For the past two decades, Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane has been the constant epicenter of discussion amongst fans: "Does the Moneyball philosophy work?" "Is he (Beane) doing the right thing by trading for younger prospects?" "Who are Jacob Nottingham and Daniel Mengden and why did he trade a potential Cy Young candidate for them?!" These are just a few of the questions Beane's had swirling over his head for the past 2 decades (and more recently at the trade deadline).
Amongst the seemingly endless inquiries that Beane faces every day, I find the most interesting one to be along the lines of, "What if Billy Beane had a 9-figure payroll to work with?" Some would argue that it would have little impact on the team’s overall success, while others would guarantee the A’s would’ve won a World Series by now. Argue what you may, but to this point, there hasn’t been any hard evidence to support either side.
On November 4th of 2014, the Los Angeles Dodgers named Farhan Zaidi the 12th General Manager in team history. The hire sent a message to the baseball world that the Dodgers would be steering clear of the Ned Colletti school of baseball, and veering more towards the Moneyball philosophy that Oakland has championed for 2 decades. Zaidi spent 10 seasons as the A’s assistant GM to Billy Beane and is now getting his chance to put his stamp on the Dodger franchise. He hasn’t even finished his first season as the new man in charge and he’s already making his presence felt. Here are some of the big transactions he made happen last offseason:
|12/11/2014||- Los Angeles Dodgers traded 2B Dee Gordon, RHP Dan Haren, SS Miguel Rojas and cash to Miami Marlins for LHP Andrew Heaney, RHP Chris Hatcher, 2B Enrique Hernandez and C Austin Barnes.
- Los Angeles Angels traded 2B Howie Kendrick to Los Angeles Dodgers for LHP Andrew Heaney.
|12/18/2014||- Los Angeles Dodgers traded RF Matt Kemp, C Tim Federowicz and cash to San Diego Padres for C Yasmani Grandal, RHP Joe Wieland and RHP Zach Eflin.|
|12/31/2014||- Los Angeles Dodgers signed free agent LHP Brett Anderson.|
In the entire month of December, Zaidi would make 25 transactions in all as opposed to the rival San Francisco Giants, who would only make 14 (The full transaction list can be viewed here). The Dodgers currently hold a 3-game lead in the National League West — is that a consequence of Zaidi’s moves? We’ll leave that debate for a later time.
So why do I bring all of this up? Let’s look at the A’s and Dodgers real-time payrolls as of August 7th, 2015 (Full list of up-to-date MLB Payrolls).
Los Angeles Dodgers: $302,429,852
Oakland Athletics: $76,329,136
That’s more than a $226 million difference between the two clubs. To put that in perspective, the Dodgers signed a 20-year, $7 billion TV deal that will net them $84 million a year with a 4% annual increase. In short, the Dodgers ludicrous TV deal alone could pay off the A’s current 2015 payroll with roughly $6 million to spare (Details of the Dodgers TV Deal with Time Warner Cable).
The Dodgers’ payroll flexed its muscles once again at the MLB trade deadline just a week ago where they were part of a 3-way deal between the Dodgers, Braves, and Marlins:
P Mat Latos
P Alex Wood
P Jim Johnson
1B Michael Morse
P Luis Avilan
P Bronson Arroyo
2B Jose Peraza
2B Hector Olivera
P Paco Rodriguez
P Zachary Bird
Comp. balance pick(MIA)
P Jeff Brigham
P Victor Araujo
P Kevin Guzman
This is a 3-way trade in principal only. It’s really two separate trades because no Marlins went to the Braves and no Braves went to the Marlins. What ties this deal into the 3-way trade category is that Miami is sending a compensatory draft pick to Atlanta. There's a lot of moving parts to this trade, so let’s dissect the part that details the point I’m trying to make:
P Mat Latos
1B Michael Morse
RHP Kevin Guzman
RHP Jeff Brigham
RHP Victor Araujo
One might ask the question, "How in the world did the Dodgers nail two solid big leaguers for 3 pitchers that rank #49, #51, and #53 among the 57 prospects Baseball America ranked at the deadline?" First off, it’s the Marlins. Second, it’s the power of money. The Dodgers are basically getting Mat Latos for agreeing to eat Michael Morse’s contract. That’s how you use a big payroll to your advantage. Players that would otherwise hold little trade value due to their egregious contracts suddenly become available because teams like the Dodgers can afford to pay off their salaries. If that doesn’t strike fear into the 29 other GM’s in baseball, nothing will.
Needless to say, things would be very different in Oakland if Beane had even half the Dodgers’ payroll to work with. A’s fans will probably (most likely) never see the day their team steps into the $300 million payroll pantheon, but Zaidi might very well give them the ability to at least visualize it. Zaidi provides a unique opportunity for all to see what the Moneyball philosophy looks like with cash being no object. With Zaidi at the helm, we might be able to end the debate on how much money has to do with Billy Beane’s success. All of this hinges on the Dodgers and whether or not they win a World Series in the Zaidi era.
One might argue that the Boston Red Sox already proved the above affirmation when they won the World Series in 2004; however, while they may have used a similar philosophy, they never plucked a front office employee from the A’s like the Dodgers did with Zaidi. As previously noted, Zaidi served under Beane for more than a decade. While it’s widely believed the Red Sox used a similar version of the A’s formula to win it all in 2004, it’s tough to gauge just how much of that formula they used to build their championship team.
The Dodgers have provided proponents and opponents of Billy Beane the unique opportunity of fantasizing about what the A’s would look like with seemingly unlimited cash --it’s pretty mind-blowing to even fathom one or more players who are considered fan favorites to be staying long-term-- Ultimately, if the Dodgers win a World Series this year or any other under Zaidi, money will be more definitively pointed out as the scapegoat for why the A’s haven’t won a championship under Billy Beane.