Commentary

Dodgers embrace the idea of risk

Under new ownership group, on the field and off, the team has been aggressive

Updated: October 8, 2013, 4:56 PM ET
By Ramona Shelburne | ESPNLosAngeles.com

LOS ANGELES -- At the very end, when the deal really gets done, there are only two people in the room. One who wants something, the other who has to give it up. The negotiation is over; only the prize remains.

On the night of March 27, 2012, Mark Walter called former Dodgers owner Frank McCourt directly and asked for a meeting -- man to man, buyer to seller -- and said, "Let's do this now." The final auction with all the other bidders for the Los Angeles Dodgers was scheduled to take place the next morning. Walter wasn't about to wait around to see what happened. He wanted the franchise, and he was prepared to make the largest offer in history for a professional sports franchise to acquire it.

[+] EnlargeClayton Kershaw
Richard Mackson/USA TODAY SportsClayton Kershaw wanted the ball on three days' rest, no questions asked.

But this was it. No more lawyers. No more accountants. No more negotiation. The deal needed to get done that night.

"We really wanted to get the team," said Walter, now the Dodgers' chairman. "We'd been through a number of rounds [of bidding on the team], we had the contracts in front of us. I just thought instead of waiting to see what happened, we'd just put our best offer out there and say, 'This is it.'"

Final offer, take it or see if somebody else will give you $2.15 billion once we're out of the bidding. It was a huge gamble. McCourt could've called his bluff and played that massive final offer against the other bidders in the morning for a sweeter deal.

But Walter and his partners were only going to play it one way.

"Look, if he accepts, you get the Dodgers," Walter said. "It's a once in a lifetime opportunity."

The deal was done that night. The tone for everything that's come afterward had been set.

Want to trade for Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, but not sure you want to take on over $250 million in payroll? Do it anyway.

Want to sign Yasiel Puig but not sure you really have to bid seven years and $42 million to get him? Do it anyway.

Want to start Clayton Kershaw on short rest to close out the National League Divisional Series at home in Game 4 but not sure if it's worth the risk if he loses?

"Sometimes you have to just say, 'Screw it. I'm making a decision today. I'm not dragging anything out,'" Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said in the champagne-soaked clubhouse after the Dodgers' dramatic 4-3 victory over the Atlanta Braves Monday night.

Yes, there was some debate about whether to send their young ace out just four days after he threw 124 pitches in Game 1. Kershaw always wants the ball. It's on the Dodgers to know when to take it out of his hands.

Pitching him in Game 4 would change the dynamic for the rest of the postseason, too. The dream of having him for games 1, 4 and 7 of the NLCS was out of the question.

But the more they all thought on it, the more obvious the answer became. All they had to do was what they've been doing.

"This is the postseason," Kershaw said. "I don't want to take it for granted. I might never get to do this again."

Kershaw arrived at this truth in a very different way than Walter had. He'd been to the playoffs as a baby-faced rookie, and he thought maybe they came around all the time. That was until he saw those teams wither on the vine during McCourt's final three years as owner. Walter's philosophy had been shaped by a successful 30-year business career.

How they each got to the same point of view isn't nearly as important as the ways in which they so clearly share it. How they all share it. From top to bottom, the Dodgers have become risk-takers.

If there's an envelope to push, they're pushing it.

If there's a prize to be won, they're spending or doing whatever it takes to get it.

"People thought we were crazy," part-owner Magic Johnson said of the record $2.15 billion purchase from McCourt. "But you pay for what you want."

Actually, people have called them crazy on several occasions. The trade for Gonzalez, Crawford, Josh Beckett and Nick Punto last season was derided as a significant overreach. The $147 million contract for Zack Greinke this winter was considered excessive. The $42 million for Puig last summer was reckless.

"What's the alternative?" Walter said. "Not get the Dodgers? Not get Puig? I don't think L.A. is used to that. L.A. is used to winners."

[+] EnlargeYasiel Puig
Richard Mackson/USA TODAY SportsYasiel Puig's enthusiastic style is typical of the Dodgers' approach in 2013.

Scouting director Logan White ran point on the negotiations for Puig last July. He scouted him for three days, had two more days to decide how much to offer to win the blind bidding process for him, and one day to get all the paperwork completed with major league baseball before the rules for signing international players changed for good on July 2.

"I just did not want to lose the player, because I knew his talent level," White said. "So I looked at it like this: I've got a stomach for being as aggressive as they wanted us to be when I know there's talent."

Walter didn't need to hear anymore.

"The scouts came to us and said, 'This guy is for real. He's a serious talent,'" he said. "And I was like, 'Well, then you have to get him.'"

The decision to start Kershaw on short rest was all but made before Walter got wind of it late Sunday night. Kershaw, Mattingly, pitching coach Rick Honeycutt and general manager Ned Colletti had huddled up in a room and gotten real with each other before deciding.

Kershaw wanted the ball, and he wasn't taking no for an answer. The negotiation was over.

Then they told everyone who needed to know. There was no disagreement.

"You've got to do it," Walter said. "When you've got your shot, you've got to go for it. Don't play it safe. Go."

It's who the Dodgers are now, and that's just how it's going to be.

Comments

Use a Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, photo & other personal information you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment, and may be used on ESPN's media platforms. Learn more.