It’s December 16, 2019. So far, the Dodgers have swung and missed on Stephen Strasburg, Gerrit Cole, Anthony Rendon, and Madison Bumgarner. All players the Dodgers were reportedly “in on” or “meeting with”. Why do the Dodgers struggle with trades? Why can’t they attract top-tier free agents? Is it simply greed and every team wants to make up for their lack of farm system investment? Does every free agent just want the highest dollar/most years? It seems as though playing for a team that can put you in the hunt for championship year in, year out should count for something.
Stephen Strasburg stayed with the Washington Nationals, they’re competitive and gave him a good contract, but they haven’t been a lock for the postseason like the Dodgers. The New York Yankees and Gerrit Cole will be in the hunt for years to come, so I get that one. Anthony Rendon, however, went to the AL West which is shaping up to be the most competitive division in all of baseball.
The AL West might be the most competitive division in baseball ?
Astros: Defending AL champs
Angels: Signed Rendon to go with Trout
Athletics: Made postseason last year
Mariners: …can only get better
Rangers: Traded for Corey Kluber pic.twitter.com/aeGxZCJzNx
— B/R Walk-Off (@BRWalkoff) December 15, 2019
While the Dodgers’ fan base had mixed feelings on the notion of Madison Bumgarner joining the team, they missed in their pursuit of him too. Bumgarner, who allegedly wanted to be on a contender, just signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Madison Bumgarner doesn’t care about what uniform he’s putting on, as long as he has the chance to win a World Series, per @Ken_Rosenthal
— Blake Harris (@BlakeHarrisTBLA) December 12, 2019
The Diamondbacks have been in the postseason once, as a wildcard, in the past 7 years. Unless I’m missing something, that’s not exactly a team that’s been knocking on the door of a championship year after year. So again, what gives? The more I mulled it over I starting think of conspiracies, some more founded than others, but they’re fun and I wanted to put hem out there.
Free Agency Woes
The Dodgers are not in the business of extending long-term contracts. However, free agents are in the business of long-term contracts. Why wouldn’t they be? The future is unknown. Sign an 8-10 year contract and, depending how the contract is written up, even if they suffer an injury so severe they can’t play anymore they are getting paid.
So why are 8-10 year contracts no good for the Dodgers? The 6-year path to free agency.
A major league baseball player must accrue 6 years of major league service time to become eligible for free agency. The first 3 years are typically at the league minimum. The following 3 years are arbitration years that are negotiated between a player/team salary proposal. Most arbitration salaries are negotiated and agreed upon before a third party arbitrator has to come in to play. So while the first 6 years of a player’s career can equate to discount prices for teams on star players, it is not conducive to team friendly deals beyond that with the Dodgers.
In 2019, the average age for a rookie position player was 24.5 years old, 25.6 years old for pitchers. That puts the average age of a free agent at 30.5 and 31.6 years old. An 8-10 year contract eventually pays a near 40 year old player for their mid-to-late 20’s performances. Its a gamble. Teams are betting on a star players ability to continue playing at that level as their body begin to recover slower and the injuries sustained on the road to the majors, begins to catch up. Arbitration pays the players as they climb the up their career mountain, free agency pays them at that peak point and then on their way down. Although it hasn’t panned out just yet, hat is certainly not in the Dodgers formula for success.
Competing Trade Partners
Through a combination of “money ball” tactics and prospect acquisitions the Dodgers have built themselves into a sustainable contender. They’ve successfully found needles in the haystack like Max Muncy and Chris Taylor while they have simultaneously replenished a farm system that continues to pump out star players. With that success though, comes inherent consequences.
Similar to the way one raises their children differently because their personalities, strengths, and weaknesses, opposing teams seem to treat the Dodgers differently. It’s no secret the Dodgers have been frugal during the Friedman era, but by the same token opposing teams refuse to work with the Dodgers the way they do with other teams. The Dodgers have the prospects and the money, opposing teams want the farm in any trade discussion.
They ask for more because the Dodgers have more and then will go elsewhere and settle on less when Friedman declines. Although, details aren’t often disclosed, it’s also not hard to believe that the opposition isn’t just asking to get a haul, but also because their aim is to hurt the Dodgers sustainability too. After all, that sustainability gives them an ongoing edge.
There is also a sleight of hand technique that seems to be going on, one that the entire league seems in on. Teams draw the Dodgers into heavy and lengthy trade discussions, while other Dodgers’ targets find other suitors. For example, while the Dodgers were working on acquiring Francisco Lindor and Mike Clevinger from the Cleveland Indians, Madison Bumgarner signs elsewhere. To add to that Corey Kluber was also offloaded and in a salary dump move than no longer makes the Indians inclined to move Lindor or Clevinger.
Sources: Dodgers Trade Talks With Indians Have ‘Stalled’ https://t.co/FeewQkSeXL
— Michael J. Duarte (@michaeljduarte) December 16, 2019
The Dodgers have successfully gotten below the luxury tax for the past two years now. With the compounding penalties reset, the Dodgers could sign anyone for exactly the price they want. As such, any player that the Dodgers have interest in, helps player agents create a ramp up the price. Teams that can afford to bid with the Dodgers do and they do so knowing that in that game of chicken, the Dodgers will swerve first.
Hear Yankees “total focus” right now is on Gerrit Cole. PHI, TEX, LAD, LAA are other teams known to be in but Yankees don’t want to be denied.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) December 7, 2019
Granted the Yankees have long been known to outbid anyone for any star they really want, but in the case of Gerrit Cole, adding the Dodgers into the mix help to up that price. The Yankees initial offer was said to be 7/$245M, reeling the Dodgers in to offer 8/$300M, when all is said and done Cole lands 9/$324M deal.
I'm told #Yankees have a seven-year, $245 million offer on the table for Gerrit Cole. Would be a record-setting contract for a pitcher, surpassing Greinke’s $34.4 million AAV. Question is whether #Dodgers or #Angels will go to 8-9 or even 10 years.
— Bob Klapisch (@BobKlap) December 8, 2019
Full disclaimer, this theory could be a total stretch. Dave Roberts is a great clubhouse manager. He bonds with the guys, gets them focused on a common goal, and creates a clubhouse energy that feeds their success. However, Dave Roberts has shown weakness in crucial postseason game moments. His in-game decisions have seemingly knocked them out of some games that could’ve broken the championship drought in Los Angeles.
Dave Roberts has been involved in recruiting top free agents, and he says the Dodgers are more aggressive this offseason than in the past.
— Pedro Moura (@pedromoura) December 11, 2019
As a player across the field witnessing these questionable decisions first hand, à la Rendon or Strasburg, it would impact your perception of the managing when the same guy is now sitting across from you at the negotiation table.
While the Los Angeles Angels had owner Arte Moreno requesting on-on-one meetings with Scott Boras to make sure Anthony Rendon knows how bad the Angles want him along with Mike Trout texting Rendon, the Dodgers had Dave Roberts. Roberts who let Clayton Kershaw pitch to Rendon when they had very effective Kenta Maeda ready. Roberts who left Kershaw in to face Juan Soto, after Rendon’s home run and with the Soto specialist Adam Kolarek.
Heard Andy Pettitte was a big hit at the Cole/Strasburg meetings. “Star in the room” Very personable fellow. Good call to include him.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) December 7, 2019
Likewise, while Gerrit Cole was being being wooed by the likes of Andy Pettitte’s stories of postseason success, the Dodgers had Dave Roberts. Roberts who’s leadership has taken the Dodgers far, but has fallen short each year and in part by his choices under pressure. Obviously, we are not in the negotiations. There very well may have been more “wining and dining” attempts made by the Dodgers that we don’t know about, but they aren’t making such attempts known. In fact, Kershaw has recently said he wasn’t part of the recruitment process.
Clayton Kershaw was not involved in the Dodgers pitch to Gerrit Cole.https://t.co/aKHYnvCYRn
— Dodgers Nation (@DodgersNation) December 14, 2019
A Conspiracy Theorists Closing Thoughts
In the past two years the Dodgers have “reportedly” had interest in a lot of big names. Names like Manny Machado, Bryce Harper, Patrick Corbin, Anthony Rendon, Stephen Strasburg, Gerrit Cole, Madison Bumgarner, and many before that. So far, they’ve all gotten away. I’m not saying Friedman needs to spend recklessly or sell the farm. It’d sure be nice to see him actually go all in with someone he really wants though. This was allegedly the off-season he’d been gearing up for by getting under that luxury tax threshold, the reason for not going “all in” previously. While I myself have just described it as “swinging and missing”, my Dad had a different take,
“Perhaps the Dodgers didn’t “swing and miss. Rather, in their approach of disciplined hitting, they took a borderline strike.”
Sometimes the aggressive approach is the way to go. Friedman, lets see some first pitch swinging.