In the gloomy winter months not long after the smoke settled on the 2018 World Series, management, players and fans of the Dodgers began to re-focus their collective mental energy on yet another upcoming campaign with hopes of capturing a long-elusive championship.
This time would be different, though. More than 30 years have passed, and it was about time the Dodgers rolled the dice and went all-in, regardless of the cost. Besides, this year’s free-agent class was elite. Pundits had been talking about the availability of Bryce Harper for years.
In early November, out of nowhere, came stories that the Los Angeles Dodgers—one of the richest organizations in the MLB—planned on staying under the luxury tax threshold through the year 2022. Apparently, the information came from a report to prospective investors outlining the financial plans of the franchise. The crazy thing was that hardly anyone believed its validity. Little did anybody guess that team management would stick by its guns and hold course through the entire 2019 season.
When the club re-signed ace Clayton Kershaw to a three-year, $93 million contract, the minds of tons of fans were set at ease. It looked like all the rumblings about staying under the cap were hogwash. Riots would have broken out in Los Angeles if Kersh would have signed elsewhere.
Nevertheless, Los Angeles made more headlines when Andrew Friedman and his troops shipped Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, Alex Wood and Kyle Farmer out to Cincinnati for two decent prospects and a washed-up veteran pitcher. At that point, everyone in the world thought the Dodgers were making room for something big. Harper?
Yet, there were still those who got the impression the move was a huge salary dump and nothing more.
Harper, of course, went to the Phillies. The Padres signed Manny Machado—not that the Dodgers wanted him back, anyway. Nate Eovaldi elected to go back to the Red Sox while the Nats snatched up lefty starter Patrick Corbin. The pace was picking up. In the meantime, aside from Kershaw, the Dodgers were quiet, at least as far as acquisitions went.
Despite all the cricket-chirping, the team made some noise when it signed fireballer Joe Kelly to a three-year deal a few days before Christmas. Kelly’s numbers had been terribly erratic throughout his entire career, but he was coming off near perfection in the World Series against the Dodgers. Was Kelly a transformed pitcher? Friedman believed so. Nearly $30 million total was spent on Kelly’s signing.
In the final days of January, the team inked injury-prone A.J. Pollock to a four-year deal. Things were beginning to look like the information that was mumbled about the Dodgers staying under the CBT were true. Fans were furious.
Still, the Dodgers got back Kershaw, so not all was lost. Maybe Friedman would be right about Kelly sliding nicely into an eighth-inning role. Perhaps, for the first time in his career, Pollock would stay healthy for an entire season.
There were still the select few fans who thought the Dodgers would blow past the luxury tax threshold and sign righty reliever Craig Kimbrel in June after the MLB draft took place, so they wouldn’t need to sacrifice a draft pick. The team’s relief corps was in shambles (or at least it was thought to be by fans and many members of the media). However, when the Cubs snagged Kimbrel, it looked like the Dodgers would need to wait until the trade deadline to bolster their bullpen.
In the moments before the deadline, Friedman’s moves were reminiscent of his predecessor Ned Colletti—he snagged a group of potential reclamation projects in Adam Kolarek, Jedd Gyorko, Kristopher Negron and Tyler White. There was quite a bit of disappointment among the fanbase, but the Dodgers were controlling their division and the entire National League with ease, mainly because of the production of their mighty offense.
Fast forward to mid-August.
Los Angeles has a 19-1/2 game lead over second place Giants in the NL West. They have been jockeying with the Yankees for the best record in baseball. The excitement of the trade deadline is becoming stale. The rumors from last November of the team staying under the CBT for the next several years have almost become forgotten. More rookies from the Dodgers’ farm have emerged to make huge contributions.
There are still some potential issues surrounding the championship quest of the 2019 Dodgers, but if Friedman and his troops can successfully use some innovation and creativity to maneuver guys like Kenta Maeda, Dustin May, Tony Gonsolin and Ross Stripling into an otherwise questionable bullpen, it could make the Dodgers almost untouchable, at least through the NL portion of the playoffs.
But, if the team suffers another round of bitter disappointment in the 2019 postseason, the club’s intention to stay under the luxury tax for the next several years will once again come to the media forefront, creating anger and fury among fans everywhere who have been waiting an eternity for a World Championship.