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Dodgers' Ned Colletti says he will have money to keep key players

T.J. SIMERS

Owner Frank McCourt has told the general manager he will have the means to sign Clayton Kershaw, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier to long-term contracts this off-season. The question is how to get it done.

September 26, 2011|T.J. Simers
  • Dodgers General Manager Ned Colletti talks to reporters before a game against the Padres on Friday in San Diego.
Dodgers General Manager Ned Colletti talks to reporters before a game against… (Lenny Ignelzi / Associated…)

Reporting from Phoenix -- Frank McCourt has told General Manager Ned Colletti that he will have the money needed to sign Clayton Kershaw, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier to long-term contracts this off-season as well as the money required to compete in the free-agent market.

Holy bankruptcy, I have no idea how long I was out after fainting, and I doubt Colletti considered mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

But thankfully my tape recorder kept running, and there's no shutting up Colletti.

"Do we have the number solidified yet? No," says Colletti. "But I have a range of money that I can spend, and the conversations I've had indicate there are different ways of doing it.''

One of the ways is offering big-money contracts with modest first-year salaries that would escalate dramatically in later years.

That way if McCourt sells the team, and I would ask you to hold your applause, what does he care if the next owner is obligated to pay Kemp and others bundles of money down the road?

The only problem is getting Kemp to play for $1 next season with the promise of $20 million a year or two from now. He might want to wait a year and get his money right away from the Yankees.

The Dodgers almost have to sign Kemp to a long-range deal this off-season, or bid against teams like the Yankees. How do you think that would go? Where's Vladimir Shpunt when you need him?

Kemp becomes the team's No. 1 priority because "there's not much in the free-agent market; it's fairly thin,'' says Colletti.

It's common knowledge the Dodgers are interested in the fat free agent, otherwise known as Prince Fielder, but will he be interested in the Dodgers?

Most free agents expect a sizable bonus when signing a new deal. It doesn't sound as if that will be a part of any Dodgers' offer.

Colletti said none of this is predicated on McCourt getting his TV deal, and there have been no reports of a guy with a Boston accent robbing a bank.

McCourt just tells Colletti the money will be there, and Colletti believes him. Maybe the wife has sold another one of their homes.

"I know [McCourt] wants to make this better,'' Colletti says, you know, like last-minute improvements before selling a house.

It's hard to really know what McCourt wants because he remains in hiding. He popped out briefly a few months ago to speak to selected friendly media, and on occasion there's a picture of him leaving a courtroom. But by all appearances, he gave up on the Dodgers this season before anyone else.

As for the third-place Dodgers, Colletti likes what he sees.

"At the All-Star break I thought it was going to take a massive reshuffle,'' he says. "But the way we played since then and against some pretty good competition, I think there's something to build on.''

As giddy as the Dodgers are about what they've done recently, it still has the look of fool's gold.

If you consider the Giants, Padres, Rockies, Pirates, Nationals and the Braves starting three minor league pitchers good competition, then start lining up for season tickets.

They did beat the Cardinals, and Colletti notes they played the Phillies and Brewers tough. Sounds like this year's season-ticket campaign: We kept it close with Philadelphia and Milwaukee.

Colletti says James Loney has eased his concerns, but the lineup still needs another hitter.

He's hoping Hiroki Kuroda returns and will look to add a veteran to the bullpen, "but not a closer,'' he says. "I think we'll go with a combination of Kenley Jensen and Javy Guerra.''

And so it goes, talk of so many off-season improvements, but no mention of the one everyone wants to hear: McCourt's announcement he's selling the team.

I'M GOING to spend the morning with the baby granddaughters, and the afternoon with Kemp. A year ago there was a joke there. But Kemp has grown into something special.

Now that I think of it, he does have something in common with the twins.

KIRK GIBSON has done a great job with Arizona, but what a cartoon character.

When he talks it's as if he's a surgeon getting ready to tell a patient whether he has a brain tumor. Someone please tell him it's just baseball.

He yelled at a reporter recently after being asked about maybe being named manager of the year. Who yells at someone when singled out for praise?

I interviewed Gibson when he was a minor league player and again on the telephone a few years back. I tried again before Monday's game.

"I hear you yell at reporters who ask about awards.''

"Let's not talk about [awards],'' Gibson said, but that was the only reason I was talking to him. So I mentioned Ian Kennedy, his standout pitcher, and Kershaw —- an opportunity for Gibson to support his Cy Young candidate.

"The performances speak for themselves,'' said Gibson, "and we'll continue to lobby. …''

"This is the way you lobby for your players?'' I replied, and he said, "Next question.

"My players know I support them,'' he continued. "I don't know what's wrong with you today…I think it is best we move on.''

I wonder what happens around here when he's asked a tough question.

I'D TAKE Kennedy over Kershaw for Cy Young because without Kennedy the Diamondbacks don't win the division. But more than that, I see no reason for awards.

Kershaw was great; we don't need an award to certify it, or have his season end in disappointment if not named the winner.

Kershaw says winning would "mean a lot,'' while also saying, "I don't really care what writers think.''

Funny, but now he cares what 32 writers think when it comes to voting for the winner.

"Call me a hypocrite,'' he says.

I'd just call him a great pitcher, and don't need an award to say so.

t.j.simers@latimes.com

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