In Major League Baseball, money can buy headlines, but it cannot buy wins.
The first month of the 2013 MLB season is in the books and already serves as a stark reminder to those observers who get hypnotized by the most aggressive big spenders in the offseason. Granted, April is only one of the six months that constitute a major league campaign and today's doormats could be September's division winners, but early struggles—not to mention injuries—don't do alleged title contenders any favors.
And you don't create a stir in the offseason without the accompanying World-Series-or-bust expectations.
Take the Los Angeles Dodgers, for instance.
The buzz that started when Richie Rich and friends bought the club increased to a dull roar with the blockbuster trade that brought Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett west. That roar got amped up to 11 when "los Doyers" kept adding to their big-name larder, first inking Hyun-jin Ryu and then Zack Greinke in early December.
The buying binge pushed both the Bums' payroll and expectations into the ionosphere. You don't rub budgetary elbows with the New York Yankees and then content yourself with an early exit from the playoffs.
If '13 doesn't end with LA being fitted for World Series rings, it will have been a failure with all due respect to the inevitable spin.
Fortunately, Gonzalez (.333/.398/.473, 2 HR, 7 2B), Crawford (.308/.388/.516, 4 HR, 4 SB) and Ryu (3.35 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 11.0 K/9, 4.6 K/BB) have justified the considerable excitement surrounding their acquisitions. Clayton Kershaw stands alone as baseball's best southpaw and continues to strengthen his argument for being baseball's best pitcher, period. Even better, Matt Kemp has finally joined the party after a ragged start that had him looking up at the Mendoza line in mid-to-late-April.
Alas, injuries to Greinke, Hanley Ramirez and Chad Billingsley plus slow starts by Kemp and the back end of the Dodger rotation sabotaged what would've been an otherwise terrific month. LA finds itself amongst the dregs of baseball as far as runs scored and is treading water right around .500, good for fourth place in the National League West.
Happily for the Bums, they aren't the only or even most egregious example of a deep-pocketed paper juggernaut that's stumbled under the weight of expectation.
In fact, they're not even the only/most egregious example in Southern California...hello there, Los Angeles Angels (of Anaheim).
Owner Arte Moreno is currently testing the wisdom of "if at first you don't succeed, try, try again" and it's not going well. After throwing trucks full of cash and years at Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson following the 2011 season and having it blow up in his face in 2012, Moreno and the LAA front office doubled down on the ethos. This time, the beneficiary of the overspending was Josh Hamilton, who got five years and $125 million to move from Texas to Anaheim.
That would be the same Josh Hamilton who isn't hitting his weight and has an OPS under .600.
To (presumably) make room for that belly-buster of a contract, the Halos jettisoned the aforementioned Greinke, Dan Haren and Torii Hunter. Ervin Santana's inefficient contract was also moved, though it's tough to pin that one on the Hamilton acquisition.
Kendrys Morales and Jordan Walden were shipped out for starting pitching (Jason Vargas and Tommy Hanson, respectively), and the Angels brought aboard Joe Blanton as baseball's version of duct tape.
Surprising absolutely no one, the pitching plan hasn't worked.
In fact, it's been a disaster, dragging the ERA in Los Angeles-Anaheim almost to the bottom of the majors. That's about where the Angels' record is, too. They're in fourth place with the preseason-punchline Houston Astros nipping at their heels and in need of a substantial win streak just to get within earshot of .500.
Luckily for the LA teams, there's still one underachiever out there that's faceplanted even more spectacularly than either the Dodgers or Angels.
Unluckily for the LA teams, the Blue Jays play in Toronto, and it's 50/50 whether the American audience realizes The Show is still on in Canada.
The Blue Jays clocked in with a '12 payroll just north of $75 million, good for 23rd in the majors. That season didn't go according to the blueprint, so Toronto opted for a dramatic change. For some reason, the brass thought bringing aboard the core of a woefully underperforming '12 Miami Marlins squad was the winning elixir.
So the club moved a bunch of prospects in favor of Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Emilio Bonifacio and John Buck. Then they repackaged Buck with some more prospects and sent them off to the New York Mets for a trio of players highlighted by reigning NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey.
In between those two deals, the Jays plucked Melky Cabrera off the free-agent shelves for two years and $16 million.
When all the acquisitional dust had settled, Toronto's payroll had skyrocketed up over $118 million. It now ranks as one of MLB's 10 largest, a 13-team jump.
And the Jays are in dead last in the American League East.
The new pieces—both position players and pitchers—are off to ugly starts, the old pieces aren't faring much better and the one guy who was keeping his head above water (Reyes) suffered a serious ankle injury and is out until July. Given his history and the way the Jays' season is going, I'd say there's a remote possibility we don't see Jose again in '13.
Not an ideal open to the season, and the horizon isn't looking all that attractive, either.
Nothing in baseball is absolute, though, so there are teams who made considerable offseason waves and who've bolted from the gates.
The Boston Red Sox completed the mini-rebuild that began with the blockbuster Dodger deal using a flurry of second-tier moves while the Atlanta Braves went the A-list route, and both teams are in the running for MLB's best record. Yet much of that success could be attributed to the pitching staffs, which remained largely intact from '12 to '13. The one external addition is Ryan Dempster in Beantown, and he has, admittedly, been excellent (3.30 ERA, 1.13 WHIP).
Which struggling paper tiger will finish with the best record?
The other boosts came from guys who were already on the roster.
Which is really the point—offseason signings and trades are terrific for filling the void between the World Series and Opening Day. They guarantee lots of attention, hype and the headlines that ensue.
But they don't guarantee wins, and that means, as several of the offseason movers and shakers are about to find out, not all of those headlines will be good.