The Los Angeles Dodgers have signed ace pitcher Clayton Kershaw to a record setting seven year deal worth $215 million. Kershaw is a great pitcher, but this isn’t the first enormous deal the Dodgers have taken on since the partnership led by Magic Johnson purchased the team. Kershaw is the face of the franchise, and the best pitcher in Dodger Blue since Sandy Koufax, and only 25 years old, but they’re already playing Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, and Zack Greinke big money to play in LA. Paying Kershaw was the right thing to do, but what will happen when the money runs out?
I get what Magic Johnson is trying to do. The legendary Los Angeles Lakers point guard is trying to transform the Dodgers into baseball’s version of the Lakers. The New York Yankees have been that team for generation after generation, but the Bronx Bombers are currently being held hostage by expensive contracts for players over 30. The Dodgers would be a breath of fresh air for baseball with their classic blue caps, irrational swagger, and west coast attitude. They have a high payroll and a history and tradition of success, but have not been to the World Series since they defeated the Oakland A’s in 1988. Since then, their rival San Francisco Giants have reached the World Series twice, and have won their first two World Series titles since the Giants and Dodgers moved to the west coast together in 1958. The Dodgers are relevant again, but they haven’t broken through.
Johnson gained a lot of talent in the summer of 2012 when he took Beckett, Crawford, and Gonzalez off the Red Sox’ hands. It meant resetting the plans for the franchise for Boston, and it meant the expectations to win now for the Dodgers. The Dodgers got off to a slow start in 2013, and manager Don Mattingly’s job appeared to be in jeopardy. Even with Kershaw and all that surrounding talent, the Dodgers looked really bad before a Cuban born catalyst named Yasiel Puig got the offense going and made the Dodgers more exciting than they had been in years. The momentum carried them to the NLCS, where they were were defeated by the St. Louis Cardinals, but it was a fun ride while it lasted. I don’t expect the Giants to be as bad as they were this year, so I don’t expect the Dodgers to be quite as good in 2014, either. They have a lot of volatile stars who explode when the team is hot, but check out when things go south. Kershaw is the consistent one on the team, but he’s just one guy and he only plays every five days. At some point, the Dodgers will hit the limits of their spending capacity, and they would like to win it all before then. The Red Sox dumped their overpaid players on the Dodgers in 2012, and won the World Series in 2013, so the pressure is already there to have success from that particular trade. Bringing back Kershaw is the right thing to do, but the Dodgers need to win soon or fans will be calling for Magic’s head, Mattingly’s head, and running these highly paid players out of town. Or maybe they won’t. It’s LA, not Boston, New York or Philly.