Is Dodgers Ownership Committed to Winning a World Series?

It’s a fair question. Dodgers fans watched the team’s payroll go from $291 million at the end of the 2015 season to just $187 million on Opening Day of 2018. Despite free agent classes that have included Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Aroldis Chapman and a Marlins team was willing to trade away the reigning NL MVP, Giancarlo Stanton for virtually nothing but salary relief, the Dodgers have shied away from committing anything more than 4 years to any new players. They are not willing to commit the big money it takes to add players of that caliber, with that recognition.

For years, fans have questioned the moves the front office has made, but wishfully held on to their blind faith that a pricey free agent is headed to Los Angeles. They have been left waiting for the next offseason, seemingly trapped in a never-ending cycle of disappointment. “It’s okay, they are waiting to sign Harper next offseason.” “It’s fine, Arenado is going to be a free agent next year.” “Mike Trout’s contract is up in two years.” “Does anybody know when Bregman becomes a free agent?”

Dodgers fans, stop. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but this team WILL NOT be in the market for marquee free agents. This organization has no interest in emulating the model of the 2000s Yankees. Andrew Friedman was hired back in 2014 because of his success in a small market with budget constraints. They are a moneyball organization following the model of the 2002 Oakland A’s and 2008 Tampa Bay Rays (Friedman’s former team).

Back in 2012, the Guggenheim Partners purchased the Los Angeles Dodgers, effectively ending the disastrous Frank McCourt era. In hindsight, no matter what side of the aisle you’re on, it is undeniable that the Dodgers are in better hands now. At the time of the purchase, the Magic Johnson faced group was worshiped by Dodgers fans that watched their team fall out of contention and become further detached from classic, championship baseball. The new owners represented stability that was not going to let a divorce rob the fans of their team, which was certainly an upgrade.

Not even a full season into their tenure as owners, they oversaw a massive trade in which the Boston Red Sox sent Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett and Nick Punto to Los Angeles. Months after the trade, the Dodgers signed Zack Greinke, solidifying their rotation through adding another ace to compliment Clayton Kershaw atop the rotation. The following year, 2013, resulted in a division championship, the first in a string of 6 consecutive and still counting. Fans had bought into the team as evidenced by their league leading attendance. For the first time in since the O’Malley family, Dodgers fans finally felt secure. Dodgers fans believed that they had owners who loved the city, the team and most importantly, the fans themselves.

This naive, short-lived dream came to an end on February 25, 2014. On that date, the new home of Dodgers baseball and all Dodgers related coverage, Sportsnet LA launched. Professional sports teams’ television contracts come to an end, just like player contracts. As a result, the organization is then responsible to either work out a new contract with the network or they may be enamored by an offer from another network and chose to sign a contract with them. At least that is how it was since the beginning of regular broadcasting of professional sporting events. The Yankees were the first team to buck this trend with the formation of their own network “YES”. Years later, the Lakers followed suit, with the formation of Time Warner Cable Sportsnet (now Spectrum Sportsnet). Luckily for the fans of those teams, they are able to watch the games, as they all have deals with most every cable and satellite provider.

Unfortunately for most Dodgers fans, this is not the case. Five years after the network launched and Dodgers games are still unavailable on most service providers. If you live in Los Angeles and are not a customer of Spectrum, the only time you’ll be watching Dodgers games is during national telecasts on FOX or ESPN. For years now, fans and writers have argued who is responsible for this lockout; the most popular culprits are Spectrum (the provider who owns the rights to the channel) and other service providers like Directv, Frontier and Cox (the providers who will not agree to Spectrum’s terms). However, the real culprits of this mess never seem to get the blame placed upon them. And that would be the the Guggenheim Partners, the ownership group of the Dodgers.

Fox Sports Prime Ticket, the Dodgers broadcasting network for years would have gleefully agreed to terms to continue airing Dodgers games. Every service provider in the Los Angeles area has Prime Ticket and fans would still be able to watch the games. Time Warner Cable (now Spectrum) offered the Dodgers an $8.35 billion record breaking deal, over 25 years though. Clearly, nobody else was willing to offer the Guggenheim Partners this, and like any intelligent, heartless business person would accept the most profitable offer, even in spite of hurt feelings. That is exactly what Guggenheim did, they accepted the best offer, betraying the loyalty of fans who had just rewarded them with league leading attendance numbers. And you better believe they did this, knowing full well the volatile nature between service providers and their competition with each other. They agreed to this TV deal with the knowledge that Dodgers games would not be available to many fans, likely for the duration of the 25 year agreement.

Being the loyal fanbase they are, Dodgers fans accepted the reality of the TV deal. Some even went as far as switching their TV provider to Spectrum, just so they could watch their favorite team play baseball. The belief was that since the Dodgers had struck this mega TV deal, it would actually benefit the fans at the stadium. The fans had rationalized that with the new found $8.35 billion, the team would pay back the fans and that they would use the money in order to be major players on the free agent market.

It makes sense of course, due to the fact MLB does not have a salary cap. Seriously, just a luxury tax. But hey, who cares about paying a little extra cash? The Dodgers surely shouldn’t, they did just strike an $8.35 billion TV deal after all, right?

Wrong. Following that season, the Dodgers hired the young numbers wiz, Andrew Friedman to be the man in charge of baseball operations. Anybody who knows Friedman’s history knows that he is a student of moneyball, the philosophy employed by the Oakland A’s and numerous small market low budget organizations. It has been quite successful after all, as there has been a rise in number of small market success in the MLB. One problem though, Los Angeles is not a small market, in fact it is the biggest in the country in right behind New York. Nevertheless, the Dodgers payroll has continued to shrink, with every passing year, as more high price players leave and none get signed to the roster.

Dodgers fans finally began to show their frustrations last year. Coming off an incredible 2017, in which the Dodgers nearly won their first world series since 1988, fans expected the Dodgers to put the pedal to the metal and splurge a little bit. After all, a teams window to win a championship is not wide open forever, as evidenced by teams like the Kansas City Royals. Following a World Series defeat, not only Dodgers fans but everybody who knows baseball in the slightest was well aware of this. The offseason came with big trade candidates and free agents as readily available as ever. A team like the Dodgers certainly has the financial and prospect capital to pull the trigger on a deal.

You all remember of course, many other teams upgraded over that offseason, through free agent signings or a Miami Marlins fire sale that gave up prized stars like Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna.

One team that didn’t capitalize on this offseason? The Dodgers. Not only did they not capitalize on that winter’s best available players, they actually lost players to free agency. They did not improve the team in any way, shape or form. They did get under the luxury tax however, for the first time in quite a while. To be fair, it does make sense, they had been over the luxury tax threshold for years, accumulating more debt that they had to pay off every season. For the first time, in 2018, they were tax free, resetting the luxury tax.

Many fans even supported the moves (or lack there of), praising management. Of course it was no secret that the Harper-Machado headlined offseason of 2018 was right around the corner and the thought was that the team was going to be patient in order to bring in a generational talent. The thought among fans was that the Dodgers were simply waiting to make a big splash, push all the chips to the center and win right now.

Well, the time has come and I am afraid it has passed. Once again. Following a second (and much more humiliating) defeat in the World Series, this current group of championship caliber talent is not getting any younger and certainly is not getting any cheaper. If ever there was a time for the Dodgers to go all in and take advantage of the current status of the franchise, it would be now.

But they are not going to splurge, in fact they are going to do the exact same thing they did last year. They are going to stay under the luxury tax threshold once again. And they will do the same thing next year, the year after that, they year after that and so on.

Here is the truth, Guggenheim Partners is an incredibly large, global investment and advisory firm that invests in many different business ventures all throughout the world. Professional sports teams in cities like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago are immensely expensive, regular fans and families are incapable of purchasing such a thing. Wealthy conglomerates are however, and as any entrepreneur knows, to make big money, you have to spend big money. To make profits, you have to be willing to put up unthinkably large amounts of financial capital. And that they did.

Essentially, what I am telling you, is that when Dodgers fans see Dodger Stadium, when they smell the garlic fries, when they sit down at their seat on a warm summer night with and see their favorite team in the timeless, classic white uniforms play the child’s game in front of the San Gabriel Mountains, there is a special connection. Dodgers fans can recount going to Chavez Ravine with their family as a young child, growing up on the hill, every year waiting for a championship. It is an emotional attachment, something that throughout adolescence and adulthood, never leaves you. It is one of the first bonds you form, a love of something grander than yourself. A love that no matter how much your patience is tried, will always be buried deep inside the heart.

When the Guggenheim Partners see the Dodgers, they see $$$. If that was not clear back in 2014 when they sold their rights away to Spectrum than it should crystal clear after this weekend. In an interview with Dylan Hernandez, Dodgers President and Guggenheim Partner Stan Kasten essentially took an arrow and shot it through the hearts of Dodgers fans. He was not coy when he frustratingly admitted that he and his ownership group are concerned about one thing and one thing only, your money.

Kasten arrogantly told Hernandez at Dodgers Fan Fest (an event in which fans are supposed to be shown appreciation and love), “[W]e’re going to lead the National League in attendance again. You’re inventing a different universe that is not borne out by reality, by facts.” Essentially what Kasten is saying is that he and the bigwigs of the Dodgers are well aware that whether or not they put out the best team possible, fans will still come to the games.

From a business standpoint, the logic is flawless. Why spend more to manufacture a product that will satisfy the consumer more, if they are going to consume it either way. It is much more efficient to produce something cheaper, maximize profits and get investors to buy into the company, as they will maximize on profits as well. Remember that leaked document from a few months ago for potential Dodgers investors? Remember how it indicated the team was planning to stay under the luxury tax threshold? It sure appears as though that document is becoming a reality now, doesn’t it.

Winning is nothing more than a profitable byproduct in the business world of sports nowadays. Of course, if the Dodgers were to consistently miss the postseason and be a losing team, attendance and revenues would suffer. But in a city like Los Angeles, if the team is playing good baseball, people are going to the games, buying merchandise, spending money, the investors sleep well. After all, what is really the financial incentive to spend more money to increase the chances of being better, if profits are already so high?

I am a Dodgers fan, I am the kid who has gone to ballgames my entire life. I am the fan who has eaten my fair share of garlic fries and Dodger dogs. Early mornings at the practice fields in March at Spring Training to late October nights in Los Angeles, as I cheer on the Dodgers to win that illustrious World Series, like a hopeless romantic wishing to find love. I know this because I am a fan, I feel your pain Dodgers fans because I am that kid you have high-fived at the ballpark when Dodgers hit a go ahead or walkoff home run. And we are all sharing this experience together.

However, I accept the Dodgers for what they are. The Dodgers are a team with the most intelligent front office in baseball, a world class coaching staff, loads of young talent, veteran leadership and an ownership group with a focus on profits first and winning a World Series second. They are not the like the Boston Red Sox, willing to spend above and beyond the luxury tax threshold to bring home a title. And that is fine, I accept them for what they are. I understand the business side of baseball and do not take it personally. The business world is a harsh world and as the old adage goes “Nothing personal, it’s just business”.

Ian Nielson has served as a writer and contributor for @DodgersLowDown since 2018. Follow him on twitter @inielson23