Have the Dodgers Restored Faith in the 'Buy a Title' Formula?

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Have the Dodgers Restored Faith in the 'Buy a Title' Formula?

After reeling off 40 wins in their last 48 games, the scorching Los Angeles Dodgers are virtual locks for the playoffs and probably the favorites to represent the National League in the World Series. They have also brought an entirely new flavor to big-spending teams in baseball. 

We have gotten accustomed to seeing teams like the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees spend hundreds of millions of dollars on talent with the hopes of ensuring a championship. Sometimes it has worked; other times you see the 2012 Red Sox accrue 93 losses. 

But even watching those types of teams play, the one thing that always stood out was how methodical and calculated everything seemed. 

Fans and media members aren't privy to everything happening behind the scenes, but it always seemed teams like the Red Sox and Yankees weren't enjoying what they were doing because it was expected of them. 

In fairness, things had gotten so bad for the Dodgers early this year that there were reports manager Don Mattingly nearly got fired after a 30-42 start. 

How quickly things change, as the Dodgers are the talk of baseball and could make a deep playoff run. 

It is no secret that the new ownership group has given general manager Ned Colletti all the freedom in the world to do what he wants when it comes to adding talent. 

Over the last 12 months, the Dodgers' payroll has more than doubled from $105 million to the aforementioned $216 million this season (h/t Cot's Baseball Contracts). 

When the 2012 Red Sox, enduring the franchise's worst season in nearly 50 years, decided that they wanted to dump anyone and everyone signed to a huge contract beyond 2013, the Dodgers were more than happy to help them out by taking Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett and Nick Punto

Courtesy of MLB Advanced Media

Colletti and his staff also threw $42 million at Yasiel Puig last summer that left a lot of people scratching their heads. That looks like an incredible bargain now.

They took advantage of the Marlins' salary dumping twice to acquire Hanley Ramirez and Ricky Nolasco without giving anything up.

In the offseason, Zack Greinke brought his talents to Los Angeles for $147 million over six years. Hyun-Jin Ryu was another foreign import who signed a six-year, $36 million contract. 

When you spend that kind of money, people are going to immediately take notice. They tried to do everything possible to bypass having to build their talent through the draft. So far, it has worked. 

But does that mean this will cause a ripple effect with the rest of baseball trying to spend big money in hopes of winning, or at least competing for a championship?

Don't count on it. 

We can look at where the Dodgers are right now with this insane run to say that it will cause the Yankees to spend $150 million this offseason, or some other teams with cash to spare will spend it frivolously. 

As great as the Dodgers have been, there are still so many examples of teams who spent too much money without yielding results that are going to scare teams off. 

Brian Bahr/Getty Images
Albert Pujols, as well as Josh Hamilton, are cautionary tales to teams wanting to spend big money.

The Angels spent $240 million on Albert Pujols, $125 million on Josh Hamilton and $85 million on Jered Weaver thinking it was going to push them past Texas and Oakland in the American League West. 

Instead, Pujols is having all sorts of problems with his feet that could prevent him from ever being a quality big leaguer again—let alone one who is going to give the kind of production you want for $240 million. Hamilton's OPS has dropped 240 points from last season. Weaver's fastball velocity, which was never great, has dropped more than a full mile per hour from 2012 (87.8 to 86.6). 

The Yankees are probably behind the scenes still trying to find a way to get out of Alex Rodriguez's contract that runs through 2017.

Mark Teixeira is owed more than $69 million over the next three seasons by the Yankees despite giving them nothing this year due to injuries. Not to mention that his OPS dropped 141 points in his first three years in the Bronx. 

CC Sabathia looks like a shell of his former self. He has already allowed as many earned runs this season as he did in 2009 (86) despite throwing 64 fewer innings in 2013 and boasts the highest home-run ratio of his career (1.41). 

Who knows what the Yankees are going to do with impending free agent Robinson Cano, who is a superstar talent but will also turn 31 in October. Do they really feel comfortable investing, let's say, $200 million over six or seven years in another player over the age of 30 after getting burned on so many deals?

What is more likely to happen?

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Boston had to get out of all those bad contracts the Dodgers took in order to add pieces like Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes and re-sign Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz. 

Even bringing it back to the Dodgers, for all the great things they have done since the end of June, how much production have they gotten from Matt Kemp over the last two years after he signed an eight-year, $160 million extension? 

Beckett, who added nothing when he was pitching, is out for the season. Crawford is a glorified platoon player (.263/.325/.382 vs. lefties in 2013), yet the Dodgers will be paying him $85 million over the next four years. 

The point being, the Dodgers aren't succeeding because of all the money they have spent in the last 12 months. They struck gold with Puig when no one else was even close to bidding $42 million on him. They have the best pitcher in baseball right now. The Brandon League experiment has been a disaster, but the rest of the bullpen has come together quite nicely. 

Teams aren't going to model what they do after the Dodgers just because of this run, which by the way has included 32 games against teams under .500, because it still isn't a smart or efficient way to build a team. 

The Dodgers have won because, with the exception of Matt Kemp, virtually everything has fallen into place for them since the end of June. Credit them for taking advantage of a situation, but that doesn't mean every investment made by ownership has worked out perfectly. 

The Yankees have tried to buy championships for a decade, only succeeding once in 2009 when that evil pariah Alex Rodriguez had the nerve to hit six home runs in 15 games. Granted, virtually any franchise would sign up to win one championship in a decade but spending $200-plus million to do it isn't going to be as appealing. 

Another factor working against teams deciding to spend money is the way the game works now. More and more franchises are looking at what Tampa Bay and Oakland are doing, wondering how they can be more like those two teams. 

Instead of having to drop a ton of money on talent, teams are finding more and more avenues to exploit market inefficiencies by putting an emphasis on the game and finding players who cater to the way their ballpark plays, an elite defensive player at a premium position or a specialist reliever. 

Plus, we don't know if the Dodgers' plan will pay off the way they want it to. It's great to talk about a 40-8 run in the regular season that propels you to the postseason, but it doesn't guarantee a championship. I don't even think they are the favorites in the National League because St. Louis, top to bottom, has just as much talent. In a short series, would anyone be surprised if the Cardinals beat Los Angeles?

If the Dodgers do wind up winning a championship, perhaps some teams out there decide spending big money is the best way to go. But I wouldn't be willing to put a lot of my own cash down on that because we have seen the game moving toward younger, cost-control talent to provide more bang for your buck. 

 

Note: All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and Fangraphs unless otherwise noted. 

If you want to talk baseball, feel free to hit me up on Twitter with questions or comments. 

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