When the Guggenheim Baseball Management Group took over as the Dodgers’ ownership group in May of 2012, they brought plenty of optimism.
The tradition of excellence continues with the Dodger greats of today. We are committed to building the next dynasty and strengthening Dodger pride. – Dodgers Ownership Statement from May 2, 2012
The previous owner, Frank McCourt, had driven the team into bankruptcy and had made an absolute mess of the Dodgers. They had greatly lowered their scouting presence in Latin America and the McCourt’s seemed to have the priority to line their own pockets.
More About The McCourt Era
In both 2008 and 2009, the Dodgers had some opportunities to upgrade the team. When they acquired Casey Blake in 2008 at the trade deadline, McCourt would not pay any of Blake’s salary so they had to give up then top prospect Carlos Santana. There were rumors they were close to acquiring CC Sabathia but the cost — in terms of money — was prohibitive.
They had a window to win there and couldn’t capitalize on it, in part because McCourt limited the purse strings.
MLB took over the team when they learned McCourt had arranged for a loan from Fox TV to help make payroll. He fought the takeover but by this time fans were staying away from the ballpark to help force a sale. The sale to Guggenheim, that was finalized in early May of 2012 was a welcome relief for all of us. Ned Colletti stayed on as the General Manager and Don Mattingly remained as the manager.
Building The Next Dynasty
The new ownership group immediately went out and started to make a good impression on us. Here’s a good sample of what they did within their first two years:
- Extended Andre Ethier
- Made a new presence in Latin America
- Traded for Hanley Ramirez
- Signed international free agents Yasiel Puig and Julio Urías
- Traded for Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and Josh Beckett
- Signed Hyun-Jin Ryu and Zach Greinke
- Made significant and needed improvements to Dodger Stadium
- Extended Clayton Kershaw
For their first two playoff runs the Dodgers were tops in payroll spending for both 2013 and 2014. They faltered in the playoffs to the Cardinals in both post-seasons and some wanted Mattingly fired. However, it seems that Mark Walter from the ownership group wanted to keep Mattingly. Don Mattingly was well respected by many within the organization but sometimes changes are needed.
It's comforting to know that Stan Kasten and the dodgers are working hard every day on a TV deal. Working great so far. Missed 2 no hitters!
— Tim Knoch (@Octim1) June 26, 2014
Andrew Friedman Era Begins
After the 2014 season and another disappointing playoff exit in the first round, Ned Colletti was moved out of the General Manager role and Andrew Friedman was hired as the President of Baseball Operations from the Tampa Rays. Despite Joe Maddon being available, it seems the ownership group protected Mattingly, so they missed out on a top-flight manager. They did hire Farhan Zaidi from the A’s to fill the General Manager vacancy.
The front office further filled out as Friedman began hiring new people in scouting and immediately got more aggressive in Latin America.
Friedman and Zaidi immediately used the financial might of the Dodgers to help trade some bigger contracts away for talent that fit in with their vision. In the Matt-Kemp-for-Yasmani-Grandal trade, Los Angeles ended up sending around $30M to the Padres for a few seasons. They had also signed Cuban defector Hector Olivera as a free agent with a $28M signing bonus. Within a few weeks they included Olivera in a trade to acquire Alex Wood.
They ended up spending around $291M in 2015 but came up short again. Some criticism was leveled at the front office for not going big for a third starting pitcher, either before the season or at the trade deadline. Their big pitching signings were Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson; both with very questionable injury histories. Hyun-Jin Ryu, the number 3 starter, missed the entire season as they tried to fill that hole with Alex Wood.
In the playoffs, Anderson was the third starter and got lit up. That season, the playoffs were wide open and the Dodgers missed out on a huge opportunity. While the Dodgers got Alex Wood at the trade deadline, the Rangers got Cole Hamels. However, LA kept its top prospects in Corey Seager, Joc Pederson, and Julio Urías.
Dave Roberts Era Begins
After the 2015 season, it was clear that Don Mattingly was not the manager for the Dodgers (I wanted him out after 2013) and they mutually agreed to let him go. Mattingly ended up with a nice contract with the Marlins and has been a good fit there. With Mattingly gone, the Dodgers underwent a long process that finally resulted in Dave Roberts being named as the new manager.
Roberts was immediately greeted with bad news as Zack Greinke signed a contract with the Diamondbacks. The other piece of bad news was about 10 days later when it looked like the Dodgers were going to trade for Aroldis Chapman to form a dominant bullpen. Instead, the Dodgers canceled the trade when Chapman was found to be under investigation for domestic violence. The Dodgers signed Scott Kazmir as a free agent to try and replace Greinke. Somehow, the front office ignored how awful Kazmir had been in Houston to end the 2015 season.
The Dodgers extended a Qualifying Offer to Brett Anderson, and he ended up accepting it. Early in Spring Training he suffered a back injury and was limited to 3 starts with an ERA close to 12. The Dodgers ended up winning the division again but Clayton Kershaw suffered his second major injury in three seasons. There ended up being a lot of juggling with the starting rotation and they ended up trading for Rich Hill at the trade deadline even though he was dealing with blister issues.
Today, the #Dodgers acquired infielder Chris Taylor from the Seattle Mariners in exchange for RHP Zach Lee.
— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) June 20, 2016
For the 4th time in 4 seasons, the Dodgers had to use Kershaw on 3 days rest in the first round of the playoffs. What that tells me is that the front office did not do enough with their starting pitching in the off-season and during the season. Piecing together a rotation with their spending potential seemed (and seems) is an unforced error.
Dodgers trade Yordan Alvarez to the Astros for Josh Fields
— Robert Freedman (@RobOfAZBirdGang) August 1, 2016
The season ended up by the Cubs beating the Dodgers in the NLCS. While the LA featured a rotation of Kershaw, Maeda, Hill, and Urias, the Cubs had Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jake Arrieta, and John Lackey. The Dodgers gave them a decent series at the beginning but the Cubs were way too strong en route to their first World Series championship in more than 100 years.
The other consideration is that the Dodgers seemed to only have two playoff-caliber relievers in Kenley Jansen and Joe Blanton. However, Blanton was gassed by the NLCS and was not very effective.
Going into the off-season the Dodgers had three key free agents in Kenley Jansen, Justin Turner, and Rich Hill. They ended up re-signing them all! They had also made a trade to get Logan Forsythe and the pieces looked good going into 2017.
#Dodgers sign ex-Mariner-Blue Jay-Padre Brandon Morrow to minor league deal with NRI. Roll of dice on oft-injured pitcher w/ bullpen upside
— Bill Plunkett (@billplunkettocr) January 26, 2017
The 2017 Season
— MLB Trade Rumors (@mlbtraderumors) April 29, 2017
After the first month, the Dodgers dominated the National League West. It looked like they had the best team in baseball. Adrian Gonzalez had now become injury prone so they brought up Cody Bellinger. Chris Taylor established himself as the leadoff hitter. The trade deadline brought them Yu Darvish, Tony Watson, and Tony Cingrani. I will not play Monday Morning Quarterback on them not trading for Justin Verlander. Darvish was the best available starting pitcher at the time as Verlander was not himself at the time the trade was made.
Almost everything was lined up for a dominating postseason. They immediately swept the Diamondbacks in the NLDS and beat the Cubs in five games in the NLCS. However, as we all know, they blew it in the World Series and lost to the Astros. They had pitchers in the bullpen they did not trust at all in Josh Fields and Brandon McCarthy. Despite acquiring bullpen depth in Cingrani and Watson, it wasn’t enough.
Even though the Astros had a mediocre bullpen, they adapted to their circumstances and ended up winning. Darvish was the true scapegoat for that series but there was plenty of blame to go around.
2017-2018 Off-Season – Big Payroll Cuts
There were reports that the Dodgers had to possibly cut payroll because of some debt ratio issues. There were also reports that they had prepared a salary forecast for investors that kept the next few years of salaries all under the luxury tax. They then proceeded to make a huge salary relief trade with the Braves to get Matt Kemp back. Their biggest off-season acquisitions were Tom Koehler and Scott Alexander. They let Darvish, Watson and Brandon Morrow sign with other teams as free agents. The 2017 payroll ended up being around $253M but they started the 2018 season at $187M. The fears were coming true about the payroll as they had cut $66M in payroll after being one lucky break away from winning it all.
They avoided most of the free agent class but got lucky… that was not a good class.
2018 and 2019
The Dodgers did go back to the World Series in 2018. They had some bad breaks at the beginning of the season as Corey Seager was out for most of the year with Tommy John surgery. Manny Machado was acquired in a trade as a rental. However, the bullpen was a problem all year and the Dodgers front office answered with Ryan Madson and John Axford. Their bullpen was awful in the World Series and they got beat in 5 games.
In the off-season, they repeated the strategy of staying under the luxury tax. Something very important was that they were willing to go after Bryce Harper. Signing Harper would have sent them into the heavy luxury tax area but it was encouraging that they were willing to go after the “right player” to go over. They did end up adding Joe Kelly and A.J. Pollock, but the early judgment is that those might not be good signings. Pollock was especially questionable to me.
The 2019 season was record setting in so many ways. They ended up winning 106 games and had 12 walk-off wins. The 2016 draft class started to make their presence felt which gave us a great glimpse into the future. They had bullpen issues the whole season and acquired just Adam Kolerak at the deadline. Rich Hill went down with an injury and they decided not to replace him. They started a less than optimal Rich Hill in game 4 of the NLDS and he only got 8 outs. The bullpen could not hold the Nationals and took the loss. Pollock struck out 11 times in 13 at-bats. The bullpen and Dave Roberts ended up blowing a 3-1 lead in game 5 to get eliminated. It was such a promising season but they blew it again. Seven years under the new owners and not one World Series title.
Repeating The Same Mistakes
It seems that, with the pitching staff, they try to get by with just enough. When you end up having a planned bullpen game in the playoffs, the front office did not do enough. When you have to start a 20 year-old in game four on the NLDS like 2016, the front office has not done enough. Having two unusable pitchers, that have to be used like 2017, they did not do their job. When you have a bullpen like the 2018 World Series bullpen, they should be ashamed. Replacing an All-Star like Greinke with “depth” is not the right answer.
It seems that they use the off-season, and sometimes the Trade Deadline, to add depth to the rotation or bullpen. There are exceptions but I want to see them shoot higher when they can. The payroll should never be an issue. Here are some views in hindsight:
- Would the Dodgers have won a World Series if they traded for Cole Hamels in 2015?
- What if they had re-signed Greinke?
- What if they had gone “all in” at the end of August 2017 and traded for Justin Verlander instead of the Astros getting him? Verlander was purely a money issue in my opinion.
I am tired of aiming low and hoping for the best. Depth is very important, but to build a pitching rotation with multiple question marks is getting old.
Big Spending Isn’t Always The Answer
Despite what I just said I don’t want them spending “stupid money“. They need to be smart in aiming high. The farm system is also quite loaded and I don’t want to see too many players blocked. If it wasn’t for injuries, Alex Verdugo may not have gotten much of an opportunity to play in 2019. Don’t sign so-called solid players that block the young guys. If you block a minor leaguer with Gerrit Cole, that is understandable. Blocking someone with a Martin Perez, betting on upside, is not understandable.
As you can see below, the Dodgers have spent a lot over the last 7 years.
Some Side Issues
If the Dodgers had won a World Series in the last 7 years, these become smaller issues in my mind.
- The television deal that keeps many Dodgers fans from (legally) watching on TV
- The food at Dodger Stadium is mediocre — Bring in more restaurants
- Big games, including the playoffs, means waiting in long lines to park and get in
- Open the park earlier
- It seems the Dodgers don’t want to pay the extra hour for more fan convenience
- Charging $60 more for a jersey at the stadium over online is criminal
- Admission and parking rates go up with spending being down
As a season ticket holder, 2020 is my last season unless changes occur. If either the issues above start changing or I see a better commitment this off-season, I am not renewing for 2021 and I have a feeling I am not the only one. I have already committed to spend way less on things that put money into the Dodgers’ pockets. I believe we, the fans, are being taken for granted.
The facts, Kasten said, are that season-ticket sales point to the Dodgers leading baseball in attendance again. And if season tickets are selling, everything must be A-OK. – Dylan Hernandez, LA Times
“What Is A Legacy?”
The above quote is from the Hamilton Musical but I wonder what people like Mark Walter, Stan Kasten and Andrew Friedman think of their legacies? For Walter and the ownership group is it one where they seem to take the fans for granted and underspend? What about some honesty? Stan Kasten has had many years in a baseball front office and he has ONE World Series championship. Friedman is well thought of but he still hasn’t won the big one. With two World Series wins, I think both Kasten and Friedman become Hall of Famers.
The quote at the beginning of this article about “building the next dynasty” remains unfulfilled. A dynasty contains championships. Right now the legacy looks closer to the Buffalo Bills or the Atlanta Braves if they had not won a World Series.
What Are The Dodgers Thinking?
The below quotes from a conversation that Dylan Hernandez had with Stan Kasten is not what any of us wanted to hear.
“That’s also such a weird narrative,” Kasten said. “If we can do whatever we do and stay under [the luxury-tax threshold], there are a lot of advantages to being under — by the way, a lot more advantages than you all write about.”
“I’m not going to go into that because that’s real inside baseball economic stuff,” Kasten said.
Told fans would be interested in the details, Kasten replied, “Hold on. Let me finish the answer. Some of the things are elsewhere in the collective bargaining agreement that no one’s bothered to look at. Some of the things are inside baseball. So there are more advantages than just a little tax.”
Still, no details.
Asked again if he didn’t want to offer fans an explanation for the team’s relative inactivity on the free-agent market, Kasten said, “You’re inventing a narrative that I don’t agree with because, like I said, I can almost tell you for sure, we’re going to lead the National League in attendance again. You’re inventing a different universe that is not borne out by reality, by facts.” – Dylan Hernandez, LA Times
I think a tipping point was reached with the Dodgers getting eliminated so early in the 2019 playoffs. The fans are not happy. They didn’t make enough improvements at the trade deadline and the same mistakes were repeated. There is no doubt in my mind that most fans thought the Dodgers would have won a World Series by now. They had the best teams in 2015 and 2017 and fell short. They underachieved in 2019.
The Dodgers have established that they can build a good team every year and I appreciate that, especially after the end of the McCourt years. I enjoy going to the games or watching them at home. There are hundreds of thousands of die-hard Dodger fans that are the fan base. The Dodgers are in danger of losing some of those fans. Not that they’d stop being hard core fans but that they’ll just stay home and watch on TV (if they can). At the end of the day, the Dodgers will get away with treating their fans the way they do. If they win the World Series, we will forgive a lot. If they don’t I can see the attendance starting to drop.
I just wonder if the Dodgers actually see any urgency. So far, I don’t see any urgency. They have been so close that one more move could have made a difference and the legacy is established.