Is it "World Series or bust" for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2013?
After finishing eight games out of first place in the NL West and two games away from the second NL wild-card playoff spot, making the playoffs would seem to be the natural step forward for the Dodgers next season.
But the expectations are much higher for a team that is already on the hook for a $200 million payroll in 2013, according to Cot's Contracts. The Dodgers signed pitchers Zack Greinke and Ryu Hyun-jin to a combined $183 million in contracts over the weekend (Dec. 8-9).
For that kind of money, along with the resources that will be available once the Dodgers sign their massive TV deal with Fox Sports worth an estimated $6 billion, merely winning a division title and qualifying for the postseason won't be seen as enough.
The Dodgers now have to win big.
Winning the NL West or a wild-card bid was surely the expectation this season with the Dodgers acquiring Hanley Ramirez before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, followed by the late August blockbuster deal that brought Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Nick Punto over from the Boston Red Sox.
Teams don't add $260 million in player contracts to their payroll and just expect to finish over .500 and maybe make the playoffs. The objective was to beat out the Giants for a division title. Or, at the very least, finish ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals for a wild-card spot.
But for all of the star players that the Dodgers added, general manager Ned Colletti didn't really build a team during the last two months of the season. It's difficult to put together a cohesive roster on the fly, though the Dodgers certainly tried. And it almost paid off.
With a full offseason, Colletti has enough time to make sure all of the pieces fit. Rather than trying to fill left field and third base with a mix of players, the Dodgers should have regular, full-time players at those positions.
The Dodgers also have a surplus of players that should be dealt away before the beginning of next season. With Greinke and Ryu in the fold now, the pitching staff has eight starters. Clayton Kershaw, Beckett, Chad Billingsley, Chris Capuano, Aaron Harang and Ted Lilly are also currently on the roster.
Unless manager Don Mattingly has an innovative plan to go with an eight-man rotation, at least two of those arms will have to be traded.
Colletti has some other barnacles to scrape off the Dodgers roster, including infielder Juan Uribe and utilityman Jerry Hairston Jr. Shortstop Dee Gordon, who doesn't appear to have a spot in the current lineup, has also drawn heavy interest around MLB, according to CBS Sports' Scott Miller. Those players could be used to address other needs.
The Dodgers could use a left-handed reliever, reserve outfielder and backup catcher. Colletti could possibly still get a third baseman or shortstop, or even yet another starting pitcher, tweets CBS Sports' Jon Heyman.
Taking that into consideration, the team probably hasn't finished its offseason spending. Other MLB teams looking to sign top free-agent talent are likely apprehensive because of that.
The Dodgers are the proverbial big dog, a role formerly held by the New York Yankees. If ownership wants someone, Colletti will likely get that player because the Dodgers have the most money to offer.
Has this set up expectations too large to fulfill? Will 2013 be considered a massive disappointment if the Dodgers don't win the World Series?
Many analysts and fans will likely label the Dodgers a bust if they don't win a championship. After all, what is the point of this titanic spending if the payoff isn't holding up a trophy underneath a champagne shower at the end of October? That will certainly be the knee-jerk reaction if the Dodgers fall short in the postseason next year.
But those who follow the sport more closely surely understand that the best team doesn't always win the World Series. Ask the Texas Rangers about that. Why have the Yankees only won one World Series in the past nine years?
Over the past few seasons, it's been the team that gets the hottest in October that ends up celebrating a championship victory.
A massive payroll buys a team an opportunity to keep reloading, to add key pieces and replace inferior ones year after year. Obviously, the hope is that such a relentless approach and the ability to constantly replenish will eventually result in a World Series title.
But will the Dodgers players, coaches and executives wilt under the pressure that comes with such expectations if they don't win?
The guess here is that they won't. The team that the Dodgers have assembled is full of players who have been through the grind of a pennant race before and won't go into September and October wide-eyed and overwhelmed.
Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and Kershaw were on division-winning teams in 2008 and 2009. Beckett was the ace of World Series champions in Miami and Boston. Crawford was part of what became a perennial contender in Tampa Bay. Gonzalez knows what it's like to be in the harsh spotlight pointed at the Red Sox.
Greinke pitched in pennant races in 2011 with Milwaukee and this season with the Los Angeles Angels. He knew he was expected to be an ace-level starter when he was traded to both the Brewers and Halos. Greinke surely realizes the expectations that come with getting the largest contract ever awarded to a right-handed pitcher.
Even Uribe and Punto have been on championship teams. Experience in facing expectations and pennant pressures are abundant throughout this roster.
That goes for the manager as well. Mattingly was a coach under Joe Torre with the Yankees during much of their success in the 2000s and through three seasons with the Dodgers. He's seen how to handle a team through a pennant race and surely learned plenty himself while fighting for a playoff spot this season.
Experience doesn't guarantee winning, of course. But for the Dodgers, it should be insurance against the expectations and scrutiny that comes with their gigantic payroll and the win-at-all-costs approach of ownership that is likely looking down upon the front office, coaching staff and players with arms folded and lower lip curled.
But isn't that better than the alternative? Players want to win. They relish such expectations.
Perhaps being the favorites takes some of the fun out of the process. The Dodgers aren't going to be that up-and-comer, that surprise team that thrills us the way the Baltimore Orioles and Oakland Athletics did this year. Yet those clubs didn't win the World Series either.
The Dodgers want to be an MLB superpower. They want to wear the big target. The hard part is yet to come. But the collection of talent assembled certainly looks capable of shouldering that burden.
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