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Andrew Friedman, Stan Kasten 3

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The problem with money is sometimes it’s all people see.

The Dodgers, at a few shekels over $229 million, spent nearly $30 million more in total team payroll in 2014 than baseball’s next spendiest squad, a little mom-and-pop shop known as the New York Yankees. For this, they were rewarded with a truncated playoff berth and the continuation of a championship draught creeping dangerously close to 30 years.

Given their prodigious financial resources, some wonder why they haven’t fixed their problems by dropping giant blue sacks of cash on the doorsteps of the top free agents. After all, they can afford it, right?

More than virtually any other franchise around the league, yes. But just because the Dodgers can doesn’t mean they should.

New ownership arrived pledging to spend more than Frank McCourt, both as a means of quick competitiveness (important) and to reassure a torch-and-pitchfork angry fan base they were not Frank McCourt (really important). Relatively quickly, they locked up Andre Ethier (oops), signed Yasiel Puig, and acquired Hanley Ramirez.

But even while putting out tremendous levels of cash to acquire Adrian Gonzalez and friends from the Red Sox, Dodgers president Stan Kasten made it clear the spending binge was a bridge to a longer term strategy, not the strategy itself. The Dodgers want to build primarily through the draft and farm system, supplementing with trades for higher priced players and free agents.

People don’t always pay close attention when he talks about this sort of thing, distracted as they are by all the confetti cannons shooting dollars out of Chavez Ravine, but it’s the same model Kasten worked with in Atlanta.

“For me, (former Braves manager) Bobby (Cox) and anyone who’s ever had sustained success, we talk about it all the time. We didn’t invent the philosophy,” Kasten told ESPN last December. “We had owners who were A, committed to committing resources in the minor leagues and, B, patient. The difference between then and now with the Dodgers is that, because of our market place, we can talk about doing both jobs at the same time.”

He’s repeated different versions of the same thing countless times since. So when people see the Dodgers putting high priced outfielders on the trade block — an obvious/necessary move since going into next season with 2014’s overcrowding problems would be flat out stupid — and talking about reducing payroll, it’s not because they’ve imported small market “Moneyball” types* charged with saving money.

*It’s stunning to me how, in 2014, many otherwise smart people still reduce “Moneyball” principles to low payrolls and high walk rates. It is, and has always been, about how to exploit inefficiencies in a market. And, thanks to the explosion in analytics across the league, those inefficiencies are becoming harder to find.

The roster building game has changed significantly over the last 10 years. As more teams lock up good players through their arbitration years, every winter the pool of free agents older, less talented, and more shallow. That’s a bad trifecta.

Thanks to market forces, though, those older, less talented guys become more expensive, in dollars and years. The assumption is signing guys on the level of Melky Cabrera will require a little dead money at the end of a contract.

For the genuinely high end guys, the risk of dead money is unavoidable. Every year, it’s more cash for less return. Staying on that treadmill, a Pujolsian nightmare, can crush a team, even one with the resources of the Dodgers.

It puts a premium on organizations capable of generating their own talent, which is why the Dodgers kept Joc Pederson, Corey Seager, and Julio Urias off the table at last year’s trade deadline, even though people like me thought flipping one could be worth it. 

Next Page: Dodgers Must Spend Wisely

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4 Responses

  1. PedroMartinezWasOurs!

    It’s about return on investment. Production and wins per $ spent, not how much you spend. And the Dodgers have been one of the worst organizations in baseball in recent decades in that regard. New ownership & management will right this ship – but it takes some time to completely restructure an organization & develop a minor league & international pipeline of talent & depth.

    Reply
  2. william gowers

    This is why we have to stick with Kemp. We’ll never get what he’s worth because teams are purposely undervaluing him so they won’t have to pay his salary. We pay, they get an all-star. No thanks. Just keep supporting him like we have been and he’ll be fine. We are going to have to eat some $$ one way or the other though whether we want to or not. Ethier and Crawford are paid way too much for what their roles are here. I like Andre, but we have to let him go play every day somewhere even if that means taking most of his salary in return for relief help or prospects. Same with Crawford. Van Slyke has earned a shot even if it is a (huge potential) platoon with Pederson. SS is a mystery. The $$Cuban kid in the minors and Seager deserve a shot as does Turner who has done everything + more that we could expect from a utility player. He’d probably be happy in that role a bit longer considering the love he gets in LA and how he got treated elsewhere. (Mets fans) An Upgrade at Catcher is a MUST. Sorry A.J. you’re a decent backstop, but name 1 team in the playoffs that didn’t have a decent if not great hitting catcher. {Posey, Weiters (injured) Molina, Martinez, Ianetta, Martin, Norris, Perez and even Ramos} Now name 1 team to win the WS lately without one. Last but definitely not least. Don Mattingly is a horrible manager. Just in the most important games of all, he brain farts. Starting Kershaw in that last game was a no brainer. BUT in an elimination playoff game, on the road, on short rest, in the late innings, up by 2 runs, against the Cardinals you DO NOT.. let that pitcher dictate whether he stays in the game or not. You DO NOT send him up to bat with runners on base with a chance to pad the lead. You DO NOT (after watching him struggle the inning before) let him put 2 men on consecutively and still leave him in. You DO NOT leave Ramirez in at SS , with a lead, late in the game, on the road etc etc…. when you’ve been taking him out all year in order to avoid exactly what happened. A base hit off the end of his glove easily caught by the slick fielding vacuum cleaner Rojas. Not to mention (why do people say that just before mentioning something?) using Puig to pinch run instead of hit when he , along with van slyke, were the only players available with the power to tie the game with 1 swing . Then NOT even let Puig use his speed to disrupt the pitcher in any way, let alone steal second. The man doesn’t use the hit and run, doesn’t use the squeeze (despite some of the best bunting pitchers in baseball) and doesn’t seem to have any management philosophy other than “well, when you have this much talent, things will work out”. He had no professional management experience before the Dodgers and was only hired to brown nose Joe Torre. Whew I’m tired now…lol

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  3. 21grams

    Dodgers still need a leader on the field!!! There’s no real onfield leadership except for every 5th day when Kershaw starts… The Dodgers needs are the most elusive needs of all… Chemistry/leadership that much talent and payroll needs a Jeter (NY Yankees for example) A front man.. no matter what arena.. every team environment cannot escape the importance of true leadership.

    Reply
    • Ivan

      I disagree, Gonzales and Uribe are excellent on the field leaders,these guys perform, gold glove winners if not contenders every year. Locker room guys, that the rest of the team looks up to, Kershaw is a great pitcher, still not a leader, leading the league in stats just makes him great at what he does, pitching, hes a pitcher.

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