Strife with owners spell trouble for Dodgers

Editor’s note: Yahoo! Sports will examine the offseason of every MLB team before spring training begins in mid-February. Our series continues at No. 13 with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

2009 record: 95-67
2009 finish: First place, National League West
2009 final payroll: $100.4 million
Estimated 2010 opening-day payroll: $95 million

OFFSEASON ACTION

Eliminated by the Phillies in Game 5 on a Wednesday, the Dodgers saw their owner fire his wife on Friday and her file for a divorce on Monday. Two days later, the World Series started without any of them.

The offseason has pretty much run in that direction since, beginning with questions about who owned the club – Frank McCourt or Frank and Jamie McCourt (to be answered with a May trial) – through questions as to why the team would neither sign Randy Wolf(notes) nor offer him arbitration, and then to questions about whether either McCourt could afford the team and the divorce considering what the offseason was suggesting.

So far, it doesn’t look great.

The biggest-ticket item is Vicente Padilla(notes), who not only behaved himself over two months with the Dodgers last season but won five games – including the division series clincher over the Cardinals, earning himself another season and $5 million.

The rest has been maintenance: General manager Ned Colletti traded Juan Pierre(notes) for some payroll relief, then signed infielders Jamey Carroll(notes) and Ronnie Belliard(notes), catcher Brad Ausmus(notes) and Padilla. He might have enough for a veteran fourth outfielder such as Garret Anderson(notes). The club also dealt with its nine arbitration eligibles, three – Andre Ethier(notes) ($15.25 million), Jonathan Broxton(notes) ($11 million) and Matt Kemp(notes) ($10.95 million) – pulling two-year contracts.

REALITY CHECK

The Dodgers will tell you this is the offseason they would have conducted whether Frank had changed the locks on Jamie’s office or not.

That would suggest a lot of faith in the status quo … minus Wolf, Pierre, Orlando Hudson(notes) and regular hits of female fertility potions.

There are two areas which hold the potential to end the Dodgers’ streak of division titles (and NLCS appearances) at two.

The starting rotation is Chad Billingsley(notes), Clayton Kershaw(notes), Hiroki Kuroda(notes), Padilla and the winner of a spring-training tryout (James McDonald(notes), Eric Stults(notes), Russ Ortiz(notes), Charlie Haeger(notes), etc.). Does that sound like Tim Lincecum(notes), Matt Cain(notes), Barry Zito(notes), Jonathan Sanchez(notes) and Madison Bumgarner(notes)? Or Roy Halladay(notes), Cole Hamels(notes), Joe Blanton(notes), J.A. Happ(notes) and Kyle Kendrick(notes) (or Pedro Martinez(notes))?

And the left fielder remains Manny Ramirez(notes), who came back from his suspension to bat .255 in his final 68 games and .218 in September/October. Joe Torre will talk a lot this spring about balance at the plate because Manny overswung for most of the summer. It’s anyone’s guess as to why. He’ll be 38 in May but is in another walk year, and is a year removed from 37 home runs and 121 RBIs in 2008.

The Dodgers need good things to happen in a handful of areas (owners’ box, Rafael Furcal(notes), starting pitching, etc.), but a healthy, happy, productive Manny would mean they don’t all have to work out.

Next: Los Angeles Angels

Tim Brown is a national baseball writer for Yahoo! Sports. He co-authored with Jim Abbott the memoir “Imperfect: an Improbable Life”.   Follow him on Twitter.   Send Tim a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Friday, Jan 29, 2010