It’s all a matter of how you prefer your baseball—farm raised or store bought.
After Magic Johnson and his group of investors purchased the Dodgers, they spared no expense in constructing their own “dream team” and made monster trades at the cost of their farm system.
They brought in Adrian Gonzales, Carl Crawford, Hanley Ramirez and Zack Greinke. The price tag was steep. Some of them cost the Dodgers their youth, and other acquisitions have simply cost them money—a lot of it.
In 2012, the Dodgers' payroll sat at $105,419,833, via Baseball Prospectus. After the “trade of the century” and their offseason acquisitions, the 2013 payroll sits at a whopping $216,753,286.
With an additional $111,333,453 on the books, success remained out of reach for the Dodgers until recently. On June 21, after a 5-2 loss to the San Diego Padres, the Dodgers were still 12 games below .500.
At that point, something clicked, and they won 10 of their next 11. That streak brought them from last place in the NL West up to second place and only three games under .500.
In contrast, on June 21, the Cardinals were 20 games over .500—however, they took a very different approach to getting there.
While the Dodgers were piling up salary and superstars, the Cardinals were grooming their future in the minor leagues.
The Cardinals increased their payroll, but by a more negligible amount. In 2012, the Cardinals had $111,858,500 on the books. In 2013, their payroll sits at $116,790,787.
That’s an increase of $4.9 million.
Not only has the Cardinals' success come at a much lower monetary cost, it’s also come with an exorbitant amount of money tied up in the disabled list.
Between Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia, Jason Motte and Rafael Furcal, the Cardinals have $27.75 million on the books that likely won’t even grace a major league field again in 2013.
They’ve managed to weather that storm because their long-term attention to scouting and player development in recent years has really paid off.
A total of 18 players on the Cardinals' 25-man roster as of Aug. 5 were drafted and developed within the organization. That number does not include Adam Wainwright (a minor league addition), David Freese (a St. Louis native and minor league acquisition), Yadier Molina (DL), Shane Robinson (DL), Jaime Garcia (DL), John Gast (DL) or Jason Motte (DL).
In contrast, only 10 members of the Dodgers' 25-man roster have risen through the ranks of their farm system.
Each mode of operation has its benefits and its shortcomings.
The traditional approach of making big trades to bring in proven players is more of a “win now” model. The price tag is much higher, but at the same time, a team is acquiring players with a proven track record.
However, paying players for what they did in the past is dangerous business—and that’s how baseball has operated for decades.
The Cardinals' approach is designed to be competitive long term, but it comes with its own risks. While the price tag is exponentially lower, they’re dealing in players who are not proven at the major league level.
Some of them will live up to the hype, but just as many can wash out before they ever reach the major leagues. The Cardinals have been very fortunate.
They’ve fielded a staggering number of rookie players in 2013 and seen the majority of them come through as anticipated.
With the success they’ve seen in recent years, the Cardinals' model is one other teams will likely be looking to emulate in the future.
Is it better than the traditional approach? Ask me in October.