- Mark Saxon, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Dodgers ushered in 2012 with a divorce settlement. They hope they've ended it with the promise of years of marital bliss.
It was a year of courting for the Dodgers, who worked on wooing a loyal but disgusted fan base back to Dodger Stadium and coaxing free agents into buying into their vision of the coming years.
Like some obscene Hollywood wedding, it dripped with glamour and excess, starting with the sale price of $2 billion paid by Magic Johnson's group and continuing with more than $600 million spent on new player contracts and about $100 million on stadium upgrades.
It made billionaires and millionaires along the way, starting with former owner Frank McCourt, who despite his miserly, sometimes bungling stewardship of the team walked away with, as general manager Ned Colletti put it, "a nice, round number." The dollar trail continued through a series of bold trades and free-agent acquisitions, the capper a six-year, $147 million deal with top free-agent pitcher Zack Greinke.
Now, there's only one appreciable goal left for manager Don Mattingly and his star-studded team if it hopes to lock in fan loyalty for years to come: win some games. Maybe even make the playoffs for the first time since 2009. Who knows, maybe even reach and win the World Series for the first time since 1988.
Let's take a look back at some key dates in an epic year in Dodgers history:
McCourt gave up a battle he had fought over two years and in two separate courtrooms. He agreed to sell the team. He and Major League Baseball agreed to seek the approval of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court to auction the Dodgers.
At the time, Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "The sale is expected to include the team, Dodger Stadium and the surrounding parking lots, a package that McCourt bought for $421 million in 2004 and is likely to sell for two to three times that much."
In fact, the Dodgers would sell for more than five times what McCourt paid.
March 29, 2012
The Dodgers announced they had been sold for $2 billion to a group fronted by Johnson and including Stan Kasten, a former executive with the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals, but financed largely by Guggenheim Partners CEO Mark Walter.
Some members of the ownership group also partnered with McCourt to acquire Dodger Stadium and some nearby properties for $150 million.
"I'm very impressed with both of them, and I just hope that they can bring the championship to the greatest fans in all of baseball," Dodgers icon Tommy Lasorda said.
The sale became official on May 1.
The Dodgers opened the season with a $90 million payroll, but they exceeded expectations early. Slugger Matt Kemp started out the season with a vengeance and, by the end of a weekend series with the San Diego Padres, the Dodgers had a 9-1 record, their best mark since the start of the strike-shortened 1981 season.
Kemp would become the first player ever to win back-to-back player of the week honors.
Amazingly, the Dodgers nearly got through April without a single loss at home, but Martin Prado had a tiebreaking RBI triple off closer Javy Guerra and the Braves won 4-3 at Dodger Stadium. Still, the Dodgers were off to a rollicking start at 13-5.
The pregame buzz was all about Bryce Harper, the 19-year-old uber-prospect who was making his major league debut. The postgame talk was all about Kemp, who hit a walk-off home run leading off the 10th inning and circled the bases to chants of "MVP!" once again.
Still, Dodgers fans might have seen something they can later tell their grandkids about. Harper doubled and hit a key sacrifice fly, the beginning of what would prove to be a Rookie of the Year season.
Perhaps the worst day of the season for Dodgers fans, at least in retrospect. The Dodgers were playing the Colorado Rockies in a Sunday afternoon game when Kemp felt some tightness in his left hamstring. He left the game and was sent off for an MRI afterward. Few people knew it at the time, but Kemp's injury would become one of the central stories of the season, the Dodgers at first bucking up to his absence but later buckling under it. He would spend the minimum 15 days on the disabled list, but that wouldn't be the end of the injury.
Kemp was pulling into third base after Andre Ethier's double in the first inning when he felt a major pull in his hamstring again. This time, it was far worse and Kemp knew it. On his way into the dugout, he broke a bat over his knee.
He would be out until after the All-Star game, the Dodgers going 15-22 in his absence, much of the early magic dissipating.
In a move that would foreshadow many of the higher-profile signings to come, the Dodgers continued their torrid spending by signing Cuban defector Yasiel Puig to a seven-year, $42 million contract.
Puig, 21, would go on to have a strong first season in professional baseball, culminating at Single-A Rancho Cucamonga. More importantly, the Puig signing indicated the Dodgers owners meant what they said when they promised they would spend money to improve the team.
Kemp returned to the lineup, as did star right fielder Andre Ethier, but Mark Ellis stole the show, hitting a two-run home run to help Clayton Kershaw beat the Padres, 2-1. You would have expected the Dodgers to take off at that point, but it didn't quite work out that way. They lost four in a row after that and six of the next 11 to slip three games back in the NL West.
The first major domino fell, as the Dodgers acquired one of the game's brightest talents, shortstop Hanley Ramirez, in a trade with the Miami Marlins. Ramirez carried plenty of baggage with him from run-ins with Miami managers, but he also stabilized the left side of the Dodgers' infield and injected much-needed power in their lineup. Ramirez had been moved to third base by the Marlins, but within weeks, he would return to his natural position at shortstop.
His defense proved shaky, but he gave Dodgers fans hope that their team was back in the business of acquiring big-time talent.
Trading deadline and just beyond
The Dodgers continued to be active in trade talks, landing scrappy leadoff guy Shane Victorino and starting pitcher Joe Blanton in two trades with the Philadelphia Phillies. In both cases, the Phillies were looking to clear some payroll and shed future free agents and the Dodgers obliged by taking on money for what they hoped would be a strong pennant push.
The big one, the most expensive trade in baseball history, the Dodgers acquired Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Nick Punto and injured outfielder Carl Crawford from the Boston Red Sox. It was a transaction that would see them take on more than $260 million in salary obligations.
The move was intended to accelerate the Dodgers' push back to the playoffs and allowed the Red Sox to start over in what had been a frustrating and tension-filled season.
Gonzalez hit a key home run in his first Dodgers at-bat and it appeared as if good times were at Dodger Stadium again.
Not quite. The Dodgers would go 5-12 over the next 17 games, falling to 7½ games behind the San Francisco Giants, their playoff hopes fading. It was a key game against the St. Louis Cardinals, who entered it leading in the wild card by just one game. But the Dodgers' offense continued to stall in a 2-1 loss, their fourth in a row.
With the Dodgers' hopes foundering, Mattingly called a rare team meeting in San Diego. According to players, the normally laid-back manager was surprisingly animated, urging them to be accountable for their play. It's hard to know if that was the spark, but the Dodgers would win their next six games and pull themselves back into a semblance of a playoff race.
It all came crashing to a halt as the Dodgers lost to Barry Zito and the San Francisco Giants in the second-to-last game of the regular season, their playoff hopes officially dead. Dodger Stadium had a playoff atmosphere that evening, but the Dodgers made some key mistakes, the most glaring being Mark Ellis' baserunning gaffe, getting thrown out at third by Angel Pagan trying to stretch a double.
Mattingly would also come under scrutiny for intentionally walking Pagan to get to the league's hottest hitter, Marco Scutaro, who hit a two-run double.
After the game, Mattingly shared his office with several of the Dodgers' owners. The clubhouse was quiet.
The Dodgers continued to try to spend their way out of disappointment. They beat out the Texas Rangers and Chicago Cubs to post the highest fee ($25.7 million) for the right to negotiate with Korean left-hander Ryu Hyun-Jin. The posting gave them a 30-day window to work out a contract with Ryu's agent, Scott Boras. Ryu was a seven-time All-Star for the Hanwha Eagles of the Korean Baseball Organization.
It had been a frustrating winter meetings for the Dodgers, who made scant progress in signing Ryu and left Nashville wondering whether Greinke would choose the Texas Rangers over them. But a sizeable gap between the Dodgers' offer (believed to be six years and $140 million) and Greinke's demands (thought to be seven years, $175 million and a no-trade clause) closed surprisingly fast.
Greinke agreed to take the Dodgers' offer, giving the team what it viewed as the perfect No. 2 starter to slot behind Kershaw.
The next day, the Dodgers signed Ryu just seconds before the 30-day window closed. In Ryu and Greinke, the Dodgers think they have two additions that will make their rotation the rival of the Giants' and, combined with the moves in midsummer, give them a formidable team going into April 2013.
Now, they just have to play it out.
The Dodgers are full of promise in 2013.