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With the confirmed signing of closer Kenley Jansen and an expected agreement with third baseman Justin Turner, the Los Angeles Dodgers will have 11 players under contracts of at least three years in length. Here will be their ages when their deals end: 39, 36, 35, 35, 35, 35, 34, 34, 32, 31 and 28.
Generally speaking, signing a bunch of guys well into their 30s is not how a smart baseball team does business. It’s a sign of desperation, something to which the Dodgers, in their more honest moments, would cop, seeing as they’re run by a president and general manager who made their bones in the business dealing players precisely before they got to their 30s.
And yet when you’ve got a TV contract bigger than the GDP of a small country – actually, bigger than 50 countries’ – and a World Series drought going on three decades and the best pitcher in the world, well, sometimes you’ve got to be smart like Homer Simpson.
The idea that the Dodgers “needed” Jansen and Turner – and needed them at five years for $80 million and four years for $64 million respectively – is reasonable through only a pair of prisms: that the world is ending after 2017 – thanks, Trump – and that there is something to buttress the odiousness of the president (Andrew Friedman) and the GM (Farhan Zaidi), late of small-fry shops in Tampa Bay and Oakland, giving out $16 million-a-year deals to a guy who may pitch 70 innings and another almost certainly on the downslope of his career.
Seeing as mutually assured destruction isn’t something worth betting on, it’s a good thing that second prism casts a rainbow for the Dodgers. Because that something – it exists. It is Corey Seager. It is Julio Urias. It is Cody Bellinger and Alex Verdugo and Willie Calhoun, Yadier Alvarez and Jose De Leon and Walker Buehler, Yusniel Diaz and Austin Barnes and Brock Stewart and Chase De Jong and Josh Sborz and Trevor Oaks and holy hell is it scary when the deepest farm system in all of baseball belongs to the team that’s also going to carry a quarter-billion-dollar payroll this season.
When Friedman and Zaidi joined the Dodgers in the offseason after 2014, they didn’t bring with them some sort of small-market juju. There was actual substance to their approach: go piecemeal for a short while until the development system in which they have invested as much as any team turns into a talent spigot that won’t stop. The problem with the bloated Yankees of the 2000s and into this decade wasn’t all their bad contracts. It was that the team developed next to no talent alongside it.
The Dodgers do not suffer such a malady. Seager was the second-best player in the National League last season as a 22-year-old rookie. From his third start on, with a majority of them coming as a 19-year-old, Urias struck out 77 in 69 1/3 innings, allowed just two home runs and posted a 2.73 ERA despite balls in play dropping more than 36 percent of the time. That is an annual MVP contender and an annual Cy Young contender in the same rookie class. And it’s just the start.
Alvarez, a 20-year-old Cuban for whom the Dodgers paid $32 million, could be one of the five best pitching prospects in baseball by this time next season. He throws an easy 100 from the right side. Bellinger, 21, is the most-asked-for player in trade talks and the heir apparent to Adrian Gonzalez at first base. Calhoun, 22, may take over at second if the Dodgers don’t acquire one this offseason. Verdugo more than held his own last season in Double-A as a 20-year-old. Diaz, another costly Cuban, should spend all season at Double-A as a 20-year-old this season. De Leon could crack the Dodgers’ rotation at some point in 2017. Barnes is the rare legitimate 27-year-old prospect. Buehler and Stewart and De Jong and Sborz and Oaks all will pitch in the big leagues sooner than later. And that’s just the start.
Not that the guarantees in 2019 are light. Clayton Kershaw, aforementioned best pitcher, either will cost $34.6 million or, if he opts out of his contract and gets another, even more. Rich Hill, aforementioned 39-year-old, will be making $18.7 million in his last season. Jansen and Turner will have their bounties. Alex Wood will be staring at free agency, Joc Pederson two years out, Seager three, all with hefty arbitration raises.
Still, with almost all the Dodgers’ best prospects a year or two away, this is how a superteam is built. Between what the Yankees and Dodgers are doing, we haven’t seen a burgeoning East Coast-West Coast showdown like this since Biggie and Tupac. With the Cubs and Red Sox doing their own mega-power thing, the dawn of the big markets feels nigh.
So, yeah, the Dodgers are going to spend a lot more than anyone else this season … to pretty much replicate what they had last October, which wasn’t good enough. Playoff baseball being what it is, maybe it will suffice this time around. Either way, this is a $230 million (or more, depending on what else they do this offseason) gap year of sorts. The Dodgers are the rich kids, and the rest of baseball’s job is to figure out how to be more clever than them.
Because on days like Monday, when they spend about $150 million on a relief pitcher and a guy they got off the scrap heap three years ago, it feels tough to compete. The Dodgers are sprinting past the luxury tax – again – with the countenance of a shrug emoji. Cost of doing business. Price to pay. Etc.
Scary as that may be, it should pale compared to them two years from now. These Dodgers are the ones who go to the club and buy bottles. The next generation of the Dodgers own the club, the liquor distributorship and have designs on anything and everything in their path.