In the film Chinatown, there’s a memorable exchange between private detective Jake Gittes, played by a young Jack Nicholson, and an aging Noah Cross, the monstrous antagonist played with glorious depravity by John Huston. Their conversation, about the excesses of Cross’s wealth, goes like this:
Gittes: How much are you worth? More than 10 million?
Cross: Oh my, yes!
Gittes: Then why are you doing this? How much better can you eat? What can you buy that you can’t already afford?
Cross: The future, Mr. Gittes! The future.
Chinatown was set in Los Angeles. In 1937. Because $10 million, LOL.
In 2012, a group led by Magic Johnson bought the Los Angeles Dodgers for $2.15 billion dollars, doubling the previous highest purchase price of an American sports franchise (Miami Dolphins, $1.1 billion). Less than a year later, the Dodgers reached an agreement with Time Warner for a local television contract worth between $7 and $8 billion (with a “B”) and structured to place much of the income beyond MLB’s revenue sharing policy.
Within a year, the Dodgers have used their giant stack of freshly minted cash to amass a $220 million payroll for 2013 ($95 million in 2012). Other than the Dodgers and Yankees, no team in baseball spends more than $165 million on their players. The Dodgers’ payroll is more than double the Reds’. To put that apparently-not-scandalous gap in perspective, it’s equal to four or five Joey Vottos.
[This might be a good week to reflect on how much effort the higher-ups in MLB expend combating the relatively small unfairness of cheating with PEDs as compared to one organization spending twice or more than another on their players.]
And the Dodgers’ spree is nowhere near finished.
The financial earthquake in LA produced aftershocks across the MLB landscape. Overnight, every baseball owner was substantially wealthier and lucrative regional sports network contracts became a First Amendment right. Within two weeks of the Dodgers’ landmark sale, the Cincinnati Reds signed surprising extensions of $225 million with Joey Votto (which, amazingly, hasn’t started yet) and $72.5 million with Brandon Phillips. That timing was no coincidence.
Noah Cross’s future had arrived in the blink of a Dodger Blue eye.
The Most Difficult Series of the Season
Then: Despite, or possibly because of, their mega-sized payroll, the Los Angeles Dodgers struggled at the start of the 2013 season. Just one month ago, after 72 games, manager Don Mattingly’s team stood at 30-42 and they were dead last in the NL West, 9.5 games behind the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Now: The Dodgers finished 17-5 before the All-Star game. They have won six straight since the break, outscoring the Washington Nationals and the Toronto Blue Jays 47-22. The Dodgers (53-47) return to Chavez Ravine in first place in the NL West, baseball’s weakest division.
The Dodgers aren’t just the best team money can buy — they’re playing like it.
If the Reds don’t show up with their A-plus game this series, they’ll know what Jack Kerouac meant when he wrote that “Los Angeles is the loneliest and most brutal of American cities.”
The Dodgers’ Offense
Through June 1, the Dodgers’ offense was as cold as the foam tops you can get with your $10 beer at Dodger Stadium, scoring the third fewest runs in the NL. Their $100 million offense was mired in slump and injury.
On June 3, they called up a 21-year-old outfielder from Cienfeugos, Cuba named Yasiel Puig from their AA club in Chattanooga. The next day they activated shortstop Hanley Ramirez from the disabled list. And over the last month, the Dodgers have scored the second-most runs in the NL — 41 in the last four games.
[I made it nearly 600 words before the obligatory breathless mention of Puig.]
Stats through Tuesday, including OPS+ which Jason discussed yesterday:
|Carl Crawford||(L)||LF||31||.337||.420||112||5|| 10
|Adrian Gonzalez||(L)||1B||31||.354||.483||96||15||0|| 2.0
You might ask: Where’s Matt Kemp ($20 million), the runner-up to Ryan Braun for the NL MVP in 2011? He missed over a month of games with a strained hamstring and irritated shoulder joint. On Sunday, he returned to the Dodger lineup, promptly homered and doubled, then sprained his ankle. X-Rays were negative, but Kemp was still reassigned to the DL yesterday and will miss the series.
One of the first actions the Dodgers took with their big pile of money was to sign an international player. Yasiel Valdes Puig ($3.7 million) inked a record, $42 million, seven-year contract. On the day of Puig’s signing, Logan White, LA’s assistant general manager in charge of scouting said, channelling his inner Noah Cross: “If you want to play in the game and make the Dodgers great, it’s going to cost money, and it feels great.” Whoever said money can’t buy happiness hasn’t met Mr. White.
Puig hit .391 in his last 150 plate appearances before the All-Star game. His emergence as a phenomenon reminds people of the excitement caused by Manny Ramirez in LA five years ago. Remember MannyWood? Incredibly, the Dodgers are still paying deferred money — $4 million — to Manny this season.
Lost amidst Puigmania has been the spectacular return of Hanley Ramirez ($15.5 million), who had spent a month on the DL with a hamstring injury. Ramirez matched Puig’s torrid start in June, but while July has seen the rookie cool off (.254/.286/.356), the veteran shortstop has remained blazing hot (.400/.466/.738). It’s Ramirez, not Puig, that’s swinging the most dangerous Dodger bat.
The Dodgers’ Starting Pitching
The Reds face two Cy Young winners and three lefties in the series, with particularly eye-popping match-ups in the first two games. Remember that FIP is the most important column in predicting future pitching performances. FBV = fastball velocity.
|Thu 10:10 pm||Mat Latos||3.53||3.11||92.3||.315||9.5||2.9||2.7|
|Fri 10:10 pm||Homer Bailey||3.84||2.81||93.9||.311||9.3||2.2||3.1|
|Clayton Kershaw (L)||2.01||2.58||92.4||.230||8.7||2.1||3.9|
|Sat 9:10 pm||Bronson Arroyo||3.19||4.17||86.9||.255||5.1||1.6||1.0|
|Hyun-Jin Ryu (L)||3.25||3.55||90.5||.294||7.1||3.0||1.7|
|Sun 4:10 pm||Tony Cingrani (L)||3.18||3.97||92.1||.249||10.1||3.7||0.8|
|Chris Capuano (L)||5.03||4.08||88.1||.323||7.2||2.3||0.3|
Zack Greinke ($24 million), winner of the American League Cy Young Award in 2009, was signed by the Dodgers last off-season to a $159 million/6-year contract. He missed a decent chunk of 2013 after suffering a broken collar bone in a fight with the Diamondbacks. Greinke has thoroughly dominated the Reds in six starts, with a 4-0 record. In 42 innings he’s struck out 52 and walked only 9. The Reds are hitting a combined .172 against him.
And that’s not all. Greinke is quietly having the all-time greatest season at the plate for a pitcher (.409/.486/.469). He’s Babe freakin’ Ruth. As a batter, Grienke has walked more than he’s struck out. Zack Greinke’s oWAR is higher than that of the Reds’ shortstops, left fielders and catchers — combined.
Clayton Kershaw ($13 million) may be the most dominant pitcher in baseball. Since he’s a Dodger, that means he’s about to become extremely wealthy. Kershaw is reportedly negotiating a contract extension that may reach $300 million, the richest in the history of the sport. It might be money well spent.
Kershaw won the Cy Young award in 2011 and finished second last season. Only the Cardinals’ Adam Wainwright stands in the way of Kershaw winning in 2013. And
Koufax Kershaw is the same age as Mike Leake and Mat Latos.
Kershaw’s pitch portfolio includes a curveball that has been called the dirtiest curve in baseball and compared to a whiffleball pitch. According to the pitch trackers at FanGraphs, Kershaw has thrown his curveball just under 2,000 times in a major league game without giving up a home run on it. By comparison, Bronson Arroyo has thrown about 3,800 curve balls since 2007 (when pitch tracking began) and surrendered 40 homers on those pitches.
Kershaw’s one career win and loss against the Reds came in 2010. If both Kershaw and Homer Bailey are pitching well, the match-up could be a classic. Dusty Baker will play it so tight he’ll order sacrifice bunts with no one on base.
Hyun-Jin Ryu ($3.33 million ) is a 26-year-old, rookie, left handed pitcher from South Korea. In December, the Dodgers signed him to a $36 million/6-year contract. They also paid a $25.7 million fee just for the right to negotiate with him. He pitched seven years for the Hanwha Eagles in the Korean Baseball Organization, where he had a 2.80 ERA.
Chris Capuano ($6 million), like Zack Greinke, used to pitch for the Milwaukee Brewers. The Reds have faced the 34-year-old lefty thirteen times with a reasonable degree of success. Capuano has started 12 times this season and given up five runs or more in five of them.
The Dodgers’ Bullpen
Overshadowed, like everything else, by Yasiel Puig’s exploits has been the recent effectiveness of the Dodger bullpen. Mattingly started the season with Brandon League ($5.5 million) as their closer. League (4.5 K/9) blew four saves in seventeen opportunities and was replaced on June 12 by Kenley Jansen (12.6 K/9), who has remained LA’s closer.
Since the switch in ninth inning responsibilities, the Dodgers’ bullpen has been outstanding. Ronald Belasario and Paco Rodriguez (L) generally handle the seventh and eighth. Chris Withrow and Jose Dominguez have power arms that get important outs. Dominguez has an average fastball velocity of 98.5, which puts him ahead of Aroldis Chapman (97.9). J.P. Howell (L) is the lefty-on-lefty specialist.
Dominguez went on the disabled list on Tuesday and the Dodgers called up Carlos Agustin Marmol (yes, that Carlos Marmol) from their AA club in Chattanooga. Meet the new Marmol, same as the old Marmol. In his first relief appearance for the Dodgers, he gave up four hits, a walk and three earned run.