With the ability to flex financial muscle came big trades and big free-agent signings, in both the Major League and international markets. A stalled franchise was turned around quickly, from a fourth-place finish in 2010 to NL West crowns in 2013 and '14. This year's version of the Dodgers set an Opening Day record with a $234 million payroll.
"We re-energized the franchise with major trades and went hard on free agents, knowing it had a chance to rejuvenate the group and get us back to a good competitive spot," Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said. "Knowing that player development needs to be the lifeblood of your organization, we were going to try to do two things at the same time -- win and develop.
"Our team is developed by some homegrown players, some that have come via free agency, international signings and trades, where we were able to pick up contracts and fill in gaps as we continued to develop below. We had to do it in an uncharacteristic way: 'Let's load up, as fast as we can, for as long as we can, rebuild the farm system, draft better, get more involved in the international market and shore up the farm system while the big league roster can be competitive.'"
Player, how acquired, year:
Pedro Baez, Int'l sign, 2007
Scott Elbert, Draft, 2004 (1st)
A.J. Ellis, Draft, 2003 (18th)
Carlos Frias, Int'l sign, 2007
Dee Gordon, Draft, 2008 (4th)
Kenley Jansen, Int'l sign, 2004
Matt Kemp, Draft, 2003 (6th)
Clayton Kershaw, Draft, 2006 (1st)
Yasiel Puig, Int'l sign, 2012
Hyun-Jin Ryu, Int'l sign, 2012
Scott Van Slyke, Draft, 2005 (14th)
There are holdovers from the "old days," when the Dodgers' pipeline was funneling up exciting young players with regularity. Ace Kershaw, of course, is the cornerstone, and new ownership made it possible to make him a long-term Dodger, giving him a seven-year, $215 million deal, a record contract for a pitcher. Kemp missed last year's postseason, but the 2003 sixth-round pick has bounced back in 2014, playing all three outfield positions while providing power and run production in the lineup.
Gordon was on last year's postseason roster, but as a pinch-running option only. Now, he's coming off an All-Star campaign and is one of the top basestealers in the game. Van Slyke is one of many players who has given manager Don Mattingly versatility and flexibility off the bench.
The Dodgers have more homegrown international signees than any other playoff team. Two, Baez and Jansen, are former position players who were converted to the mound. A testament to the player development staff in Los Angeles, Jansen has become one of the best closers in the NL, and Baez has the makings of a power-armed setup man.
The big international signings, of course, have been Cuban outfielder Puig and Korean southpaw Ryu, who is trying to work his way back from a left shoulder issue. The Dodgers were in on Jorge Soler hard. While the Cubs signed Soler, those who represented top international free agents were notified that Los Angeles was back in business. The Dodgers signed Puig in late June 2012, then got Ryu six months later. Puig and Ryu received a combined 13 years and $78 million in their deals.
Player, year, acquired from:
Drew Butera, 2013, Twins
Carl Crawford, 2012, Red Sox
Andre Ethier, 2005, A's
Adrian Gonzalez, 2012, Red Sox
Brandon League, 2012, Mariners
Hanley Ramirez, 2012, Marlins
The big trades were of the blockbuster variety. The Dodgers plucked the languishing Ramirez from the Marlins in July 2012 for a pair of young arms. A month later came the huge deal with the Red Sox, one that netted the Dodgers Gonzalez, Crawford, Josh Beckett and Nick Punto. Beckett is hurt and Punto is gone, but Gonzalez and Crawford's productive 2014 campaigns are a big reason Los Angeles will be playing baseball in October.
Since the big trades, deals have been smaller, with Colletti tweaking more than anything else, helping to build some bench depth.
"We acquired Darwin Barney, not a headline grabber, but it gave us a former Gold Glover behind Dee Gordon, and an option if Dee had gotten hurt," Colletti said.
Justin Turner, 2014
Zack Greinke, 2012
Dan Haren, 2013
J.P. Howell, 2013
Miguel Rojas, 2012
Juan Uribe, 2010
Brian Wilson, 2013
Jamey Wright, 2013
The free-agent market, of late, has been another place to tweak and fine-tune the roster, after the big splash made by the Greinke signing in December 2012. Like with Van Slyke from the homegrown pool and Barney via trades, versatility has been an important ingredient.
That's why the Dodgers signed Turner to a seemingly ho-hum one-year, $1 million deal for the 2014 season. Not only has Turner played all four infield positions, playing third base full-time when Uribe was on the disabled list, he's also hit extremely well, with the second-best WAR among position players on the roster, behind only Puig and tied with Uribe, according to Baseball-Reference.
"In the National League, we feel the bench is a very big component," Colletti said. "We lost three great guys in Mark Ellis, Nick Punto and Skip Schumaker. We thought we had to get younger, a little more versatile. We went out and signed Turner; he's really helped us. Internally, Van Slyke really emerged and can also play four spots. Those players, they are less heralded, but we wouldn't be in the postseason without them."