The San Francisco Giants once again showed the Los Angeles Dodgers how championship teams are built.
The Los Angeles Dodgers opened the 2013 season with an exciting 4-0 victory over the defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants. Monday’s win was just the first game of a very long season, but it demonstrated why the Dodgers are under extreme pressure to win their first World Series since 1988.
Since purchasing the Dodgers from Frank McCourt last spring, Guggenheim Baseball Management has stopped at nothing to ensure that Los Angeles remains one of the premier franchises in Major League Baseball.
Ownership has authorized general manager Ned Colletti to improve the roster at all costs. And while Los Angeles has dominated the headlines since last summer with a series of high-profile trades and free-agent signings, San Francisco quietly went about winning its second World Series title in the last three seasons.
The Giants have created a championship blueprint that other MLB franchises should follow, particularly the Dodgers. A mere five years after the Barry Bonds soap opera ended its 15-year run, San Francisco is winning with a diva-free roster that should compete for World Series titles for the next few years.
In fact, the party may just be getting started in the Bay Area.
Dodgers fans hope that the team with MLB’s highest payroll delivers a substantial return on investment soon—both emotionally and financially. If not, both Colletti and manager Don Mattingly could find themselves looking for new jobs when the 2013 season ends.
Here are six reasons why San Francisco’s latest World Series victory creates a greater sense of urgency for Los Angeles to earn its first championship in the last 25 years.
Posey delivered the goods before getting a massive new contract.
The Giants are not exactly a small-market team, but they haven’t been reckless in their spending either.
Some notable free agents like Aaron Rowand and Barry Zito (until last year’s playoffs at least) have flopped in San Francisco, threatening to derail the team’s plans. But the Giants have mostly avoided high-priced players on the open market, instead choosing to invest in players they drafted and developed.
San Francisco invests in players it knows can succeed in their current environment, eliminating the uncertainties surrounding free agents and players acquired via trade. And, by signing them to long-term deals early in their careers, the Giants have signed players to more team-friendly deals versus what they might get on the open market.
By investing in known quantities and filling out the rest of the roster with less expensive veterans, San Francisco has been able to keep their payroll relatively in check. During their most recent championship seasons, the Giants ranked eighth (2012) and ninth (2010) in payroll respectively.
The Dodgers may have felt it necessary to spend initially to keep up with the Joneses. However, Los Angeles would do well not to rely on this approach to team building indefinitely.
Kershaw is proof that the Dodgers can draft and develop stars.
The Giants have become a winning organization built on a foundation of mostly homegrown talent. Players like Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Tim Lincecum all played important roles in each of San Francisco’s last two championship seasons.
Likewise, the Dodgers must rely on their native sons to match the Giants’ recent level of success.
Recognizing this, Los Angeles first signed center fielder Matt Kemp to an eight-year, $160 million contract extension following the 2011 season. The Dodgers then gave right fielder Andre Ethier a five-year, $85 million extension last spring, keeping him off the free-agent market this past winter.
Now the Dodgers are reportedly in talks to lock up their staff ace, Clayton Kerhsaw, with a long-term contract extension as well.
Los Angeles has garnered a lot of attention over the past year while acquiring a handful of former All-Stars to help improve its championship odds. While Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez and Zack Greinke must justify the prices paid to bring them in, the Dodgers will not win if Kemp and Kershaw don’t perform like the best players on the team
The Dodgers must win, even without a healthy Billingsley.
The Dodgers’ promising start to the 2012 season was derailed by a series of crippling injuries to key players. However, the Giants overcame a similar amount of adversity on their way to winning the World Series.
San Francisco started last season without the services of closer Brian Wilson, the star of their 2010 championship campaign. The Giants went through most of the season using a committee of closers before Sergio Romo seized control of the position late in the regular season and became a postseason star in his own right.
Lincecum looked nothing like a two-time National League Cy Young award winner during the season’s first half. Instead, he was statistically the worst starting pitcher in baseball through the All-Star break.
Finally, All-Star game MVP Melky Cabrera received a 50-game suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs, prematurely ending a season that was headed toward an NL batting title.
Despite all of that, the Giants found a way to win the NL West by eight games and emerge from the playoffs as the last team standing. Fans in San Francisco certainly will not sympathize with Dodgers fans complaining about bad luck.
Los Angeles will need to shake off any lingering effects from last year’s snake-bitten campaign and rally to overcome the loss of shortstop Hanley Ramirez. Ramirez suffered a thumb injury during the final game of the World Baseball Classic, one that required surgery and will sideline him for up to two months.
The Dodgers' luck does not appear to be improving in the injury department, but they cannot let that spoil what should be a very strong season.
Group celebrations should become the norm for the Dodgers in 2013.
I tend to believe that chemistry is overrated in baseball. However, the Giants are Exhibit A that building around a consistent core of good players is a winning formula.
The Dodgers did not enjoy the luxury of having a cohesive clubhouse last season, as Ramirez, Gonzalez, Crawford, Beckett and closer Brandon League were all acquired in the final third of the 2012 season. Now, those players have all had a full offseason to get acclimated to their new home.
Even free-agent signee Zack Greinke spent the last few months of last season pitching in Los Angeles, albeit as a member of the Angels.
The Dodgers still need more time to build the type of familiarity that San Francisco’s core players have with each other. However, once they really begin to figure each other out and Mattingly gets a better handle on this group of players, the results should be outstanding.
Mattingly is under immense pressure to win big in L.A. this year.
The steady hand of manager Bruce Bochy has played a huge role in San Francisco’s success over the past three seasons. Mattingly is expected to have a similar impact on the Dodgers this season, all the way down to the championship results.
Playing in Los Angeles and having a roster full of high-paid stars gives the Dodgers a very different roster composition than the Giants. This makes Mattingly’s job infinitely more difficult than Bochy’s when it comes to managing egos, but perhaps no current manager is better suited for the part.
Mattingly spent his entire 14-year playing career as a star player for the New York Yankees. Managing for the partners of GBM may seem easy for Mattingly after playing under the watch of former Yankees owner George Steinbrenner for so long.
More than the circus-type atmosphere and demanding presence of “The Boss,” no team is under more pressure to win championships than the Yankees. Unfortunately for Mattingly, he had the experience of playing in New York during one of the team’s longest stretches of futility.
Enduring a playing career that ended with just one playoff appearance and no championships has caused Mattingly to be underrated from a historical standpoint. However, that experience could be the very thing that allows him to get the most out of this group of Dodgers.
Kershaw celebrates the Opening Day victory over the Giants.
As satisfying as this afternoon’s victory over the Giants is for the Dodgers, they would gladly settle for fewer wins in the head-to-head battles if it meant making up ground in the war. Every rivalry is better when both teams are competitive, and the Giants are threatening to make this a blowout victory.
Recent matchups between Los Angeles and San Francisco have been tight, with the Giants narrowly winning the season series last year 10-8. But a three-year playoff drought by the Dodgers, coupled with San Francisco’s recent World Series victories, has swung the edge decidedly in the Giants’ favor.
Both the Dodgers and Giants are high on the list of teams favored to contend for the title in 2013. And with the Yankees and Boston Red Sox both falling on hard times, the Los Angeles-San Francisco rivalry has a chance to again become MLB’s premier battle, just as it was when both teams called New York home.