Say what you will about Frank McCourt — and this is the L.A. Weekly, so expletives are acceptable — the Dodgers' former owner did right by Los Angeles with the signing of Matt Kemp to an eight-year, $160 million contract on his way out of town.
It was November 18, 2011. McCourt was six months from completing his Major League Baseball-forced sale of the club to Guggenheim at the time, and whatever his motives, locked up the team's franchise player, coming off a Most Valuable Player-runner-up season at age 26, for below-market value a year before he could hit free agency.
While the team has changed hands, for the better of seemingly everyone (with the possible exception of a certain franchise 400 miles to the north), the Dodgers are in a similar position with their shortstop now. Like Kemp two years ago, Hanley Ramirez is a year from free agency, just finished an MVP-like campaign of his own — albeit with just a half-season's worth of play — and is expected to be the team's best hitter on Opening Day.
Los Angeles can either sign him to a monster contract extension this winter, with a yearly salary perhaps north of $25 million per, or let him play for his next deal. They would be wise to pass on the extension and kick the can down the road (and no, that's not a reference to a certain Ramirez play in 2010).
I don't subscribe to the “Hanley is made of glass” label put on him by a blogger following Ramirez' fractured-rib-NLCS-HBP, and quite frankly, think it's crap. But while both that unfortunate October incident and the broken thumb sustained in the World Baseball Classic last March in San Francisco can be described as freak accidents, Ramirez also has a worrisome shoulder, recurring back issues and a hamstring problem to consider.
He's missed over 70 games in two of the last three seasons, is three years older than Kemp was two offseasons ago, and there's a considerable difference between committing both years and dollars to a player who objectively should be considered at least somewhat brittle (and perhaps best suited to the American League) before signing him to a new deal and learning about the injuries after, as was the case with Kemp.
From 2008 to 2011 Kemp played in 155, 159, 162 and 161 games, respectively, with increased home run production each year, and looked to be every bit the iron man moving forward. No one could have predicted the injuries to come in 2012 and 2013. With Ramirez, you can.
The Dodgers have enough money committed to players heading into their mid-thirties. Sure, they may trade some of it away, but we're talking about $82.5 million committed to Carl Crawford through 2017, when he'll be 35; $69 mil for Andre Ethier until he's 35 in 2017; $106 mil through Adrian Gonzalez' 36-year-old season of 2018 and $128 mil for Kemp, who will be 34 when his contract expires in 2019.
Had L.A. let Ethier play for his contract rather than extend him a year early, they might have benefitted from a better performance, as is so often the case with a player in his walk year. He'd be a free agent now, with the team likely looking at draft pick compensation instead of all those millions owed.
Ramirez is a great hitter, a great Dodger who wants to be here. The club will have every opportunity to re-sign him a year from now if he's healthy and if they so choose. He won't bolt. It's time to focus on the team's most precious resource — Clayton Kershaw — who just might. And if the Dodgers aren't careful Kersh might high-tail it to his hometown Texas Rangers before you can say Jack Robinson.
I suggest the club start the conversation with Kershaw by making like a waitress: “What would you like, Mr. Kershaw? Short-term deal, mid-range contract or longest-contract-for-the-most-money-in-history? Would you like fries with that? Don't worry if it's not on the menu. You can get anything you want.”
Other Dodgers' notes
Don't fret over the supposed issues with the new posting system agreement between MLB and Nippon Professional Baseball, about how it puts the other 29 clubs on equal footing with Los Angeles, and about how the Rakuten Golden Eagles might not allow Masahiro Tanaka to come to the United States this winter. Because of the Dodgers' track record of success with Japanese players, because of their deep pockets, because of the Japanese American culture in L.A., and because of the city's proximity to the Pacific Ocean, Stan Kasten and company have the inside track. Tanaka will be a Dodger in 2014.
Don't fret over the Kemp trade rumors either, frightening though they may be. The Bison isn't going anywhere. Of course, if I'm wrong and he is going, he might be going soon, as in any minute now. The Winter Meetings begin Monday morning in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.
Stocking stuffers. Check out Southland native Dave Hobrecht's “game used art,” which includes works featuring Dodgers such as Jackie Robinson. You'll find more Jackie-related treasures among the 22 pages of baseball memorabilia being auctioned at SCP Auctions now through Sunday.
Happy Holidays, Los Angeles. Remember, glove conquers all.