Can the LA Dodgers Find Success as the New York Yankees of the West?
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However, the team did meet expectations in one sense this season.
Once the Guggenheim Baseball Management ownership group led by Magic Johnson, Stan Kasten and Mark Walter bought the Dodgers in late March for more than $2 billion, the prevailing belief was that the new mega-bucks owners had plenty more cash to spend and would pour that money into making the team a championship contender.
The Dodgers began to flash that cash during the waiver and non-waiver trade deadlines.
First, the team acquired shortstop Hanley Ramirez from the Miami Marlins. Agreeing to take on the approximately $38 million remaining on Ramirez's contract through 2014 was a key factor in making the deal happen.
But the Dodgers truly showed that money was no obstacle in trying to improve the roster in making a blockbuster trade with the Boston Red Sox. The team acquired first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, pitcher Josh Beckett, outfielder Carl Crawford and infielder Nick Punto. In doing so, it absorbed nearly $260 million of player contracts into its payroll.
Shortly before making the deal, principal owner Walter made perhaps the understatement of the season while talking to the Los Angeles Times' Dylan Hernandez.
"We can take on significant money," Walter said.
A day later, his team dropped a bombshell on MLB with their mega-trade.
Nearly a month earlier, the Dodgers tried to push the envelope further open with their seemingly unlimited budget by claiming Cliff Lee on waivers.
Had general manager Ned Colletti been able to work out a deal with the Philadelphia Phillies or if Phillies GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. decided to simply let Lee go for nothing, the Dodgers would have been responsible for the remaining $95 million on his contract.
Little did anyone involved with or following MLB know that Lee's contract was but a fraction of what the Dodgers would eventually take on in their attempt to create a cash-fueled shortcut to building a playoff contender.
As we know now, the money push didn't quite work out. The Dodgers fell short in both the NL West and wild-card races. Perhaps even worse, their archrival Giants went on to win the World Series.
Actually, what's probably worst of all for the Dodgers is that the Giants look equipped to be a championship contender for years to come.
However, it's surely worth noting that the Dodgers had a 7.5-game lead over the Giants in the NL West as late in the season as May 27. San Francisco didn't truly begin to pull away in the race until late August—after the Dodgers made their big trade.
Sure, injuries to Matt Kemp, Ted Lilly, Chad Billingsley and Clayton Kershaw affected the Dodgers' ability to compete with the Giants in the NL West and the Cardinals for the league's second wild-card bid.
But the 2012 Dodgers may also have demonstrated that a successful playoff contender can't be cobbled together on the fly. Though the haul of players that the team received from the Red Sox was impressive, the overhaul and upheaval created by the influx of new talent made it difficult for the Dodgers to jell together as a cohesive unit.
Now, however, the Dodgers have a full offseason in which to properly assemble a roster and use their abundant financial resources to target specific needs that must be addressed.
The team already got off to a head start by re-signing reliever Brandon League to a three-year, $22.5 million contract to be their closer. Giving League that kind of money seems crazy since it was questionable whether or not he would've received an offer like that in free agency.
But that's what large-market revenues and a gigantic payroll can afford to do. A team like the Dodgers—or the Yankees, Red Sox and Angels—doesn't have to wait for the market for player salaries to establish itself. It can set the market without any regard for what the competition may have offered.
The Dodgers are expected to be a strong contender to sign the best starting pitcher on the open market in Zack Greinke. Perhaps they'll approach him just as they did with League: Give him a titanic offer that no other team is likely to match.
Colletti could also take a chance on players coming off injury, like reliever Joakim Soria. Soria will likely have to accept a one-year deal for less money to show he's healthy again and build his value back up. But the Dodgers could offer him more than other teams might be willing to. And if it doesn't work out, they have the money to cover up the mistake.
It's what the Yankees have been doing for decades.
But as in 2012, the Dodgers could use their amorphous budget to take on a large contract that a non-contender might want to shed from its payroll.
The first name that comes to mind is Alex Rodriguez if the Yankees really wanted to get rid of him and A-Rod is willing to leave. Perhaps Johan Santana could be another possibility if the Mets wanted to get rid of the minimum $31 million he's still owed.
The point is that the Yankees are no longer the automatic answer when it comes to where the biggest contract will come from or where the top free-agent talent might go. Maybe they haven't been for a while, with the emergence of the Angels, Rangers and Tigers as high-rollers.
But the Dodgers are definitely a part of that group now. And if they could almost make the playoffs by throwing a bunch of money at their deficiencies in midseason, think about what they can do with an entire offseason—and an actual plan—to pair with those resources.
MLB may now have its West Coast superpower.
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