With Mookie Betts Extended, Dodgers Have a Chance To Rewrite The Record Books

The word “dynasty” gets tossed around in sports, but what does it really mean? The official definition for a dynasty in sports is a team or individual that dominates their sport or league for an extended period of time. Yet, what does it mean to dominate? What classifies as “an extended period of time”? There is so much subjectivity when it comes to deciding whether a team classifies as a dynasty or not, which adds confusion that really is just unnecessary.  However, if a team can break records, there is a certain amount of clarity that allows us to give them a place in baseball history. The Dodgers haven’t had the postseason success that people demand, but after signing Mookie Betts to a contract extension, they have a great chance to secure their place in baseball lore.

If you include the $27 million Betts will make this season, this new contract is worth $392 million over 13 years. Most importantly, it comes with an annual value of around $30.74 million, and will keep him under contract through 2032, when he’ll be 39-years-old. For some teams, making such a lofty financial commitment wouldn’t make sense. Yet, these are the Dodgers, so they can easily absorb this contract in their long-term books. We know that they have a very large budget that comes from playing in Los Angeles, but there’s much more to the equation. In the next two offseasons, Justin Turner ($20 million), Clayton Kershaw ($31 million), and Kenley Jansen ($16 million) will all have their contracts expire, which opens up necessary financial flexibility to not only fit Betts’ contract, but also extend players like Cody Bellinger, Walker Buehler, and Corey Seager. Obviously, none of those players will come cheap, yet, once again, that is not a concern. This is an organization that has prioritized adding depth and maintaining an elite farm system, and, as a result, they have both a deep big-league roster and the third-ranked farm system, based on my model.

Small-market organizations generally go through a consistent cycle of roster construction, which allows them to remain competitive:

  1. Develop young talent
  2. Trade them when they become expensive for cheaper young talent
  3. Repeat cycle

While fans of these teams (Rays, Indians, Diamondbacks, A’s) are unable to get attached to these players, it allows them to not have to go through a rebuild, since they consistently have their long-term needs in mind.

If we know that this strategy works, why should it only apply to small-market teams? Coming from Tampa Bay, President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman has continued to stick by small-market principles in Los Angeles; the largest free-agent contract he had given out previously was $55 million for AJ Pollock, while he has been reluctant to part with top-tier prospects. Yet, when you’re a large-market organization, your recommended cycle of competitiveness is even better than what Friedman had to deal with in Tampa Bay:

  1. Develop cost-controlled young talent
  2. Use money to sign star free agents and extend that young talent
  3. Repeat cycle

Rather than trading away the young talent as they get more expensive, teams with the Dodgers’ budget are able to extend their key players, and when the opportunity presents itself, you can invest in a superstar on the open market. Most teams are unable to follow this cycle, as they aren’t able to maintain the level of responsibility needed to stick with this strategy, but Friedman has, and the Dodgers are reaping the benefits. We’ve mentioned their financial flexibility and farm system, yet, equally as impressive is the roster he has put together. In Fangraphs’ recent positional power rankings, Los Angeles ranked in the top-11 at every spot, and that’s not even accounting for the fact that players like Chris Taylor, Kike Hernandez, Matt Beaty, Edwin Rios, Ross Stripling, and several relievers aren’t expected to be full-time starters for them. Their lack of an apparent weakness is what fueled them to be opportunistic in trading for Betts, as, rather than reseting their laurels, they invested it on one of the few players that represented a drastic upgrade over what they currently had on the roster.

Okay, so clearly the a contract of this magnitude isn’t an issue for the Dodgers, but is Betts worth it? Well, do dogs bark? Is water wet? Of course he’s worth it! Per my projections, in a full season, the 27-year-old would be in line to post a 5.89 Value Over Average (VOA), and after adjusting for positional value, I’ve calculated that his worth on the open market is around $43.88 million per year. Yet, he’ll be making just $30..74 million, as Los Angeles wisely added extra years to to lower the average annual salary, which is a very underrated aspect of this deal that makes it even more team-friendly; Betts also doesn’t have an opt-out clause, so he’s here for the long haul.

Well, are there any signs of regression with Betts? Nope. In fact, he’s only getting better. Based on multiple reports, he started working with hitting coach Doug Latta, who is known as an expert when it comes to optimizing a player’s swing to hit for more power- he’s famous for working with Justin Turner. Therefore, it shouldn’t be considered a coincidence that Betts raised his launch angle to around 18 degrees, which also caused his expected power numbers to skyrocket. That’s not all, though. Over the past two seasons, his hard hit rate has been over 46%, he has walked nearly as much as he has struck out, and his expected weighted-on-base average has ranked in the 97th percentile or better. Meanwhile, he’s an elite defender by every metric, and he’s also been a tremendous baserunner, per Fangraphs’ base-running statistic. There simply is no weakness in his game, and although his skills will likely diminish by the end of this contract, the surplus value he’ll provide at the beginning of the contract makes it a no-brainer.

When you have the depth, farm system, and cost-controlled talent that the Dodgers have, you can afford to give a superstar a contract that’s almost $400 million. Yet, somehow, they were able to secure Mookie Betts at an affordable rate, which honestly shouldn’t be a surprise given how well-run they are- do you really think that Friedman was ever going to show any sort of desperation in these negotiations? Therefore, the analysis of the contract is rather simple, but how does it affect the MLB moving forward? Currently, the Dodgers are at 7 straight divisional titles, and although the Padres, Diamondbacks, and Giants are doing an admirable job building their farm system, none of those NL West teams, or any team in the NL for that matter, look capable of truly challenging the Dodgers. As a result, not only is the Braves’ record of 14-straight divisional titles in jeopardy, but I’m guessing that Los Angeles will get a lot more bites of the apple when it comes to winning a World Series. Sure, the postseason hasn’t worked out well for them in the past, but October baseball has been proven to be random, and at some point, the Dodgers will be on right side of variance. When that happens, watch out; they’ll not only have the regular season success that the Braves had, but they’d also have the postseason success that Atlanta lacked. With the success he’s already had in Tampa Bay and Los Angeles, Andrew Friedman is already making a strong case for being one of the top executives in baseball history, and since he’s just 43-years-old, he has plenty of time to make a case as the best ever. That’s a scary thought for the rest of the MLB, and in reality, the unpredictable nature of baseball is the only thing that could keep them from reaching their potential. In other words, if you’re not a fan of the Dodgers, variance is all that can keep you from having to deal with one of the premier baseball dynasties of all time. If said variance doesn’t come, it could get ugly in a hurry.

Stats via Fangraphs and Baseball Savant

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