Making sense of the Dodgers' spending spree
With new right-handed pitcher Zack Greinke, left, Los Angeles Dodgers co-owner Magic Johnson has payroll that rivals the New York Yankees.
WASHINGTON — Everyone in baseball has expected the Los Angeles Dodgers' off-season tsunami. But as it crashed to shore this week with the signings of free agents Zack Greinke and middling Korean left-hander Ryo Hyan-jin for a combined cost of $208.7 million, every N.L. contender, including the Washington Nationals, has to figure out how to react and adapt.
The sight of a Stan Kasten-assembled ownership group, flush with billions in new cable TV cash, has turned Chavez Ravine into the Bronx of the Pacific, but with nice mountains and Vin Scully for voice-over. The road to the World Series now goes through the Dodgers and will for years.
How rich and wild are the Bums right now? They'll take bad-to-awful Red Sox contracts, such as Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford, just to get Adrian Gonzalez as part of the trade. They'll take Hanley Ramirez's salary off your books and hope he turns into the player of 2010. Ever heard of Yasiel Puig? He's a 21-year-old Cuban defector. The Dodgers paid him $42 million.
Despite two Cy Young winners in their rotation and five multi-time All-Stars in their lineup, few think the Dodgers are finished for this winter.
What was good enough a week ago may not suffice now. The Giants, Reds, Cardinals, Phillies, Braves and Nats are faced with a team that has swallowed $850 million in future contract obligations and hasn't even belched. The cross-town rival Angels got the Greinke-Ryo memo and quickly shocked the Rangers by signing hard-miles Josh Hamilton for 125-million risky bucks.
What was a poor contract, an overpay, a holiday bauble, such as a third year on a free agent deal for Adam LaRoche, a Gold Glove first baseman with 33 homers and 100 RBI, might look like a sensible competitive necessity now.
In fact, if Kasten's former bosses, the Lerners, and the general manager that he hired for Washington, Mike Rizzo, could listen to Stan, they might want to offer that third year like, maybe, tomorrow, and close the deal by dinner, because stunned depleted Texas now needs a free agent lefty power bat.
The Dodger grabs only underline the dawdling irresponsibility of Commissioner Bud Selig in allowing the Nats to be held hostage to Orioles owner and MASN owner Peter Angelos for a full year (and counting) beyond any reasonable deadline for settling their dispute over the value of the Nats local TV rights.
MLB anointed a three-team fairness committee to study the issue — interminably. According to a reliable source, "Baseball has ruled on it. Both sides didn't like the valuation. Washington hated it." Who didn't know that in advance? So the time was mostly wasted. Thanks.
Now, MLB has asked a private investment bank to seek potential new owners for all of MASN, which would, in theory, take Angelos out of the picture. What a great idea, Bud — for 18 months ago.
For now, the most likely potential buyer would be Fox. Would Angelos sell? Normally, I'd say, "No," or only under threat of "best interests of the game" powers that Selig is loath to use for fear of a court case that might prompt Angelos to go all Al Davis and embarrass MLB with dirty laundry.
However, irony never sleeps. Someone once said, "Sell high." And MASN may never again be worth what it is now with Fox about to close on the $6-billion Dodger deal — the bonanza swung by Kasten's group.
Neither D.C. nor Baltimore is L.A. But, combined, they're half L.A.'s population. That fat footprint is made all the more valuable by two teams in the market. The last thing Angelos ever wanted, baseball in D.C., may catalyze a bigger payday for him than asbestos and big tobacco.
The Lerners with billions can handle their own business brawls. For now, with their rising payroll still under $95 million, the Nats' lack of fresh RSN money hasn't hamstrung them — yet. But it will. Every team needs ammo with LaLaLand gone nuts. Some will never get it. The Nats still can.
Kasten's Frankenstein still has some ugly bolts sticking out of its neck. Manager Don Mattingly must handle stars that arrived with more baggage than you can buy on Rodeo Drive. But when these Dodgers get sorted out, they'll be what everyone now predicts: the Yankees of the N.L.
"We're playing catch-up," Kasten said by phone this week. "The Dodgers should never have reached the point where they were a $90-million payroll team. In two, three, four years, we can stop doing this (spending) if we do other things (in player development) as well."
So, there it is, for the next several years, the Dodgers will play baseball gin rummy, discarding any vast contract that stinks, then buying a new star "card" to fill their pat hand. And they'll laugh at the game's 17.5-percent luxury tax on payrolls over $178 million.
"The Dodgers invented scouting, player development and international signings. This is in the franchise makeup," Kasten said. "We just have to get back to it."
What if Stan's multipronged plan doesn't work out on schedule?
"We have the money. We could (buy players indefinitely) if we had to," Kasten said. "But history shows it is not just about buying players.
"What's different now (from his five years in Washington) is that we don't have either-or decisions here — either the farm system or free agents or trades or international. We do not have to make those decisions."
See, being Dodger rich isn't really about gluttony. It just means you can order the whole left side of the menu for dinner then order the whole right side to take home in a doggie truck in case you get the midnight munchies.
"This has been a dream come true," Kasten said. "It's the most fun I've ever had in my life. I'm having a ball."
So while the Dodgers can take a $61.7-million flier on Ryu, the Nats haven't upped their two-year $25-million offer to LaRoche to perhaps the $39-million/three-year level that Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino got.
Should they? A week ago, before the Dodgers got Greinke, that third year didn't look like Nat money well spent; with their payroll soon headed past $100-million they still live in a world where you must count your cash. Kasten doesn't reside there anymore.
"I feel real happiness for the people (in Washington) who are still there and succeeding — because I know what not succeeding feels like," Kasten said. "I have a warm feeling for what they've accomplished."
That's a sentiment that may turn chilly by this October — or any other October. As far as anyone in baseball can glimpse into the future, the huge opaque cloud that hangs over Dodger Stadium obscures the view.
It's not smog. It's money burning.
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