There is no joy in SoCal baseball fandom. The mighty local teams have struck out. The Los Angeles Dodgers had an opening day payroll of $216,597,577, second only to the Yankees. Their record through Friday was 13-20, which placed them fifth in the National League West.
The Angels had a more modest opening day payroll of $127,896,250, which still placed them as the seventh highest paid team. Their record Friday was 12-22, which had them occupying fourth place in the American League West.
So much for the myth that larger spending on player costs automatically translates into victory on the field.
The new Guggenheim ownership group, flush with revenue from a staggering Time-Warner local television contract and its own substantial resources, set out to make the Dodgers the shining jewel of a franchise they had been in previous eras. They re-signed Matt Kemp (eight years/$160 million), signed Adrian Gonzalez (seven years/$154 million) and Zack Greinke (six years/$147 million) while taking on Carl Crawford (seven years/$142 million) from Boston. And they kept on spending. And they have produced a team of constant injury, pitiful hitting, fielding, and pitching.
Arte Moreno, the Angels owner, once again moved boldly to keep his team competitive with Texas by signing free agent and former Ranger oufielder Josh Hamilton (five years/$125 million) after last year signing free agent first baseman Albert Pujols (10 years/$250 million). Hamilton is hitting .213 so far with 4 HRs and 11 RBIs, and Pujols is hitting .238 with 5 HRs and 19 RBIs, and the team is floundering.
The NBA and NFL have salary caps designed to keep some parity in spending. Baseball allows free spending with a luxury tax. The fear has always existed that cities like New York and Los Angeles and Chicago -- the largest media markets generating the most revenues -- would field dominating teams that would take all the competitive fun out of the sport. It is clearly true that teams like the Houston Astros with a payroll of $22 million, 10 percent of the Yankees outlay, cannot reasonably expect to compete. Neither can the Miami Marlins at $36 million. But at a certain level, coaching and team cohesiveness, complimentary skill-sets and lack of injuries play a leveling role.
If spending were the total story, the New York Yankees should have won the past five World Series. Their payroll this year is $228 million -- $60 million more than the third highest Philadelphia Phillies. But they have won only once in 2009. The San Francisco Giants won last year with the eighth highest payroll. In 2011 it was the St. Louis Cardinals who were 11th ranked and spent half what the Yankees did. In 2010 it was the Giants who spent less than $100 million to the Yankees $206 million. In 2008, the Phillies won spending less than $100 million to the Yankee total of $209 million.
It would appear that building a strong minor league system that produces a consistent flow of young, homegrown stars who stay with a team for their careers is a formula which produces more winning franchises than relying on high spending for aging free agents. This is the formula the Dodgers won with for years and the Angels relied on to win their only World Series.
-- Leigh Steinberg has represented many of the most successful athletes and coaches in football, basketball, baseball, hockey, boxing and golf, including the first overall pick in the NFL draft an unprecedented eight times, among more than 60 first-round selections. His clients have included Hall of Fame quarterbacks Steve Young, Troy Aikman and Warren Moon, and he served as the inspiration for the movie "Jerry Maguire." Follow him on Twitter @SteinbergSports.