The Los Angeles Dodgers’ bottom line has a lot attached to it. Not just money, but sky-high expectations.
When an ownership group led by Magic Johnson bought the team in 2012, they vowed to break the bank by bringing in star players immediately. Boy, were they serious.
In 2012, they completed a solid $250 million-plus transaction with the Boston Red Sox, taking on the contracts of Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and Josh Beckett without any hesitation whatsoever. “Crazy,” as some people called it.
While that deal did not ultimately help them in the 2012 campaign, they did not stop there. They went out and traded for the Marlins’ young star infielder, Hanley Ramirez, and they added pitcher Zack Greinke, the prize of the 2012 free agency class, once the season had ended.
Then, in what was perhaps their quietest move of all, the Dodgers’ front office rolled the dice on 22-year-old Cuban prospect Yasiel Puig, giving him an unthinkable (at the time)
seven-year, $42 million deal.
After an unexpected and inexcusable poor start to the 2013 campaign, manager Don Mattingly’s job was very much in jeopardy, and the team was headed for possible turmoil with so many great players unable to mesh. In a somewhat surprising move, the team called up Puig after just
two months of playing baseball in the minor leagues.
It turned out to be just the spark they needed.
Puig lit the world on fire with a month for the ages in June. In 26 games, he batted .436, hit seven home runs, knocked in 16 runs, and scored 19 runs. He electrified in the field as well, showing off an arm with enough power to remind people of the Cuban Missile crisis for totally different reasons.
By the All-Star break in mid-July, the Dodgers were on fire and had pulled even at .500. After going on a 22-3 tear after the break, Los Angeles broke away from the rest of its division and into the ranks of some of the best teams in the game. To this point, it has maintained that standing.
The playoffs are right around the corner. The expectations are just as high as they were to start the season, and probably higher (if that is even possible). There are plenty of other solid teams in the National League, like the Cardinals, Pirates, Braves, and Reds, but none of them have the arsenal (or payroll) that the Dodgers do. With the best pitcher in baseball, Clayton Kershaw, leading their staff and a lineup dangerous from top to bottom, the Dodgers have about as good of a chance as anyone.
But questions still remain. Can the big contracts in the locker room live up to their credentials when the stakes are highest? Can Puig (who has shown some maturity issues) face the pressure the Major League postseason presents? Is the target on the collective back of the Dodgers simply too big?
These questions are impossible to answer for now, but I guess we are going to find out.