Tuesday, December 11, 2012
What if it doesn't work?
By Mark Saxon
Zack Greinke and others on the Dodgers figure to have plenty of pressure on them in 2013.
LOS ANGELES -- Don't say it hasn't crossed your mind.
You would think spending a quarter of a billion dollars on a baseball team would buy you a degree of certainty, but what have the Los Angeles Dodgers guaranteed themselves with six months of ferocious spending, aside from a busy accountant?
They still play in the same division as the defending World Series champion. They still haven't been to the playoffs since 2009. They still haven't won the World Series since 1988. They still have to prove that the awkward chemistry last September won't be an issue for all of 2013.
They have questions at the top of their lineup and the back of their rotation.
You can dominate the headlines all you want in November and December, but the connection between that and dominating the following October is fuzzy at best. Nobody knows it better than manager Don Mattingly. His New York Yankees outspent everybody in baseball in the 1980s and still went from 1982 to 1993 without making the playoffs.
The Dodgers made their bullpen better by locking up Brandon League, but it came at a premium, a $22.5 million, three-year deal. They spent nearly $61 million, including the posting fee, to acquire Korean left-hander Hyun-jin Ryu, a 25-year-old with a promising upside but surrounded by mystery. They outbid the Texas Rangers for Zack Greinke, a former Cy Young winner who can opt out after three seasons and carries his own share of questions.
They could be the best team in baseball. They could also be setting the stage for an epic flop.
I asked general manager Ned Colletti if he had thought about that Tuesday and Colletti, who has been operating on a bare minimum of sleep as he scrambled to get all these deals done, looked none too pleased.
"What would you rather have, a $90 million payroll, trying to figure out who your fifth starter was going to be, trying to figure out how you were going to figure out a platoon in left field?" Colletti said. "Would you rather have that or rather have good players who are game for the situation and give you a chance to win?"
It didn't stop there. Colletti's voice got a little louder, a little more defiant, as he continued.
"I think anybody in this game that has a competitiveness to them wants the best opportunity to win. There's always pressure to win. No professional sport is built upon, 'Let's lose as many as you can, let's be as mediocre as possible.' No, it's about winning," Colletti said. "We've got the best chance to win that we've had."
In other words, when in doubt, go with talent. Hard to argue with that even if you can take exception with the methods.
In an ideal world, had Frank McCourt left the Dodgers in better shape, the team wouldn't need to spend its way out of such a deep hole. It would have had the prospects to support its aspirations. You'd rather have a Mike Trout -- young and improving, relatively cheap -- but the Dodgers acted as if they had no choice but to acquire the equivalent of several Albert Pujolses -- accomplished players, well overpaid.
So, that's where things stand. The pressure is on Colletti and the rest of the front office. It's on the players, particularly the newcomers like Greinke, who will feel the need to prove they're worthy of their salaries.
Every hitter in the National League will want to go deep against the Dodgers' pair of Cy Young winners, Greinke and Clayton Kershaw. Every pitcher in the league will want to get through the Dodgers' flashy array of veteran hitters.
League laid it all out six weeks ago.
"The Giants had a great year," League said. "They won the games they needed to win. But I think in 2013, the Los Angeles Dodgers are going to be the team everyone wants to beat."
The Dodgers are no longer going to sneak up on anybody. Too much change jingling around their pockets for that.