The 2022 Dodgers season ended on such a dark note. Playoff baseball is notoriously random and cruel, but I think most Dodger fans agree that a 111-win team should not have so easily rolled over in the NLDS to a Padres team they summarily punished throughout the regular season. The lethargy from the team overall was hard to deny, even from the most positive of fans.
Now, the offseason is here. There are a lot of question marks in terms of the veterans who may come back and who still have good baseball to give. Some holes are going to need to be plugged with the likely departure of free agents and players on a team option. Trea Turner, Clayton Kershaw, Tyler Anderson, and Craig Kimbrel are the first big names. Joey Gallo, Andrew Heaney, Tommy Kahnle, Chris Martin, Kevin Pillar, and David Price are the others. This leaves the Dodgers with quite a bit of holes to fill in the bullpen and starting rotation.
All of that turnover and change is bound to give us some heartbreak and adjustment, but this is the Dodgers. They’re going to spend and bring us Aaron Judge, the second coming of Ted Williams, and hypnotize Arte Moreno into allowing us to trade for Shohei Ohtani for a box of balls and a signed Chris Hatcher jersey, and sign them all to 30-year extensions, right? According to this a from Stan Kasten, probably not.
“Earlier in the last decade, we had a wave of young guys who were going to be real contributors. We think we are now on the precipice of the next wave of young guys. We need to make room to allow that to happen. If money is what is needed, we’ll certainly do that, as we’ve shown time and time again. [But] if we think we have kids who need time to play up here, I’m sure we’ll do that as well.”
There are two different ways to view this quote.
Positive Nod To The Present And Future
The Dodgers have been the cream of MLB’s crop for over a decade now because of their prudent drafting skills and elite internal prospect development, while also using their immense financial resources to retain their homegrown talent.
Kasten is not necessarily wrong. The Dodgers had back-to-back Rookie of the Year Awards with Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger. They have also had players like Joc Pederson, Walker Buehler, Tony Gonsolin, Dustin May, and Julio Urias go from homegrown prospects into excellent contributors to winning seasons. Urias has been in consideration for a Cy Young Award two seasons in a row. All this to say, there is no reason fans and the Dodgers should not have faith in their development skills and in the ability of players like Michael Busch, James Outman, Gavin Stone, and Bobby Miller to be the next wave of Dodger youth to take the NL West by storm.
Gavin Lux was a prospect touted to be the next cornerstone for the Dodgers, but his development has taken longer than the Dodgers probably wanted. Even with that, Lux had his best overall season in 2022 and should take even larger strides in 2023. If the Dodgers see him as the next shortstop, he will need to take a step defensively and more consistently on offense. A 105 OPS+ is slightly better than average, but I think the Dodgers are hoping for a 115-120 from a shortstop since Trea Turner is likely gone and Corey Seager is long gone.
The Dodger youth can deliver, and all signs point to promising returns, but there are no guarantees. As such, there is one other way to view Kasten’s comments. That other way involves some not-great connotations.
Kasten’s comments can be viewed through a lens of the Dodgers getting cheap. It may be unfair to not give the Dodgers the benefit of the doubt here, as they frequently top or are in the top three organizations when it comes to payroll — but they could afford to double their payroll. Why not just be the evil empire if it leads to more titles?
Kasten’s quote alludes to “earlier in the last decade.” In 2012, the Dodgers were 12th on the list of highest payrolls at $95 million, while the Yankees that year were number one at $197 million. If that is the kind of drop Kasten is alluding to, Dodger fans probably will not react well to it. I, for one, find it easier to pay for a $28 margarita and an exorbitant ticket fee knowing that the Dodgers payroll is at or near the top. Really even if the Dodgers plan on dropping their payroll below the top two or three, that will be a tough (drink) pill to swallow. The Guggenheim Partners are estimated to have around $285 billion in assets, so what is another few million on the payroll if they are going to bring in elite top talent to round out the youth? It is said in leadership that the best way to train or teach anyone is to put them in a good system. The Dodgers can afford that and should. Dodger fans should not settle for anything less than that, either.
The lens that allows fans to see these comments negatively is admittedly easier to do after a season like 2022. Thus far, all signs of the offseason do not point to the Dodgers taking on another large contract a la Betts or Freeman. Hopefully, this is not true. The Dodgers have serious holes to fill. Dodger fans do not want to see more “serviceable replacements” who will lead to a 90-something win season and another October early exit. Dodger fans want to see big splashes, for better or worse. Hope already springs eternal for Dodger fans, and let us hope that is not in vain.