Dodgers far from doomed, but all the concern is perfectly understandable

Dodgers Digest has written over and over again that patience is key when it comes to the off-season. That stance has always made sense, because it truly does not matter when the moves happen or what order they happen in, as the only thing that matters is the roster when the season starts. However, that rhetoric comes with the caveat about available talent remaining in free agency, so when the last potentially marquee talent gets signed, it seems like as appropriate a time as ever to wonder whether any significant move will happen.

I’m usually the first person to point out (or mock, more likely) when I think fan reaction is ridiculous. And Dodgers fans have admittedly recently become one of the more spoiled, reactionary fanbases around due to the amount of money spent on the team and the long World Series drought. So while I’d love to pour cold water over their latest pity party after Johnny Cueto agreed to terms with the rival Giants, I can’t say I disagree with their growing worry and concern with the way the 2016 roster is shaping up.

Despite my personal apprehension about the Dodgers off-season to date, a few writers did make the argument that things were still alright, primarily as a response to the fan meltdowns that were occurring. The articles were essentially calm, rational reminders that the Dodgers are still good despite all this noise.

Chris Cwik of Yahoo! Sports was first on the scene.

As it stands, the Dodgers are still a competitive club in the National League West. Adrian Gonzalez is still around, Yasiel Puig should be healthy and a full year of Corey Seager will be a good thing. There are legitimate questions, of course. Will Justin Turner repeat last season’s success? Can Joc Pederson rebound after a terrible second half?

Even if the Dodgers stand pat and do nothing, they can still probably compete for the division. They might not be the favorites coming into the year, but the gap probably isn’t that big.

Then Jon Weisman of Dodger Insider ran through a list of reasons why the Dodgers aren’t doomed, and concluded it by imploring fans to not give up on the 2016 season because that would be silly.

Does this make the Dodgers champions? No, but it should be enough to stop digging the grave of the 2016 Dodgers before 2016 begins.

Note: Anybody accusing Weisman of being a shill over his takes because he now works for the team is detached from reality. Jon has always been known to provide the calmest takes during gigantic messes, even during the Frank McCourt/Ned Colletti days, when other less calm unnamed bloggers may or may not have dedicated a site to getting people fired.

Of course, neither of them are wrong. I agree that the Dodgers are still primed to compete in 2016, and it’s totally acceptable to call fans out for pretending like the Dodgers are doomed to be the third-best team in the division just because rivals won the off-season World Series. Hell, I’ll go a step further and point out that the Dodgers front office has generally been successful in their goal of transforming a roster that appeared to have a window of two or three more years before a whole lot of aging and roster crunch hit. Now it’s a team with essentially no money on the books past 2018 and the Dodgers have a bunch more flexibility and young talent available going forward.

All that said, I don’t think any of what they addressed in their articles is what most rational and grounded fans are upset over. My complaint is not that the Dodgers are now terrible or that they are horribly prepared to contend in the NL West. Rather, it’s that the Dodgers have surrendered their once significant cushion over their divisional rivals, and have thus left a lot of the race up in the air to the gods of variance and injury luck when the payroll flexibility that the front office has been creating for the last year should’ve allowed the team to splurge on at least one marquee starter in an off-season full of them. That would’ve at least comfortably maintained the status quo while the team banked on a youth injection and better injury fortune in 2016 to take them to the next level. As it currently stands, however, the Dodgers have sacrificed their talent lead on their rivals in the present because they didn’t want to take on future risk even with the largest payroll in baseball. As a result, they have a roster that’s ironically loaded with risk and now absolutely needs a bunch of things to break right just to get them back to 2015 levels and compensate for what hasn’t happened in the off-season.

The reason I advocated strongly for paying Zack Greinke even if it was going to be technically an overpay is that the Dodgers were setup perfectly by this front office to take that kind of singular deal trade-off meant to supplement the team in the short-term even if long-term it might look like an overall mediocre contract agreement. Additionally, the fact that the Dodgers have a young, up-and-coming core in the minors and are in the middle of a quasi-rebuild is even more reason to take a risk on an elite talent now, because the franchise should have a ton more cost-controlled talent in the future that will naturally suppress the outlay of salaries, and thus should remove the pressing need to take multiple major risks to fill roster holes in the future.

So yeah, contracts like Greinke’s or Cueto’s are always huge risks, but they were a risk worth taking for what was potentially a mid-90 win roster that has a generational pitcher leading the rotation in the middle of his prime. Besides, concerns that one mega-contract going bad on the Dodgers would lead to some kind of payroll quagmire down the road were never based in reality.

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Of course, the assumption about how much money the Dodgers have to spend is another problem area entirely. It is possible that the Dodgers are operating under a new budget now and (relative) money problems have cropped up.

There are 30 teams in MLB. I can tell you how 29 of them fund their business. Not the Dodgers.

Since then, even with their $7 billion television deal with Time Warner Cable, the Dodgers have posted over $85 million in operating (in the sense of earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) losses by my count and much bigger pretax losses (not important from a cash flow standpoint, but very important when it comes to lending covenants). The Dodgers will almost certainly have baseball’s biggest payroll and lose money again this year.

We know next to nothing about what the Dodgers payroll actually is, but if the front office is under instructions to reduce payroll, then passing on all these free agents becomes a lot more understandable. However, while that makes the front office look a lot more logical, it would and should probably also make fans feel worse, as they would have continued payroll cuts to look forward to.

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So the potential payroll crunch is another issue entirely, but assuming that’s not the case, and the recent massive international outlays would seem to indicate it’s not, the fact remains that it’s hard to understand why the Dodgers steadfastly refused to use their payroll to continue the trend of churning out divisional winners (at least on paper) and giving the team a chance in the postseason as they wait for their crops on the farm to mature.

I get that the goal is to do a big market rebuild. I also get that the goal is to usher in a new generation of homegrown Dodger talent. And I get that many of the moves made over the past year has been more about setting up payroll flexibility than setting the team up to just win now. I didn’t have a problem with any of it because it all made sense, and the Dodgers appeared to be balancing the best of both worlds scenario well, but the recent moves or lack thereof is just rather puzzling under the same logic.

That lack of understanding is the crux of the problem from my perspective, really. Aside from trades like Juan Uribe, which may or may have not been a favor to the player anyway, I have basically understood what the front office was doing with all their moves until recently. Whether their moves worked out in the end or not, I understood the end goal the Dodgers were working towards and why they did what they did. But this off-season, it’s just hard to work out exactly what the plan is, and so far the team’s chances in 2016 look far worse off because of it.

Naturally, the best counter to all of this is that it’s still mid-December and this could all be rendered moot if the front office pulls off some kind of 14-team trade (likely mere hours after this article is posted), but until then, the feeling that something has gone terribly wrong this off-season will continue to snowball and it sounds less like the typical ravings of a bitter, delusional fan and more like an impossible-to-avoid rational conclusion.

I’d love to be wrong.

About Chad Moriyama

Chad Moriyama
"A highly rational Internet troll." - Los Angeles Times