The San Diego Padres can learn several things from the Los Angeles Dodgers' mega-deal with the Boston Red Sox in which nine players and over $250 million in contracts changed hands. I am not suggesting that the Padres can only win if they take on a quarter-of-a-billion dollars in salary obligations, but rather that new ownership should take away lessons taught about the new identity of the division.
The television deal with Fox Sports was one of the main reasons why the Dodgers were able to take on so much salary. The deal could pay the club as high as $425 million per year for the next 20 seasons.
This is why it's so important that the new owners solve the viewership dilemma plaguing the city of San Diego. It has been estimated that 40 percent of the city will not have the chance to watch Padres games next season on TV. Think advertisers are going to pay full price for ads if barely over half the city can see them?
National League West teams have predominantly increased their payroll over the last year. The San Francisco Giants added an extra $13 million this year (they opened the 2012 season at $131 million) and after the trade with the Red Sox, the Dodgers have added around $25 million on top of their 2011 payroll, jumping from $119 million to roughly $145 million.
These two teams are atop of the division, with the Giants holding a two-and-a-half game lead over LA. However, the battle for the division crown will be much more exciting given the Dodgers' recent acquisitions. Both teams are expected to put even more distance between them and the middling Arizona Diamondbacks (five games back), Padres (10.5 GB) and Colorado Rockies (a dismal 17 GB).
Arizona and Colorado actually opened the 2012 season with lower payrolls from 2011 at $75 million and $81 million, respectively.
I'm not going to hold the Padres' paltry 2012 opening day payroll (approximately $56 million) against the club since they were in the process of an ownership change, but clearly being outspent by an almost three-to-one ratio can not continue if the Padres hope to win back the NL West.
The Dodgers' acquisition of All-Star players in exchange for two young, dynamic arms (Rubby De la Rosa and Allen Webster) is a microcosm of how the Padres could potentially acquire star players down the line when they expand their payroll ceiling.
Both the Red Sox and the Dodgers did well to hold on to their core homegrown talent. In 2013, the Red Sox will only need to fill holes at left field, first base and in their rotation, and their payroll will only be at around $45 million with which to begin the offseason.
Conceivably, even if they give David Ortiz a two-year, $20 million deal, extend Jacoby Ellsbury (perhaps five years, $75 million), trade for Matt Garza and give him, Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke $20 million-a-year deals, then their payroll would still only be at around $140 million, shaving a cool $35 million off its 2012 opening day price tag.
Again, this plan is theoretical but it shows how nimble the Sox are this winter to spend their money on higher upside players.
On the other side of the trade spectrum, the Dodgers gave up neither their top prospect, right-handed starting pitcher Zach Lee (21 years old in September), nor any of their core position players to possibly balance out the money exchange. Their only Major League player loss was impending free agent first baseman James Loney, who was replaced by Adrian Gonzalez anyway.
If the Padres keep increasing their salary ceiling and developing strong farm talent, then they could be in the position to either dump unworthy contracts for the chance of rebooting during a down year or if in postseason contention, then they could trade a package of quality prospects for star Major League players.
Red Sox GM Ben Cherington was smart to trade the contract of Carl Crawford when he did, otherwise he could have been looking at pennies on the dollar in return in the future, given that the opportunity to shed this amount of payroll rarely comes along.
I expect that he will be afforded the opportunity to build the club with the "small-market philosophy with "larger-market resources (i.e. building through the farm system but being able to pursue free agents)" plan that he learned in Boston serving under then-Red Sox GM Theo Epstein during the first-half of the 2000s, per Alan Speier.
While the Red Sox are known to be one of the biggest spenders in MLB, the club also has produced All-stars or key contributors from their minor league system, many of whom are still in the organization today.
Taking a page from his former mentor, Byrnes would be well-served to build the Padres through the draft, extending the contracts of core players to manageable contracts and to only strategically take chances in free agency so as to not overpay for players' past performances.
There are many lessons for the Padres to learn from the recent Dodgers-Red Sox blockbuster. Analyzing both teams' motives and actions, it's possible to conclude that having a stockpile of farm talent and ownerships' financial support will provide multiple ways for the Padres to develop into a winning club once again.
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