In recent months, the Dodgers front office has made a point of promoting the youth movement to fans. The current transactions (or lack thereof) are supposed to be proof that they are now committed to seeing the youth movement all the way through.
Of course, the problem with this strategy is that Frank McCourt is now using the abundance of youth as an excuse to cut payroll. McCourt is basically advocating that the Dodgers attempt to build the franchise like the Twins and Athletics do. That’s fine and all, but the only reason those franchises do what they do is because they have no money. The Dodgers, on the other hand, do have money, but McCourt would rather invest his profits into Red Sox memorabilia or something.
To me, the surprising thing is that the blogs seem to have granted the Dodgers a pass. Given Ned Colletti’s failures with both free agent signings and trades involving prospects, everybody seems to be satiated by this new conservative ideology of letting the youth develop instead of splurging on free agents.
Unfortunately, this logic just doesn’t hold up. Don’t get me wrong, I’m as big of a proponent of keeping young talent over old declining veterans as anybody. Thing is, that’s not the problem I have with the strategy. The problem I have is that the current abundance of young and cheap talent will be wasted if it’s not taken advantage of when the opportunity presents itself (now). You see, if the Dodgers keep relying on the youth without supplementing the team with good free agents, those young players will be hitting arbitration and free agency soon enough, thus rendering the whole point of the youth movement (to save money) useless.
So what should a big market team with a strong young core do? Easy. Pair the talented youth with some marquee free agents. The Red Sox are a good example of the ideal plan of attack for big market teams, pairing the ability to develop young talent and the ability to wisely spend money on key free agents. Hard to argue with the results, right? Well, unfortunately, the plan relies on having a competent GM, not somebody who wastes 41 million on three useless players.
Part of the reason I hate the job that Ned has done is that he’s been gifted one of the easiest situations for a GM to succeed in and he still can’t accomplish anything. Colletti has been given one of the deepest and most talented youth systems in recent memory, and he can barely sculpt a decent team because of his failures in free agency.
For example, take away all the free agents, and the Dodgers look like this:
C-Russell Martin-4.0 Million (Estimate)
1B-James Loney-0.4 Million
2B-Blake DeWitt-0.4 Million
CF-Matt Kemp-0.4 Million
RF-Andre Ethier-3.0 Million (Estimate)
Bench-A.J. Ellis-0.4 Million
Bench-Chin Lung Hu-0.4 Million
Bench-Tony Abreu-0.4 Million
Bench-Xavier Paul-0.4 Million
Bench-Delwyn Young-0.4 Million
1-Chad Billingsley-0.4 Million
3-Clayton Kershaw-0.4 Million
4-James McDonald-0.4 Million
Swingman-Eric Stults-0.4 Million
Bullpen-Scott Elbert-0.4 Million
Bullpen-Ramon Troncoso-0.4 Million
Bullpen-Cory Wade-0.4 Million
Setup-Hong Chih Kuo-0.4 Million
Closer-Jonathan Broxton-2.0 Million (Estimate)
Total Payroll-15.4 Million Dollars
So even if we assume that McCourt is a cheap bastard (probably is), he has still allotted about 100 million to work with, and Ned would have around 84.6 million dollars to fill six roster spots. Other GMs would be ecstatic at the opportunity to spend a little over 16 million on every position they need to fill. It’s pathetic. The bottom line here is that Colletti has done a joke of a job, and McCourt doesn’t deserve any better than what Ned’s given him.
A further problem is that the influx of youth is not a permanent fixture. If you think about it, in the past three years, the minor league system has produced Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, James Loney, Blake DeWitt, Chad Billingsley, Clayton Kershaw, Russell Martin, Jonathan Broxton, Hong Chih Kuo, Cory Wade, and James McDonald. It is completely unreasonable to think that the Dodgers can repeat a class like that every three years. As it is, this team has basically been completely constructed over the last few years by Logan White and Kim Ng, with little to no help from Colletti’s free agent deals.
Yet, ironically, when it comes to budgeting enough money to allow continued farm system success, McCourt chooses to handcuff White and Ng with further cheapness. In the past two years, the Dodgers have been outspent by 26 other teams in the draft, and they have stopped being productive in the arena of international signings. Where is the logic in this? Don’t ask me, because I have no idea.
In the short-term, McCourt and Colletti might get away with using the farm system as their crutch. However, refusing to compete in free agency, not pursuing players on the international scene, and cheaping out on draft signings is not a smart long-term solution for major league, minor league, and draft success. The Dodgers might be able to use their farm system to stay afloat over the next few years, but without laying the groundwork for the replenishment of the youth that graduate, it’s a long-term recipe for disaster. In the future, my greatest fear for this franchise is McCourt and Colletti trying to lean heavily on their crutch once again, only to find out it’s no longer there.