Work, generally, is no fun. Most folks don’t like their jobs, and they especially don’t like it when they are told what to do by their boss.
So, after failing to win the World Series last season – and not because of that – Dodger ownership put forth a mandate to Andrew Friedman, Farhan Zaidi and Co.: Get under the luxury tax.
This wasn’t a recommendation or suggestion, it was a mandatory part of the job for those in charge of player personnel. And now that the Dodgers are struggling at the outset of the season after not being particularly active in the offseason, the fan base wants to cite that as the reason. There is some credibility to the to that complaint, “Why didn’t they do anything?!” but my question to you is, what exactly, specifically would you have done differently this offseason?
Normally, I like to answer the questions, not ask them. But I’ve heard far too many complaints about the Dodgers’ offseason and how they didn’t do anything.
Before I get up on my soapbox, let me just say that the luxury tax is dumb and a team like the Dodgers shouldn’t be held hostage to it. Not my money. But, when your boss tells you to do something, you do it. If you don’t, there will be consequences. It’s clear the No. 1 goal of the offseason was to get under the $197 million luxury tax threshold. That goal was accomplished, as the payroll is currently around $182-183 million, which doesn’t count incentives that might be due to Kenta Maeda and Clayton Kershaw.
So, keeping in mind that getting under $197 million was mandatory, what would you have done differently? Be specific! I cannot stress this enough.
Also, from the things I’ve heard, it seems like the Dodgers were almost counting on Shohei Ohtani to sign with them – up until the final days when he eventually chose the Angels. That would have made a difference in the perception of the offseason, but there would still be the vocal minority that wonders why the Dodgers didn’t do more.
Eric wrote in the offseason that the Dodgers missed an opportunity to bring in Giancarlo Stanton. I told him over direct message on Twitter I wholeheartedly agreed with him. And if you know anything about my history, you’d know there’s no bigger Stanton fan than me. But the Marlins wanted to jettison as much payroll as possible – something the Dodgers have taken advantage of in years past. But since the situation was different this time around, the Yankees swooped in and acquired the reigning National League MVP without giving up a ton of player value. They took on more money than the Dodgers were willing to.
The Dodgers, masterfully, got under the threshold with the Charlie Culberson trade. Not only did they shift some money around, but they acquired the team’s best hitter in the process in Matt Kemp. That wasn’t the original intent by any means, but you won’t be able to convince me this team is better with Culberson, Adrian Gonzalez, Brandon McCarthy and Scott Kazmir than it is with Kemp.
They also took a shot on a failed starting pitcher in Tom Koehler. In a small sample size with Toronto last season, looked much better out of the bullpen. There was no way for the team to predict it would Koehler would hurt his shoulder in spring training. The other attempt to sustain the loss of Brandon Morrow was to bring in Scott Alexander – a pitcher some had called Zach Britton-lite. Obviously, that hasn’t been the case so far, but he was a cheap, quality bullpen arm last season for the Royals, so it made sense for the Dodgers to take a chance on him.
There were other moves made on the fringes, but those were the three biggest moves of the offseason. Well, that and keeping Rick Honeycutt around.
Real talk: There wasn’t much the Dodgers could do this offseason with the payroll mandate in place. Christian Yelich would have been a nice get, but then you wouldn’t have Walker Buehler. That seems like a lateral move at best right now. Marcell Ozuna probably puts you in the same situation. Chris Archer has long since been on my radar, but he’s off to a somewhat slow start and his velocity on the fastball is down 1 MPH. Also, the Rays aren’t just going to give away a valuable trade chip like that.
Other players they had rumored interest in were Lorenzo Cain, Alex Cobb, Yu Darvish and Manny Machado. All those players had significant price tags financially and, in the case of Machado, trade-wise.
Sure, the Dodgers could have traded Yasmani Grandal, Hyun-Jin Ryu or Logan Forsythe (or not exercised his option) to gain more payroll flexibility, but that would have eaten into the team’s depth. It would also put unproven players in a more pressure-packed spot – especially the likes of Austin Barnes and Kyle Farmer. Also, it takes to (or more) to tango, and the Dodgers would have had a hard time getting anything close to equal value in return for a guy like Grandal. Oh, and he’s also one of the best hitters on the team so far in 2018, so the old adage, “Sometimes, the best trades are the ones you don’t make,” seems to hold true here.
Baseball is, first and foremost, a business. Don’t be surprised when teams focus more on the dollars and cents than the product on the field. I understand why the Dodgers wanted to reset their competitive balance tax number from 50 percent to zero. Since new ownership took over, it has paid roughly $149 million in luxury tax penalties. For reference, the Baltimore Orioles’ opening day payroll was $148.6 million. So, the next time someone tells you the Dodgers are cheap, point them to this bit of information.
The point of resetting the luxury tax number would be, in theory, to spend big next winter. Clayton Kershaw is likely to opt-out (provided he makes it through the rest of the season healthy), and guys like Cody Allen, Josh Donaldson, Bryce Harper, Kelvin Herrera, Dallas Keuchel, Machado, A.J. Pollock and potentially David Price could all be available. But really, the prizes here are Kershaw and Harper. If the Dodgers don’t spend big this winter, and big is a relative term, then the money-saving 2017-18 offseason would have been for naught. But we’ll cross that bridge if/when we get there.
Yes, it would have been nice for the team to acquire a superstar player, but all the options available didn’t fit the front office’s plan. More accurately, they didn’t fit ownerships requirement. In the end, you must do what your boss tells you to do. Hopefully Mark Walter, Stan Kasten and friends remove the restraints this winter and we’re singing a different tune in six months or so.