In my dream – before the season-altering COVID-19 pandemic, that is – there’s a parade followed shortly by a press conference during which someone signs an historically big check.
These two events are, of course, linked. If the Dodgers blockbuster offseason trade for Mookie Betts works out as planned, then Betts proves to be the catalyst that inspires the team’s 2020 World Series run, breaking the team’s 31-year championship drought. Buoyed by the thanks of a grateful Dodgers nation, Andrew Friedman backs up the truck and offers Betts – a free agent after the 2020 season – the sun, moon and stars to remain in Dodger blue. An L.A.-smitten Betts signs for…I don’t know, let’s say 12 years and $425 million.
Now, the scenario just outlined proves I’m a permanent resident of Fantasy Island. For one simple reason: Friedman does not write those kinds of big free agent checks. He didn’t write them when he ran the Rays. He hasn’t written them since coming over to the far more financially-stable Dodgers and he probably never will. I’m not saying he never spends, but when he does, it’s usually to hang on to existing free agents. So a few years for Justin Turner here, an extension for Kenley Jansen and Rich Hill there, a qualifying offer to Hyun-Jin Ryu and Friedman’s off-season work is largely done. But a contract of more than six years or $150 million? Not under this regime.
And honestly, why should he? Between the development of a farm system that seems to produce a new stud and some key role players every year, discovering found gold in guys such as Max Muncy and Chris Taylor, mid-season trades for guys like Manny Machado, Yu Darvish or Chase Utley, Friedman probably figures, “why break the bank on one player when we can win with the bank intact?”
He wouldn’t be wrong. One of these years (hopefully 2020, if there is a season), all of the pieces will fit, the team will avoid key injuries, the Dodgers will blow away the rest of the National League West and find success in the World Series. Dave Roberts will not insert Clayton Kershaw or Jansen in a key late-inning situation during the playoffs and the Dodgers will finally have that piece of metal – er, Commissioner’s Trophy – that the city has been craving since Ronald Reagan was in the White House.
Let’s face it; even if Mookie Betts has another MVP year, if the Dodgers are to win the World Series championship, it won’t be because one player puts them over the top. Baseball doesn’t work that way and the Dodgers aren’t built that way.
Over the past couple of years every time a player has signed a mega-deal with another club, I have shaken my head and said, “yeah, the Dodgers are wayyyy too smart to ever do that.” Chris Sale (for five years at $145 million)? Are you kidding me? Bryce Harper (for 13 years, $330 million), Machado (10 years $300 million), puh-lease.
There are exceptions. If Nolan Arenado had made it to free agency and Friedman had ponied up the $260 million for five years it would have taken to lock him down, I wouldn’t have griped. And Mike Trout is a bargain at any price, even 12 years/$426 million, although truthfully, why Arte Moreno was willing to extend Trout after the Albert Pujols albatross of a deal is anyone’s guess. Then he goes and drops another $245 million on Anthony Rendon.
Apart from extending Kershaw (because how could he not?) and giving multi-year deals to Turner (smart move), Jansen (less smart) and A.J. Pollock (not smart), Friedman has been pretty careful with the team’s money in the free agent market. (He’ll take on lengthy/bad contracts of players from other teams, but that’s another story.) Los Angeles was rumored to be in the hunt for Bryce Harper and Gerrit Cole when they were available in November of 2018 and 2019, respectively. They signed neither man.
What Friedman’s strategy invariably means, however, is that Los Angeles will probably not see another superstar who wears a Dodger uniform his entire career. Betts – who wouldn’t be a Dodger for life, anyway – wants something in the $400 million range. He’ll probably get it, but not from the Dodgers.
So what’s gonna happens a few years down the line when the team's homegrown talent, such as Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager, Walker Buehler or Gavin Lux get to free agency? If Friedman is still running the team, these players will likely change uniforms. And they’ll be replaced in the lineup by a crop of new young players many of us haven’t of yet. And as long as the team keep winning, maybe that will be OK. Championships trump sentimentality, particularly if the team can keep ticket prices affordable.
Which most likely means that three or four years from now, Clayton Kershaw will call it a career. Five years later, he will enter the Hall of Fame and the Dodgers will retire his number 22. And that will be the last player to wear Dodger blue for life for a very long time.