Let’s take a trip back a few years, when the Dodgers’ payroll was seemingly without limits. They were the baseball equivalent of a turn-of-the-millennium dot-com company that could hire Jeff Koons to create ice swans for a holiday party in Antarctica. Except, there was no bubble that was about to pop. They started by paying a $125 million surcharge on two players they didn’t want so that they could pay another $125 million to the player they did want, and they’re still leading the world in payroll. The ice swans are still being ordered.
That Nick Punto trade had more to do with marketing than excess, though. If you want the best example of financial bullying in recent Dodgers history, go back to the trade that got them Alex Wood. They dealt Hector Olivera and paid down a considerable chunk of his ridiculous contract to get the young left-hander, who was acquired months after the Dodgers spent scores of millions to get Brett Anderson and Brandon McCarthy, who were acquired a couple years after the Dodgers spent hundreds of millions to get Zack Greinke and Hyun-jin Ryu.
That deal had everything: It was a half-eaten contract traded for a player the Dodgers needed because of missteps with expensive deals they had no problems brushing off. The official organizational philosophy was “Screw it. We’ll buy another one,” and it looked great on business cards.
Imagine telling someone back then that the Dodgers would balk at trading for a 28-year-old MVP — a hometown kid with a no-trade clause who might have his heart set on playing for them — because of money.
Well, a young MVP at the height of his powers sure sounds nice, but, really, we’re up against it with the luxury tax. Ha ha, the brass is really busting our chops about this payroll, sorry.
I’m not buying it. I’m absolutely not buying it.
The official company line is that the Dodgers really want to get under the competitive balance tax, which is serving as the de facto salary cap that Major League Baseball has been desperate for. If they can sneak under this year, their penalties will reset in the future, which will save them millions. If you want a fantastic, clear breakdown, head over to True Blue LA. The Dodgers still need to fill a few roster spots, and if they go over $237 million, not only do they have to pay an extra $34.75 million in tax, but their first-round draft pick will be bumped down 10 places. As of right now, they’re about $16 million under the tax, and they don’t have a lot of roster holes or pending free agents. They can do it. They can reset the tax this year.
And what would be their benefit for this? Even the Dodgers can use an extra $35 million or so. They could charge into the 2018-2019 offseason, which will feature Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson, and Charlie Blackmon. That offseason is also likely to include Clayton Kershaw, whom the Dodgers probably want to keep. Getting under the cap will allow them to save millions while doing all of this. In just one year, when they sign Craig Kimbrel and Andrew Miller on the same day, we’ll be right back here pretending like the Dodgers never had a few months of restraint and austerity.
They’re so close to that cap. So close to resetting all those penalties, and all they need to do is be mostly satisfied with a roster that is unfathomably deep and talented. If the Dodgers didn’t touch their roster, they would still be the overwhelming favorites to win the NL West. It would be both prudent and wise for them to add one, maybe two, lesser pieces and call it an offseason.
I’m not buying it. I’m absolutely not buying it.
For one, the Dodgers made extra scratch by getting to Game 7 of the World Series. For two, they inflicted extra psychic scars by losing Game 7 of the World Series. They won’t feel comfortable getting to Game 7 next year, only to lose with the exact same roster. Even if they know they have one of the best rosters in baseball already, there has to be some sense of urgency for a cavalry, someone to hold up like baby Simba.
Last week, I predicted this would be J.D. Martinez, and Dodgers fans yelled at me because they were more aware of the luxury tax angle. They were right to yell at me. But I’m only taking back the prediction that they’ll go over for Martinez. If they blow past the threshold again, it would be for Stanton. Everything they’ve done for the past six seasons has suggested that they would definitely be interested in a 28-year-old MVP who grew up a Dodgers fan, regardless of cost. For them to be focused on that cost at the exact moment this player becomes available would be abominable timing.
Which is why I’m almost certain they’re messing with us. And even though adding Stanton’s contract would put them past the threshold, they would be awfully close if they sent Scott Kazmir back to the Marlins. There’s no difference, financially, from the Marlins including $50 million to offset some of Stanton’s contract or them including $33 million and taking back Kazmir. There’s a huge financial difference when it comes to the Dodgers, though, and it would be their way of acquiring a dominant offensive behemoth and having a chance to reset the penalties anyway. This is why it’s far more likely for them to trade for Stanton than it is for them to sign Martinez.
Pretend that I put Martinez on the Mets. Congratulations, Mets. Here’s your new power threat. The Wilpons found some money in an old coat they hadn’t worn in a while.
When Stanton is traded to the Dodgers, it will seem so logical. His no-trade clause gives him incredible leverage when it comes to picking his new city. The Dodgers have momentum, and it’s not like Stanton is just any ol’ All-Star; he could help define the franchise for a decade. The money is there, and the hometown angle is incredibly obvious.
If they don’t do it? This is the result of the recklessness, the indiscriminate spending on Erisbel Arruebarrena and Brett Anderson, the dead money still going to Matt Kemp and Olivera. This is the end of the Adrian Gonzalez trade, the cruel final chapter where his bloated contract prevents them from getting a possible Hall of Fame slugger in his prime. It would be a fitting comeuppance for a team that exhibited more fiscal hubris in a short time than any other in baseball history.
And, no, I’m not buying it. Absolutely not buying it. The Dodgers have a chance to put one of baseball’s best hitters in a lineup that features Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager, and Justin Turner. All they have to do is spend money. And we’re supposed to believe this is the moment they’re too scared to do that? This is the player that freaks them out?
All they have to do is spend money.
I’ll believe they won’t do that for a generational talent the first time I have a reason to. It hasn’t happened yet. I don’t know why I would think this is the offseason that it happens for the first time.