The Dodgers have stayed on the sidelines of the free-agent market this winter and their season-ticket sales are down, but owner Frank McCourt said Friday that the fans he has spoken to stand firmly behind the team.
“I talk to fans too,” McCourt said in his first interview with The Times since it became public that he and his wife and former club president, Jamie McCourt, planned to divorce. “They’re very excited about the team. They’re very supportive of what we’re doing.”
McCourt declared the Dodgers are “headed in the right direction,” pointing to how they have reached the postseason in four of the last six seasons and settled on an organizational philosophy of building around a group of homegrown players.
“We’re going to do what it takes to put a winning team on the field,” he said. “We’re going to do that a smart way. We might not do it the way other people have done it. We’re going to do it our way.”
McCourt said that his team’s lack of activity in the free-agent market should not be interpreted as a sign that his team is facing financial difficulties as a result of his personal situation.
“My divorce has no bearing on the club whatsoever,” he said.
McCourt said the Dodgers will return a majority of the team that reached the National League Championship Series last season, and added, “We’re not through the off-season yet.”
McCourt was not specific on how much financial latitude General Manager Ned Colletti would have to sign players before the start of spring training next month. Jamey Carroll, who signed a two-year, $3.85-million deal last month, is the only free agent the Dodgers have signed to a major league contract this winter.
Alluding to recent high-priced free-agent signings such as Andruw Jones and Jason Schmidt who didn’t work out, McCourt cautioned that spending large amounts of money on players does not necessarily translate into victories.
“I’ve learned the hard way it’s not that easy,” he said.
So if the Dodgers cut their spending on free agents, does that mean they will allocate their resources elsewhere?
“I’m not going to get into a conversation with you on how we spend our resources,” McCourt said.
Kemp, Billingsley avoid arbitration
The Dodgers avoided salary arbitration with center fielder Matt Kemp and pitcher Chad Billingsley by agreeing to new deals.
Kemp was signed to a two-year, $10.95-million contract that buys him out of his first two years of arbitration. Kemp will earn $4 million this year.
Billingsley signed a one-year, $3.85-million contract.
In addition to Kemp, the Dodgers are looking to sign arbitration-eligible players such as Andre Ethier, Jonathan Broxton and James Loney to multiyear deals.
Loney’s agent, Joe Urbon, said his client is focused on signing a one-year deal.
Ethier, Broxton, Loney, Russell Martin, George Sherrill and Hong-Chih Kuo filed for arbitration Friday. They will trade salary figures with the Dodgers on Tuesday unless they agree to deals before then.
L.A. to scout Sheets
The Dodgers are among the teams that will scout pitcher Ben Sheetswhen he works out for interested teams Tuesday, according to a club official who asked that their name not be used because they were not authorized to speak on this topic. Sheets, who missed the entire 2009 season because of elbow surgery, is believed to be asking for a contract worth $10 million a season. Sheets spent eight years with the Milwaukee Brewers before his latest injury.