Why the Los Angeles Dodgers Will Be Baseball's Next Mega Franchise
Harry How/Getty Images
When the Guggenheim Baseball Management group fronted by Mark Walter, Stan Kasten and Magic Johnson took over ownership of the Los Angeles Dodgers in late March, a new era appeared to have begun for one of baseball's most storied franchises.
At the very least, the Dodgers were rescued from the mismanagement of Frank McCourt, who drove the team into bankruptcy by using the franchise as his personal bank account. But simply getting back to financial health and operating like a Major League Baseball team once again were the barest of aspirations for the Dodgers and their new ownership.
As we know now, the Dodgers are striving for so much more.
The hope that the team would spend significant amounts of money and pursue top talent has been fulfilled beyond the expectations of even the most optimistic Dodgers fan. After acquiring Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford from the Boston Red Sox on Aug. 25, the Dodgers showed anything was possible.
Wherever the bar had been set previously, it needed to be raised.
Yet the trade with the Red Sox may have just been the beginning. At the very least, it was yet another step in the revival and overhaul of the Dodgers franchise. The team's new ownership isn't yielding to the limits and conventions that baseball's 30 clubs have previously followed. The Dodgers appear to be making new rules, challenging even the highest powers in the sport.
The Dodgers are poised to become baseball's next superpower franchise. Here is how the team has gotten to this point and where the organization aspires to go in the years to come.
Ownership Is Relentless
Shortly before the Dodgers completed their mega-trade with the Red Sox, team ownership was unflinchingly honest about its approach to spending and intention to improve the team. Money simply was no obstacle.
Kirby Lee-US PRESSWIRE
"We can take on significant money," Dodgers chairman Mark Walter said to the Los Angeles Times' Dylan Hernandez on Aug. 22.
It was virtually an understatement, one that's rather hilarious in retrospect. The man was not kidding in the least.
Dodgers ownership showed how serious it was about taking on big contracts when the team claimed Cliff Lee on waivers in early August. Lee was owed a minimum of $95 million, yet the Dodgers practically dared the Philadelphia Phillies to either work out a trade or let their left-hander go on waivers.
It was a bold move, one we'd never seen a team make before.
Perhaps there shouldn't have been any surprise, however, considering the Dodgers were able to acquire Hanley Ramirez without surrendering a top prospect in a trade because they took on the full $38 million remaining on his contract.
Three weeks later, of course, the Dodgers showed all of baseball that there was a new definition for "bold" when it came to making waiver claims and subsequent trades.
Taking on more than $260 million in contracts from the Red Sox with Gonzalez, Beckett, Crawford and Nick Punto redefined what was possible in terms of deal-making in baseball. Yet according to the New York Post, the Dodgers were aiming high throughout the league.
Joel Sherman reported that the Dodgers called the Yankees to ask about the availability of CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira. Just take a moment to consider how the established world order of baseball has changed simply from that inquiry. Aren't we accustomed to the Yankees making that call?
How about the audacity of asking the second-best team in the American League—one that presumably has its sights set on winning the World Series—if it's interested in giving up its best pitcher and one of its best hitters in a trade, just to unload $200 million worth of salary?
The TV Money Fountain
Just how is all of this possible? How have the Dodgers taken conventional wisdom and previously held beliefs and just swatted them away, like Matt Kemp teeing off on an 88-miles-per-hour fastball right down the middle of the plate?
TV money has changed everything. Huge contracts for local broadcast rights are the new well to tap for revenue, and cash is flowing out of these deals like water from a broken pipe.
The Los Angeles Angels signed Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson during the offseason, funded in part by the $3 billion deal the team signed with Fox Sports, according to the L.A. Times' Bill Shaikin. In 2014, as reported by the Dallas Morning News' Evan Grant, the Texas Rangers will begin a $1.6 billion TV contract with Fox Sports Southwest.
Kirby Lee-US PRESSWIRE
How much could the Dodgers' new TV deal be worth? Shortly after the Guggenheim ownership group bought the team, speculation began that the team could get as much as $4 billion from a broadcast agreement.
But Forbes' Patrick Rishe reported that the Dodgers' new TV revenues could yield as much as $8.5 billion, depending on whether the team agrees to a deal with a regional sports network or creates its own sports network, as the Yankees and Red Sox have done.
With that kind of money available, is it any surprise that when Walter was asked by the Los Angeles Daily News' J.P. Hoornstra if there was a ceiling on spending for the Dodgers, the team's principal owner responded, "Somewhere, I suppose"?
Was Walter in a swiveling chair, sitting in front of a global map and petting a white cat, when he said that? Did he let out a villainous "Bwahaha!" after answering Hoornstra's question? Did Magic Johnson and Stan Kasten join in the maniacal laughter? Were any cigars lit with $100 bills as Hoornstra closed his notebook and left the room?
Taking an International View
Despite the fountains of cash the Dodgers are now frolicking in, the team won't get by with buying all of the expensive superstars available. It has to build an organization, an infrastructure upon which such high-paid talent can be added.
As the L.A. Times' Steve Dilbeck reports (via Baseball America), the Dodgers had the lowest budget for signing international players among the 30 major league teams in 2011. Under the Frank McCourt regime, the Dodgers were last by a significant margin, spending $600,000 less than the next-lowest team. They spent almost $13 million less on international players than the Texas Rangers.
Kevin Baxter of the L.A. Times reported in June 2011 that more than a quarter of all major league players were signed as international free agents. Nearly half of the players in the minor leagues were international signings.
For the Dodgers to have disregarded such a significant pool of potential talent was inexplicable, especially—as Dilbeck points out—for a team that was the first to establish a baseball camp in the Dominican Republic, the first to sign players out of Japan and South Korea.
Taking that into consideration, it's amazing that the Dodgers' minor league system was ranked as high as 11th by Fangraphs before this season.
Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE
But the commitment to international scouting and development is going to receive a major boost under the new ownership group. Kasten and Colletti told Hoornstra that the Dodgers would be devoting more resources to scouting Asia, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela.
The Dodgers' new philosophy toward signing international talent may be best indicated by the signing of 21-year-old Cuban outfielder Yasiel Puig to a seven-year, $42 million contract in late June. It's the largest deal given to a Cuban player, topping the four-year, $36 million deal the Oakland Athletics gave to Yoenis Cespedes and the nine-year, $30 million contract the Chicago Cubs agreed to with Jorge Soler.
As Baseball America's Ben Badler reported, the generous contract raised eyebrows throughout baseball. Several executives were left to ask what the Dodgers were thinking, with one calling the deal "crazy."
Was this overcompensating for years of neglect by the Dodgers? Could it have been an attempt to throw big money at a potential international star before the $2.9 million international spending cap was implemented, as suggested by ESPN's Keith Law?
However, when those articles were written in late June, no one had any idea just how much money the Dodgers were willing to spend. Is the Puig signing really all that much different than what the Dodgers have done during the past month?
Looking back now, it was likely the first indication that the Dodgers were changing the way they did business. The old rules just no longer apply with this team.
Follow @iancass on Twitter
What is the duplicate article?
Why is this article offensive?
Where is this article plagiarized from?
Why is this article poorly edited?