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Quake Strikes Los Angeles: Report From the Epicenter
2004-12-17 02:28
by Jon Weisman

It takes courage to rush into an earthquake-damaged building before the aftershocks are over, but this is what we do.

Priority One - Rescue
The population of MLB Town is about 1,200, and they're just about the best at what they do in the world. True, most lack the skill set needed this morning by the desperate in Dodger Stadium, and most of those who could help simply aren't available to us, but there's always someone who can pitch a helpful hand. If you can feel the breath in front of your face, you're not dead yet. You may be hurting, but it never helps to give up.

Priority Two - Search for Casualties
For a team on the mend after years of struggle, Thursday's quake hits hard. Adrian Beltre is gone, and we don't know where Shawn Green, Brad Penny or Yhency Brazoban are, although overnight we heard signs that they might still be with us.

The Beltre departure, no matter what you thought of him, leaves a deep hole. Looking back, you are now 48 home runs, an OPS over 1.000, and Gold Glove-caliber defense shy of winning a division, even before you factor in the Dodgers' other post-October personnel losses. Whether or not you thought Beltre would repeat this season's production, you have to find some approximation of it somewhere.

Green and Brazoban had less significant if important roles in the Dodger livelihood in 2004. Penny, having been limited by injuries, was a potential healing influence for 2005.

Priority Three - Assess the Foundation
It's plenty shaky in parts. Catcher, third base, and the starting rotation are places you don't want to stand. Your main duck-and-cover spots are in your closer (Eric Gagne), a power-hitting infielder in Jeff Kent, some mid-offense potential in the outfield and in the controversial Hee Seop Choi, strong defense in most spots, and a highly-regarded farm system. There's open air in some rooms where a roof should be, but it's not a complete disaster.

Priority Four - Examine the Survivors
Here is an estimate of 2005 salaries for the current 25-man roster. With many contracts unsigned and the exact nature of others in dispute, it's not going to be completely accurate, but it will get you in the neighborhood. (We'll also take the liberty of throwing in Wilson Alvarez, even though he is a free agent, to complete the roster.)

Starting Rotation
$7,750,000 Jeff Weaver
$5,000,000 Brad Penny
$3,230,000 Kazuhisa Ishii
$1,300,000 Elmer Dessens
$325,000 Edwin Jackson

$7,500,000 Eric Gagne
$2,000,000 Wilson Alvarez
$325,000 Yhency Brazoban
$325,000 Duaner Sanchez
$500,000 Giovanni Carrara
$310,000 D.J. Houlton
Starting Lineup
$16,000,000 Shawn Green
$8,500,000 Jeff Kent
$3,000,000 Milton Bradley
$2,000,000 Alex Cora
$1,300,000 Cesar Izturis
$325,000 Hee-Seop Choi
$325,000 Jayson Werth
$325,000 David Ross
$1,250,000 Ricky Ledee
$350,000 Olmedo Saenz
$325,000 Jason Grabowski
$310,000 Antonio Perez
$310,000 Mike Rose
$310,000 Cody Ross (or whoever)

Disabled List
$13,000,000 Darren Dreifort
Total: $76,195,000

Trading the Green, Penny and Brazoban salaries for Javier Vasquez, as has been rumored, would reduce the payroll by at least $11 million.

Priority Five - Determine Liability
Well, isn't it obvious?

Blame lies with Dodger owner Frank McCourt, who bought and operates the team with mortgage cash and whose ultimate interest in Los Angeles may be in building his own fortunes, not the team's.

Unless blame lies with Dodger general manager Paul DePodesta, who had enough resources to sign Beltre, but either didn't top a topable offer, or so bungled the negotiations that topping it didn't matter.

Unless blame lies with Beltre, who outthought himself and left on the table a rich contract with a defending division champion, where he was a hero in a sunny, top media market, to go to a rainy last-place team.

Unless, in the immortal words of Howard Jones, no one is to blame. (But someone probably is.)

We don't know what happened yet, and as much as the primal need to judge moves us, it's too soon to figure it all out. There just isn't enough information. Someday, we'll understand it all. Not today.

Priority One - Finance the Rebuild
Yep, our last priority is our first. What have the Dodgers got to work with?

As we've seen, with Green in Los Angeles, Los Angeles has payroll commitments near $80 million. Without him, the payroll drops below $70 million.

We've been told in the past that the Dodger salary limit would be $100 million - but in a week where we can take nothing for granted, how can we really know? Does Los Angeles have $30 million to spend? Or is it $20 million? Or is it $10 million? Or less?

Nearly a year after the fumble of Vladimir Guerrero crystalized questions about Dodger leadership, we are back at the same place. In the intervening months, Los Angeles won its first playoff game in 16 years. Was that a sign of resiliency, or the fluke that will herald a deeper collapse?

It doesn't need to be the latter. But even the best scientists can't seem to predict when the next quake will come.

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