Dodgers president Stan Kasten downplays team's shrinking payroll, says fan concerns are made up

Last week the Dodgers made their most significant addition of the winter when they signed outfielder A.J. Pollock to a somewhat complicated contract that could be as short as three years and as long as five years. Pollock joins an outfield mix that includes Cody Bellinger, Enrique Hernandez, Joc Pederson, Andrew Toles, and Alex Verdugo.

Following the Pollock signing, Cot's Baseball Contracts puts the club's 2019 luxury tax payroll at $198.2 million. That is below the $206 million luxury tax threshold. The Dodgers got under the threshold last year and reset their tax rate, and a plan sent out to potential investors said the team plans to stay under the threshold the next <em>four</em> years. Yikes!

The Dodgers are cutting back on spending the same way almost every team is cutting back on spending. Free agency has slowed to a crawl and the average salary actually dropped in 2018. It was only the fourth time in the last half-century that the league average salary declined one year to next year. The players are, clearly, getting a smaller piece of the pie these days.

Saturday the Dodgers held their annual FanFest event at Dodger Stadium, during which fans were able to take part in a Q&A session with team president Stan Kasten and president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman. They were of course asked about Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto and others.

According to Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times, at one point Kasten flat out rejected the notion fans are concerned about the club's shrinking payroll, accusing reporters of "making this stuff up" and saying the team's attendance is good, so fans must be satisfied. From Hernandez:

Such concerns are likely to be downplayed by team President Stan Kasten, who dismissed concerns over the team as "anecdotal," even fictional.

"You keep making this stuff up," Kasten said.

...

Asked again if he didn't want to offer fans an explanation for the team's relative inactivity on the free-agent market, Kasten said, "You're inventing a narrative that I don't agree with because, like I said, I can almost tell you for sure, we're going to lead the National League in attendance again. You're inventing a different universe that is not borne out by reality, by facts."  

The Dodgers did lead the National League in attendance last year. In fact, they led the major leagues in attendance, which they've done every year since 2013. People flock to Dodger Stadium each year, for sure. 

Attendance is a terrible proxy for fan happiness, however. They fan base is much larger than the folks who show up to the park. What about all the people who watch on television? Do they not count? Maybe Kasten forgot about them because SportsNet LA is still -- still! -- unavailable in many Los Angeles area homes. Charter Communications has been unable to work out distribution agreements with DirecTV and other cable providers. The local blackout is about to enter year six. How terrible.

These are the facts:

  1. It has been 30 years since the Dodgers last won the World Series.
  2. The Dodgers have won six straight division titles and back-to-back pennants with no title to show for it.
  3. Payroll has been reduced almost $100 million from 2015 ($291.1 million) to 2018 ($195.0 million).

Maybe running a $290 million payroll was not viable long-term. I can somewhat buy that even with team and league revenues at an all-time high (and growing). Why can't the Dodgers exceed the $206 million luxury tax threshold though? Why has it become a hard cap all of a sudden? Kasten opted for snide, condescending remarks over actual answers, so we don't know.

If I were a Dodgers fan, hearing the team president respond to reasonable and justified questions about the club's payroll and spending habits with the baseball equivalent of FAKE NEWS would make my blood boil. Ticket prices are climbing and that money is not going back into the roster. Revenues are up, ticket prices are going up, payrolls are coming down. Where's the money going? Not to the players and not to the fans. That leaves one place.

MLB owners have unabashedly turned their franchises into get rich quick schemes and now at least one prominent team executive is at best ignorant about the concerns of his fan base and at worst lying about the concerns of the fan base. There is a day of reckoning coming. Spending less on players is one thing. Treating fans like idiots is another.

CBS Sports Writer

Mike Axisa joined CBS Sports in 2013. He has been a member of the BBWAA since 2015 and has previously written about both fantasy baseball and real life baseball for MLBTradeRumors.com, FanGraphs.com, RotoAuthority.com,... Full Bio

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