5 Reasons the Dodgers' Wild, Risky Spending Could Backfire in a Major Way
The Los Angeles Dodgers owned the non-waiver trade deadline, filling major needs by acquiring Hanley Ramirez, Randy Choate, Brandon League and Shane Victorino. In doing so, they gave their chances of qualifying for the postseason a major boost.
It's pretty clear by now that merely qualifying for the postseason isn't what these Dodgers have in mind; they want to go to the World Series, and for that, more moves were absolutely necessary.
A few days after the non-waiver trade deadline passed, Joe Blanton came aboard. This past weekend, Dodgers GM Ned Colletti pulled off the biggest transaction in the history of the franchise, acquiring Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Nick Punto and about $250 million in salary from the Boston Red Sox.
A month ago, the Dodgers were treading water in the NL West race with a roster that featured relatively few stars. Now, they have a roster stuffed to the gills with star players, and many view them as the odds-on favorite to win the division.
And whether they get there this season or in the near future, the Dodgers better get to the World Series. That's what it's going to take for their sudden big-spending ways to be justified.
The danger is that their sudden high-spending ways could do a lot more harm than good. The path the Dodgers are on could lead to glory, but it could also lead to disaster.
Here's a look at a few reasons why the franchise's new direction could backfire.
Note: All stats come from Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
New Players Are Boom or Bust
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Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford will both be making more than $20 million in 2013. Hanley Ramirez and Josh Beckett will both be paid more than $15 million. Four other Dodgers players will make at least $11 million, and Matt Kemp will be on the books for $20 million.
When all is said and done, the Dodgers could be sitting on a payroll of nearly $200 million. If the Yankees are serious about continuing to lower their payroll, the Dodgers could very well be baseball's most expensive team in 2013.
Here's the problem: In sports, the most expensive team isn't always the best. There are some serious potential pitfalls in the Dodgers' newly assembled roster, chief among them being the unreliability of the four stars (or, former stars) they've acquired in the last month.
Beckett should benefit from pitching in the National League and at Dodger Stadium, but we're talking about a guy who has an ERA over 5.00 for the third time in the last seven seasons. He's a true hit-or-miss pitcher, and his diminishing stuff could make him a major miss for the Dodgers.
Crawford never resembled the player he was in Tampa Bay with the Red Sox, and now he's essentially damaged goods. It will take a remarkable return to form in order for him to be worth the money the Dodgers are going to pay him between now and 2017.
Gonzalez is a great hitter and an excellent player in general, but he arrived in Los Angeles as a career .212 hitter at Dodger Stadium. It's not as perfect a fit for his swing as Fenway Park (no ballpark is).
Ramirez has been very good since coming over to the Dodgers from the Marlins, but the danger with him is that he could revert to being the .240 hitter he was in 2010 and 2011. He's also pretty well-established as a liability in the field no matter where he's playing.
These four players are owed roughly $300 million after this season. It's extremely difficult to get a good return on investment for that kind of money in baseball. In fact, it's a lot easier for that kind of money to go to waste.
The Dodgers may be rich, but even they can't afford to waste that kind of money.
How Much More Money Can the Dodgers Possibly Spend?
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On a surface level, the fact that the Dodgers have so much money to spend on players such as Beckett, Crawford, Gonzalez and Ramirez would seem to have everything to do with the team's new ownership group and its massive television contract.
However, there is a limit to how deep the club's pockets go, and at least one reporter is saying that the Dodgers may have already surpassed their limits.
On Saturday, ESPN's Darren Rovell tweeted this:
I have yet to find 1 banker who can tell me how the Dodgers are doing what they doing. Huge TV deal wouldn't cover it.— darren rovell (@darrenrovell) Aug. 25, 2012
He went on to tweet that the team's maximum payroll should be more like $150 or $160 million, not $200 million.
This begs the question: If the Dodgers are already stretching their financial limits, how much more can they possibly spend if it becomes obvious that they need to spend more in order to win?
Probably not a whole lot, and that's more than a little concerning seeing as how it's almost extension time for Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley. The Dodgers may have to pull some strings in order to extend one or both rotations arms, and this is to say nothing of the team's future prospects in free agency.
And herein lies another dilemma.
There's No Dumping These Contracts
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With all the money they've taken on in the last month or so, it remains to be seen whether or not the Dodgers have already stretched their financial limits to the max.
What we know for sure is that there's no going back now. They agreed to take on four problematic contracts, and they're going to be stuck with these four problematic contracts.
The Dodgers were a dream come true for the Marlins and Red Sox. It's rare for teams to find themselves in such a position, but LA was a team that had a lot of money to pump into their payroll, and a lot of payroll space to fill.
That's the kind of team the Dodgers will be looking for if or when they realize they made a mistake taking on the contracts of Beckett, Crawford, Gonzalez and Ramirez. In all likelihood, such a team will not exist.
There are only a handful of teams around Major League Baseball that can afford players with $15 million-per-year contracts such as Ramirez's and Beckett's, and even fewer that can afford $20 million-per-year contracts such as Crawford's and Gonzalez's.
Teams that come to mind are the Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies, Angels, Tigers and Rangers. Of the bunch, it's hard to imagine any of them agreeing to take on any bloated contracts in the future due to various circumstances.
The Yankees have enough bloated contracts on their hands, and their goal for the next few years is to get cheaper rather than more expensive.
The Red Sox are out of the question for obvious reasons. (And Ramirez, too, is originally from the Boston organization.)
The Phillies are a lot like the Yankees in that they already have too many bloated contracts on their hands. And given the guys they already have on payroll, the last thing they're going to want is more aging players.
The Angels have a couple rich contracts on their hands, and at some point they're going to have to pay Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo a lot of money. They need to be careful with their money going forward.
The Tigers have three $20 million players on their payroll in Prince Fielder, Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander, and they no doubt prefer to spend money to keep Cabrera and Verlander around rather than reinvest money elsewhere. As it is, Forbes reported after the Tigers signed Fielder that the club wasn't going to be able to turn a profit. They're maxed out.
The Rangers could be in a position to spend if they fail to re-sign Josh Hamilton this winter, but the Rangers have less incentive to spend than the Dodgers did because of how much talent they have coming up through the system. They can build a cheap winner rather than buy an expensive winner.
The Marlins and Red Sox were lucky to find the Dodgers waiting with open arms when they concluded that they needed to jettison a lot of payroll very quickly. If the Dodgers come to that same conclusion down the road, they won't be so lucky.
Will the New Players' Old Habits Die Hard?
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By all accounts, Crawford was a model citizen during his time in Boston, and he's always had a reputation of being one of the hardest workers in the league.
It's harder to put a positive spin on the reputations of the other three stars the Dodgers have acquired in the last month.
Gonzalez is a great player and a genuinely likable person, but he didn't adapt well to playing in a high-pressure market like Boston. There also were questions about his leadership in the clubhouse, which was cast in a negative light in the now-infamous report from Jeff Passan and Yahoo! Sports.
When Gonzalez addressed the media upon arriving in L.A., he was cryptic with his comments of how his reputation had gotten to be increasingly negative.
"This year, I tried to be more outspoken, and whenever you say certain things or do certain things, sometimes they fire back the wrong way," he said, per the Los Angeles Times. He added, "The way things were spinned is unfortunate, but I guess looking back maybe there were a couple things –- well, I shouldn't say a couple things –- one thing I shouldn't have done."
For his part, Beckett left Boston with a reputation of being something of a spoiled child. He admitted that he was looking forward to starting over, but he wanted nothing to do with questions about his reputation and said he had no plans to overhaul his personality.
"No, I'm going to try to be the same guy that I've always been," he said. "I think that's never changed. You go and try to do your job and that's what I do."
Ramirez arrived in L.A. with a reputation similar to Beckett's. He was revealed as a "selfish, spoiled, egotistical" player by then-SI.com writer Jon Heyman in 2010, and Ozzie Guillen didn't have any qualms whatsoever about ripping Ramirez for his post-home run antics a few weeks after Ramirez had been traded.
For the time being, the vibes surrounding all four of these players are positive. They're all with a new team, and it's a new team that has a chance to do something very special. If things continue to go well, things should be fine. As they say, winning cures all ills.
But if the losses start to pile up, things could get ugly in the Dodgers clubhouse. They took on some really good players in the last month, but the fact that these players also bring volatile personalities to the table could be a problem in the long run.
It's World Series or Bust, and a Bust Would Have Dire Consequences
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It's a good time to be a Dodgers fan right now. The bad ol' days of Frank McCourt's reign are in the past. And the new ownership group is willing and able to do whatever it takes to win.
If all goes well, the Dodgers will win. If all the pieces come together as planned, they'll be a threat to win it all this year, and the year after that and the year after that. It's not an exaggeration to say that the Dodgers have the foundations for a dynasty in place.
And understand this: Despite the fact that I just took everyone on a stroll through all the worst-case scenarios, even I think things are going to work out for Dong Mattingly and the Dodgers. They're risking a lot, but the potential reward is definitely there.
But this is baseball, where the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.
Just ask the Marlins. Or the Red Sox. For that matter, the Dodgers' neighbors in Anaheim could probably offer a few words of warning right around now.
There's a chance all the Dodgers' worst nightmares could come true, in which case they'll be a losing team saddled with bad contracts and no place to dump them—a potentially paralyzing financial dilemma.
In other words, the Dodgers could end up right back where they were before Magic Johnson and his cronies took over. The bad ol' days may be in the past, but they're not firmly entrenched in the past.
So here's some advice, Dodgers fans: Cross your fingers.
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