I can't imagine Dodger fans have to be all that disappointed by the news that Frank McCourt is stepping away from his day-to-day responsibilities with the club. Dennis Mannion, hired originally to Jamie's old position as President of the Dodgers, now has everyone in the organization but Frank reporting to him. This includes GM Ned Colletti, who will take payroll directions from Mannion. T.J. Simers, whose apparent approval of Mannion is conveyed in the way only Simers can, writes,
In addition to sweeping the floors, Mannion sets the payroll with [Frank] McCourt's approval. He won't say what it will be this season. He says it makes no sense to divulge it to the competition -- or to fans, I presume, who might be interested in knowing how dedicated the Dodgers are going to be this season.
As for Frank McCourt, he was so bullish on running the Dodgers, he now works out of an office in Beverly Hills.
"Frank has had a desire for quite a while to separate himself from the day-to-day operations and focus his time of the developmental opportunity," Mannion says. "Additional ventures to look at are the development of the 360 acres around the stadium and ballpark improvement."I say Simers approves of Mannion because he goes on to note Mannion's impressive track record, and even that he is likable, despite his Philadelphia roots. Simers does express concern over the team's owner distancing himself from day-to-day baseball and business operations. This is surely some residual pain left from the News Corp. era, but it's a fear I don't share with Simers.
We've seen time and again that owners who demand to make ground-level decisions have a tremendously difficult time fielding competitive teams. These magnates of industry figure they can master the business world, so, after all, how hard could a child's game be? The answer, of course, is that baseball is really, really hard. There are JD/MBA's in the mail room. People kill to get to decision-making positions in the game, and ascension usually doesn't happen by accident. Buying a team with the goal of assuming baseball operations authority is a quick recipe to field a loser.*
*Full disclosure: my dream in life is to buy a minor league team in retirement, and yes, take every bit of power I can grab. But that's life, isn't it? We can all do better than the next guy.
Point is, in my view, we shouldn't be upset that Frank is telling Mannion what he can spend and letting the baseball guy take charge. This, of course, leaves the matter of exactly how much money Colletti actually has to play with. Dylan Hernandez is on the case. Noting no current plans to decrease player payroll, Hernandez reports:
Colletti didn't rule out that payroll could increase, and downplayed concerns that have been raised about owner Frank McCourt's divorce proceedings and the club's decision not to offer any of its free agents salary arbitration. The club began last season with a payroll around $100 million.
"A lot of it depends on how the winter unfolds with revenue and different things along those lines," Colletti said. "If we see good signs, it goes up. If we don't see good signs, it probably doesn't go up."I should be very clear right away: this is not how I want my baseball team run. I do not want player payroll to be highly correlated with the previous winter's season ticket sales. Why? Two reasons.
1. Investment in the organization should not be a year-to-year decision. There should always be $7 million available for a top-shelf amateur free agent. There should always be flexibility to add payroll through trade if the price (in prospects) is right. A player should never be passed over in the draft because of cost concerns. None of these points are meant to read that the Dodgers should always seek the most expensive players. Just that if your baseball guys run up the ladder and say that Player X at $7 million is an absolute steal, that $7 million needs to be there. It must not be dependent on season ticket renewals.
2. That 2010 payroll decisions are based on this winter's revenue forecasts suggests that the Dodgers are indeed running on perilously slim margins. Yes, it doesn't look like the payroll will decrease. But short of doing something completely insane--say, trading one of the team's premium young players who is arb-eligible--the payroll really cannot decrease. These guys are getting raises. At last year's $100 million mark, there just isn't room for free agents this winter.
Bottom line is that a major-market team should never have to operate like this. Either the team just really doesn't have the cash to make long-term investments, or the divorce really is casting a cloud of such uncertainty over the future of the franchise that spending is effectively frozen. Because--make no mistake--it is.
In the Simers piece, we get a rare acknowledgement of the divorce's potential impact from the Dodgers' front office:
As for the impact McCourt's divorce might have on the team's budget, Mannion says, "I do not believe this year, 2010, the Dodgers will be impacted by anything relative to the McCourts' personal life.
"I can't predict what will happen in 2011. I'm not a family lawyer and don't understand what might happen in the long term."I'm not a family lawyer either, but I do understand this: if we are to believe Mannion, the club's penury this offseason is unrelated to the divorce. The Dodgers would have had no flexibility this winter, divorce or not. And even the man who doesn't understand what might happen in the long-term is already thinking the divorce's impact won't be felt until 2011.
There's no cash now. Investment in young players has ebbed for years. And the divorce hasn't hit the books yet.
I'm going to make a special effort to enjoy the 2010 team. Whatever flotsam and jetsam Colletti is able to stuff into the last two rotation spots, the team will be competitive because of its young core. If the club can't invest in young players and can't retain its developing stars, next year's team might be the last competitive one for a while.
I'm sure that there are many of you out there rooting for Jamie in the divorce, simply because it's the quickest way to new ownership. I can't say I blame you.