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Cardinals vs. Dodgers at Busch Stadium

Los Angeles Dodgers' Zack Greinke pitches in the first inning against the Cardinals on Saturday, July 19, 2014, at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. Photo by Huy Mach, hmach@post-dispatch.com

So what in the heck are the Los Angeles Dodgers doing?

That cash-rich franchise just paid a luxury tax bill of $43.6 million for a payroll of $297.9 million last season. For the third consecutive year they easily cleared the luxury tax threshold of $189 million, so by rule their overage was taxed at a 40 percent rate.

Once again the Dodgers didn't go deep in the playoffs, despite that extravagant spending.

If money is no object for this team -- and surely it hasn't been -- then how could the team let ace pitcher Zack Greinke use his escape clause to jump to the Arizona Diamondbacks? And after that happened, how could they lose the bidding for Johnny Cueto to their arch-rival San Francisco Giants?

It's one thing for the Cardinals to lose out on the bidding for free agents Jason Heyward and David Price. Overspending on talent is not something general manager John Mozeliak is used to doing.

But the Dodgers have been "all in" for a while. The billionaires who bought the team expect world championships. Money seemingly means nothing to them.

The new management team of Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi is struggling to adapt to big market baseball. They are clinging to their prospects and acquiring more prospects, as they would if they were low-revenue Rays.

But Friedman is not in Tampa any more. He is in Los Angeles and right now he doesn't have much of a starting rotation beyond Clayton Kershaw. He still has a crowded outfield and holes in his infield.

Dodgers president Stan Kasten forced former GM Ned Colletti into an advisory role and hired Friedman to build a whole new baseball operation from the ground up. The results thus far have been unimpressive.

“I remind the thin-skinned people in front offices of the smart words Hyman Roth gave Michael Corleone in that hotel room in Havana — ‘This is the business we have chosen,’ ” Kasten told the New York Post. “The criticism and fishbowl scrutiny is just part of the business. … I am really proud to represent a team that has won 90 games and the division title (each of the last three years). Yet, that is not good enough for our fans, the media, ownership and me. That is the way it should be. We are the Dodgers, we represent Los Angeles. We should expect to compete for the top every year. Criticism is what goes along with that, which is just fine.”

Los Angeles Daily News columnist Mark Whicker wonders if the Dodgers are just fine.

The trading bazaar is open until spring training and beyond. But fans sense they’re further away from their inevitable First World Series Of The 21st Century than they were before Friedman came from Tampa Bay, supposedly to upgrade a club that, after all, has nine winning seasons in its past 10.

Take Greinke, as Arizona did for six years and $206 million. Friedman can’t be rationally criticized for failing to match. But he has known for a long time that Greinke had the opt-out hammer.

Hope for the best, prepare for the worst. There had to be Plans B and C, even Z if necessary, to get a headline pitcher.

Instead the trade deadline came and went. Texas, not the Dodgers, got Cole Hamels from the Phillies, with three years left on his deal. Now Johnny Cueto (San Francisco) and Greinke are in the Dodgers’ division, and the L.A. rotation is Give It To Clayton (Kershaw), Then Four Days Of Waitin’.

Surely the Dodgers will fix this. There are reports Friedman is talking to Tampa Bay about right-hander Jake Odorizzi, which is not a bad idea. There were reports that the Dodgers were trying to get Jose Fernandez from the Marlins, which would be an all-is-forgiven move and would give the Dodgers a sensational frontline pitcher for many years, even though Fernandez is coming off Tommy John surgery.

One can understand why Friedman will not release his death grip on shortstop Corey Seager and pitchers Julio Urias and Jose DeLeon, the assumed stars of tomorrow. The Dodgers absorbed outfielder Trayce Thompson, pitcher Frank Montas and second baseman Micah Johnson and are even better positioned for a sweeping deal. But why are they making it up as they go along?

MYSTERIES OF THE UNIVERSE

Questions to ponder while wondering if the Blues can regroup overnight:

WHAT OTHERS ARE WRITING

Here is what some of our favorite sports pundits have been writing:

Will Leitch, Sports on Earth: "On Sunday, the San Diego Chargers might have said goodbye to their fans with a stirring, emotional, completely irrelevant 30-14 win over the Miami Dolphins. We don't know for sure if this was the Chargers' last game in San Diego, or if Thursday night's Rams win over the Buccaneers was the last Rams game in St. Louis, or if Christmas Eve's Raiders game against the Chargers will be the last Raiders game in Oakland, but it's certainly possible. The NFL owners' vote on what will happen in Los Angeles next year -- whether there will be one, two, three or zero teams playing in the City of Angels in 2016 -- won't happen until January, which has left all of those fan bases in this strange state of limbo. Are we saying goodbye? Is this really happening? Are we all just going to be back here in seven months overpaying for preseason games again? Or is the forever, forever-ever?"

Lee Jenkins, SI.com: "On Jan. 13 in Houston, NFL owners will vote on two stadium proposals to fill the longstanding void in the Los Angeles market, one that would send the Rams to Inglewood, the other that would dispatch the Chargers and Raiders to Carson. The specter of the vote has paralyzed three fan bases, and they all deserve sympathy, but excuse me while I raise my old foam finger for the city that supported its team through a half-century without a championship, the one that drew 150,000 people to a Super Bowl parade after a loss, the one that mounted a public protest when the organization decided to open the parking lot five hours before kick instead of seven. Drivers accustomed to lining up on Friars Road at 4 a.m. hung team officials in effigy. My hometown is not Green Bay or Kansas City or Dallas, but it doesn’t need a tarp to cover the upper deck, either. This season, the Chargers ranked 19th in attendance, the Raiders 30th and the Rams 32nd. Last year, they ranked 16th in local TV ratings, the Rams 27th and the Raiders 32nd. When the Chargers were good, from 2004-09, they sold out every home game and drew another 10,000 for rallies after road wins. Once, when the Bolts returned from a playoff victory in Indianapolis, team buses had to stop on the way to their Murphy Canyon facility because so many people swarmed Aero Drive."

Jarrett Bell, USA Today: "It’s sad that any player, especially one who has generated such buzz during his brief NFL career for his immense skill, would lower himself to the point of intentionally targeting an opponent's head – especially in this day and age with heightened awareness about the consequences of head injuries, revamped safety rules and more scrutiny than ever of the NFL universe. Yet (Odell) Beckham, who had zero catches at the time of the second-half incident, still peeled back and took a 10-yard running start . . . and then launched himself head-first into Norman. I’ve seen helmet-to-helmet blows before, but typically they occur in the context of an ultra-fast game featuring athletes trying to aggressively make a play. But I’ve never seen one like that one. Just dirty. Beckham has now provided classic examples of what to do (making spectacular catches) and what not to do (recklessly pursue opponents without regard for the well-being of a fellow player)." 

Ian O'Connor, ESPN.com: "But by all accounts Beckham has been consistently coachable and respectful inside the Giants facilities, which is why his bosses and quarterback swear by him. He's still a good long-term gamble. He's still a guy you'd much rather have on your team than not. He merely got swept away by the kind of vulgar, trash-talking battle that unfortunately remains common in the NFL, and took it to a dangerous place that caused every Giant (most notably himself) great embarrassment. Odell Beckham Jr. needed to be suspended for that. Demonized? Not even close."

MEGAPHONE

"I need to try this. I'll never know if I like it unless I try. Baseball, that's my thing, that's who I am. With everything I've done as a hitter, I'm the best at that. I wouldn't have been able to do it unless the opportunity came up. So I figured, if I'm going to do it, I'm going to do it the way my dad would have done it. I've got to be in the trenches with them. I could come in for a day or two and give them tips and things, but what happens when a guy really loses it and you're not there? See what I mean? So I kind of want to honor my dad for what he did. Honor my godfather for what he did."

New Miami Marlins hitting instructor Barry Bonds, on how what he learned from his father Bobby Bonds and godfather Willie Mays inspired him to try coaching.

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Jeff Gordon is an online sports columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.