A bizarre series of setbacks to the Los Angeles Dodgers' plans has led, thus far, to what some fans consider a disconcerting quiet in Southern California. Aside from seeing Brett Anderson accept the team's $15.8 million qualifying offer and re-signing veteran infielder Chase Utley, the team has done nothing to generate headlines this winter. The Dodgers have stayed out of free agency and, thus far, failed to swing any trades for obvious 2016 upgrades.
The team had a deal to acquire flamethrowing closer Aroldis Chapman from the Cincinnati Reds only to see that scuttled, at least for the moment, by an MLB investigation into a domestic violence incident involving Chapman from weeks earlier. The Dodgers had a deal to acquire free-agent starter Hisashi Iwakuma only to see something crop up in the physical and for Iwakuma to return to Seattle on a one-year deal. The Dodgers didn't stretch to a sixth year for Zack Greinke and finished third in the effort to hold on to their No. 2 starter, who wound up signing with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
With all that in motion, we checked in with Dodgers team president Stan Kasten about the state of the team in what looks like a transition phase.
It has been a quiet offseason thus far for the Dodgers. Can you explain the lack of activity?
Kasten: I understand people wanting as much good, positive, big news as early as they can get it. I totally get that, but I also know that nowadays all of us tend to overreact to everything, both good and bad. If you're feeling down right now about the Dodgers, I think it's unwarranted as well as way premature. We had all kinds of scenarios when the season ended. We did reach for some big-ticket items very early that didn't work out for various reasons.
We are going to be, at a minimum, a contending team again and maybe better than last year by the time Opening Day gets here. Even more important, we're much closer today than we were three years ago to being the long-term, self-sustaining organization, and that doesn't get enough attention. Fans look at the short-term snapshot and maybe don't have enough time to reflect on what we have been spending a lot of our time and energy and money building here in L.A. We all know the next wave of players is very close to getting to the majors this coming year. Behind them, we think two to three years from now we have a very, very deep roster of other prospects highlighted by the investments we've made internationally. There are two movements on the way and that's what we said we were trying to do from the day we arrived.
In that case, is there a disconnect between the way the Dodgers operate their baseball team, concentrating on the farm system, and the way national media and other teams think they still operate it, by throwing around money?
Kasten: I don't know. I do know everyone saw us make a reach for big-ticket items when that worked for us. It really only worked this offseason with the way we felt personally about Zack [Greinke]. We decided we would stretch for him. Once that didn't occur, I know our name was thrown out there on everybody. Part of that is because we do touch base with everyone and once that happens, agents can characterize that touching base however it suits their purposes. We haven't wanted any of the other big-ticket items for various reasons, from physical reasons to age to the way it was going to fit together for us. Everything we do has to make sense in the short term and in the long term. We value our flexibility now and that's only going to increase.
Kasten: I think we were right there. We were inside the red zone for sure. I love Zack and Emily, his wife. He did what was best for him and I'm glad he is happy and comfortable. He is a great guy and was a fantastic Dodger. He should be remembered by our fans with only the best thoughts.
Some people seem stumped as to why a team with your revenue wouldn't guarantee a sixth year for a pitcher that good. Can you explain?
Kasten: We evaluate stuff very carefully, from performance to contracts to physical conditions to the arc of performance over various ages. We value productivity levels in free-agent contracts. All things factored in, we could not get to a point we felt hamstrung down the road. Having said that, we went beyond what we felt was strictly prudent because it was Zack, who we valued so highly. But we were prepared to move on once it went another direction.
So, do you need a No. 2 starter behind Clayton Kershaw or could you go into next season hoping one of that next wave of starting pitchers -- guys like Julio Urias or Jose De Leon -- will be ready?
Kasten: I always talk about the three ways of acquiring players. You can grow them yourself, you can sign them as free agents or you can make trades. All the avenues remain open. We are looking at things down all three avenues. If we can find more starting pitchers between now and Opening Day, we'll certainly do that, but I think we're going to be good either way. One of our keys last year that doesn't get talked about because I wouldn't let anyone talk about it was injuries. We used two dozen pitchers last year and that many or more position players. The system is just starting to catch up in terms of depth. I can tell you right now we have more depth than the organization has ever had. I think we're ready to see that in the regular season and beyond. I don't think the team we field today is the team we will open the postseason with next October. Things happen. I'm really excited about our growth and the whole rotation of pitchers we have knocking on the door at [Triple-A] Oklahoma City. Oh, and by the way, we haven't even talked about Brandon McCarthy or Hyun-Jin Ryu, both of whom could pitch for us next year. I just talked a couple of days ago to Ryu, who is working very, very hard here and he thinks he'll be ready for the start of spring training, even though we don't strictly need him to be.
Was [president of baseball operations] Andrew Friedman given a mandate to decrease the payroll?
Kasten: Let's go back to the start. Did you not see us make big offers? Don't pretend that's not there. What is important is that we continue the program we began three years ago of becoming more self-reliant on our own development. Over the course of time, becoming a younger team will be cheaper, but it will also be one that stays good longer. From the start, I said we don't make decisions by looking at payroll. I didn't know what it was going to end up being last year. We had to do some cleanup for the new administration. If you told me it would be the highest in baseball again next year, that might well be right. I just don't know yet. It's not the biggest consideration. The biggest consideration is putting winning teams on the field.
Is it true there is a rift between ownership and the front office or dysfunction inside the front office, as some people have written?
Kasten: Man, that is bizarre. I've read that a couple places this year and, please, put that all to rest. First of all, I have no hard and fast rules other than not having any hard and fast rules. I read I have a hard and fast rule not to sign guys beyond age 36. That's b.s. When we made the trade with Boston or we traded for Hanley Ramirez or signed Andre Ethier, I said it was cool that none of them were signed beyond age 36, but it doesn't mean it's a hard and fast rule. Another thing was I don't give pitchers more than five years. I think that's a really good rule if it were one, but on the other hand, we have Clayton Kershaw here. It's silly people would actually write that.
I've also read that the front office was all set to hire one managerial candidate until ownership stepped in and made them have a deeper search. That is really bizarre. Where does this stuff come from? There were no other jobs open and we had all the time in the world to interview every possible candidate, which is what we did. It came down to the last two guys and our owners met those guys and we all collectively made the same decision. That was the first time the owners were involved at any stage of the search. Rift? I've never been in a situation that was more fun and more collegial. Our owners, by the way, speak the same language as our new front office, which wouldn't be the case if they were just conventional baseball guys. We have wide-ranging, fascinating conversations. I don't know where any of that is coming from. I really don't.
Now to your favorite topic: Do you have any further optimism that your channel, SportsNetLA, will be available to more homes in Southern California next season? Could the dispute with DirecTV and other carriers carry through a third season?
Kasten: I don't have any news, which is one reason why I don't answer questions on this every day. It got kind of silly. But there isn't a day that goes by, including earlier today, when we haven't engaged in some conversations with someone or multiple parties or companies looking to find the best path to finally get everyone access. Are there some companies that after two years of not giving their customers the Dodgers, never will? At some point you might just have to accept that, but today people should be convinced we're doing all we can. I can't talk to anything substantive, because the minute we do it gets mischaracterized and sets us further back in terms of resolution.
As hard as we have worked on the product, the team, the stadium, our community relations in the name of solidifying our core of fans, this TV thing has hurt our fans more than anything else. This problem has bothered me more than any other we have had.
Once all these mergers are final could that lead to resolution?
Kasten: I'm tired of predicting that, but I am hopeful. I guess we just have to see how it all works. You have new companies owning rights that have to deal with other companies that thus far didn't feel the need to provide the Dodgers to their customers. We will all see together.