The Donnie Baseball & Andre Ethier Affair
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:
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.