March 17, 2015
Every Team's Moneyball
Los Angeles Dodgers: Straight Cash, Homey
Every day until Opening Day, Baseball Prospectus authors will preview two teams—one from the AL, one from the NL—identifying strategies those teams employ to gain an advantage. Today: the cash-strapped Rays and cash-rich Dodgers.
Since their purchase of the Dodgers in 2012, the ownership group (primarily Mark Walter, Stan Kasten and Magic Johnson) has revamped nearly every facet of the organization as it pertains to efficiency or talent building. Their ample payroll has allowed them to stretch in every direction in an attempt to get better in both the short and long term. Certainly they’re not the only team with enough money to do so. The Red Sox and Yankees, among others, have the financial wherewithal to do the same, but both have been restrained in their approach relative to the Dodgers. So it’s not money that currently sets the Dodgers aside so much as an ownership group willing to spend it.
They’ve invested in international markets after lying dormant for a long stretch. They’ve invested in their own players. They’ve invested in defense. They’ve invested in offense. They’ve invested in guys who do both. They’ve capitalized on fluky seasons, paid for recent breakouts and guys available due to health concerns. They’ve paid, in almost every conceivable way, for talent, and they didn’t limit themselves to on-field talent, either.
They hired international scouts and domestic scouts, as well as a new scouting director. They’ve hired on the analytics side, with President Andrew Friedman, GM Farhan Zaidi, and blended the two approaches with by adding former GM Josh Byrnes and former player/manager/TV personality Gabe Kapler. Kapler leads their player development system, and already has the team invested toward being the healthiest team in baseball. They have handed out NRIs like they’re going out of style with names like Dustin McGowan, David Aardsma, Erik Bedard, Chad Gaudin, Mike Adams, and Sergio Santos all on the receiving end. They also lowered the Dodgers long-term overhead by trading Matt Kemp to division rival San Diego, showing they do watch the bottom line, occasionally.
Using Cot’s Contracts, the Dodgers have spent 58.5 percent of their budgets from 2012-15 on pitching, with the remaining 41.5 percent of the budget devoted to hitting/defense. This is based on the budget of the team entering each season from 2012-15, which often didn’t have the figures for arbitration-eligible players, but it’s unlikely that those would skew the percentages too much given the total sums of money we’re talking about.
But while the Dodgers can overpower their competition with money, not every market permits unlimited spending. They've taken advantage of international free agency—signing Yasiel Puig, Alexander Guerrero, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and Erisbel Arruebarrena—but have participated little in the amateur international market, not inking a single one of Baseball America's top 30 international prospects in the past two years. Since harsher penalties have been implemented for July 2 signings, the Dodgers have stayed quiet on that front, not having gone hog wild like the Yankees, Cubs, Rangers, or Red Sox have in outspending their bonus pool by a wide margin. In fact, their biggest single expenditure in the IFA market the last two years (not on players over 23 years old) is Luis Tirado for $1 million. This figure pales in comparison to the numbers other teams have thrown around, including even the Rays and Brewers who spent $2.95 million and $3.2 million on Adrian Rondon and on Gilbert Lara, respectively.
Even in free agency, they haven’t been the heavy, outbidding everyone on everything. They seem to target specific players (think Zack Greinke and Kershaw) to make sure they land their guy. Their payroll has outstripped the league in the last several years, and that’s because they’re willing to pay a premium for high-end talent more than it is that they’re willing to spend on just anything. What they are willing to spend on is bringing the team into the 21st century, beefing up the scouting department, and having the healthiest team in the game, all on top of acquiring and retaining premium talent.