Dodgers move ahead
Russell Martin, who rebuffed the Dodgers’ overtures about a long-term contract last winter, said Thursday he would like to explore such a deal this winter.
“I’m always interested in a long-term deal,” Martin said. “Who wouldn’t be?”
On the day the Dodgers formally released Andruw Jones, owners Frank and Jamie McCourt invited Martin to a private lunch here. Martin, an All-Star in each of the last two years, then joined the McCourts on a media tour of the Dodgers’ new spring home.
Martin said the lunch was informal, and his contract status did not come up. He officially filed for salary arbitration Thursday -- as did Jonathan Broxton, Andre Ethier and Jason Repko -- and General Manager Ned Colletti said the Dodgers are “concentrating on a one-year [contract] at the moment.”
But Martin, who has changed agents this winter, said he hoped to discuss a long-term extension as well.
“I just want to get treated fairly,” he said. “I’m not trying to steal the bank.”
The Dodgers had agreed to trade or release Jones by Thursday in exchange for his deferring all but $3.7 million of the $22.1 million remaining on his contract. Still, if another team signs him to a major league contract, the Dodgers remain liable for all but the $400,000 minimum salary.
The agreement contains a provision in which the Dodgers waived any future claims against Jones. McCourt confirmed Thursday he had considered voiding the contract of Jones, who reported to camp last season significantly overweight, on the basis that he had violated the standard contractual obligation “to keep himself in first-class physical condition or to obey the club’s training rules.”
Such an action would have been met with an immediate grievance from the players’ union. McCourt said he explored the issue last summer but decided against trying to terminate the contract.
“I didn’t want to create a controversy,” McCourt said. “You’re tempted to do something -- and maybe even have the right to do it -- but we wanted to stay focused on winning a championship.”
Colletti said Jones, a five-time All-Star, had asked for a trade. Jones hit .222 with 29 home runs for the Atlanta Braves in 2007, his lowest batting average and fewest home runs in a decade. He signed a two-year, $36-million contract with the Dodgers, then batted .158 with three home runs.
“Last year, [Manager] Joe Torre tried so many things -- [hitting coaches] Don Mattingly, Mike Easler, Jeff Pentland, endless sessions,” Colletti said. “Obviously, nothing worked.
“Nobody could have foreseen this a year ago. The move was heralded. We felt good about it. Our scouts felt good about it. It never happened.”
In July, the Dodgers acquired Manny Ramirez to be the big bat Jones was supposed to be. Ramirez, who powered the Dodgers into the playoffs, remains a free agent.
Colletti said he had spoken with Ramirez’s representatives as recently as Monday. The San Francisco Giants also are in discussions with Ramirez, but neither team is believed to be interested in providing the four-year contract requested by agent Scott Boras.
“We’ve made it very clear we would love to have Manny back,” McCourt said. “I trust by now he knows that.”
Said Martin: “I don’t think there’s anybody that wants him more than the Dodgers.”
Martin said he is pleased with the Dodgers’ acquisition of Mark Loretta and retention of Rafael Furcal and Casey Blake.
“The young guys always need people to look up to,” Martin said.
The Dodgers are pursuing starting pitchers Jon Garland, Braden Looper and Randy Wolf -- and to a lesser extent Andy Pettitte -- and relievers Luis Ayala and Dennys Reyes. They no longer appear to be interested in reliever Juan Cruz, whose signing would have cost them a first-round draft pick.
The Dodgers’ player payroll is projected to drop significantly this year, with or without Ramirez. McCourt said the payroll decline and other business decisions -- Jones’ salary deferral, the agreement to pay Furcal his signing bonus at the end of his contract rather than the beginning, the acquisitions of Ramirez, Blake and Greg Maddux at virtually no cost last season, the delay in renovations of the loge level and clubhouses at Dodger Stadium -- did not reflect a cash flow concern.
“The Dodgers are one of the most well-run franchises in all of baseball,” McCourt said. “We’re going to continue to run it that way.”
A high-ranking baseball official, not authorized to discuss team finances publicly, said the commissioner’s office last reviewed the books of every club in December and had no concerns about the Dodgers.
“This is an incredibly sound franchise,” McCourt said. “It was not when we bought it.”
The Dodgers players report to their new spring home, dubbed Camelback Ranch and shared with the Chicago White Sox, on Feb. 14.
The stadium seats 10,000 in the main bowl -- all seats with backs, no benches -- and 3,000 more on a lawn behind the outfield fence. There is room to build 2,000 more seats down the baselines, McCourt said.
As construction workers scampered around the complex, Martin was in awe.
“It’s everything I thought it would be -- times 1 million,” he said. “It’s beautiful.”
The White Sox players will have the option to use a tunnel between the clubhouse and practice fields. The Dodgers players will not, preserving the interaction with fans that was a hallmark of the old Dodgertown site.
“You won’t see barriers between our fans and our players,” McCourt said. “It’s a tradition.”
Said Martin: “Who wants to build barriers? That’s why they tore down the Berlin Wall.”
Times staff writer Dylan Hernandez contributed to this report from Los Angeles.