How did the team with the biggest payroll fail? As we continue to digest the 2017 World Series, it’s tough to look at the Los Angeles Dodgers and wonder how they lost the World Series.
You can do that without taking anything away from the Houston Astros. They were a fantastic team. Heading into the series, though, the Dodgers looked better on paper. They had the better rotation, bullpen and defense. That’s based on the stats.
But, hey, the Astros were hardly slouches in most of those categories. Anyone looking back on this World Series 20 years from now could look at all those things and conclude these two teams were pretty evenly matched.
Until they looked at payroll.
By the end of 2017, the Dodgers ranked first in baseball with a $265 million payroll, according to Spotrac. The Astros ranked 15th, coming in with a $149 million payroll.
That doesn’t really do the Dodgers’ number justice. The team with the second-highest payroll, the New York Yankees, clocked in at $224 million. The Dodgers spent $40 million more than the team in second. That was roughly the difference between the No. 2 Yankees and the No. 9 Baltimore Orioles.
To be fair, the Dodgers’ success was not just about the money. A large portion of the team’s core was players they developed or turned around. They deserve a ton of credit for that.
That was especially important because the Dodgers had an astounding amount of money wrapped up in players who hardly contributed, or didn’t even play for them in some cases, this season. Adrian Gonzalez made $22 million. Scott Kazmir and Andre Ethier each made $17 million.
At least those guys were in the organization. The Dodgers paid Carl Crawford $21 million to sit at home. They had an additional $25.4 million tied up in other players no longer with the team, like Matt Kemp, who they paid over $2 million in 2017.
Just one of those contracts has the capacity to sink other franchises. But the Dodgers weathered those with no issues.
By the World Series, it hardly mattered. The 25 players on the Dodgers World Series roster made $154.9 million. The 25 players on the Astros World Series roster came in at $154.7 million.
Those figures aren’t perfect. They don’t include partial salaries paid by other teams. Justin Verlander made $22 million in 2017, but the Astros didn’t cover all of it.
But it still shows how little payroll made a difference in the end. When it came down to the final 25-man rosters, the discrepancy nearly as drastic.
Money didn’t wind up driving the team’s decisions in the World Series. Dave Roberts didn’t play certain players based on how much they made. He chose the lineups he thought were best. Ethier didn’t start over Enrique Hernandez or Joc Pederson because he made more. Brandon Morrow pitched in every World Series game. He made under $1 million.
Money helped the Dodgers build the most dominant team in baseball in the regular season and through the first two postseason series. It helped them retain guys like Clayton Kershaw, Justin Turner and Kenley Jansen. It helped them cover mistakes they made in the past.
But it didn’t determine their fate in the World Series. There are things to pick apart about why the Dodgers lost. You can question Roberts’ bullpen management. You can wonder how the team’s offense completely collapsed in Game 7. And yes, you can even debate who should have started Game 7.
Suggesting payroll played a role in the Dodgers’ loss is a lazy narrative. The Dodgers lost because the Astros performed better. They got key hits when it mattered. They figured out which relievers they could trust late in the series. Their starting pitcher performed better in Game 7.
In the end, the money didn’t matter at all. That’s not a sexy conclusion, but it’s the truth.
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