|Will Clayton Kershaw and Matt Kemp help the Dodgers rise to meet the expectations? (Getty Images)|
To help prime you for the 2013 season, we here at Eye on Baseball have been examining each team's "core." The march toward all 30 clubs continues today with the Los Angeles Dodgers, who in recent months have redefined our notions of "throwing money at a problem."
If you've been with us for the entirety of this ongoing series, then feel free to skip the blockquoted section that follows, which explains exactly what we mean by "core."
What's a core? For our purposes, a team's core comprises a "cornerstone player," a "face of the franchise" and then the "future face of the franchise."
So what's a "cornerstone player"? For starters, it's one of the best players on the roster and perhaps the very best player on the roster. Beyond that, though, it's the player whom the organization has identified as the talent around which to build by signing him to a long-term deal. In other words, they've backed their faith in the player's abilities with the most powerful statement of all: lots of redeemable U.S. currency. Not only do they see this player as central to their current aims but also to their designs on future contention.
What's a "face of the franchise"? He -- and we're getting subjective here -- is the player who most prominently embodies the franchise in question. He's that player you think about when you think about this team. Is he the same guy as the "cornerstone"? Sometimes. But the cornerstone is primarily a financial designation. The "face" is, for lack of a better term, a cultural identifier. They're not mutually exclusive, but they're not not mutually exclusive, either. What about the word "values" you see in the headline above? After we identify and evaluate the three elements of the core, we're going to slap a letter grade on the whole thing.
And now, the core of the Dodgers.
|Core Values series|
Cornerstone player(s): Matt Kemp and Zack Greinke
If, as stipulated above, the "cornerstone" discussion is about contracts, then we're about to wander into a cornucopia. After all, we're talking about the Dodgers -- the team that already has $88.5 million in payroll commitments -- for the 2018 season.
They have no fewer than five players -- Kemp, Greinke, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier -- whose contracts would reach cornerstone status for any number of teams. For our purposes, though, we're going with Kemp and Greinke.
In November of 2011, Kemp inked an eight-year, $160-million contract extension. It was notable not only for the money and span involved but also because it marked the biggest investment that former owner Frankie Parking Lots had ever made in the team that otherwise served as his absurdly leveraged check-cashing store. At the time of Kemp's deal, it was the largest contract ever handed out by a National League franchise.
As for Greinke, counting the signing bonus his deal, which he inked this offseason, will pay him $159 million over six years. For those counting that's $1 million fewer than Kemp will be paid. That's a mammoth investment in a pitcher, let alone one who has to his credit only one genuinely great season.
Add it all up (an onerous task, to be sure) and you have payroll commitments exceeding $200 million for 2013. In 2014, it's $166.3 million and more than $120 million for 2015, 2016 and 2017. And those numbers don't include a potential extension for Clayton Kershaw (more on that in a moment).
Simply put, if the Dodgers don't wind up hoisting the trophy within the next handful of seasons, then they'll be remembered as one of the great cautionary tales in baseball history.
Face(s) of the franchise: Kemp and Clayton Kershaw
You need not look long and hard to find Kemp gracing this or that magazine cover, and Kershaw is fresh off winning the Roberto Clemente Award for 2012. In the cases of both players, market has intersected with marketability. This is a roster larded with veterans and massive contracts, but the homegrown "Brothers K" represent the Dodgers best of all.
Face(s) of the future: Kemp and Kershaw
Normally, I'd exempt a player like Kershaw, who's under team control through just 2014, from discussions about the far-flung future. But given the way the Dodgers are spending money and considering the breadth of their local-television contract to be named (they could pull down close to a quarter-billion per year) and how much of that TV money they'll be able to shield from revenue-sharing obligations, there's almost no chance they let a talent like Kershaw walk. So I'm operating under the assumption that Kershaw at some point within the next 18 months or so is going to sign the largest and longest contract ever tendered to a pitcher.
We know that Kershaw is on the very short list of best pitchers in baseball. Given his established prominence, it's easy to forget that he's still just 24 years of age. Mull that over for a moment.
Despite his youth, he's authored three straight seasons of at least 200 innings, 200 strikeouts and a sub-3.00 ERA. Rare is the pitcher who builds such an impressive baseline at such a young age. Given his age and track record, would you take any pitcher over Kershaw? You shouldn't.
As for Kemp, the issue is health. In 2011, Kemp was arguably the best player in all of baseball, so we know his upside. In 2012, he performed at a high level when healthy. But staying healthy is the thing. In his career, Kemp has lost more than 70 games to injury. Besides the shoulder troubles that forced him to have surgery this offseason, Kemp has also battled any number of hamstring maladies. Those are the kind of nagging, productivity-sapping nuisances that are only going to get worse with age. With that said, Kemp did play in no fewer than 155 games in each season from 2008 through 2011. That's the kind of Kemp the Dodgers need moving forward.
While you're certainly going to see names like Greinke, Gonzalez, Crawford and Ramirez in Chavez Ravine for years to come, and prospects like Zach Lee, Chris Reed and Yasel Puig have the upside to play important roles, Kershaw and Kemp are the players most central to the Dodgers' future.
Dodgers' core value: A-
There's no disputing the excellence of the core. Kershaw and Kemp are first-order talents, and Greinke is a number-two man to be envied (that he's being paid like an ace is not our concern). GM Ned Colletti has not proved himself to be especially competent, and he seems a particularly poor fit for a franchise with a puppy's eagerness when it comes to throwing money at a problem. Colletti's ability to surround the Dodger core with the proper complementary talents is to be doubted. Were this an evaluation of the entire team, then the Dodgers would warrant a very expensive B-. The core, though, is better than that.
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