Column: The New Moneyball

Column: The New Moneyball
By Conor Donnelly Updated

In 2002, Handcuffed by financial limitations in assembling his team,  Oakland A’s General manager Billy Beane set about exploiting other teams short sightedness when it came to player evaluation. The strategy was to find to find cheap players whose skill sets were undervalued and overlooked by other teams. A mix of journeymen, has-been and never-weres came together to represent a philosophy known as Moneyball. The art of using a Statistical-based, approach to building a team.

It was a movement that spawned a bestselling book, a Brad Pitt Oscar nominated movie and a million copycats in sports across the global, who all wanted to learn the formula for a how to form a team on a shoe string budget.

Today ten years on from Beane’s breakthrough, the next revolution in the game of baseball is upon us. One that is the very antithesis of what Moneyball stands for. A rash of reckless spending and inflated contracts handed out to mediocre players has taken over the game. If Beane’s Moneyball was about getting value for your buck by looking beyond a player’s name value, today’s vision is about how much money you can spend to get a player of name value regardless of past or present performance.

The poster child for this new movement is the LA Dodgers. The Dodgers, who eighteen months ago where in bankruptcy court, have been transformed over the last few months. Bought by a new ownership group including LA Legend Magic Johnson, for 2 billion the Dodgers have quickly moved from Baseball’s outhouse to the penthouse.

Determined to win a World Series sooner rather than later ,the Dodgers new owners quickly set about going on a spending spree that hasn’t been seen since halcyon days of the Celtic Tiger. However, instead of an unnecessary third home in some Bulgarian town,the Dodgers, as one rival General Manager was quoted as saying seem intent on acquiring  all-star players for every position, regardless if they need to or not.

It was this strategy that provided the impetus for the Dodgers first big move under their new wealth owners in August. The Dodgers took  250 million dollars of long-term contracts off the hands of the Boston Red Sox.  In essence, the Dodgers,acted like the NAMA of baseball .Only too happy to take on someone else’s toxic debts in the hope that  those bad assets will turn into something of value.

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That amount came in the form of Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford Josh Beckett and Nick Punto. Beckett a right-handed pitcher, who was the hero of the 2007 World Series Winning Red Sox, had become such a destructive force in the locker room that even pitching needy Red Sox were only too happy to get rid of him. Gonzalez and Crawford were the marquee free agents of the 2010 offseason. But, had failed so miserable to perform up to their big money contracts, that the Red Sox felt the need to ship them off to LA, in exchange for a selection of middling prospects and salary relief a mere year and a half later.

The move didn’t work for the Dodgers immediately as they ultimately missed out on the playoffs. However, it hasn’t stopped them from spending money freely. Just last week the Dodgers handed the largest ever contract for a right-handed pitcher to Zack Greinke. The six-year $147 million deal means the Dodgers payroll will stand at a mind-boggling $225 million dollars next season. Making them the most expensive sports team ever assembled.

The scary thing for the rest of baseball and their owner’s accountants is the fact they are not done yet. The Dodgers are still linked with Anibal Sanchez, a pitcher who is reportedly looking for $90 million dollar contract and Outfielder Josh Hamilton, whom it will take at least $20-25 million a year to acquire. But hey, in for a penny,in for a million seems to be the Dodgers motto this offseason.

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A decade ago Billy Beane had to outsmart the 29 other teams in Major League Baseball to make his team competitive. The Dodgers, backed by an ownership group with seemingly unlimited financial resources and a TV deal that will pay them a total of 6-7 billion dollars over the next twenty-five years can simply outspend them. Welcome to the new Moneyball era

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