"Don't confuse activity for achievement"
Ned Colletti has been on a shopping spree this winter, singing three veterans - Mark Ellis, Chris Capuano, and Jerry Hairston Jr. - to deals of at least two years, plus a one-year deal plus a club option for Juan Rivera, and Aaron Harang is reportedly close to signing as well for something close to two years and $12 million total. Here's a quick snapshot at these five players in 2012, with an assumption thrown in for Harang as that deal is not yet complete:
Thinking of 2012 only, I still would have preferred the Dodgers sign Hiroki Kuroda than do anything else. Keeping Ellis since the club needed a second baseman, the club could have used the other $13.75 million to sign Kuroda to a one-year deal, use Jerry Sands in Rivera's spot and let Nathan Eovaldi and a cast of non-roster invitees fight it out for the fifth spot in the rotation. There might have even been money left over to upgrade from Justin Sellers on the bench.
I want to give the Dodgers the benefit of the doubt here, trying to find a way how this could all work. One could argue that the soon-to-be 37-year old Kuroda is an injury risk in himself and that putting all of their eggs in one basket could have backfired and left the team with no depth. I don't necessarily agree with the choice, but I can understand it.
But unfortunately, this is not where our story ends. In order to fit those five players into the tight 2012 budget, Colletti gave multiple years to four of these players, and has an option on Rivera to make it five for five. If the Dodgers exercise Rivera's option in 2013, here is what we are looking as additions to the 2013 payroll (again, I have made an assumption on the breakdown of the Harang contract):
In order to get these five marginal upgrades in 2012, the Dodgers will pay something like $26.5 million in 2013 for a group of older players ($23 million if Rivera's option is not exercised). We could be paying $13 million in 2013 for three hitters who hit a combined .257/.314/.369 in 2011. Keep in mind, this group includes two players who were so bad in 2011 they were designated for assignment and dumped by their original teams, and a pair of homer-prone pitchers who made opposing hitters look like All-Stars outside of their friendly home parks.
I get not wanting to dive into the deep waters of the free agent market. Long-term commitments can be scary, and carry with them a lot of risk. But sometimes too much risk aversion can leave you saddled with the equivalent of a superstar price tag without anything close to superstar production.