Tuesday, October 4 2022
Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman celebrates after winning Game 6 of baseball's National League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers Sunday, Oct. 24, 2021, in Atlanta. The Braves defeated the Dodgers 4-2 to win the series. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
Freddie Freeman reacts after the Atlanta Braves defeated the Dodgers in Game 6 to win the 2021 National League Championship Series. (Brynn Anderson / Associated Press)

The Dodgers sign Freddie Freeman, and all of a sudden disgruntled fans of other teams are channeling their inner Russ Hodges: The Dodgers buy the pennant! The Dodgers buy the pennant!

Please consider this a reminder to direct your objections to the proper source.

In Oakland, where beleaguered but spirited fans organized their own fan festival last Saturday, a pair of cleats signed by star pitcher Chris Bassitt was raffled off. Within minutes, the Athletics had raffled off Bassitt himself. Within days, they had raffled off Matt Chapman and Matt Olson too. Sean Manaea and Frankie Montas might have been traded between the time I wrote these words and the time you read them.

In Chicago, where Cubs owner Tom Ricketts has entered the bidding for the storied Chelsea club in the English Premier League, a spokesman whispered sweet nothings to the British media about how Ricketts understands “the importance of investing for success.” Pick your emoji, Cubs fans, for your team — Ricketts’ team — is projected to have a below-average major league payroll this season and finish below the self-destructing Cincinnati Reds in the National League Central.

The Dodgers want to win. You got a problem with that? Take it up with your owner, not ours.

What makes the Freeman deal fascinating is that, for the third consecutive year, the Dodgers have veered from their standard course, the one defined by the analytical buzzword of “sustainability.”

For the first seven years under Mark Walter’s ownership, the Dodgers declined to go “all-in” to win in a given year, preserving capital in dollars and prospects for the chance to win every year. They won the NL West every year. They never won the World Series.

In 2020, they went all-in. They traded for Mookie Betts, surrendering two top prospects and awarding Betts with a contract extension worth $365 million. In the six years he had run the Dodgers’ baseball operations, Andrew Friedman never had signed anyone for even $100 million.

The Dodgers won the World Series.

In 2021, they went all-in again, this time with Trevor Bauer, for $102 million over three years. Bauer did not pitch in the second half of the season amid investigations into allegations of sexual assault, and his time with the Dodgers might already be done.

The Dodgers did not win the World Series.

In 2022, they have gone all-in again, this time with Freeman, for $162 million. The last time a Southland team imported a marquee first baseman on a free-agent contract starting with his age-32 season, the team was the Angels, and the player was Albert Pujols. There are no guarantees.

The Dodgers used to shudder at the thought of signing a player to a long-term contract that extended into his late 30s. That was in part how Friedman used to win with the Tampa Bay Rays: bloated contracts for aging players hampered the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees and opened a door to contention for him. The door was labeled “financial flexibility.”

Betts will be 39 when his contract expires. Freeman will be 38.

“We’re fortunate to have a number of guys on the higher end of the salary scale,” Friedman once told me. “It’s important for large-revenue teams to space those out as much as you can. We’re afforded the luxury of having a number of them. It’s a great benefit. But, if you are too flippant about it, it can become a real liability.”

Beyond Betts and Freeman, the only player under contract after next season is Chris Taylor.

Dodgers' Mookie Betts, left, rounds first after hitting the go-ahead RBI double.Dodgers' Mookie Betts, left, rounds first after hitting the go-ahead RBI double.

After signing a $365-million contract extension with the Dodgers, Mookie Betts helped them win the 2020 World Series. (Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

Walker Buehler, Dustin May and Will Smith are under team control through at least 2024. The Dodgers’ minor league system is ranked as the best in baseball by Keith Law of the Athletic. Perhaps sustainability and financial flexibility still remain.

And credit where credit is due: Walter could have said, “Hey, let’s wait for the league to resolve the Bauer situation, and then let’s see where we are financially.”

That would not have been fair to the Dodgers players, who would have been hampered on the field by a situation out of their control, or to the Dodgers fans. The Dodgers are better today, before the new season starts, and before the Bauer investigation ends.

To all those disgruntled fans around the country: Over the last 20 years, the team with the highest payroll missed the playoffs in more years (three) than won the World Series (two).

In six of those 20 years, the World Series champion was a wild-card team. Starting this year, two wild-card teams have been added to the playoff field, meaning the champion will have to navigate a 12-team tournament, not a 10-team tournament.

That could make it more likely that teams follow the old Billy Beane motto: the playoffs are a crapshoot. Just get in, and hope the random nature of luck and a short series favors your team.

The Dodgers could have done that. They do not need Freeman to get into the playoffs. Even before they signed him, the Baseball Prospectus and Fangraphs projection systems pegged the Dodgers as the best team in the major leagues.

No, this is an all-in move, again. The Dodgers have a better chance to win the World Series today than they did yesterday. From a city still awaiting its first World Series championship parade since 1988, to an owner playing to win, thank you.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

Source: Yahoo Sports

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