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The Los Angeles Dodgers are one of baseball’s signature franchises, with a lengthy track record of success.
The 2022 team had one of the best years in MLB history, winning 111 games during the regular season.
The 2021 team won 106 games, the second most wins in the league.
They had the best record during the shortened 2020 season, winning nearly 72% of the 60 game schedule. That season also ended with their first World Series win since 1988.
So why in the world have they had such a weird 2022-2023 offseason?
Spring training is six weeks away, and the Dodgers have put together one of their weakest rosters in recent memory.
While they did bring back Clayton Kershaw on a one-year deal, nearly every other major free agent walked.
Justin Turner, who had been a key contributor since 2014-2015, is now in Boston. Trea Turner, who was responsible for 6.3 WAR in 2022, is now in Philadelphia. Cody Bellinger, who won an MVP award in 2019 and was a homegrown fan favorite, is now in Chicago.
Craig Kimbrel struggled at times, but did contribute generally above average performance, also went to Philadelphia.
There were numerous star level players available in free agency, many of whom could have helped fill needs in LA.
The aforementioned Trea Turner, Xander Bogaerts, Carlos Correa, Aaron Judge, Dansby Swanson, Justin Verlander, Jacob deGrom and Carlos Rodon, just to name a few.
Instead, the Dodgers marquee acquisitions were Noah Syndergaard and J.D. Martinez. While exciting additions in say, 2018, they don’t move the needle much in 2023.
Dodgers Cheap Out
Even current players seem upset about their surprising lack of action.
There’s still some time before spring training starts, with potentially a few stars like Bryan Reynolds potentially available in trade.
But assuming the Dodgers don’t meet the Pirates substantial asking price, this will unquestionably have been a disappointing offseason.
The Dodgers in just the past few years have had a parade of superstars like Manny Machado, Corey Seager and Trea Turner play shortstop. They didn’t sign any of them to longterm deals.
Instead, Gavin Lux will enter the year as the likely starter despite hitting just six home runs in 129 games in 2022.
They have virtually no one to play center field with any track record of sustained major league success. Low ranked prospect James Outman could get significant playing time, as could 32-year-old journeyman Trayce Thompson.
They’re also likely to rely on unproven rookie Miguel Vargas to start at third base.
There’s no explanation for the confusing inaction other than saving money.
Which raises the question, why are the Dodgers of all teams trying to avoid spending?
They’ll enter 2023 with an estimated $217 million in payroll. The “small market” Padres, however, are hovering around $250 million after bringing in Xander Bogaerts.
Considering luxury tax penalties, the Mets will nearly double the Dodgers estimated outlay. The Yankees are spending at least $54 million more. Los Angeles is closer in payroll to the 74 win Cubs than they are the New York teams.
Decision Time in LA
So why are they doing this?
Because ownership has decided they’d prefer not to cross the luxury tax threshold. That’s it.
While other teams are justifiably flying past the mark to build the best possible roster, Dodgers owners are penny pinching.
LA generates as much or more revenue as any other MLB franchise. In fact, Forbes estimates they make the most revenue in the league, to go along with a $4 billion valuation.
Yet ownership decided to make the team demonstrably worse in 2023, simply in order to make more profit. They’ve certainly had a track record of substantial spending, but after a disappointing NLDS loss to the Padres, there’s been no urgency to improve.
In fact, it’s been the opposite.
Now, the organization has to decide what to do with pitcher Trevor Bauer as well.
While the financial commitment will remain the same regardless of their choice, it wouldn’t be surprising if they chose to release him.
Making the team better clearly isn’t ownership’s top priority. Generating more in profits and avoiding potential media criticism certainly is.
Some have excused away the offseason by claiming they’ll go after Shohei Ohtani next year. But the Dodgers have never won a bidding war for a top free agent. Mookie Betts was extended while already a Dodger, and Freddie Freeman seemingly only had one other interested team.
Not to mention that new Angels ownership could easily decide to retain Ohtani during the season, meaning he never reaches free agency.
It’s much the same story with Juan Soto in a few years. The Padres have shown a willingness to shell out for marquee talent, meaning there’s a strong likelihood he never reaches free agency. And even if he does, the organization doesn’t have a track record of shopping at the top of the market.
Either way, it seems like the Dodgers new goals are to be the most profitable team in baseball. Even if it means they’re no longer the best.