The Dodgers enter 2013 with the highest payroll in MLB history — and expectations to match
It has been a billion-dollar makeover. The Dodgers have emerged from bankruptcy and the dark days of the McCourt ownership transformed into one of baseball’s heavyweights. Armed with deep-pocketed owners (and anticipating a multi-billion dollar windfall from the negotiation of a new TV rights deal), the Dodgers have taken on $600 million in salary commitments over the past year, trading for former All-Stars Hanley Ramirez, Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford in midseason then adding free-agent pitching prize Zack Greinke and top Korean lefthander Hyun-Jin Ryu in the offseason. The midseason makeover did not take. The anticipated playoff push never materialized. Now the Dodgers will enter 2013 with the highest payroll in MLB history — and expectations to match.
The Dodgers pieced together a rotation for 2012 with low-cost signings of free agents Aaron Harang and Chris Capuano. The result was a 3.41 starters’ ERA that ranked second in the National League and third in the majors. That wasn’t good enough to secure a playoff spot, though, and the Dodgers made landing a top-tier starter their No. 1 offseason goal. Health issues with ace Clayton Kershaw (hip), Chad Billingsley (elbow) and Ted Lilly (recovering from shoulder surgery) made depth in the starting rotation a need as well. A commitment of over $200 million satisfied both goals as the Dodgers gave Greinke the second-largest contract ever given to a pitcher ($147 million over six years) and signed Ryu. The result could be one of the best 1-2 punches in any rotation (Kershaw and Greinke), uncommon depth (Billingsley, Ryu and Beckett), and potential trade chips to address other possible needs (Capuano, Harang and Lilly).
A deep bullpen was a Dodgers strength in 2012, and GM Ned Colletti did his best to put the band back together for 2013. Re-signing Brandon League was the first step. Acquired from the Mariners in July, League will open the season as the team’s closer. But the Dodgers have a hard-throwing option to step in if needed in Kenley Jansen (recovering from a surgical procedure to address recurring problems with an irregular heartbeat). J.P. Howell was signed as a free agent to fill the lefty specialist role.
The “best-case scenario,” manager Don Mattingly said during the offseason, is for Ramirez to be the Dodgers’ everyday shortstop in 2013. That will take a re-commitment to defense by Ramirez, who has not been known as the most focused and consistent performer in the field, or the hardest worker. That sounds great, but Ramirez tore a ligament in his thumb in spring training and will miss the first two months. So much for Ramirez taking over at short. When he returns, if Ramirez has to move to third base, Luis Cruz is the next option at shortstop. Second base figures to be shared by steady veteran Mark Ellis and Skip Schumaker, a versatile left-handed bat acquired from the Cardinals.
Not that long ago, Gonzalez was one of the most complete and consistent hitters in baseball. The Dodgers are hopeful that Gonzalez — sidetracked by the pressure and clubhouse drama that come with playing for the Red Sox — can once again provide a productive presence in the middle of their lineup. If Gonzalez does, he and Matt Kemp could form a 1-2 combo to rival other top duos like Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera in Detroit or the anticipated pairing of Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols in Anaheim. Third base is more of a question mark. The Dodgers hope Ramirez grabs hold of the shortstop position when he returns in June. If he does, Cruz gets first crack at being their everyday third baseman. The journeyman hit .297 with 40 RBIs in 78 games for the Dodgers last year and is the best of some unappealing options at third base. For now, Cruz will be the main man at short with Nick Punto filling in at third.
Kemp, Crawford and Andre Ethier might be the best outfield in baseball — if this were 2010. It isn’t, however, and the Dodgers are counting on a rebound to health by Kemp (offseason shoulder surgery) and Crawford (wrist and elbow surgeries in 2012) as well as bounce-back years overall from Crawford and Ethier to make this group worthy of the massive financial investment the Dodgers have made in them. Kemp is the best bet to live up to his potential. After a near-MVP season in 2011, Kemp was limited to 106 games in 2012 due to hamstring and shoulder injuries, and there is some concern that Kemp’s power could take time to return. If the rest of the Dodgers’ potentially potent lineup is productive, there won’t be as much pressure on Kemp. Crawford and Ethier are much more questionable commodities. Crawford was a complete bust with the Red Sox. Health issues were only part of his problem, and Crawford has a long way to go to rediscover the game that produced four All-Star selections and a Silver Slugger award with Tampa Bay. Ethier has become a flawed player since his All-Star selection in 2010, posting disturbing splits against left-handed pitching. That could be less of a problem with a much deeper lineup around him in 2013.
For all the headline-grabbing moves the Dodgers made last season, one of the most pleasant and valuable developments was the emergence of A.J. Ellis at age 31 as a rare commodity — an everyday catcher capable of contributing offensively. Ellis hit .270 with 13 home runs and a robust .374 on-base percentage that was critical in helping turn over a National League lineup. Defensively, he handled the Dodgers’ evolving staff well enough to have a catcher’s ERA of 3.31. The Dodgers are confident enough in Ellis’ ability to reproduce that performance in 2013 that they could stick with inexperienced Tim Federowicz as his backup.
The Dodgers added an important, versatile piece when they traded for Schumaker. He provides a left-handed bat off the bench capable of filling in for Kemp and Crawford in the outfield if they are not at full strength after 2012 surgeries (as well as providing balance at second base with the right-handed Ellis). The rest of the bench is an assortment of spare parts left over from last season — Jerry Hairston Jr., Juan Uribe, Punto and Federowicz, the backup catcher.
Has any GM in baseball weathered a wider swing in fortunes than Colletti over the past few years? Colletti has gone from needing to pinch pennies and make do with limited resources in the dying days of the McCourt era to the free-spending billionaire-backed days of the new ownership. But the high payroll and big investment made in these Dodgers have created high expectations that both Colletti and Mattingly will have to meet — or likely feel the heat.
The Dodgers will carry the highest payroll in baseball history during the 2013 season — and big bucks have not always brought big success for their predecessors among baseball’s biggest spenders. The Dodgers changed a third of their roster on the fly last season, adding a passel of former All-Stars. It remains to be seen how that group will play together, and health issues (with Crawford and Billingsley, in particular) could scuttle any progress made. Playing in the same division with the Giants (World Series champions in two of the past three seasons) also presents a large challenge. Given all that the Dodgers’ new owners have invested in the past year, however, anything short of a playoff spot and deep run into the postseason would have to rank as a disappointment.
Lineup LF Carl Crawford (L)
Dodgers are counting on combination of good health and escape from Boston to revive his career. 2B Mark Ellis (R)
Veteran second baseman came back after nearly losing leg from fluke injury in May. CF Matt Kemp (R)
Talk of 50-50 season disappeared with injuries in 2012 — but massive potential remains intact. 1B Adrian Gonzalez (L)
Career .244 hitter at Dodger Stadium, second-lowest of any park in which he’s played (.236 at Tropicana Field). RF Andre Ethier (L)
Has gone from foundation piece to flawed complementary player (poor lefty-righty splits) in matter of months. SS Luis Cruz (R)
Feel-good story with breakout season in 2012 after 12 seasons in pro baseball with six organizations. Will spend the first two months at shortstop. C A.J. Ellis (R)
One of only four catchers in NL last year to start at least 125 games (Buster Posey, Miguel Montero and Yadier Molina). 3B Nick Punto (S)
The solid defender will fill in at third as Cruz shifts to short while Hanley Ramirez recovers from a torn ligament in his thumb.
Bench UT Jerry Hairston Jr. (R)
Played well in super-utility role last season until hip issue that led to surgery became problematic. 2B-OF Skip Schumaker (L)
Could see plenty of playing time as multi-position backup — and protégé of hitting coach Mark McGwire. IF Juan Uribe (R)
Has hit .199/.262/.289 in first two years of misguided three-year, $21 million deal. C Tim Federowicz (R)
Could head back to Triple-A if Dodgers sign a more experienced backup for Ellis. UT Alex Castellanos (R)
Appeared in 16 games last season as a rookie, entering five times as a pinch-runner.
Rotation LH Clayton Kershaw
Young ace is 35–14 over past two seasons, lowest ERA and WHIP in NL each year. RH Zack Greinke
$147 million man only 10th in wins (57), 24th in ERA (3.37) among starters since 2009. Elbow inflammation is a red flag. RH Chad Billingsley
Offseason rehab and throwing program have put surgery for partially torn elbow ligament on hold — for now. LH Hyun-Jin Ryu
Led Korean Baseball Organization in strikeouts five times in seven seasons — but will that translate to MLB? RH Josh Beckett
ERA dropped from 5.23 with Red Sox to 2.93 as Dodger last season, but WHIP didn’t (1.33).
Bullpen RH Brandon League (Closer)
Lost closer job in Seattle but finished season with one run, eight hits, 27 strikeouts in final 27.1 IP with Dodgers RH Kenley Jansen
Has closer stuff and could be back in that role quickly if League’s Seattle struggles resurface. RH Matt Guerrier
Veteran presence was lacking for much of 2012 due to elbow problems. LH J.P. Howell
Held left-handed batters to a .200 batting average with the Rays in 2012. LH Ted Lilly
Dodgers’ surplus of starting pitching could land a veteran like Lilly (recovering from shoulder surgery) in the pen. RH Ronald Belisario
Struck out 69 last season and allowed just 47 hits. RH Aaron Harang
Evidently, he’s still in the league.
2013 Spring Training camps are open and many players will compete against teammates for jobs before taking on other baseball teams in April. Here are some position battles to keep an eye on this spring.
These MLB players are making way more than their production.
Fans love it when their team signs a big-name free agent or locks up a current star, but too many times organizations pay for past accomplishment instead of future production. There are obviously some baseball superstars on this list, but unfortunately much is expected from those who have been compensated at the highest level. Here’s our look at the 10 worst contracts in major league baseball.
$126 Million in committed salary, but no leadership
by Charlie Miller
The Boston Red Sox have no general manager, no manager and $126 million committed in players’ salaries for 2012. Maybe the 126 number would frighten most GMs, but Boston has grown accustomed to payrolls north of $160 million, so it’s not that far out of line. And with ticket sales continuing at a record pace and revenues from NESN soaring, the team isn’t close to financial trouble.
However, they may be racing toward trouble of another kind. The $126 million does not include a DH, a rightfielder or, most importantly, a closer. It also doesn’t include the handful of players who are arbitration eligible and due some big raises, the most notable Jacoby Ellsbury, arguably the team’s best player in 2011.
What the number does include is nearly $60 million committed to a starting rotation of Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, John Lackey, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Clay Buchholz. And that can’t be too comforting for a new braintrust.
Lackey posted the worst ERA (6.41) in team history over a full season. Buchholz made just 14 starts. Dice-K was ineffective in seven starts before being injured. Beckett and Lester combined to go 28-16, numbers indicative of horses a team can count on in the clutch. But where were those guys when the team — leaking oil at an astounding rate — needed them most?
All indications are that they were enjoying beer and buckets of thighs and breasts. Beckett was 1-2 with a 5.48 ERA in four September starts raising his season ERA from 2.54 to 2.89. The Sox lost four of Lester’s five starts as the lefthander suffered through a 1-3 month with a 5.40 ERA.
Boston needs a fresh start of monumental proportions. Does that mean sacrificing a season and several million to get back on the winning track sooner? That’s not a bad plan. This is a mess not easily cleaned.
It’s all too easy to manage this team from afar, but I suspect bringing in a no-frills, old-school manager and identifying about five guys you want to go to war with would be the place to start. Immediately and swiftly change the culture and clean house as much as can be tolerated financially.
That means cutting ties with players such as Lackey, Beckett, Dice-K, and maybe Kevin Youkilis and — dare we say — Carl Crawford. Realistically, there’s no way a team can afford to walk away from the kind of money guaranteed these players, especially with Crawford. But can the Red Sox afford not to? Can they afford to build their team around these expensive players in 2012 and beyond?
The Red Sox need leadership from within the clubhouse. Who will step up to be that guy?
Dustin Pedroia is the first name that comes to mind. Ellsbury is their best player and can most likely be salvageable from a clubhouse perspective, but he’s not a leader. Adrian Gonzalez is a tremendous player who will put up huge numbers and play Gold Glove defense at first base. But is he the player who can confront slacking players eating fried chicken and playing video games?
That is not a bad trio to build around, but who else should be kept? Obviously they can’t release the entire roster. Is Crawford a keeper? Could the Red Sox admit that Crawford is as big a mistake as Dice-K? Was 2011 a fluke for Crawford, or is that the real Crawford now? That itself is a $120 million question. Dare they re-sign Youkilis or David Ortiz?
Most teams not in the playoffs this fall would love to have a roster dotted with names like Gonzalez, Pedroia, Youkilis, Ortiz, Ellsbury, Crawford, Beckett, Lester and Jonathan Papelbon. But as Joe Maddon proved in Tampa Bay, it can be more rewarding both on and off the field with names like Longoria, Price, Shields, Zobrist, Kotchman and Farnsworth.
The next management team in Boston needs to ask for a long-term deal and a little patience from the fans. They’re going to need it.
The Tigers and Rangers bested AL East clubs on the way to the championship series.
The AL East, with three 90-win teams, looked like the power division in baseball for most of the season. The Boston Red Sox had a ton of expectations after the free agent signings of Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford. Gonzalez performed as expected, leading the BoSox in batting average, hits and RBIs. Crawford’s first season at Fenway was a disappointment, hitting a career-low .255. Boston fell apart in September, going 7-20 over the final month and missing the postseason.
Who among the young franchise's players deserve this special honor?
MLB Mt. Rushmores
by Charlie Miller
The question was posed earlier this season whether Derek Jeter should be considered as part of the Yankees’ Mt. Rushmore. That certainly piqued my interest. Not really the Jeter-Yankees part, but the idea that all MLB teams should have their own Mt. Rushmores. Who are the four individuals that have risen above all others for each organization? The question sounds simple. But it isn't as easy as it sounds. Let the arguments begin.
Tampa Bay Rays Mt. Rushmore
The Devil Rays spent nine of their first 10 years of existence languishing in last place, with seemingly no hope of competing with the heavyweights in New York and Boston. Then came a minor name change from Devil Rays to just Rays, and a major cultural change under manager Joe Maddon. The team wore shirts that said 9+9=8. Their motivation was that nine guys playing hard for nine innings equals one of eight teams playing in the postseason. Certainly a key to their success was that during the years spent in last place, the team was spending more than the big market teams on draft picks and player development. That strategy paid off, and the Rays are now going head-to-head with wealthier teams in the AL East.
There can absolutely be no argument here. The only category among the franchise’s all-time list that I could find without Crawford’s name at the top was home runs, and he is fourth in team history with 104. The team’s first real star, Crawford made four All-Star teams and stole 409 bases. From 2003 (the year he became a full-time starter) to 2010, he averaged .299 with 13 homers, 70 RBIs, 50 stolen bases, 93 runs and 12 triples. The fans’ warm reception upon his return to Tropicana Field this season in a Red Sox uniform spoke volumes to his popularity.
The popular third baseman is fifth on the team’s all-time list in runs and hits, and fourth in total bases and RBIs. He is currently the face of the franchise and under contract through 2013 with team options through 2016. I can’t imagine the team not picking those up. He has seven postseason home runs in 21 games.
The innovative manager is responsible for all the good seasons in team history. In his six seasons at the helm, he’s guided the Rays to their only four winning seasons, two division titles and an AL Pennant. He was recently voted the manager players would most like to play for in an SI poll of 291 major leaguers.
In 2005, at the age of 28, Friedman was promoted from his position in player development to general manager. Under his leadership, the franchise saw its first success in 2008.
Close Calls James Shields' 70 wins, six shutouts and 16 complete games are tops on the team’s all-time lists.
The former No. 2 overall draft pick may not be in a Rays’ uniform much longer, but B.J. Upton has been a fixture in centerfield since 2007 and was a key player in the Rays’ AL Championship in 2008.
Lefty David Price has the best ERA in team history (min. 500 IP) and is already third in wins with 41. And he was that 23-year-old on the mound when the Rays clinched the AL pennant in 2008.
Aubrey Huff is second or third on most of the franchise’s all-time lists.
Follow Charlie Miller on Twitter @AthlonCharlie or email him Charlie.Miller@AthlonSports.com
It might have been the most mind-bending free agent decision ever. Of all the teams to sign Clifton Phifer Lee, who would have guessed it would be the Philadelphia Phillies? After all, the Phillies had traded Lee last December, and loaded up on two other expensive aces, Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt. Why would they need another No. 1 starter? And why would Lee return to the team that rejected him — for $28 million less than the Yankees offered to pay him?