Misconceptions swirl around the Los Angeles Dodgers desire to cut costs like rumors swirl around this time of year in baseball. Fans react to reports of a desire to cut costs as if the Dodgers’ first priority is no longer to compete as they have in recent years.
This simply isn’t the case.
Let’s take a look at what the Dodgers are setting out to do by cutting costs and how they might do so without affecting how competitive the team is.
First and foremost, it’s crucial to point out how the amount invested financially into a team in no way is directly connected to the roster’s overall quality.
Second, much of why the Dodgers’ payroll was so high last season was the amount of dead money the front office had to deal with after Ned Coletti mangled the spreadsheets for what felt like the foreseeable future. As it stands now, only Matt Kemp will be paid to play elsewhere, though that could change is guys like Andre Ethier or Carl Crawford are moved.
Either way, though, the payroll dips significantly when the team pays fewer guys to produce for other teams.
Getting back to the first point, though, competitiveness cannot be judged by how highly the payroll compares to others in the league.
Think of it this way: If the Dodgers increased payroll was completely comprised of players in their prime having just signed a huge contract, great. Chances are the return on that investment is much greater than the situation the Dodgers were in last season — where so much of the inflated contractual obligation was to players nearing the end of their deal.
Big free agent signings are flawed because teams are in many ways paying for past production, not necessarily what the player might produce upon arrival and in the years thereafter.
Look at the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim-Slash-Maybe-Tustin-Or-Whichever-Market-They-Think-Makes-Them-Sound-Cooler. They signed Albert Pujols to that insane contract after one of the greatest ten-year stretches in baseball history. There was literally zero chance he could replicate that over the length of his contract, but the gamble was on whether the team could compete in those first couple years, before the return declines with age.
By the time he’s in those last couple years of the contract, the return will be almost laughably minimal. It’s a flawed system, but that’s just how free agency works, unfortunately.
Back to the Dodgers. They could get younger and more cost-effective without failing to compete by simply avoid more situations like the Pujols scenario described above. Unfortunately, though, that might manifest itself into having to watch Zack Greinke pitch elsewhere next season. Yes, he’s easily worth the roughly $30 million he’d be paid next season. But if it is indeed a five-year deal, and he’s 37 years old making that much… I just don’t know.
Father Time is undefeated, after all.
Lastly, a huge misconception about the Dodgers cutting costs this season is that they would never again use their extensive resources under the proper circumstances. Basically, shedding salary now gives them the opportunity later to splurge later. Lowering payroll this season is by no means an admission they can never spend in free agency again. If the right situation comes along, and the Dodgers don’t have contracts all around the league they’re paying out for previous failed deals, they can more comfortably pounce on a valuable free agent or make a trade in which they have to make a financial commitment.
Reality can often be defined by perception, but when the public image is being swayed and driven by misconception, though, it’s important to jump out in front of where the logic might be getting away from the conversation.
For the Dodgers and the fan base alike, bridging the chasm between perception in reality often seen in the money behind sports is a great place to start.