For Dodgers, 'World Series or bust' carries richer meaning — and consequences


They have three former most valuable players at the top of their lineup.

They’ve spent more than $500 million to reconstruct a new-look pitching staff.

They’re the odds-on favorites to win a championship this year, if not several more in the seasons that follow.

They know what the expectations are — and, just as important, the consequences that come with falling short.

“If the Dodgers don’t win the World Series,” manager Dave Roberts said, “I think we’d all feel we’ve failed accomplishing our goal.”

This is nothing new to Roberts and his team. In almost every season of the last decade, World Series or bust has been their default setting.

On one occasion they delivered, in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season that loses more luster (and, to some in the sport, legitimacy) the longer it remains their only recent triumph.

But after every other October disappointment, they’ve found ways to regroup, reload their roster and remain consistently competitive — becoming the kind of destination top free agents like, say, Shohei Ohtani have wanted to come experience.

What’s different now, however, in the wake of the Dodgers’ $1.2-billion outlay this offseason, and with a superstar core of Ohtani, Freddie Freeman and Mookie Betts all in their prime: The Dodgers have the largest championship window they’ve had in recent memory.

The urgency to win remains unchanged.

But the ramifications of coming up empty — of not realizing the “golden era” of Dodgers baseball that president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and others in the organization have long dreamed of — could exponentially escalate.

Consider this: Four years from now, Ohtani will be 33, Tyler Glasnow will be 34, Betts will be 35 and Freeman will be a 38-year-old free agent. Between just the three under contract — plus Yoshinobu Yamamoto, who will be 29 — the Dodgers will have a luxury tax hit of $130 million. If any of those core pieces significantly regress, as many players do in their mid-30s and beyond, the team could have dead financial weight even a Guggenheim-sized payroll could have trouble navigating.

Shohei Ohtani bats against the San Diego Padres during the Dodgers' season opener in South Korea.

Shohei Ohtani bats against the San Diego Padres during the Dodgers’ season opener in South Korea on Wednesday.

(Lee Jin-man / Associated Press)

To truly achieve a so-called golden era of franchise history, multiple parades (plural, just as Ohtani targeted in a statement upon signing his $700-million contract in December) probably will need to be staged.

In a way they never have before, the Dodgers have pushed their chips to the middle of the table. Now, they’ll anxiously await what cards they are dealt.

“I wouldn’t define it as like going all-in,” general manager Brandon Gomes said. “Because I think we still have maintained plenty of optionality to continue to add players, and bring along guys through the development system to contribute at different levels, and have everything time out.

“The goal is to not do a bunch of stuff and then fall off a cliff, right? Like what happens with a lot of big-market teams.”

At the same time, Gomes acknowledged, the level of spending and star power the Dodgers took on this offseason brings a new level of pressure. A new kind of perspective.

“Obviously,” he said, “everything gets magnified.”

Even while holding what appears to be the best hand in baseball, unexpected trouble always threatens to abound. And it took only two games for the Dodgers to be reminded, as they split a season-opening series against the San Diego Padres in South Korea.

Yamamoto, the 25-year-old Japanese acquisition who signed the biggest contract by any pitcher outside of Ohtani, was walloped in a one-inning, five-run debut, amplifying questions about his ability to thrive in the majors.

Dodgers starting pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto struggled in his major league debut against the San Diego Padres.

Dodgers starting pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto struggled in his major league debut against the San Diego Padres on Thursday.

(Ahn Young-joon / Associated Press)

Ohtani, meanwhile, found himself caught up in an alleged gambling scandal. According to his representatives, he was the victim of a “massive theft” by his interpreter Ippei Mizuhara, whom the Dodgers fired. But as Ohtani remains conspicuously silent, unanswered questions and industry speculation already have given this season at least one black cloud.

On Friday, MLB announced it had opened an investigation into the allegations surrounding Ohtani and Mizuhara.

“It kind of is what it is,” Betts said. “I hope Sho is good, but at the end of the day you have to make sure we take care of your job.”

Indeed, going back to the start of spring, when an increased media presence and public spotlight descended on them, that has been the sole focus of the Dodgers.

Block out the noise. Push one another behind the scenes. And embrace the pressure, expectations and title-winning window that has been thrust upon them.

It’s what Roberts repeatedly raved about leading up to the season — from the way Betts and Gavin Lux handled a late-spring switch on defense, to the careful efforts of the pitching staff ramping up during a condensed camp, to the open-minded attitude the entire roster largely took to beginning the season on the other side of the world.

“Our guys,” Roberts said, “are very self-motivated.”

Third baseman Max Muncy took that sentiment a step further.

“I don’t know if it was the shortened spring training or what, but everyone just feels like we’re on a mission this year,” he said. “There was a whole lot more focus on preparing ourselves. This spring was the most I’ve seen everybody go out and get their work in. … It was fun. It was good. Everyone was getting on everyone.”

Freeman said the team was welcoming all the newfound attention, while sitting beside his two fellow MVPs — and in front of hundreds of reporters and photographers — at an opening news conference for the Seoul series last week.

“When you have this going on,” he said, “that means something exciting happened in the offseason.”

Still, for the Dodgers’ optimism to be fulfilled, they’ll need several pieces to fall into place.

Dodgers pitcher Bobby Miller delivers during an exhibition game against Team Korea on March 18.

Dodgers pitcher Bobby Miller delivers during an exhibition game against Team Korea on March 18.

(Lee Jin-man / Associated Press)

On the mound, not only will Glasnow and Yamamoto be relied upon as aces — at least in the near term, until injured stars including Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw can return from major surgeries — but also younger arms such as Bobby Miller, Gavin Stone and Emmet Sheehan (when he returns from his own injury) will be called upon to provide steady depth.

A similar calculation applies at the plate. Betts, Ohtani, Freeman and catcher Will Smith provide as dependable a top four as any lineup in baseball. But, as the team’s last two postseason eliminations epitomized, consistency will be needed out of the bottom half as well — from Muncy (both with the bat and glove), offseason signing Teoscar Hernández and younger, everyday options such as Lux and James Outman.

Health will be imperative, especially for a bullpen already missing two key arms (Brusdar Graterol and Blake Treinen both opened the season on the injured list).

So too will be a sense of clubhouse togetherness, with one scandalous subplot already threatening to test the fabric of the team.

“This team has been through a lot,” Roberts said after Thursday’s loss to the Padres, “as far as the core guys over the years.”

The one thing they’ve yet to do, though, is translate that talent and experience into more than one 60-game championship.

Thanks to their big offseason, they should be primed to rectify that this year, and the next few to come

A dynastic window has been firmly propped open. They’ll have only so long before it might shut.



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