Kasten making most of Dodgers' financial freedom
Remember that "Bizarro World" episode of Seinfeld? Well, as a resident of the Atlanta area for nearly three decades, I'm thinking this is baseball's version of such a thing: Stan Kasten, the guru of the Dodgers, vs. Stan Kasten, the guru of the Braves.
With the Dodgers, Kasten has enough pennies from his bosses to allow his baseball folks to spend like crazy in pursuit of players. In fact, the Dodgers are doing so in record numbers.
When Kasten was with the Braves, not so much.
Actually, not at all. But don't get the wrong idea. During Kasten's time as Braves president from 1986 through 2003 under Ted Turner and later with Time Warner, the franchise wasn't poor.
It was just prudent.
That's prudent as in, Kasten's Braves never coming close to resembling Kasten's Dodgers regarding spending.
Still, the Braves did make future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux the second-highest-paid pitcher in the game at the time in 1992. They signed the free agent to a five-year contract worth $28 million.
It's just that the Braves got lucky. The New York Yankees offered Maddux $6 million more than Atlanta (not to mention a $9 million signing bonus), but he preferred the south to the East Coast.
Except for the Maddux signing, Kasten's Braves mostly won by combining economical players through trades and free agency with those from a highly productive farm system -- Tom Glavine, David Justice, Javy Lopez, Mark Lemke, Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones, et al.
Before long, with future Hall of Famer Bobby Cox in the dugout and John Schuerholz as the general manager that Kasten hired, the Braves did the unprecedented. They captured a record 14 consecutive division titles, along with five National League pennants and a World Series championship.
The Dodgers? The last time they reached the World Series was 1988, when Kirk Gibson's famous swing and limp around the bases helped them win it all. They've made the playoffs just six times since then, and not once in the last three years.
Kasten wasn't in charge of the Dodgers until last season, when they teased for a while before finishing 86-76, eight games behind the San Francisco Giants for second place in the NL West.
These were the same Giants who eventually won the World Series for the second time in three years.
Even so, Kasten and the Dodgers are seeking to change the flavor of excellence in baseball from the black and orange of San Francisco to Dodger Blue -- you know, with help from a lot of green.
Not only are the Dodgers entering Kasten's second season in Los Angeles with the biggest payroll in baseball, but with the biggest one in the game's history ($225 million -- for now). On Monday, the Dodgers finalized the signing of Zack Greinke to a six-year contract worth around $147 million. It was a record for a right-handed pitcher, and only New York Yankees left-hander CC Sabathia got more when he signed for $161 million in 2009.
Not long before the Greinke deal was announced, the Dodgers gave South Korean pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu $36 million over six years. They also did much of their holiday shopping during the summer by getting the pricey likes of Hanley Ramirez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez.
In contrast to their free-spending history since the early 1970s, the Yankees are slicing payroll this year. So, except for the Dodgers' Los Angeles rivals, the Angels -- who signed Josh Hamilton to a five-year contract on Wednesday -- the Dodgers will have the big-spending spotlight to themselves.
Talk about a swift transition. The Dodgers went from their bankrupt days of owner Frank McCourt to their current posterity in a flash after new ownership and management took over in April. It began with the impressive finances of the Guggenheim Partners, led by controlling partner Mark Walter, who made Magic Johnson the face of the franchise and brought in Kasten to run the operation -- and spend.
The Dodgers clearly have the money, but they also have something even better: the prospect of acquiring more money.
Then more money after that.
According to Forbes Magazine earlier this fall, "Mr. Walter's penchant for spending is also being fueled by the comfort of knowing that the Dodgers will soon see an explosive increase in their local/regional TV revenues when their current deal expires in 2013 that could reach as high as $8.5 billion over the next 20 years."
That's Bizarro World, all right -- Kasten, Dodgers, Braves or otherwise.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.