- Sure, the Dodgers fell just short of the ultimate goal in 2017. And sure, they have a lot of money. But it takes more than money to accomplish what they've done with their roster. It takes the best front office in sports.
With apologies to the Houston Astros—who would be receiving this award had they not been so extensively feted elsewhere within the SI and Sportsperson universes—the Los Angeles Dodgers are the deserved recipients of our nod for Front Office of the Year. The 2017 club finished with a 104–58 regular-season record and the National League pennant, and excepting a stretch from late August to late September, these Dodgers were among the most dazzling teams in recent memory. (41-10 in June and July, that sort of thing.) They allowed by far the fewest runs of any team in the National League and scored the sixth-most. Their pitchers had the fewest walks in the NL; their hitters had the most.
What makes the Dodgers' roster-building achievements so commendable is that none of their biggest contributors arrived via no-brainer. The Golden State Warriors won a title after signing Kevin Durant. Surely the acquisition must have posed some sort of challenge to team executives, but the team gets no creativity points for the bold strategem of acquiring one of the best scorers in NBA history in the prime of his career.
The Dodgers, though? Consider their most valuable players by wins above replacement (according to Baseball Reference). First was Justin Turner (re-signed as a free agent before 2017, though L.A. found him on the scrap heap with a re-tooled swing before the 2014 season, after the Mets non-tendered him). Second was Corey Seager, whom the Dodgers in 2012 picked not first overall (Carlos Correa) or second (Byron Buxton) but eighteenth, long after the baseball draft's closest equivalents to sure things have already gone. Third, Clayton Kershaw. The Dodgers extended him for a fortune before the 2014 season, but he too was their find, at No. 7 overall in the 2006 draft. Fourth was Chris Taylor, winner of the NLCS MVP. The Dodgers nabbed Taylor from the Mariners in 2016 for a spare part, starter Zach Lee. Lee is now a free agent. Taylor had an .850 OPS playing solid defense between the outfield and middle infield. Fifth was Cody Bellinger, who won rookie of the year and finished ninth in MVP voting. The Dodgers found him in the fourth round of the 2013 draft, and built him into the superlative power hitter he is.
You could go on. Brandon Morrow, who became the team's top setup man, signed for a pittance this spring and was initially sent to the minors, as he hadn't had a healthy season in ages. Austin Barnes, who had a breakout season, OPSing .895 while platooning at catcher with Yasmani Grandal, had been plucked years ago from the Marlins' minor-league system.
Baseball operations president Andrew Friedman, general manager Farhan Zaidi, and vice president of baseball operations Josh Byrnes built a juggernaut with strengths everywhere and hardly any holes. (OK, maybe first base when Bellinger wasn't playing.) Perhaps the nastiest thing one could say about this front office's performance is that they swung a deadline deal for the wrong big-game righty starter. Had Yu Darvish landed on the Astros and Justin Verlander on the Dodgers—Verlander, it's worth recalling here, wanted to be traded to L.A. midseason—we'd be telling an even more triumphal story. Still, this season was a success in need of no qualifier.
You wanna talk about the money? OK, let’s talk about the money. Spotrac indicates a 2017 Dodgers payroll of $265 million, on the heels of a 2016 payroll of $279 million, and a 2015 payroll of $306 million. The Dodgers teams assembled over the last four seasons are the most expensive clubs in history. They buried Gonzalez and Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett and survived injuries to Andre Ethier and at various points nearly a half-dozen high-dollar starting pitchers. Two different failed Cuban defectors took up dead money on their payroll. This team has made more bad contracts disappear than the shredder at 725 Fifth Avenue.
The money does make everything easier—it doubles or triples the prevailing margin for error, allowing the team to sequester failures in the minors or on other franchises’ rosters—but money alone doesn’t win games. Give the Mets a fortune and they're still the Mets. Or look southeast, toward Anaheim: What money alone gets you is a 37-year-old Albert Pujols and an 80-82 record. Money doesn’t graduate back-to-back Rookies of the Year. Money doesn't find Justin Turner and Chris Taylor. No—the best front office in sports does.