Monday, January 09, 2012

Nothing But Roses In The Dodgers' Future

Settle yourselves in for a long run of disappointment, Dodger fans; so says ESPN's Mark Cameron (link insider only):

With prospective owners lining up around the block to bid for the Los Angeles Dodgers, we thought it'd be helpful to shine a light on just what kind of team they'd be buying. While the franchise's history and large fan base offer value on their own, the team will be more profitable if the new owners can turn them into winners in a hurry. So, how far away are the Dodgers from being contenders?

Let's start with the good news. The team has two franchise building blocks in Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw, young stars who are already performing at an elite level. There aren't many teams in baseball that have two young players of this quality, and they are certainly capable of forming the foundation of a championship team.

The bad news is that those two performed about as well as anyone can realistically be asked to in 2011 and the team still won just 82 games, finishing in third place in the NL West. If the team is going to contend, it will have to get better performances from the supporting cast, because they can't realistically expect to get much more from Kershaw and Kemp than they got a year ago.

In looking at the rest of the roster, it gets a little bit tougher to find long-term value once you get past the big two. Chad Billingsley has a good arm and has pitched well at times, and he's signed to a pretty reasonable contract that will keep him in LA through at least 2014. Kenley Jansen looks like he could develop into one of the best relief pitchers in baseball. Dee Gordon held his own in the Majors as a 23-year-old rookie, and could provide value at shortstop, especially while he's cheap.

However, when your list of long-term assets on the Major League roster are a starting pitcher coming off his worst season, a reliever with command problems, and a 150-pound infielder who might not ever hit a home run in the big leagues, you know your roster might have some issues. And there's no question that whoever buys the Dodgers is going to have some work to do to turn the team into a perennial winner.

Beyond those five young talents, the rest of the roster is mostly made up of aging veterans -- many of them being paid handsome salaries that limit the team's abilities to replace them -- and mediocre role players who probably won't be part of the next good Dodgers' team. [...]

Given that the team spent about $110 million in each of the last two years, there would only be about $15 million left to fill out the remaining 14 roster spots. At $1.1 million per roster spot, you're not getting much in the way of premium talent, so the Dodgers new owners will simply have to spend more money in order to lure impact players to LA.

How much would they need to invest? Well, let's calculate out the expected value of the guys under contract for the 2013 season, based on their prior performances and the assumption that they will age fairly normally (see table to right). Remember that 2 wins above replacement is basically league average for a full-time player.

That's 30 WAR from 15 players. No playoff team in 2011 finished with fewer than 45 WAR, so the team would need to add approximately 15 wins in order to make themselves legitimate contenders, and they'd only have 10 roster spots in order to do it. The free agent market is currently pricing wins at $4-to-5 million apiece, so if the new owners wanted to buy their way into contention within a year, they'd need to green light between $60 and $75 million in spending next off-season.

In reality, turning around the Dodgers is probably going to be a several year process, and the franchise will be better off if the group that wins the bidding accepts that the team might need to struggle for a year or two before the turnaround can begin in earnest. By 2014, the team will only be on the hook for significant salaries to Kemp, Kershaw, and Billingsley, leaving the team with plenty of flexibility to remake the supporting cast around their young stars.

I'm not quite as bearish on the Dodgers' future, not only because I'm a fan but also because the NL West is so weak. The fact that we can be dicking around with an embarrassing ownership debacle, tightened pursestrings, and a bunch of concrete-block weights in the lineup, and STILL be considered as a dark horse in our division, reflects also on how poorly the rest of the NL West truly is. None of our four rivals has made an off-season move that has scared me this winter. And we still have Kershaw and Kemp, the 2011 Cy Young Award Winner and 2011 non-suspended MVP winner, in our arsenal. That's a decent foundation on which to build...and we can.


Dusty Baker said...

Agree, Sax. I'm not nearly as bearish.

It's an easy media narrative to accentuate the negative in the midst of the team's recent ownership woes. The words just type themselves, don't they, you cheap stringers? (I'm speaking more broadly, not to Cameron's article.) Beats actual research and critical analysis.

We have far more pieces and potential than a lot of teams, many of which don't realistically ever have hope going into and training camp. I have my eyes wide open, full of optimism and enthusiasm.

cc: Karina

Franklin Stubbs said...

I've got to agree with that sentiment, DB. When those aging dead weight contracts inevitably wound up on the DL, the kids did a pretty good job closing out the season. It's not so bad as all that.

Greg Hao said...

Not only am I like the rest of y'all not all that bearish but WTF ESPN? How many teams can say that they have five reliable home grown talent who haven't crested their career curves yet?

Look, the team is shit, everybody recognises that but that's mostly Ned Colletti's fault. Once that gas bag is out of the way, who knows what could happen.

Dusty Baker said...

Exactly, GH. Do we want to be back at the top and an annual contender? Absolutely. (Sorry for Jim Tracy speak.) But the foundations are there, and at some point soon we WILL have new ownership and we WILL have new funding strings and a higher budget. We aren't the Mets, the Mariners, the Royals, hell - the Cubs, the Pod Rays...or many more.

It's just trendy and cute to write about the Dodgers negatively amongst certain members of the media who either a) already have a bias or b) are lazy.

Franklin Stubbs said...

I also should draw your attention to deferred payments to the mistakes of years past coming off the books in the next few years, as well.

Dusty Baker said...

Are we still eating Kevin Brown money?

Dusty Baker said...

Wait, are the Dodgers going to the Rose Bowl?

DodgersKingsoftheGalaxy said...

Sorry but the NL West is not weak, this is an ESPN myth that has sadly caught on. Plenty of times on fans brought up our records against the other divisions and they have been the best the past few years, then when i went back and looked at our playoff appearances we were #1 IIRC not to mention the WS appearances. I won't say anything long term, but as far as next season i have to agree that chances are Kemp and Kershaw don't do as well and the rest of the team is worse....but then again i'm more of a pessimist.