2011 Organizational Rankings: #23 – LA Dodgers

In some ways, I feel like I’m rewriting the Astros post, just adjusting for the fact that there’s a bit more talent at the big league level. That might come across too harsh, but it’s hard to find any single area where the Dodgers excel, and the grades below reflect that.

Present Talent – 75.83 (t-18th)

Dodgers Season Preview
Future Talent – 75.00 (t-20th)

Dodgers Top 10 Prospects

Financial Resources – 75.00 (t-20th)
Baseball Operations – 72.50 (28th)

Overall Rating – 74.63 (23rd)

For the most part, the Dodgers are pretty unremarkable. They aren’t a bad team, and they have a few really nice pieces to build around, but they’re probably behind both Colorado and San Francisco in the race for the NL West. Their farm system has some interesting pieces in it, but they’re not brimming with young talent like some other organizations. They play in a major market in Los Angeles, but they haven’t turned that into a significant competitive advantage in terms of revenue yet. In most areas, they’re middle of the pack. Most areas – not all.

There are two things that stand out about the Dodgers organization, and unfortunately, neither is a positive. The big thing that sets them apart from most Major League clubs is their shaky ownership situation. That’s probably not a strong enough term, actually. Faltering? Precarious? Dubious? Crumbling? Pick your favorite adjective, as long it’s negative and portends impending doom.

The divorce of the McCourts looms over everything else in the organization. When this mess all began, the front office claimed it would have no effect on how they operated, and then they proceeded to decline to offer arbitration to all of their free agents and generally operate like a small market club. They retained Hiroki Kuroda and Ted Lilly, and pursued a few mid-level free agents, but they still weren’t exactly flexing large financial muscles over the winter. With the future of the team’s ownership in a seemingly perpetual state of uncertainty, the Dodgers are simply not able to capitalize on the resources they should have at their disposal.

Eventually, the McCourt divorce will be settled, but it seems inevitable that the team is likely to change hands in the not too distant future, regardless of how their disagreements are divided up. That will probably be a good thing, as it’s going to be hard to find a worse owner than a petty husband and wife team who leveraged themselves heavily to buy a franchise that they probably couldn’t afford in order to use it as the family ATM. But ownership transfers are not quick and painless, and while Dodgers fans can look forward to a post-McCourt era, that could legitimately be several years away. Until then, the team’s ability to operate to the full extent of their revenue potential is likely to be heavily compromised.

That said, the Dodgers do have a payroll north of $100 million this year, so it’s not like the McCourts have completely hamstrung the front office from being able to build a contender. Unfortunately, the baseball operations department has added to the teams woes by making a series of ill-advised moves and building a roster that is less than the sum of its parts. We don’t need to rehash the contracts given to Juan Pierre or Andruw Jones, or the disastrous trade of Carlos Santana, though those moves still haunt the team to this day. Instead, we can simply look at the roster that the front office has put together and wonder exactly what the plan really is.

The Dodgers have two fly ball lefties in Clayton Kershaw and Ted Lilly, who will both give the team’s outfielders quite a bit of activity this year. To back up those two, the Dodgers have compiled the worst outfield defense in baseball, with a corner outfielder in center, a first baseman in right field, and a couple of DHs sharing time in left. I guess the hope is that Kershaw and Lilly rack up enough strikeouts to bail out their less talented teammates, but why would you punt outfield defense when also building a rotation that involves those two guys?

The head scratching doesn’t end there. The team made two aggressive moves this winter, targeting Juan Uribe as an upgrade at second (okay, understandable) and then getting in on the middle reliever silliness by giving Matt Guerrier a three year contract. Even though the dollar figure isn’t that high, this isn’t a team that had huge problems in the bullpen, and they had other issues on the roster that were ignored this winter.

Overall, Ned Colletti’s track record in Los Angeles just isn’t that good. He’s attempted to follow the model of his mentor, Brian Sabean, but has made similar mistakes without figuring out how to hit home runs on some low cost guys to make up for it. As it stands, he’s put together a high priced third place team whose youngest talents are starting to get expensive (and are mostly overrated in general) and there isn’t a strong wave of talent ready to come up from the minors to supplement the rising cost of keeping this group of players together.

Again, just as with the Astros, the Dodgers have kept a fairly old school approach to building a roster and unfortunately haven’t proven all that adept at it. When new ownership eventually does take over, they should probably consider making some changes in the baseball operations department as well. Those two areas of weakness for the organization are bleeding over the talent side of the team, and it’s hurting the Dodgers chances of contending now or in the near future. They aren’t a bad team, but they’re got a ways to go before they’re a good one, and there is no obvious path between where they are now and where they want to be.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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11 years ago

How do you guys think the financial analysis of each team would have been different if this series had waited till after the latest set of numbers released today had been considered?

The LAD are still in the top 5 and actually saw a 10% increase in value over last years valuation…

11 years ago
Reply to  Ben

Yah, I don’t quite understand the financial assessment. While their ownership situation is a mess right now, the team itself provides a solid revenue stream that is above the median and doesn’t have any crippling commitments that I’m aware of.

Regardless of who ends up owning the team is going to be able to field a group that is in the top half of payrolls in the near future. Yes, they have a financial limitation that they won’t give out any long term deals for about a year, but it looks like that issue alone is docking them a ton of points.

Additionally, I do feel like I’m already seeing a bit of bias that teams who performed badly last year are seeing some drooping on categories across the board. If we imagine these same rankings last year, they were in almost the exact same position but with one extra year of the divorce to work through. By my math that should have meant their place would be similar or improve this year, instead they’ve dropped 9 spots?

I’ll be keeping an eye out, but I am kind of wondering if in future things the survey method for the contributors should try to adjust for recency biases on these. Otherwise, much of these rankings will just be telling us who was good last year.

The Typical Idiot Fan
11 years ago
Reply to  B N

Well, remember, the readership here picked how to weigh each aspect of the organization and current talent ranks up there. Last year, I don’t think current talent was weighed as heavily. If the current talent is not as good as believed, then that’s going to hurt the ranking as well. Eithier, Kemp, and Loney were all highly thought of once. Of those, only Eithier has managed to be good and his defense is holding him back. Pitching wise they seem okay, but the field players are not a great bunch.

Also, the argument is that they haven’t used the revenue generation of Los Angeles to their advantage. Part of that is the penny pinching of the McCourts, a problem made greater now by the divorce problems.

11 years ago
Reply to  B N

Pitching wise they seem great.

Kemp has been better than Ethier if you are looking at WAR, his struggles last year should not be expected to repeat going forward.

Dave’s evaluation of the Dodger outfield could be changed if Tony Gwynn Jr wins an outfield spot, in which case it is possible that Kemp could move to right field.

The Ancient Mariner
11 years ago
Reply to  Ben

In light of recent developments, looking back at comments like this one is rather grimly amusing . . . if anything, the FG writers were unduly optimistic about LA.