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McCourt says Dodgers not going cheap

2/9/2010

Why didn't the Dodgers offer arbitration to Randy Wolf? Frank McCourt address this question and many, many more in Jon Weisman's wide-ranging interview.

    "I think that the downside wouldn't have been horrible," McCourt said, "because he's a very good pitcher, and he pitched very well for us and he was a model citizen. From the area, really classy young man and so forth. But the judgment was made, and again, judgments are judgments. They're not perfect. No one has a crystal ball.

    "I, by the way, can see both sides of this debate, very, very clearly. To me this is one really good baseball debate, in terms of 'Do you or don't you.' I think, like I was saying before, what would have happened (if we had offered arbitration), maybe Randy Wolf knows, but I don't. And I don't think the downside would have been bad for the organization, because he's a good pitcher and a good guy, but I think that the judgment was made that we (could) do even better for the club."

    That decision will certainly be tested, as will the one with Hudson. The second baseman's signing last week of a one-year, $5 million contract with Minnesota might have vindicated the Dodgers' decision on him, since Hudson could potentially have earned twice that amount in salary arbitration, based on the typical raise awarded to an arbitration-eligible player who earned $8 million the year before.

    The roughly $5 million the Dodgers saved can help make up for the lost draft picks had Hudson refused arbitration -- after all, the chances of a low first-round pick earning back the team's investment in him, plus $5 million, aren't all that high -- while the combination of Blake DeWitt, Jamey Carroll and Ronnie Belliard could come close to approximating Hudson's 2010 value, while saving another $2.5 million or so.

Arbitration for veteran players is a losing proposition for the club, because the player will be paid for what he's done (and earned) rather than what he'll do (and should earn). There was a time, not so long ago, when clubs would offer arbitration to essentially anybody who could play reasonably well, regardless of the ultimate cost.

Those days are gone.

If Orlando Hudson wound up getting $5 million but he'd have cost the Dodgers $10 million, doesn't that mean they would have overpaid by $5 million. Well, that depends on how you look at it. Maybe he'll actually be worth $8 million, in which case they would have been overpaying by only $10 million. Or he might actually be worth $10 million.

Wolf who presumably would have been in line for at least $8 million and probably more in arbitration, and wound up signing with the Brewers for three years and $30 million. The Dodgers probably miscalculated here, because if Wolf's agent knew a contract like that was out there, they probably wouldn't have accepted arbitration and the Dodgers would have picked up a couple of draft picks, essentially for free.

But that's what McCourt means by "judgments." In the case of Hudson the Dodgers' judgment was probably correct; in the case of Wolf it probably wasn't. The trick is to avoid a one-size-fits-all mindset, but could a group of reasonable people have known that Wolf would get 30 million and Hudson only five?

I don't know. I do look at the Dodgers' roster and see only a few question marks:

1. Will James Loney hit like a first baseman is supposed to?

2. Will Joe Torre find a gem among all those second base candidates?

3. Who will be the Dodgers' No. 5 starter?

Yes, there would be just one question mark if the Dodgers had ponied up for Wolf and Hudson, and the Dodgers would be the clear favorites to win the West (again). But if McCourt really is plowing all that Wolf/Hudson money into the future, the departure of those two short time Dodgers will be hardly remembered.