You know, in an alternate reality, Yoenis Cespedes signed with the Marlins, Robinson Cano re-signed with the Yankees, and Masahiro Tanaka is now on the Dodgers. And I look pretty danged smart.
In this reality, the obvious destinations for those three players made me look pretty danged stupid. The Yankees, free from the Upstream Color worm that made them stop spending last offseason, signed the best pitcher available this offseason. This, even though the Dodgers wanted him, and even though all the Dodgers had to give up was money, which was never a problem before.
I want to tie big-picture meaning to this, even if it doesn't deserve it. What does it mean that the Dodgers couldn't sign Tanaka?
That Tanaka wanted to sign with another team?
No, no, dummy. It can't be that simple. Think big. Think meaning. There has to be meaning to the Dodgers missing out on a player they wanted. So let me give it a whirl.
The Dodgers have a limit
I guess they always had a limit. They weren't going to have a $2 billion payroll because they felt like it. But they have a limit when it comes to premium free agents.
If the Dodgers didn't have a limit, they would have Tanaka. He would have exclaimed his preference to pitch in New York, and the Dodgers would have shoveled more money his way. He would have reiterated his preference to pitch in New York, and the Dodgers would have thrown emeralds at him. He would have pleaded his case that New York was the place for him, and the Dodgers would have hit him with a sack of doubloons until he broke down, sobbing and asking to be covered in the doubloons.
That isn't to say the Dodgers' limit is the contract Tanaka got from the Yankees, that the Dodgers couldn't beat that specific deal. No, it's more about the concept of, OK, we can't give $150 million to everyone. There has to be some concept of current need and future obligations. There has to be some acknowledgment of the players they want to keep in the immediate future, like Hanley Ramirez.
The meaning of the limit is something like this: The Dodgers can outspend anybody. But they have to have a really good reason for that anybody. Adding a fourth ace to a trio of aces -- for franchise-player kind of money -- probably doesn't qualify. That means there's a limit to their spending, even if its an intangible one. They can't have $150 million players for all 25 spots. Just 23 or 24 of them.
The Dodgers are OK with their current rotation
The fools. How can they be so complacent with Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, and Hyun-jin Ryu? With Dan Haren at the back-end of the rotation and the potential for Chad Billingsley and/or Josh Beckett to provide depth.
OK, that's pretty good. Good enough to make the Dodgers think that Tanaka was a luxury, not a necessity.
More than that, though, there were sub-Tanaka pitchers who probably make more sense for most teams. Bronson Arroyo might not have the potential of Tanaka, but he's safe and valuable, especially to a team in a park like Dodger Stadium. Matt Garza has high-bust potential, but so do all pitchers. A late-first rounder isn't as valuable as you might think, so the Dodgers could even go after Ubaldo Jimenez or Ervin Santana.
Or they could do nothing and have a pretty sweet rotation.
There was no desperation, nothing that made them blow the Yankees out of the water.
It's really, really hard to see the Dodgers trading for David Price
If they wanted an ace, they had one. He cost money and nothing more. Now if they want one, it will cost them the bulk of their farm system. And if the want to keep that new ace, they'll have to give him more money than Tanaka got in the first place. That seems like a vastly inferior option, and it has from the very beginning.
Just imagine what the Dodgers could do when, say, Joc Pederson comes up and gives them All-Star production for Jerry Hairston money. That's when they'll get to do things like bid $50 million more for a player like Tanaka because they can. The Dodgers don't need cheap, pre-arbitration players like the Rays or A's do, but that doesn't mean they aren't a huge asset for them, too.
The first six years of a good player's career are a huge deal for every team. They just mean something a little different for the Rays than it does the Dodgers. It's hard to see the Dodgers giving up the potential of Pederson and/or Corey Seager and/or Zach Lee for a couple of years from a pitcher who might not be around after 2016, not when they could have had a pitcher of comparable quality around for longer and the prospects at the same time.
It doesn't have to mean something that Tanaka signed with the Yankees instead of the Dodgers. He looked at several competitive offers, and he went with the Yankees. That's ... usually how free agency works. But as someone who is absolutely flabbergasted the Dodgers didn't get him, allow me to fish for some big-M Meaning and foist it upon you. The Dodgers have a nonsensical-but-still-real budget, the Dodgers are OK with their rotation and the less exciting options to upgrade it, and the Dodgers probably aren't trading for Price.
If you asked me yesterday, I would have scoffed at most of those notions. But by not signing Tanaka, they're able to address an eventual weakness with their money, rather than buttress a strength. It will probably make them a stronger team in the long run.
For more on the Dodgers not getting Tanaka, please read True Blue LA