The urban legend: When the Dodgers traded for a 34-year-old Casey Blake, they had two options. They could absorb the rest of his salary, which was just under $3 million for the rest of the year, or the Indians could eat that money, and all the Dodgers would have to do was give up a better prospect. The Dodgers decided that the extra couple million was more valuable than Carlos Santana, and the Indians ended up with a franchise cornerstone.
What really happened: Same thing, except Jonathan Meloan was the player added to convince the Indians to pay Blake's salary. That's not as amusing/amazing, so Santana gets remembered as the face of deadline frugality.
But when comparing the old Dodgers to the new Dodgers after the Hanley Ramirez deal, it doesn't really matter if it was Santana or Meloan. The Indians offered cash for an additional prospect. The risk for the Dodgers was that the prospect would turn out to be an All-Star. The reward was cash! Sweet, sweet cash. The best part about the reward is that it was guaranteed. No waiting around like you have to do with those stupid prospects.
The new Dodgers don't want other team's money. If they threw it onto the current pile of money, there's a chance the two stacks of money wouldn't get along. It's pure-bred money with show papers, and adding another stack of money would … look, you understand. They prefer to redistribute the money.
That's what's wrong with evaluating the Hanley Ramirez deal in a traditional risk/reward sense. For a normal team, there would be a substantial risk. The $37 million committed to Ramirez would mess up offseason plans. The Dodgers don't care. Proof the Dodgers don't care? They just gave $42 million to Yasiel Puig. He might help in two or three years, if everything goes well. Baseball America rounded up and summarized the reactions to that deal:
What are the Dodgers thinking?
The Dodgers didn't care. They had Puig. All they had to give up were numbers on a ledger that represented theoretical green rectangles that they were never going to see in the first place, so why not exchange those for a four-percent chance they could get a superstar? Silly theoretical green rectangles.
There might be a limit to the Dodgers' spending. Until we know what it is, though, it's hard to know exactly what they're risking. Here's a guess, though: The money paid to Ramirez -- which allowed them to keep their best prospects -- isn't going to affect a thing with how they approach free agency. If they wanted Josh Hamilton before, they'll still want Josh Hamilton. If Zack Greinke is their target, they'll still go after him. Ramirez might be paid more than he's worth. Other teams couldn't take that risk. The Dodgers could without flinching.
Which means the possible reward far, far outbalances the risk. Even if Ramirez hits like he has over his last 800 at-bats, he's still an upgrade on Dee Gordon at short or Juan Uribe at third. That's if Ramirez is still in the middle of a serious production slide.
But what if Ramirez is more? What if he's the middle-of-the-order wonder who was one of the most valuable commodities in the game as recently as two years ago? He'd fill a glaring hole in a lineup that has a few, and he'd do it for another two seasons after this. Remember Ramirez's line in Double-A:
Even for a prospect on the younger side of his league, those were lackluster stats. But the scuttlebutt around the league was that Ramirez was bored with the minors. He needed crowds and excitement. Well, he got Florida, but that was good enough for him. He won the Rookie of the Year award the season after the boring Double-A performance, and he was a perennial MVP candidate after that. That minor-league line is one of the great statistical red herrings of the past decade.
That isn't to say it's a guarantee Hanley has a switch he can flip on and off whenever he wants focus, drive, and production. But when the downside is a player who's an upgrade over the incumbent, the upside is an MVP, and the risk is measured in money that the team isn't going to be shy with, this is a limited-risk/high-reward deal.
For other teams, it would be a medium-to-high-risk/high-reward deal. For a team like the A's, it would have been a high-risk deal. But the Dodgers' new ownership wanted to make a statement when they bought the team. They've made the statement. They're in first class now, ordering all sorts of crap from the SkyMall catalog they may or may not need. If the stuff turns out to be junk? It's a big SkyMall catalog with a lot of pages. They'll try again. And again. And again.
In 2012, even the Yankees and Red Sox are scrambling to get under the luxury tax. But the Dodgers -- and their new owners who paid $2 billion for the privilege of making a scene like this -- will worry about that later. Yasiel Puig is available for only money? Throw him in the cart. Hanley can be had just by parting with the #3 prospect coming into the season? Throw him in the cart. No, no, don't worry about the super-saver shipping. Overnight those puppies, costs be damned.
The old Dodgers worried about the teensy bit left over on Casey Blake's deal. The new Dodgers are a direct response to those old Dodgers, and they're trying to make a statement. So far, it's been impressive. Their new money allowed them to be the only team that could dream of the rewards of a Hanley Ramirez without caring a lick about the risks. That's a statement, all right.