Dodgers start season on brink of new ownership

Associated Press  |  Last updated March 20, 2012
The Dodgers head into a new season nearing the end of the Frank McCourt era, with a sale of the team scheduled to be finalized by the end of April. It will be a welcome change for the front office, the team and its fans, who stayed away in droves in 2011 when off-the-field developments overshadowed anything Clayton Kershaw, Matt Kemp and the Dodgers did on it. As owner, McCourt fought with his former wife, Jamie; Commissioner Bud Selig; and his creditors, tying up the team's purse strings. ''It will be good to get another chapter going,'' general manager Ned Colletti said. ''These have been a different couple of years, but change is coming.'' McCourt gets to select the winner of the bankruptcy auction from among potential ownership groups cleared by Major League Baseball. The sale is due to be closed April 30, coinciding with the deadline for him to make a $131 million divorce settlement payment to Jamie. The team's future finances will be determined by new ownership, while Colletti and second-year manager Don Mattingly, both hired by previous regimes, will find themselves at the whim of whomever takes control of a storied franchise fallen on hard times. The Dodgers finished third in the NL West with an 82-79 record last year and missed the postseason for the second straight year. With nothing at stake in September, Mattingly rallied the Dodgers to play hard. They won nine of their final 12 games to finish above .500 and avoid the club's first back-to-back losing seasons since 1986-87. ''It's pretty easy for me to keep focused on where we're trying to go,'' Mattingly said about the ownership chaos. ''My priority in the whole thing was to get our club to play the best baseball that we could. Obviously, it's a distraction but it's not something that you can control or worry about.'' Colletti had a limited budget in the offseason, opposite of the situation down Interstate 5 in Anaheim. The Angels grabbed the headlines by signing coveted free agents Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson, with owner Arte Moreno shelling out millions to lock up Pujols for 10 years and Wilson for five. The Dodgers, meanwhile, used the money they saved by letting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda go to sign veteran pitchers Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang. They'll round out a rotation led by Kershaw, the NL Cy Young Award winner, along with Chad Billingsley and Ted Lilly. Kershaw and Kemp provided the Dodgers' highlights last year, and they are the bedrock of a roster that new ownership can build around once there's money to chase big-name free agents in 2013. ''It's guys like Clayton who have to go out and show that they can do it again,'' Mattingly said. Kershaw led the majors with a 2.28 ERA, tied for the NL lead with 21 wins and topped the league with 248 strikeouts. The 23-year-old left-hander is eager to move on to this season. ''All that stuff's over with,'' he said. ''I'm getting to the point where I'm more and more comfortable. I'm still the young guy on the staff. We still have four veteran guys in there. Experience-wise I'm still not anywhere close to those guys.'' Kemp hit .324, led the NL with 39 home runs and had a major league-leading 126 RBIs, losing the NL MVP award to Milwaukee's Ryan Braun. Along the way, he earned a Gold Glove award, stole 40 bases and matured into a complete player. Can Kemp equal or his surpass those numbers this season? ''Anything's possible, man, that's just the way I look at it,'' he said. Two veterans who will be expected to deliver are right fielder Andre Ethier and first baseman James Loney. Ethier started last year promisingly enough with a 30-game hitting streak over April and May. But he dealt with an injured right knee in the second half, when his numbers tailed off, and surgery cut his season short. The two-time All-Star has fully recovered, but whether he regains his power has yet to be seen. Ethier had 23 homers each of the last two seasons. Loney took a long time to get going, eventually, hitting .388 with seven homers in his last 35 games and will retain his starting job. He was arrested in the offseason on suspicion of driving under the influence, but charges were not filed. Ethier and Loney need big seasons to help both the Dodgers and themselves. Both are eligible for free agency after the season. The bullpen remains an issue, with Javy Guerra and Kenley Jansen sharing the closers role last season. Guerra had 21 saves in 23 chances as a rookie, while Jansen struck out 96 batters in 52 2-3 innings. The Dodgers added Mark Ellis, Jerry Hairston Jr. and Adam Kennedy to their infield in the offseason, with Ellis likely the starter at second base. Shortstop Dee Gordon showed promise as a rookie, stealing 24 bases. Juan Uribe will likely start at third, trying to put behind a disappointing 2011 in which he was bothered by a hip flexor and missed the final month of the season. ''The guys that we have coming back from last year either do what they did last year or just stay healthy and we'll be great,'' Kershaw predicted. ''The guys that we added can only help us, so I think we've got a good shot. Especially if we can build off the last month and a half, two months of the season and remember what that felt like.'' The Dodgers open the season April 4 at San Diego. Their home opener is April 10 against Pittsburgh. --- AP Baseball Writer Janie McCauley contributed to this report.
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