Future TV revenue invigorates both LA clubs
Dodgers, Angels seek starting pitching as Winter Meetings approach
En route to Boardwalk and Park Place with cable-TV monopoly loot on the horizon, the Angels and Dodgers already have picked up some impressive properties with a few more, most likely, on the way.
The twin powers in Los Angeles and Anaheim are involved in what appears to be a Major League financial sea change from the Atlantic to the Pacific, with San Francisco's World Series champions of 2010 and 2012 also figuring prominently in the shift of power from the East Coast to the West.
Factoring in Texas' back-to-back Fall Classic visits in 2010 and 2011, and Oakland's remarkable rise in 2012, the West divisions clearly are on a roll.
If you're Zack Greinke, you should be humming Randy Newman's "I Love L.A." and strumming a Willie Nelson Lone Star tune.
With the Nashville Winter Meetings getting under way on Monday, a bidding war among the Angels, Dodgers and Rangers could escalate into the realm of Greinke's dreams, approaching six years and $150 million for the pitching prize of the free-agent market.
The Angels, who acquired the 29-year-old right-hander in August from the Brewers, would seem to be the logical favorites. Their current payroll for 2013 is significantly lower than the Dodgers' MLB-high $198.3 million committed to 18 players, according to Cot's Baseball Contracts.
Pushed into second for the first time in recent memory are the Yankees, owing $146.1 million to eight signed players.
The Angels have $93.6 million invested in eight players. Detaching starting pitchers Ervin Santana (in a trade to the Royals) and Dan Haren cost an additional $4.5 million. An estimated $12-14 million is ticketed to four arbitration-eligible players, and roughly $10 million is expected to go those under club control who haven't reached arbitration status.
Even if they knock off about $10 million from their 2012 payroll of $159 million, fourth highest in the Majors, the Angels have resources. Shedding the contracts of Haren, Santana, Torii Hunter and Bobby Abreu would seem to give them a realistic shot at Greinke. Of course, logic might be no issue with the Dodgers involved.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the Dodgers could generate $6 billion in a new TV deal with FOX Sports, an average of $240 million for 25 years. It even could go as high as $7 billion, the report indicates. FOX will pay $39 million in 2013, the final year of the existing contract.
Having purchased the Dodgers for a staggering $2.15 billion last spring, the Guggenheim Baseball Management team headed by Mark Walter, Stan Kasten and Magic Johnson already has thrown financial caution to the Santa Ana winds. A nine-player swap with the Red Sox on Aug. 25 imported, at a total commitment of $274.43 million for 2013 and beyond, Adrian Gonzalez (six years), Carl Crawford (five), Josh Beckett (two) and Nick Punto (one).
"We're going for it now, of course, but we're in it for the long haul," said Johnson, the immensely popular new face of the franchise. "We want the Dodgers to be champions again for years to come. I'm really happy to be part of an organization that is this committed to winning and doing it the right way, with good people."
Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said the deals for Gonzalez, Beckett and Crawford were comparable to landing top-tier free agents in their prime, giving the club time to expand international operations and replenish the farm system.
The Angels reportedly have a $3 billion deal in place with FOX across 20 years.
With their nearly $330 million investment in Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson on the final day of the Winter Meetings last December in Dallas, owner Arte Moreno demonstrated his willingness to put the imminent television revenues to use on high-end personnel.
With such forces at play in L.A., Nashville should bring music to the ears not only of Greinke and slugger Josh Hamilton but to all free agents with impressive resumes. The trade market also figures to be active as clubs across the landscape try to keep up with the wild West.
Keep in mind that Detroit, the reigning AL champion, would have finished fourth in the AL West behind the A's, Rangers and Angels.
Just as the Yankees and Red Sox for years forced AL competitors to pay up or fade away, moves by the Angels and Dodgers figure to have ripple effects throughout the game. The East Coast superpowers appear to be sliding into the back seat as the L.A. clubs flex their fiscal muscles.
Mindful of the $189 million luxury tax threshold for 2014, the Yankees are acting with unfamiliar restraint. Boston, with only $68.24 million on the books for 2013 thanks to the Dodgers, is in reconstruction mode after a disastrous 2012. The Mets also are retrenching.
The Angels have gone three seasons without an AL West title after winning three in a row. The Dodgers, unable to catch the Giants in the NL West in spite of the heavy investments that included Hanley Ramirez, have made no secret of their strategy: damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.
Acting swiftly this winter, the Dodgers signed Cuban outfielder Yasiel Puig to a seven-year, $42 million contract and won a 30-day exclusive negotiating window with a $25.7 million posting bid for lefty starter Ryu Hyun-jin, a seven-time All-Star in Korea. If a deal isn't completed by Dec. 10, Ryu returns to Korea with the Dodgers retaining the posting fee.
Presumably in good shape at the eight positions surrounding the mound, the Dodgers and Angels will leave Hamilton to others and focus on arms.
Along with Greinke, the Dodgers and Angels are eying a free-agent market that includes Anibal Sanchez, Ryan Dempster, Kyle Lohse, Edwin Jackson, Brett Myers, Shaun Marcum, Joe Saunders, Haren, Francisco Liriano, Brandon McCarthy and Joe Blanton.
Behind ace Jered Weaver and Wilson, the Angels have question marks. If Greinke's price tag is deemed unreasonable, they could pursue a pair of proven, cost-effective veteran starters.
"That's the kind of thing we discuss [internally] every day of the year," Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto said.
The Dodgers, visions of the glory days of Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale dancing in their heads, would love to pair Greinke with Clayton Kershaw. That tandem would catch the attention of the Giants, who built their success on starting pitching.
The Dodgers have six starters under contract for 2013: Kershaw, Beckett, Chad Billingsley, Chris Capuano, Aaron Harang and Ted Lilly. Lilly is coming off shoulder surgery, and Billingsley ended the season with a partially torn elbow ligament.
Intriguing relievers on the market include closer Kyuji Fujikawa, a 10-year Japanese veteran free of the posting system, and Ryan Madson, who missed all of 2012 with the Reds recovering from Tommy John surgery.
The Dodgers recently signed Brandon League to a three-year, $22.5 million deal. Setup man Kenley Jansen also has the ability to finish games.
The Angels' quest for another bullpen hammer could lead them to Madson, who, like former closer Troy Percival, grew up less than an hour from Angel Stadium in Riverside County. Ernesto Frieri had a breakout season following his acquisition from the Padres, and Kevin Jepsen had a strong comeback season. Jordan Walden has closer experience and triple-digit heat.
But this market is about starters, and Greinke, the Royals' 2009 Cy Young Award winner, is the big kahuna. He's coming off a 15-5 season with a 3.48 ERA in 34 combined starts for the Brewers and Angels, who unloaded prime prospects Jean Segura, Ariel Pena and Johnny Hellweg to get him.
With pitchers, there is always the concern they'll break down. In Greinke's favor are clean mechanics and a history of endurance. While the prevailing feeling is he'll land in Southern California, this is the season of surprises. Nobody saw Pujols in the Angels' future at this time last year.
Lyle Spencer is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.