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Spring training is here! Ho hum

March 12, 2010 1 comment

Thank you, Frank and Jamie McCourt – you’ve gone and done it. You’ve ruined spring training. And probably the season.

I look at the Dodgers roster and think of the season upcoming. Normally I would be like so many baseball fans around the country, excited about the possibilities of a winning season and perhaps playoff appearance. This year though, I’m less than thrilled. In fact, for the first time in over 20 seasons, I’m apathetic about the season, and disinterested in the spring – which to me is blasphemy, as the spring often held more excitement than the season itself. The idea of seeing prospects get at bats and time on the bump, to wondering who would make the last roster spots, and eyeing the season opener with anticipation. Now? Not so much. I blame our skinflint owners for this – thanks, Frank and Jamie.

The most disgusting aspect of all this is that the Dodgers could quite easily be in the NL West hunt this season once again, and even win the division. Let’s face it, the Diamondbacks rise and fall with what happens to Brandon Webb, and he’s unlikely to bounce back fully until next season. They have a good team, added some nice pieces, but division winners?

The Giants are a team on the rise for sure, and have such terrific pitching, but while they added some pieces that should help the offense, were they enough? Would the Giants winning the NL West be a big stretch? Not at all. I’m a rare Dodger fan, possibly, that enjoys when the Giants are good. I like a good Dodger/Giant rivalry, so if one or the other is bad, it’s not as fun. I’m happy the Giants look solid this year, and are surely a bat or two away from being a real power, but are they a shoo-in? No.

The Rockies are always discounted and yet manage to stay competitive. They have a lot of parts, and that humidor is working for them. With Jeff Francis coming back, they have the potential to be a force in the NL West, but like Webb in Arizona, will Francis be his old self? I’d guess no, so if that’s true, are they better than last season? If not, last season’s team was pretty solid, and Jim Tracy, the former Dodgers manager, somehow manages to get a lot out of the team. Enough to win the NL West? Who knows?

The Padres have interesting young pitching, but realistically they’re a team with no real shot at winning the division and are clearly in rebuilding mode, so I doubt they factor in. That means while the Diamondbacks, Giants and Rockies all could be very good, none are any more of a sure thing than the Dodgers. Yes, we could win the NL West, so a casual observer might ask, “Why the sour face?” I’ll tell you why…

The Dodgers have had a 2-time NLCS team and have not made any effort to improve. That is a Cardinal Sin, in my humble opinion. Teams that win, and owners that want to win, see such opportunity and do whatever it takes to fill the gaps, make up for the deficiencies and improve. Frank McCourt talks publicly that he wants to win, and I’m sure he would “like to win”, who wouldn’t?, but does he put up the money needed to get the last few pieces to do it? No. His impending divorce, his likely being kicked in the ass with the collapse of the real estate market, and his need to hang onto the team for some big payday down the line (at our expense), ensures that if we win this year, it’s by sheer luck, not from anything he’s done as owner.

If the Dodgers win the NL West and advance into the playoffs, we can thank the guys we do have. Joe Torre gets a lot out of the players, and maintains a professional, cohesive clubhouse. His coaches, save for Mariano Duncan, who only has the job because he was the one hold over from the old regime that Torre had a history with (Duncan played under Torre in NY briefly), are exceptional. Our players, almost to a man, are no-nonsense and laser-focused. We have young kids on the way to superstardom, and more waiting in the wings. Our mediocre rotation, our weakness, and the most likely reason we won’t repeat as an NLCS participant, “could” surprise and be among the league’s best. But as I said, this would be luck, and should not be expected. GM Ned Colletti doesn’t expect it, Torre doesn’t expect it, and I hesitate to say Frank McCourt doesn’t expect it. So – we’re told as fans to pony up more money than every before to attend games at Chavez Ravine, buy concessions and pay the ridiculously high parking, and pretend we’re a top team.

Here’s what “could” happen…

Our rotation might break camp as young Clayton Kershaw, a kid forced into the ace role due to our GM being unable to spend money to get an actual ace. After Kershaw, we’d have also young Chad Billingsley, Hiroki Kuroda, Vicente Padilla and perhaps Braden Looper, who I have a feeling will be signed just before the season as it’s highly unlikely we entrust any of the folks in camp to this last spot.

If this is the rotation we go into the season with, it’s not inconceivable to think Kershaw could become one of the top starters in the NL – he’s certainly good enough to be. If the kid wins 17-20 games, you’d be right to argue, “Well, there’s your ace.” The problem here is that it’s a lot to ask a 21-year old kid to do, and he’s as likely to improve a bit over last year’s 8 wins, or remain steady. Anywhere from 8 to 13 wins does not an ace make.

Chad Billingsley could rebound from problems last season and be an ace-type himself, or certainly a bonafide #2 starter. Billingsley’s confidence and mechanics were so messed up last year, that he’s sort of the forgotten man. We should remember that he won 16 games and had over 200 strikeouts in 2008, and was off to a great start (and All-Star appearance) in 2009, before things went terribly awry. So, could Billingsley put it all together and win 15-20 games? Yes. But could he toil around 10 wins, or be sent to the minors in a funk? Also, yes.

Kuroda has ace-like stuff at times and could do well, but he’s also had some injuries lately, and is getting older, and could be a 5th starter type, or fill substantial time on the DL again. In fairness to Kuroda, he’s a smart pitcher and getting hit in the head by a comebacker doesn’t necessarily mean you’re injury-prone, but is he a guy you want to match up against top pitchers in a short series (thinking playoffs here)? Probably not, or maybe yes, but really, no one knows. The same can be said for Kershaw and Billingsley. If they continue their development, would it be horrible to match them up against top NL aces? Maybe not. But we have no proof that either of them will be aces just yet – we hope, we pray, we wait.

Padilla had a nice stint in LA last year, and except for bad judgement with firearms this off-season, you’d have to assume he could handle the 4th starter role. In fact, we know he can sometimes give a very good start when we need it, so we’re likely fine with him as the 4th starter. But, we have to remember sometimes Padilla gets cranky and pisses off teammates, and Texas handed him to us. If we strike gold and Padilla wins 12-13 games, then it’s as much Torre and his staff keeping Padilla motivated as it is the pitcher’s talent. Again, some luck involved with his 2010 fortunes.

Looper, should we acquire him, and an abysmal ERA in 2009, but as a 5th starter, his 14 wins last year would be amazing. I’d settle for 10. I think Torre, a guy who likes veterans, and Colletti know our in-house candidates are sort of interesting, but if you have Charlie Haeger or some other kid in the 5th slot, that means Torre’s usual quick hook for unknown pitchers, and the chance to burn out our pen becomes a very real proposition. With the 5th starter going 3-4 innings and the pen covering for this, and any of our other starters’ possible mid-week meltdowns, things could get very ugly, very quickly with our pen. Look for Looper, or some other veteran to be added before the opener in Pittsburgh (Colletti’s probably checking the seat cushions in McCourt’s office as I write this).

So we have a rotation that could be very good, more than likely will be sort of good, or could be very scary, especially if we experience an injury or two (please, no). The thing is, we shouldn’t be in this position. A real owner wouldn’t have done so little, and had the gall to say so much. A real owner would see a team that plays very well together, has a great mix of youth and veteran experience, a solid line-up, a good bench, a deep pen and realize, “All I need is to add two very good pitchers, and I could have a dynasty on my hands here!” Do you honestly think the Yankees, Red Sox or Philadelphia’s owners wouldn’t have acquired the pieces? Heck, even Anaheim or Seattle’s? Or other teams? Really, what owner wouldn’t get the last pieces if they were this close? Isn’t it, afterall, about winning World Series championships? Who doesn’t finish the opponent off when sitting on his chest?

Frank McCourt.

The good fans of Los Angeles need to wake up and smell the Dodger Dogs. I know the old-time fans who used to populate the stadium have been replaced by and large by corporate entities and folks looking to slam beers, hit a beach ball and maybe start a fight, but when you’re forced to pay the costs McCourt charges, shouldn’t you expect that the team’s owner did whatever he could to make this team you’re paying for as good as it possibly can be? There’s no way anyone can say with a straight face that McCourt has done that – payroll has consistently been dropping since he’s owned the team. I do believe that as of today our payroll is lower than that of the Minnesota Twins. Yes – with attendance always up near 4 million, and in the country’s second largest market, our payroll is lower than a team that MLB wanted contracted not so many years ago. That should make you sick.

Since McCourt is eyeing other things – namely his May divorce proceedings – I too have begun eyeing other things, instead of spring training and the start of a new season. I think it’s within my rights as a longtime fan to do so. I mean, if the owner doesn’t care, should I? When the team’s president, Dennis Mannion, comes out in the Los Angeles Times and says the 2010 season is about opportunities in concession sales, should I be running out to the stadium with Visa card in hand? No, I went to college, and I’m not so stupid to blindly hand my hard earned money over to a Boston parking lot owner who masquerades as a caring, dedicated owner of the baseball team I have followed since childhood. When he cares, I’ll care. So what am I eyeing in the 2010 Dodger season? I’ll tell you…

I, like our beloved owner, am looking forward to the divorce. I can’t wait to hear the filth both side airs about the other. I want to hear what Jamie has been doing with her bodyguard boyfriend, and I want to hear what Frank has been doing, and with whom. I want to hear how Frank’s lying about how much the Dodgers bring in, try to explain how his sons are on the payroll, even though one’s a student, and how they make more than many of the players on the 25-man roster.

I also want to follow how this Dodger ownership thing plays out. In San Diego, owner John Moores had to sell the Padres as part of the divorce settlement with his wife, Becky. I know Bud Selig allowed the McCourts to slither into Dodger Stadium as a way to keep a large market in check in terms of payroll, but how can he justify a split ownership (against MLB rules), as the McCourts end their marriage? I am hoping that McCourt has to sell, and he takes his whipped ass back to Boston, where he belongs. I have no idea who has the money to buy the Dodgers, and more than likely the team will be handed over to the first person who comes forward. That person might be a poor owner as well, but the unknown in this case is far more appealing than the known. Bring on anybody, just get rid of the McCourts. Their pain is our gain – if they are forced to sell the Dodgers, THAT will be my 2010 memory. It will be as sweet, or sweeter, than the Dodgers winning the World Series, which is a sad state of affairs, isn’t it?

These are people who didn’t have the wherewithall in the first place, and had dreams of developing land and extracting every possible cent out of ownership of the team. Dreams of shopping malls, condos, restaurants and lucrative cable networks, but very little has been said about a real desire to field a winning team that very long-suffering Dodger fans could be proud of. Outside of b.s. fluff pieces where McCourt has the nerve to stand there and say he’s doing everything he can to field a World Series winner, you hear almost nothing of this. And honestly, McCourt, we’re not dumb – we can see the payroll dropping, and we see our free-agents going elsewhere, and watching other teams pick up available pitchers. We KNOW you’re full of shit – your lies are disgusting.

So before you read into this that somehow I’m turning my back on the good players we have now, I’m not. Sometimes I guess you have to draw a line in the sand and determine where you stand. I am a lifelong Dodgers fan, and I am heartbroken Willie Davis just passed, but wonder if McCourt even knows who he was, or what he meant to our franchise? I will be here, in the wings, watching the embarrassment of the McCourts divorce with a sadistic glee, and waiting for Bud Selig to force the McCourts to sell. If it doesn’t happen, and Selig allows some sort of ownership loophole for the Dodgers, I will be truly sickened and disillusioned with a game that’s become very easy to be disillusioned with.

Somehow the time of Bud Selig is talked about as a success by baseball commentators around the country. I see it quite the opposite. We have a guy who was an owner himself running the game, spouting off about the “best interest of baseball.” He intentionally looked the other way, and even encouraged teams to allow their star players to use performance-enhancing drugs. Remember, “Chicks dig the long ball!”

When the players are caught for their cheating, Selig turned his back on them, leaving them to take the rap themselves. I don’t like the fact that players used steroids – and it was very obvious they were all doing it (baseball players used to look like you and I, not NFL linemen, as most do today – yes, even today) – but they were allowed to do this as Selig didn’t push for testing. His plan to make fans rush back to ballparks after the disillusionment of the strike worked, but it also created a freak show that did more damage to the game’s integrity than any gambling Pete Rose was involved in.

Then allowing this charlatan from Boston to take possession of what should be viewed as one of baseball’s Crown Jewels, and holding us fans upside down, shaking every penny out of our pockets, screaming poverty and not putting anything back into the team, is a crime. Sitting back while the team’s big off-season acquisition for most of the winter was Jamey Carroll, a journeyman infielder and pinch-hitter, is unforgivable. I don’t like you, Selig, and I don’t like the McCourts. I wish you all were run out of town on a rail. You’re all bad for baseball, and a disgrace to the rich history of the sport.

Spring training is here, and all I can muster is a very disinterested, “Ho hum.”

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