12/8/2012 5:43 P.M. ET
New Dodgers owners prove they mean business
By Richard Justice / MLB.com
This is what Stan Kasten promised when he took over as president of the Los Angeles Dodgers seven months ago. He said the Dodgers would be aggressive and that they'd attempt to get better quickly. He said they'd think big and be a franchise others are measured against.
His words had weight because he had an impressive track record. He was instrumental in making the Atlanta Braves one of baseball's most successful franchises under John Schuerholz and Bobby Cox in the '90s. Then, he helped lay the groundwork for what the Washington Nationals are today.
If you ask him about the things that have excited him the most about his new job, Kasten would talk about long-term projects, about putting a great baseball staff in place and attempting to build the best player development system in the game.
He'd point out all the little nuts-and-bolts things that allow teams to sustain success. He has made it clear that no franchise, including the Dodgers, can live on free agency.
"Because," he said, "if you do it that way, you have to do it every year."
Kasten is proud of his vision for Dodger Stadium and how the new management team is improving it from top to bottom and making it the best place on earth to watch a baseball game.
Still, it all begins here, with tangible moves that make the Dodgers better immediately. That's what happened last summer with the acquisitions of Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Beckett from the Red Sox. The Dodgers are spending in a time when most teams are spending cautiously.
At last count, they had $200 million in salary commitments for 2013, with more to come as arbitration-eligible players sign up. That was before the Dodgers were on the verge of landing the biggest prize in this offseason's free-agent marketplace -- right-hander Zack Greinke.
He'll receive $147 million over the next six years, for an average annual salary of $24.5 million.
But enough about money. With Clayton Kershaw and Greinke at the top of the rotation, the Dodgers arguably have two of baseball's 10 best starting pitchers. In the last five seasons, Greinke has averaged 207 innings and 201 strikeouts. He's 27 games above .500 in that time and still only 29 years old.
If Ted Lilly, Chad Billingsley and Beckett are all healthy, the Dodgers have scary depth in the rotation. If Matt Kemp, Crawford and Hanley Ramirez are healthy, and if Gonzalez is comfortable back on the West Coast, the Dodgers could be spectacularly good in 2013.
The New York Yankees have led Major League Baseball in payroll every year since 1998, but unless something dramatic happens, the Dodgers will be No. 1 in 2013.
Sure, maybe they'll have buyer's regret down the road if they're saddled with a bunch of bad contracts.
But if their overriding goal was to send a message that this new era of Dodgers baseball would be nothing like the previous one, they've succeeded. Yes, folks, it's OK to believe in the Dodgers again.
There are no guarantees. The Nationals might still be the National League's best team. The Cardinals and Reds could end up being as good as the Dodgers.
The Giants? General manager Brian Sabean has kept the band together, getting 21 of his 25 World Series players under control for 2013.
But there can't be a conversation about the best team in baseball without mentioning the Dodgers. Go ahead and look up and down their roster and find a need.
If Beckett and Gonzalez don't bounce back from bad seasons, or if Kemp gets hurt again, the Dodgers could struggle.
But after three straight seasons out of the playoffs, the Dodgers may have found the last piece of the puzzle needed to bring October baseball back to their ballpark.
Even if it doesn't work out -- and the D-backs and Giants would like you to know the games still have to be played -- the dynamics around the Dodgers have changed dramatically.
And seven months ago, when the new owners took over, that was the first goal. Stay tuned for more.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.