I finally had a chance today to listen to Stan Kasten’s 42-minute, 40-second chat at the SABR Analytics conference last weekend. SABR is the Society for American Baseball Research so, naturally, the interview took a historical bent. The president of the Los Angeles Dodgers talked almost as much about building the 1980s and 1990s Atlanta Braves as he did his current team.
Embedded among Kasten’s words was an important lesson for Dodgers fans (and haters).
When he took over the Atlanta Braves’ general manager job, Kasten said the team had baseball’s highest payroll and also its third-worst record, “which is almost hard to do if you’re trying to do it on purpose.” He had to convince then-owner Ted Turner to rebuild (bold words mine):
After I spent 30 days analyzing the circumstances, I explained why we’re spending all this money and getting worse. When you sign a free agent, if everything goes right you get one great season out of one great player. That’s if everything goes right. But here are all the things that can go wrong: He can get injured, you’re blocking the way for minor league players at that position, you’re giving up draft pick compensation. So let’s take that money and invest it in scouting and player development, hire more coaches, more scouts, and buy more minor league teams, etc. Maybe if you do that for the same amount of money you get 10 players, and each of them gets 10 major-league seasons. That’s a difference of 100 to 1. It’s not going to be 100 to 1 but you get the point. To (Turner’s) eternal credit he said, ‘I don’t need lectures, OK, just do it.’ It’s important because owners will always talk about long-term plans, scouting and player development, but you often see when the team loses two games in a row people start getting fired. He allowed us to do things the right way for the long haul. The Braves were good and have been good for a very long time.
So yes, all your fears about the back of Zack Greinke‘s right elbow, Carl Crawford‘s Tommy John surgery, Matt Kemp‘s left shoulder labrum, Chad Billingsley‘s elbow ligaments, Ted Lilly‘s shoulder, Clayton Kershaw‘s hip — and any other high-priced player injury you can imagine — are not lost on the overseer of baseball’s largest payroll. Nor is the fact that Andre Ethier might be blocking Yasiel Puig‘s development.