A reporter ran into Los Angeles Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti at the winter meetings last week in Nashville, Tenn.
“Ned!” the reporter said. “You’ve got all the money!”
“Why does everybody say that?” said Colletti, acting astonished.
Because in the baseball winter of 2012, it’s true.
All the money is blue. At least most of it.
The Dodgers, hungry to win a World Series for the first time since 1988, and fueled by the outrageously deep pockets of new ownership and the promise of television billions, have taken the transaction column by storm since the middle of the 2012 season.
They acquired infielder Hanley Ramirez from the Miami Marlins and outfielder Carl Crawford, pitcher Josh Beckett and first baseman Adrian Gonzalez from the Boston Red Sox at a cost of more than a quarter of a billion dollars in July. Last weekend, the gluttony continued when they spent more than $200 million to put pitchers Zack Grienke and Ryu Huyn-jin in Dodger Blue. Grienke got a six-year deal worth $147 million — and he’s not even the top pitcher on the Dodgers roster. That honor goes to Clayton Kershaw, who has won the last two National League ERA titles and finished first and second in the Cy Young voting. Kershaw could be a free agent in two years and could zoom way past Greinke’s number when the Dodgers get around to locking him up.
Not to worry. The Dodgers have the money. And the desire to make things happen.
“We want to win,” part owner Magic Johnson said at the news conference announcing Greinke’s signing. “We’re not messing around.”
After years of shoddy, low-budget stewardship under Frank McCourt, the Dodgers were sold were last spring to a group led by Mark Walter of Guggenheim Financial and Johnson of NBA fame. The $2 billion sale price? Tip money for this group.
The Dodgers’ spending spree is another example of how the West is asserting itself in the current Major League landscape. The Angels, who thumbed their nose at the mighty Dodgers when they added “Los Angeles” to their name a few years ago, netted Albert Pujols last winter and celebrated the ascent of rookie phenom Mike Trout over the summer, then added slugger Josh Hamilton to their fold on Thursday. Up the coast, the San Francisco Giants, the Dodgers’ ancient nemesis, have won two of the last three World Series.
Meanwhile, traditional East Coast powers in Boston, New York and Philadelphia have been relatively quiet in recent months. The Red Sox dumped a load of salary last summer, finished in last place in the American League East, missed the playoffs for the third straight year, and this winter have so far sunk their money into only mid-level talent. The Yankees, who used to spend like the current Dodgers regime, have been unusually quiet. They signed aging Kevin Youkilis and have brought back several of their own players, including Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera and Hiroki Kuruda. On the whole, however, the Yanks have resisted big splashes as they exercise fiscal caution that was foreign to George Steinbrenner. The Yanks, now run by Steinbrenner’s level-headed son, Hal, are trying to get their payroll under $189 million by the time the luxury-tax threshold reaches that number in 2014.
“We’re still going to have a high payroll,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said at the winter meetings. “We’re still going to put a lot of quality players on the field.”
But so are the Tampa Bay Rays, Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays, who are all capable of turning the AL East on its ear, and to some extent have already.
The Yankees have already felt the pinch of ownership’s mandate to get the payroll under $189 million. They lost catcher Russell Martin, a player Girardi wanted to retain, to Pittsburgh on a two-year, $17 million deal.
In Philadelphia, the Phillies, whose five-year run of National League East titles came to an end in 2012, are following through on one of general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.’s favorite admonitions: “You can’t have a $15 million player at every position.” Their two big moves so far this winter: A trade for slap-hitting centerfielder Ben Revere, who will make just over the minimum salary in 2013, and a trade for veteran infielder Michael Young. Texas is paying more than $10 million of Young’s $16 million salary.
Not all the teams East of the Mississippi have been quiet. Atlanta outbid the Phillies for free-agent B.J. Upton. Washington strengthened a strength by signing pitcher Dan Haren, a move that Nationals manager Davey Johnson hopes supports his World Series or bust mantra. And Toronto bettered itself by acquiring three of Miami’s finest, pitchers Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle and shortstop Jose Reyes.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
There’s no truth to the rumor that the Dodgers are also making room for a printing press to turn out all that money. That’s coming from the TV deal they’re working on with Fox Sports. That package could be worth between $6 and $7 billion over 25 years. All the talent that the Dodgers are buying is actually programming. Winning programming, they hope.
That is still the goal in all this: Win a World Series. There will be incredible pressure on this Dodgers roster and manager Don Mattingly to win it all in 2013. Some might even say the Dodgers’ season will be a failure if they don’t win it all.
“I don’t think we can think like that,” Mattingly said when presented with that scenario at the winter meetings.
But Mattingly has been around long enough to know the lay of the land.
“That's part of the expectation,” Mattingly eventually conceded. “That's part of reality. It's the way it's going to be. So we might as well be ready for it, be ready to take it head on. That's the way it's going to be. We're not going to change it.”
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