Dodgers' apparent payroll plan sends bad message to fans

Stories about sports payrolls and contracts and taxes generally make my eyes hurt, but this latest one about the Dodgers is different.

This one will make your heart hurt.

The Times’ Bill Shaikin has obtained a document, prepared more than a year ago, that outlines a Dodger plan to keep their payroll flat for the next four years to avoid paying a luxury tax.

If this plan holds, this would mean the Dodgers probably wouldn’t sign any high-priced free agents during this time, breaking a trust with fans who have suffered through rising ticket prices and a team-friendly TV deal with the expectation that the Dodgers will use their increased revenues to do whatever it takes to win a championship.

If this guideline is followed, the Dodgers would be operating counter to the mandate followed by the Lakers and Rams and all historically successful teams in this market — to win over Los Angeles, one must spare no cost in attempting to win.

The story by Shaikin is a must-read, and certain to chill, even with the realization that nothing is set in stone.

The document was not meant to be binding. It was simply a blueprint, prepared for potential minority investors. It was formulated before the Dodgers benefited from the increased revenue of consecutive World Series appearances.

There is nothing in the document that says the Dodgers cannot spend big money this year to sign either Bryce Harper or acquire a player of his caliber. There’s nothing to stop them from chasing Mike Trout in a couple of years. Given that the document itself is outdated, maybe the philosophies have already changed, and all this World Series money will be spent on improving the roster. Heck, maybe they’ll buy a relief pitcher with the extra concessions and merchandising money they made off that 18-inning Game 3.

The Dodgers wouldn’t comment on the document for Shaikin’s story, so we don’t know their plans. But the scary part is, we now know their thoughts.

We know their philosophy. We know their direction. We know their priorities. And in the year since the document was issued, we’ve actually seen their actions mirror this edict.

Remember last winter when they didn’t pursue any top free agents or trades for expensive players? No J.D. Martinez? No Giancarlo Stanton? No costly proven bullpen help for Kenley Jansen, leading to a makeshift relief corps that helped cost them a championship?

I gave them a pass at the time because they had finished just nine innings short of a championship and needed only to tweak. I was wrong. Without any major changes, they regressed this season, and even though they lost in the World Series again, they weren’t the second-best team in baseball again. They were probably the fifth best team in baseball.

And now one must wonder, is this really a pattern? It turns out, last year’s $195-million payroll adhered to the document’s guidelines, which projects to $185 million for 2019 and 2020, $191 million in 2021, and $196 million in 2022.

The question that should not get lost in all those numbers is, what if this is really happening? What if the Dodgers are really intent on maintaining a payroll that, while still among baseball’s highest, limits their ability to potentially sign a player they need?

What does this tell the nearly four million fans who flocked to Dodger Stadium in record numbers this year? What does this tell all those fans who can’t watch them at home because the Dodgers raked in $8.3 billion on an untenable television deal that supposedly helped them fund a champion?

Bill Snoberger fits both categories. He is a longtime top-deck season-ticket holder with fiancée Mary Jones. They were the subject of a column I wrote last winter about die-hard Dodger fans.

Snoberger loves the team, the stadium, the employees, the experience, he and Jones were even visited in their seats last year by Dodger chairman Mark Walter and president Stan Kasten.

But he reads Shaikin’s story, and now he’s worried.

“I think many fans will read this and be scared,’’ Snoberger said Thursday. “You lose in the World Series twice in a row, both times we have to watch the visiting team celebrate on our field, and now you’re not going to spend to improve yourself?”

Snoberger says it just doesn’t add up.

“They’re making $8 billion dollars from a TV deal that I can’t watch, and that’s not enough?’’ he said. “They have 3.8 million fans paying the highest ticket prices in Dodger Stadium and that’s not enough?’’

Again, we don’t know what will happen with the Dodgers this winter. The only thing for certain is that, with the revelation of this document, everybody will be watching them now. Every transaction will be scrutinized for its financial implications. Every time they make a move that saves money, everyone will wonder if it’s about the move, or the money.

During his four seasons here, baseball boss Andrew Friedman has done a brilliant job of patching together four consecutive National League West championship teams, plus consecutive World Series teams. Now, in the wake of another season-ending disappointment, working without departed wingman Farhan Zaidi, and with this document hanging out there, his job has never been tougher.

So far this winter, it’s hard to sense a direction, as the early results have been mixed.

Friedman has extended Clayton Kershaw’s contract by one year at about the same annual salary counting bonuses, increasing a two-year, $65-million deal to three years at $93 million, which could make him the highest paid pitcher in baseball.

Friedman also bought out standout veteran David Freese from a $6-million contract and gave him a one-year deal that amounts to $4.5 million, a savings of about $1.5 million on next season’s payroll.

Then there’s manager Dave Roberts, who should already have a multiyear deal by now, but, even though his salary doesn’t count toward the luxury tax, they’re still negotiating and have so far simply picked up his $1.1-million option.

“If Guggenheim is financially strapped, that is very disappointing.’’ Snoberger said. “I think somebody needs to peel back the onion on what is going on with Guggenheim.’’

Let’s just hope it won’t make you cry.

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

Get more of Bill Plaschke's work and follow him on Twitter @BillPlaschke

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