Until James Loney has run completely out of Dodger Stadium, contention may have to wait.
Back in the 1940s and 50s, the Yankees and Dodgers played each other in the World Series so often it might have gotten boring for everyone involved, perhaps including fans in New York. The two clubs first met in 1941 and have played 11 times.
Since 1981, though, when the Dodgers beat the Yankees in a six-game World Series, their windows haven’t matched up. That might change now that the McCourt era has ended and the Dodgers, who won 95 games as recently as three years ago, can get back to spending money and putting a representative product on the field—not that this year’s 9-1 start suggests that they are suffering.
Not so fast, say the Yankees in this article by Bill Shaikin:
"This team is built to win," Yankees catcher Russell Martin said. "If there's a piece missing, they'll do anything they can to get that piece."
Yet there is more to winning than spending money.
"Much more," Martin said. "It is more about piecing the puzzle together than just buying players."
Even before the McCourt ownership, the Dodgers should have been better in the 1990s and 2000s. Their players had great seasons—Mike Piazza, Adrian Beltre, Eric Gagne, Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw last year. Somehow the rest of the club could not live up to those performances.
The Dodgers threw away some excellent players in the 1990s, including Paul Konerko and the greatest peak-level pitcher of all time, Pedro Martinez. Amateur drafts have been a mixed bag. Matt Kemp came in the sixth round in 2003, an obvious steal, but the Dodgers have had a harder time finding lasting value in their other selections.
Some drafts, such as 2007, appear to have been complete swings and misses. Players developed through the international scouting process are also hard to spot on the current roster. Kenley Jansen came out of Curacao, but he’s about it.
Meanwhile, the Yankees have just gone on and on, outspending their mistakes whenever they had to and failing to win when they couldn’t. It remains to be seen if this is one of the seasons where they can get away with it.
They are very old. Their pitching staff is about to get older (though possibly better) with the arrival of Andy Pettitte. Ownership is on an admitted austerity kick, a problem given that players such as Alex Rodriguez and CC Sabathia are signed at high salaries through the end of time, limiting the team’s flexibility.
We tend to assume the Yankees will be able to bull through their weaknesses because they always have, or at least, they mostly have in the post-1993 period, but nothing lasts forever. If ownership is not going to tack on dollars to the budget when things get rough, the essential ingredient that has allowed them to do so will have vanished.
That’s a problem given how weak the Yankees’ system is in position players. There are no ready replacements should one of the starters become injured or decline.
The AL East looks a mess right now, with none of the teams doing quite what they’re supposed to as of yet. The Yankees should be in line for a postseason berth when it all shakes out, but perhaps with a weaker claim than we thought during the offseason.
Despite their fast start, the Dodgers may not be along for the ride. Yes, they are 9-1, but they have also played seven games against a very poor Padres team and three more against a Pirates club that can pitch a bit but can’t hit at all.
They have five one-run victories in those 10 games, and a team’s luck in close games can change very quickly. Beyond Kemp and Andre Ethier, the lineup is thin. The starting rotation drops off quickly after Kershaw, with the one hope for more quality being that Billingsley’s revival is for real.
The bullpen is strong and should stay strong, but that’s not a whole team. And like the Yankees, there is no depth in position players. Let’s face it: when you can’t kill off James Loney five years after he last hit like a first baseman, you have problems.
So, the Dodgers will now have money. The Yankees have had it, and even with a little less of it to spread around, will continue to have one of the highest, if not the highest budget in baseball. But the Yankees players are right.
It takes more than a blank check to win, as George Steinbrenner demonstrated throughout the 1980s—a period in which the Dodgers won two championships and the Yankees couldn’t get out of the AL East.
Baseball doesn’t need to return to the days when the World Series was contained in two boroughs, but it has been too long since the two great franchises representing two great cities have clashed in October. The time may come again, but it is not necessarily going to be soon, as both teams have work to do first.