Mannion: Divorce no issue for Dodgers
PARADISE VALLEY, Ariz. -- Dodgers president Dennis Mannion, here for Major League Baseball's quarterly owners' meetings, said that the ongoing divorce of owner Frank McCourt and his estranged wife, Jamie, is having no impact on player payroll and isn't the reason the Dodgers have been largely unable to upgrade their roster so far this winter.
"I don't think we're hamstrung by Frank and Jamie's situation," Mannion said. "If anything, we are more challenged by the [poor] economy. The toughest thing is taking a gamble with your talent when you don't know what your revenues are going to be."
Mannion also said the negotiations on a possible multiyear contract for Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp are not being affected by the divorce.
Dave Stewart, Kemp's agent and a former Dodgers pitcher, had speculated in a Tuesday night interview with Sirius XM's MLB Home Plate channel that "uncertainty of ownership" was the reason the club was unwilling to go beyond two years.
"It hasn't been said by the ballclub, but I think with the uncertainty of ownership that they're keeping it very short-term," Stewart said. "Two years."
Mannion said he hasn't been directly involved in those negotiations and has left them to general manager Ned Colletti and his staff. But Mannion also said Colletti is under no orders to limit any offers to Kemp to two years.
"It's Ned's negotiation to have," Mannion said. "Ned has latitude to bring back any kind of deal he wants to bring back."
Jamie McCourt is claiming a legal ownership stake in the club, a matter that isn't expected to be resolved until a May 24 court hearing.
A two-year deal would be highly unusual for a player such as Kemp, who is in his first winter of arbitration eligibility. Players at that stage, if they are able to avoid going to arbitration, usually do so by agreeing either to a one-year contract that will get them to their second year of arbitration, or a much longer deal that will provide the player with long-term financial security. The latter scenario allows the team to buy the player out of his final years of arbitration eligibility -- and possibly his first year or two of free agency -- presumably for less money over the life of the contract.
A two-year contract would still leave Kemp with one more winter of arbitration eligibility after the 2011 season. He won't be eligible for free agency until after 2012.
Kemp is one of eight remaining Dodgers who are eligible for arbitration after reserve outfielder Jason Repko agreed to terms on a one-year, $500,000 deal last weekend.
Frank McCourt didn't arrive at the meetings until early evening. As he walked briskly into the Sanctuary Resort and Spa, a swank property owned by Cincinnati Reds owner Bob Castellini, McCourt shook hands and exchanged pleasantries with a small group of reporters. But in keeping with his practice since the news of his pending divorce became public last fall, McCourt did not grant an interview.
Even as he attributed the Dodgers' sagging season-ticket renewals for the upcoming season to "unpaid accounts" -- potential buyers who have committed to renewing but haven't yet paid for their renewals -- Mannion conceded that in the current economy, the Dodgers and other clubs will have to be more innovative than before when it comes to selling tickets.
"I think we can get to 3.5 million-plus again," Mannion said of season attendance. "But I think the only way to get that done is by doing more innovative promotions and packaging. You can't just rely on the team's performance or season-ticket sales. I think you will see a lot more innovative things like packaging [a ticket] with parking, concessions and retail."
Mannion said for the upcoming season the Dodgers will offer a 28-game "premium" ticket package, with those games primarily chosen based on the opponent. Those tickets will carry a higher price than they would for other games.
Dodgers manager Joe Torre, whom commissioner Bud Selig appointed to a special committee to address on-field issues, was to arrive Thursday. The committee consists of three other managers -- Detroit's Jim Leyland, the Angels' Mike Scioscia and St. Louis' Tony La Russa -- as well as a handful of general managers, executives and syndicated columnist George Will. It is scheduled to convene for the first time Thursday afternoon.
One of the primary topics will be the tightening of baseball's postseason schedule, something that could be done either by eliminating some off days or expanding the first round to a best-of-seven format to match the league championship and World Series.
"We have talked about that and talked about it a lot," Selig said. "The problem is everybody wants to [complain] to me about going into November, but they also want to add to the [postseason] schedule."
Tony Jackson is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com.