Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A more nuanced approach to "what if?"

I've been very hesitant to engage in too much speculation over what might have happened had the McCourts trimmed their personal expenses even a little. I don't buy the notion that, if not for Jamie's jet-setting, Cliff Lee would be leading the Dodgers to their first World Series title since 1988. I have a natural distrust for conclusions drawn from single incidents. But patterns...patterns grab my attention right quick. Shaikin:
Colletti might have gotten Lee if he had Carlos Santana to offer. Santana, a catcher, is a more advanced prospect. Yet the Cleveland Indians already had him, because Colletti had to sacrifice him last year in order to get the Indians to pay the [$2 million] balance of Casey Blake's contract.
The Dodgers have paid $8.5 million in signing bonuses for draft picks over the last two years -- the lowest figure among all major league teams, according to Baseball America. 
The Dodgers, so proud of their heritage in Asia and Latin America, today are a non-factor in bidding for top amateur players abroad. In 2008, according to Baseball America, major league clubs combined to sign 115 such players for bonuses of more than $100,000. The Dodgers did not sign one.

Shaikin offers higher-profile examples as well, like the failure to offer C.C. Sabathia a contract or the nondisclosure of what happened to the money saved via Schmidt's insurance coverage and Ramirez's suspension. Maybe it's the new-school in me, but I am far, far more concerned about a reluctance to part with a million here and a million there in order to strengthen the farm system. The Sabathia contract will probably end up being a bad one. And Colletti hasn't even had an offseason to dispose of the Schmidt and Ramirez money. I won't kill him on that yet.

But the pattern of requiring other teams to kick in cash (as long as the Dodgers kick in talent)? That really starts to bother me. How nice would it be to have an in-house option in case Martin's struggles are real? How about shifting Andy LaRoche to second this winter? 

I try to avoid playing the what-if game, because it never ends. And so I'll try to quit speculating there. But I can say that the Dodgers' neglect of the farm system over the last couple years puts an enormous burden on the Kemp/Kershaw/Billingsley/Ethier/Broxton core to win very, very soon. When those guys get just a little too expensive, there might not be a ton of help in the wings.

It's impossible to say with any certainty that the McCourts' indulgent lifestyle led to tighter pursestrings which led to restraints on organizational spending. I ask you to consider, though, how much of the McCourts' take came in the form of Dodgers-paid benefits and perquisites. If, in the grand scheme of things, a $2 million payment from the Indians balances a $2 million Net Jets bill, I can assure you that Al Davis, Marge Schott, and Art Modell need to make room at the table for Frank and Jamie McCourt.


  1. The McCourts propensity to back end every contract seems to fit this pattern too. Why pay for something now, when you might be able to sell it (along with a high-value prospect or two) later?

    Or how about their shameful dismissal of a too expensive Ross Porter in exchange for a horrific (and presumably cheaper) Charley Steiner vomiting all over the Dodger broadcast? These people desperately want to be famous (and rich) and will ALWAYS put their personal wants before the good of the organization.

  2. Excellent point on the deferred contracts. I've heard from a couple people that the deferred money is the reason the club has been profitable the last couple years. I wonder if the profitability of the club has any bearing on the loans; i.e., are there penalties if the club runs in the red?

  3. Tell me that they won't be forced to trade Kemp, Ethier, Billingsley, etc. to offset Manny's contract.

  4. In the scheme of things, so much money is sloshing around that it's hard to imagine they would say "if we take 3 less private jet flights we can pay a little more for a pitcher."

    Just two examples...they bought a house next door to each of their other homes, for guests. One was $8 million and they ended up using it to store stuff like a bulldozer while the main house was being upgraded. And, they unexpectedly saved maybe $7 million on Manny's contract because he got suspended. So, to say a million or two here or there might have funded a certain player they didn't acquire is probably not accurate, unless they just had a mindset of "no spending on players" even while using an $8 million house as a tool shed.

  5. One other thing that I seem to recall -- perhaps you know as an attorney -- there is some sort of wrinkle in tax law that makes it advantageous to flip a sports franchise after five years because salaries incurred during that period can be written off against income.

    KingBB -- I have come to my peace about Steiner. Put it this way, I would rather it be him than Steve Lyons in the TV booth.