When a group of investors referring to themselves as Guggenheim Baseball Management bought the Los Angeles Dodgers from Frank and Jamie McCourt, it was supposed to signal the end of the team’s days as a sideshow and a return to respectability. Well, the team may no longer be the owners’ personal piggy bank and status symbol, but the franchise is still a sideshow — albeit of a very different ilk.
In short, it feels like the Dodgers have been attached to just about every free agent on the market. They even just ponied up $25.7 million — about half of Daisuke Matsuzaka‘s posting fee — just for the rights to negotiate with Korean left-handed pitcher Hyun-jin Ryu. Even less than a year removed from giving massive contracts to Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp, and taking on the huge commitments to Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Beckett, there seems to be no slowing down L.A. on its spending spree.
The Dodgers began a massive overhaul of their roster during the season, creating the kind of player turnover rarely seen within a regular season, particularly one contending for a playoff spot. But while seeing all the newcomers and speculating about potential moves might be exciting for fans, the franchise is in the midst of an ill-conceived, trigger-happy push that will almost undoubtedly come back to haunt them long term.
The fact that teams like the Red Sox and Yankees are, to an extent, eschewing large contracts and repeating the phrase “financial flexibility” should tell you all you need to know about the bad road L.A. is going down. By the same token, it should speak volumes that players the Red Sox are casting off — Kevin Youkilis being the latest rumor — just seem to keep ending up on the Dodgers’ radar.
While it’s still true that not spending money tends to relegate teams to also-ran status, it’s also true that spending money doesn’t guarantee success, particularly if it isn’t allocated wisely. Smarts are a much larger commodity than money, and this is just one of several problems the Dodgers are displaying.
Besides the fact that the Boys in Blue are currently comprised of a Frankenstein roster with ill-fitting parts (do they really believe Hanley Ramirez is a viable defensive option at shortstop?), they seem to be ignoring what every other deep-pocketed team has learned: this isn’t the pre-luxury tax era anymore.
When even the Yankees are trying to go under the luxury tax threshold, it should be a bright-red warning sign to the rest of baseball that it simply isn’t viable to spend money without long-term consideration. When the Red Sox are casting off three talented players for little more than payroll flexibility, it should cry to other franchises that baseball spending has its limits.
The Dodgers do not seem to care, and this will eventually be to their detriment.
The reason so many teams have become wary of long-term, high-cost contracts is simple: they rarely work out, and then those teams carry the burden of paying a lot of money — and eating a sizable chunk of payroll — for little return. This isn’t rocket science. It isn’t even anything more than high school economics.
It really doesn’t matter how much money the Guggenheim group has to spend. When the returns come back, and when the team finds itself continually losing money because of its luxury-tax hit, the honeymoon will be over, and there will be a Marlins-esque reckoning. The way the Dodgers are adding players — and are looking to continue adding players — there’s just no way to make the math work out.
Right now, the Dodgers have $81.5 million committed to four players — in 2017. Five years from now, the team will be giving over $21 million to Gonzalez, Kemp and Crawford, and only $17.5 million to Ethier. At that point it’s a reasonable assumption that the Dodgers will wish to cast off some of those players for better-performing ones. But how, exactly, does that work out when you have so much money committed to the existing ones? Where’s the cash going to come from?
Enjoy the hot-stove fun while it lasts, Los Angeles. Reckless abandon has consequences, and the Dodgers are in for an eventual reckoning.