Bristow: Pressure of big money baseball crushing Los Angeles' Dodgers, Angels
Damian Dovarganes, AP
Eight weeks ago there was talk of a freeway World Series. There was legitimate hope that the two southern California Major League Baseball teams that share Los Angeles could actually be good enough to meet in the fall classic.
The owners of both teams went — or spent — to great lengths to bring championships to their teams, and so far a payoff is not in the foreseeable future.
We’re eight weeks into the 2013 season, and those two teams currently have the third- and fourth-worst records in the big leagues.
The Los Angeles Dodgers of the National League and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the American League are two of pro baseball's signature franchises. Not simply because they reside in Tinseltown, but because they have both won world championships and have featured some of baseball’s brightest stars on their rosters.
The 2013 campaign has, to this point, been a thumbs-down dud for both teams. They are both underachieving in the win column, which is dangerous territory in the business world of baseball, better known as "Moneyball."
Especially when you consider the amount of dough shelled out to lure the star free agents these teams have fought to collect in the off-season. The Dodgers have the highest payroll in major league baseball currently at more than $220 million and the Angels are seventh-highest at just under $128 million.
Since Arte Moreno purchased the Angels in 2003 from the Walt Disney Company, Moreno has made it clear he wanted to take a chunk out of the landscape that had been owned by the Dodgers for more than 50 years.
Stadium upgrades, family-friendly pricing at the concession stands and big-time free agents have all gone to Orange County. But on the topic of the product on the field, Moreno has overlooked a few things. One major component: pitching.
The Angels currently have two All-Star caliber starting pitchers on their roster in Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson. Weaver is currently on the disabled list with a fractured left elbow and Wilson has not provided the left-handed savvy he possessed two years ago as a Texas Ranger.
After that, the roster is a list of young fellows trying to make their way as big-league pitchers. The bullpen boasts nothing spectacular as far as team numbers when holding leads — not that Anaheim has had many of those, and they do not have a shut down closer.
What the Angels do have is lumber: big-time sticks with larger-than-life hitters swinging them. Last year, Moreno opened his checkbook to an aging Albert Pujols and basically stole the future hall of famer from those who loved him in St. Louis with a $16 million contract.
Pujols answered critics of his move with the worst start in his major league career before righting the ship midway through the first half of the season. Pujols has seemingly adapted to his AL home in Southern California in his second year, but he is far from the threat at the plate he once was.
Nearly the same thing took place this past winter with Josh Hamilton. The controversial slugger who led the Rangers for the past decade snubbed Texas management and hopped the fence to Anaheim for a cool $17 million. So far, Hamilton’s numbers have not met expectations.
Similar issues are evident just 30 miles north up the 5 freeway where the Dodgers are safely nestled in Chavez Ravine.
The Dodgers, who just a year ago were bankrupt due to the careless spending of former owner Frank McCourt, were purchased by a conglomerate, with former NBA legend Magic Johnson as the face of the group.
Magic and company made no secret that they were about to open their wallets and get the best players money could buy to wear the Dodgers' blue.
The Dodgers have superstar players — oh, brother, do they ever. Yet, they are in last place in the NL West, behind the San Diego Padres, behind the Arizona Diamondbacks and behind the Colorado Rockies. To boot, they are way behind the San Francisco Giants, last year’s World Series champs who lead the division and are playing the best ball in the NL right now.
The Dodgers have suffered several key injuries that have slowed them down not only physically, but mentally. They appear to play flat or just drained, at times, by all the pressure these injuries have added to their team. Furthermore, the huge Boston Red Sox trade that brought three big-name players — and three big-dollar contracts — hasn't worked out so far.
Carl Crawford is having a nice comeback year from injury-plagued recent seasons, but Adrian Gonzalez has only put up average numbers at the plate, and high-priced starting pitcher Josh Beckett has yet to win a game this season. All three players, considered past their primes, are all near the top of the Dodgers' payroll.
One of the high-priced free agent acquisitions Dodger GM Ned Colletti made in the off-season was the signing of pitcher Zack Greinke. During his second start, the well-traveled former Cy Young winner hit the Padres' Carlos Quinten with a pitch and the two brawled on the mound. Greinke came out of the scuffle with a broken collarbone and an extended stay on the disabled list.
The skippers who steer these two Los Angeles ships are as similar as they are different. Mike Scioscia is the manager for the Angels and has been for 12 seasons. Don Mattingly is still a baby in comparison — only in his third season at the helm of the Dodgers. Both decorated, well-respected players in their day, Scioscia and Mattingly approach management in completely different ways. What brings them together is that they are both walking on thin ice.
Mattingly hasn’t necessarily made bad moves this year, yet his job is definitely on the chopping block. Interestingly — interesting, that is, for everyone but Mattingly — Scioscia could be his replacement. Scioscia is a Dodger fan favorite since he was their catcher back in the '80s, even if he is also walking on shaky ground in Anaheim.
Top dollar has become the calling card in L.A. — the owners have made that clear. Fans have been lead to believe that expecting championships is reasonable, but now high expectations are crashing to the ground. It will be interesting to watch this all shake out.
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