One of the frequent criticisms of the Dodgers is that they are trying to buy a World Series. Many, including this writer, have wanted the Dodgers to spend more money on free agents or trade for a big contract. There is some history that would agree that the Dodgers have tried to buy a World Series. The huge Adrian Gonzalez trade along with signing Zack Greinke within a few months of each other fed into that narrative a few years ago. Even a book, “The Best Team Money Can Buy: The Los Angeles Dodgers’ Wild Struggle to Build a Baseball Powerhouse” by Molly Knight helped feed that narrative. This article will look how the team is currently constructed and how the Dodgers choose to spend their money.
Recovering from McCourt
Before the team was sold by Frank McCourt, the ownership was busy stripping the system of valuable resources. They weren’t investing much into their international spending and player development. The payroll was not in the range that a big city franchise like the Dodgers should spend. The last year of the McCourt reign of terror, the Dodgers were 12th in overall payroll spending in 2011 at almost $110M. There was also a noticeable dip in attendance as some fans started to boycott the stadium to try and force McCourt to sell.
In May of 2012 the Guggenheim Baseball Management group purchased the Dodgers out of bankruptcy and immediately went out to try and win the fans back. They traded for Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett, all expensive players, within three months of purchasing the team. They also started spending some international money by signing Julio Urías and Yasiel Puig. By the end of 2013 they had a payroll of $237M (2nd in MLB) and had made the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
Locking Up Your Franchise Player
After the 2013 season they Dodgers made their biggest player investment by signing Clayton Kershaw to a 7 year/$215M contract. This insured that their franchise player would stay with the Dodgers for a long time. Even through 2015 their payroll kept climbing as they traded some big contracts for cheaper players but they still paid some of the contracts of the players leaving. They also brought in some veteran players as placeholders for future Dodgers (see Jimmy Rollins and Corey Seager).
A Shift Back To Normal
After the 2015 season there was a subtle shift as the Dodgers did not top the contract offer the Diamondbacks made to Zack Greinke. They also did not bid on free agent pitchers like Johnny Cueto and David Price. Instead they went for lower cost options like Kenta Maeda and Scott Kazmir. This has been a continued way the Dodgers have chosen to do business. However, they’ve generally spent well on their own free agents like Kenley Jansen, Justin Turner and Rich Hill. They’ve made some mistakes like offering Brett Anderson a Qualifying Offer (that he took) or some of their international free agents but have focused on homegrown talent.
The current 25-man roster is littered with all kinds of experience and contracts but the eye openers are the number of homegrown players and their salaries. We’ll look at the roster focusing on if they are homegrown and how much they make. Many of the financial numbers comes from COTS and reflects the 25-man roster and key Injured List players as of this writing.
Players with a “*” next to their name are homegrown. Some players are under the minimum salary because they were either traded for or have spent a lot of time in the minors.
|* Ryu, Hyun-Jin||
|* Kershaw, Clayton||
|* Buehler, Walker||
|* Maeda, Kenta||
|* May, Dustin||
Until and if Rich Hill comes back the Dodgers will have a homegrown rotation. Both Ryu and Maeda did play in other professional leagues before becoming Dodgers but LA is their MLB original home. I’ve also included Maeda’s bonuses he’s earned so far this season. The Kershaw contract is what you give your franchise player and, frankly, he’s been worth his years of being over $30M per. Ryu is an absolute bargain and both Buehler and May are at or near league minimum.
|* Jansen, Kenley||
|* Baez, Pedro||
|* Urías, Julio||
|* Ferguson, Caleb||
|* Garcia, Yimi||
The bullpen is always a volatile area but the Dodgers still have five homegrown pitchers out of the eight. Joe Kelly is the only reliever the Dodgers went outside the organization to sign as a semi bit-time free agent. Jansen was signed to a 5 year/$80M contract after 2016 when he was a top 2-3 reliever. He’s slipped but sometimes it is good to keep your homegrown players. I wrote about the dangers of overspending on bullpens last year as some relievers can vary in performance from year to year.
|* Smith, Will||
|** Martin, Russell||
|* Bellinger, Cody||
|* Seager, Corey||
|* Beaty, Matt||
|* Pederson, Joc||
|* Rios, Edwin||
|* Garlick, Kyle||
Of the 12 position players on the roster, 8 of them are homegrown. I gave Martin two * because he was originally a Dodger but has played for other MLB teams. Also, Martin has a salary of $0 because the Blue Jays paid off his contract. Pollock is the only big free agent expense and I contend they got him on a good deal at 5 years/$60M. The other free agents were guys released by their previous teams; Justin Turner and Max Muncy. Just about every player on this list is exceeding their salary value.
|* Stripling, Ross||
|* Verdugo, Alex||
Yes, that is a negative number for Gyorko’s salary as the Cardinals gave the Dodgers some money back in the trade to offset the contract. Even though he seems homegrown, Kiké Hernandez was acquired in a trade with the Marlins after 2014. Most of the players on this list will probably be on the post-season roster. My guess is that the playoff roster with max out at around $146M but if Rich Hill isn’t available then it goes down to $130M.
Are They Trying To Buy A Championship?
Of the current players on the 25-man roster, 18 of them are homegrown. The playoff roster will probably be around 15 home grown players with a salary between $130M and $146M. When you look at the Red Sox having a huge salary in 2018 of $239M and the Astros trading a ton of prospects for Zack Greinke, you’d think those teams would be accused of buying a championship. However, most of the sentiment seems to match this bad Bob Nightengale article. Here is an excerpt:
If the baseball gods truly want to be honorable …
The Houston Astros, who had the guts to trade away four prized prospects and the stomach to add $54 million worth of payroll for starter Zack Greinke, will become World Series champions.
What about the teams like the Cubs and Astros that introduced Major League Baseball to the concept of tanking? Now you have teams that are making tanking into a practice. Rarely do we hear complaints about those teams starting this trend but it is not good for baseball. The Dodgers developing and keeping their talent is something that is good for baseball.
Player Development Focus
However, more than ever the Dodgers are still accused of trying to buy a championship. That may have been valid through 2015 but it is no longer close to the truth. Yes, the Dodgers do spend plenty of their budget on salary but they have passed over many big money free agents and trades recently. How many of us clamored for keeping Greinke at any cost? What about wanting to trade for Giancarlo Stanton? Or signing Bryce Harper or re-signing Manny Machado. If money were no object, one or more of those players would be on the Dodgers right now. Instead, some of the money is put into player development, the draft and international players.
How many players seemingly come out of the blue and become significant contributors to the Dodgers. Gavin Lux, Will Smith and Dustin May were drafted significantly higher than the experts said they should be drafted. What about players such as Chris Taylor and Max Muncy who were minor league and 4-A wash ups? Who ever heard of Matt Beaty? Caleb Ferguson was drafted in the 38th round. Only Dodger prospect junkies knew about most of those players. These are players that will most likely play important roles either now or in the future.
Us fans of the Los Angeles Dodgers are hungry for a World Series. Some of us want to do it at any cost and there is nothing wrong with that point of view. For me, I enjoy following the players in the system as they make their way through the minors. As a fan I would rather watch players such as Corey Seager or Cody Bellinger make it up to the Dodgers than trade them for a player that might help the team win a World Series. The Dodgers are constructed to contend for many years and I’m pretty sure they will get at least one championship by 2021. When they do win these championships it will be with players we know and have followed for quite a while.