David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
LOS ANGELES - tFor years, the Dodgers and Mets, separated by 3,000 miles and nearly $200 million in payroll, supposedly represented the right way and the wrong way to resurrect a major league baseball team.
The Dodgers had their owner chased out by Bud Selig for running the franchise in a reckless, negligent fashion. They were sold for $2.15 billion in 2012 and immediately dumped more millions into the team, soon toppling the Yankees with the sport's highest payroll.
In New York, everyone wondered why the Mets, another Tiffany franchise, couldn't become a league powerhouse overnight. Instead, the cash-strapped Mets had to preach patience and take the longer view.
Yet Friday night, both were in the exact same place: NLDS Game 1 at Dodger Stadium, which wound up a 3-1 Mets victory.
The bigger question: Which franchise is in the better place?
With money no object, the Dodgers really don't have to worry about finances, at least for now. But constantly growing payroll, at an unchecked rate, is no guarantee of success either.
We know what side Sandy Alderson has taken in this debate. But in getting the $101-million Mets to 90 wins -- a year late, by his '14 proclamation -- this October should provide him with his "I-told-you-so" moment. When given the chance before Game 1, however, Alderson wasn't about to take a premature bow.
"It's not a chance to say anything," he said. "Just part of the gig. We'll see what happens."
Depending on how you see the Cubs' Jake Arrieta, the Dodgers possess two of the best three pitchers on the planet in Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. Beyond that, what has $300 million done for them?
In part, it's saddled them with close to $75 million in dead money, paid to players no longer on their roster -- and that's not counting the luxury tax.
So this group -- let's call them the ex-Dodgers -- has a payroll higher than six teams, including the Astros, who just beat the $220-million Yankees in Tuesday night's AL wild-card game. The Dodgers ate $16 million on Michael Morse and $10 million on Dan Haren, both traded to the Marlins during the offseason. They shipped $18 million to the Padres to chew up some of Matt Kemp's $160-million deal. Brian Wilson was released with $9.5 million left on his contract.
Those are just some of the highlights and, in the Dodgers' view, just the cost of doing business. Collateral damage, if you will. But no matter how you judge what's happening in L.A., it's incredibly inefficient. Even with a new GM in Andrew Friedman, who earned his reputation by turning the tiny-market Rays into a frequent contender, the Dodgers still don't hesitate to reach for the wallet.
While there's no speedier method of obtaining higher-caliber talent, it can back teams into some pretty large holes, as the Yankees have discovered. Only now are the team's top prospects being given the chance to flourish in the Bronx, as Greg Bird and Luis Severino did. But toward the end of the regular season, the Yankees showed their age and were beaten by a younger, fresher Astros club.
With the Mets, it's not as if they really had a choice. The fallout from the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme inflicted financial damage on the Wilpons' operation, and the Mets -- always among the sport's top spenders -- went the opposite direction. This season, even after their midseason trades, the Mets still are in the bottom third in payroll. They managed to exceed expectations anyway.
"The size of the payroll becomes shorthand for quality," Alderson said. "Most often in the offseason. It doesn't always prove to be true during the season. From my standpoint, I just ignore it.
"You do the best with what you have. It's easy to make mistakes with a big payroll. It's tougher when you make mistakes with a smaller payroll because you don't have as much backup to bail you out. But from my standpoint, I'm never worried about what other people have. We've always felt that we've got plenty."
When the dust clears on this Division Series, we'll get to see which philosophy prevailed. Regardless of how the Dodgers and Mets got here, only one is moving on. Then we'll see if the winner paid retail or got it at a discount.