Was Los Angeles Dodgers' All-in Approach at MLB Trade Deadline a Winning One?

Geoff RatliffContributor IIIAugust 15, 2012

MIAMI, FL - AUGUST 10: Hanley Ramirez #13 of the Los Angeles Dodgers looks on during batting practice before a game against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park on August 10, 2012 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Sarah Glenn/Getty Images)
Sarah Glenn/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Dodgers’ approach to the July 31, MLB non-waiver trade deadline reminded me of a maxim that I always keep in mind when I’m sitting at a poker table: 

“Never compete with someone who has nothing to lose.” -Baltasar Gracian 

In defense of the other 29 MLB teams, the rules of Major League Baseball dictate that they have to compete with Los Angeles. But the Dodgers’ new ownership group is clearly operating as if they have nothing to lose; and if you’re a fan of the team, this is a good thing.

From the moment the sale of the Dodgers to Guggenheim Baseball Management was finalized on May 1, the ownership group has delivered on its promise to bring a World Series championship back to the City of Los Angeles.

The $2 billion price tag raised eyebrows well beyond the realm of professional sports. But it showed that the Dodgers name is still one of the most recognized and respected brands in America. It was also a sign that the new ownership had substantial financial resources, and they haven’t been shy about flexing that muscle.

The first shot was fired when Los Angeles signed Gold Glove winner and All-Star right fielder Andre Ethier to a five-year, $85 million contract extension to prevent him from becoming a free agent next winter.  

Ethier’s future in Los Angeles was uncertain entering the 2012 season. But a hot start convinced the new ownership group that they should commit to making him one of the offensive cornerstones of the Dodgers, along with All-Star center fielder Matt Kemp. 

Los Angeles again threw caution to the wind by signing 21-year-old Cuban outfielder Yasiel Puig to a record $42 million, seven-year contract. That is the biggest contract ever offered to a Cuban player, a list that includes Yoenes Cespedes of the Oakland A’s and Aroldis Chapman of the Cincinnati Reds who have both been given eight-figure deals in the last two years. 

If the Dodgers get the type of returns that Oakland and Cincinnati have received from Cespedes and Chapman respectively, they’ll be very happy with their investment.

Both of those moves are set up to help the Dodgers in the future. But the moves they made leading up to the July 31 trade deadline were the biggest signs yet that this team is literally willing to win at all costs. 

The Dodgers have created a blueprint for immediate success that is predicated on assembling proven talent, regardless of the financial risks, without compromising their plan to rebuild a minor league system that was heavily neglected under the ownership of Frank McCourt. All three pre-deadline trades that Los Angeles made were consistent with that blueprint. 

With that in mind, it’s time that we put the trades that the Dodgers made in the proper perspective.  

Many questioned the wisdom of assuming all of the approximately $38 million that third baseman/shortstop Hanley Ramirez is owed through 2014, especially considering his stunning decline over the past two years. But given the lack of production that Los Angeles was getting from the third base position, taking a chance on the 28-year-old Ramirez wasn’t much of a gamble at all. 

The financial risks associated with any player’s contract is always relative to the resources of the team paying him. In other words, a bad contract for the Kansas City Royals may not be a bad contract for the New York Yankees, especially if it doesn’t prevent the Yankees from making future moves to improve the team. 

The Los Angeles Dodgers are clearly positioning themselves to be the west coast equivalent of the Yankees.

The Dodgers were also able to retain all of their top prospects after completing three pre-deadline trades. The significance of this cannot be overstated.

Even after Los Angeles acquired Ramirez and Randy Choate from the Miami Marlins, Brandon League from the Seattle Mariners and Shane Victorino from the Phillies, pitchers Zach Lee, Allen Webster and Chris Reed and outfielder Joc Pederson all remain members of the Dodgers organization.

Los Angeles can either use those players to make another trade this winter or allow them to directly impact the major league club in the near future. That’s the epitome of a win-win scenario. 

Imagine sitting at a poker table with an open-ended, straight flush draw on the flop and a sizable bankroll at your disposal. Even if you’re behind at that moment, that’s a hand that few experienced players would fold. In fact, I’m going all-in with that hand every time; and if I miss, I’ll simply reload. 

That’s the position of strength that the Los Angeles Dodgers now find themselves playing from. They’ve got nothing to lose by playing their hand aggressively. And if the moves don’t work out, the Dodgers will simply reload.