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Frank McCourt's farewell gift to the Dodgers

April 03, 2012|By Bill Shaikin
  • Frank McCourt, left, did the new Dodgers owners a favor by signing Matt Kemp to a contract extension before the sale of the team.
Frank McCourt, left, did the new Dodgers owners a favor by signing Matt Kemp… (Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles…)

Frank McCourt threw quite a few pitches at the bidders for the Dodgers. One of those pitches: You're not buying a team locked into hundreds of millions in salaries for the next few years. You can shape the payroll any way you like.

As the Dodgers headed into the winter, they had one player under contract for 2014 -- pitcher Chad Billingsley, at $12 million. In contrast, the Boston Red Sox had committed $94 million to six players for 2014 -- first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, second baseman Dustin Pedroia, outfielder Carl Crawford and pitchers Josh Beckett, Clay Buchholz and John Lackey.

Then McCourt committed the Dodgers -- and, by extension, the new owners -- to $160 million over eight years for 27-year-old center fielder Matt Kemp.

If Kemp's near-MVP year in 2011 was an aberration, then the deal might not look so good. For now, though, it looks brilliant.

The new owners did not need to risk taking over the team in May, so close to free agency that Kemp might well have waited a few months to hear a sales pitch from the Texas Rangers, the cash-happy team whose ballpark is a three-hour drive from Kemp's Oklahoma hometown.

And, with every mega-deal signed since then, the Kemp contract looks better and better.

Prince Fielder? Turns 28 in May, signed through 2020 for $214 million.

Joey Votto? He's already 28, and newly signed through 2023 for $225 million.

Neither one of those guys can play center field. Josh Hamilton can, and he can file for free agency this fall, but he'll be 31, with a history of injury and substance abuse.

Could the Dodgers have traded for an impact bat? The Red Sox gave up three premium prospects to get Gonzalez. The Dodgers don't have three premium prospects in a minor league system targeted for revitalization under new ownership.

Could the Dodgers have targeted an impact bat close to free agency? That's a perilous bet when big dollars from revenue sharing and television contracts enable smaller-market teams to retain franchise players.

It's not just the Cincinnati Reds, with Votto.

The Dodgers would have loved to welcome home two Southland stars -- Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, who could have been a free agent next fall, or Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun, who could have been a free agent after the 2014 season.

No chance. The Rockies and Brewers each preempted free agency by signing their franchise players through 2020.

So the Dodgers, in desperate need of big bats and in a demand-driven market, assured themselves of keeping the biggest bat they had. Well done.

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