J-SLANTED: When Ring Shopping Gets Out of Hand

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By JORDAN IKEDA

There comes a time in most everyone’s life when they get something that they had always wanted.

Sometimes, like marrying your significant other, that turns out to be even better than what you had hoped for. But for most of the other things we get in life, once that object of desire has been obtained, the realization sets in. Either it comes with too much responsibility or it turns out to be not as great as initially thought.

This is where I’m at with the new look Los Angeles Dodgers.

Like everyone else, I abhorred the McCourt regime. His tenure almost single-handedly killed my passion for professional baseball. Not only was I afraid that this Bostonian real estate wannabe tycoon would sell and redevelop Chavez Ravine, but I hated the fact that he was not rich in the liquid sense (most of his money was tied up in equity).

I, like many others, have always believed that the Dodgers should be one of the sports biggest spenders. L.A. is, after all, the second-biggest market behind New York, and the Yankees organization has never shied away from spending at all costs. I saw the Yankees spend and win. I saw the Red Sox splurge for their second World Series ring, I saw the Phillies do the same, and I envied them.

But age and experience usually changes one’s perspective on things. Over the course of the McCourt era, I began to closely follow the Dodgers’ neighbors down the 5 Freeway. For the past eight years, I have slowly watched how big-money spending transformed a once solid culture, littered a team with overpaid underachievers, and dead set on culminating in the most disappointing season in Angels history.

In 2002, behind the charm of a little monkey, the Angels made a surprising run to the World Series. That team was composed of homegrown talent — John Lackey, Jarrod Washburn, Troy Glaus, Tim Salmon, Garrett Anderson, Troy Percival, Francisco Rodriguez, Benjie Molina, and Darren Erstad were all drafted by the Angels and grew up in their farm system.

Since winning the ’02 World Series, it has been a decade-long downward spiral into the pits of big-money spending and away from what made the Halos so successful.

While the Angels smartly decided against shelling out big money to keep some of their own players (Glaus, Lackey, Washburn, and Chone Figgins all come to mind), a failed Dallas McPherson experiment here, an underwhelming Casey Kotchman stint there, and a what-the-hell attempt to pass off Brandon Wood as a Big League player, combined with a lack of postseason success, had the franchise and its fan base itchy to make big moves.

In came Gary Matthews Jr., Torii Hunter, Vernon Wells, and this past year Albert Pujols. Out went the Scioscia-inspired focus on pitching, base-running, and defense.

Now, the Angels have the third-largest payroll in the league, are 4 ½ games out of a wild-card slot, and 10 games back in the AL West.

Similarly, the Philadelphia Phillies, who have the second-largest payroll in the MLB, are 10 games out of the NL wild card, and 16 games back in the NL East.

And of course, the Red Sox (formerly the third-highest salaried team) just dumped over a quarter of a billion dollars on the Boys in Blue because they are 10 games out.

Now, ominously, the Dodgers follow in their footsteps.

Over the past month, the Dodgers have brought in Hanley Ramirez, Shane Victorino, Randy Choate, Brandon League, Joe Blanton, Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Nick Punto.

That’s an additional $300 million in salary.

Me circa 2005 would be through-the-moon excited, yet the me of today is having a very difficult time staving off worry. Look, maybe I’ve been classically conditioned like Pavlov’s dog to immediately expect the worst from the Dodgers.

Since 1988, I do have 24 years of disappointment reinforcing my feelings.

But while I really like the Ramirez get (mostly because he’s super-talented and only 27), I’m struggling to see the benefit of bringing in players all over 30 that are signed to massive multi-year deals.

Is AGon a potential MVP candidate? I don’t know. He was last year, and the two years before that, but moving forward? I put him in the Pujols category. Both will be good for a couple of years, but they’ve both already peaked and will be paid salaries based on past performance.

That said, there’s no question the Dodgers upgraded at first base. James Loney was only the answer to the question, “Who is the least productive first baseman in the MLB to have inexplicably kept his job for half a decade?”

Adding Crawford’s contract, one he has less than zero percent chance of living up to, is a tough pill to swallow, but if the Dodgers have pockets as deep as the Cotahuasi Canyon, then they can always just spend their way out of their problems. Crawford is but a mere luxury tax.

My main issue with the deal is that on top of adding so much salary, the Dodgers also gave away two legit pitching prospects. For a team starving for pitching depth, I feel Ned Colletti was fleeced by the Boston brass.

While Rubby de la Rosa and Allen Webster aren’t thought to be on the same level as say, the Angels’ Mike Trout, the big picture is that in today’s MLB, talented prospects have far more value than accomplished, aging veterans.

I’m trying to think of an expensive, multi-year contract signed by an All-Star over 30 that has worked out. Alex Rodriguez? No. Ichiro Suzuki? Ha! Cliff Lee? Afraid not. Ryan Howard? Not even close. Lackey? Yikes.

And the list goes on.

Don’t get me wrong, I love that the Dodgers have been so aggressive. But, for a team that has now gone 27-36 since starting the season with 42-25 record, my feeling is that the new ownership might be playing a bit too recklessly.

The Dodgers have a Cy Young-worthy ace and now an offense that reads exceptionally well on paper, but the pen is shaky and the starting rotation is made up of a collection of meh. Hardly a historically consistent recipe for World Series success.

Early returns have been about as disastrous as possible. As of Wednesday morning, the Dodgers are 1-3 since the trade; they lost Beckett’s debut 0-10 to a bad Rockies team; Matt Kemp crashed into the outfield wall and was forced to leave the game (the MRI was thankfully negative); they are 3½ games behind the Giants; Blanton has a 7.71 ERA in four starts with the club; and their competition is about to get a lot harder with series against hot clubs like the Padres and Cardinals, as well as the two best teams in the NL — the Reds and Nationals.

With all that being said, if the Dodgers win a ring this year, please disregard this entire column.

Jordan Ikeda is a former Rafu Sports editor who writes from Torrance. He can be contacted at [email protected] Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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