Dodger Digs: Are these long-term contracts actually hindering rather than helping?

(Hello MAMBINites. Welcome to our newest feature, which we’ve lovingly anointed Dodger Digs. Each and every week, in the vein of Vin’s Bronx Tales, we’ll answer some of the most pertinent questions circling Chavez Ravine and YOUR….Los Angeles Dodgers.)
EL Miz: How worried is John Q. Dodgers Fan about some of the commitments the team has made?  Specifically, with guaranteed money for the next (5?) seasons to Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier, will that preclude the Dodgers from either (A) playing good players in their system (PUIG) or (B) upgrading sunk cost (if Crawford is replacement level)?
KOBEsh: As one of two resident John Q. Dodgers fans on MAMBINO, I’m oddly calm when I should be downright concerned. 

The Dodgers currently have $100 million dollar contracts committed to a staggering 4 players each, including SP Zack Greinke, 1B Adrian Gonzalez, OF Carl Crawford and OF Matt Kemp. This doesn’t count the $200+ million dollar deal surely coming SP Clayton Kershaw’s way, nor does it even touch OF Andre Ethier’s contract, which the first of $85 million gets paid this season. Beyond that, LA is paying double-digit million dollar salaries to SP Chad Billingsley ($11 mil), SP Josh Beckett ($17 mil), SP Ted Lilly ($12 mil), SS Hanley Ramirez ($15.5 mil), Ethier ($13.5 mil) and Kershaw ($11 mil). The New York Yankees have less $100 million dollar commitments (2 in 3B Alex Rodriguez and SP CC Sabathia) and the same number of double-digit million dollar deals (10) that the Dodgers do. Everyone–including our man Vin–knows the financial straits the Yankees are in, and the ramifications of dead money from a once productive player like Rodriguez or even (potentially) 1B Mark TeIxeIra. . Why doesn’t that apply to the LA Dodgers?

Because Boys in Blue–and by extension their fans–know that there isn’t a price the Dodgers will pay to make their (or someone else’s) old contract go away and not affect the product on the field. Carl Crawford isn’t producing after one season with Yasiel Puig hitting .600 in the minors? Would you bet against the Dodgers paying $70 of his remaining $80 million to make him go away? Andre Ethier still hitting just .270 against righties but .180 against lefties? Would you bet against the Dodgers paying $65 of his remaining $74 million to go away?

The answer, amazingly, is no. This team can and will do whatever it must to get the best possible hitters on the field–or at least their conception of what the best possible hitters are. I have been emboldened by Crawford’s opening week in Dodger Blue however, with the left fielder hitting a cool .464 with a .531 on-base percentage. Extremely small sample-size, but he looks spry and athletic, the two biggest keys to any success he’ll have on the diamond. Hopefully Crawford and Gonzalez can continue to produce and render this question a non-issue.

However, as alluded, there might be an issue forced from the minors. In Yasiel Puig’s case, it’s becoming more and more obvious that they’ll need to find a place for him in the every day line-up. The Cuban outfielder absolutely dominated Spring Training, hitting .517 in 58 at-bats. None of those numbers were typos, and neither are these: at Double-A Chattanooga Puig has a 1.289 OPS through 5 games in. Like Crawford, this isn’t enough data to make long-term decisions upon, but Puig has been destroying the baseball for over a month now. With all three outfield spots and first base booked for five years (barring a trade), there have been some whispers that he may be turned into a third baseman (a spot where the Dodgers have no long-term solutions coming any time soon) just to get him onto the 25-man roster.

Mizzy, though your question was posed focusing more on position players, the ever present baseball truism is that pitching is what will get a team through October, not always the line-up fielded. After all, Edgar Renteria, Cody Ross and Marco Scutaro were prime players in two championship Giants offenses. Of course it’s better to head into a series with a gauntlet of mashers (see the 2011 Cardinals, 2009 Yankees, 2008 Phillies, 2007 & 2004 Red Sox), but San Francisco has proven that all it takes is for the line-up to get hot at the right time. Offense is key, but I’d rather be fully equipped with a sterling rotation than 8 All-Star hitters.

To that end, I’m much, MUCH less concerned with the financial commitments to Crawford, Ethier and Gonazlez. The front office has spent liberally on a rotation that’s seven deep, with elite players fronting it. Unlike a questionable offense with players perhaps on the decline, there’s no doubt that Kershaw and Greinke are two of the best 15 pitchers in baseball, and Ryu, Beckett and Billingsley capably filling into the 3-4-5 slots after them. I’d be much more concerned if the Dodgers were throwing away their money on multi-year contracts for guys like Ryan Dempster, Kyle Lohse or Edwin Jackson.

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