Larry Baer, the president and CEO of the San Francisco Giants, recently addressed the press in a “state-of-the-team” talk, discussing a number of topics that eventually included the Los Angeles Dodgers’ newly found financial firepower. Though Baer did not directly criticize or complain about the Dodgers’ payroll abilities, the subtext is clear: Baer and the Giants believe that while they may not outspend the Dodgers, they can certainly outwit them. According to Baer (from Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle):
"We’re fine with not matching them dollar for dollar because when it comes down to it, it’s an art, not a science, and it comes down to judgments," Baer said. "Drafting [Matt] Cain, [Tim] Lincecum, [Buster] Posey, [Madison] Bumgarner, et cetera…Those were judgment calls, not money calls."
In any discussion of the Dodgers outside of Los Angeles, this has become the tenor regarding the Guggenheim ownership group’s strategy. While it is true that the Dodgers have spent a great deal in the short-term to bring the team back to prominence, the long-term goals do not revolve around an endless flow of money to throw at every available free agent.
Under Frank McCourt, the team was completely hamstrung by the owner’s financial misgivings and his divorce proceedings. The farm system was depleted in lopsided trades (often due to financial concerns, as in the Carlos Santana/Casey Blake deal), and the product on the field was filled with the aging veterans those prospects brought back. Stan Kasten has said all along that the plan was to rebuild the farm system so that the Dodgers would again have a pipeline of homegrown talent, something the current roster is not necessarily without.
The face of the franchise is Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers’ first round pick in the 2006 amateur draft. Matt Kemp — though currently recovering from the host of injuries he has suffered over the past few years — was a sixth round draft pick back in 2003. Yasiel Puig, the team’s mercurial outfielder and potential star of the foreseeable future, was signed to a widely-panned deal (one scout said Puig was a $50,000 player) before becoming baseball’s next big thing. While it is important to have the financial wherewithal to sign these players, there is a thorough evaluation process that also goes into choosing who to sign and who to pass on.
The Dodgers also have greatly improved their farm system. Baseball America’s most recent prospect rankings featured four Dodger prospects: Joc Pederson, Corey Seager, Julio Urias and Zach Lee. The Giants had two: Kyle Crick and Edwin Escobar. While this is certainly not proof that one system is better than the other, it demonstrates the renewed focus of the Dodgers to draft and develop prospects who will eventually contribute at the big league level.
No team ever operates perfectly, and the Giants are right to believe that their methodologies are best. After all, a team that has won two of the last five World Series titles is entitled to their own opinion. The criticism of the Dodger strategy is unwarranted, however, especially the subtle prediction that the Dodgers are bound to falter in the near future:
“You can look at where the Dodgers are now. If you look at their track and other teams’ tracks, it’s pretty wild swings,” Baer said. “But we’re not looking for wild swings up, because usually what that necessitates is wild swings down.”
If the Dodgers did indeed plan on relying only on the power of money and free agency, then yes, Baer would have a point. What Baer is overlooking is that the Dodgers are spending their money elsewhere as well: on international scouting, on player development, and on restoring the once-proud Dodger brand.
“We’re mindful of the Dodgers,” Baer said. “We’d be crazy to say we’re not. Maybe it’s a little bit like New York and Boston in a lot of the years.”
It would be nice if the Giants and Dodgers renewed their age-old rivalry and competed for pennant after pennant. It seems odd that most of the talk leading up Opening Day revolves around the new rivalry between the Dodgers and the Arizona Diamondbacks. Perhaps these comments were meant to stir up Kasten and company in advance of the burgeoning season.
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