And now a trip in the way-back machine with an essay discussing baseball’s finances. It has been a bit since a proper entry to this series. Previously, this series covered a lot of ground describing the dishonesty of the majority of MLB owners, which came to light during the 2022 lockout.
A lot has happened since the last true update in this series. But even with the Athletics’ imminent departure from Oakland, and the rise and fall of the heavy-spending Padres and Mets, the Dodgers’ plan heading into this offseason with a single goal: to sign Shohei Ohtani and/or Yoshinobu Yamamoto.
I remembered a quote from Andrew Friedman as reported by Andy McCullough in 2016:
“If you’re always rational about every free agent, you will finish third on every free agent.”
Before this offseason, the Dodgers had flexed their financial muscles in spurts or strategically. After all Anthony Rendon, Bryce Harper, Gerrit Cole, and Corey Seager went elsewhere, whereas Trevor Bauer was signed. Still, it was not all bad, after all, the Dodgers were opportunistic in extending Mookie Betts and signing Freddie Freeman.
Still with all that history in mind, I had resigned myself to Ohtani being a Giant and Yamamoto being a Met. I had this doubt that Ohtani would be wearing black and orange for the next decade, which would feel lousy. Then there was the great Toronto freakout.
The Dodgers committing over a billion dollars certainly shut me up as I freely admit that I did not think the Dodgers had it in them. The sleeping giant has certainly awakened and frankly, it’s amazing how much motivation two consecutive embarrassing playoff flops will create.
To summarize things to this point, the Dodgers have obtained the best free agent, the best pitcher available by signing, and the best pitcher available by trade — in about two weeks. At this point, I half-expect Friedman and company to be waiting outside the Giants’ executive offices with the sole purpose of giving them a swirly.
In two weeks, the Dodgers went from punchline due to the last two NLDS faceplants to the unanimous villain of the sport.
From “Haha! The Dodgers lost again!” to “The Dodgers are ruining baseball!”
Said lamentation is nonsense.
For starters, while the Dodgers have committed to an additional $1.2 billion in new contracts (give or take; thanks Teoscar), they have not actually spent the money yet. The Dodgers’ projected payroll is not even tops in baseball in 2024 so far, as of this essay, it’s the second-highest in the sport behind Steve Cohen’s Mets.
Before showing why the griping is just sour grapes in a series of short essays, it is worth starting this examination by examining the true depth of failure that occurred in Anaheim.
In the six years that Ohtani was with the Anaheim Angels, the Angels couldn’t even get within a plausible possibility of a playoff spot, much less achieve a .500 record.
Two cities, four first-place teams.— MLB (@MLB) May 3, 2022
For the first time in MLB history, all four NY and LA teams are leading their divisions. pic.twitter.com/lwWEhSMkfG
For about six weeks in early 2022, it looked like the Angels had finally figured something out, but that success turned out to be a flash in the pan. However, the 2022 Angels were different in their incompetence. The absolute failure of the Moreno ownership is a bit personal for me because I cannot think of the Angels and not think of my law school friend, Neil, and his wife, Aimee.
They are arguably as passionate about the Angels as I am about the Dodgers. My friends are diehard Angels fans. These guys were at Reid Detmers’ no-hitter in 2022. Admittedly, they have envied my nomadic lifestyle. But the fact remains that they have been steadfastly loyal to this organization, which has not rewarded them in any meaningful even with two generational players on the roster.
At the beginning of the 2022 season, for a fleeting moment, I thought maybe we were seeing another statistical fluke, maybe the Angels were actually going to be a contender this time.
Maybe my friends’ faith would be rewarded!
By mid-June of that year, the Angels season was over in humiliating fashion. When Ohtani signed with the Dodgers, I sent my friend a two-word text to convey the inadequacy of my sorrow: “Sorry buddy.”
One billion dollars — poorly spent
I remembered seeing a video essay about Arte Moreno done by YouTuber UTree about the Angels some months ago. For me, the Angels being good is akin to a 107-win Giants team, theoretically possible, but quite unlikely. So imagine my shock when they were good for about a month in 2022 before collapsing.
And then the Angels managed to empty their farm system in 2023, and waited a week, before collapsing again.
For those who have been paying attention, the gimmicks of the Angels were not exactly hidden information. Generally, the Angels have engaged in flashy spending combined with inefficient dumpster diving, set to repeat over and over as the organization seems hellbent on wasting two concurrent generational talents.
For a committed billion dollars, the Dodgers got Ohtani, Yamamoto, and Tyler Glasnow. The Angels were not so lucky.
I will give Arte Moreno credit in the following respect: at least, he tried, I guess.
However, as shown in the 2021 video, the Angels had spent just over a billion dollar dollars on player contracts and the team did not come within sniffing distance of a playoff spot, Mike Trout, once the arguable best player in the sport, has literally played in three playoff games for his career, which is three more than Ohtani.
The men were being Dan Marino’d before our very eyes; no wonder Ohtani fled. At least Angels’ fans got this moment at the 2023 World Baseball Classic.
Contrary to popular belief, even while the Dodgers have currently committed over $1.2 billion in contracts for player salaries this offseason, the Dodgers have not been overwhelming the field in retaining Ohtani, Yamamoto, and extending the acquired Glasnow.
As has been widely reported, Ohtani offered multiple teams the same massive deferred contract of 10 years, $700 million, including the Giants. It was reported that the Angels when allowed to match the Dodgers’ best offer, the Angels declined. Moreover, with the structure of Ohtani’s deal, the Dodgers basically used the savings to sign Yamamoto.
You can hear the screaming from San Francisco from here but that’s a topic for another day.
Instead of trading Ohtani in 2022 for a Juan Soto-esque haul or even trading Ohtani in 2023 for a better-than-Justin Verlander-esque haul, the Angels end up with a single compensatory draft pick.
I hope my pity for Angels fans like my friends seems justified now.
Ohtani chose to play for a proven winner here in Los Angeles. Ohtani said something that stood out to me during his initial press conference with the Dodgers on December 14:
“When I had the meeting with them, the ownership group, they said when they look back at the last 10 years, even though they’ve been to the playoffs every single year, won a World Series ring, they consider that a failure When I heard that, I knew they were all about winning.”
Technically Ohtani is right. Most other franchises would do just about anything to have a run of success like the Dodgers have had over the past decade. In some respects, the Dodgers have generated a positive spiral: all the winning helps the attendance and ticket sales; the attendance and ticket sales help the revenue; the revenue helps support the winning.
And on and on the merry-go-round goes as the best offseason for the Dodgers in years continues. But Dodger fans should not feel overly smug. As to why not, that question is one for another day.