Aces Clayton Kershaw (top left) and Jered Weaver (top right) along with… (Los Angeles Times and Associated…)
For $400 million, you could produce two Hollywood blockbusters. The Dodgers and Angels are betting they have.
Los Angeles' two Major League Baseball teams have been on a buying spree, signing some of the game's most talented players. The Dodgers gave Zack Greinke a six-year contract for $147 million, a record for a right-handed pitcher. The Angels lured outfield Josh Hamilton from the Texas Rangers in a five-year, $125-million deal — a year after spending $240 million to secure slugger Albert Pujols' services for 10 years.
The big contracts have fans' hopes high as the season approaches. The teams meet in exhibition games the next three nights before opening the regular season on Monday.
"We want to go to the World Series," Dodgers co-owner Magic Johnson said before spring training. "If we don't accomplish that, yes, it is not a good season for us."
With those elevated expectations, though, comes pressure to ride the high-priced talent into postseason play — and the potential of ugly consequences for managers and executives if the teams don't win enough.
The Dodgers have a record projected player payroll of $230 million. And the Angels, whose payroll could hit about $170 million by year's end, aren't far behind. But in baseball, lavish spending often does not translate into on-field success. "That is a lesson that has been told many times," Commissioner Bud Selig said.
Of the 10 teams with the highest payrolls last season, five did not make the playoffs. The New York Yankees had the highest payroll in baseball every year since 2001 until the Dodgers passed them, and they made the playoffs 11 times in that span.
But they won the World Series only once.
The Dodgers, 25 years removed from their last World Series title — and just one year out of bankruptcy — are the new free-wheeling Yankees, with team Chairman Mark Walter telling one reporter recently that the Atlanta Braves' historic run of 14 consecutive division championships would be repeated "on the West Coast." (He wasn't referring to the rival San Francisco Giants, who have won two of the last three World Series titles.)
The hubris does not sit well with rival owners, many of whom already were troubled by the Dodgers' driving up the price of talent.
"There were certainly people who resented the Yankees for spending so much money," said Bob Daly, the Dodgers' managing partner during the final years of Fox ownership, which ended in 2004. "I think everybody knows now that the No. 1 team in baseball, as far as spending money, is the Dodgers."
And they're not slowing down. The new owners, who paid a record $2.15 billion for the team last May, committed $104 million to acquire South Korean pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu and Cuban outfielder Yasiel Puig, neither of whom had played in the major leagues.
Stan Kasten, the Dodgers' president, is not concerned with the opinions of rival owners. "The most important thing to me is how our fans feel," he said. "I think our fans feel really good about it." The Dodgers have sold a record 31,000 season tickets, Kasten said.
On the days Ryu does not start, the Dodgers could field a former All-Star at six of nine positions. Yet the sports wagering site Bovada gives four teams — including the Angels — better odds than the Dodgers to win the World Series.
"I think the Dodgers have put together a very, very good team. If everybody is healthy, I think they should win the division," Daly said. "But look at the Yankees. Every day, another player gets hurt. That can destroy a team overnight."
The Yankees are expected to start the season with four of their five highest-paid position players — Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson — on the disabled list.
The Dodgers are expected to start the season with shortstop Hanley Ramirez on the disabled list, with their left fielder and center fielder coming off injuries, and with two starting pitchers who nursed injuries in spring training and another, Ryu, who is new to America.
Meanwhile, the rival Giants, who compete with the Dodgers in the National League West, enter this season with the same lineup with which they won last year's World Series. Their payroll of about $140 million is nearly $100 million less than that of the Dodgers.
The Dodgers are a good team, said a major league scout who has been following them this spring, "but there isn't this $100-million gap in talent, which exists in the payroll. I just don't see them as a dominating club. I'm concerned the expectations cannot be met."
The expectations are no lower for the Angels, who had never spent as much as $100 million on a player before lavishing more than twice that upon Pujols in the third-biggest contract in baseball history.