It would appear that the new Dodgers ownership, led by Magic Johnson and Stan Kasten, is to be taken seriously. Not five months after buying the team, they have embarked upon an in-season makeover—at a cost of more than a quarter of a billion dollars—that is unlike any ever seen in baseball history. Last Saturday, Los Angeles sent five players to the Red Sox for four veterans, including Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett, who combined are owed a staggering $261 million, with only Beckett's contract expiring before 2017. The deal, which bumps the '13 payroll by $61 million, positions the Dodgers as the West Coast version of the Yankees for years to come.
Acquiring Gonzalez to replace James Loney at first base makes the team better in the short term and gives Los Angeles a better shot at closing the two-game gap between them and the Giants in the NL West. Beckett serves as a replacement for the once-again-injured Chad Billingsley, and Nick Punto is a better utility infielder than either Juan Uribe or Adam Kennedy. (Crawford is done for 2012 following Tommy John surgery on his left elbow last Thursday.)
This trade, though, is about the long term, about acquiring superstar-level talent even if it means taking expensive gambles on the likes of Beckett and Crawford. As with the trade for Hanley Ramirez in late July, the Dodgers are using their impending huge local-television windfall (their current deal expires after the 2013 season) to make up for the Frank McCourt years, when the team's dollars were siphoned away from the baseball operation to bankroll the owner's lavish spending habits.
The move isn't without risk. It doesn't assure this year's team—which still has OBP problems up the middle and an erratic rotation behind Clayton Kershaw—a postseason berth. The 2013 team is already bumping up against the luxury-tax threshold, and it has needs (the bullpen, second base, shortstop and catcher) to be addressed. Looking ahead, Kershaw is arbitration-eligible in '14 and by '15 could become baseball's highest-paid pitcher in free agency. If he re-signs with the Dodgers, the team could be looking at an additional $25 million a year on top of the money it has committed to its aging stars (chart).
That kind of plan requires developing a lot of inexpensive talent to work around the big-money core. If the Dodgers can't do that, they'll look an awful lot like the Red Sox, who this year put together a $173 million roster that is limping towards a fourth-place finish.
Yet, this trade could work out for L.A. Gonzalez and Beckett could have big Septembers that help wrest the NL West away from the Giants. G.M. Ned Colletti could find a way to get dead money like Uribe and Aaron Harang off the payroll over the winter, giving him the flexibility to pursue some complementary pieces. Crawford could return healthy and thrive alongside Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier in the most expensive outfield ever assembled. The Dodgers, flush with cash and benefiting from an ownership not using it on hair care and real estate, could become a consistent force in the National League. That's just not the only, or perhaps even the most likely, potential outcome.
Last Saturday, Roger Clemens, 50, returned to the mound for the independent Sugar Land Skeeters, stirring memories of another aging hurler: Satchel Paige, who in 1965 pitched one game for the Kansas City A's at age 59. The pitchers' lines were similar. Paige went three shutout innings, striking out one and giving up one hit. The Rocket (right) threw 3 1/3 scoreless innings, fanning two and giving up a hit. One big difference: Paige gave up his hit to Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski; Clemens allowed his to James Simmons, a career .245 hitter in six minor league seasons. Afterward, Clemens—who clearly hasn't heeded Paige's maxim to "avoid fried foods, which angry up the blood" (and enlarge the pant size)—was noncommittal about the future. "I'm definitely open to [pitching again for the Skeeters] if they want to do it," he said.
The good news for Los Angeles: It has now got even more serious talent. The bad news: It'll be paying for it for the next five years. A look at the Dodgers' guaranteed deals next season and in 2017.
[The following text appears within a chart. Please see hardcopy or PDF for actual chart.]
2013 17 PLAYERS
5 PLAYERS three 35-year-olds, one 32-year-old
DAVID J. PHILLIP/AP (CLEMENS)
MARK J. TERRILL/AP (GONZALEZ)
YO, ADRIAN! The early returns on Gonzalez in L.A. were overwhelmingly positive: He hit a three-run homer in his first at bat.