LA Dodgers: Win or Bust

It is not a fair assessment to say the Los Angeles Dodgers have all the money in the world, just about a third of it. In all seriousness though, if recent baseball history is any indication, the Dodgers’ flush wallets alone may not be enough to buy a championship in the MLB, and that leaves Los Angeles in a tricky situation going forward.


Similar to the New York Yankees in the early aughts, the Dodgers are in a position of ‘championship or bust.’ The team is paying out $300 million in payroll, and at those prices, a failure to take home the tile could make them a punchline. Prevailing wisdom says that a team spending that much money had better see some big results, but that logic is more than a little unfair.


Don’t misunderstand – it certainly helps to have a high payroll. That $300 million number means that LA is free to offer that extra year to a free agent, increase an offer to keep a player, spend over budget on international signings, or replace a bad contract with a more effective player. In fact, the Dodgers have almost $87 million in dead money on the books. That’s more dead money than six organizations have spent in total salary.


But having the top payroll doesn’t guarantee a team anything. Of the last 15 World Series champions, only two winners have had the league’s highest payroll, and both times it was the Yankees (2000 and 2009). In that same time frame, six winners had payrolls outside of the top 10. And in 15 years, nine different teams have won the title with the duplicates being anything but dynasties. New York’s multiple titles were nine years apart, the Red Sox won three times, spanning 10 years, the Cardinals won twice with five years in between, and the Giants have been winning every other year for a pseudo-dynasty in the broadest sense of the term.


So if payroll helps, but isn’t the be-all-end-all of winning a ring, why does it seem like the LA Dodgers have to win a World Series to justify their heavy spending? The fans certainly seem to feel this way. They have the best team with the most money, and the best pair of starting pitchers in baseball; how can they not be expected to win it all?


That point-of-view glosses over the fact that the MLB playoffs can be a crapshoot. If the Dodgers miss the playoffs entirely, the season will be an unmitigated disaster. If the team falls into the one-game wildcard playoff scenario, it’ll also disappoint fans. Getting into the playoffs is the mark of success all teams aim for, but many forget that to win the World Series, you don’t have to be the best team in baseball. You just have to be the best team for a handful of games.


It’s a hard point to accept for baseball fans and organizations. Just last year, though, both wildcard teams made it to the World Series. 162 games of evidence showed that the Giants and the Royals were not the two best teams in the sport. Far from it, in fact. They were barely in the top 10. Yet once the playoffs rolled around, that evidence was replaced by something far more volatile: a couple of short series.


In 2015, the Philadelphia Phillies are by far the worst team in baseball, but they were on an amazing stretch after the All-Star break. Philadelphia, the worst team in baseball, won 12 of 14 games through August 1, making them the best team in that time frame. If a terrible club can look that good for a short time, it’s not hard to extrapolate that a pretty good club could outperform the very best teams in the playoffs.


That’s what the Dodgers are up against. Because of their high payroll, they invite this pressure and this criticism, but it’s pretty unfair. In a vacuum, it’d actually be impressive if LA does win the World Series, because chances are, they won’t. So if it’s not fair to expect this team to win it all just because they’ve spent so much, that begs the question of whether spending so much is actually worth it.


‘Worth it’ is a matter of circumstance. If someone like the Cincinnati Reds had gone all-out in an attempt to win the 2015 World Series, that would certainly be foolish. But the Dodgers aren’t like other teams. Thanks to their massive television deal, they have money oozing out of their pockets that would otherwise stay in the owners’ pockets if not spent on player salaries.


In that sense, it’s always worth it to put the best product possible on the field each year. Just know that the best product doesn’t always win the blue ribbon.

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