As Giants fans gather around the table for this year’s Thanksgiving feast, they are likely to offer thanks to family, friends and the Dodgers payroll. Without the Dodgers’ commitment to spend whatever it takes, would the Giants have tossed out big bucks to retain outfielder Hunter Pence and pitcher Tim Lincecum, add starter Tim Hudson, and still be willing to shell out more to finish off the rotation, lock up relief specialist Javier Lopez and maybe fix the left-field hole? Doubtful.
The Giants gambled after the 2012 World Series championship, and lost. They looked over the NL West for 2013, and didn’t see any powerhouse. There was no good argument to make that Arizona, Colorado or San Diego would be anything special. The Giants didn’t believe money could make the Dodgers mesh. Giants first baseman Brandon Belt carried the company line during a Fan Fest interview in February. When asked if the Giants were concerned about the Dodgers all-out spending, he replied, “Money doesn’t buy chemistry.” It seemed like a good answer at the time, for the Dodgers of 2012 couldn’t capitalize on the cash, playing unimpressive.500 ball after the blockbuster $250 million August trade with Boston. The Giants, as a result, built their off-season strategy on the premise that the NL West would be the Mild West, similar to the 2005 season when the Padres won the division with an 82-80 record. That’s why the Giants chose to bring back basically the same club that won the 2012 title, figuring the pitching would be enough despite a meager offense to outlast the mediocre competition. It looked like the fumble-and-stumble-to-the- goal-line business plan might work for a time. The Giants were just three games out of first on June 21 in the lackluster division, while the Dodgers were buried at 31-42, 9-1/2 games back. Even Dodgers fans liked the Giants conservative strategy better than their club’s liberal spending approach. A caller to Dodger Talk on AM570 in Los Angeles said it hurt to say so as a lifetime Dodgers fan, but that he thought the team needed to adopt the Giants’ Bochy-Ball brand of baseball.
Of course, everything changed when the Dodgers, ignited in part by the arrival of colorful rookie Yasiel Puig and the return of some injured players, went on a 46-10 streak.The Giants and the rest of the NL West, excluding the Dodgers, were mild. Whether the Dodgers found chemistry or were merely renting it, the Giants had to take notice that keeping up with their rivals was going to cost some money.
The Giants are reluctant to concede that a concern about Dodger dollars is influencing their spending, as was demonstrated by comments from club president Larry Baer on Yahoo Sports Talk Live. Asked if the Giants have to stay up with the Dodgers to be competitive in the West, Baer said, “I think it’s dangerous business to say, OK, we make this move, what’s the Dodgers counter move? So far, we’ve put $150 million into payroll if you take those three over the life of the signings, and the Dodgers have not made their moves yet. I think we’ve got to keep our eye on the ball on where do we want to be coming into Spring Training, where do we want to be as we go through the season, and maybe add during the season, and not be focused on what the Dodgers do or don’t do because we can’t control it.”
I wouldn’t expect Baer to spin that answer any other way, but the fact is that new Dodgers ownership has ratcheted up the rivalry so there’s a lot of ego and competitiveness not just on the field but in the front offices. AT&T is sold out every day, Giants merchandise is hot, and enthusiastic fans jump at any discussion about Giants roster moves to voice their strong opinions. Baer, general manager Brian Sabean and Giants ownership are being driven by the need to Beat L.A. because it doesn’t seem that the Dodgers are going to let up. Giants management deserves great credit for their incredible recent success. But there is a difference now: The Giants beat teams in the post season who thought they could slug their way to the championship. The Giants changed the game by proving that dominant pitching was the magic bullet. The Dodgers indeed are turning to a type of Bochy-Ball, intending to build an elite rotation with strong middle relief and a big-time closer. The fact that they seem to have the budget to re-sign ace Clayton Kershaw, and still possibly pursue someone like coveted Japanese starter Masahiro Tanaka — who would likely cost $100 million-plus — keeps the pressure on the Giants. Baer said he is not focused on what the Dodgers are doing, but you know he’s paying attention.
So Giants fans, enjoy the turkey, the gravy, and the biscuits at your Thanksgiving meal. And maybe even toss in a few Dodger Dogs as a symbol of thanks that L.A.’s riches are keeping your team cooking during the Hot Stove League.