Moneyball

dodger_logoAlas, my hopes for the Dodgers in the postseason have come to naught. Honestly, as a Dodger fan from way back, I really shouldn’t be very surprised. There’s a reason the team’s fans call them bums. So many years of disappointment.

Except, this team isn’t like any other team in the history of the franchise. That’s because the 2014 Dodgers were the most expensive assemblage of baseball talent to ever take the field. Nearly $240 million a year worth. And the funny thing is, that’s not even close to everything they can afford to spend.

Last year, the team entered into a deal with Time Warner Cable valued at between $7–8 billion over 25 years. By far the richest TV deal in the MLB. That works out to between $280 million and $320 million a year. Figuring that the team has lots of other sources of revenue (such as merchandising and an MLB-leading 3.8 million clicks of the turnstiles in 2014) and you can imagine they could spend quite a bit more than $240 million a year and still turn a tidy profit.

Rival fans want it both way when it comes to the fat Dodgers payroll. One the one hand, derision at spending all that money but not making it out of the divisional series against what, on paper, looked like an inferior opponent. On the other hand, had they won it all, they would have been accused of buying the title al a the Yankees. How can both these things be true? How can a team spending more than $100 million a year less beat them in four games if money was all that mattered? How can the Giants, at about $80 million a year less, advance over their Western Division champions? Either the money is an unfair advantage or it’s a wasteful excess. It can’t be both.

In spending all that money, the Dodgers aren’t doing anything against the rules. It’s not even immoral. It’s what they should do. They have the resources to field the best team in the world and they should. It’s the American Way. They’re in the business of selling entertainment, after all. The more exciting and rewarding, the better. What else should they do with all that money? Why would they limit themselves to some arbitrary cap on payroll? The group that owns the team now says they want nothing less than a World Series title. Not only because that would be the most Dodger fans could hope for but also because it would be very good for the bottom line.

When the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles in 1958, they ceded the potential title of “America’s team” to those they left behind in the East. As TV became ever more important and national networks rose up to air a seemingly uninterrupted stream of Yankees, Red Sox, Braves, and Cubs games (ESPN, TBS, and WGN respectively), those places between the big baseball cities gravitated to the new national baseball brands if for no other reason than the timezones are stacked against a West Coast team (says the guy who stays up way too late watching 9:10 starts). That’s why the majority of fans in places like rural New Mexico and Montana prefer the Yankees and the Red Sox are the favorite team in southwestern Wyoming. This is also why the Yankees and Red Sox logos have become global brands.

The Dodgers aim to put their brand in the same light. They’re starting with a healthy following in Asia and South America already, but if they want to be anywhere near as powerful from a brand perspective as the Yankees, they need to start winning. Winning big.

So, as a life-long fan, I am disappointed in this year’s outcome. But I’m also optimistic because I know this team is on the right trajectory and I know the current owners have deep pockets and lofty goals. Assuming they can target their spending on quality talent that will perform when needed and continue to invest in a robust farm system, it’s only a matter of time. That World Series title it out there. And, I suspect, when it lands, it will be the first of many.