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T.J. SIMERS

Want to boost the value of the Dodgers? Sign Prince Fielder

As Frank McCourt prepares to sell the Dodgers he has kept a limit on player payroll. But if the team had Fielder, it could make the team relevant again and drive up the sale price.

January 21, 2012|T.J. Simers
  • Milwaukee's Prince Fielder might be the last remaining game changer available in free agency in the next few years.
Milwaukee's Prince Fielder might be the last remaining game changer… (Chris Schneider / Associated…)

Frank McCourt's disregard for Dodgers fans continues.

The bidding process for the Dodgers officially begins Monday, 97 days to go with the Parking Lot Attendant, but he's not leaving without taking the team down another notch.

He has a chance to offer Dodgers fans some hope, about the only thing baseball fans ask for as a new season begins.

But right now the 2012 Dodgers look about the same as the also-ran 2011 Dodgers.

The best General Manager Ned Colletti can do is talk up Mark Ellis at second base, while just as quickly apologizing for Ellis' inability to hit.

And yet Prince Fielder sits unsigned.

McCourt allowed Vladimir Guerrero to slip away when buying the team, and now as he's about to leave, the same can be said about Fielder.

To give McCourt the benefit of the doubt, maybe it didn't make sense a few months back to pay big money to Fielder at the risk of turning off potential Dodgers bidders.

But we know so much more now.

We know there's a long list of billionaires who want to bid on the Dodgers, no one seemingly frightened away by the long list of wealthy competitors who will drive the price up.

We know there has been much talk about McCourt hanging onto the parking lots, a new owner leasing them for $14 million with the annual payment increasing in 2015 and every five years thereafter.

We know there has been speculation about McCourt building parking structures in those lots, as well as the potential of long-range lawsuits should he try to develop the property around Dodger Stadium.

And yet we have not heard a single billionaire announce he will no longer be a part of the bidding process.

The winning bidder will be on the hook to pay all the deferred money owed to players signed by McCourt. And most of McCourt's deals have involved putting off payment.

Yet no one seems to be balking.

McCourt has more than $900 million in projected debt, and when it was first decreed he had to sell, the Dodgers were expected to sell for close to $1 billion.

Now McCourt and his advisors believe the bidding could hit $1.5 billion. Would the addition of Fielder kill such a price, or support it?

A few months back McCourt authorized Colletti to spend $90 million on the Dodgers' payroll, which Colletti has done. The Angels' payroll is close to $150 million.

Are we still to believe the signing of Fielder would be troubling to a new owner given the gigantic TV deal that awaits? Such a TV deal allowed the Angels to secure Albert Pujols.

Are we to believe the signing of Fielder, which should boost the Dodgers and thereby improve attendance, would turn off bidders?

Say what anyone wants to say now about Manny Ramirez, but when he arrived and the Dodgers became relevant again, attendance swelled.

Baseball people say there won't be many — if any — game changers available in free agency in the next few years. And a depleted Dodgers farm system doesn't offer much as trade bait.

What chance will a new owner have of improving the Dodgers?

Are we to believe the winning bidder wouldn't be thrilled to arrive and have Fielder on his payroll hitting behind Matt Kemp?

Agent Scott Boras would not discuss Fielder, who is his client. But as someone who knows the art of deal making, he sees where this is going.

"Those bidders who are making this a business decision in totality are out," Boras says. "No one buys a baseball franchise to make money. There are a lot of easier ways for people who already have billions to make money."

Boras says this is going to be a "personal buy."

He says people buy fancy cars and homes, but there are only a few things someone can buy to become a celebrity while making themselves a part of history forever.

"You can advance all your purposes," Boras says. "You have a child, you want him to go to a certain college, you invite the university president to a Dodgers game in your own stadium.

"Everyone will be able to figure out within a few percentage points the value of the franchise, the land, TV contract and such. That's what bean counters do.

"But this will not be an accountant-driven negotiation. This will be a very personal negotiation, the Dodgers meaning more to someone than the value of the asset."

For that reason, he says, "Ideally, McCourt will want to get the list of suitors down to two, set a minimum bid and let them go at it."

That should take everyone into March, with the Dodgers deep into spring training, still hoping Mark Ellis will get a hit.

But consider the excitement surrounding the Dodgers and possible playoff talk if Fielder filled the team's power shortage.

Might that not add some zest to the final bidding in this "personal buy," two billionaires so close and now invested emotionally into owning the Dodgers?

Maybe McCourt doesn't care what the fans will get, but such excitement might drive the price of the franchise even higher, resulting in more money for McCourt.

And right now that's his idea of a home run.

t.j.simers@latimes.com

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