When Zaidi took the reigns as Dodgers GM before the 2015 season he was inheriting a team that was coming off of two consecutive NL West Championships and two consecutive playoff eliminations.
Back to back division titles in 2013 and 2014 was an improvement after the Dodgers missed the playoffs the past three seasons, but who they lost to and how they lost loomed larger in the minds of Dodger fans and executives.
The Dodgers strategy going into these seasons was to spend money and assemble a juggernaut to take over the National League and bring a title back to Los Angeles. What happened was this juggernaut ended up losing in the playoffs to the mid-market St. Louis Cardinals in 2013 and 2014. These defeats made the Dodgers realize that a championship can’t be bought, that their reckless spending was going to hurt them in the long run, and this model of business was no longer sustainable. They needed to find a way to free up some money for cap space and to get back under the luxury tax threshold while still remaining competitive. Enter Farhan.
Farhan Zaidi served as the A’s Assistant General Manager prior to being hired by Andrew Friedman former General Manager of the Tampa Bay Rays and current Dodgers President of Baseball Operations. These two were brought in from high performing, small market, budget conscious teams to turn the Dodgers into a high performing, large market, budget conscious team. The Dodgers wanted to purge larger contracts while remaining competitive, so they threw Friedman and Zaidi the keys to the franchise. Then Friedman and Zaidi drove them to four straight NL West Champsionships and two National League titles. They did all of this while clearing over $100 million off of their payroll. Now let’s examine how they did that.
Zaidi started his tenure as Dodgers GM slowly by starting with some minor acquisitions, but when December of 2014 rolled around, he was ready to start making his moves.
Dec 11 The Dodgers trade Dan Haren, Dee Gordon, and Miguel Rojas to the Miami Marlins for Chris Hatcher, Austin Barnes, Enrique “Kiké Hernandez and Andrew Heaney. The Dodgers ended up paying the remaining $10 million of Haren’s contract and $2.5 million of Dee Gordon‘s contract (Dee Gordon went on to sign a 5yr/$50 million deal in 2016). By the end of 2015 they would have their combined $12.5 million off the books.
The Dodgers then turned around and traded Heaney (2012 9th Overall Draft Selection by Miami) to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for Howie Kendrick and his remaining $9.5 million owed through the end of the 2015 season.
Dec 16 The Dodgers Sign Brandon McCarthy to a 4 yr/$48 Million Dollar contract at $12 million per year.
As the moves started coming, the Dodgers were spending money not saving money. In just a week the Dodgers paid $12.5 million to not have Dee Gordon or Dan Haren then added the services of Howie Kendrick and Brandon McCarthy for a combined $21.5 million. Then the Dodgers made their next big move.
Dec 18 The Dodgers traded Matt Kemp, Tim Federowicz and cash to the San Diego Padres for Yasmani Grandal, Zach Eflin, and Joe Wieland. In 2012 Kemp signed an 8yr/$160 million dollar extension with the Dodgers and they were on the hook for $20 million a year. In order for the Dodgers to shift his contract, the Dodgers paid the Padres $18 million for the 2015 season and would pay $3.5 million of Kemps contract for the remainder of his deal while the Padres would cover roughly $18 million a year for Kemp.
What? So far the Dodgers have paid $30.5 million to not have 3 players on their team. And the returns did not seem like good ones. The acquisition of Grandal was a curious one as well. The Dodgers traded their star player for a player one season removed from an 80 game suspension for violating the league’s PED rules with an uncertain future. The Dodgers seemed to be moving in the wrong direction quickly. They were spending millions to get rid of talented players and it was hard to see how this was going to help the team.
Dec 19 The Dodgers trade Zach Eflin (Acquired in the Matt Kemp trade) to the Phillies for Jimmy Rollins and a million dollars. The Dodgers would pay Rollins $11 million for the remainder of the 2015 season.
Cool. So the Dodgers are not only trading away some of their best players, but they’re trading the high level prospects they’re acquiring in those deals for aging veterans with expiring contracts. So to sum up the Dodgers offseason they paid $30.5 million to rid themselves of Matt Kemp, Dee Gordon, and Dan Haren, and they paid an additional $32.5 million by signing Brandon McCarthy and taking on Howie Kendrick and Jimmy Rollins contracts.
The Dodgers finished the 2015 season with an active payroll of a little under $200 million led by their pair of aces in Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, and an offense led by Adrian Gonzalez, an emergent Justin Turner, All-Star back stop Yasmani Grandal (that’s right) who posted a 1.4 bWAR (almost a full win more than Matt Kemp in 2015), and rookie All-Star slugger Joc Pederson, the Dodgers cruised to another NL West title. But again, they succumbed to another early playoff exit, this time losing to the scrappy but heavily armed New York Mets. Subsequently, the Dodgers fired manager Don Mattingly because he was the worst and brought in Dave Roberts who seemed pretty cool at first.