Can any force stop Major League Baseball's Death Star?

Stephen Dunn

Jeff Passan has summarized, as well as anyone, the recent and seemingly unlimited profligacy of the Los Angeles Dodgers:

The most expensive team in sports history spent another $147 million on Saturday night. This came 3½ months after the Los Angeles Dodgers spent $250 million, which came two months after they spent $42 million, which came two weeks after they spent $85 million, which came eight months after they spent $160 million, which came less than 18 months after they filed for bankruptcy.

This is something unlike what the sports world ever has seen: a franchise with seemingly no limits.

--snip--

For these Dodgers, anything short of winning the World Series is an abject failure.

--snip--

The Dodgers' money tree keeps birthing millions, and they keep giving it away, and there's not a thing anyone in baseball can do about it. The Death Star has no limits. It's scary to think, but this is just the beginning.

l've been around longer than Jeff, which is sort of a bummer because it means he'll probably be around after I'm gone. Which seems hardly fair. You know, that I don't get to be around forever. Oh well. World's loss.

Anyway, one nice thing about being around for a while is that I remember stuff. I remember the late 1970s, when everybody said the Yankees were going to rule baseball in the 1980s (they didn't). I remember the 2000s, when the Yankees were going to win the World Series every year (they didn't). I remember when Rupert Murdoch bought the Dodgers and they were going to rule the National League (they didn't) or the National League West (they didn't).

I don't mean to suggest the Dodgers can't rule the National League West now, for a while. The Yankees didn't win the World Series every year, but they did qualify for the tournament in 17 out of 18 years. For that matter, the decidedly non-wealthy Atlanta Braves were in the playoffs in 14 of 15 years.

But if not winning the World Series is an abject failure, the Dodgers are due for a great wealth of abject failures. In those 33 tries, the Yankees and Braves combined for six World Series wins. The addition of the extra wild card means a higher chance of qualifying for the postseason ... and also a higher chance, once you're in, of getting knocked out before even reaching the World Series.

Granted, assuming you win your division, you're guaranteed to be one of the last eight teams standing. At best, though, assuming the Dodgers actually reach the postseason every year -- which they probably won't, but just for the sake of argument -- they'll have, on average, roughly a 1-in-8 chance of actually winning the World Series. And even that assumes they're one of the better teams in the postseason (balancing those years they're stuck in the Wild Card Game).

Sure, they might win three straight World Series. The Yankees did. They could also go 1 for 13, like the Braves. Reaching the playoffs is easier than ever, but winning the World Series is harder than ever.

I'm also not convinced they'll reach the postseason every year. Baseball, like most things in life, tends toward balance. In the Dodgers' case, I believe there will be at least one internal balance, and at least one external balance.

Internally, they're going to run into the same problem that every rich team runs into: old, expensive players wasting at-bats and innings. Bill James wrote this a long time ago and it's still true: When you sign free agents, you're usually buying into a declining market. Today's great players are tomorrow's good ones, and sometimes having good ones discourages you from getting great ones.

If the Dodgers truly have no limits, they'll consider releasing (say) Adrian Gonzalez in 2018 -- I mean, assuming that he's not real good any more -- even though he'll earn $21.5 million that season, and spend another $30 million or whatever on a better first baseman. Will they do that? I don't know. Nobody really ever has before. But that's what a no-limits Death Star would do.

Externally, Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players' Association can do something if it seems the Dodgers really are taking over. Just because the current revenue-sharing system and luxury tax don't seem to faze the Dodgers doesn't mean the next iterations can't influence the franchise's behavior.

Do I think the Death Star is good for Baseball? No, I don't. Any more than I thought the Evil Empire was good for Baseball. But you have to admit, don't you, that it'll be fun having two teams to root against every year?

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