The Dodgers and the Edge of Selig’s Influence

marc w · December 14, 2012 at 5:05 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Baseball’s new collective bargaining agreement attempted to fix a number of ‘problems’ that had plagued the league’s long-suffering owners – problems exacerbated in part by the huge jump in revenue the league’s enjoyed. Specifically, the agreement included a number of provisions aimed at minimizing threats to competitive balance (that is, to rein in salary growth).@

To counter the freewheeling spending by the New York Yankees, the luxury tax was increased, with penalties increasing for exceeding it in consecutive years. To stop teams blowing past bonus slots (and to stop amateur talent from essentially pushing themselves down in the draft), the agreement instituted a hard cap on amateur draft spending, with draconian penalties for ignoring the cap. To stop some teams trying to corner the market on international free agents, the agreement instituted another hard cap. It’s been one year, so we don’t have a lot to go on, but it seems to have made an impact on teams willingness to exceed these thresholds.

The Yankees have blown past the luxury tax cap every year since 2003 (when the new luxury tax went into effect), but as Maury Brown notes, they are working hard to bring payroll under $189 million. The Tigers haven’t been able to nab Andrew Miller or Rick Porcello to well-over-slot deals after they fell past teams at the top of the draft, and no one risked losing a first round draft pick by spending more than 5% over their draft pool. The Mariners could no longer utilize their hard-earned competitive advantage in the Caribbean, or, for the cynics, the Mariners could no longer light millions of dollars on fire by giving contracts to severalof high-profile busts. Even the Rangers, whose international spending in the run-up to the new CBA’s effective date was breathtaking, toed the line and kept within the new hard cap.

Then there are the LA Dodgers. After signing Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu to eye-popping contracts, the Dodgers are set to blow past the luxury tax limit for years to come. Many argue that the league should increase the penalties for doing so, but that’s exactly what the league thought it just did. It got everyone’s attention, including the Yankees, who appear to want to comply for the first time. The Dodgers evidently believe that they can afford to pay the penalties, and given their rumored TV deal, they’re probably right.* Wendy Thurm is clearly correct when she points out that the Dodgers outlays (so far) aren’t out of line with the Yankees’ payroll budgets from 2004-2006.! Still, the point is that the owners took steps to make such spending less likely, and it’s taken one year for a team to break ranks (a team that, of course, never signed the CBA – that was the Dodgers’ previous owner).

Because even the Yankees seem wary of the new penalties, the Dodgers spending doesn’t really seem to have altered the market too much. It appears that Nick Swisher can’t use Andre Ethier’s 5 year/ $85 million deal as a starting point. Sure, Ethier was younger, but he’s also markedly worse than Swisher. Anibal Sanchez didn’t get a boost from Greinke’s deal. Unlike Greinke, Josh Hamilton went for far less than he was asking for (sure, he was asking for an insane amount, but *so was Greinke*, and Greinke is a pitcher). If free agent spending made cost-controlled, pre-arb prospects more valuable, you certainly couldn’t tell from the Trevor Bauer trade. At the moment, the Dodgers seem to be in a very different spot to the rest of baseball. This probably won’t last, and Thurm’s right that we all probably felt similarly when the Yankees picked up CC Sabathia or when they acquired Alex Rodriguez. But even then, teams would make an occasional run – the Red Sox exceeded the old cap a few times, and the Tigers/Angels did so once. Even after their pick-up of Hamilton, the Angels should be able to fit under the cap thanks to losing Torii Hunter, Ervin Santana and Dan Haren, who made a combined $42,450,000 last year.

At this point, there are no tidy conclusions to come to (except that I would love to see the Dodgers and Angels miss the playoffs again) – the situation’s too fluid and too new. Maybe Brown’s right and teams can make targeted strikes, increasing their payroll well above the luxury tax limit for one year or maybe two before bringing it back down. Maybe the Dodgers are just the first team to devote more revenue to salaries, and maybe they’ll be followed by others; one could argue that the players would benefit from higher salaries/more revenue going to payroll and skinflint owners would get a huge influx of penalty payments to sit on while decrying threats to the soul of the game. Until then, we’ll have to see if the Dodgers spending can translate into wins and not just ‘good will’ (which the Guggenheim Group had anyway, simply because they weren’t Frank McCourt). We’ll see if Angels can get past Texas with their latest move, and we’ll see what they plan to do about their backloaded contracts making 2015-16 look challenging. And we’ll see if the M’s core develops enough to justify outspending the LA teams for the right free agent. As it stands, it’s pretty hard to argue the M’s should’ve given Hamilton more than he got from Anaheim, and the M’s clearly would’ve had to have beat that offer by some margin. The fact that some teams are spending (large) fractions of billions on players exacerbates complaints that the M’s ‘don’t want to win’ or ‘aren’t serious.’

Like Dave, I think the M’s should spend more this year. But unless you’re the Dodgers, every team needs a core to build around – not just to keep costs down, but in order to prioritize and target free agent (or trade) acquisitions. The M’s problems lie partially with the fact that the Angels have made splashy free agent moves, but much more with the fact that they were able to pair Jered Weaver with solid players, and that they were able to (finally) call up the game’s best player in May of this year. The Dodgers have spent money essentially everywhere, but they were able to lock up key players like Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw. This isn’t to say that two players is all it takes, or that the M’s can’t spend until they find their own Matt Kemp. But the M’s have identified several players as cogs of their rebuilding effort, and being right about some of those players means more to this franchise than Josh Hamilton or Zack Greinke.

@ – And what of the other party to the CBA, the players? At this point, the MLBPA appears to be clear winners. As Joe Sheehan pointed out, from the limited evidence we have, the deal clearly *has* done what the players wanted it to: direct more money to their members, as spending on international free agents appears to have dropped while spending on the amateur draft is no longer surging.

* – Though Darren Rovell warns that more of that windfall may be subject to revenue sharing than we (and maybe the Dodgers) initially assumed. This will be something to watch, and something that will almost certainly end up in court.

! – Wendy’s article is great, as it’s essentially the first one I’ve seen that attempts to adjust for inflation and/or revenue. Two really, really basic things that everyone else scribbling on this topic didn’t do. Kudos to her.


33 Responses to “The Dodgers and the Edge of Selig’s Influence”

  1. Mariners35 on December 14th, 2012 5:47 pm

    Thank goodness – a nuanced, reasonable defense of the M’s approach without the usual snark, condescension and dismissiveness of Dave. Marc’s summary, thoughts and data here are well done and a welcome break. Maybe he should take over as the main USSM writer and let Lord High Poobah Cameron take his schtick over to fangraphs.

  2. BlackHaloBender on December 14th, 2012 10:06 pm

    Ahhh, back to normal. Love it.

  3. Westside guy on December 15th, 2012 12:39 am

    Great piece, Marc – you’ve given us a lot to chew on.

  4. Paul N on December 15th, 2012 7:11 am

    The Dodgers won’t continue spending at this pace. It doesn’t matter how much their TV contract is.

    I, however, wouldn’t mind the owners trying to get a salary cap in the next bargaining agreement.

  5. make_dave_proud on December 15th, 2012 7:23 am

    @Mariners35: “a nuanced, reasonable defense of the M’s approach..”

    How is this a defense of the M’s approach? Asking legitimately, not snarkily.

  6. stevemotivateir on December 15th, 2012 2:38 pm

    This is a great article for all baseball fans to read. Good job, Marc. Very interesting.

  7. gwangung on December 15th, 2012 6:13 pm

    Actually, I don’t have a problem with snark–it only hurts if it’s on target, and if it’s on target, I don’t have much of a defense anyway….

  8. vetted_coach on December 16th, 2012 3:26 am

    What’s missing in all of this analysis (money, regulations, winning, losing, playoffs, no playoffs). is an essential discussion of entertainment value. I appreciate Marc’s tone, and the issue of snark is always an amusing subterfuge – but IMO the most resonant conversation is the one least introduced: what does an organization owe its fan base.

    It can’t always be measured purely in playoff appearances and world series entries. Obviously, there are factors that prohibit limiting the outcome expectations to post season success. Injuries, human error and the normal disposition for performances to adjust back to the norm come to mind. And eliminating the total emphasis on pure win-loss success removes some of the snark.

    Just because signing an Albert Pujols or Zack Greinke doesn’t produce a playoff slot or world series appearance doesn’t vindicate the Mariners for never seriously considering a daring or dramatic free agent or trade (and they don’t). So even if the Angels miss, so what?! At least they are stirring up excitement and providing the fodder for fan support, appreciation and guaranteed entertainment. Mariner fans get none of that. No playoffs as well as no invigoration, fireworks or even basic competitive entertainment.

    I go to games to see the ball get pounded, not to figure WAR.

  9. Johnny Slick on December 16th, 2012 4:56 am

    What does “I go to games to see the ball get pounded, not to figure WAR” even mean? Do you know what WAR is? It stands for Wins Above Replacement. If you get more of them, you win more games. If you manage to accumulate enough of them you even get a trip to the playoffs. It’s not the be-all end-all of creating a good team, of course – you need pitching, too, which is how the Angels led baseball in the statistic but missed the playoffs – but it’s a pretty major component.

    The “never seriously considering a free agent” bit, of course, flies in the face of what people are reporting, which is that the M’s in fact did seriously consider Josh Hamilton (in fact, I would say that 4 years and $100M all by itself is too much for Hamilton, let alone the vested option years the team put on the table or the guaranteed fifth year that won him to the Angels). Before then, when the Ms did, briefly, look like they might have the tools to contend, Jack Z acquired Cliff Lee for peanuts. So… other than the times when the M’s do go after free agents or make big trades, they don’t go after free agents or make big trades.

  10. Typical Idiot Fan on December 16th, 2012 7:29 am

    but IMO the most resonant conversation is the one least introduced: what does an organization owe its fan base.

    Nothing. Believe it or not, teams have a habit of picking up from a city where a fanbase that doesn’t support them and moving to another city where a fanbase does support them. People love to chirp about how supporting a team should equal world series victories, but that simply isn’t the case. If it were true that fan support meant that fans “deserved” something, the Cubs would have won fifty world series’ by now.

    Baseball is a business. Teams are owned by businessmen or some sort of group. They don’t “owe” you anything. What they try to do is make money, and often that means winning. Only in cases like Jeff Loria does an owner not care as much about winning so long as he gets his scratch. The rest are trying, in the ways they know how, and in the resources they feel they have.

    Just because signing an Albert Pujols or Zack Greinke doesn’t produce a playoff slot or world series appearance doesn’t vindicate the Mariners for never seriously considering a daring or dramatic free agent or trade (and they don’t).

    It absolutely does. However, this notion that they haven’t seriously considered a free agent talk, as Slick points out above, is bogus. Complete and utter bogusity.

    Mariner fans get none of that. No playoffs as well as no invigoration, fireworks or even basic competitive entertainment.

    Because the team is trying to lose or something.

    I go to games to see the ball get pounded, not to figure WAR.

    Good for you.

  11. eponymous coward on December 16th, 2012 8:49 am

    doesn’t vindicate the Mariners for never seriously considering a daring or dramatic free agent or trade (and they don’t).

    Never is a pretty strong word, given:

    – Ichiro
    – Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson
    – Cliff Lee

    There’s three pretty daring signings and trades right there in the last decade.

    The problem is the outcome from the last two didn’t lead to wins OR fans coming back…

  12. MrZDevotee on December 16th, 2012 11:46 pm


    Again, your railing and vehement insistence on a thought you have about issues with the Mariners don’t speak to the facts… (Do you care about facts? Or do you just think up a notion and assume it’s true because you thought it?)

    Say what you will about the talent of the acquisitions after they came to Seattle (plenty to debate there), but this is a list of players that says a team is aggressively pursuing a chance to win, thru both free agency and trades…

    2005- Richie Sexson and Adrian Beltre, same year a kid named “King” we found from Venezuela debuted as an 19 year old.
    2006- Kenji Johjima, Jarrod Washburn, Carl Everett
    2007- Jose Guillen, Jose Vidro, Jeff Weaver, Miguel Batista
    2008- Erik Bedard, Carlos Silva, Brad Wilkerson
    2009- Franklin Gutierrez, Endy Chavez, Mike Carp, Mike Sweeney, plus brought Jr back

    Chone Figgins (no comment, but aggressive…)
    Cliff Lee (marquee pitcher that wasn’t on anyone’s radar as a trade candidate)
    Montero (best hitting prospect in all of baseball at the time)

    Say what you want, but FACTS are saying we were the frontrunners for Hamilton if he didn’t go back to Texas, and we offered the most money to him (via 2 options). Angels weren’t even on the radar.

    And seriously, how could you EVER insinuate a team doesn’t care about appealing to its fans, when they brought the hero of the franchise, “The Kid” back for not just one BUT two seasons at the end of his career. (Again, you can argue if that was a good move or not, but that’s not the issue… the issue is whether the Mariners care about their fans, and are aggressive about making moves to make them happy.)

    Hell, the way they handled the death of our beloved announcer speaks to how they respect and approach their fanbase– by NOT replacing him and instead dedicating a year of broadcasting to honoring the man who presented their teams to their fans day in and day out. A lesser team would have just replaced him with someone, played a video opening day, and moved on. They commissioned someone to make a statue of him, which was designed to be interactive for the fans (you can sit by him).

    So yeah, um… What? The “information” portion of your brain seems to have an out box, but no in box.

    (Although, granted, your summation “I go to games to see the ball get pounded” belies the idea that you have a deep and storied understanding of baseball… And says you’re not a Felix fan? Would HATE if we signed Dickey? Think Bourne is a pussy… Long for the days of steroids again? Think Ackley is a girl? Would prefer the Kingdome to Safeco?… WHY OH WHY do you come here, do you think you’re doing the world a service and setting us all straight!? Just admit it. Come on. We’re all- mostly- friends here.)

  13. MrZDevotee on December 16th, 2012 11:52 pm

    (There’s a part of me that can’t help but think that VettedCoach is Dave’s alter ego, and a fictitious persona he made up to epitomize EVERYTHING he can’t stand about the macho combination of arrogance built upon ignorance that “old school” baseball guys are so proud to exude– but then I’m pretty sure Dave doesn’t have that sort of time to waste. Derek maybe? Poking fun at Dave? I’d say Geoff Baker’s alter ego, but even Baker doesn’t seem quite this possessed with his own ignorance.)

  14. Puffy on December 17th, 2012 10:18 am

    Seriously, it was shocking to read Dave Cameron troll his own website with that last series of posts (Combatting Emotions with Facts). In spite of his claim that they “just deliver short pieces of factual information,” they were intellectually dishonest and incendiary (particularly the last one). Dave has always been one of my favorite baseball thinkers, but the last posts were complete headscratchers to me.

  15. omahajoe on December 17th, 2012 12:08 pm

    Given the new apparent economics in MLB, doesn’t the most important offseason move the M’s can make seem to be extending Felix?

    Several teams spending their influx of RSN cash — and other teams appear to be more wiling to spend as they can see some increased revenues on the horizon.

    The size of contract deals for top flight players is getting larger every season. We should lock up Felix now if at all possible — these $100M contracts may seem like a “bargain” in a couple years.

  16. vetted_coach on December 17th, 2012 3:14 pm

    Rob Neyer: “These days it only makes financial sense to build a team that wins 94 games or 74 games. Paying for an 80-win team is a losing proposition.”

    So, Z-Devotee, unless you care to claim that Neyer is some fictitious alter-ego, what do you think the Mariners have been doing? Rhetorical question. I don’t care what you think. Based on your own body of evidence for what proves that “the Mariners care,” it’s clear that you’re exactly the sort of pigeon they’re looking for.” Returning Griffey for two years was a favor? Just the adoring sophomoric drivel we need. The list of players you assembled through the Bavasi era was a tribute to the hapless.

    When you can advance a single token of actual on-the-field success to redeem the last eleven seasons, i will begin to take your adolescent tirades seriously. You can’t stand for something, so you habitually fall for everything. A tool for enabling baseball mediocrity.

    I know who I am. You don’t.

  17. heyoka on December 18th, 2012 6:07 am

    “I know who I am. You don’t.”

    Come on Dave, we’re on to you.

  18. heyoka on December 18th, 2012 6:12 am

    Wish the comments weren’t off on the DMZ post. That’s a great post. It leads me to a great exercise that I tried to perform when I was bored as a kid and had the old baseball encyclopedia (remember that thing?).

    If you could go back in time over the last decade, with hindsight 20/20 vision, which trades or free agent signings would you take back? Which free agent signings (has to be less than or equal to existing ones made) would you have made? And what would the team look like now? What would their win totals be now?

  19. MrZDevotee on December 18th, 2012 10:25 am

    Good try Vetted. Good try.

    But still no substance. (You really don’t see that?)

    And “I don’t care what you think” belies responding directly to me, doesn’t it? To the point of hilarity.


    Adoring sophomoric drivel?

    Adolescent tirades (now, where’d that mirror go)?

    Single token of on the field success? Uh okay, Felix- Cy Young. Done. Thank you. Move along. You’re a hyperbole machine. It’s impressive, in a sad way.

    “You can’t stand for something, so you habitually fall for everything.” This doesn’t even mean anything. But it’s cute.

    You’re continually frustrated, yet you’ve convinced yourself it’s the doing of other people, haven’t you?

    Spouting off non-truths here on a site you don’t believe in or appreciate is not going to fix that circumstance for you– you realize that, right? It can only make it worse, right?

  20. msfanmike on December 18th, 2012 11:35 am

    I think you left something out, MrZ.

    Recently, he reminded/scolded somebody that “if you resort to name calling, you have already lost the argument.”

    Then, he called you several names.

    He has one main theme and he re-states it perpetually. Whether he is asking to be “banned” or resurrecting himself “from the basement” … he gets to the same main agenda items within virtually every comment (Wedge is a blockhead, Z needs to do his job, sabermetrics do not matter).

    Until everyone unilaterally agrees with him, I assume he will continue along the same theme(s). I wish it were as simple as Dave trolling his own Site via an alter-ego, but the answer is never that simple.

  21. ThanatosK on December 18th, 2012 9:44 pm

    Sooooo, since we’re all tired of the negativity and we’d like some good news or interesting thoughts on the Mariners….this article actually has some additional ways it may affect the Mariners.

    Not only are the Dodgers willing to spend dumb amounts of money…but they’re talking about putting Andre Ethier on the market to trade for some pitching.

    What about us offering some decent pitching for Either and an agreement that they pick up a portion of his remaining contract? If we gave them something that got a portion of his salary paid, we’d still have money for other deals this year…

    Thoughts? Please? Anything constructive other than more bitching?

  22. Pete on December 19th, 2012 1:33 am

    Is there something wrong with DMZ? I agree 100 percent with the sentiment of his Ichiro post, but man, that does not sound like him. Maybe I remember wrong, but I remember him as a pretty good writer…

    Why was that even published?

  23. MrZDevotee on December 19th, 2012 5:39 am

    I have a “logistics” question…

    Say we were to sign BOTH Bourne and Swisher (hypothetical, bear with me) how does the compensation pick work– they both earn 1st round picks for their previous teams, but we’d only have 1 to give? Does the 2nd team get a compensatory between-round pick?

  24. msfanmike on December 19th, 2012 8:30 am

    “I agree 100 percent with the sentiment of his Ichiro post, but man, that does not sound like him.”

    You are not the only person who has mentioned this. I saw similar references to it over at LL, too.

    “I have a “logistics” question…”

    I am fairly certain the Mariners would have to surrender its first 2 picks under your hypothetical scenario, MrZ. And the “2nd” team would also get a compensatory pick between rounds 1&2. The compensatory picks are assigned based on “loss” of a player (assuming they were tendered the $13.3M offer prior to the FA period), regardless.

  25. msfanmike on December 19th, 2012 8:38 am

    “What about us offering some decent pitching for Either and an agreement that they pick up a portion of his remaining contract?”

    I think this is a pretty good idea. Ethier is younger, comparable offensively – but without the positional flexibility. He is also (based on UZR) a below average defender in the outfield.

    However, he wouldn’t cost the team a draft pick. Ethier has a career WRC+ of 124 – and figures to be an approximate 3 WAR per year player.

    I think Bourn has more value than either Swisher or Ethier, but maybe not the specific type of ‘value’ the team is seeking. Bourn’s value is through superior baserunning and defense (which I am certainly in favor of), but he is not a “middle of the order” type of hitter.

    Ultimatley I don’t really care how the team goes about finding additional production, just as long as they find it. Production is production … and we need to add it – in spades.

  26. msfanmike on December 19th, 2012 8:57 am

    Ethier is “younger than Swisher” …

  27. MrZDevotee on December 19th, 2012 11:13 am

    Add Swisher to the “not happening” list…

    Found this:

    “CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman (via Twitter) reports that “the Swisher tour” will not stop in Seattle. The M’s would have to give up their first-round pick in next year’s draft (No. 12 overall) as compensation for signing a free agent who has declined a qualifying offer from their former team. Heyman tweets that the Mariners aren’t willing to sacrifice their pick for Swisher but could do it for “a bigger free agent than Swisher.” Michael Bourn seems to be the only free agent left on the market who fits that criteria.”

    Can’t say I disagree with saying “no” to the combination of $$$’s and #12 pick.

  28. MrZDevotee on December 19th, 2012 11:23 am

    I CAN say I’m not opposed to Bourn IF we bring in a middle order guy thru trade…

    We’ve lived in the Ichiro shadow for so long, and then the Figgins experiment, that it’s easy to forget– we don’t have a lead off hitter right now. We don’t have a guy who can get on base at a .300+ OBP clip and then steal a base to be in scoring position.

    He’s really good at that, and plays outstanding defense.

    (.348 OBP, 42 steals, 90+ runs, 70 walks last year… A guy like that will score as much as any bopper we add, and having a combination of the two could do wonders…)

  29. eponymous coward on December 19th, 2012 1:51 pm

    I CAN say I’m not opposed to Bourn IF we bring in a middle order guy thru trade…

    Given Jack’s comments on the trade market (where he’s said that teams are asking for too many apples for his oranges), where are you going to find a better hitter for (1B/corner OF) than Nick Swisher that doesn’t suck the farm system dry, or rob Peter on the 25 man roster to pay Paul? If he’s not willing to punt a mid-first round draft pick for Swisher, isn’t the trade for (hypothetical other player) going to cost even MORE?

    And I’ll be blunt; yes, wah wah wah, Bourn doesn’t hit dingers. He does play some pretty good OF defense and is a great player, and we need an OFer. If Jack’s able to spend money on him and a solid 200 inning guy capable of league-average FIP, I will consider it a successful offseason. Yes, I’d like Swisher or a MOTO bat. I’d like a pony, too. This team could use a good OFer, even if it’s a CFer who plays defense and hits leadoff instead of Swisher.

    If, on the other hand, the current roster is what we end up going into opening day with… well, big fat fail, Jacky Z. I am quite skeptical the current roster is ~.500, and cheaping out to the tune of $70 million… well, why bother? Why not just go Florida Marlins/Oakland A’s, blow out all the high salary players with trade value like Felix for prospects, and you’ll get even BETTER draft picks?

  30. MrZDevotee on December 19th, 2012 2:28 pm

    This just in… (No lie.)

    M’s are trading Vargas to Angels for Morales. There’s your 1B/OF. Might be Peter for Paul… But we sure need some Pauls around here.


  31. gwangung on December 19th, 2012 2:33 pm

    Then, Edwin Jackson, please?

  32. msfanmike on December 19th, 2012 2:48 pm

    For the purpose of quibbling only, Morales is not going to be an OF option.

    Other than that, I like this trade! I like it a lot!

    Morales is a good hitter, will fit into the middle of the lineup and will be able to eliminate the potential for a Smoak suck-fest. Or, at least mitigate it to a substantive extent.

    An actual one-for-one apple for an orange, trade? Good!

    And Morales actually costs lesss than Vargas, too? Wow!

    There is still plenty of time to add pitching and another hitter … and boy, do we need both.

  33. eponymous coward on December 19th, 2012 4:02 pm

    That’s a pretty surprising deal, but good on Jack for being willing to get a new hitter. Now some pitching and we’re done.

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