In their effort to keep up with the Joneses, the Los Angeles Dodgers went and bought themselves a shiny new car Friday. Jon Garland(notes) is no Maserati, of course. He's more like a Honda, good for 200,000 miles – or 200 innings – of reliable commonness.
Every team will attest that it needs pitching, though none has approached this offseason with near the fervency of the Dodgers. Garland represents their third starter brought into the fold, and while the first two were re-signings – Hiroki Kuroda(notes) for $12 million and Ted Lilly(notes) on a three-year, $33 million deal – the money spent on Garland was as much a grenade lobbed at their neighbors down south and up north.
The team from which the Dodgers stole Garland, the San Diego Padres, nearly rode their pitching to a National League West title. And the team that did win the West, and the whole damn thing for that matter, the San Francisco Giants, had an even better group of starters than the Padres.
So with Dodger Stadium the cavern it is, and with the NL West reaffirming its status as a pitching-centric division, and with Vicente Padilla(notes), for heaven's sake, starting opening day last season, general manager Ned Colletti struck early – and expensively. If Garland hits easily reachable incentives, he'll cost $8 million this season and next. Lilly will get $13.5 million as a 37-year-old in 2013, the Dodgers banking on his left-handedness and fly ball tendencies.
Whether this mini-spree represents a full thawing of the Dodgers' finances following the dissolution of the marriage of their owners, Frank and Jamie McCourt, or simply a much-needed cash infusion following cutbacks last season, the team can now boast at least one thing from its offseason: Only Elin Woods came out of a divorce with more money in 2010.
Does that mean the Dodgers can compete with the Giants? Yes and no. The Giants still boast superior pitching. Tim Lincecum(notes) is better than Los Angeles' No. 1, Clayton Kershaw(notes), Matt Cain(notes) is stronger than Kuroda, Jonathan Sanchez(notes) and Chad Billingsley(notes) are a wash, Madison Bumgarner(notes) and Lilly about the same and Barry Zito(notes) and Garland each good to gobble innings. The Dodgers, however, boast a lineup with more potential than the Giants'.
That potential collapsed last season, Andre Ethier(notes) falling apart in the second half and Matt Kemp(notes) doing so from Game 1 through 162. Ethier's 150-plus-point OPS drop between halves was alarming, although injuries contributed. Kemp is going on three seasons straight with a sub-.500 slugging percentage, and more disturbing is defense than turned from Gold Glove to pyrite.
Between those two and another pair of disappointing kids – singles-hitting first baseman James Loney(notes), whom the Dodgers would like to trade, and non-hitting Russell Martin(notes), of whom they may just rid themselves at the non-tender deadline Thursday – the Dodgers' homegrown core hasn't been all they hoped. So with the McCourt munificence and the money they would save getting rid of Martin, George Sherrill(notes) (a certain non-tender) and infielder Ryan Theriot(notes) (a Dec. 2 possibility, too), the Dodgers could certainly sign another bat.
The rest of the executives out there, meanwhile, focus on pitching. And as they do, perhaps it's with a round of applause for Colletti, who has signed three solid starters from a group that now looks grimmer than the reaper. To wit, from our ultimate free-agent tracker:
1. Cliff Lee(notes) (overall No. 1): The only question is whether the Yankees will give him CC money or Santana money.
2. Andy Pettitte(notes) (overall No. 11): The only question is whether he'll come back. If so, it's with the Yankees.
3. Carl Pavano(notes) (overall No. 13): The Twins want him, and they've got room in their budget. For three years, though? Rockies and Nationals are in, too.
4. Jorge de la Rosa(notes) (overall No. 17): Wants four years and probably will get it. Whichever team obliges will win Head-Shakingest Deal of 2010 Free Agency.
5. Javier Vazquez(notes) (overall No. 25): Plenty of interest from teams who think his off 2010 was all in his head.
6. Brad Penny(notes) (overall No. 27): One more injury-filled year from turning into nouveau Rich Harden(notes).
7. Chris Young (overall No. 33): Another injury guy with upside who can come cheap.
8. Vicente Padilla (overall No. 58): Rejoice, Dodgers fans. At least Kershaw will be starting April 1 against the Giants.
9. Rich Harden (overall No. 61): Should go soon after the top-tier guys go and the teams scraping for potential dominance at a bargain price do their shopping.
10. Brandon Webb(notes) (overall No. 65): Plenty of interest, particularly from Washington, whose training staff would deserve a raise, between Webb and Stephen Strasburg(notes).