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Saturday, December 8, 2012
Where's the fun in fiscal restraint?

By Mark Saxon

The time likely will come when the Dodgers regret this spending frenzy, but why let that spoil a good holiday party?

Zack Greinke, Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez are all going to slow down in the next few years, but their earnings are going to keep zipping right along. Aging, expensive rosters have a way of handcuffing teams eventually. The challenge will be finding creative ways to get younger.

But news that the Dodgers are closing in on a six-year deal with Greinke -- tossing about $147 million more onto what has been more than a half-billion dollars in expenditures since the Guggenheim group bought the team -- puts the right gift under Dodgers fans' trees. It's a pretty fancy way to kick off Hanukkah as well.

Greinke is about to get paid like the best right-handed pitcher of all time. He's not. He's probably not among the best 15 active pitchers in the major leagues. He is, however, easily the best available option. The drop-off to Anibal Sanchez was fairly dramatic, to Kyle Lohse even steeper, and the Dodgers were starting to get an uncertain vibe as they inquired about trade possibilities for R.A. Dickey or James Shields.

The Dodgers didn't need the best right-handed starting pitcher of all time because they have, perhaps, the best left-handed pitcher of a generation in Clayton Kershaw. Greinke immediately becomes the best No. 2 starter west of Washington, D.C. The rare lefty-righty power duo at the top of the Dodgers rotation could make them a nasty matchup come October. Just ask those teams that had to grapple with Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling a decade ago.

The Dodgers' front office left Nashville in a sour mood Thursday, and contrary to what some people are thinking now, it wasn't a negotiating ploy. The numbers had been spinning out of control, with rumors of a possible seven-year, $175 million deal for Greinke causing them to examine the direction their winter would take.

Whether things changed so dramatically over 36 hours because the Texas Rangers pulled out or because Greinke suddenly realized Los Angeles is a pretty nice place to live and play, we might never know. The point is that the Dodgers -- with some of the nicest weather in the country, the richest owners on earth and a legendary past -- shouldn't have to overspend as if they were some bland city in the middle of nowhere.

Make no mistake, this move will have financial ramifications that won't just tick off the rest of the league's owners. They will also blow back on the Dodgers at some point, probably soon. It sent the cost of pitching skyrocketing. If Greinke is worth $147 million, what's to say Kershaw isn't worth more than $200 million when the Dodgers sit down with his agent?

Common sense, apparently, has gone out the window, because these aren't common cents.

But as they say, it isn't our money.

What's more outrageous: These owners sending costs soaring throughout baseball or pocketing the $6 billion or so they're about to get over the next 25 years in a new TV deal? I guess it depends on your perspective. Baseball fans in Oakland and Kansas City might say it's the former. If you root for the Dodgers, you prefer it this way.

It would all ring a bit hollow if the Dodgers weren't intent on bulking up their operations in Latin America and spending more on scouting and development. Signing free agents winter after winter rarely works, especially when you're adding pitching. But if they rebuild the pipeline from below, the occasional addition at the top becomes a lot more effective.

Now the Dodgers have two of the best 25 or so starting pitchers in baseball. If Chad Billingsley is healthy, they have three of the top 50. We'll find out by Sunday afternoon whether they've signed Korean lefty Ryu Hyun-jin, who could be a solid No. 3. Josh Beckett and Aaron Harang or Chris Capuano are better than OK at the back of the rotation.

And they might deal from a position of strength -- starting pitching -- to land their final pieces heading into the spring: a fourth outfielder, a left-handed reliever and a catcher. Or they could just hoard it all and be heavily insured against injuries.

Are the Dodgers the World Series favorite now? It's an absurd question. Not at all. Not when a team in their division, the San Francisco Giants, has won two of the past three and has essentially kept the team intact.

The other day at the winter meetings, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said the National League West is "starting to get nasty."

After this latest move by the Dodgers, no one else in the division would argue with that.