<
>

Dodgers becoming the team to root against

As if last summer's blockbuster deals in which the Dodgers took on Hanley Ramirez and the contracts of Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett didn't already make the team unlikeable in its pursuit of building Steinbrenner West, comes this from majority owner and CEO Mark Walter (via Bob Nightengale of USA Today):

[Walter and club president Stan Kasten] believe the Dodgers will become a dynasty, and when asked whether it's possible for anyone to duplicate the Atlanta Braves' era when they won 14 consecutive division titles with Kasten as president, they weren't shy.

"It's going to be done again," Walter said, "this time on the West Coast. Oh, sorry."

Kasten, briefly taken aback by the bravado, said: "I'm saying, 'Yes.' But that's all I'm going to say."

I mean ... wow. Shouldn't you win ONE division title before talking about winning 14 in a row? Shouldn't you make the playoffs at least once or win 90 games before you start talking about building a dynasty?

I get it: The Dodgers have money, they have an enthusiastic ownership group, they invited Sandy Koufax back into the fold, they have Magic Johnson's smile, they paid a fortune to sign Zack Greinke, they have Clayton Kershaw and Matt Kemp.

To be honest, I love this. While the Yankees recently won a court case to own the rights to the trademark "Baseball's Evil Empire," they're more like a declining empire right now. In a couple of years, when the Yankees are eating the dust of the rest of the AL East and rebuilding around young guys like Mason Williams and Gary Sanchez and paying Alex Rodriguez $30 million to DH a few times a week, the Yankees won't seem so evil, that's for sure.

So we need this. A new franchise to root against, a franchise with cocky ownership that believes it can buy division titles -- apparently 14 of them.

Of course, if I'm Stan Kasten I'm telling Walter behind the scenes that it really won't be so easy. Kasten was with the Braves during their run and the Braves didn't buy all those division titles. Outside of Greg Maddux, they mostly improved from within: After first winning in 1991, they reloaded through the years with the likes of Chipper Jones, Ryan Klesko, Javy Lopez and Andruw Jones, Kevin Millwood, Rafael Furcal and others. They traded prospects for Fred McGriff and Gary Sheffield and others and combed the free-agent pool for secondary players.

As risky as the Red Sox deal was, the Dodgers have done other interesting things. They've invested in the international market, with Korean lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu expected to be in the rotation this season. Inviting Koufax to spring training after he had been alienated by previous ownership groups (going back to the Fox days) was a great PR move. They're getting the fans interested again after Frank McCourt embarrassed the franchise. But the first of the 14 division titles is far from a lock: Can Ramirez play short? Is Luis Cruz really the answer at third? Can Kemp and Crawford stay healthy? Does second baseman Mark Ellis have anything left? Will Chad Billingsley's elbow hold up? Will Brandon League hold on to the closer's job?

I can't wait to see it all unfold, although I'll say now that the Dodgers won't win 14 consecutive division titles.

There is, however, a chance we could get a Dodgers-Yankees World Series this year. If that happens, I say the title of "Evil Empire" goes to the victor.