Dodgers Hot Stove Primer… Where They Stand Now
The off season is both wonderful and horrendous at the same time. For a geek like me, it’s wonderful to play armchair GM and wonder what moves will be made to improve the Dodgers roster from the previous season. The downside of course is we count the days to opening day, which at this time are well over 100.
I thought I would put together a long form take on the Hot Stove since twitter is never enough to get points across. Besides the character limitations, you inevitably have mass confusion over what seem like obvious points as you (I) type them. So, for fun and something to do, here are some opinions and thoughts on the current state of Dodger affairs. Agree, disagree, comment, dismiss – totally up to you. And on with the show…
I talk to close friends about the Dodgers, people I have discussed baseball with all too many times over all too many years. I used the term geek earlier, and it is just that. If you’re reading this, you’re probably a geek too. Maybe a younger geek – a sort of geek in the making – or an older geek. Geeks are cool now, as you know. As a kid, geekiness got you punched, shoved, or mocked. Now? Geekiness is a cool trait and not only reserved for the eyeglass wearing or ugly crowd. I sort of liked it better when being a geek meant something and wasn’t appropriated by the beautiful people, but that’s another story. I digress…
So in my deep and prolonged conversations about baseball and the Dodgers with my peer group, I generally sense a consensus in opinions. The interesting thing about twitter, and the world at large, is that any opinion not completely mainstream and reported by baseball writers, is immediately dismissed or met with hostility. How dare you say that?! How dare you have a thought that isn’t identical to everyone else’s?! Never mind that in my years of following baseball and the Dodgers all too closely, my strange ramblings are usually more close to the truth than not, how dare I spew my opinions as if I were on Fox News?!
This will blow the minds of those who are younger or just casual fans who are married to loyalty and perhaps want to sleep with specific players… but the Dodgers current collection of well-paid superstars is an imperfect lot. In fact, in many cases, it would be better for the Dodgers’ long-term health if some of these superstars were traded and a more cohesive group of well-rounded players brought in. I will break this down, with reasons for my thinking, but I know some have been set off already. My advice? Put down the mouse, take a break; wash your hair, eat some spaghetti, and reconvene when you’re less emotional. If you think you’re not over emotional now, be forewarned I will discuss how I’d consider trading many of your favorite Dodgers, if I were GM, including Clayton Kershaw.
Quick – get the smelling salts; we’ve lost some of the readers.
There is a plus side and negative side to all of this; this being the Dodgers current roster in particular. In a nutshell, the plus side is the Dodgers have a lot of talent on the team, young and old, inexpensive and expensive. The team came within a Don Mattingly and malicious bean ball of playing in the World Series. Some of the walking wounded from this season could very well be healthier in 2014; therefore the outlook may be very bright.
On the negative side the team is a collection of expensive parts, and although payroll is over $200 million, there are many question marks. The question marks come mostly in the form of injuries and uncertainty as while this past spring all the talk was of 8 Dodgers starting pitchers and what could the team do with all of these arms, only to see Stephen Fife, Matt Magill and others rushed into the picture when the 8 became just a few, there are similar issues with the “depth” in the outfield. We saw a preview of that in 2013 as Matt Kemp has gone from a monster power/speed threat to a thin, anemic constantly injured pretty boy whose comings and goings from the DL and line-up were more a distraction to the team than help.
To assume Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier, as well as Carl Crawford for that matter, are locks to be healthy in 2014 is foolish and overly optimistic. Matt Kemp is an enigma that I can’t speak too openly about without fear of lawsuits, but suffice it to say he’s not himself anymore. Whatever has happened to his body – aging rapidly the past 2 years while Big Papi in Boston, much older, seems better than he did 10 years ago – the facts are the facts. Kemp has issues with his several times operated on shoulder, his string cheese like hamstrings and his ankle, which underwent another surgery recently. Kemp is rehabbing in Arizona (he’s been rehabbing for most of 2 seasons now) and last I heard was out of a power scooter and in a walking boot. The ankle is a mess, and don’t forget the shoulder, which also was operated on again. The very best case scenario for Kemp is that he begins the season on the DL and gets healthy to contribute in 2014; something he didn’t do in 2013. But if you believe he’ll be the Matt Kemp he was in 2011, you’re fooling yourself. His days of being a dual threat (homeruns and steals) and All Star caliber CF are gone. Kemp, if he remains a Dodger at all, should be in one of the corner outfield slots to save his body wear and tear. Left field would be good, DH would be ideal. Kemp in Seattle or Texas would make sense all around. What?! Trade the hottie with the beautiful eyes and well sculpted facial hair? I told you you’d be unhappy reading this.
To keep this orderly, let me break down the various positions and attack the issues that way. This is quite complex, so bear with me. I’m sure Stan Kasten and his team is having much the same discussion as I’m outlining here. If they’re not, they’re not very bright. Here we go…
First Base –
The Dodgers, in my humble opinion, lost for a variety of reasons in 2013. You’ve heard many of my thoughts, but to recap, here are just a few… blatant disregard by Kasten to the bullpen. Teams win or lose ball games due to the pen and the Dodgers was woeful until Kasten finally got the message, moved Brandon League out of the closer’s spot, moved in Kenley Jansen, jettisoned some guys, called up others, added Brian Wilson, etc., etc. People point to Yasiel Puig’s arrival as the Dodgers spark, and he was in part, but the bullpen being addressed is at the top of the list of reasons the team’s fortunes changed in June. Other reasons the Dodgers lost in 2013 include Don Mattingly’s simplistic ways of managing and shitty lineups. Obviously Kasten had input into the post-season line-ups, because except for Game 2 vs. the Cardinals when Mattingly fielded several subs and conceded the game before it was even played, the line-up was much nearer to what it should have been all season long. So many games were lost due to fielding teams of aging one-dimensional subs, batting Puig at the top of the order so his power was wasted, and continuing to plug Kemp and Ethier into the middle of the line-up even though it was obvious they shouldn’t be there as neither was hitting. I’d also add the team’s non-existent sense of urgency early on, which also is tied to Mattingly. Sorry, but losing game after game in April and May is as important as losing games in August and September. ANY baseball season generally comes down to a handful of games meaning a difference between a playoff spot, home field advantage, and an early winter vacation. The Dodgers’ free-falling in 2012 and 2013 cost them the seasons. You need urgency every day. While that sounds impossible to sustain for a 6 month MLB season, there needs to be at least a fundamental understanding that all the games matter. The critiques I just noted of Kasten and Mattingly alone cost the Dodgers home field in the playoffs, which as it turns out, did matter.
All this said, I will look first at Adrian Gonzalez and first base. I think A-Gone had a very solid season, as most of you know, and is a fine first baseman that the Dodgers can look at as an anchor. He is no longer the 40+ homer guy he was, but he’s sort of like a turbo version of Eric Karros. Rather than .260, he hits .300 and is consistent with homeruns and RBI. He plays a good first base, is well liked, is passionate and doesn’t create drama. He goes about his business in a very professional manner and can carry the team on his back at times. He can play first base for my team any day. First base is not an area of concern for the Dodgers. A-Gone is what the Dodgers need more of – fundamentally sound baseball players.
Second Base –
Second was the position of Mark Ellis, who could come back, but likely has been “upgraded” with Alexander Guerrero, the Cuban import who talked about signing, or did sign, several times before he and his agent Scott Boras actually did. Anyone in bed with Boras immediately gets the hairs on the back of my neck rising. To me it intimates a concern for money more than winning baseball games or getting a uniform dirty. I get that players need to get the most they can because after all, the owners and league are making a fortune, but to most fans, and geeks, trying to extract every single penny, often at the expense of things like integrity and good god – loyalty – are a bit stomach turning.
That said, Guerrero, if his YouTube clips are any indication, may be a steal. I’m certainly happy the Dodgers are back in the international signing business. In years past, under insightful GM Dan Evans in particular, the Dodgers used the international marketplace as a boost to the system. When you sign players internationally you don’t give up draft picks or talent you’d otherwise need to trade, you just pay money. The Dodgers, as it turns out, have plenty of that these days. So fortifying a thin-ish farm system with international, major league ready players is highly intelligent. Guerrero, from what you read, is going to be a good one. Ultimately, I trust Evans’ hire Logan White. If Logan White says a player is worth signing, he’s worth signing. End of discussion.
No one knows what Guerrero brings to the table, or ultimately if his long-term home is shortstop or even third base. Assuming he’s the Dodgers everyday second baseman though – and that’s what Ned Colletti said yesterday on MLB Network Radio – likely the Dodgers have a plus talent at second and didn’t overpay for Jay Z’s poor man’s Michael Jordan, Robinson Cano.
It will be good to learn more about Guerrero to see what we have. I know very much what we had in Ellis, an A-Gone like pro’s pro who fielded his position well, hit in the clutch, and was smart. Ellis – both he and AJ actually – are like having additional coaches on the field. On a team of prima donnas and superstars, I always took solace in knowing our Ellis boys were playing the game the right way every day.
My hope is that Guerrero fields well, hits the 20 homers he’s thought to be able to jack, and we’re in good shape here as well. But in honesty, no one knows what we have and won’t probably until March. In the meantime, pay close attention to the Dominican winter stats.
Hanley Ramirez is the most dynamic player on the Dodgers. Puig is insane and plays like Raul Mondesi, but Hanley’s the scary bat in the line-up that pitchers do not want to face. When Hanley was playing, the Dodgers were very good. When Hanley wasn’t, the Dodgers lost. That became especially evident in the post-season, when Joe Kelly “accidentally” cracked Hanley’s rib in his first at bat of the NLCS and the Dodgers were done.
Hanley is up there with Manny in his first year and Sheffield and Piazza in terms of Dodgers offensive explosiveness. Hanley can single-handedly change games because he’s that good. That said, he’s one of the biggest problems on the roster due to his shaky defense, brittle health and insistence he’s a major league shortstop.
The Dodgers must soon decide what the plan is with Hanley. Will they give him a big deal and let him play short for the foreseeable future? Will they give him a big deal and ask him to move to third base, with Corey Seager, or someone else, playing shortstop? Will they trade him – perhaps to an AL team where he can become baseball’s best DH and stay healthy doing so? This is the first position I’m addressing where we more or less know we have a flawed player in the line-up.
Hanley is beloved due to his hitting and “I See You” monkey business that seems funnier the more beers you drink. Taking emotion out of the equation, and not dismissing the great things Hanley has done for the Dodgers since coming over from Florida in one of Ned’s best moves as GM, Hanley seems to me a player that is not well suited for a long-term NL career.
I think if you look at teams that win you see characteristics not overly in abundance on the Dodgers roster. Things I look for and see usually when tuning in to post-season games is heart, grit, fundamentals, consistency, health and high baseball IQ. Now Hanley, I’m the first to admit, is perfectly acceptable playing shortstop for the Dodgers because his offensive output is so off the charts. But even if you’re willing to swap offense for defense, you have to be concerned with what playing shortstop appears to be doing to Hanley. Outside of a very mediocre fielder at a crucial position on a team supposedly built around pitching (and therefore an emphasis should be made for defense), you have a guy who gets hurt and therefore can’t help at all if he’s not out there the majority of the games the team plays.
Can Hanley stay healthy? Sure, probably. Can he hit enough to off-set his defensive shortcomings? I think so. But is a discussion at least worthwhile when thinking of what to do with Hanley as his big payday looms, Seager’s arrival near, and perhaps other options such as moving Hanley to third or dealing him and playing someone else at short? I think it’s an interesting question and one Kasten and team have to be thinking about. Do you move your best hitter in order to get fundamentally better in the infield? Do you move an explosive bat that perhaps should be playing in the other league rather than on your team? Can you move someone the LA fans love as much as they do Hanley? Quite a pickle.
Third Base –
Going into 2013 I stated many times I had a feeling that Juan Uribe would bounce back, perhaps due to Mark McGwire making him a pet project. I also felt that while my hunch was he’d wake up out of a 2-year coma, he was also the person best suited to play third for the Dodgers. As bad as Uribe was his first 2 seasons in blue, he never bitched. He was professional and fielded well. Was he worth the $20 million plus he was being paid? No. But his salary was more an issue when the team had no money than it was once Guggenheim came in. In truth, if Uribe was as bad last year as he was his previous 2 seasons, they could have ate the contract and let him go. No skin off their checkbook. But as it turned out, Uribe was motivated, refocused and perhaps buoyed by thoughts of a new multi-year deal in his free-agent walk year.
Whatever the case, it took Mattingly way too long to realize Uribe should be playing third over Luis Cruz, he of the large fan following and less than mediocre MLB career. After what seemed like an eternity, Uribe finally wrestled starts away from Cruz and Kasten/Mattingly’s other aging utility men (the lookalike group that included Jerry Hairston, Jr., Nick Punto, Skip Schumaker and last Michael Young). I wonder how many more games the Dodgers might have won if Uribe were playing over free-falling Cruz, for example, early in the season? Or if Uribe, once he was allowed to play, was able to bat closer to the middle of the order instead of the purgatory of the bottom of the line-up? Mattingly makes Forest Gump look like a Rhodes Scholar.
Well, 2013 is done and now the Dodgers have no third baseman again. Uribe wants another 3-year deal, which is insane but could happen in another town. Fans make fun of Uribe but the fact of the matter is he’s one of the best fielders at the position league wide, and plays a position that is not deep. Will the Dodgers get Uribe to re-sign for 2 years, rather than 3? That would afford them flexibility when Seager comes up, either to play third, or short, with Hanley moving over to third. Uribe could then be a valuable utility man who is more than capable of filling in at all 4 infield positions. Not a bad idea, in my opinion.
Or does Uribe leave, on his own or Kasten deciding to go some other direction? Right now I’m not sure what the solution will be, but it’s certainly a position shrouded in mystery – as third base almost always is for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Maybe Seager becomes the guy who takes the position and harkens back to if not Ron Cey, the days of Adrian Beltre? All I know is I’d love to see this mystery solved in my lifetime.
I was amazed when twitter users were bashing AJ Ellis after the Cardinals ran over the Dodgers. Most angry fans pointed to his passed ball and said he wasn’t a good defensive catcher, and couldn’t hit either. I admit the feel-good story of 2012 wasn’t exactly the same in 2013, but for the most part he and Tim Federowicz shut down opponents’ running games and very capably handled the pitching staff. To me, a fan of Steve Yeager, this is what catchers are paid to do. Any hitting they do is a bonus.
AJ is going to be a good manager someday – the Brad Ausmus or Mike Matheny of his generation – and I am always happy to see his name in the line-up. AJ is one of the brightest players on the field, and FedX as backup ensures no fall off with the leather or game calling. And both have the ability to hit the ball – certainly enough for me. I am completely fine with these two as the Dodgers backstop tandem and until Matt Wieter is dealt or becomes a free-agent, I don’t see any reason to discuss changes behind the dish. And no, I don’t think wasting money on Brian McCann would be smart. The team has enough offensive performers, and as noted, AJ hits, and often in the clutch. He did well in the post-season and while his critics point to the passed ball, I blame Kershaw as much as AJ. i.e. this position is a non-issue, like first base. Let’s move on.
As alluded to in the beginning, the Dodgers outfield is fraught with question marks. I don’t see “We have 4 outfielders for 3 spots!” being a concern. As I said, it would really surprise me if Kemp came to Camelback in February and was ready to play – and could play, and stay healthy, so the Dodgers could count on him. I just don’t see it and will be the first to cheer if he can become the Kemp of 2011, or at least a mostly healthy, somewhat diminished guy who can be counted on and help lead the team. As folks know, I get on him, but hey, be honest, I’m right! 🙂
Kemp is a very talented player who didn’t have a lot of baseball experience initially and therefore wasn’t an especially bright player. His athleticism has always been intriguing and makes up for mental errors, especially on the base paths. His preoccupation with looking good and dating Rihanna always bothered me. I much prefer uglier players who get their uniform dirty to guys who go to awards shows in limos and wear $1500 sunglasses and gold shoes. Kemp has to win my loyalty and he can do that simply by focusing on baseball and being healthy. He seems prematurely aged. His body is as brittle as a Faberge Egg. He needs to be on the field, ready to play, able to contribute, and not hold the Dodgers and fans hostage so an outfield spot is always being held open for him when he’s incapable of contributing. If he’s not dealt this winter, 2014 is a huge year for Matt Kemp – one way or another.
Andre Ethier had a curious 2013. Like Kemp, offense dipped. Unlike Kemp, Ethier was the workhorse in the outfield rotation. He stayed healthy until September and while his power and RBI totals dropped, his consistent effort to make it into the line-up are praise worthy. On top of that, while no Willie Mays in the field, Ethier stepping up to man center during Kemp’s absence was huge. That said, I do not want Andre Ethier in CF for the Dodgers. He’s slow afoot and doesn’t always take good routes, so he’s not a plus player in that position. Manning one of the corners? Sure. He’s capable, I imagine, of rebounding from a mostly so-so offensive campaign. He’s shown in the past that he can hit 18 or so homers and drive in 80. I do think that if he’s with the Dodgers when they head to Arizona in the spring, he should be platooned, at least against tough lefties. I’d much prefer Scott Van Slyke facing such pitchers than Ethier.
Will Ethier be here? I would guess someone, perhaps two someones, will be moved. Ethier has a more digestible contract for a team like say the Mets, than Kemp. Also, Ethier, with ankle/leg injury probably healed (Kemp, Hanley, Ethier – all injury concerns, notice a pattern?) is worth more than Kemp due to health and the added versatility playing CF has delivered to his resume. I can see the Dodgers eating some of his contract and moving Ethier, but for whom? Also, what if Kemp is indeed unable to make the bell? Do you feel comfortable with Crawford, Puig and…?
Carl Crawford was like pre PED scandal Bonds while playing in Tampa Bay. Going to Boston was always a poor idea, and then injuries made sure to derail any happiness in Beantown. The Dodgers took a major risk in accepting Crawford’s massive contract, but it was something they appear to have taken on mostly to get A-Gone into the picture, and buy years for the then-sagging farm with a stockpile of proven stars. Crawford had moments last year, but rushing back from Tommy John surgery and having a weak throwing arm, in addition to other ailments and Mattingly’s lack of understanding where to bat the former superstar, made for a sort of meh season. He did show signs of life in the post-season however so there’s reason to be optimistic.
That said, will the Dodgers believe the Crawford who hit in October and can likely be a more middle of the order presence than a lead-off man can be counted on in 2014? Or, will they move him, as well or instead of Ethier, to get out from under a question mark and go in another direction? Personally, I would move Kemp or Ethier before Crawford, even though I know Crawford is often injured and threw like Brett Butler or Juan Pierre last season. Why? Because Crawford showed in October that he’s capable of being a potent offensive weapon and because I think he’s only going to get healthier, another year removed from his elbow surgery. Will he steal bases and hit for power like he did? I’d guess not. But if he can be somewhere between the guy he was and the guy we saw in 2013, he’d be a nice piece of the pie. I honestly have no idea whether Kasten will keep Crawford, or any of the outfielders really, but I’m on CC’s side. I just hope Mattingly listens to Kevin Kennedy more, as the Skipper has a better understanding of how to utilize him. Hint – bat him anywhere from third to sixth.
The explosive and well marketed Cuban spitfire called Yasiel Puig is the most exciting player in LA not named after Japanese beef. Puigmania caught on during spring training and became a national outrage from June on. He’s the prototypical guy you love when he’s on your team, and hate when he’s not. Safe and stodgy white baseball writers had it in for the flashy and unconventional Puig from day one. Puig’s youthful enthusiasm and cockiness upset baseball’s delicate status quo. In the post-season the Cardinals “classy” fans (all white mid-Western Tea Party types) vilified Puig. How dare he stop to admire a homerun that turned out not to be a homerun? Ultimately, who does that potentially hurt but the Dodgers? The Cardinals dummy fans should have applauded Puig for that? After all, if not for his crazy foot speed, Puig might have only made it to second base, or even have been thrown out. Regardless, Puig can electrify and frustrate at any given moment. Is he my kind of player? No. I prefer more humble players, or at least smarter ones. Puig doesn’t strike me as a deep thinker. But is there room for a wild youngster who can take control of a game at any time – whether he’s on offense or defense? You bet. Are the Dodgers better with Puig in the line-up any given day? I’m not sure.
I think of the 4 outfielders, logic states that Puig is the most guaranteed to be out there come April. He’s young, he’s healthy (well, for now – eventually he’s going to get himself hurt the way he plays) and he’s capable of solid numbers, if not batting lead-off. Dumb Mattingly. Would it completely surprise me if at some point Puig was moved? For Stanton or something else? No. Would it shock me if Puig fizzled out prematurely like Raul Mondesi did? Not at all. Could he learn to control himself a bit, learn from mistakes, and become one of the top offensive players in baseball? Yes!
No one knows what the Dodgers have for sure in Puig, but since (like Guerrero) this international signing was below market value of signing say a more known MLB free-agent, he’s a risk very much worth taking. As long as the Dodgers do not have to count on Puig to lead statistically or as a leader, and surround him with proven offensive players, Puig is fine. He’s exciting, fun, energetic, and everything paying fans want to see. The Dodgers will probably hang onto Puig, because he’s done nothing to make them need to move him. But I think if the Kasten could turn Puig into a smarter, more consistent player with as much potential offensive production, I think he would consider it.
In essence, anything can happen with the Dodgers outfield – from Crawford, Ethier and Puig playing again, to top prospect Joc Pederson getting a shot, to a trade or two and an outside outfielder being brought in. This is the most fascinating drama to watch this off-season.
As I groaned about – the Dodgers bench sucked in 2013. Kasten went with too many identical parts, probably to placate Mattingly who likes “proven guys”. His proven guys were as uninspiring as one might think, with occasional moments from FedX, Punto and Schumaker – the latter two guys already signed in other cities. It annoyed the shit out of me that Mattingly thought so little of Van Slyke, who lost weight over the off-season and came in very focused to resurrect his career. He hit for power when many couldn’t and while he made the post-season roster (thanks to Kasten, I imagine), Mattingly never used him. He preferred to go with his aging pop gun middle infielders when a ball needed to be driven to the outfield, and in Game 2 vs. the Cardinals when both Hanley and Ethier were out and the team was left with a severe power void. Van Slyke’s contribution was his standoff in Game 6’s pre-game that many, especially the Dodgers, thought hilarious. To me it was losing the game before a pitch was thrown as it showed the Dodgers were more interested in shenanigans in this elimination game than kicking the Cardinals asses.
Obviously there will be a major facelift to the bench for 2014. I have no idea what that may entail, nor does anyone. All I would say is they need to do a better job of doing the obvious – getting as many variables into a small number of roster spots as possible. This includes power, speed, defense, etc. The 2013 team was a cloned collection of guys that did none of that. The only thing the group of senior citizen middle infielders could do was play multiple positions. I see the value in that, but realistically you can have 1 or 2 of those types of guys, not 4-5. Cruz, Hairston, Schumaker, Punto, Young… uggh.
Last season’s “8 starters” thing was a joke. Fans actually believed that line and were surprised when Chad Billingsley and his tattered elbow hit the DL for Tommy John surgery and Ted Lilly’s shoulder couldn’t respond. The same folks are now counting on Billingsley to return and contribute in his walk season and suddenly heartless Josh Beckett to bounce back. Newsflash – it isn’t happening. IF… a big if… either helps at all in 2014, that’s a nice story, but Kasten isn’t about to hold spots for either guy. The Dodgers will fortify the rotation and not leave question marks for feel-good rebound stories. If either guy gets healthy, it will be a nice problem and offer depth for mid-season trades, or perhaps some bullpen help. Neither guy will be penciled in as one of the Dodgers five starting pitchers when opening day comes.
While there’s talk of who the Dodgers add – David Price, Masahiro Tanaka, etc. – the number one concern for the Dodgers’ rotation should be what happens with Clayton Kershaw. News leaked that the Dodgers apparently offered their ace a “lifetime contract” – 15 years, reportedly – at around $300 million. Kershaw apparently got spooked, either by the years, the money, uncertainty where he might want to be as he gets older, lack of freedom should he sign such a deal, the chance that $300 million becomes chump change down the road as he’s tied up for so long, or some combination of such things. It’s hard to criticize him – that sort of deal is unheard of for a pitcher. To me, anything over 5 years is lunacy when it comes to signing pitchers, but hey, it’s not my money.
One thing Kershaw needs to understand is that the Dodgers obviously want him around – and for a long time. He has to decide if he wants to be around. If it’s the terms of the contract that worries him, change them. The Dodgers it would seem are ready to pretty much fill out any terms the kid wants. He’d also be foolish to leave LA, especially after the bleak McCourt years. Where is he going to go that has more money than the Dodgers? And as I tweeted out the other day – anywhere he could go also has contracts to discuss and sign. If the kid doesn’t have a stomach for such years and dollar amounts, sign for fewer years, and less dollars.
If I were the GM of the Dodgers, I’d offer Kershaw a very generous 5 year deal at $30 million per season. That’s a big risk for the Dodgers, as Kershaw has a lot of mileage on that 25 year old left arm, but fair given his Cy Young awards (and near misses) the last 3 seasons. LA fans love Kershaw and playing for the Dodgers, with the wherewithal to pay more than anyone, would seem to be a perfect place for him to be. The team has risen from bankruptcy and the ashes, is full of stars, appears positioned to be a frontrunner for years to come and has kids in the pipeline as well. Why would he want to be anywhere else?
I would keep the pressure on Kershaw, let him know the sincere interest in building around him for however long his next contract is, but business is business. If Kershaw hums and haws and wants to test the free-agent market, for whatever idiotic reason, then there’s no room for sentimentality. The Dodgers need to sign him THIS WINTER and if that’s impossible, and he doesn’t want to be a Dodger, and wants to explore his options, Kasten must look to trade him. There are reasons – investing too much in a pitcher, some question of being able to win big games (like Game 6 vs. the Cardinals), etc. – that could make not signing Kershaw a good thing ultimately for the Dodgers. Especially if they got a haul of prospects they were able to add to the farm and therefore provide Kasten the ammo needed to acquire a pitcher like Price, Max Scherzer, etc., etc.
Now before you scream bloody murder, remember, don’t shoot the messenger. My first choice is to sign Kershaw. But IF he’s unable to name his terms, say he wants to be a Dodger, and ultimately sign a contract, hasta la vista, baby. NO player should be bigger than the team. If Kershaw feels ambivalent to playing for the Dodgers, he’s made the decision himself. I believe and hope he’ll come around and sign a contract with LA, but if he doesn’t want to be here, the team has to be prepared to do whatever it takes to make the team a winner in the near future and down the road.
I’ve stated my feelings on a strong bullpen. The Dodgers finally got it right in June and that was a huge part of why they went on that record winning streak. Not giving up games obviously equates to wins. The pre-June Dodgers bullpen giving up something like 17 games was beyond unacceptable. I blame Kasten for overvaluing the mediocre parts he assembled and for he and Mattingly sitting idly by as the fire burned. Imagine, if you can, some of those 17 games not being blown? That would have made the difference between home field advantage and playing on the road in October.
I think the biggest priority concerning the bullpen is to re-sign Brian Wilson. In addition to the great job he did once donning the blue, he also adds the rings and experience – not to mention swagger – the Dodgers need. I would offer him closer money to stay, and let him know he’s in the closer mix, or will close on occasion when Kenley is used several days in a row. I would even consider flipping he and Kenley. This last option is usually met with panic and disdain from Dodgers fans, but recall, Kenley wasn’t even the closer last year until June. Where was it written Kenley HAS to close? Wilson has done the job admirably in the World Series before and it’s certainly worth at least talking about if it means the difference of him staying or leaving.
Should Wilson go for one reason or another, the Dodgers will need to find at minimum a very good setup man, as fish faced Bellisario (Hellisario) is not that person. I like JP Howell but Wilson’s arrival cemented those late innings for the Dodgers and in effect shortened games. It’s basic baseball math – the more great back-end of the bullpen guys you have, the shorter your starters HAVE to pitch. If you remove weak links in the pen, as you move into the 7th, 8th and 9th innings, you win ball games. The Dodgers did that in mid/late June on and didn’t do that April into early June. That was the difference in losing and ultimately winning. You have to have a strong bullpen, so Kasten better not mess it up again. Huge area of focus this off-season, in my opinion.
And that is that. I have blathered a good kick off the Hot Stove ramble here, I think. It’s too early to name all the names of who the Dodgers could go after. I think it’s important to do what I’ve tried to do here and take stock of what we have and be realistic about both the pros and the cons. I love the Dodgers, but my love goes deeper than any one player on the roster. I have followed generations of Dodgers, guys who were great, guys who were crap. I have seen the lowest moments in Dodgers history, and have witnessed greatness.
The Dodgers need to somehow tweak and massage this group into a more cohesive unit, capable of smart play, making less mistakes, buckling down, being focused, executing plays, hitting in the clutch, etc. The more smart players you have, the more games you will win. The more showboating and sexy stars you have, without those other attributes, the more you will come up short. That’s what I believe. I’d always opt for less tools but more smarts and physical ability to execute, than flash. Save flash for the Kardashians and Miley. Less twerking, more hitting with runners in scoring position, more turning double plays.
There is not one player on the current Dodgers roster I wouldn’t trade if it meant making the team better in the long run. Honestly, the most untradeable player I can think of in the entire system is Corey Seager. I guess I would move him too if you could get something of equivalent value, but right now he’s the one name that stands out.
2013 was a transitional year but the Dodgers teased us into thinking the 25th anniversary of that 1988 miracle might be extra special. As it was, it was just special. Let’s hope Kasten is the genius he’d have us believe and 2014 is one all Dodgers fans can celebrate.