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Signings of baseball's best leave Dodgers just another middling franchise

Brown_300 He was one of baseball’s best pitchers and signed with a major-market team for over $100 million.

With the Dodgers. Twelve years ago.

And here we are today, a lot of games and years since L.A. stunned baseball with the first $100-million contract.

The Dodgers were major players a dozen years ago on the free-agent market. They shook up baseball when they gave Kevin Brown $105 million in 1998. News Corp., the team’s new owner, wanted to make a statement and paid for it.

Now it’s the Philadelphia Phillies, signing Cliff Lee for well over $100 million.

Two pitchers from the South, both former Texas Rangers, both in their 30s, both suddenly set for life.

Only the Dodgers were never in the game this time. Never a player in pursuing Lee. Up front, he was simply considered financially out of their reach.

Twelve years after dropping $100 million on Brown, that’s the mindset. Second-biggest market in the country and they won’t enter the free-agent game when the stakes rise to the highest level.

Now, the Brown signing hardly worked out. News Corp. spent plenty of money unwisely during its ownership run. And the Dodgers have acquired a formidable rotation this off-season, though quite a step behind the Phillies and Giants.

But the point is that the Dodgers simply are no longer in the same financial league with baseball’s big boys. They don’t even pretend to be.

After signing Brown in 1998, the Dodgers had baseball’s highest payroll at $85 million. Which isn’t much different from what it was throughout most of last season.

When the big free-agent names come up now, the Dodgers are sideline players. They watch a lot. They don’t even consider getting in the game.

Carl Crawford got a ridiculous amount of money ($147 million) to sign with the Red Sox. But Crawford plays left field, currently the black hole in the Dodgers lineup. And the Dodgers never knocked on his door.

There was a time they would have. If you own the Los Angeles Dodgers, you should. Only now when it’s written that a free agent is going to demand top dollar, it’s just understood Frank McCourt won’t be involved.

The premier players go elsewhere now. They sign with the big boys. Like the Dodgers were a dozen years ago.

-- Steve Dilbeck

Photo: Kevin Brown in 2003. Credit: Los Angeles Times

Comments () | Archives (37)

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strange..strange way of looking at things. you would prefer they spent more money to win fewer games? the last 4 years have been, mostly, GREAT. much better than the fox years in terms of winning.

I think it's fair to say that the Dodgers are not players on big name free-agents. However, what's not said is they have been burned by the injuries and unstableness of so many free agents that they have signed in years past.

Consequently, home-grown guys or stable guys have worked well. Casey Blake was signed rather cheaply compared to other 3B. Uribe was a fair deal even if you can get him producing 2/3 years of the contract.

Bad FA:

Kevin Brown, Juan Pierre (too expensive), Andruw Jones, Orel Hershiser (Re-signed following the 1988 season), hurt arm in April of 1989 only to return in late 1990. Darryl Strawberry 28 HR first year...then fell apart with injuries and drug problems. Eric Davis-terrible.

Worse: Darren Dreifort and Jason Schmidt (Both injured much of contract.) Schmidt as bad as Mike Hampton in terms of length of time out of baseball. Hampton still pitching.

Worked out ok:

Furcal- first time around, not as much 2nd, but still consistent when healthy.

Derek Lowe...mistake not signing this innings eater.

Casey Blake- bad year last year and better year in 2009. Room for improvement?

There are not too many top dollar FA that work out for any team they sign with. The ROI for top dollar guys just doesn't have a solid track record. The best plans are made with signing your own FA and making trades to fill the holes.

I totally agree. What a shame that we are never even considered in the running for any top notch free agents. We get the likes of Dioner Navarro, Juan Uribe, John Garland etc. Never once was Lee, Crawford, Werth etc ever even sniffed at. What happened to this once proud franchise? Oh yeah, McFraud turned us into the Pirates or Royals of the West Coast. Pitiful. Please sell this team soon to someone who will really spend the money like this city deserves.

Over two decades, the Dodgers, now the Giants AAA farm team, have spent money albeit unwisely as it turned out. Either injuries and/or bad judgement got the better of them. How the Dodgers operate is now well embbeded in my head, at least, so I am not too surprised, but as a fan, continue to be disappointed. This Giants farm team needs new ownership with a commitment to winning and elevating their level of play to an elite major league level. Every year repeats itself, with some variation, like two years ago where we actually won more than 1 game in the playoffs. I wish this Giants farm team, called the Dodgers, could play in the AL East for one season, it would be an eye-opener for those fans still delusional about this team's abilities.

When the Dodgers had Peter O'Malley as the owner, they had an owner who placed the Dodgers and their fans first and did all he could afford to place a championship team on the field. NewsCorp did the same thing, but in their case the Dodgers were not the core product of their empire, but none the less they had the largest payroll in baseball while they were there. Now we have an owner who uses the Dodgers to raise money for his real estate dealings, which in his case is his first love. We were told about his real interest, but Mr. McCourt came to LA and gave us his empty promises about how he's all about winning championships. The commissioner was all too willing to sell the Dodgers to an owner who couldn't spend like the Yankees and now look what happened. Mr. Selig will be leaving the game after next season and the Dodgers are a joke and an embarresment which all happened under his watch. He made a crown jewel and turned it into a small market team, and just like the other small market teams, sooner or later the fans will lose interest and will not be spending much money.

>this once proud franchise?

Wasn't build on high priced FAs. Not the Koufax/Drysdale era. Not the Sutton/Garvey/Lopes/Cey era. The '88 ring was Orel's.

To which Dodgers are you referring?

You can call a reptile many thing mc crap,mccheap, mcfraud and even (PT Barnum) mccourt But nothing bothers reptiles they have that sort slimy scaly type skin but deprive him of food(fans at he ballpark) and he might revert to a human. It is a quid pro quo world. If you want a championship at Dodger Stadium you have got to pay for it with tough love. DO NOT PATRONIZE THE Charlatans`Team.. When He is down to his last few houses he will get the message and either re invest, I mean invest in the team or SELL.....And then we will get our just rewards, either a new owner, or this character, who will have finally received the message and give the CITY what it deserves. A World Series Winner...If that don`t work try dancing..

Nailed it, Steverino.

It's not about the cash, it's about the judgment. Knowing when to go after a great player AND knowing the price tag will be worth it. The Dodgers have lost that skilled managment tradition that knows how to accumulate the right players, knowing they'll require a certain sum of money and then to know how and to whom they should allocate that money.

The Dodgers have been watching the Phillies clean up. The Phils do it by carefully spending a zillion bucks on those it takes to keep them at the top. The Giants' way, which is also Ned's way, is to throw B, C and D-grade players onto the roster, hoping just enough of them will gel and get hot, together.

THAT'S the tradition that gets you a championship every 56 years.

The Giants way is not what used to be the Dodgers way. That way gambles with winning. "If i buy enough $1 lottery tickets, one of them, someday, is bound to win big." Which is why there are so many poor teams that populate baseball never sniffing the magic of being the dominant team in October. Those teams at best never venture beyond the Lottery Strategy.

The good news, and the answer to this problem, is the Dodgers are not a poor team in resources. They act like one because the owner was installed by the commissioner of baseball to disallow the Dodgers to return to the Dodger way of dominating the National League, so in his own words they could not become the Yankees of the West. Bud Selig disallowed McCourt from buying the Red Sox, knowing he could not compete with New York, which would have ceded the field to the high-spending Yankees. Other applicants for the hand of the Red Sox, with deeper pockets and managerial skill, were chosen to go toe-to-toe with NY, and provide baseball with one and only one high-spending rivalry.

Selig then bypassed his own rule not to let a cash-poor owner buy the Dodgers, knowing McCourt would be a parasite on the ability of the team to spend, to spend wisely, and to dominate. McCourt's penny-ante GM follows his owner's abuse of the Dodgers revenue by following the Lottery Strategy, learned up at Telephone Trademark Park, where revenues are crippled for decades by the bill to pay off the park itself. That's why McCourt hired him: To turn the Dodgers into the Giants of the South, and remain on their level, and in their league.

If you think this is bad; wait till Frank starts paying Jamie half the profits. We wont be able to afford Tony Gwynn Jr.

Where is the incentive to work or pay to build a contending team when no one holds the team accountable. L.A. does not demand a quality team (except in the case of the Lakers)
Boston and NY demand quality teams. The sportswriters in those towns hold owners and managers accountable for every scrap. The fans demand it. They will turn out only for a successful team. The local & national media demands it from them. Owners know they will only profit from a winning team.
In LA, 3-4 million tickets will be sold no matter how well they play - due much to the flood of faceless corporate season ticket buyers who hand out the tickets to customers and employees and are not concerned with the success of the Dodgers. There is almost no pressure on or by the local media. Game broadcasts are not generating significant revenue to worry about game success. Sports writers in LA do not pressure the team (except occasionally T.J. Simer) Fans do not demand it - they will turn out to see or be seen and still leave the game in the seventh inning win or lose. Only the years of Gagne' showed they would get moved to change, but management lost the message.
McCourt knows exactly how much he needs to spend on the product to skim the maximum into his pockets. he knows he does not have to get Crawford or Lee to increase the profits - the money would be wasted.

We always get paid first.

I think the problem is ownership. Maybe McCourt doesn't have enough money to keep up with the other big spenders. If this is the case and Frank refuses to sell the club, the Dodgers will continue to struggle.

I get it. We all get it. The Dodgers are not in the market for the guys who demand top dollar. But let's not wax poetic about 1998. In fact, though he did go out and perform fairly well, let's not act like Brown was the end-all be-all. That 100-million was not well spent. By 1999, the Dodgers were throwing more than 9-million at Shefield and Mondesi - heck even Ismael Valdez made more than 4-million. Go ahead and add Shawn Green to the 9-million club in 2000. The point is the Dodgers spent a lot of money for very little return through 2007. It's never how much you spend it's how you spend. If the Dodgers cannot retain the likes of Kemp, Eithier, Bills and Kershaw - then we have a problem. But getting upset about not throwing other-worldly money at +30 year old pitchers who don't throw hard or speedsters who aren't getting any faster or a retread who was probably the fourth-best offensive player on his team is not worth our time. Ned's done a pretty decent job here through the years, in my opinion. Now if only he could figure out a way to get Kemp to learn how to run the bases or how to get a jump on a fly ball...oh yeah, we signed Davey Lopes....

As a lifelong Dodger fan who supported the team with greats like Gene Michael and star hitters like Len Gabrielson, I switched my loyalty last year to the White Sox rather than support the vultures from Massachusetts. I'm slightly more optimistic this year as the starting pitching could be very good (Kershaw or Billingsley will break through someday as an ace) and the guts of an offense is there despite off years but the team morale rots. The Sox brought in Adam Dunn and re-signed Paul Konerko by teammates sacrificing parts of their short term salary for the good of the team. Konerko has a great relationship with owner, Jerry Reinsdorf, and everyone got together to field the best team in 2011. Who in their right mind would do that for The Parking Lot Guy?

What a bunch of whiners in Los Angeles.

If the Dodgers pooled the money they overspend on the faded or defective, and paid one star, they'd get more for their money. It is ironic that when they try and save money they end up wasting it.
They should trade for Michael Young to play short, move Furcal and Uribe to 2nd and 3rd and if they need to trade Loney put Blake at 1st.
Then sign Ordenez to play left, if he is able after a broken ankle (remember Bill Buckner).
Then they'd have a team. Right now there is noone to get on base to be driven in and noone to protect Kemp and Ethier. So they'll strike out a lot, have a low OBP and everyone will get pitched around until Blake or Carrol or Barajas are at bat.

The Reds, Marlins and now the Giants have won more world series than the Dodgers. The Dodgers stopped being a crown jewel to baseball long before Frank McCourt bought the team.

Let me just say this: When your rival, the team you have faced for the pennant in 2 of the last 3 years, that is the Phillies, have four number one starters and the Dodgers do not have one, it is not unreasonable to fire the General Manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Now Colletti can bellyache all he wants about this and that but at the end of the day getting to the World Series leads through Philadelphia in the National League. Its time for Ned to go along with Velez, Uribe, Oriz, Louiza, Schmidt and his other Giant friends.

We know who approved the sale to McCourt. He knew McCourt didn't possess the funds to maintain this franchise! The question is the same question Pete Rose is asking. Why?

The McCourts have raised prices and skimmed profits to purchase homes while the minor league system rots. The Dodgers have dropped from being one of the premier sources of young major league talent to also rans. Scouting staffs have been gutted. No major Latin American has emerged in years. Stars from Japan don't express interest in this team anymore and there's no effort to sign talent. When the Ethiers and Kershaws sign contracts elsewhere, we'll be left with the aging Uribes of the world. We need a change of ownership. Make him sell, Jamie!

The doyers are the only team in pro sports that don't have to win.

Look at the att. figs, ticket prices, concessions, pkg ect ect.

Opening day is SOLD OUT..............season close to 4 mil again.!!

I understand the sentiment, but the fact remains that nearly every time the Dodgers sign a "premier" free agent, it doesn't seem to work out for the best. It also is a fact that in the past ten seasons teams that you describe as "middling" franchises have made it to the World Series. Ultimate success in Major League Baseball isn't necessarily tied to how much money you spend in the off season. There are intangible team characteristics that are every bit as important. Unfortunately those intangibles haven't been seen in these parts since 1988, a team which, by the way, due to injuries or whatever else, could only be described as "middling."

It is sad being a little boy in a BIG boy league!!!

I want the last word here,

These Dodgers Suck!!

You have to balance cost into this. Would we think it was fine paying Werth $18 million per year? Crawford is a solid outfielder, but over $20 million per year for 7 years? To have another outfielder with limited power? I'd rather have Dunn and his bat for a lot less.

I don't like the rumors of Bill Hall as our left fielder, but other than that, I like the signing of Guerrier, wouldn't mind seeing Beimel to shore up our bullpen. Last year, it was Lackey that everyone seemed to want, the Red Sox overpaid him and they were sitting at home with the Dodgers in October. And I have news for you, if Lee didn't take the Yankees and Rangers offers, he wasn't going to choose the Dodgers either.

Of the free agents left, I'd love to see them go after someone who really can hit for power. Beltre has a good glove at third, but his power numbers, as with Bill Hall's, were elevated by playing in the Little League field of Fenway Park. He didn't show that power in Seattle and other than one year in LA, he didn't show it in Dodger Stadium. I'd much rather have Ordonez, Dye, or even sign Vlad and cross your fingers he can stay healthy playing the outfield for a whole season over Bill Hall.

What a strange thesis. We need more deals like the Kevin Brown signing?

We got Gurrier, Uribe, Kuroda, Garland, Lilly, Padilla and Gwynn for less than it took to sign Carl Crawford or Cliff Lee. I would love to have Lee or Crawford, but these players are going to fill multiple holes.

Just in case nobody told you.. the Dodgers dont have the TV rights to play with the big boys. We dont have the YES network in our corner. Its kinda hard to win a high stakes hold'em game when you only have 4 cards in your hand.

don't forget: the Jints won it all with a middling team this year. good pitching & a team that played team ball. the Dodgers have the potential for the same pitching and better players. for all the money they've spent, the Yanks & Phils have not had huge success. Lee is 0-2 in the WS. i'm more concerned that Kemp cranks it back up than Lee playing for the Phils.

The way I see it, unless we have another owner in place, we're going to loose Kershaw, Kemp and Eithier to free agency. Probably Bilingsley as well. The way salaries are beginning to rise again, who knows what some of these guys will be offered. Can you imagine Mr. McCourt placing his signature on a 7 year contract worth over 120 million dollars?

The sky is falling, the sky is falling, run for cover.

We need a player like Gibson in 1988. He came in the first day and told them they were a bunch of jerk offs and to grow up. Everyone got the message and they pulled it off'

So basically Steve Dilbeck would like us to be the Nationals....Spend too much on guys that will underproduce and let us finish in 4th every year.

When the Dodgers were good in the 70's and 80's I don't think it was the big name overpaid money guys that did it. It was a combination of home grown talent and strategic signings of guys to fill in holes.
Not saying every signing this year has been good, but I think it's good they didn't pay for Lee, Crawford or Werth and really shouldn't pay Beltre, although, his RH bat would greatly help the lineup, he's not worth the contract he'll get, not even close....

Rich teams build their teams through their farm system. Continue to invest in their farm system by actually scouting and signing players even after there is no room at the big league level. Good minor league players allows smart general managers to trade for talent to plug holes immediately. Gonzalez is a Red Socks because Boston have talent in their farm system. Free agency allows smart general managers to over pay for talent that may win you championships. CC is overpaid, but he definitely helped the Yanks to a World Series. The Dodgers can't afford to do any of this and the 'kids' are becoming more expensive and I suspect the Dodgers will only sign Kershaw and Kemp and enter another rebuilding phase. They only build teams to be semi-competitive with the West and have no plans of ever competing with the Phillies, Yanks or Red Socks. Selig allowed the McCourts to buy the Dodgers with 100% borrowed money. Selig knew this would tie the Dodgers up for at least 20 years. He did it to damp down the cost of owning a baseball team for small markets.


As if McCourt didn't sign what's his name being what's his name for 25 million a years two years ago.


I really appreciate your work here on the Dodgers. It's refreshing that we have a journalist that isn't afraid to criticize or expose the Dodgers and their management team for the frauds that they are. It's pathetic that I'm sitting here disappointed that the Dodgers missed out on BILL FREAKING HALL to fill the gaping hole in right field.

The latest example of McCourt deferring money is in the form of average reliever Matt Guerrier:

2011: $1.8 MM
2012: $5.1 MM
2013: $5.1 MM

Will the deferring of money ever stop? Clearly 2011 is a lost season, but look on the bright side. By 2015, the Dodgers will no longer be cutting checks to Andruw Jones.

In the last 15 years, over 50% of world series champions were in the top 2 in their league (NL/AL) in payroll, and 93% were in the top half.

So, thinking that spending money doesn't equate to being a world champion is silly. Odds are greater in any given year that one of the four teams I described above will win the world series than any of the other 26 teams.

Spending stupid money is stupid, but not having the resources to compete limits your chances at winning the world series.


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