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MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Winning offseason doesn't always translate to title

Justice: Winning offseason doesn't always translate

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Winning offseason doesn't always translate to title

MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

They're saying competitive balance is going to be a thing of the past. They're saying the Dodgers are going to rule the world.

Hey, it could happen.

The Dodgers are spending money like crazy. At first, they were spending it to tell their fans a new era had arrived.

And they enjoyed it so much, they apparently intend to keep spending.

The Dodgers could win the Zack Greinke sweepstakes, and just to show they're not kidding, they may sign Kyle Lohse, too.

They're spending so freely, it's like the year the Yankees showed up at Spring Training with 21 current or former All-Stars on the roster. By Opening Day, fans were fretting over the seventh guy in the rotation and the sixth guy in the bullpen.

That Yankees team was constructed during an offseason when George Steinbrenner was furious at doing things general manager Brian Cashman's way. The Boss took charge, and by Opening Day, a lot of us were conceding a championship to the Bombers.

Only thing is, they didn't win.

OK, back to the Dodgers.

They've got around $200 million in payroll commitments for 2013 before signing Greinke, Lohse and whoever else. If their main guys stay healthy, the Dodgers might very well win the World Series. But it's no lock just because they're spending money.

Have you checked out the starting rotations the Giants and D-backs are going to be running out there in 2013? Pretty nice, huh?

Don't sleep on the Padres, either. They've also got new ownership and a first-rate management team. They were one of baseball's best teams after the All-Star break, and with a core of young guys, they've got a very high ceiling.

My point is that the games still have to be played, and sometimes the way we draw it up in the offseason isn't the way it plays out.

Who had the A's and Orioles in the 2012 playoffs? For that matter, who had the Cardinals returning to the postseason without Albert Pujols, Tony La Russa, Dave Duncan, Lance Berkman and mostly without Chris Carpenter?

They did, though, because they'd constructed a great farm system and because, in the end, good organizations endure. The Cards have a smart, disciplined management team. As long as Bill DeWitt and John Mozeliak are in charge, it would be a mistake to count out the Cardinals.

Now about the money.

Once upon a time, you could look at the 30 Opening Day payrolls and pretty much know who was in and who was out. And then A's general manager Billy Beane figured out a smarter way of evaluating talent. Pretty soon, other teams were copying "Moneyball."

If teams didn't buy completely into the analytics, they certainly understood that smart teams made building a great Minor League system their No. 1 priority.

Neither the Rays nor A's were very good offensive teams for large chunks of the 2012 season. But the A's made the playoffs and the Rays were in contention until the end because they'd stockpiled talented young arms.

In this era when the talent difference between the top 20 or so teams is very close, it's the teams that do the little things that can win a championship.

The Rays have a simple organizational philosophy: 1. Pitch well. 2. Play defense. Tampa Bay didn't even play great defense in 2012, but it had one of the best pitching staffs in history.

It's not about spectacular plays, either. Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and manager Joe Maddon understand that if a team makes all the routine plays and doesn't give away outs, it'll have a chance to win.

Anyway, "Moneyball" has helped close the gap. Money is still important. Money can cover up mistakes and buy time for those hot prospects to arrive.

There's also no reason to think the Dodgers are going to dominate the world simply because they're outspending everyone else.

And the disparity gap may not be growing. As the Dodgers have increased their spending, the Yankees and Red Sox have toned it down in recent years.

The Yankees have outspent every team for a long time, and in the past dozen years, they've got one championship to show for it.

Nine franchises have won the World Series at least once the past 12 years. In that same stretch, 14 of 30 teams have at least one pennant.

This year, three of the four highest-payroll teams didn't even make the postseason. In the past three seasons, teams with the eighth- (Giants), 11th- (Cardinals) and ninth-highest (Giants) payrolls won the World Series.

In the past 12 years, the average payroll rank of the champions was 10th. To argue that money isn't important is ridiculous.

Of course, it is. Money adds Prince Fielder to the middle of the lineup and Yu Darvish to the top of the rotation. But roster building is also more an art than a science. It's still about filling 40 roster spots and about having a great manager and coaches, about building an organization from top to bottom.

It's a great thing for baseball to have the Dodgers back in the headlines. It feels right when they're good again. But it would be silly to concede anything to them. That's just not how it works anymore.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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