Late June Status Report from a Cranky Old Dodgers Fan
A little of this and a little of that…
Well, summer has sprung and the outlook of a happy Dodgers summer long love affair looks bleak. There are somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 games left and the NL West is so mediocre anything is possible, but only the biggest of optimists would believe this year will be a happy one in Dodgerland.
“But what about Matt Kemp’s triumphant return?”, the oversexed lookalike 18-24 year old brunettes who swoon over Kemp’s perfectly sculpted facial hair would ask. Well, I WANT to be surprised. I WANT to see him come back, inspired by the Cuban missile crisis that is Puigmania, and contribute. But I am skeptical and need to be shown something.
Baseball writers and so-called experts are afraid nowadays to tackle the tough issues and unwilling to ask the unpopular questions. They prefer to stay insiders, have access to the clubhouse and enjoy the perks of being a big league beat writer. Who can blame them? They probably even get residual groupies.
But it does a disservice to intelligent fans that have certain issues on their mind, be they the PED scandal that never went away, or what is really wrong with Matt Kemp?
I ask the question in tweets to the writers who cover the Dodgers and baseball in general and never get a response. It’s either they think themselves above me and don’t need to interact with followers, or they don’t want to touch a volatile topic. I’m sure it’s a little of each. One big-time baseball writer even mocked me for saying Bud Selig is a horrible commissioner and is more focused on doling out justice for baseball fights that tainted records and essentially corrupt outcomes of games. Keep in mind, Pete Rose, the all-time hit king, is banned from baseball for life for gambling as a manager. The reason that means something to Major League Baseball is it possibly means the outcome of games would be in question. The mere fabric of the sport then diminished and no more legitimate than professional wrestling. Isn’t a near 20 year PED operation that’s affected pitching and hitting records and therefore much treasured baseball history as well as games and possibly World Series decisions as bad as anything Pete could have done?
The answer is of course. But Selig, a former owner who never should have been allowed to be commissioner due to the conflict of interest involved, could care less. As he pointed out during the long drawn out process of the Dodgers sale to the Guggenheim group, baseball is more profitable to owners, the money larger, the gate bigger, than ever before. So what if players juice? As long as the money rolls in – for the owners. Of which he was one and happily pushed into the seat of power.
But I digress. My point is how baseball writers are largely cowards; shirking their responsibility and obligation to probe for stories and more, when one is unearthed, actually tell the truth. Am I so foolish, as that one baseball writer would suggest, because I want a clean game? Am I an idiot for thinking the celebration of some of the greats nowadays, the same players caught up in the Miami PED clinic shenanigans, should be considered serious?
If I’m a moron for thinking that, then why follow Major League Baseball at all? Just watch the aforementioned wrestling, or the Kardashians… that’s about as real as many of the achievements in MLB have been since the mid-1990s.
So, tying it in with Kemp, I will not say he is juicing since I don’t need to be sued and I have no proof. I’d like to think he’s not and never has. My heart was broken during the Mitchell Report investigation when two heroes of mine were found out to be cheats – the masterful and huger than life Cy Young closer Eric Gagne and little Italian sparkplug catcher Paul LoDuca. That hurt, it killed. I don’t have the same affection for Kemp as I do the former two, but he’s as much a focal point (hard to say leader; he isn’t) in the current Dodger situation as Gagne and LoDuca were on their teams.
So without incriminating information, I will only say this. One, Bud Selig is an asshole for allowing his game to be thought of this way by fans. Why should we question anything when players do well? Or, for that matter, when they don’t do well later? THAT is the reason Bud Selig is a terrible commissioner and why I think he’s done more damage to the game I love than Pete Rose ever did.
Two, I have to assume Kemp’s dip in performance from a couple of years ago is NOT related to a PED come down after signing a massive long-term contract, but physical issues – shoulder, hamstring, and the connection between those liabilities and his now out of sorts swing.
I think even the staunchest Kemp fan would agree to the latter. After missing a good portion of 2012 with a hamstring injury and then slamming into the outfield wall and decimating his shoulder, Kemp rushed himself back to play and clearly was not healthy enough to do so. Then, with the inability to hit pitches he previously crushed, and a growing chorus of boos from the paying fans, he either tweaked the other hamstring and had to be put on the DL or the injury was orchestrated more or less by management to give Kemp time to sort things out.
Now at AAA Albuquerque for rehab, and a new Dodger tradition of rehabbing quick and hurrying to the big club, I only want to know if Kemp is actually healthy now and ready to perform like… well, the guy the Dodgers paid $160M for. I don’t think that’s an unreasonable question to ask, and I’m not sure why baseball writers aren’t brave enough to answer.
I think it’s what I said, they don’t want to dip into the well of anything controversial, and they honestly do not know. How could they, I guess? Easier to avoid. I don’t avoid. I wonder about things and try to logically take them apart and examine and look at possibilities why things may be the way they are. I have explained what Kemp’s 2013 issues may be; read into them what you will.
So we will know as soon as next week what Kemp’s DL stint meant and if he begins raking again the way he’s certainly capable of. For the Dodgers’ sake, and ours, I hope he’s more like the rightful MVP of a few years ago, and not the thin, clueless version who was flailing away at pitches the first few months of the season. THAT Kemp needs to stay on the DL as long as needed, even if it’s for the rest of the season, because THAT Kemp doesn’t help the Dodgers at all. Especially when all of a sudden the team has a lot of outfield options; most of whom can provide more offense than the anemic looking Kemp can.
Sorry, lovers of Matty who have delusions of being a baseball wife and assuming he wouldn’t cheat on you on the road – and at home – but as I don’t sigh when I see his dreamy eyes and expensive suits, I only care about how he performs when on the field. Sadly, there are very few players on this collection of millionaires called a team that I have any strong allegiance to besides what they deliver when wearing the Dodgers uniform. If you suck, and it hurts the club, I will give you a reasonable amount of time to work out your issues, but I am not taken in by superficial things or by who’s paid the most.
Tick tock, the clock’s ticking on this season from hell. I am appalled a Dodgers team is on pace for 68 wins, especially one with a payroll above $200M.
I keep hearing how Stan Kasten did a great job in Atlanta and also in Washington and the future is rosy. Well, I agree with that. I think the future has to be brighter that what is being forced on us now. How could it not be?
Stan Kasten is worthy of some words because he’s a fascinating figure in recent Dodgers lore. He’s a guy with a smart pedigree and past success and no doubt knows baseball. I do question how he’s managed to get credit for anything that has turned out well, while avoiding blame for anything that hasn’t worked out. What a charmed baseball life it must be where you are heralded for the Boston deal that brought us Adrian Gonzalez and company, or for signing Yasiel Puig, but escape scorn for spending about $220M for this year’s payroll but ignoring the fact the Dodgers bullpen was thin, as well as overestimating the 2013 potential of Chad Billingsley, Ted Lilly and Luis Cruz, just to name three.
This is possible, of course, because fans love to make Ned Colletti a scapegoat. Ned is considered the buffoon who can’t do anything right, even though I can argue most everything he has done since taking over as the Dodgers GM. I recall how he transformed Microsoft Excel lover Paul DePodesta’s horrendous team into a professional, watchable group in one off-season, and I also remember stealing Manny Ramirez for Andy LaRoche, Takashi Saito, Hiroki Kuroda, Andre Ethier, and others.
But every story needs a fall guy and Ned has inherited that role. For a long time, and even still, he gets beat up for moves that should have been connected to blueblood Frank McCourt, who never met a mansion he didn’t like. So it was natural that when Guggenheim came in and retained Ned, that he would be useful for blame later on.
Obviously I don’t think that’s why he was kept around, it just worked out that way. So as a longtime student of the meticulous behind the scenes dealings of the Dodgers, I chuckle whenever someone shouts for Ned’s head, or calls him a moron, while simultaneously heralding Kasten for his vast baseball knowledge.
This is to believe that the man brought in by Guggenheim to run all baseball operations listens to essentially Mario, a little Italian guy with a mustache. If that’s the case, and I don’t think so for a moment, then isn’t Kasten still a dumb ass for allowing Ned to fuck up the team? You can’t have it both ways. You can’t be a Rhodes Scholar of baseball but not have the intelligence to grab the wheel when someone is running the team into the rocks.
I stand by my ideas of this past winter and spring training and all along the way of this miserable 2013 season to date – Kasten, or Ned if you prefer (making Kasten still ultimately responsible – Kasten is Ned’s boss), clearly made mistakes when allocating the spend for this highly bloated payroll.
Baseball, if you don’t factor in PEDs, or even if you do, is predicated on strong pitching and strong defensive play. If you have those things, even with marginal offense (see the latter year Dan Evans created teams when Fox cut off the spigot and “big bats” were usually Jeremy Burnitz or aged Robin Ventura), you will be competitive, and perhaps more. Evans thrived on cobbling together scraps – “dumpster diving” is the appropriate term – and collecting as many high baseball IQ guys as he could get his hands on, while building from the back of his bullpen out. That’s how a team should be constructed.
When Guggenheim decided (and no doubt Kasten gets credit here) the farm was left bare and several years needed to be bridged before it could produce for the big league club again, money became the obvious patch.
My head spins when I consider what such a patch could mean if given to a GM like Dan Evans. Back then people made fun of Evans, like they make fun of Ned, for fielding a team of low-priced players few would want to start normally. But, like Ned, Evans did what he had to do based on the resources afforded him. If you have no money, you have to be creative and find ways to field a winner. Honestly, along with throwing longtime announcer Ross Porter to the curb, one of McCourt’s most heinous acts as owner was the disgusting dismissal of Dan Evans. Actually having him interview for his own job – sickening.
Ned did much of the same Evans had to do when left without money, but Evans clearly did it better. Ned managed to “dumpster dive” and put together some solid Dodgers teams, even getting to the championship round, but Evans was actually brilliant.
Now if Kasten is as smart as people say, why did he opt for big bats and star names over constructing from the back of the bullpen out and not ensuring there was more guarantee in the pitching rotation? Dan Evans would not have made these mistakes.
Like I said, the future will be brighter, and perhaps it even happens this year. Things happen, and it might be that Kasten is so bright he signs Cuban free-agent pitcher Miguel Alberto Gonzalez in the next week or two and Gonzalez makes his debut in Dodgers blue and becomes the answer our truly god awful bullpen needs.
Kasten might also make a trade for a closer like Steve Cishek of the Marlins, Jonathan Papelbon, Jesse Crain, or someone else. With Gonzalez alone, or coupled with someone like Cishek, then Kenley Jansen is able to go back to being a set-up guy (a role he’s thrived in), Brandon League would be pushed back, and Ronald “Hellisario” could be traded, demoted, or released, as he should be.
With rosy blue colored glasses one could see some of this happening and along with a rejuvenated Kemp and ultimately Carl Crawford, the Dodgers rise off the mat and make a miraculous comeback and take the mild, mild West crown.
I don’t think that will happen, but I would love for it to.
At any rate, I personally hold Kasten responsible for not addressing the bullpen – something even a nobody pundit like myself figured out a long time ago – and splurging instead on flashy big bats, an approach generally not associated with Dodgers baseball. How many bats were on the pitching and defense focused 1960s teams or the Evans teams? A few would have sufficed.
My opinion is that spending all of this money on the bats left no real room to spend on the arms. I’m a traditionalist who believes the old baseball adage that good pitching usually beats good hitting. If I were in charge, I’d begin, like Evans, with pitching and then spend the rest on position players.
I will end with the bright future alluded to a couple of times here. I love the kids who are forcing the issue this season, as well as the ones drafted last year and before, and even the promising crop acquired this June. I love the idea of a big league ready Cuban pitcher helping out immediately. And I will give Kasten his due for understanding the ruins McCourt left the organization in and knowing more important than now is tomorrow. I will not however credit Kasten with every kid that comes in, as that would be unfair to longtime scouting genius Logan White.
White, in my opinion, is the most important person in the Dodgers organization not named Scully. White, hired by Dan Evans, is responsible for so many brilliant moves; I am not about to heap praise on Kasten alone when kids reach the big leagues. If you don’t know much about Logan White, look him up online.
Overall I am conflicted as I know this year’s team is nothing meant to be permanent. It is the “Frankenteam” I have written about. A strange collection of pricey parts that hasn’t gelled as a team, and may never do so. It’s ok ultimately because it wasn’t intended to be anything more than some razzle dazzle to energize a beaten down fan base and get butts back in the seats at expensively renovated Dodger Stadium.
Magic’s big smile, new toilet, Wi-Fi, “I See You” and all the rest was prescribed to make people not feel embarrassed anymore about being Dodger fans. The real treasure, Kasten and Logan White know, is when the organization more steadily feeds top young players through the different levels of the minors and ends up with homegrown big leaguers playing long-term for the blue, for a reasonable price.
That said, fans are fanatics after all, and after about 25 years of mostly disappointment, a $220M 68 win team tends to piss people off. So, while this team wasn’t meant to be anything permanent, it is still a very expensive, high-profile baseball team with obvious problems. From a shitty bullpen to a minor league third baseman to an overmatched manager and questionable heart and chemistry. The question now is, does Kasten fix it? Or do we need to speak with our wallets again and enjoy backyard barbecues and wonderful days at the beach the rest of the summer, rather than paying quite a bit of money to watch what appears to be a fundamentally challenged band of misfits?
Let’s see whether the “Frankenteam” is finally tinkered with or blown up. And if the latter, how is that sold to the fans? I wouldn’t mind, and depending what we acquired, even welcome it. But would the beach ball hitting casual fan who slams back a couple cold ones and points longingly at Kemp’s ass feel the same?