You can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs
The winter meetings start next week – i.e. one of my favorite times of the baseball year.
I am a strange breed of fan that isn’t a Saber geek but has always been fascinated by being an armchair GM. I use hunches and too many years of thinking these things through over statistics. In all honesty this system has done me very well over the years. Too many times have I been right on things teams need to do, and trades or signings teams needs to explore. It has helped me in fantasy baseball leagues as well.
I have written how this winter’s Dodgers puzzle is a curious one because the team can go in many directions, or few. There are questions all over the field and difficult to budge salaries attached to many of them. It is a fun time.
I am not against any player being moved – save, as I mentioned last entry, probably Corey Seager. Everyone else is free game, pretty much. I think the team was acquired with so many problems, a quick patch job administered and surprising success occurred where it probably shouldn’t have. Of course a lot of this was luck, which fans may not understand or want to admit, as record winning streaks like the Dodgers had late June on don’t happen frequently. In between all that winning was an abysmal April, May, early June, and a sad September. What is this current Dodgers team really capable of? Who can say? Whatever the case, I am betting Stan Kasten and his team isn’t married to this bunch of players as many fans are. So… I wouldn’t be surprised if popular players are sent packing. Below I will discuss a few star players and areas where movement may occur. Again, nothing would surprise me.
Fans get upset when I tweet Kershaw could be dealt, or should be. They are blinded by love of the man and loyalty, both good things. But in reality, the Dodgers are over a barrel should Kershaw really want to test the free-agent waters, which every voice on MLB Radio Network will tell you “Is his right.”
Kershaw is a beast. He’s a young Sandy Kershaw wrapped up in Christian goodness. He’s improved immensely from the time he’s come up and seems destined for a Hall of Fame career. That said, I’ve been slammed a bit for suggesting he could be dealt. Also for saying he hasn’t proven he can win the big game like proven aces of yore can and have. The casual fan is cussing me out right now, which is ok – I’m right. Read this next sentence carefully; it’s ok to move your lips as you read:
I would make every effort to re-sign Clayton Kershaw, offering him whatever deal he chose – long or short-term.
Get it? I would love to keep Kershaw for any length of time that made sense to both parties. Personally, while the Guggenheim Group uses Monopoly money, I still do not like signing pitchers to really long-term deals. I just don’t think long-term deals ever work out for the team or the fans, but always do for the player. I like Kershaw, but I like the Dodgers more. Long after Kershaw is retired, I’ll be a fan. Long after his arm falls off, I’ll be a fan. I would prefer the Dodgers signed him for no more than 5 years, but if they want to sign him for the rumored 10 or 15, hey, go ahead. It’s a dumb move for the Dodgers and the fans, and ultimately will come back to haunt the team (A-Rod, Pujols, etc.) but if Guggenheim has the money and wants to keep the kid that much, do what you have to do.
Problem… it seems Kershaw does NOT want to sign with the Dodgers “for life.” In fact, perhaps he doesn’t want to sign with the Dodgers at all. Or maybe he does but is curious what the free market bears. Remember, it’s “his right.”
Here’s where logic kicks in and I seem to lose many of his devoted fans. If – I repeat if – Kershaw cannot say what terms would make him happy to sign with the Dodgers THIS WINTER or certainly THIS SEASON – I would deal him. I would do this because it’s the most intelligent thing to do. The Dodgers could get a lot back for Kershaw. They could save perhaps $300M and they could stock up the farm with blue chips and the big league club with young talent. They could use the wealth of prospects and saved money to get whatever pitcher/s they want to replace Kershaw (no small feat, but anyone is replaceable).
Would a rotation of Greinke, Tanaka, Ryu, Haren, Billingsley/Fife/Beckett/whomever be enough to win? Or what if they added David Price to the mix – suddenly having prospects to trade as Kershaw netted them a bundle? What if they went to war with the rotation I noted and were players for a big starting pitcher in June or July? Or next winter?
In the end, keeping Kershaw should be a priority, but if he simply isn’t happy enough to sign, let him go to that mystery team where big money and many years of obligation frighten him less. If the Dodgers “lose” Kershaw, they also gain a lot of talent in exchange, freedom to go in many different directions and are not on the hook feasibly for 15 years. Anyone really think Kershaw, or any pitcher, can pitch 10-15 years without a serious injury?
The Dodgers will survive Kershaw’s decision just as they have survived every other great player’s leaving or retiring. I want Kershaw in blue, but more I want the Dodgers built to succeed for the most years possible. I still remember Kershaw’s Game 6 performance in St. Louis, so in my eyes, as a devoted fan of many, many seasons, I am not so loyal to him that I will tolerate much hijacking. It’s very simple – TELL Kasten what will make you happy, Clayton. If you can’t put it into words, it would be wise to look at what options are out there via trade. The Dodgers can’t wait till the end of the 2014 season and see you walk as a free-agent. That would not be good. I don’t think Kasten is that stupid. Something needs to happen, and happen reasonably soon.
The Dodgers outfield is a Sudoku puzzle. On one hand, there are too many outfielders. On the other hand, too few. If everyone were healed magically, the outfield is crowded. But fans who follow the team and aren’t blinded by previous years’ statistics get that this isn’t the case at all. Yet, you will hear a lot of people talking about how “In 2011 Matt Kemp was the best player in the game” and equal ideas about Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier. Newsflash – this is a long time since 2011 and none of those 3 is what they were. Each has injury concerns, declining numbers and none are a guarantee to return to what they were. In fact, it’s more likely they won’t than the other way around.
I say this with again what I think is logic and common sense but my ideas are met with disdain, mostly from lookalike brunette fans who want to carry Kemp and/or Ethier’s spawn. Crawford is less loved and should try to audition for the new season of ‘Keeping Up with the Kardashians’ to rectify this.
Sorry, girls – and boys who secretly want to spoon with Kemp as well – but the facts are the facts. I won’t say Kemp was using PEDs in 2011 as that would be a lawsuit waiting to happen, but as we know many star players the past 20 years have suddenly become very good, and gotten very bad, and coupled those rises and falls with injuries. I have no idea what anyone in MLB has done, or will do, but I do know that Kemp went from being a very promising raw talent to a superstar to an often injured and somewhat unimportant component of the Dodgers recent success. Read into that what you may. For better or worse Kemp is more past potential as we stand on the cusp of 2014 than he is actual ability.
The last I heard Kemp has another shoulder surgery, another ankle surgery and we all know his hamstrings are like cotton candy. Can he rebound and become the Kemp of old, or even a very good major league player? I would assume so. Is this to be counted on for 2014? I wouldn’t be so optimistic as to say that. Last winter the fans were talking of Kemp’s comeback in 2013, and I predicted problems. All season long I said Kemp should be sent to the DL for the remainder of the season to recover and get ready for 2014 (look it up, I said it a lot – starting in March or April, if not sooner). Starry eyed fans drooled over Rihanna’s boy toy and said I was a “hater” and that I “needed therapy” for saying something so unpopular. Folks – saying something unpopular does not necessarily mean you wish this to be the case. Just like I noted about Kershaw above, the ideal situation of course would be for Kemp to be Kemp and for him to help power the Dodgers to their first World Series appearance since 1988. But reality is reality – at best Kemp is a question mark. 2011 was a very, very long time ago in baseball terms.
So what do you do? Trade Kemp? Watch him hit homers and suddenly gets healthy in Boston or Texas? Well, probably not. I would trade Kemp in a second if we could get value back. I’d eat a portion of his mega contract if we could get Elvis Andrus say, or perhaps Profar. Or Kyle Seager. But realistically Kemp’s deal is so massive that it would take eating $50M of it, and that’s a lot even to the Guggenheim Group. If you make Kemp’s deal that much more affordable, you want more in return. Obviously the risk becomes if we pay for Kemp AND he rebounds elsewhere, and all we have to show for it are a few so-so kids or some mediocre big leaguer, we’re fucked. And no one is going to deal for Kemp right now, with more surgeries than production the past 2 plus years, without the Dodgers paying a lot. And could Kemp even pass a physical anyway? It all seems like a moot point.
Kemp’s value probably is more to the Dodgers right now than it is on the open market. That could change as the FA crop isn’t wonderful and next winter’s power options are thin as well. Maybe Kemp looks like a worthwhile gamble to some team looking to catch lightening in a bottle. Right now, I think the Dodgers need to hope Kemp gets healthy and mans an outfield slot, whether it’s CF or a corner. Personally, I think the fantasy of Kemp being a 40/40 man and playing a Gold Glove centerfield again is just that, a pipe dream. Kemp playing CF is what got him into this mess in the first place. Ideally Kemp moves to a corner spot, probably left, and lets healthier and younger Joc Pederson and Yasiel Puig take the other two slots. The team needs to get healthier and younger and more athletic in the outfield – and soon. While folks keep telling me “Joc isn’t ready”, he’s clearly arriving soon. My guess is as soon as Kemp lands back on the DL – i.e. opening day or sometime in April.
I think the Dodgers will deal with this situation just that way. Kemp will be the guy until he clearly isn’t the guy. At that point, whether it’s from Day One on or sometime later, Pederson will get his opportunity. Will he step in and do a great job? Probably not, most rookies don’t. But if he fields the position well, is reliable enough to start every day and perhaps offers some of that tantalizing power and speed he’s been known for, it’s not a bad option. It’s certainly more enticing to me than Skip Schumaker in center.
That leaves Crawford, Ethier and Puig.
Puig is going to be a fixture and we can only hope he matures and doesn’t become what he reminds me of today – Raul Mondesi. Puig’s talent is off the charts but if you know anything about me you know I like grinders and baseball IQ more than “tools.” If Puig can learn and improve, I think he’ll be a wonderful RF option for years to come and is the least of our OF question marks. I know how much people love Puig, so since I had the audacity to use logic in connection of Kershaw and Kemp, I will not say anything additional about Puig. I want you to like me. I really want you to like me (he says in a Sally Field-like way).
So we’re left with Crawford and Ethier. Crawford to me is easily the more explosive player and like Kemp, harder to move. Logically that means he stays and I can see an outfield mix of Crawford, Pederson and Puig once Kemp pulls up lame. That’s a pretty nice outfield, by the way. I hope Crawford, a year removed from his Tommy John surgery, manages to stay healthy and show us more of the Rays Crawford than the Red Sox or on again/off again Dodgers version. I really liked his post-season performance, so I’m strangely optimistic he’ll continue to improve.
So that means Ethier is the odd man out. Kemp is too pricey and too risky to trade, Crawford too pricey. Ethier enhanced his value by playing center – as good or bad (your judgment) as he did. His numbers have regressed but his added versatility and more palatable contract seem to suggest he’ll be the guy Kasten moves if not next week at the Winter Meetings, soon. Moving Ethier essentially clears up the “log jam” and adds either prospects to the system, a bullpen arm, a bottom of the rotation starter, bench parts, etc., etc. It wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.
Ethier is a nice player. For a time, he was one of my favorite Dodgers. He really showed up last year and stepped in when Kemp disappointed. That said, he’s not the guy he was a few years ago and as he’s the most tradable, in the unfortunate situation of being expendable.
So if I had to guess right now, I’d say Kemp is the plan in CF until he proves incapable of doing it, and then Pederson is allowed a chance, with Crawford and Puig there too. Crawford, Pederson and Puig is my bet if you tune into a Nomar Garciaparra called Dodgers game (thank god no more Collins/Lyons) in May.
I said last spring and early summer the Dodgers needed to sign Brian Wilson. This was a sore area for many as the bearded one is associated with the Hated Ones and also was considered another broken down Giant the blue would sign with much embarrassment to follow. As it turns out, I was happily right and the Wilson signing was not only inexpensive but a huge reason for the Dodgers success in 2013.
I also said that if Wilson were allowed to leave, to close elsewhere, it would mean the Dodgers would be back at square one and have to find someone like Wilson to slot into the 8th inning spot before Kenley Jansen closed. The problem there is the same as the problem was last season. If the Dodgers didn’t pick up Wilson for $1M and sign him this winter for whatever it takes to retain him, it means spending as much or more someplace else or trading our cherished prospects for a closer type elsewhere. This was the chatter this week when Jim Johnson’s name was mentioned in connection with the Dodgers.
I’m happy the Dodgers didn’t deal kids for Johnson because we need our kids and because Wilson is better than Johnson anyway. If we are going to pay someone a lot of money for the back of the pen, just pay the beard. We know what we have in Wilson, and he adds a swagger the softish Dodgers need more of. I was happy when Johnson went to the A’s and surprised the price in return was just Jemile Weeks, who like his brother, stinks. Somehow Beane was able to palm off Weeks for a top closer he’ll end up flipping mid-season for something better, whereas the Dodgers would likely have had to part with Pederson or prized pitching prospects.
Now today, since Joe Nathan signed in Detroit, and Johnson is in Oakland, the Dodgers are talking seriously with Wilson. Wilson likely will want to close, or at least close on days Kenley is not, and that’s ok with me. In fact – another point loyalists get mad at me about – is Wilson can close and Kenley can set up. It shouldn’t be written in stone that just because he ended the season as the closer, and did a good job in the role, that Kenley HAS to close. If you recall, he wasn’t the original choice for the role, and only became the closer when Brandon League failed so miserably.
I have no problem with Kenley closing, and if he does, good for him. But if Wilson beats him out, or due to more experience is awarded the job and Kenley has to set up, I say that’s all right too. Wilson is a proven big game closer and any configuration of he and Kenley means a strong back of the bullpen. That’s good for the Dodgers and good for the fans.
I want to read soon that Wilson inks with the blue. I think we need him and then need to keep JP Howell as well. Howell is a very good pitcher and deserving of a multi-year deal. Sign him and then figure out who replaces Ronald Hellisario, who was allowed to hit the FA market. Let someone else worry about that Creature from the Black Lagoon looking mother – I’ve had my fill watching his inconsistency. Remember, he was a big reason the Dodgers lost so many early games. To me he was always a Visa problem pain in the ass who was more like his old pal Ramon Troncoso than an effective big league set up man. I think the Dodgers will be just fine with Yimi Garcia, Jose Dominguez, Chris Withrow, and other kids. I’m very thankful the Hellisario era has come to an end.
The bullpen is the life’s blood of a big league team. I hope Kasten assembles a good one, saving us from the drama and June patch jobs he had to do in 2013.
I think that’s enough for now. I hit some hot button topics and ruffled some feathers. I’m excited by the Hot Stove season so far and think next week will be a lot of fun. I maintain that pretty much anyone but Corey Seager is open game imo if the Dodgers improve as a result of a trade or trades. The Dodgers to me are about Vin Scully, Blue Heaven on Earth, Nancy Bea’s organ music and the name on the front of the uniform. Fans need to get this was a cobbled together transitional team meant to show good will to long-suffering fans freed from an oppressive regime. It was meant to bring some fun back, some star power, and show the fans that the future would be bright. It was never meant to be “the team.” So sit back and enjoy the show. If some stars are moved, and others brought in, and kids you barely know, or don’t know at all, are given a shot, so be it.
We have been kicked around more or less – save for 1988’s miracle – since after the 1981 World Series win. There have been many downs, a few ups, and some horrible moments including bankruptcy, comas and Vin Scully trying to cash rubber checks. Things can only get better. 2013 gave us a glimpse of that. I’m hopeful 2014 and beyond will be simply wonderful.