With money and cutting-edge brilliance, Dodgers playing a game others can’t

Jeff PassanMLB columnist
Yahoo Sports

All those years when the New York Yankees were outspending everyone by $20 million and $30 million and more, this is what they should’ve done. The Los Angeles Dodgers are a monetary behemoth, beneficiaries of an $8 billion TV contract, and under president Andrew Friedman and GM Farhan Zaidi, they’re parlaying that financial advantage into a competitive one, too.

Alex Wood is joining the Dodgers. (AP)
Alex Wood is joining the Dodgers. (AP)

The Yankees sashayed into free-agent meetings like fat cats, paying big dollars for big names and big splashes. They were old money acting like new money. The Dodgers positioned themselves in diametric opposition, fundamentally against larding their roster with aging players, using their cash as judiciously as the filthy rich can, exploring every creative nook and cranny possible.

And thus came together the madcap 13-player, three-team trade that was agreed upon Thursday among the Dodgers, Atlanta Braves and Miami Marlins. On both sides of the return for the Dodgers, they took on unwanted salary obligations and received talent for doing so. It was a brilliant deployment of resources that landed Los Angeles a pair of starters, one who should join the rotation for years to come and another who helps strengthen it for the stretch run.

The entirety of the deal goes like this: Los Angeles received starter Alex Wood, utility prospect Jose Peraza, relievers Jim Johnson and Luis Avilan, and starter Bronson Arroyo from Atlanta, plus starter Mat Latos and outfielder Michael Morse from Miami. Atlanta got Cuban infielder Hector Olivera, reliever Paco Rodriguez and prospect Zack Bird from the Dodgers, along with the Marlins’ competitive-balance draft pick, which should land somewhere in the mid-30s in the 2016 draft. For dumping the salaries of Latos and Morse, plus the draft pick, the Marlins received Class A pitchers Jeff Brigham, Kevin Guzman and Victor Araujo.

Essentially, the Dodgers bought three years of Wood, two months of Latos, a solid prospect in Peraza and a couple relief pitchers to bolster their shaky bullpen. Gone is Olivera, a 30-year-old coveted by the Braves, who couldn’t compete with the Dodgers’ six-year, $62.5 million offer he signed in May. The Dodgers will pay all $28 million of his signing bonus, and with most of his 2015 salary paid, Atlanta essentially gets him for five years at around $32 million. Considering the Dodgers are taking on some but not all of Arroyo’s remaining $7.5 million – he has a $4.5 million buyout for next season’s deal – Atlanta is paying down Olivera’s cost even more.

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By absorbing about $15 million from the Marlins – the struggling Morse is owed $8 million next season – Los Angeles paid more than $40 million in contracts for which it has no use. This is where money is best spent, because swallowing others’ problematic contracts or fronting money for valuable players allows the Dodgers to ask for premium talent in return, and in Wood and Peraza, it got just that.

This isn’t the first time Friedman and Zaidi pulled off such a deal. They’re also paying the salaries of Matt Kemp, Dan Haren and Dee Gordon – all traded in the offseason – this year. In the Kemp deal, the Dodgers received All-Star catcher Yasmani Grandal. From the Marlins, they got utilityman Enrique Hernandez, catcher/second baseman Austin Barnes and pitcher Andrew Heaney, whom they flipped for Howie Kendrick.

The strategy is brilliant, a way to circumvent the artificial spending limits placed almost everywhere on young talent. Got a terrible signing? Just package it with something valuable, and the Dodgers are happy to use their money to buy talent.

And that’s what this is: The Dodgers are purchasing talent from others, using their financial advantage to stay flexible instead of boxing themselves into untradeable corners like the Yankees did for so many years. The rules were different then, not nearly as restrictive, but New York has shown no inclination to operate in a similar fashion to the Dodgers. Few teams do. The Braves, actually, pulled off a trade like this earlier in the year, taking on Arroyo’s contract and receiving pitching prospect Touki Toussaint from Arizona. For Atlanta it was novel. For the Dodgers, it’s standard operating procedure.

Which is why they stand out so much. Executives are howling about the 13-player trade, about what happens at the intersection of money and creativity. It frightens those who see how it will bear fruit, and it frightens those without the foresight but within the steamroller’s path.

It’s not just the ingenuity that makes the Dodgers so menacing. It’s the behind-the-scenes activities: the think tank filled with brilliant minds they’re cultivating and the devotion to injury prevention and neuroscouting and other branches of the development tree they’re learning about and keeping in their silo of knowledge. The scariest part of the Dodgers isn’t what we see. It’s what we don’t see.

Over nearly a decade, Friedman built the Rays into a consistent powerhouse with among the worst resources in the game. Zaidi came up through Oakland, which literally wrote the book on surviving with meager resources. Their old shops forced them to think like this, to dream up wacky conceits that might better their teams.

Marrying that to an endless spigot of money puts the Dodgers here, not just atop the NL West but stronger than they’ve been this year. They didn’t get Cole Hamels, and they didn’t get David Price, and that’s OK for now. With Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Brett Anderson and the two new guys, the Dodgers are primed to strike at San Francisco and the rest of the NL.

This is just the beginning. Though the Friedman-and-Zaidi Dodgers aren’t even a year in at this point, their goals are evident. They are going to bully all of baseball with their money, a comeuppance for the years they were the targets who had to sell, and they’ll have no qualms about it.

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