New ownership marks new Dodgers era 

March, 28, 2012

Magic JohnsonAllen Berezovsky/Getty ImagesIn Magic Johnson, the Dodgers now have a franchise leader who can connect with Los Angeles.
For a reported $2 billion, Magic Johnson and Stan Kasten -- backed by Guggenheim Partners -- will run the Los Angeles Dodgers. And the changes will be almost immediate.

(The New York Times is reporting that the sale was for $2.15 billion, which factors in land around the stadium, including the parking lots.)

The team's payroll is at $90 million, or about what the Atlanta Braves and Milwaukee Brewers are spending. If you think that an ownership group that just agreed to spend about 2.5 times more than has ever been spent for any baseball team is going to keep the Dodgers' payroll among the row houses of baseball, well, you might also think that Frank McCourt is beloved in Los Angeles. The Dodgers are moving up, again.

The investment return for this new ownership group will come largely through its television revenue, and the way the Dodgers can make the team more watchable is by building a winner -- the kind of winner that the O'Malleys fostered, as the Dodgers won championships in 1959 and '63 and '65 and '81 and '88, and also played in the World Series in '66 and '74 and '77 and '78. The Dodgers were in the playoffs constantly, led by recognizable stars, from Koufax to Drysdale to Steve Garvey.

Under the Guggenheim/Magic/Kasten group, there will never be an offseason in which the Dodgers' biggest acquisitions are No. 4 starters and utility men, as we saw this past offseason. This team has very little payroll obligation going forward, beyond Matt Kemp's new eight-year, $160 million deal, and the franchise has enormous room to grow, and money will be spent.

As Johnson began this quest to buy the Dodgers, he could not have been more clear about what his vision for the franchise is built around: on-field success. He wants to win. He lamented the fact, last fall, that he wasn't in position to help the Dodgers pursue players during the 2011-12 offseason. His intent, he said, is to be ready for the next free-agency period. On the day that teams can talk to prospective free agents, he said -- at 12:01 a.m. -- his intent is to be recruiting.

The improvements will start even before Cole Hamels and Matt Cain might hit the market next fall, though. Presumably, the new ownership group will be approved sometime in the next six weeks, which means that during the summer, the Dodgers' new owners will be in position to cull through market opportunities that might present themselves -- a pricey, productive veteran who has become too expensive for his current team.

For years, the Dodgers were involved in the big-name market, as the New York Yankees always are, as the Boston Red Sox always are. The Dodgers were the crown jewel of the West Coast. Now they can be again.

In recent years, players like Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, CC Sabathia, Matt Holliday, Albert Pujols and others passed through the market without the Dodgers making a serious offer. That change will be immediate.

Frank McCourt is going to retain some elements in this deal, as Bill Shaikin writes.

Magic is the perfect guy to take over, writes Bill Plaschke. T.J. Simers considers what could go wrong.

Dodgers GM Ned Colletti exchanged e-mails with Stan Kasten on Tuesday.