NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- As major splashes were made all around them, the Los Angeles Dodgers made barely a ripple at the 2016 winter meetings, after kicking off the annual industry swarm with the first news conference of the proceedings.
Even as the meetings closed, with Aroldis Chapman's record closer contract of $86 million over five years with the Yankees, the Dodgers still were mulling their options with Kenley Jansen, their own catcher-turned-closer, who is set to make some big bucks himself on the free-agent market.
With Washington and Miami circling the Jansen proceedings from low altitude, the Dodgers are left to ponder if spending so much on a save specialist is really worth the gamble, not to mention the luxury tax hit they would take once they finally put together a 2017 roster.
The option for the Dodgers would be to stand pat at whatever financial level they think Jansen is worth and risk losing him to a National League foe. If he goes elsewhere, the Dodgers could explore the trade market for a ninth-inning option, turning their attention to re-signing another in-house free agent -- Justin Turner.
In filling the closer role via trade, it would not figure to give late-game assurances like Jansen does, regardless of who is acquired. But as the team gets payroll to a reasonable level, and it adheres to the latest restrictions of the most recent collective bargaining agreement, tough decisions will have to be made.
One statement from president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman this week stands out now.
"I actually think it’s really important to not feel pressure to do things in these three days," Friedman said. "We have goals we want to accomplish this offseason. But when they happen, is not something that we feel like we can force. If you get caught up in these three days, in our opinion, you can end up making mistakes."
That means not overpaying in money or talent to make a move. It also means not deviating from the script, even if highly regarded commodities, like closers, start coming off the board.
If there is a pattern to watch it is this: In 2015, the Dodgers had a $272 million payroll on Opening Day, according to baseballprospectus.com. In 2016, it was $250 million. In 2017 it figures to be closer to $235, and in ensuing years it is expected to inch closer in the direction of $200 million.
Does that make the Dodgers cheap or frugal? Hardly.
The only other team above $200 million in payroll for 2016 was the Yankees, and they were at $226 million. Other teams like Detroit and Boston were close, but no others went over.
Getting your finances in order will mean making some fans irritable. Losing out on Jansen would be one of those situations. Or perhaps the Dodgers deem Jansen worth the risk and they part ways with Turner. It would still be a tough choice.
As the club’s young core emerges, and prospects like first baseman Cody Bellinger, infielder Willie Calhoun, outfielder Alex Verdugo and pitcher Jose De Leon become an every-day roster presence, the Dodgers might turn back into an aggressive player on the free-agent market to fill necessary holes.
Spending the most is never the assured way to success. Spending wisest is usually the route that works best.
It is not the most inspiring of tactics, but sustained success -- not to mention at World Series title at some point -- would make it all worthwhile.
"Yeah, I just think there is plenty of time left in the offseason, and plenty of trade options and free agent options still out there," general manager Farhan Zaidi said. "We all want to feel like we traveled out here (to the winter meetings) for four days for a reason. That’s why you hope there is a trade or signing that makes everyone feel better about the travel. But these things are unpredictable, and there are 29 other teams out there that we are having to react to."