Since the start of 2014, the Los Angeles Dodgers have given a combined $83 million to Alex Guerrero, Erisbel Arruebarrena, and Yaisel Sierra. The first two are out of the organization, and Sierra was outrighted off the 40-man roster after three months in the minors. All three were available at one point to any team that wanted to claim them and pay their salary. All 29 teams declined.
Again, that’s $83 million flushed down the toilet in 28 months. That’s more than the entire 2016 payroll of three teams. While it’s possible Sierra will turn his slow start around, it sure looks like the Dodgers failed miserably with their big-money speculation.
Shift to the Dodgers’ biggest problem over their last three division-winning seasons: their inability to build a trustworthy rotation behind the aces at the top. In each of the last three postseasons, the Dodgers have started Clayton Kershaw on short rest. That’s a) because he’s a fire-breathing demigod and b) because they were absolutely unconvinced they had anyone else who could compare with Kershaw at 80 percent.
It was Kershaw and Greinke and pray for ... other ... chances ... to, uh ... start Kershaw and Greinke. That was often because of ill-timed injuries, but it was still noticeable every October. Now it’s just Kershaw and The New Dodgers Jug Band behind him, with rotating members whose names you might or might not recognize. They don't even have a #2 they can trust.
Put it this way: Since the start of the 2015 season, the Dodgers have used 23 different starting pitchers. That’s the most in baseball over that same stretch. Here’s a list if you don’t believe me:
It’s not like they were all random stopgaps, either. A lot of them cost substantial money, right down to pitchers like Beachy, who was paid $2.75 million for two poor starts last year.
Now back to that $83 million spent just on the international flops. It ... could have helped. It could have helped acquire Cole Hamels. It could have been put toward starting pitcher to replace Zack Greinke, or Jon Lester last year, or, heck, right over the top to bring Greinke back. It went to three international players who couldn’t stay on a 40-man roster for a second season, if they even made it that far.
And that’s the story of how the Dodgers’ scattershot approach to roster-building was generous with the risks and stingy with the rewards. It’s a cautionary tale for everybody.
Except, hold on, what’s this?
In the five games since Clayton Kershaw hit the DL, Dodgers pitchers have posted a 1.60 ERA.— Anthony Castrovince (@castrovince) July 5, 2016
That ... that seems like a rotation with depth. And while that comes against the Brewers and a Rockies team away from Coors, it has to be reassuring for the Dodgers that they didn’t completely foam up and spill over the sides when they were asked to carry the Kershaw burden.
So while it’s fair and relevant to condemn the Dodgers for wasting money that would pay for the 25-man roster of another team this has always been the plan. This uncertainty, this stretch where it didn’t look like anything was going to work out, it was all part of the plan. The Dodgers had two options:
1. Give $220 million to David Price or Zack Greinke, or nine figures to someone else, like Jon Lester or Johnny Cueto, and expect that person to carry the entire load. If they get hurt or become inexplicably ineffective, the whole plan would be ruined.
2. Spread the money around to 20 different high-risk, high-upside players and hope, hope, hope that three or four of them make them look smart.
The instant success of Hyun-jin Ryu and Yasiel Puig likely emboldened some of the decision makers, but they kept forging on with the plan even after those stars dimmed. Get this high-risk power arm from the international market. Get that polished arm from Japan whose injury history is scaring away the rest of the league. Get the league-average arm who faded down the stretch last year, but comes with substantial upside. Pay millions for the the excellent pitcher with a brutal injury history. They did this over and over and over again.
And it looked like a lousy plan when everything was on fire and/or in the infirmary. But now look at the possible post-break rotation:
- Clayton Kershaw, ostensibly healthy
- Scott Kazmir, coming off one of his best starts and getting better after a rugged start
- Kenta Maeda, still looking like one of the offseason’s greatest bargains
- Brandon McCarthy, who made an absurdly delightful start in his return from the Tommy John swamps
- Bud Norris, who is probably just okay, but look at that freaking list of 23 starting pitchers again
It’s a reasonable rotation. It’s almost certainly better than just Kershaw, Price, and whatever they could have scrounged up from their depth chart. The throw-it-to-the-wall strategy looked like a flop until Kazmir came around, Maeda proved himself, and McCarthy healed.
And if some of those pitchers stumble, the Dodgers might get Ryu back for the first time in over two years, and Alex Wood should be ready in a month or so. Brett Anderson might be ready if needed by September, too.
Which brings us to the point, the grand statement, the thesis. The Dodgers’ hoarding of high-risk/high-reward players wasn’t supposed to be a plan that worked all the time. It was supposed to be a plan that worked some of the time, but when it worked, my goodness, how it was going to work. No, Alex Guerrero didn’t slug his way into a five-win season, but Yasiel Puig has, and he might again. Anderson didn’t stay healthy enough to justify his 2016 salary, but McCarthy just might. It was about playing 12 players with a 1-in-11 chance of providing an outstanding return on their investment.
It’s something we haven’t seen before, a Rays-type risk aversion strategy that’s supercharged with piles of gold. I call it Money-wasting Ball! When it doesn’t work, it looks like the silliest mess in professional sports. It was always a philosophy of patience, though. And if this keeps going, Dodgers fans are going to be happy that the front office is far more patient than they are.
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