The Dodger Beast seemingly lurks at every turn.
The latest concern for rival clubs stems from the stunning spring-training performance of outfielder Yasiel Puig — and not simply because the Dodgers’ $42 million investment soon might look like a bargain.
No, rival executives are concerned that Puig’s ascent eventually will help the Dodgers secure other top prospects.
By pushing the Dodgers to trade one of their expensive corner outfielders, Carl Crawford or Andre Ethier, and secure additional young talent by paying most of that player’s contract as part of the deal.
In other words, the Dodgers not only can outbid teams for stars, but also can buy their way out of mistakes and come out ahead. And, at a time when teams face new restrictions on spending for both domestic and international amateurs, the Dodgers’ financial might could give them a huge advantage in amassing top prospects.
Such moves would be perfectly acceptable under the collective bargaining agreement, provided that commissioner Bud Selig determined that they benefited both clubs from a baseball perspective.
And why wouldn’t he?
Selig didn’t stop the Marlins’ controversial salary dump last offseason, allowing the team to send shortstop Jose Reyes, right-hander Josh Johnson and left-hander Mark Buerhle to the Blue Jays.
And he didn’t stop the Dodgers from taking on more than $260 million in salaries last August, permitting them to acquire Crawford, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and right-hander Josh Beckett from the Red Sox.
Let’s say Puig tears up the minors and the Dodgers decide to promote him at mid-season. They then would face the choice of moving Crawford, who is owed $102.5 million over the next five seasons, or Ethier, who is owed $85 million over the same period.
Neither player is attractive at those figures. But if Ethier was playing well and the Dodgers paid enough to turn him into a player with an average salary of say, $7 million instead of $17 million, another team almost certainly would part with good prospects in return.
“It’s smart, actually — the only way to really build a farm system under the new rules,” one rival executive says. “And you can only do it if you’ve got big dollars.”
Rival executives worry that the Dodgers could return to the formula again and again, effectively circumventing the draft.
Tired of Gonzalez? Pay down his deal and get younger players. Zack Greinke doesn’t work out? Do the same. And keep the machine running by signing top free agents year after year.
The Dodgers’ budget surely is not unlimited, but they have yet to pull back on any front in any meaningful way.
Puig could be a gift that keeps on giving. And not the last such gift, either.
— Ken Rosenthal