$187 Million Dodgers Have Become MLB's Worst Dollar-for-Dollar Value

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterMay 15, 2018

What the heck has happened to the Dodgers?
What the heck has happened to the Dodgers?Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

After five straight division titles and one ill-fated World Series run, the life the Los Angeles Dodgers have been living has switched from "charmed" to "cursed."

They're not the worst team in Major League Baseball. Their 16-24 record is bad, but it puts them safely ahead of the 10-27 Chicago White Sox.

But as moral victories go, that's pretty much it.

The Dodgers entered Monday closer to last place (one game ahead of the San Diego Padres) than they are to first place (eight games behind the Arizona Diamondbacks) in the National League West. And if a money component is added to the "worst team in MLB" discussion, they become the biggest flop of 2018.

The Dodgers opened with a $187.3 million payroll, according to Cot's Baseball Contracts. Do some quick and dirty math for how much teams have spent per win, and what you get (as of Monday morning) is this:

1. Los Angeles Dodgers: $11.7 million
2. Baltimore Orioles: $11.4 million
3. San Francisco Giants: $10.0 million

It's only fair to note the Dodgers haven't had the greatest luck out on the field. They've allowed only one more run than they've scored, which indicates they should be about a .500 club.

And yet, the Dodgers are at a point where they've never been less deserving of the benefit of the doubt.

They just got swept in a four-game series at Dodger Stadium by the Cincinnati Reds, who had been 10-27 beforehand. With that, the Dodgers are now mired in a 5-14 stretch.

Further feeding the misery is how much the injury bug has fed on the Dodgers. The month of March saw bullpen newcomer Tom Koehler and All-Star third baseman Justin Turner land on the disabled list with serious injuries. The injury bug has since knocked All-Star shortstop Corey Seager out for the year with Tommy John surgery and put three-time Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw on the DL with biceps tendinitis.

Also on the DL are infielder Logan Forsythe and pitchers Hyun-Jin Ryu and Tony Cingrani. If left-hander Rich Hill's latest blister doesn't heal quickly, he may also have to hit the DL.

This has created an early test of the Dodgers' depth, and the results don't mislead about how said depth has not been up to the task.

If only the Dodgers could have seen this coming.

[Ron Howard narrator voice]: They should have.

The Dodgers sorely miss Clayton Kershaw and Corey Seager.
The Dodgers sorely miss Clayton Kershaw and Corey Seager.Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

Between 810 regular-season games and 45 postseason games, the Dodgers played more baseball than anyone from 2013 to 2017. Last season was an especially grueling test that culminated with a 15-game postseason run, which ended when the Houston Astros beat them in Game 7 of the World Series on November 1.

Opening Day was due March 29, marking an even shorter offseason than World Series teams usually get. Throw in how Seager's elbow had started barking at the end of 2017 and how DL stints had become a regular occurrence for Kershaw, and the Dodgers had plenty of incentive for an active winter.

They instead spent less money ($4 million) in free agency than every team except the Atlanta Braves, according to Spotrac. And their headline-grabbing trade for old friend Matt Kemp was merely a cash-neutral bad contract swap—albeit one that's turned out to be quite fortuitous.

It was an open secret that the Dodgers' prime directive was to get under the $197 million luxury-tax threshold for 2018. No small task in light of how the Dodgers, driven by their hunger for star power and depth, had opened at an average of $241.7 million from 2013 to 2017.

One motivation was to avoid a fifth straight year of being the highest-taxed club in MLB. Another was to reset the team's penalty on future overages in time for a post-2018 free-agency bonanza that will feature Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson, A.J. Pollock and, if he opts out of his contract, Kershaw.

As Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers president of baseball operations, told Dave Sheinin of the Washington Post in February: "You're always looking at your payroll over a multiyear horizon. And who's available in different classes. And what your actual needs are. … Having flexibility—even if you can't associate it with a specific name right now, flexibility is always a good thing."

In theory, the Dodgers didn't have the wrong idea in spurning an unusually weak free-agent class. And they did make a spirited run at Shohei Ohtani, who looked like an outstanding bargain buy even before he made good on his potential as a two-way star.

However, it's still fair to ask what might have been if the Dodgers were as interested in augmenting their roster as they were in saving money.

Imagine Giancarlo Stanton as a Dodger. It's easy if you try.
Imagine Giancarlo Stanton as a Dodger. It's easy if you try.Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

For instance, they could have obliged reigning National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton's desire to come home to Los Angeles. If not him, the Dodgers could have easily plucked Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna or Dee Gordon from the Marlins instead.

And as underwhelming as the free-agent class was, the Dodgers could have jumped at the opportunity to make some signings once a widespread freeze shifted the market in favors of buyers. At the least, that could have led to reunions with Yu Darvish and Brandon Morrow.

Given all the injuries the Dodgers have suffered, it's hard to say with any certainty that a more active offseason would have allowed them to avoid a slow start. It's nonetheless reasonable to think they wouldn't have started this slowly and that a turnaround would thus be that much more realistic.

In their current state, whatever hope the Dodgers have for a turnaround is couched in their willingness to bring in outside help. But even if they ultimately choose to buy rather than sell, it's hard to imagine their front office will deem this roster as worthy of sacrificing the $15.5 million in remaining luxury-tax space.

At this rate, the only way the Dodgers are going to make anyone forgive their sudden penny-pinching is if it pays off in seasons to come. There's a distinct possibility it will, given how much spending power they're set to have in perhaps the most loaded free-agent market in history.

For now, though, they're tasting real humility for the first time in years. Since it's largely the result of their refusal to do what they usually do, it sure feels like a waste.


Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference. Payroll data courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts and Spotrac.


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