Philadelphia, PA – Something special may be taking place at Chavez Ravine this season, but the real magic is actually happening off the field.
After perhaps the most tumultuous year in team history, one in which Major League Baseball actually took over day-to-day operations due to the financial peril the team was in, caused in part from the ugly divorce and mismanagement of owner Frank McCourt, the Dodgers were bought for over $2 billion by the Guggenheim Baseball Management group, an investment team fronted by NBA Hall of Famer Magic Johnson, longtime baseball executive Stan Kasten and Guggenheim CEO Mark Walter.
With all the uncertainty behind them, the Dodgers have thrived on the field and have owned the best record in baseball for the majority of the season. But, on Tuesday the new ownership group made one thing abundantly clear: the franchise is once again open for business, as they signed soon-to-be free agent Andre Ethier to a five-year, $85 million deal.
The pact also includes a $17.5 million vesting option for the 2018 campaign.
"Today is one of the starting points to let you guys know that they are going to do their best over the course of the next couple of months and next year to make a championship a reality," Ethier said.
Ethier's deal comes on the heels of the team locking up MVP candidate Matt Kemp with an eight-year extension this past offseason, meaning the middle of the Dodgers lineup should be intact until at least 2017.
"You are able to lock up two guys in the middle of the lineup, which we've seen over time in baseball is hard to do," Ethier said. "You see a lot of teams lose that second guy or third guy to free agency and you find them scuffling. They made that a point to not let that happen here. Not only are we going to not let that happen, but we are going to add even more to it."
General manager Ned Colletti said the wheels on the Ethier deal started spinning shortly after the Guggenheim group officially took over in early May.
"They are all about winning, and this is another sign this is where they are going," Colletti said.
Actually Kemp and Ethier are the only two players the Dodgers have committed contracts to after 2014. Last winter, the Dodgers' L.A. counterparts, the Angels, stole the show by nabbing the top hitter on the free agent market in Albert Pujols and the best pitcher in C.J. Wilson.
Could the Dodgers do the same next year with Josh Hamilton and Cole Hamels both expected to test the open market?
"The best recruiters we can ask for are players who are here and know what it means to be a Dodger," club president and CEO Stan Kasten said. "They can spread that around to other players in the (game). I think Andre feels that way; you heard him say that.
"It's important for players to know this is a really good place to play. There's a great tradition here, and when you think of the Dodgers, you still think of that."
If I had to guess, Hamels would be the more likely of the two to wear Dodgers blue. He's from California and already sports a nickname of "Hollywood." He just seems like a perfect fit for the Dodgers.
But, of course, the team already has a pretty solid left-hander heading up their rotation in reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw, who signed a two-year extension in February.
Imagine having to navigate through those two. Plus it's a situation not too unfamiliar to Hamels, who already pitches in a rotation with Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee.
The same can be said about Hamilton. Put him in the middle of Ethier and Kemp and you may have a modern day Murders' Row. He's probably a better fit for a team in the AL, but money talks. And the Dodgers all of a sudden have a whole lot of it.
Hamels and Hamilton are probably a discussion for another day. The more pressing issue is what moves are the Dodgers going to make this season. They could use another pitcher and have already been linked to Chicago righty Ryan Dempster, who actually turned down a deal to the Dodgers just a few years ago.
Another bat might not be a bad idea, either, as Kemp has already missed 27 games this season with hamstring issues. Kemp's absence, though, hasn't slowed the Dodgers any, as they sit atop the majors with 40 wins. A big reason for that has been Ethier, who has more than picked up the slack with Kemp on the sidelines, as he leads the NL with 53 RBIs and has a .509 slugging percentage.
"Obviously, everybody's going to get paid," manager Don Mattingly said. "But they also want to win. Signing two of our keystone guys shows to me that the organization is serious about moving forward and getting better."
The Dodgers aren't going anywhere this season. And with the new ownership group running the show, they might not be going anywhere for a while, either.