Dodgers serve notice on rest of NL West
The late Jerry McMorris, the original owner of the Colorado Rockies, used to admit he was worried about what would happen if the Los Angeles Dodgers "ever had an owner with deep pockets and a desire to win."The rest of the NL West is about to find out. Any question about the financial wherewithal and competitive desire of the new ownership group in Los Angeles has been answered. When it came time to fish or cut bait, they went fishing, hauling in a package from the Boston Red Sox that shows their willingness to pay whatever price it takes to win. They swung a deal with Boston that brought first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, center fielder Carl Crawford, right-handed pitcher Josh Beckett and infielder Nick Punto. Oh, Boston threw in $12 million to help with salaries for this season, but that's a pittance considering the contracts the Dodgers are now committed to over the coming years.
Next year, alone, the Dodgers already have 18 players under guaranteed contracts that carry a $177.95 million price tag, and three additional options that would push that figure to $184.45 million. And with Crawford having undergone reconstructive elbow surgery last week and not expected to be ready to play at the start of 2013, the Dodgers don't even have a left field or a starting catcher in place.And there is something else to consider. This is only a temporary fix that the new ownership has undertaken to give the fans something to enjoy while the long-term plan is put in place. Dodger president Stan Kasten broke into baseball with the Atlanta Braves, where he oversaw a franchise that was built around a player development system and won a professional sports record 14 consecutive division titles. He took that same approach to his job as president of the Washington Nationals, who are now enjoying the success of that plan. And now he's in Los Angeles. "There is nothing more exciting for fans than to have home-grown talent that is successful," Kasten said in an interview earlier this season. "We didn't invent that plan in Atlanta. Know who invited it? The Dodgers. Branch Rickey, back in Brooklyn. We had in Atlanta and I feel we have here a secret ingredient and that's an ownership that understands it. It's willing to give the time and resources to build the foundation. "And we have an ownership with deep enough pockets to improve things at the major-league level and on a long-term basis at the same time. It's not an either or thing." And when the home-grown products assert themselves at the big-league level, the Dodgers will only then become players on the free-agent market. "With Atlanta, we didn't sign our first big-time free agent (pitcher Greg Maddux) until after we were in two World Series," said Kasten. "Really, free agency is significant for the last piece of the puzzle. It doesn't help you build the foundation." But unlike Atlanta, where the franchise finished last in the NL West for three years before that first division title in 1991, and Washington, where this year's success comes on the heels of eight consecutive non-winning seasons, the Dodgers have an opportunity to enjoying the process of rebuilding a farm system. They can afford to gamble, like they did in the deal with Boston, where after this season they will still owe Gonzalez $127 million for the next five years, Crawford $122 million over the next five years, and Beckett $31.5 million the next two. And that comes on the heels of recent deals for Andre Ethier, which guarantees him $83.5 million the next five years, and Matt Kemp, who is guaranteed $148 million for the next seven. Will the influx of Gonzalez to the lineup and Beckett to the rotation allow them to overtake the San Francisco Giants in the battle for the NL West title? Time will tell. Notice, however, has been served on the rest of the National League that the Dodgers are poised to become to the National League what the New York Yankees of the George Steinbrenner era were to the American League. The Dodgers are a franchise that enjoys the riches of one of the world's major markets and is willing to invest those revenues into putting the best product they can find on the field. "This is a terrific franchise, an iconic franchise, a lot of history and tradition," said Kasten. "This franchise's roots in the community and with its fan base are as deep as any team in baseball." It's a matter of nurturing those roots so the franchise can blossom again.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.