Angels arrive; Dodgers need directions
Arte Moreno shocks Los Angeles and the baseball world on an early December morning
DALLAS -- Jerry Dipoto was asked, pretty much point blank, in the final hours of baseball's winter meetings what his team's blockbuster morning -- it had just added both the top position player and top starting pitcher in this year's free-agent market -- meant for the two major league clubs whose names begin with the words Los Angeles.
Dipoto, the newly named general manager of the Angels who hasn't been around long enough to relax or speak candidly in front of media gatherings, resorted to misdirection and talked more about the players he had just signed. Wisely, perhaps, he refrained from pointing out the all-too-obvious, that the Angels, even if they do play in happy, magical, mouse-eared-and-pixie-dusted Anaheim, had proved they are deadly serious about continuing to be the kings of baseball in the Southland.
Is it a temporary condition, with all the upside-downness of things in Southern California destined to return to their natural order just as soon as Dodgers owner Frank McCourt hands over the keys of the formerly storied Dodgers to Magic Johnson or Mark Cuban or Dennis Gilbert or whomever? Not, apparently, if Angels owner Arte Moreno has anything to say about it.
Coming off a season in which his team bested the Dodgers in overall attendance for the first time in its 51-year history, Moreno may be sensing that his local dominance is in danger of ending when the Dodgers become, presumably, better heeled. But by making by far the loudest financial statement of these winter meetings despite the fact that he wasn't even here, Moreno has served notice: He isn't going to let that happen without a fight.
The Angels added a third (or fourth) starter, but one who was the ace of a staff that wound up in the World Series the past two years, and they added the best hitter of his generation and possibly of all time. The Dodgers added a utility infielder and a fifth starter to go with the fourth starter they signed last week, all while the guy who was at least their second-best starter over the past four years, Hiroki Kuroda, walked away because the Dodgers didn't have the money to bring him back.
The Angels' biggest worry right now is whether this will allow them to overtake the two-time defending American League champion Texas Rangers in the AL West. The Dodgers' biggest worry right now is whether their assemblage of spare parts, guys they hope can bounce back from injuries, and guys they hope can bounce back from subpar seasons will allow them to keep from drowning in the NL West.
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The Dodgers are all about history and tradition and lore. The Angels are all about the here and now, and the future, both short- and long-term.
There is hope for these Dodgers, but the promise of a brighter tomorrow is, well, not exactly a promise. Who knows who will end up owning this team? Who can guarantee that the assumed white knight who comes in to save this franchise from McCourt won't drag it further into national irrelevance? That isn't likely. But it also isn't impossible.
A little more than a decade ago, when your humble correspondent was chronicling the once-proud Cincinnati Reds, fans in that town were giddy over the fact that the almost universally despised Marge Schott had agreed, largely at the prodding of Major League Baseball, to step aside. Her tenure as owner had included a couple of division titles and a World Series championship, but her embarrassing behavior and public statements and her notorious frugality in running the club had made her a pariah.So in came Carl Lindner, a beloved Cincinnati businessman and philanthropist whose name was on buildings all over town. A white knight? Hardly. Lindner's ill-fated tenure began with a sizzle, a high-profile trade for hometown hero Ken Griffey Jr. After that, it was pretty much all fizzle: one winning season (his first), not a single postseason appearance, and annual player payrolls that gave the club no chance to compete, even in the mostly small-market NL Central.
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Could the same thing happen at Chavez Ravine? Not likely. The McCourt fiasco has left the league so scarred that MLB's vetting process this time will be painstakingly thorough. We can probably expect that the new owner will return the Dodgers to their once-proud position within the NL and spend enough money to make them perennial World Series contenders. But can they compete within their own market? That's another question entirely.
Angels outfielder Torii Hunter, who lives nearby and stopped by the winter meetings for some media appearances, underscored Moreno's commitment.
"We have a good chance to take that crown away from the [Rangers],'' Hunter said. "We have a good chance to win. Arte has done that every year, given us a chance to win. I love that guy.''
Can you imagine a Dodgers player saying that about McCourt? Or this: "I want to ... finish my career here,'' Hunter said of the Angels. "It won't be about money. When you have an owner like Arte, you don't leave. When you have an owner like Arte, you want to play for him.''
Moreno has set that bar high from the moment he arrived in 2003. On Thursday, he set it at an astronomical level. The Angels are simply a better-run operation than the Dodgers, and have been at least since Moreno took over, maybe longer. McCourt's failures and foibles have been underscored only by Moreno's dogged determination to put a winning team on the field while McCourt was out buying houses.
And because of that, Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti was forced to come to these winter meetings and shop for the likes of Jerry Hairston and Aaron Harang. Could they be the pieces who put the Dodgers over the top in the still-shallow NL West next year? Who knows? But in the competition for the attention and the disposable income of Southern California baseball fans, it's nothing short of laughable.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLA.com.