Quick fixes failed for SoCal teams
Dodgers and Angels have little to show for lavish spending. What will change?
LOS ANGELES -- This is Southern California, the pop-culture and entertainment capital of the world, so you have to have stars to make it big, right? That's great, as long as you make "The Avengers" and not "Pluto Nash."
The two Southern California baseball teams spent lavishly -- some would say recklessly -- over the past 10 months to land teams worthy of reaching the World Series and brands capable of capturing the public imagination. How did that work out for them?
The Los Angeles Dodgers were knocked out of the playoff race by their rivals, the San Francisco Giants, Tuesday night and had a losing record after the priciest trade in baseball history. The Los Angeles Angels' run ended the night before in Seattle and they finished a distant third in the AL West.
The Dodgers had an average of 41,000 fans show up at their home games, fifth in the majors and a far cry from the old days, when they led the league in attendance every year. The Angels averaged 37,800 fans and saw their attendance decline for the fourth straight season. Meanwhile, of the 10 teams that qualified for the postseason, half of them had payrolls lower than the Dodgers' on Opening Day. All but one of them, the New York Yankees, had a payroll lower than the Angels'. The Angels entered 2012 with the third-highest payroll in baseball at $155 million. The Dodgers could go into 2013 with the highest in the game, expected to top $192 million, $13 million over the luxury tax threshold.
The notion that you can solve your problems by writing checks hasn't looked wise so far. How the organizations adjust could set the course for Southern California baseball for the next decade.
"Because it's L.A. and because of the extraordinary strength and loyalty of this fan base, we thought they expected and deserved a competitive team now," Dodgers president Stan Kasten said. "So, when we were able to acquire stars, we reached out to do that, to kind of speed the timetable up."
The Angels thought they had built a marquee cast in December when they brought in the best player of the era, Albert Pujols along with pitcher C.J. Wilson at a cost of roughly $320 million. The Dodgers hoped to renew their fans' faith when they spent more than $300 million this summer making a series of trades for Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, Shane Victorino, Brandon League and others.
Pujols rallied after a dismal start but still had the worst season of his career by virtually every measurement -- including OPS, home runs and batting average -- and will turn 33 in January. The Angels have nine more years of Pujols. Gonzalez, 30, hit three home runs in 35 games as a Dodger. He's signed through 2018.
Meanwhile, the teams' four biggest success stories were all homegrown. Clayton Kershaw is in the mix for a second straight Cy Young. Matt Kemp put up MVP-caliber numbers again when he was healthy, though he missed nearly one-third of the season because of injuries. The Angels could sweep the AL player awards. Jered Weaver won 20 games and is in the mix for AL Cy Young. Mike Trout is a lock for Rookie of the Year and a good bet to win the MVP.
Loading up on expensive veterans is essentially rewarding players for what they did for competing organizations. Yet both teams insist they are just as committed to restoring faded minor league systems as they are to adding name-brand talent.
One approach is loud and popular but rarely works in the long run. The other goes virtually unnoticed until the pipeline opens up years down the road.
"It takes more than just shopping to turn into winners," Dodgers chairman Mark Walter said. Said Kasten: "We hope in very short order -- one year, two years, three years -- to start to see the pipeline that we hope to build of developing young players for the majors year in and year out in the tradition of the classic Dodger teams."
The Dodgers' farm system was ranked 12th in the majors by ESPN.com's Keith Law and that was before they parted with seven minor leaguers in this summer's trades, headlined by top pitching prospect Allen Webster.
The Angels' system was ranked 15th by Law, and that included Trout and came before the Angels traded five minor leaguers -- including shortstop Jean Segura and a couple of legitimate pitching prospects -- to land pitchers Zack Greinke and Ernesto Frieri.
Both teams have been lagging in international spending recently, with the Dodgers last in the majors in that department for the past three years. General manager Ned Colletti had to siphon money from his international budget to get authorization to make midseason trades from cash-strapped owner Frank McCourt.
Now, the Dodgers say they will spend the $2.9 million allotted to them by the collective bargaining agreement, plus look for loopholes to spend more. They already have. They signed Cuban defector Yasiel Puig for $42 million just before the new CBA became effective. They've been quietly signing players in Mexico -- where the restrictions are looser -- for months.
The Angels, under new general manager Jerry Dipoto, have put a similar emphasis on rebuilding their farm system. Dipoto hired Scott Servais to oversee scouting and player development shortly after he accepted the GM job. Servais was widely credited with turning the Texas Rangers' farm system into one of the finest in the game.
In a sense, new regimes are paying for the sins of the previous regimes on both teams. McCourt's penny-pinching sapped the Dodgers' system. Dipoto's predecessor, Tony Reagins, didn't have the standing to convince owner Arte Moreno to concentrate his resources on talent that would take years to reach the major leagues.
In 2012, both teams tried the quick-fix approach. Now, let's see if they can build something of quality brick by brick.