McCourt could ignore Kemp before selling Dodgers

As anyone with a couple billion dollars to rub together comes calling on Blackstone Group LP, the company that will manage the sale of the Los Angeles Dodgers, here’s a sobering thought for happy hour at Gladstones on PCH:

What might the Dodgers look like in April?

If a buyer is identified, the transaction goes as expected, and Frank McCourt doesn’t have something – I don’t know, let’s say creative – up his sleeve that sends the whole thing back to court, Major League Baseball believes a new Dodgers owner can be in place by opening day.

That leaves me wondering what happens between now and then, and where that leaves general manager Ned Colletti, who has a roster to rework and 11½ games to make up in the National League West, and especially what it all means for center fielder Matt Kemp(notes), who has a future to consider and free agency waiting a year from now.

Let’s consider this: Every dollar McCourt spends between now and the time he hands the keys to the next guy could come out of his pocket, taken right off the top of the sale price. This is why teams up for sale are so routinely stripped down first. New owners generally don’t like big debt, or a future of big debt. If someone’s going to hamstring the club for years, they’d rather it be them. Something like that.

So, while Dodgers fans delight over McCourt’s departure and their hand in it, they also might consider McCourt’s absence of motivation to grant them a competitive team in the short term.

[Related: Frank McCourt finally gives up senseless fight]

Maybe that means no Prince Fielder(notes) at first base. Maybe that means the pitching staff again will be thin. Maybe that means no one to protect Kemp in the batting order. Maybe that means a lot of stuff that leaves the Dodgers behind the San Francisco Giants, Arizona Diamondbacks, maybe the Colorado Rockies.

Meh, another season. If the cost of running off McCourt were one more dreary season, fans would have signed up long before now.

But these are the Dodgers, as Los Angeles has been trying to remind itself for the past couple years. A new guy comes in, the parking lots are paved in gold, the parade of NL West titles begins, and – wait – what if the transition from McCourt to some billionaire costs them Kemp?

(While I don’t personally know any, I don’t believe billionaires spend their own money. They spend other people’s – like fans’ – money. That’s how they became billionaires, and that’s how they stay billionaires.)

Then what?

The Dodgers and Kemp’s representative – former pitcher Dave Stewart – have had a couple short discussions concerning Kemp’s future in L.A.

The Dodgers have told Kemp they would love to extend his contract.

Kemp has told the Dodgers he would love to have his contract extended.

The rest is in limbo, out there between McCourt’s exit plan and the coming auction and the next owner’s strategy and the timing of it all, because Team Kemp seems reluctant to negotiate during the regular season. So there would appear to be a deadline, too, if a soft one.

Kemp would hit free agency at 28, carrying five tools, carrying proficiency at a premium defensive position, and perhaps carrying an MVP award, earned in the ballparks and against the pitching staffs of the NL West.

On his way out the door, is McCourt prepared – or willing – to gift Dodgers fans their center fielder for the next seven to 10 years? Even if it costs him something off the bottom line?

He can be the owner of the foreclosed home who vacuums the floors on the way out. Or, I suppose, he could pocket every light fixture and doorknob.

A friend of McCourt’s told me this week he’s inclined to leave the Dodgers in a position to contend in 2012. That means signing players, though probably not Fielder or Albert Pujols(notes) or even Yoenis Cespedes. The Dodgers did not send a scout to watch Cespedes’ workout in the Dominican Republic last week, a remarkable commentary on the club’s current existence. The Dodgers, being the Dodgers, should at least be “in” on everyone.

The friend told me McCourt still hopes to “repair” his relationship with Dodgers fans, in part by helping put the team together again, and that to leave the Dodgers short now would weigh on McCourt’s conscience.

[Video: Matt Kemp helps honor cancer research at A Day of Champions]

Kemp would be the big element here.

He is under team control for one more season.

At 27 he is 2½ weeks older than Troy Tulowitzki(notes). A year ago, Tulowitzki had his contract extended by 10 years and $157.75 million.

That probably wouldn’t get Kemp done. In fact, no way. So that’s the sacrifice McCourt might have to make. He wouldn’t have to pay a dime of the salary, of course. The next guy would. Except that the next guy might decide that’s a big pull on a payroll that hasn’t been all that healthy lately, and who might see a contract that size eating into his profits, and who would rather not walk into a financial buzz saw for a player who, only a year ago, was not worth such a great or promising commitment.

But, you know, that’s the choice McCourt gets to make.

C’mon, Frank. Take one for the team. Leave the doorknobs.

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