Though the Dodgers have been linked to several big names in both trade rumors and free agency, it’s been a pretty quiet offseason at Chavez Ravine, with the club’s one-year, $10MM deal with Blake Treinen standing out as the biggest move of note. The lack of action to date hasn’t sat well with many fans and pundits, including Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times, though Dodgers president and CEO Stan Kasten strongly defended his club’s strategies in a recent phone conversation with Plaschke.
As one might expect, Kasten took issue with what he described as “the L.A. Times’ characterization that everyone hates us,” which he felt was incorrect given strong attendance numbers. While “for sure there are some fans…and a lot of people in the Twitterverse” who are critical of the Dodgers’ decisions, “based on the fans that support us…including this coming year…incredibly strong support and ticket sales…you keep trying to convince yourself that everyone hates us. I just think you’re wrong.”
Kasten denied that the Dodgers were in any way limited by payroll considerations, or lacked full commitment to winning their first World Series since 1988, saying “we really need” to capture that elusive title.
“There are metrics in business that are mostly private that we look at, and I’d say we feel successful there,” Kasten said. “But there’s no question that all of us who are competitive, from every owner that has a piece of the team to the junior people in the front office, we’re laser-focused on winning the World Series….It’s obviously not about what you spend, it is about the moves you make, the decisions you make. I think questioning those things, criticizing those things, that’s absolutely fair. But just to say there’s a [payroll] number you need to hit and if you don’t hit it you’re not trying, that’s just silly.”
To that end, Kasten noted that the Dodgers were fourth in spending last season, and are likely to be beyond the $208MM Competitive Balance Tax threshold by season’s end. Roster Resource’s Jason Martinez estimates that L.A. has a current luxury tax number of just under $189MM, though “the team we have now is not going to be the team we have to start the postseason,” Kasten said. “I expect that team, this year, it looks like it’s going to be well over the CBT, or somewhat over.”
The types of larger-salaried players who would boost a CBT number could come sooner rather than later, as Kasten said “there are guys that we think could be difference makers and we have pursued them, we are continuing to pursue them, when there is an opportunity we will certainly jump at it.” One of the players who was on the Dodgers’ radar earlier this winter was Gerrit Cole, though Kasten doesn’t believe Cole shared that interest in coming to L.A., no matter the dollars involved. Cole joined the Yankees on the largest contract ever given to a pitcher — a nine-year, $324MM deal.
“It is clear now, I think it was clear to us in the middle of the process, he wanted to be a Yankee, he just did,” Kasten said. “In retrospect, I think we were just the stalking horse to get a number he finally could get from a team he wanted to go to. I don’t have any quibble with his approach…it was all very fair, but he wants to be somewhere, he got a lot of money to be where he wanted to be.”
Whether adding a particular star player is necessarily the right move to finally put Los Angeles over the top in a World Series, however, is far from a certainty. Kasten points out that recent postseason heroes Daniel Hudson (with the Nationals in 2019) and Steve Pearce (with the Red Sox in 2019) were unheralded additions to their respective teams.
This strikes to the heart of the debate between Kasten and Plaschke, as the latter is concerned that the Dodgers’ focus on sustained success will keep the team from making a direct and concentrated push to end the championship drought in any one given year. Kasten, by contrast, feels that the team’s approach allows it to be in the hunt every season.
“We won 106 games and came a couple of outs away from beating the team that won the World Series, that doesn’t suggest to me a system that needs to be completely torn apart,” Kasten said. “What about the renewed pipeline, the old Dodger value of a player pipeline that I think we’ve had a reasonable amount of success at rebuilding? How about the kids that are homegrown Dodgers? We have a payroll of $200 million. How can you call us cheap? It blows my mind.“