The decline and fall of the big-spending bullies

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE

Except for the Dodgers, of course

For all the Yankees West quips and quotes, it really is staggering what the Los Angeles Dodgers have become.

Year Payroll rank
1998 3
1999 8
2000 2
2001 3
2002 5
2003 4
2004 7
2005 11
2006 6
2007 6
2008 7
2009 9
2010 12
2011 12
2012 12
2013 1 (proj.)

They're almost at $200 million for next season, and free agency hasn't begun. I'm not going to say it's hard to spend enough to jump from #12 to #1 in a season -- gimme a corporate checkbook, a SkyMall catalog, and five minutes -- but it's certainly impressive. This is the Dodgers we knew back in the Kevin Brown days, an omnipresent threat in the free-agent market, always lurking. Ogling your best players.

The beginning of the hot-stove league, then, is going about the way you'd expect:

The Dodgers already have a major-league rotation in place, with a starter to spare, but they're basically screaming for their hasenpfeffer right now because they can. Every fan wishes their team would do the same thing.

But are they alone?

This is the first offseason where it feels like the usual big spenders might be reeling it back in, if only just a bit. The Yankees, always the Keyser Söze of the offseason, are looking to avoid long-term deals so they can get under the 2014 luxury tax. That will be tricky, seeing as both Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano are in the last year of their deals. The Red Sox might run out and spend their Carl Crawford savings right away, but that's not a given. Last year's Mystery Team, the Los Angeles Angels, are dumping salary, sending Dan Haren and Ervin Santana away to help pay for a new Zack Greinke deal.

The Tigers will be active in the offseason, but their big splash might have come last season. Same goes for the Rangers and Yu Darvish. The Phillies have all sorts of money committed for the next two seasons, so I doubt they'll be thinking about outbidding the competition for second-tier free agents, much less the premium guys. If the Giants weren't going to go over $130 million when their fan base wasn't sated and sleepy after a championship season, you can be pretty sure they won't do it now.

And I'm starting to think the Marlins won't have the #7 payroll in baseball next year.

The era of the superpowers is over. At least for this particular free-agent frenzy. Maybe next year's class will be a bit more exciting, and the big-market teams will have a bit more to spend. The reason there aren't a lot of premium free agents, now that I think about it, is probably because the rich and mid-market teams alike have already committed a great deal of money to the players they want to keep. If you're going to have a dearth of high rollers, it's probably a good thing to have it when the #3 free agent just might be Michael Bourn. He's a good player, sure, but he doesn't exactly have that cover-of-the-media-guide pizazz.

The Dodgers are planning to add at least one more top-level starting pitcher this off-season, so they'll be in on Anibal Sanchez. Or Hiroki Kuroda. Or Greinke. And/or all of them. Until the Dodgers suggest they have a self-imposed cap in place, I'll just assume they'll get all the free agents they can stuff in their reusable grocery bag and figure out to do with them when they run out of cabinet space.

They're probably the only team that has that mentality, though. There are still a lot of rich teams out there. But there aren't a lot of rich teams out there who will spend $100 million on a $50 million player just to keep them away from the other guys.

Now let's all kick back and wait for the Tigers to spend $100 million on Nick Swisher to make this column look especially stupid.

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