The last time the Yankees didn't have the top payroll in baseball, it was 1998. The Orioles were the biggest spenders in baseball, with a whopping $71 million payroll. Hey, Scott Kamieniecki and Chris Hoiles didn't come cheap. But since then, it's been all Yankees.
So it's something of a big deal that the Dodgers are #1 now. They blew past the Yankees just months after the ownership change, more than doubling their payroll (which was already 12th biggest in baseball). It's an exciting time to be a Dodgers fan, for sure. A core of Zack Greinke, Matt Kemp, and Clayton Kershaw matches up well with an ownership group that doesn't give a damn. When Dodger fans read things like this, it has to be hard for them not to get giddy:
(Team president Stan Kasten and CEO Mark Walter) believe the Dodgers will become a dynasty, and when asked whether it's possible for anyone to duplicate the Atlanta Braves' era when they won 14 consecutive division titles with Kasten as president, they weren't shy.
"It's going to be done again," Walter said, "this time on the West Coast. Oh, sorry."
That's bravado, but it's not false bravado. It's backed up with a hyperactive willingness to spend and fix perceived problems. They're a long way from duct-taping Juan Uribe to a roster and calling it an off-season. The Dodgers are scary.
Allow me to concern-troll just a bit, though. In that Bob Nightengale article, there are more quotes:
"There was a point when the Colorado Rockies were on the verge of having the worst pitching staff in the history of Major League Baseball," Walter said. "We couldn't score off them. I was like, 'Really? So what does that say? They're the worst pitchers, and we can't hit them, so that makes us the worst batters?'
It's an innocuous quote on the surface, and I can answer the rhetorical question if they want. No, it didn't say anything about the Dodgers. It might have been part of a larger problem that needed to be fixed, but in isolation, the Rockies shutting down the Dodgers didn't have to mean anything.
You know who would say something like that, though? A fan. Suddenly, the confidence and eagerness of the new ownership makes even more sense. They're fans. A healthy part of the Dodgers' ownership group, including their CEO, consists of fans who fume and celebrate like the rest of us. And that wouldn't automatically be a good thing.
That stray Orioles mention up there? Peter Angelos was a fan when the Orioles were riding high. A superfan. And he couldn't stop tinkering. I know my summers are better because of Angelos's meddling, because I get to listen to Jon Miller whenever I turn on the radio, so it's not like meddling is all bad. But it usually is. It took years and years for the Orioles to be relevant again.
The Marlins fiasco? That's all because Jeffrey Loria is a fan. It's far, far worse than him just being disinterested and greedy. He influenced day-to-day operations because he was reacting like a fan.
Dan Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins, is a fan. He's willing to spend, and I won't get too much into the football here, but it hasn't worked out. The Redskins haven't done much of anything over the past two decades.
Fans are generally terrible decision-makers. They're impulsive and short-sighted. If I'd been an owner in 2009, I would have traded Barry Zito to the Washington Generals, even if all that meant was that I was going to pay an extra few million to get a fifth starter who wasn't much better. I would have signed Nick Johnson to a 15-year deal. There's no telling what stupid things I would have done.
Fans don't want to hear about how the Braves and Yankees were actually built -- equal measures of smarts, resources, and serendipity. Three Hall of Fame pitchers all in their prime, and all (with the occasional exception of John Smoltz) of them staying healthy? Not only developing players like Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, and Andy Pettitte, but having them all stay healthy and defy the standard aging curves? Those aren't the kinds of gifts a team can buy. Teams have to hope those things happen while they're doing the other things right.
Kasten is too smart to be a fan. He was with the Braves during their run, and he's been a baseball guy for too long to get caught up in this, so don't take this as a guarantee that the Dodgers are hosed because they might be run by a bunch of petulant billionaires. That's too reductive. But the Walter quotes are illuminating. He's expecting the Dodgers to win, and he's expecting them to win for as long as Guggenheim is writing checks. And if there's something that happens in the interim -- say, like Carl Crawford being unable to make the Opening Day lineup -- he might get fidgety. Fidgety leads to meddling. Leads to the dark side, meddling does.
Hope that the new owners are committed, Dodger fans. Hope that they'll continue to spend. Hope that they'll feel the success of the team is as important as you think it is. But hope that the people at the very top know when to step the hell out of the way and let the people who know what they're doing take over.
Well, that's a figure of speech. But I'd still expect Ned Colletti to make smarter decisions than an owner-fan with an unlimited budget. There are a lot of cooks in the Dodgers' kitchen. They'll have to hope the cooler, rational, and less emotional heads have the final say on the big moves. Otherwise, instead of Yankees West, they'll be 1980s Yankees West.