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Over a Barrel, or Under It?
2003-12-17 08:10
by Jon Weisman

Either way, the Dodgers may have to roll with it down a potholed road.

Newsday, the first publication to report the Kevin Brown for Jeff Weaver trade when it was actually happening, states this morning that neither Nomar Garciaparra nor Magglio Ordonez will not be traded to the Dodgers, but traded for each other.

The Los Angeles Times also has the sudden rumor, although tag-teamers Ross and Jason add that the White Sox might still trade Garciaparra to Los Angeles.

Essentially, by creating the possibility of withholding both these players from the Dodgers, the White Sox may force Dan Evans to cave in and surrender more talent than he wants, to get just one of them.

There is reason to panic if you're a Dodger fan, but it may not be the obvious one.

The Dodgers could well survive and even prosper without Garciaparra or Ordonez. Keep in mind that both players are rentals. Each has a contract that expires in 2004. Ten months from now, the Dodgers could easily rue the day they gave up multiple players for one of them.

Sign Vladimir Guerrero, and you're in clover, picking up the jewel of the free agent market while retaining Odalis Perez, Guillermo Mota and the niblets of promising young pitching the team has nurtured.

Ah, but here's the alarming part. As Bob Keisser writes in a strong column for the Long Beach Press-Telegram:

While the public mandate given Evans was to improve the team while staying under last year's self-imposed salary cap, sources believe Fox higher-ups made it clear they will not approve any major multiyear free-agent signing.

That explains why Evans has been so focused on Nomar Garciaparra and Magglio Ordonez, whose contracts expire after the 2004 season, rather than free agents Miguel Tejada and Vladimir Guerrero. An investment in Nomar or Magglio doesn't tie up any long-term money.

Is this where the barrel rolls over us? Yes, Dan Evans is promised no salary cutbacks for 2004 - but what about 2005? Will the Dodger payroll be slashed $20 million? $30 million? $40 million?

On the one hand, I feel I'm jumping the gun on this. On the other, with Frank McCourt's loan-heavy purchase proposal - redefining the term "collateral damage" - maybe I've been all too slow to realize what's going to happen.

If that is the scenario, here is what we're looking at:

1) For the Dodgers to compete in 2004, they may have to trade young talent like Edwin Jackson, Greg Miller, Joel Hanrahan, Franklin Gutierrez or James Loney.

2) For the Dodgers to compete in 2005 and beyond, they may need young talent like Edwin Jackson, Greg Miller, Joel Hanrahan, Franklin Gutierrez and James Loney.

That barrel's got us where it wants us, all right. The fury of the Dodger fans will be intense if the team does not add a single power hitter this offseason, prospects be damned. But if the 2005 budget is going to be cut, there is no best-case scenario aside from the Dodgers actually winning the World Series next year. Unless he conjures some Billy Beane or Billy Beane-like magic, McCourt will have smothered the means to improve the team beyond next season.

Which do you pick: one shot at winning in 2004, or bitter patience so that we can turn to the young core to carry the Dodgers through the rest of the aughts?

Hell, who'd have thought we'd have to choose?

When the McCourt agreement was announced two months ago, I was nervous. That's my nature. That being said, the possibility of rollbacks in 2005 has only just started to sink in for me - I'm not sure I can fully appreciate it yet. Maybe it's still all paranoia.

Isn't it wonderful, though, that Major League Baseball is going to great lengths to keep a gag order on McCourt, to ensure that the fans of the Los Angeles Dodgers are kept completely in the dark about the team's future.

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