Theories on Dodgers Perceived Struggles With Free Agents

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.

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.

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.

Financial security.

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.

Agent Manipulation

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.

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.


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.

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.

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.

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.

Jason McClure

Technically a Dodgers bandwagon fan. At 5 years old, I decided they were my favorite team after hearing they won the World Series on my mom’s car radio in 1988. My father (technically my stepfather) watered that seed, teaching me the game and introducing me to the beauty of Dodger Stadium. We got to know each other and bonded over games. Even when we couldn’t get along during my teenage years, we could come together over Vin Scully’s voice and a game. Dodger baseball is, and will always be, so much more than just a game.


  1. Reputation is the only thing you didn’t mention. Once Friedman sets a precedence by telling the press many different excuses, of how and why the big fish always seem to get away, then it is known to all agents, G.M.s etc that he’s not all in or interested. By having Kasten speak at the winter meetings about how confident they are with their team as constructed fits the narrative as well! Not interested! Over the course of 5 years, its a well known fact, ” not a conspiracy” that the Dodgers farm is so superior, that they don’t nee FA’ s, and they keep the narrative alive of always thinking of the future, and not willing to part with top prospects! So constantly letting it be known that the Dodgers feel good with what they have is no conspiracy, nor is it a mystery! They are just more arrogant than most, and just have a little different philosophy on what it truly takes to win a world series! So far, for 7 straight seasons their no need approach is awesome if your a fortune 500 company.

    1. The Dodgers will forever be owned by these kinds of groups. These kinds of ownership want the Dodgers for their brand and blindfully loyal fan base that they know has always been here they will always buy this team from the previous group of con men and it will continue forever and that’s why we will be the next 100 year title drought team

    2. Absolutely correct, when you have multiple owners there is always one or two whose only interest is there profit and the actually product on the field is secondary. You are right we have all heard about how great the farm system is , well then it should be deep enough to trade some for top major league stars that are available. I hear the argument they don’t want to trade six years of Lux for two years of Lindor, well my feeling is the Dodgers certainly have enough money to keep Lindor. I love Lux too but is he going to be another Lindor , the odds are against it. The same goes for Betts he is a stud, we should eat some of Prices contract and that should lessen the prospect loss!

  2. Is there a conspiracy against the Dodgers? I think Scott Boras hates the Dodgers because they keep winning without lining his pockets by aquiring his mega contract players. Thankfully Philly (Harper), and San Diego (Machado) got them last year instead of the Dodgers. Neither one came close to earning what they are being paid for the rest of their careers.

    Do other teams hardline trades with the Dodgers? Maybe. The Dodgers have been trying to get Kluber for two years. And then they just gave him away to someone else.

    Is Roberts that bad? He was manager of the year three years ago. Most of his bad decisions are in the pitching moves. Here are some things he needs to do differently:

    (1) Stop looking at Kershaw as a savior. Stop using him as a releiver in the post season. Buehler is the stud now. And we need some real releivers in the bullpen. Kershaw’s record in the postseason is undeniably inferior to the regular season, and he has lost alot of gas. He should not be used in late inning do or die postseason situations.

    (2) Jansen is no longer a shut down guy. Everyone knows it. We need a real closer who can shut it down the way Jansen did 5 years ago. Roberts can only work with what he has. But he needs to do the work by giving other guys a shot at being the closer. Freidman needs to supply the other guys. As with Kershaw, stop looking at Jansen as being entrenched as the closer. Roberts seemed to figure it out at the end of last year. Now he needs to find a go to guy by the time the next postseason rolls around. There is no shutdown stud in the bullpen now. But Jansen is a known quantity and needs to move to set up man as others are given opportunities to close.

    Joe Kelley sucks. The end. He is not the guy.

    If the Dodgers can just stop making bad postseason pitching moves….. You have to be willing to hurt some feelings. Sorry Kersh, sorry Kenley, I can’t give you the ball just because you want it. We have a game to win.

    You can argue that Roberts platoons too much, but the Dodgers are deep, and it allows guys to play. And then you have obvious platoons like Pedersen who hit 36 home runs, and every single one of them was against right handed pitching. That guy ain’t playing against LHPs.

    1. This along with all these other theories are spot on as to why this off season has been and will be a bust:
      “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.”

    2. While that allows some guys to play, the platooning, if done a lot, disrupts a player’s rhythm and brings about the lack of consistencies as apparent shuffling done in and out of the lineups based upon the hand the pitcher throws with. Besides Joc, to me it’s a weakness when a player cannot at least be competitive against both RH and LH. Fact is, some have mentioned how Roberts and Co. turn many players into one dimensional guys. IDK but again, all these things mentioned here are pretty much right on the money.

  3. Personally I was very disappointed in last years offseason moves. I was ok with AJ Polllack but the Joe Kelley deal was a little upsetting. (Look at his stats for 2018). I still think (or have hope) they will get something done this offseason but So far they have not motivated me to spend any money for tickets. I think I’ll just watch this season on my couch. The fans will be faithful as usual. Hopefully the owners will start to think with their hearts and not their wallets.

  4. I’m having serious doubt the Dodgers were in on any available FA’s. The narrative put out there that they are good with what they have, but then also say they will be aggressive with the biggest roster turnover fans have seen in many years and then Freidman saying they are looking at elite talent, but then being shoutout on big talent leads me to believe they had no plan or desire to be aggressive in the FA market.

    With many teams working to get a strong #1, #2 and in some cases a #3 starting pitcher for the rotation we currently have Buehler as our #1 and a diminishing Kershaw as our #2. An unproven Urias, May, Stripling and/or Gonsolin as our #4 and #5 and Maeda is our #3.

    Very disappointed with the FO to this point.

  5. If the Dodgers offered 8/$300 for Cole how can they be considered NOT “all in”? If they’d have gone to 9/$325 the Yankees would have simply gone to 10/$Gazillion.

    Contrary to what all us folks whose money it is not, there IS a point where it’s just beyond stupid to chase it. I’d have said their 8/$300 was that stupid.

    I was taken to Dodger Stadium when it opened in 1962 when I was 7. I’ve been a fan ever since. I LOVE what this management group is doing after 28 years without sniffing a World Series appearance let alone two successive ones.

    1. Those 2 losses is all they will do. They will never win a World Series. This drought will go 56-100 years

  6. Because the Dodgers are not in on all the players they’re supposedly interested. It’s the pundits who think they should that create all the chatter. They were in on one player – Cole – and the Yankees were going to get him at all costs. They were never serious about Rendon or Strasburg.

  7. It’s all too simple, the front office starts all these rumors so the fans (us) get all excited and say, ‘See they are trying to sign big names’and all along we’re being played because they know we’ll be at the stadium buying merchandise and concessions.

    1. So let’s boycott then. We don’t have to be their fools. It’s in our hands. Making their big renovation year a flop will send a message

  8. Dodgers’ ownership has a plan: Field a competitive team year in and year out. That leads to record attendance and the most lucrative TV contract in baseball. Keep payroll down while generating huge revenues assures that owners get richer and richer. That’s the American way. Winning a World Series may bring fans a huge lift, but trophies mean nothing to owners focused solely on bottom line profits.

    Let me put this as Dodger Blue as possible for you.
    My Grampa and my dad were Brooklyn fans. They were over the moon when the team moved to their back yard. You can root for any team sport in our household except for baseball. In our family your mind was already made up for you. a dodger fan and that was the end of it. if you wanted to live under my father’s roof. Some of my fondest memories and 1st memories are when I was 4 years old at dodger stadium. We barely came back against the cardinals and walked them off in 10th inning.

    Me my brothers and my entire family have been dodger fans our entire lives. Watching this team has given me more joy and heartbreak then just about anything in my life. Yet we believe that every year will be our year to celebrate a world series championship.There was One magic moment when Gibsons shot clears the out field wall when I was 9.
    I am a returning Iraq/Afghanistan combat veteran. My back and my knees are shot. Sitting in a car for a lengthy period of time is excruciatingly painful. I live at the Southern gate of Yosemite easily 6 hours to Chavez with out any traffic. Yet I make the trip with my wife, son and daughter (5 and 3 years old) because I want the same kind of magic moments for them as I experienced as a kid. Because the Dodgers are a family institution for us. We average between 8 to 12 regular season games. And we have gone to 3 post season games in 2017 and 4 In 2018 seasons. Including game 163. We easily spend 250 to 350 a game in the stadium. I feel that we Sacrifice more then most to get to see the Dodgers play in person.
    I sit in the heart of giants country and defend my team every year (easier recently then in the past) because we believe in the Dodgers. Last year’s exit showed me that if this team wasn’t willing to sign Kershaws replacement and JT replacement then I would know the Front office is full of excuses and really dosen’t care. I can no longer justify putting my heart and sole into a team where the front office FAILS time and time again to flex there economic muscle and get’er Done. Money ball only gets you so far before you have to spend money. A great farm system only props you up it doesn’t put you all in so to speak.
    I will always love the Dodgers but we ( my family) will no longer pay stock holders. I would much rather pay for a hard working (Dodger) Blue collar player who has made good because of there work.
    As for me and my family we will continue to love our team but no longer will we be spending any money (until we feel like the brass gives a $h![ about more than the stock holders.
    I know it’s only a tiny drop in the ocean but it means something to me and it should mean something to dodger fans everywhere.

    1. I’m in the same boat here I live in the Northern San Luis Obispo County and made 12 to 15 games a year, regular and postseason. I can no longer justify spending money on my beloved lifelong team. I’ll continue to live stream them or listen on the radio, but that’s it until we actually get starting pitching and not a third-rate pitcher but a superstar. One that’s going to have the motivation and determination to win, not somebody to eat innings, we already have those! Plus a bullpen that’s going to help us win a World Series.

  10. Bunch of crap and nonsense. No way Harper deserves the money he is getting, now, you got Belly, Lux, Buehler, May, all young guys who will make big money in a few years, you sign a guy like Rendon, who inevitably will start to slide in the next couple years, you kiss away one of your younger guys at his peak—what the real bummer is they did not get relief help, Dodgers do not need Rendon, Lindor—had they have gotten a shutdown reliever or two, this past October would of been very different. Also, they need to sign someone to manage games, Let Dave Roberts think he is still the manager but have someone else who understands the game manage it.

  11. Hey Dodger Blue. Thank you very much for your Service… Clap…Clap…Go Dodgers…Clap…Clap…

  12. First off, the Bumgarner’s love Arizona. They have a property there. It’s where they keep their horses during the long season. During spring training, they live there (with their horses) and plan on retiring there. So, why not make Arizona your last stop? Home on the off days, horses in the equestrian center out back, and don’t have to do anything once you retire. All you had to do was force the D’backs into that magical extra year. Just like Grienke did. AZ falls for that every time, and then calls that a “win”. As far as I can tell, AZ hasn’t won anything in years…

    As for the rest of the league, yeah, they’re jealous as helll. How can a team win their division every year, have one of the best farm systems every year, all while calling up 2-4 top players every year?

    Is Bumgarner going to be any better than Urias this year? How about in three or four years? Will MadBum even play out this contract?

    In my mind, as well as many of you in this thread, the issue is game management by Dave Roberts. Every time they blow a game, I ask the same question; what the f@#k were you thinking, Roberts?

    As I’ve told Friedman and Kasten: We need to right a 20-year wrong; bring back Mike Scioscia. What we’re dealing with is the Curse of the Dark Suits from the late-90’s. Those idiots tore the team apart for years. Then sold it to a bigger idiot who had no business owning an icon sports franchise, and should’ve remained in the parking lot business.

    I’d be more excited about Urias, May, and Gonsolin in the lineup then a couple end-of-their-career old guys. I’d love to see the continuing development of all the young kids at most every position. Verdugo in CF, Peters in RF, Bellinger back to 1B, Lux at 2B, Seager at SS (until Downs is ready then move to 3B), and Smith at C. And then there’s the top two draft picks from last year who are already in the Dodgers top-10 in the farm system! LET THE KIDS PLAY!

    As for Cole; there’s plenty of pics of him as a kid wearing Yankees garb. That’s where he wanted to go. He’ll never admit it, but then its a moot point when they dropped that ridiculous 9-year deal on him.

    Strasburg and MadBum will not finish out those contracts. Cole won’t either. But those teams will be on the hook for those outrageous salaries. So, those teams will once again have to trade away their farm system to get young, cheap talent because they can’t sign more high-salary free agents. That’s the roller coaster some of these teams live in. I prefer the Dodger way. Just get a manager that can win the World Series. Roberts is a great guy, but he’s not the answer.

  13. Dodger Blue! Thank you for serving! And I feel the same way! These aren’t the Dodgers we want representing us! Go Lakers!!! Go take the family to see a real winning organization that gives a damn what their customers want!!

  14. “…Madison Bumgarner doesn’t care about what uniform he’s putting on, as long as he has the chance to win a World Series…” The why in the hell did he sign with Areezohna?

    1. “First and foremost, winning, that’s what the whole decision’s based on,” Bumgarner said, “and being with a team that, in my mind, plays my brand of baseball, plays the way I like to play. First off, they have a really good team, and a lot of young guys coming up. They’re definitely heading in a really good direction. They play hard. I would say they’ve got a bunch of grinders on this team, guys who don’t take any pitch off. They’re just a hard-nosed group of guys.”

      Location and the opportunity to win meant more to Bumgarner than the money.

      Sure, $85 million is nothing to sneeze at, but with the free-agent market for pitching being set by Gerrit Cole ($324 million), Stephen Strasburg ($245 million) and Zack Wheeler ($118 million), some expected Bumgarner to get more.

      Turns out he was offered more, but in the end, he wanted to pitch for the D-backs.

      “We definitely left some money on the table,” Bumgarner said. “You can say that.”

      The Dodgers can offer winning and money but not everything he wants as you can see from this quote he could’ve gotten more from us and other teams but the Dodgers don’t play a good brand of baseball and I agree. They are all or nothing playboy types

  15. So if its true that they sent Roberts in to negotiate with Cole+Rendon, then its true that the Dodgers NEVER had any intention of signing them. If I was a star player and they sent a 2nd rate manager into do the talking I would be out the door. Robets can’t manage and sure as heck can’t negotiate.

  16. This says it all, besides the fact that because of how lineups and the pitching is managed, one does not need to wonder too much why the Dodgers have struck out completely this off season:
    “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.”

  17. I do believe that most of the FA did not want to play for Friedman and Roberts , they cant stand the way the Dodgers are managed period ..The best in a 4 team division . Lets see San Diego sucks , Colorado same , Giants the same , DBacks not very good , so to win the division we have to be ahead the scrubs , which is not hard to do ….

  18. Whenever you have multiple owners you will always find at least one who is in it strictly for the money, and if the team wins fine but if it doesn’t oh well they made their money. Andrew Friedman is again floating this we are good enough now to win it all. He knows better than that but it sounds good to some fans.Right now this team is significantly weaker than last years team that didn’t even win the National league. To say I am a dedicated Dodger fan is vastly understated, I saw them play in Ebbetts field when I was a kid and that was the start of a lifelong love affair, I have never been as disappointed with the the Dodgers as I am now. Every year Dodger fans set attendance records and every year we come up short and there is no reason for it. We have just been embarrassed by the Yankees who are now the team to beat in all off baseball. Had the Dodgers acquired Cole we would be the team to beat .I for one am sick of hearing of hearing that ownership doesn’t like long term contracts. If that’s what it takes just do it and show the loyal fans that you actually care about winning!

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