The Los Angeles Dodgers can learn from what they see across the field this week as they renew a rivalry with the New York Yankees, the team they will probably overtake for Major League Baseball’s highest payroll in 2014.
Sold to Guggenheim Baseball Management last year for a record $2.15 billion, the Dodgers’ payroll increased 128 percent to $216.6 million this season. Los Angeles, which opened the season as the betting favorite to lead the National League in wins, is last in the NL West.
The spending spree is an attempt to reinvent the franchise under the “old Yankees model,” according to Wayne McDonnell, an assistant professor of sports management at New York University. New York’s front office says it intends to cut salaries next season to the team’s lowest level since 2004, after having baseball’s highest payroll for the past 15 years.
“We’re seeing now that big, long-term contracts may not be as important to success as a sound organizational structure and the development of a farm system,” McDonnell said in a telephone interview. “The Yankees were a little bit late to that and I think the Dodgers right now believe that with excess revenue from a new television deal and people buying back into the brand, they are going to right the ship quickly.”
The Dodgers (29-39) and manager Don Mattingly visit Yankee Stadium tomorrow night to open a two-game series, their first time playing in the Bronx since the 1981 World Series. That postseason matchup, won by the Dodgers, capped a five-year stretch in which the teams played three times for baseball’s championship. They’ve met 11 times in the World Series, more than any other two teams, with the Yankees holding an 8-3 lead. The Dodgers played in New York City’s Brooklyn borough before moving to Los Angeles for the 1958 season.
Since 1981, baseball has had 19 different champions, more than any other major North American team sport. John Smoltz, an eight-time All-Star pitcher and current analyst for MLB Network, said that’s a sign that the model of blind spending, adopted more than a decade ago by the Yankees and now the Dodgers, doesn’t guarantee titles.
“When you try to put together a team as quickly as the Dodgers have, you run the risk of overpaying,” said Smoltz, who is calling tomorrow night’s game for MLB Network.
The Yankees had baseball’s highest payroll every year since 1999, including an opening-day record of $228.8 million this season, according to a USA Today’s salary database. Owner Hal Steinbrenner has announced his intention to bring the team below $189 million, a level it has eclipsed for nine straight seasons, in order to avoid baseball’s luxury tax payments in 2014.
McDonnell, who created the “Business of Baseball” course at NYU, said that the Yankees’ new approach marks a philosophical change for the organization that the Dodgers can learn from.
“The Yankees could offer some advice to the Dodgers by saying, ‘Be careful how you spend your money because it may come back and haunt you,’” he said.
The Yankees have made the playoffs in 14 of the 15 complete seasons since 1999. The Dodgers have made the postseason four times in that span.
Dodgers President Stan Kasten said in an e-mail that the franchise’s plan is to build around scouting and player development, particularly internationally.
“Those results take years, so in the meantime we pursued players that could also help us right now,” he said.
The Dodgers have spent more than $600 million on player acquisitions since Guggenheim took over in March 2012, what Smoltz called “Yankee-type money.” The jump in payroll from $95.1 million in 2012 comes as the team may keep $6 billion over the length of its TV deal with Time Warner Cable, according to the Los Angeles Times. The agreement hasn’t been announced.
The team’s sale and TV package have the Dodgers valued at $1.62 billion, second behind the Yankees at $2.3 billion, according to Forbes magazine. The spending by Los Angeles will probably also result in baseball’s highest payroll next year, according to ESPN analyst Aaron Boone.
“They’ve made no secret that they’re going to do anything and everything to put a winning team out there,” Boone, who played 12 MLB seasons, said in a telephone interview. “I would expect that that will continue.”
The Dodgers have battled injuries and underperformance so far in 2013. The team has 11 players on the disabled list, including All-Stars Matt Kemp, Hanley Ramirez and Carl Crawford. The pitching rotation, which Smoltz said looked like the best in baseball in the offseason, has gone through nine different starters, second most in the NL.
The Yankees opened the season with nine players on the disabled list, including Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson, Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira and Phil Hughes, who have a combined 33 All-Star appearances. Unlike the Dodgers, Yankees role players have stepped up, Boone said, and the team is three games out of first place in the AL East after leading the division for three weeks.
“Guys like Vernon Wells, Lyle Overbay and Travis Hafner have all driven in big runs for this team,” said Boone, who hit the pennant-clinching home run for the Yankees against the Boston Red Sox in 2003. “People questioned where the offense would come from, but those guys, for the first couple months of the season, were very productive and the team was pitching very well.”
The Yankees have played three-game series in Dodger Stadium twice since the 1981 World Series. Los Angeles won twice in 2004 and New York won twice in 2010.
Tonight also marks the Yankee Stadium return for Mattingly, who spent his entire 14-year playing career in New York. His No. 23 is retired in Yankee Stadium’s Monument Park.
“The Yankees-Dodger rivalry has had a profound impact on baseball dating back to the 1940s,” said McDonnell, who bought tickets to tomorrow night’s game. “The tradition of the game is so well preserved when those two teams get together.”
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