Los Angeles Dodgers: 5 Reasons the Team Shouldn't Spend Big in Free Agency
They acquired slugging first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, former World Series hero Josh Beckett and maligned former outfield star Carl Crawford. Utility infielder Nick Punto also arrived with the headline trio, while the Red Sox received first baseman James Loney and a collection of top prospects
LA also picked up Hanley Ramirez—another marquee player—from the Marlins a few days before the trade deadline.
All told, the Dodgers new ownership group assumed more than $400 million in player contracts in 2012. That certainly takes the cake in the context of spending big.
For a team that spent so much, yet still missed the playoffs, does it make either baseball or financial sense to now dole out massive contracts to free agents following the World Series?
Can the Dodgers feasibly spend their way into October baseball in 2013 more than they already have?
Let’s diagnose the five reasons why the Dodgers should not break the bank in the upcoming MLB free agency.
The Follies of Buying Talent
Before getting into things like the Dodgers’ current roster and state of the NL West, we must reinforce the notion that money doesn’t always buy championships. Recent history throughout the sporting world proves it.
In the NBA, it took two years for the Big 3-powered, superstar-stacked Miami Heat to win a title. They were the overwhelming favorite when management assembled the roster around LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
Yet it took multiple seasons of growing together to bring home the championship (more on this later).
Furthermore, the NFL’s version of spending to no avail is the Philadelphia Eagles.
The fabricated “Dream Team” flopped in 2011 behind Michael Vick and a purported offensive juggernaut, barely recovering to a .500 standing at season’s end. With a bevy of defensive players acquired over the offseason in 2012, Philly still manages a reputation as one of the league’s greatest disappointments, continually failing to play as a cohesive unit.
And in Major League Baseball, the Dodgers’ own trade partner this year is one of the most egregious culprits of overspending.
The Red Sox shed all those nine-figures worth of player salaries because talent and lofty reputations don’t always beget championships. Their 93-loss season this year—manager Bobby Valentine’s failures notwithstanding—is proof positive of that assertion.
This strategy sometimes works in the short term, and can pay dividends in future seasons. That said, such considerable spending is irresponsible on a yearly basis; it generally cripples a franchise
For the Dodgers, the Magic Johnson-led ownership group has already spent enough—to the tune of an MLB-high $193.8 million devoted to next year’s club. It has shown the Los Angeles fanbase that the team means business in the post-Frank McCourt era.
The new owners brought in ample talent to augment the preexisting strength of the roster.
Sufficiently Complete Lineup
Look at the Los Angeles Dodgers on paper and you’ll find capable hitters up and down the roster.
The middle of the order is absolutely set. Matt Kemp and Gonzalez both satisfy the Nos. 3 and 4 spots with their power and average. Ramirez can fill the Nos. 2 or 5 holes with his ability to hit to all fields and drive in runs.
Andre Ethier, for his part, offers great power hitting lower in the order, and is also effective higher in the lineup as he has proven in the past.
Filling out the lineup card would be second baseman Mark Ellis and catcher A.J. Ellis. The former is a professional hitter who handles the bat well, while the latter is an up-can-coming offensive talent (despite being 31) that any team would love to have hitting seventh or eighth.
Now, assuming that Ramirez hits seventh, that leaves open the leadoff and No. 2 slot.
Starting third baseman Luis Cruz and castoff Juan Uribe are not the most attractive answers at that position, so the Dodgers could presumably fill their one glaring need with a cheap veteran. They could then insert that new player in the bottom of the order and bat Mark Ellis second (where he hit for 68 games in 2012).
The wild card in this whole situation is when Crawford returns from Tommy John surgery. When healthy and productive, he could bat leadoff or second. If the team needs to build him up into full playing shape, they could then place him down in the lineup until he returns to form.
So while the leadoff and third base positions remain as somewhat question marks, there are options in place. Cruz can still handle third to a fairly respectable extent (as a fielder and hitter), Ramirez could move over and have Dee Gordon play short, and there is still a good chance Crawford comes back in time to man the top of the order.
Taken together, the Dodgers are set for the majority of their lineup. What they lack in speed they make up for in power and average. Free-agent shopping sprees really don’t figure into the equation
Any team would be happy to feature this collection of hitters to its fanbase day in and day out.
Spend Wisely, Not Big on Pitching
The Dodgers possess several key components in both the starting and relief corps.
Clayton Kershaw is the obvious superstar of the group with his annual Cy Young-worthy campaigns. Behind him, Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang produced fine numbers in spite of poor run support that helped lead to .500 records.
There are also three other starters who were solid in limited action this season, but whose future production is contingent on certain factors.
Chad Billingsley registered 14 quality starts out of a total of 25. He posted a 3.55 ERA and nearly had a 3:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio (128 SO, 45 BB).
His problem is a possible Tommy John surgery looming in the future after tearing a ligament in August (per the Los Angeles Times, via Rotoworld). That procedure would rule out any playing time in 2013.
Ted Lilly brings with him another injury concern, albeit not as severe. If all goes well with him following arthroscopic surgery in September, he’ll be ready for spring training. While an unknown commodity right now, he’d be a good No. 5 starter if healthy.
With Joe Blanton likely departing in free agency, that leaves Josh Beckett as the final member of the rotation. He pitched well (2.93 ERA, 38 K in 43 IP) through seven starts after being acquired from Boston. And his 2-3 record would be far better if he received more than three runs total in his three losses.
Beckett’s issue is whether he continues these types of performances or reverts back to 2012 Red Sox Beckett. If the former holds true, then the Dodgers have a formidable one-two punch, with solid pieces in the back end of the rotation.
Even if one of these starters fails to materialize in 2013, there are enough pieces in place for the Dodgers to compete as a viable squad. Throwing another $100 million-plus deal at, say, Zack Greinke, just isn’t necessary or financially responsible.
Team Chairman Mark Walter said the team has the means—shockingly enough—to take on such a contract, but also would not throw money at a big name if it wasn’t worth it in the long run (via the Los Angeles Times).
I expect the Dodgers to make a move, but not anything that will garner the attention of a Greinke-type deal. As MLB Trade Rumors postulates, signing their former starter Hiroki Kuroda seems much more reasonable.
Plus, there’s a guy named Kershaw who might just command a nice little contract in the near future.
Regarding the bullpen, the Dodgers are equipped with strikeout machines at eighth inning set-up man and closer. Ronald Belisario and Kenley Jansen feature top-notch stuff and will anchor the back end of the ‘pen.
Brandon League, Randy Choate and Jamey Wright, however, are free agents. LA will need to re-sign one (or more) and pick up another available reliever to pair with the likes of Scott Elbert and Javy Guerra.
This area of the team needs some reinforcements, and should receive judicious—and not foolish—financial commitments.
Give It Time
As was mentioned earlier, teams must allow for such extremely talented rosters to gel and develop an identity.
The blockbuster deal that netted the Dodgers Gonzalez, Beckett and Crawford occurred not in July, but just a few days prior to the start of September. Crawford obviously didn’t play at all, and the other two had a little more than a month to establish a rapport with their new teammates.
They produced somewhat in limited action, just not in the same way if they been with the team at the beginning of the year. It follows then that there is a large focus on what’s in store for this team in the future.
I believe Chairman Walter said it best (h/t the Los Angeles Times):
We did not make this move for this year. Of course, we hoped it would help this year. But that's not why we did it. You noticed the guys we picked up, we think they're in the middle of a long number of years for us.
The Dodgers as presently constituted clearly did not play together for any significant time. Team leader Matt Kemp missed extensive portions of the season and the squad as a whole was more a collection of part-timers than a unified group.
Guggenheim Baseball Management must sit back and allow manager Don Mattingly and his staff to develop this club. Adding any more shiny bells and whistles will only hinder, not foster, that development.
This franchise need only look at the San Francisco Giants—their division rival just up the road—to see how team unity and camaraderie work towards postseason-worthy campaigns.
Aside from the AL Central, the NL West remains the most winnable division in baseball.
The Diamondbacks are still a formidable club, but vastly underachieved this year and finished third. Many pundits projected them as the division winners this season, so the Snakes must prove themselves moving forward.
Until they do, the Dodgers and Giants remain as the top two teams in the West.
Despite finding themselves eight games behind San Francisco at season’s end, the Dodgers were in the hunt for the majority of 2012. They were in first place as late as the All-Star break and weren’t officially eliminated from the wild card until the second to last game of the season.
The Giants, meanwhile, just earned their second trip to the World Series in the past three years. There’s no doubting their strength heading into next season—even with key players set for free agency.
That said, they’re not unconquerable or without weakness. The Dodgers must be cognizant of this and avoid the pitfalls of free-agency overspending.
It’s just not worth the risk; division crowns and playoff berths are within reach.
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