The most expensive team in sports history spent another $147 million on Saturday night. This came 3½ months after the Los Angeles Dodgers spent $250 million, which came two months after they spent $42 million, which came two weeks after they spent $85 million, which came eight months after they spent $160 million, which came less than 18 months after they filed for bankruptcy.
This is something unlike what the sports world ever has seen: a franchise with seemingly no limits. The Dodgers handed Zack Greinke the largest contract ever for a right-hander and the highest per-annum salary for any pitcher with a six-year, $147 million deal. It thrusts their 2013 payroll to more than $210 million – and that doesn't include the $8.3 million they're still paying Manny Ramirez. Factor in that, and the money owed Andruw Jones and Tony Gwynn Jr., and the rest of the players needed to fill out their roster, and the Dodgers will spend at least $225 million next year, a record that will grow even steeper when adding in a 17.5 percent luxury tax on every dollar over Major League Baseball's $178 million threshold.
Meanwhile, the Houston Astros' current payroll is $800,000.
The Greinke signing reinforces a sobering reality at which the other 29 teams in baseball – even the New York Yankees – cower: What the Dodgers want, the Dodgers get. The Texas Rangers unfurled the red carpet for Greinke. Their owner is Nolan Ryan, the strikeout king. Greg Maddux, whom Greinke grew up watching on TBS, is an adviser. Both met with him during their sales pitch, which pointed out that he could save plenty of money in income tax and play for a team that actually has been to a World Series since 1988.
Greinke still chose the Dodgers, and it's easy to understand why. Not only are they in Los Angeles. Not only do they play for an adoring fan base in a great location. Not only is Magic Johnson their front man. Not only is their roster stacked with All-Star talent. All of those things plus new owner Guggenheim Baseball Management's commitment to spend inconceivable amounts of money make the Dodgers baseball's new megapower. If the Yankees are the evil empire, the Dodgers are the Death Star – bigger, badder and a hell of a lot more expensive than anything else.
While it's easy to get lost in the numbers because they're so absurd, they're necessary to explain how this happens – how the Dodgers can have four $20 million-plus players, another six owed more than $10 million and five more at more than $5 million. Everything goes back to their local-television contract, which, if finalized as expected before the year ends, will net them between $6 billion and $7 billion for the next 25 years. The Dodgers will make in six games what some franchises make for an entire season in TV revenue – and they'll keep a vast majority of it.
It's why Guggenheim paid $2.15 billion for a team that found itself in bankruptcy through mismanagement, and it's why they can shell out for: Greinke ($147 million); Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett ($250 million); Cuban defector Yasiel Puig ($42 million); and outfielders Andre Ethier ($85 million) and Matt Kemp ($160 million).
And that doesn't count the $200 million or so it's going to take to extend their No. 1 pitcher, Clayton Kershaw, plus the money they're considering spending on another free agent pitcher this offseason, be it Anibal Sanchez, Kyle Lohse or anyone else lucky enough to be invited to the ball by the guy who will arrive with a corsage made of diamonds.
[Related: Michael Young agrees to trade to Phillies]
For these Dodgers, anything short of winning the World Series is an abject failure. General manager Ned Colletti was handed an empty checkbook, and he has written up more zeroes than a bailiff in juvie. Manager Don Mattingly inherits a rotation with two of the game's best pitchers, a near-$100 million lineup and duty to do better than the 18-18 record the Dodgers posted following the Red Sox dumping Gonzalez, Crawford and Beckett in their laps last season.
Because the Dodgers have yet to buy themselves a title, the outcry over their spending is more bellow of incredulity. The omnipresence with which the Dodgers lord over baseball is immeasurable. Even though the Rangers made a spirited run at Greinke, those who know how the sport works always considered his marriage to the Dodgers an inevitability.
Because baseball is the Dodgers' world, and they deign to live with the other 29 teams. They roll their eyes at the luxury tax, chuckle at the Yankees' dogged efforts to get beneath its threshold, spit at the notion that a team with star after star can't cohere into something great. They believe in Colletti's moves and Mattingly's managing and that the stewards of this great ship will let nobody – certainly not the defending champion San Francisco Giants – push them around anymore.
This is the most expensive team in sports history: bigger than any Yankees outfit, higher-spending than the Barcelona football club – with more than twice their own opening-day payroll from 2012. The Dodgers' money tree keeps birthing millions, and they keep giving it away, and there's not a thing anyone in baseball can do about it. The Death Star has no limits. It's scary to think, but this is just the beginning.
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