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MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL

Sale of Dodgers creates uncertainty

Team officials, players and even player agents have questions but few answers on how the franchise will be affected in the weeks to come, including the signing of free agents.

November 02, 2011|By Dylan Hernandez
  • Former Dodgers Manager Tom Lasorda, right, says he considers Dodgers owner Frank McCourt a "friend," but conceded an ownership change would be beneficial to the franchise.
Former Dodgers Manager Tom Lasorda, right, says he considers Dodgers owner… (Jerry Lai / U.S. Presswire )

The Dodgers added two minor league players to their 40-man roster on Wednesday. They were still expecting to complete their one-year deal with Juan Rivera on Thursday and continued to monitor the free-agent market.

In other words, the day was like any other off-season day.

Except that it wasn't.

On Tuesday night, employees received an email from owner Frank McCourt, who informed them of his decision to sell the team. A few minutes later, Major League Baseball and the Dodgers made their agreement public by issuing a joint statement.

The latest development in the team's ownership saga has resulted in more confusion in what already felt like an unstable environment, according to club officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the situation. Several of them said they had no idea how the franchise would be affected in the coming weeks and months.

"We're just following the plan until we're told not to," one official said.

McCourt hasn't informed the baseball operations department of any change in course. In the final days of the regular season, General Manager Ned Colletti said he was told by McCourt that the Dodgers' payroll would be similar to what it was this year.

McCourt is expected to meet with Colletti in the near future.

With a sale process expected to take months to complete, some player agents said they didn't expect the Dodgers to be significant players in the free-agent market.

"History, when a Bankruptcy Court and a selling owner are the ones managing the off-season, the focus is far from the field," said Scott Boras, who represents the Dodgers' No. 1 free-agent target, Prince Fielder.

One former high-level major league executive recalled being under severe restraints when he worked for a team that was in the middle of the sales process. He said he was prevented from signing players to multi-year deals or trading for players with multiple years on their contracts because the next owner might not want to be saddled with long-term commitments.

Talking about how the Dodgers signed Juan Uribe, who had an underachieving season, to a three-year, $21-million deal last off-season, the former executive said, "The Uribes of the world don't exist anymore. You can't even make a bad deal. There's such a narrow pool of players you can sign."

The agents for Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier wondered how the impending sale would influence the team's negotiations with their clients.

Because both players will be eligible for free agency at the end of next season, Colletti has said signing them to multi-year contract extensions would be one of the Dodgers' top priorities this off-season. The agents for Kemp and Ethier said they didn't know whether that would change.

"There's a lot of uncertainty, a lot of questions," said Dave Stewart, who represents Kemp.

Ethier's agent, Nez Balelo, said he thought he didn't know enough about the situation to speculate how the Dodgers' present situation would affect negotiations with his client.

"I think it's still too early for me to give my opinion," Balelo said. "We'll have to wait and see. Time will tell what happens here."

Stewart had previously said that if a deal isn't in place by the start of the season, he would advise Kemp to end negotiations and focus on playing. Asked on Wednesday whether he would make an exception for a new ownership group, Stewart replied, "That's a discussion I'm going to have with Matt. Obviously, whatever he wants to do is the direction we'll go. My advice to him is to just play."

Some club officials pondered their futures.

McCourt's purchase of the Dodgers in 2004 triggered immediate widespread changes in front-office personnel. Dan Evans was fired as general manager and replaced by Paul DePodesta.

The current uncertainty caused outfielder Tony Gwynn Jr. to exercise retrain when talking about the team's future.

"I'm optimistic but it's tempered," Gwynn said.

First base coach Davey Lopes had a similar reaction, but said he was confident Commissioner Bud Selig would find the right people to own the team.

"I'm pretty sure they'll know exactly what to do to get the organization back to where it used to be," said Lopes, a Dodgers second baseman in the 1970s and 1980s.

Hall of Fame manager Tom Lasorda said learning of McCourt's decision was "bittersweet." But while calling McCourt "a friend," Lasorda acknowledged the franchise could benefit from an ownership change.

"I want to see someone come in here and get those fans back," Lasorda said, pointing to how the team played in front of small home crowds last season.

dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

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