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MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Dodgers' two-year transformation has been remarkable

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MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Regardless of how it all plays out for the Los Angeles Dodgers this season, they've done exactly what they set out to do two years ago. That's the part of their story that shouldn't be overlooked.

OK, I see you rolling your eyes, and I know what you're thinking. Yes, it's still a bottom-line business. It's also more complicated than that.

After all the money the Dodgers have spent and after all the days in first place this summer, anything less than a National League pennant would make this a terribly disappointing season.

You're right about that. This roster wasn't put together with a five-year plan in mind, either. On the other hand, things looked completely different when Mark Walter, Magic Johnson, etc., bought the Dodgers on May 1, 2012. Back then, the goal was simpler.

Before there was any thought of winning a championship, the Dodgers simply needed to become relevant again in the hearts and minds of their fans. They wanted those fans to think of the franchise differently than they had in recent seasons.

And that's exactly what has happened. When you see the Dodgers alone atop the NL West for the past month and when you see almost 47,000 a night packing Dodger Stadium, you're struck by just how far this franchise has come in such a short period of time.

In the beginning, THAT was the challenge. Now we're long past that. That it has happened so quickly is a tribute to all the people involved.

Yes, the Dodgers have spent huge dollars to acquire a boatload of talent -- Zack Greinke, Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford -- but that was part of the original blueprint. The Dodgers believed they needed to spend money to get a quick infusion of talent and to let fans know a page had been turned.

Once they got people's attention, the plan was always to do things the way Dodgers president Stan Kasten did them when he was one of the people in charge of the Braves. His goal then and now is to build a franchise on scouting and player development.

Kasten is not about to apologize for having baseball's largest payroll. At $235 million, that's more than double the size of the one he inherited on May 1, 2012. Again, it was part of sending a message.

Every team has to take advantage of its resources, and the Dodgers are always going to have more cash than some other teams. But money guarantees a club nothing anymore.

Besides that, no team can use free agency to build a winning core. There simply aren't enough quality free agents available, and supply-and-demand means the price to run a team that way would be insane. If the season ended today, three of the top five payroll teams would miss the playoffs. 

Back to the Dodgers. As for becoming relevant again, no problem. Remember what you thought of the Dodgers on Opening Day 2013? Here's a hint: You probably didn't think all that much about them.

They'd missed the playoffs for three straight years. Home attendance was down. And when they made news, it frequently had absolutely nothing to do with the baseball team.

Now look at them. Dodger Stadium has been remade with wider concourses, new seating and a new video board and sound system. Changes here, there and everywhere. Now one of the great places on earth to watch a baseball game is even better.

And the place is full most nights. The Dodgers are on a pace to draw 3.8 million fans for just the second time in franchise history.

The roster has also been transformed. A single trade with the Red Sox brought Crawford, Beckett and Gonzalez. But the significant acquisition was Yasiel Puig, who has joined Clayton Kershaw as the faces of the franchise. His promotion to the big leagues last season sparked a 53-13 run to the postseason.

There are times when Puig is completely out of control, thinking every base must be stolen and every wall crashed into. He also has amazing skills and a charisma and daring that can impact fans and teammates alike.

Are the Dodgers good enough to win the World Series? Sure, they are, especially if Kershaw and Greinke are pitching well when the postseason opens. At the moment, the Dodgers haven't shaken the Giants in the NL West yet.

Given how unpredictable October baseball has become, it's the teams playing the best down the stretch that have the best chance to get to the World Series. So much has changed so quickly for the Dodgers that nothing should surprise us.

Nothing should change the larger picture either. Things have changed faster than almost anyone thought possible. In that way, they've already won.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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