So I've discovered this delightful journalist named Bill Shaikin. No, I had never heard of him either. But here he comes out of the woodwork with an interesting piece on the machinations of the Los Angeles Dodgers' front office. How does this happen? How does someone I've never heard of, who hasn't written about this sort of thing before, get this kind of access? Well, I suppose only the fates know. Anyhow, Bill Shaikin--who I think has a future in this business--brings us to the mind of one Logan White, the man in charge of the team's scouting operations. Proceed, Mr. Shaikin:
The Dodgers no longer spend big bucks on free agents, so White and his staff must sign enough prospects to replenish the major league roster and provide General Manager Ned Colletti with a stash of trade chips as well. Yet the Dodgers also have stopped spending big bucks in the draft and abroad, effectively restricting White from signing some premium amateur talent.Well now just wait right there. I'm sorry, Bill. I'm quite interested in how the rest of this goes, but: really? The Los Angeles Dodgers can't spend on free agents, draft picks, or amateur international free agents? I'd go on here, but it's just tres de Mayo (el tercero de Mayo? I've never really understood this) and I ought not spend my entire month's allotment of indignation at once. Going on:
"I don't want people to think that because we're not spending the money the way some teams are, we're not getting players," [White] said. "That is so far from the truth."Well, for that to be the case, White and his pals simply need to be better than their competition. Growing into something of a fan of White over the years, I'll see where he's going with this. After making the valid--but stale--point that the Dodgers' Baseball America farm system ranking--23rd and 24th the last two years--has a great deal to do with graduating talent to the majors, the piece continues:
The Dodgers don't put too much stock into how much money they spent in the draft, since the teams with the worst records draft the highest and, generally, pay the most.
"For Pittsburgh and Kansas City and all those teams that have outspent us, what do their fans have to be happy about?" White said. "They're still going to have 18 or 19 losing seasons in a row. We're not."
Well, that's sort of silly, isn't it? I mean--the Dodgers would gladly trade farm systems with the Royals right now. There's some great pitching there. And the 'recommended' slot system actually favors large-market teams in the draft to an extent. What's that you say? Mystery scribe Shaikin covered this? Oh. Indeed:
Yet the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox spend freely in the draft, stocking up by selecting players whose demands for high bonuses have scared off poorer teams and aggravated Commissioner Bud Selig. The Dodgers, with rare exceptions, refuse to pay above the bonus recommended by the commissioner's office.
"We've tried to be a team player within MLB and address the unreasonable bonuses," White said, "and stay within what we feel is fair money for a pick.
Oh good grief. We've been over this together, so I'm not going to tear open old wounds, but: give me a break. The Dodgers need to be looking out for the Dodgers. Putting a consistently-excellent product on the field via sustainable processes is how this works. The Dodgers need to be taking advantage of their spot in the market, not apologizing for it! And besides...what in the world is "unreasonable" about going over slot in the draft? For all the market correction that's been taking place the last couple years, spending an extra $5 million on the draft is still much more efficient than spending it on, say, I don't know...Vicente Padilla.
White goes on to discuss the club's philosophy regarding the premium amateur free agents, which can be summed up as "we're not even going to try." And, you know what, that's fine with me. A bad plan is probably better than well-intentioned haphazard spending. And the plan might not even be bad; White cites internal studies showing that the expensive commitments to 16-year-olds are not efficient uses of resources. Whether that's true or not, who knows. White has a reason for his actions, and he's committed to following a plan. I can live with that.
It is not that the Dodgers cannot contend without pouring money into major league free agents, draft picks and international signings. However, given the prices they charge for tickets and parking, and given that they led the major leagues in attendance last season, it is unconscionable that ownership won't pour money into at least one of those areas, to leverage the advantage of playing in Los Angeles into the best possible chance to dominate the National League West.
On that score, White sounds almost defiant.
"We've made some mistakes on our own, but it's not been for lack of money. Since I've been here, I've always had the amount of money I need to spend," he said. "If I spent another $10 million, could I produce any more? It's near impossible. It's certainly not a money thing."
I said I was going to keep my indignation in check here, and I will. Suffice it to say that it is both wrongheaded and professionally foolish for White to say he wouldn't be able to improve prospect quality and quantity with more money. Telling your boss you wouldn't be able to do better with increased resources is just asking to have some of the resources you've got reallocated. And, judging by the current state of the Dodger farm system, further cutbacks could be disastrous.
As I said earlier, I like Logan White. I think he's been a big positive for the organization over the years, and I'm happy he hasn't been lured elsewhere. For everyone's sake, I hope he's just playing company man here. I hope he really doesn't think the organization would not benefit from increased spending on young players. And I certainly hope he doesn't truly believe in the slotting system. Scouting directors should be salesmen as much as decisonmakers; if I'm running a baseball team, I want my scouting director always championing the young player as the most efficient tool of organizational stability and growth. Let the next guy up the ladder make--and be accountable for--the decisions on how to allocate limited resources.
Hearing White espouse the virtues of frugal spending on player development is like listening to a too-old-for-his-years child from a struggling family make too-old-for-his-years decisions on what he wants to eat, play with, and wear. You admire the restraint, but there's something awfully sad about it. Even where there's not much to go around, the burden of those decisions should fall on someone higher up the ladder. This shouldn't be Logan White's job.