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We Have a Hostage Situation Here

May 28, 2013 Leave a comment

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(Disclaimer: Accused of being “negative” during this nightmarish first 2 months of the 2013 Dodgers season, the above photo seemed a more “positive” choice than a picture of Kemp angry, Donnie hanging himself, or Kasten smooching Cruz or Hernandez. Feel free to thank me later.)

Longer than a tweet, shorter than a big article, a look at Kemp and the probable challenges of Donnie filling out a decent lineup card…

Ok, so Kemp is obviously hurt, perhaps more than we even think, and at some point will slither onto the DL to avoid booing and perhaps even lead to another shoulder surgery. Negative? Sure, but it’s either that or one of the best players in the game a few years ago just suddenly lost it. So, my take is actually kinder than the alternative.

So assuming the boos and inability to hit a fastball, slider or curve finally push Kemp out of the 4 slot in the lineup, what can Donnie do? And, has Donnie been so stupid he didn’t realize Kemp was hurting the team batting cleanup all this time? Maybe he felt he “had no choice”?

It would seem that’s the case. Compound things with the options at Donnie’s disposal thanks to Stan Kasten’s roster of middle infielders of varying degrees of success and a useless old backup catcher, and what really can be done?

Think about it – the best hitter on the team is A-Gone and he’s batting third. Crawford is solid and has been wasted at lead off since there aren’t better options. If Punto was pushed to first and Crawford allowed a more productive slot down in the order, it would mean splitting he and A-Gone up since they’re both lefties and who’s the right-handed bat that could fit in between them?

Ethier is left-handed too and struggling close to as much as Kemp. AJ Ellis might be the natural guy but he’s overworked and struggling. I guess he makes more sense than Kemp at this point, but the more natural choice would be Scott Van Slyke. He has power, is hot, and could fit in nicely between A-Gone and Crawford but… where would he play? Right? But where does that leave Ethier?

See the problem?

Maybe Uribe’s unorthodox falling over swing is elevated to cleanup, and he’s having a better year anyway. But he isn’t even starting every day.

In a perfect world Kemp and Ethier would be healthy and none of this would be an issue, but they’re not – well, one isn’t, one mysteriously just isn’t good anymore.

In a less perfect world Kemp hits the DL, Puig and/or Joc Pederson are called up and the roster has some outfielders to go along with and hopefully replace some of the bottom feeders on the roster – notably Cruz and Hernandez.

A lineup of…

Punto
M Ellis
A-Gone
Puig
Crawford
AJ Ellis
Pederson
Uribe

…makes a lot of sense, and would be more productive than what Donnie’s trotting out, but that assumes Ethier would be dealt and Pederson replace him (won’t happen, not for months anyway).

Or if Van Slyke fit in somehow, that would help. But can Crawford and his bad elbow play center at this point? I guess it’s possible – Brett Butler played center and had no arm, as did Juan Pierre most of his career. It’s not ideal though to have an outfield of Van Slyke, Crawford, Ethier.

So that keeps Van Slyke mostly on the bench. The Kemp/Ethier quandary, coupled with AJ’s overwork and slump and Kasten’s insistence to keep Cruz and Hernandez on the roster (even while Federowicz rakes at Albuquerque) presents clear problems for Donnie’s lineup options.

I think playing Kemp and batting him 4th is because they assume he will come around and because there aren’t any better cleanup options around right now.

This log jam looks to continue unless Kemp admits he’s hurt and goes to rehab on his own time or perhaps go under the knife, depending on his problem. Once that happens, Puig or Pederson, who both play CF, can take over and options open up. Right now, Donnie and the fans, and Kemp’s teammates, are being held hostage – or, if you prefer, in a holding pattern while this merry-go-round continues its slow circle.

It’s not an easy situation, given the parts, but is fixable if the following occur…

Kemp gets sick of being booed and management forces his hand and makes him hit the DL – short-term or long

Kasten (and Ned) make personnel choices to ensure the best players are on the roster, not the guys they went to the dance with who may or may not have incriminating photos someplace

Donnie is given the above and finally able to move people around so the least productive hitters aren’t continually coming up when it matters most

Until these three things are addressed, nothing will change. It’s a frustrating time to be a Dodgers fan, but then, it’s been frustrating for some time, hasn’t it?

Here’s to tough decisions, and some not so tough (Cruz and Hernandez) being made before the rest of the West realizes they can bury us before July if we help them.

Categories: Uncategorized

The Donnie Baseball & Andre Ethier Affair

May 25, 2013 2 comments

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Once more, when more space is necessary to stretch the therapy muscles…

A few things have come to light recently, as touched upon in my last article, as well as most every comment made by anyone covering the Dodgers or baseball lately. One, Donnie is on thin ice.

When ownership and every interview surrounding the team is about him possibly being fired or not being fired, it’s a distraction. When the team doesn’t respond to Donnie’s apparent verbal kick in the ass the other day, and get blanked in an important series vs. the MLB best St. Louis Cardinals, it’s a problem.

So while ownership and El Presidente/GM Stan Kasten wants to pretend it’s a non-issue, it’s clearly an issue. The team is underperforming, and not responding to whatever Donnie is selling. The team is fortunate that the division has more or less treaded water as they’ve attempted to careen out of sight, or else they’d be double the games back than they are.

This is a big concern, but also there is the issue of Andre Ethier, who clearly is on Donnie’s radar as a loafer and possible whiner.

As I mentioned last time, Ethier does seem to walk around in a haze and only shows emotion in a detrimental sense – when he’s arguing seemingly every at bat’s balls and strikes with the home plate umpire.

He looks either bored or annoyed and that is more than evident to me, it’s evident to his manager – who albeit, may not be his manager for long.

So we have a race of sorts – who gets fired first, so to speak. Donnie, the nice guy, tough ballplayer who was ushered in by outgoing royalty and former manager Joe Torre, or Ethier, the underperforming right fielder with the big contact?

The whole thing is a mess, but intriguing puzzle to discuss in places like this. First, you have a team that’s been decimated by injuries, so it’s hard to say Donnie has had the best horses on the field at any given time. I also point to poor construction of the roster, especially the bullpen, bench and left side of the infield – that blame goes to Kasten, who is the architect of all things Dodger since the sale was finalized.

So is Donnie a bad manager, or is the team playing at less than full speed and problematic to begin with? And, was Donnie’s overachieving with a lesser team last season and previous indicative of his management skills, or this 2013 edition with massive contacts, big egos and struggling superstars?

I think the problems lay deeper than Donnie, and while usually the way to attempt to light a fire under a poor team is to sacrifice a coach or manager, I wonder if that would do anything with this bunch?

If Donnie were booted out tomorrow, would that light a fire under Matt Kemp? Would it inspire Luis Cruz? It might make Ethier laugh, but would he suddenly hit at his old pace? Would Brandon League suddenly not allow 1-2 runners to score each appearance? I tend to doubt it.

And if Donnie is gone, who is the successor? At first glance it’s obviously Tim Wallach, who many, including myself, feel should have been the manager when Torre stepped down. But given that Tim’s an important part of the coaching staff, isn’t he also part of this communication malaise that’s stuck the Dodgers into the throes of mediocrity?

But if not Wallach, who? Bench coach Trey Hillman is a respected leader and former big league manager, and fiery Davey Lopes, who seems less fiery since he’s come back to LA, was a big league manager, though not a successful one. Or do they go outside?

The problem with outside is you really don’t do that mid-season, as no one is going to let you interview coaches at this time. Tony LaRussa is sitting around, and probably gettable, but a) would he want the job and b) would a superstar manager help a lazy superstar laden team?

I mentioned today that a good option is sitting in the press box, former Dodger minor league coach and manager (and former big league manager) Kevin Kennedy. The thing I like here is that Kennedy knows the Dodgers better than most anyone, and was a minority voice during their bleakest hours of the McCourt debacle.

It was always refreshing to tune into MLB Network and hear Skip talking Dodgers, when everyone else talked Yankees and Red Sox.

Kennedy knows the Dodgers tradition, dating back to his playing days in the O’Malley era. He understands what made the Dodgers special, and was taught the “Dodger way” to do things. The same might not be said for all of the other candidates, except for of course Davey Lopes, who grew up a Dodger.

I guess it really doesn’t matter as the guy who would seem to be next in line is Wallach. So, could Wallach differ from whatever message Donnie has sent and get the team to perform up to expected levels? I honestly don’t know.

Perhaps Wallach, a smart former player himself, could do better with the X’s and O’s that sometimes seem to be a weakness for Donnie. And it would signify change, though I’m just not sure how much.

I think something probably needs to be done though. The stink of blood in the water has been thrown out there, like chum in our blue sea, so to do nothing seems to ignore an issue that everyone knows is there. And if nothing is done, would say the return of Zack Greinke and soon Hanley Ramirez, really make a difference? On one hand, it would give Donnie the team Kasten planned for him with almost the first chance to really see if he can win. Perhaps the fair thing to do is wait. A little longer.

So while Dodgers fans scream for a sacrifice, we watch the Ethier drama play out.

Ethier should have been traded this past winter for a much needed third baseman, since third baseman Hanley insists he’s a shortstop. With Yasiel Puig going nuts this spring, it seemed the Cuban connection was more than ready to go, whether he was or not.

But since then, Puig has come down to Earth a bit (hey, .300s in the minors is a come down from .500s in spring training, haha), while his AA teammate, Joc Pederson, has shown why he’s one of the organization’s top position prospects. The problem? Both play outfield and the Dodgers’ outfield is full.

So while moving Ethier’s contract last winter or this spring may have proved challenging, try to do it (and get anything in return) when the player is underperforming and it’s known that the organization is down on him, and apparently is talking about trading him.

The old adage is buy low, sell high. So, Ethier would be a good buy for some team that needs a corner outfielder – I can think of the Mariners, Red Sox and Yankees off hand as good homes for Ethier. But the Dodgers would be selling low, not high, so that proves a challenge.

We know the ownership group prints money, so perhaps they eat a generous portion of the contract and toss in a kid and are able to get something for Ethier. But what to get?

I think the idea would be to fill a current need, so I gravitate towards third base or a pitching spot. I like the idea of a third baseman like Kyle Seager from Seattle, but if impossible, perhaps Mike Olt from Texas, or Nick Castellanos from Detroit. These are all the fantasies of a baseball lunatic, mind you, but I’d start here and see what could be done – cash and kids – to get this to happen.

Another tantalizing idea is Ethier for a bigger contract, Phillies pitcher Cliff Lee. Lee is back and having a terrific season, and if the Phils want to call it a year, I think Guggenheim should absorb the contract and give us what amounts to three aces and a Ryu.

If you had a rotation like that, while lefty heavy, you’re talking a team that is built for winning short series in the post-season. And then you plug Ethier’s spot with either Puig or Pederson and likely don’t miss a beat, and hopefully add some life to the sluggish two thirds of our outfield than is currently Kemp and Ethier.

It’s a nice position to be in – a farm system on the mend but with three outfield options in the wings, including Scott Van Slyke, who has really impressed and would seem to be more than a AAAA player since he revamped his body and swing.

Another idea I toyed with today, and I credit The Dodger Oracle for putting this notion in my head back in February or March, what if you were bold enough to move Puig for prized Texas shortstop prospect Jurickson Profar? I can sense the wrath of the Puig fan club now, but you can easily argue you’re moving massive athletic potential from the outfield to the infield and would be no worse for the wear.

Puig would seem destined for superstar status and while we’ve seen our fair share of guys like that bust, both with the Dodgers and other clubs, his talents seem unique and well, Bo Jackson like. So imagine that in Arlington, where baseballs go bye-bye in summer heat waves?

Could Profar bust for the Dodgers? I guess it’s possible, but from every scout’s opinion, most likely not. You could still keep Ethier, or move him in that deal for a third baseman or Lee and put Pederson or even Van Slyke in right field. This would certainly address current weaknesses and also free up the log jam of outfielders.

Imagine if you will a lineup like this:

Crawford
Mark Ellis
A-Gone
Hanley
Kemp
AJ Ellis
Profar
Pederson

And maybe Lee in the rotation behind Clayton Kershaw and Greinke.

That’s all I have for now. Basically we have a couple of distractions in the Donnie Baseball drama and the greasy tales of Andre Ethier. We have the monetary resources to make things happen, but ownership and alpha GM Kasten just need to determine if they want to do anything or if they feel doing anything bold would admit panic. Panic = ego and admitting perhaps they had the wrong recipe going into 2013.

I would say in late May we know things now we didn’t clearly know last winter or this spring. We have a better idea, for example, of what Puig is about and what Pederson can do. It was unlikely before this time we could comfortably move an established two-time All-Star right fielder and perhaps leave a gap in a win-now lineup. But now? Seems like much less of a risk.

Hopefully management is open to the forward thinking I am. In the meantime, let the stomach churn. Have the Pepto at the ready; we’re in for a long, hot summer.

Categories: Uncategorized

Kemp, Donnie meant you but singled out Ethier

May 23, 2013 Leave a comment

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Another case where 140 characters on twitter isn’t enough…

Today was an interesting day. The Dodgers played the always exciting daytime getaway game in Milwaukee and beat up on a guy named Wily Peralta who has an ERA over 6.

More interesting was Donnie, perhaps getting wind he’d be fired tomorrow, lashing out at his Frankenteam of comfortable millionaires, noting it takes “grit”, not just All-Stars, to win baseball games.

In his attack, Donnie singled out apathetic right fielder Andre Ethier, whose only emotion the past few years is when he argues incessantly with home plate umpires over balls and strikes.

Ethier was once one of my favorite Dodgers, but now he’s a non-factor. He seems genuinely bored, or unhappy, to be playing baseball for millions of dollars and his modus operandi is a hot month here or there sandwiched by months of sleepwalking. This season it’s been mostly sleepwalking thus far.

In fairness to Ethier, as inconsequential as he’s been, he’s not THAT far off his usual performance to date. Donnie clearly made him a scapegoat because he was an easier target than the guy he probably wanted to call out, pretty boy movie star good looking Matt Kemp.

Girls all over the twitterverse swoon over Matt’s dreamy eyes, well planned stubble and captivating eyes, but if Ethier is being paid $85M to hit home runs and drive people in, Kemp is paid close to double that. Ethier is also having the better season – albeit slightly.

Imagine the backlash if Donnie took on the team’s most popular player? Even with one foot out the door, Donnie didn’t want to go that far. So he took on the sweaty looking guy who most people don’t have strong feelings for anyway, except for whatever remaining groupies he still has left.

I’ve previously blamed the troubles of the Dodgers on management and the construction of the team, and noted the bullpen as the number one shortcoming. Think about all the blown saves; how many has there been? Eight? Nine? With the team 6 games out of first, in spite of their performance, do the math and figure out what a better bullpen would mean.

As braindead as Donnie has been at times, making questionable choices and mostly refusing to be creative with his lineup, it’s not entirely his fault. His points make sense. The team does lack fire, urgency, leadership, guts, whatever you want to call it.

I think it’s bad when a manager goes to the press and says that, it sounds like he’s giving up and wants to fire one off before he’s kicked to the curb. That could be Donnie’s motive, or it could be he wants to publicly embarrass his team and inspire them to set aside their Patek Philippe watches and find some fire deep inside long since buried by rich food and disinterest.

Since fans need some optimism, I will say that as hard it is to admit, I think the soon return of Hanley Ramirez will inspire the team and right the ship to some degree. Hanley is a chaaracter and his still potent bat will push sluggish Kemp and Ethier down in the order, thus giving the team an actual chance to drive in some of the guys who routinely get on in front of the meat spots of the order.

Hanley with his childish “I See You” antics, until his next injury, can infuse some life into this slumbering Frankenteam. So, while we wait for that, hopefully Donnie (or whoever replaces him) understands the offensive woes stem from those critical heart of the lineup spots not being able to do the job. Playing Scott Van Slyke today and allowing the revamped slugger to bat in an important position worked. What do you know?

Hopefully his presence becomes more routine as he gets to do what I earlier in the year had hoped would be the fate of Yasiel Puig, cobbling together regular playing time as the three outfielders are rested. Is Van Slyke can get in there while he’s hot, it would be much more beneficial to the team’s chances of winning than going with the very definition of insanity and putting Kemp and Ethier back to back every game and expecting different results than what we’ve seen.

I will end this with what Donnie couldn’t say today – Matt Kemp is a mess right now and if not hurt, or off “vitamins” of some sort, he’s just lost his ability to hit the baseball – and is somehow slower of foot too.

I’m not sure what’s wrong with him, but I predict some point this season, or when it’s over, we’ll hear how he didn’t want to say anything, and bravely soldiered on the best he could in spite of agonizing pain from his off-season surgery. That’s all well and good, but playing through that won’t land him on any hero list of mine. These games, that spot in the order, could have been given to Van Slyke, Puig, or Joc Pederson.

Donnie, I read between the lines, so here, for your benefit, because you were such an amazing first baseman in your playing days and surely a Hall of Famer before a bad back sidetracked that, I am listing every major league player that currently has more home runs than $160M “slugger” Matt Kemp. They’re in order, and you will see names you’ve never heard of, players who have been released by their clubs, bench players, nobodies – and James Loney!

Enjoy the show. Oh, and in case you are wondering, the list is 203 major leaguers long.

Justin Upton
Chris Davis
Robinson Cano
Miguel Cabrera
Edwin Encarnacion
Mark Reynolds
Bryce Harper
Paul Goldschmidt
Adam Dunn
Jose Bautista
Nelson Cruz
Carlos Gonzalez
Adrian Beltre
Carlos Beltran
Vernon Wells
John Buck
Alex Rios
Michael Morse
Mark Trumbo
J.P. Arnecibia
Mitch Moreland
Anthony Rizzo
Evan Gattis
Prince Fielder
Shin-Soo Choo
Troy Tulowitzki
Evan Longoria
Ryan Braun
Chris Carter
Wilin Rosario
Mike Trout
Yoenis Cespedes
Raul Ibanez
Travis Hafner
J.J. Hardy
Yuniesky Betancourt
Kelly Johnson
Dan Uggla
Matt Joyce
Pablo Sandoval
Dexter Fowler
Domonic Brown
Pedro Alvarez
Carlos Santana
Lucas Duda
Will Middlebrooks
David Ortiz
Rick Ankiel
Albert Pujols
Lyle Overbay
Michael Cuddyer
Brandon Phillips
Chase Utley
Adam LaRoche
Ian Kinsler
Howie Kendrick
Mike Napoli
Joey Votto
Hunter Pence
Alejandro De Aza
Justin Ruggiano
Colby Rasmus
Will Venable
Matt Wieters
Jason Kipnis
Jean Segura
Josh Hamilton
Nick Swisher
Matt Holliday
Josh Willingham
David Wright
Ryan Howard
Russell Martin
Adam Jones
David Murphy
Alex Gordon
Andrew McCutchen
Carlos Gomez
Brandon Moss
Jay Bruce
Josh Donaldson
Ian Desmond
Todd Frazier
Yonder Alonso
Buster Posey
Kyle Seager
Brandon Belt
Daniel Nava
Eric Chavez
*Carl Crawford
Coco Crisp
David DeJesus
Ryan Raburn
Kendrys Morales
Billy Butler
Jarrod Saltalamacchia
Garrett Jones
Nate Schierholtz
Luis Valbuena
Juan Francisco
Zack Cosart
Brandon Crawford
Desmond Jennings
Starling Marte
Andy Dirks
Manny Machado
Andrelton Simmons
Josh Rutledge
Paul Konerko
A.J. Pierzynski
Alfonso Soriano
Jayson Werth
Marlon Byrd
David Ross
Jeff Baker
*Adrian Gonzalez
Jason Bay
Jhonny Peralta
B.J. Upton
Carlos Quentin
Nate McLouth
Brian McCann
Franklin Gutierrez
Nick Markakis
*Andre Ethier
Martin Prado
Chris Young
Yune Escobar
Asdrubal Cabrera
Chase Headley
Seth Smith
Nolan Reimold
Daniel Murphy
Gaby Sanchez
Trevor Plouffe
Michael Saunders
Jon Jay
Gerardo Parra
Matt Dominguez
Mike Moustakas
Dayan Viciedo
Alex Avila
Tyler Flowers
Jason Castro
Ike Davis
Brett Lawrie
A.J. Pollock
J.D. Martinez
Aaron Hicks
Nolan Arenado
Oswaldo Arcia
Jedd Gyorko
Norichika Aoki
Yan Gomes
Todd Helton
Aramis Ramirez
Mark DeRosa
Lance Berkman
Jimmy Rollins
Carlos Pena
Cody Ransom
Omar Infante
Miguel Olivo
Scott Hairston
Rickie Weeks
Dioner Navarro
Brendan Harris
Maicer Izturis
Jason Kubel
Delmon Young
Luke Scott
Stephen Drew
Ryan Doumit
Ryan Zimmerman
James Loney!
Ryan Roberts
Ben Zobrist
Alberto Callaspo
Chris Iannetta
Chris Stewart
Adam Lind
Miguel Montero
Erik Kratz
Drew Stubbs
Chris Johnson
Freddy Galvis
Kyle Blanks
Justin Smoak
Chris Parmelee
Marwin Gonzalez
Starlin Castro
Jonathan Lucroy
Lonnie Chisenhall
Michael McKenry
Alexi Amarista
Giancarlo Stanton
Danny Espinosa
Jordy Mercer
*Scott Van Slyke
Jordany Valdespin
Matt Carpenter
Matt Adams
Didi Gregorius

Categories: Uncategorized

Fix the Goddamned Bullpen, You Idiots!!!

May 20, 2013 2 comments

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Another long form summation is in order since 140 characters don’t always translate to the suffering masses.

Well, after a brief flirtation that perhaps things were getting better, the always hot and painful road trip through Atlanta sadly has Dodgers fans sniping at one another and question one another’s allegiance to the blue.

For the record – again – it’s ok to criticize the team we love. If we blindly go along smiling like idiots, we’re deserving of the forced bend over we’re getting. We all have different ways of mourning. Some cry, some yell, some cry and yell at those crying and yelling. It is what it is, and don’t for a second think the new Dodgers ownership isn’t to blame.

Now while many of you will go away only recalling the “negative stuff”, I’ll say it so it’s plain for those who need it more clear – there IS hope. The team is comprised of many superstar Ferrari driving megalomaniacs, all of whom have had their days among the baseball elite. So… while perhaps unlikely, or improbable, it’s conceivable at least this group, as it’s currently assembled, could turn it on and make the NL West interesting. Could. Maybe. Perhaps. We hope?

But in my opinion that would be a nice feel-good story probably based more in fantasy than reality. Unless… unless some changes are made, and soon, and I have to think some will be. Let me explain…

As I said last time, and frequently repeat, ownership put a record-setting patch on a drained of blood Dodgers organization. The problem is ownership stated – loudly and often – this team should go to the World Series. That obviously got fans assuming the gang of bloated contracts were a great team and therefore should go to the World Series. Make sense, right?

What ownership should have said, was the truth. The truth was the team was neglected for a long time and while in need of rebuilding, at least beaten down Dodgers fans were in for the luxury of a (don’t say it!!!) “rebuild” aided by deep pockets of insurance company clients (whether they are baseball fans or not).

The “rebuild” would be easier to take since instead of lean years of crap talent like the Astros are pushing on their fans, and Pittsburgh has shoved down its fan base’s throats for 20 years or so, the Dodgers would be palatable due to the mega stars holding the fort until the real team arrived.

For those who are already lost, the real team meaning the kids that have been drafted, will be drafted, signed internationally and so forth and likely be the team we see on the field in 2015-2016, thereabouts.

So a “rebuild” with Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Matt Kemp, Zach Greinke, Clayton Kershaw, etc., etc. isn’t bad. Also, it was always feasible this transition team could win a title or two just due to the talents that went into obtaining those fat cat contracts that now are funny anecdotes for me and others on twitter.

Again – ok to rebuild, necessary to rebuild, but don’t boast you plan to win with this team, and if you don’t, that it would be a disappointment. Fans are fickle creatures and they tend to get hopes up when they hear things like that. And I guess, that was the idea.

Create excitement around the transition team, get butts in the seat, chomping the resurrected Cool-A-Coos and spending their time at the park social networking courtesy of the brand new WiFi. Get that McCourt stank out of the place, spend spend spend, and all is happy in Dodgerland.

My point, as it was this past winter, and all through spring training, was creating a record payroll is ok with me, but at least don’t leave holes.

The Dodgers brain trust – owners and Stan Kasten, I assume, most prominently, added the expensive hood ornaments last summer and this winter, but didn’t construct the team properly.

Dan Evans was very successful as GM for the Dodgers during those lean Fox years because he got it. He always focused on bullpen first, and the rotation second. If you have all that pitching, you don’t need much in terms of offense. We were usually a man short back then, but nonetheless the team was pretty exciting. And a Dodgers team.

Pitching, more pitching, and defense. If the team mustered 1-2 runs, our pitching was good to hold on and win much of the time. You build from the back of the bullpen out.

Let me say that again… you build from the back of the bullpen out. You have a closer who can actually close. You get a few good setup men. You add another live arm or two before them. All of a sudden you’re built for your starters to go 6 innings and your masterful pen shuts teams down the rest of the way.

You shorten the game. (Write that down, there will be a test later)

If your pen is deep, and championship caliber teams’ pens always are, you shorten games and win games. It’s pretty simple.

So this past winter I kept bellyaching the Dodgers should forsake the draft pick and sign Soriano, who was available to close. He was out there a long time, and I spent a lot of time tweeting about it. Also, the Japanese closer Fujikawa, who still hasn’t made much noise for the Cubs, but could have, and easily may.

I mentioned Hanrahan of the Pirates, who was available, and is now hurt. Maybe that would have been a bust, or perhaps he wouldn’t have gotten hurt if he were with the Dodgers, hard to say.

Or we could have added any other live arm, or made a trade. You see where I’m going.

Instead, Kasten (blame Ned if you want, but ultimately everything goes through Kasten, good or bad) opted to resign League and assume he could be as effective as he was in a short stint last year with the blue. Ignore the fact League lost his closer’s job in Seattle – yes, the lowly Mariners – Kasten felt what he saw in a small sample size was the real deal.

Incidentally, he also ignored logic and assumed what he saw in Cruz at third base was the real deal and not an anomaly. A career minor league SHORTSTOP was suddenly a major league starter at THIRD BASE – for a $220M team, no less.

I question Kasten’s decision making. Anyway, back to the pen…

So League was anointed the closer, Kenley with his heart condition the setup man, and minor criminal Belisario the other. Those three guys – while I guess possible they could all do well – are just not the three back end of the bullpen guys for a real championship caliber team. They’re not.

Now we’re nearing the end of May and we can see the starters are mostly giving us good efforts, often very good, and the pen is throwing gasoline on a fire and costing us games. Magill has been burned twice in his young Dodgers career. Every starter probably has at this point.

So… what is Kasten going to do about it? Pretend it’s not happening? He’s done a lot of that up until this point, and it would seem his or the ownership group’s pride is keeping them from making necessary adjustments as it would be admitting mistakes had been made. Or… they feel if they keep going down the same path, their plan will eventually come into play.

Now it’s possible that League settles down, Kenley and Belisario are more consistent, Kemp and Ethier hit, etc., etc., but it’s also nearly two months into a six month season and we’re freefalling out of the race. It might be wise to at least consider options, if not make changes.

I would hope that Kasten is considering acquiring a closer soon. Of course the fact that it’s still May and with the wildcard, few teams feel the need to surrender so easily, getting that closer may be next to impossible. Right now anyway.

But assume a closer is obtained at some point. That move alone would help a lot of the Dodgers current problems. Ideally we acquire a closer and one other good reliever. But one or two, we add this guy or guys and that allows League and Kenley to move back an inning and Belisario and inning before that.

If we could get to the point where we had a reliable closer, and a setup man or two that could bridge the gap, then some live arms earlier, all of a sudden we have something.

That would mean Magill goes 6 today, strikes out 8 and hands the ball over to a better caliber reliever, and not our situational lefthander. Magill probably wins a game and the positive thing from today – a young Dodgers pitching prospect might find a home in the rotation – is the story, and not how shitty our bullpen is.

I also nagged we needed another starter, and that was evident as Kasten’s pipedream of Billingsley, Lilly and Harang imploded in our faces. But now we seem to have settled things down in the pen, thanks to some good health from Capuano and young Magill. With Kershaw, Greinke and Ryu up top, it seems the rotation is strong enough and can give us a chance to win most games – if the pen is fixed and doesn’t waste these efforts.

Shorten the game. Build from the back of the pen out. It’s not rocket science, and when you spend $220M, it’s unforgivable to forget the most important part of the team.

That’s really my point today. I think the pen is the number one problem and has been since winter shopping season. Unfortunately, while we wanted that June draft pick and didn’t spend it for Soriano, when all it would have cost was plentiful cash, NOW the price has increased.

To get a good closer in June or July, you’re going to have to break some eggs. A team willing to part with a good closer, or a top setup man is going to rightfully ask for a lot. So… would you trade Joc Pederson or someone nearly as valuable for this much-needed closer?

And will the Dodgers even need a closer by June or the end of July? If we’re 14 or so out, getting this closer would be repeating what Tommy did as GM. He dealt Paul Konerko, one of the greatest hitting prospects we’ve ever developed (and threw in Dennys Reyes), for Jeff Shaw. Shaw was ok as closer for us over the years, but at the time Tommy acquired him, we weren’t going anyplace anyway. So to deal someone valuable, unless you’re in the position of making a run, is risky. Remember Carlos Santana?

The point is, no team is going to hand over something you need, when you’re desperate, and not screw you in the process. It’s smart baseball, and how poor teams fill needs and rebuild (they don’t have the luxury of Guggenheim finances behind them).

So what would have cost us a June draft pick and cash this winter, will now cost likely good or great prospects. So – for those of you who were against losing the draft pick (and I get why), would that pick have been more valuable than Pederson, Lee, Seager, or perhaps someone like that?

Now as fans we have to see what happens. Can the Dodgers turn it around before then? Will the Dodgers be in the race come trade time? Will League, Kenley and Belisario step it up? Could the answer come from elsewhere?

Maybe the new closer is Magill, once Beckett comes back. Or perhaps some other live arm down on the farm? It wouldn’t be the first time a young closer stepped out of nowhere and with great stuff, baffled big league hitters, perhaps just mowing them down with gas.

I would say in this third week of May, it’s the easiest solution for the Dodgers. Several guys in the pen could be sent out, especially Guerra. The Dodgers could try someone else in the closer’s role, or as setup. Tinker. What could happen? We lose? We’re losing now.

The same should be said for the batting order. I get why they don’t want to give up on Kemp and Ethier – they HAVE to perform. So much money is invested in them. But is it possible to ignore contracts and superstar egos and put together the very best, most productive batting order possible any given day?

Could we bat A-Gone third, Hanley fourth and AJ fifth, moving Kemp to say second and Ethier down near the bottom? This might help the struggling guys and it would also give us a better chance to drive runners in now, rather than trotting up two clueless hitters who are near automatic outs.

I think Mattingly, or Kasten, or whoever has a say in such things, needs to start thinking outside the box. Keep the horses you have, if you must, but tweak things and see if it works. Tommy, never a great X’s and O’s manager in my opinion, was not one to shy away from trying different things. I think it’s time the current Dodgers do the same.

If Van Slyke’s able to walk tomorrow, let him play a bit more. Stick him in the heart of the lineup while that bat is hot. Let Kemp or Ethier take a day off here and there, bat higher up, lower down, just not back to back in the middle of the order, or near back to back. It’s not working.

Pride is a funny thing. I think April 19th it’s too early to admit failure. But May 19th you owe it to your paying customers to shake things up, at least to the extent you’re making every effort to win.

But, just take away this… the Dodgers will not win if the bullpen is unsuccessful. They have to get productivity out of it with these players, call up others, or trade. No championship or anything close to it will come if the bullpen is tanking every day.

And that’s why 140 characters were not enough. Viva, Azul!

Categories: Uncategorized

What Happens When a ‘Whole New Blue’ Makes You Blue?

May 12, 2013 1 comment

dodgers-los-angeles-sale-2-billion-magic-johnson-mark-walter-stan-kasten-guggenheim-group-stadium-chavez-ravine

A little long form is needed as twitter is handy for sarcasm but not so great for making a point.

A lot of people have been muttering, ‘What’s wrong with the Dodgers?’ I guess the answer is somewhere between nothing and everything.

I feel sorry for fans, especially younger ones, who don’t fully understand the magnitude of what’s happened to the organization since their 70s heyday, which wrapped up with the 1981 World Series win over the Yankees.

Yes, to understand why the team is disappointing, you can track it that far back. But wait, the Dodgers won in 1988! Well, after 1981 and through most of the 80s, the team lost a lot of its allure.

Gone were most of the stars everyone loved and Peter O’Malley began focusing on the changing game and NFL ownership. When MLB, including Milwaukee owner Bud Selig, made it a haves and have nots argument and he couldn’t get a football team up at Chavez Ravine, O’Malley became disillusioned.

That and the team’s once proud farm system had fallen into a malaise. The 1988 season happened as all the stars aligned, but it masked the issues surrounding the Dodgers. It also became an anomaly in that post-1981 period as even younger fans know that not much happened after that miracle vs. Oakland.

Oh, there was enough to excite fans – Nomomania, rookies of the year, etc., but as O’Malley handed the Dodgers (and we fans) into the arms of creepy Rupert Murdoch, the bloom was really off the rose.

Fox didn’t give a shit about the Dodgers or baseball in general, using the ownership to develop a lucrative cable sports empire. Once done with that, and having traded away Mike Piazza, now maligned, but then the ‘strongest man in So Cal’, the path got worse with Bud Selig, now the morally bankrupt commissioner of MLB, ensuring the Dodgers were passed off to a no-money owner from Boston.

McCourt’s reign of terror is pretty well known by everyone, but wouldn’t have happened if a) O’Malley didn’t sell the team to evil Fox and b) Bud and MLB didn’t let a guy with no apparent resources other than the Dodgers, buy the team.

After embarrassment and shame, Bud and MLB did the unlikely thing and took the team away from McCourt and forced its sale. Enter Guggenheim, apparently playing with insurance clients’ dollars, and with Magic Johnson’s toothy grin leading the way, the unenviable mission of undoing all this dry rot began.

The farm, which was revived during the Dan Evans administration under Logan White and staff, was barren when McCourt left. The new owners would have to make over the team much like idiot GM Kevin Malone once did, via the free market.

Smarter than Kevin Malone, the new Dodgers braintrust created their own market, not waiting for this past winter’s thin free agent crop to do all their shopping. One thing the new owners have plenty of, is cash. So they absorbed bloated contracts and tried to reassure fans that things would be better – a ‘whole new blue’, they call it.

So this Frankenstein bunch of big contracted superstars, some perhaps on the decline, others coming off serious injuries, some aging, were cobbled together to not so much win now (though that would be nice), but to buy a few years for the neglected farm to catch up.

With resources, international signings, forgotten under McCourt in lieu of mansions and expensive haircuts for he and his wife, came back and the Dodgers added an expensive, unknown Cuban hitter and a chubby, successful Korean pitcher.

Nevertheless, the team is a collection of parts and no clear leader is evident. The rich guys have their money and probably aren’t as motivated as the young would be, and the young are few and far between as Stan Kasten, the player personnel czar of the team, has chosen to go with veteran journeymen over the few kids they have available. (That seems to be changing the past two weeks, as the veterans have looked tired and not up for the challenge)

So now we have a team loaded with crazy injuries, perhaps less than motivated stars, and a manager looking over his shoulder, his contract not being renewed this past winter, as he may have liked.

Fans are pissed, understandably, as they were promised a ‘whole new blue’. The fact of the matter is it appears very much like the old blue, only now with the most expensive payroll in baseball, and naturally, due to that, much higher expectations.

So the question is, will the Dodgers turn it around? I have to think, even at my most cynical, they will. There is just too much talent here not to at least get into the top three in their division. But the owners said anything short of a World Series appearance would be a disappointment! Well, if you really believed that, you were thinking with your heart and not your baseball brain.

Cobbled together mega star teams don’t normally work. Moneyball be damned, you need heart and chemistry and leadership to win. Perhaps someone will step up and make that happen, but as of right now, I don’t see it. I think the closest thing we have to leaders are Mark and AJ Ellis, and they’re fairly low paid parts that aren’t likely to get through to guys who scoff at the price of a Bugatti.

Management and coaching sometimes can kick people in the ass and light that fire, but Donnie seems afraid and the other coaches don’t appear vocal. Surprising, when you consider we have Davey Lopes on staff.

So, I urge fans to be patient and wait for the injured guys to come back. I think the biggest issues, besides the injuries, are the poorly constructed bullpen and the rotation.

I lamented all winter that the Dodgers should have made a play for Soriano or Fujikawa as I wasn’t sold on League. Kenley, coming off his heart issues, was iffy as well. And Bellisario is an up and down thug who has moments – some good, some horrible.

I think championships are won most often through the bullpen. To spend over $200M and not put an exclamation point on the pen was irresponsible by the new owners and Kasten (Ned, if you prefer to blame him and assume he makes decisions over Kasten).

‘Buying high’ on League, who was already booted out of closing duties for lowly Seattle, was unfortunate. The idea is to buy low, or at least buy fairly. League is doing what League does, and showing why he couldn’t be the Mariners closer.

I don’t know who the closer is, but I’d find one and move all our current guys back a slot. There are only a few guys in the pen I trust at all, and that’s not a Dodgers pen, in my opinion, or the pen of a winner.

Getting Greinke was huge, of course, and Ryu thus far has looked better than imagined, but the fact that Kasten and company believed to some extent in our group of broken down pitchers at the back end has left us shaky at best at times.

Billingsley was never going to make it through the season with rich platelet injections over surgery, and while a nice story, I never bought into it. Lilly is a guy I have nothing but respect for, but shoulders are usually brutal and I also suspected he was near the end.

Harang was always more of a long man than starter, 4-5 inning filler, at best. Capuano was the best of the lot, but remember, he was as bad in the second half of 2012 as he was good the first half. He would have been fine for the 5 slot, which usually doesn’t require much, and still may be, but I’m not in love with him.

I think the Dodgers have to add an innings eater in the mold of Mike Morgan come July. Younger fans can look up Mike Morgan, if you want. Basically someone healthy and experienced who can do what Beckett should be doing more consistently. And Beckett needs to reach back and find some part of the old Beckett if this team wants to win the West.

Outside of a leaky pen and incomplete rotation, I question Kasten and team for also being fooled by Cruz and loading the bench with identical utility infielders.

Cruz was a nice story, and being from Mexico, ripe for fans of the Azul. The problem is, Cruz was a career minor leaguer who played mostly shortstop, and was never known for hitting. He did a great job in 70 or so games last year, but again, like League, to ‘buy high’ or be sold based on the last thing you saw is like buying a used car because it sounds ok in the driveway.

Cruz was one of many fill ins in 2012 and I could point to Hairston and Herrera as two others who did well in bursts. Cruz just happened to be the last one. So for proven baseball men to think a 29 year old shortstop who hadn’t homered in the bigs before 2012 was suddenly a starting third baseman was foolish. It left a huge hole in the lineup that could have been addressed over the off-season.

As most know, the Dodgers are not known for third base success, so I’m sure the feeling was Cruz could at worst hit .250 or so and field the position and with all the fire power around him, that would be more than enough.

People still defend Cruz, I assume because they feel embarrassed for ranting about him as much as they did, maybe even spending big money on a jersey with his name on it. It’s possible Cruz could be part of a team’s bench and fill in all over the infield as needed, but I think unrealistic to assume every other scout in MLB missed the boat on this guy and he’s not only a big leaguer, but a big league third baseman.

With the team as it’s currently constructed, fat whipping boy Uribe should be the third baseman on most days. I sort of hoped and predicted he would rise from the ashes under Big Mac, and while his average is bad, he’s at least been a functional player (which is sad, but a huge thing after his first two disasterous years in blue).

Uribe can hold the job, with fill ins from Punto and Hairston, until a better option is available. People mention Chase Headley, who could be available if the Pads can’t sign him, but the cost would be great in terms of much-needed kids and as we now know, just because we add good players, they aren’t necessarily good in Dodger blue. I wait for Seager to make the bigs; in the meantime, go with plugs – just not guys who are playing out of position, haven’t showed much over their careers and can’t hit .100.

I’ll just finish up by saying it’s possible the fire the team needs comes from returning players, like Greinke next week, or a token firing. Who to fire? Donnie? Honeycutt? Ned? Big Mac? All of them?

I think fairly the team has been beat up, so no one of them is to blame solely. I would say Donnie has frustrated me the most since he’s rigid and refuses to adapt to what’s happening around him.

The crazy roster was put together by Kasten (and Ned) and the owners, but I have to think Donnie at least gets to fill out the lineup card.

To continually get men on base (6th in MLB, last I heard) but put your weakest hitting options in the heart of the lineup is foolish. I understand Kemp is making $160M and is the center of the team and Ethier is getting $85M and is usually a guy who hits in April, but it’s been painfully apparent these guys are lost, for one reason or another, so to always make out the lineup card the same way shows idiocy on the part of Donnie.

He has some bad options to choose from, thanks to the GMs, but he doesn’t make the most of things when he does get to contribute. Compare a Donnie lineup to the forward thinking Bob Melvin does when his whole outfield goes on the DL.

There have been some good things – Crawford has looked happy and more like his Rays self, Kershaw has been Kershaw, Ryu, and A-Gone has done well (when healthy). I love the two Ellis and am happy Kasten and gang either read my tweets (joke) or just come around to common sense after awhile and have called up Dee, Federowicz (hello, we can release Hernandez now) and Scott Van Slyke. How many games did Donnie have to trot one of his 25 utility infielders out to cover for injured A-Gone before someone realized it might be helpful to have a guy with some power around who actually plays first base?

I think fans have to understand this has been a process. I say after 1981, with a few positive blips here and there, but overall the rot began setting in way back when O’Malley still owned the team. To think otherwise is your option, but I don’t think it’s correct.

So the future of the Dodgers really rests on what the new owners can do once the farm is back up to snuff. When we can routinely go down and call up a young pitcher like Orel Hershiser, Ramon or Pedro Martinez, Ismael Valdes (before he lost his heart), Pedro Astacio, etc., etc.

Right now we have few options available, so they Frankensteined a roster of expensive parts to a) buy time and b) get fans thinking blue again after the raping that happened at the hands of McCourt.

I think ultimately everything the new owners do is about getting people to go to games, buy crap and come back again and again. That’s not bad, but it’s the motivation. I think all you have to do is look at what was spent on established stars, a stadium makeover, WiFi and high-def scoreboards, etc. to see that that’s true.

They should just not have told fans this was going to be ‘the year’, and that the future is now. It could be. On paper, there are big names here and it’s possible the owners really think that all you need to do is buy a bunch of pricey stars and other teams will lay down for you. I know Fox and Kevin Malone thought that.

Logically it takes a perfect mixture of good, smart major leaguers, stars and kids. It takes a leader or two, a smart manager, all sorts of things. Maybe this team shakes off the rust and kicks it into high gear this month or next. It’s possible, and it’s probable they’ll at least get out of the cellar, but I think this is a transition team that bridges the gap to whatever the ‘real Dodgers’ are in a year or two.

I think in the future (I hope) we look to guys like Puig, Pederson, Seager, Lee, Magill, Ames, Federowicz (and some international signings!) as the team we can really be proud of. Something like the 70s Dodgers teams we still recall fondly.

So here’s to hoping the owners and management are as fed up with what’s happened the first 6 weeks of the 2013 season as we have. Maybe it’s a sacrificial firing or two, good health, stuck in neutral stars just suddenly waking up, an exciting call up, etc., but perhaps something positive happens – and soon. If not, it will be a long, agonizing summer and not the ‘whole new blue’ being foisted on us from billboards and bus banners all over Los Angeles.

Categories: Uncategorized