When the Los Angeles Dodgers began spending large amounts of money on player acquisitions last summer, they were referred to by some as "the Yankees of the West Coast." This was a convenient but not particularly accurate description at the time. Now, however, the description is only inaccurate because it sells the Dodgers short. The Dodgers have not only transcended the Yankees in the sheer size of their player payroll, they may have altered their competitive landscape in a way that no other club has in recent baseball history.
The latest Dodger expenditure represented another personnel coup, the signing of Zack Greinke, the leading pitcher on the free-agent market this offseason, on Monday. Greinke's deal is for six years at a reported $147 million, the second-largest contract in history awarded to a pitcher and the largest for a right-hander. The Dodgers, of course, had already taken on $260 million in salaries due to their blockbuster trade with the Boston Red Sox that brought Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett to Los Angeles. The Dodgers also have signed a highly touted Korean left-hander, Hyun-Jin Ryu, who received a $36 million, six-year deal. Including the posting fee that Los Angeles paid for the negotiating rights to Ryu, its investment in him is just shy of $62 million. For another franchise, this would be a major transaction. For the Dodgers, it may be important, but the financial move was merely another day at the office. The Dodgers will have a 2013 player payroll of at least $225 million, which would be another Major League record. This is a record that may not be broken in the near future, particularly with the previous record-holders, the Yankees, hoping to cut payroll below $190 million by 2014. Of course, it remains possible that the Dodgers could break it themselves. The new ownership group paid $2.15 billion for the franchise, which was another record. But it is working out a local media deal that reportedly will dwarf that figure and will, naturally, set yet another record. The business side of baseball is prospering in a way that it never has before, and the Dodgers have become the poster franchise of this phenomenon. At this point, comparing them to other club is not quite insulting, but it certainly is misleading. In any case, the first question that fans ask is not the same that would be asked by an accountant. How is all this spending going to affect the game on the field, for the Dodgers, and for their competition in the National League West? This division has recently been, without much fanfare, a bastion of competitive balance. The Arizona Diamondbacks won the NL West in 2007 and '11. In '07 and '09, the Rockies were the NL Wild Card team, advancing to the World Series in '07. The Dodgers won the division in '08 and '09. The Giants, of course, won the World Series in '10 and '12. And at the end of the 2012 regular season, the team playing the best baseball in the division, according to an NL West general manager, was the Padres. But now, the Dodgers have changed the rules, or least the fiscal playing field. They are flexing their financial muscles as only a mega-market franchise can. The solace available to the competition appears in the notion that spending vast sums of money is no guarantee of success. There was a small slice of this notion in evidence last season. After L.A.'s big trade with Boston, many conceded the division title to the Dodgers. Those people underestimated the overall strength and tenacity of the Giants. Others made a more conservative prediction, conceding the second NL Wild Card spot to the Dodgers. Those people underestimated the overall strength and tenacity of the St. Louis Cardinals. But now, the Dodgers will have a full season in which to operate with their new and improved and more expensive roster. Even more to the point, they will have a full season to operate with what appears to be dramatically improved front-line pitching. A comparison with the Yankees is not only no longer useful; it is out of date, antiquated and irrelevant. The Dodgers are operating on a level that has no other baseball occupants. This organization has done whatever could be done in terms of spending money to build a roster that could win a championship. Next year comes the tougher part, actually winning the championship.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.