By many accounts, the St. Louis Cardinals and the Los Angeles Dodgers are the teams to beat in the race for the National League pennant in 2014.
But the way the two clubs have been constructed couldn't be any more different.
The Cardinals are built almost exclusively with young, internally-produced talent. They'll count on Adam Wainwright (acquired in trade as a Class AA player) and St. Louis draft picks Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller, Michael Wacha and Jaime Garcia to round out the pitching rotation.
In the batting order they'll feature home grown talent in Yadier Molina, Matt Adams, Kolten Wong, Matt Carpenter, Jon Jay and Allen Craig. Only Matt Holliday and Jhonny Peralta among the expected starters were purchased off the free agent market.
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On the other hand you have the Dodgers who, with the signing of Clayton Kershaw to a $215-million contract for seven years, boast five players who average more than $20 million a year. While Kershaw is homegrown, Los Angeles second starter Zack Grienke pulls down a healthy $24 million in 2014 as part of the $147-million free agent pact he signed with the Dodgers before last season.
LA will pay Adrian Gonzalez $21 million after it picked him and fellow Boston Red Sox mistake free agent signee Carl Crawford up in a salary dump by the BoSox. Crawford will make $20.25 million.
Matt Kemp, whom the Dodgers signed to an eight-year contract extension in 2012, is currently on the trade block. Los Angeles is said to be willing to eat a large portion of his $21 million 2014 paycheck to make their centerfielder go away.
LA had a $216 million payroll last season, $100 million more than St. Louis. But it doesn't seem to be cutting costs this year.
With Josh Beckett making $15.75 to round out the Dodgers' top three, the club is still looking for more starting rotation help. The Bums could make a strong bid for Japanese import Masahiro Tanaka. Or there is talk that they're interested in signing Cincinnati Reds free agent Bronson Arroyo.
It has been popular the last few years for opposing fans to bash the Cardinals who they see as the big bully of the National League thanks to three consecutive league championship appearances since 2011 and four World Series appearances -- with two wins -- in the last decade. But is it possible for the Cardinals not to play the lovable underdog role to a team that is obviously trying to buy a World Series trophy?
On paper it would seem like the Redbirds don't have much of a chance to stand up against a virtual all-star club. But I wonder if the Dodgers have the ability to play as a team when they employ so many people who seem to be more interested in competing to see who can secure the biggest contract than in beating the opposition.