The Winter Meetings Eve Gut Check Edition of Dodger Therapy
We’re on the eve of the Winter Meetings – it’s every bit as exciting as waiting for Santa Claus to drop down the chimney.
Ned Colletti commented yesterday on things going on in Dodgerland. Juan Uribe has been offered many deals, apparently not the 3 year windfall he’s hoping for (fool me once…); JP Howell is being talked to for a return to blue (Dodgers need a lefty and he’s a great one); outfielders may or may not be traded; the Orioles like Andre Ethier; the Red Sox, Mariners, Rangers and others like Matt Kemp; the wealthy in MLB await Masahiro Tanaka to land and I would guess whatever we expect to happen this week could take back seat to what we don’t. Bring on the Winter Meetings, in all their glory!
I have had fun lately on twitter where folks get mad when I even bring up how I have NO problem whatsoever with the Dodgers trading ANYONE if it means a better team for us this year and more, beyond. I have mentioned it before, but I am loyal (as Tommy Lasorda is fond of saying) to the name on the front of the jersey and less to the name on the back. I like Matt Kemp, I like Clayton Kershaw, I like Andre Ethier, I like Carl Crawford, I like Hanley Ramirez, but I wouldn’t be upset at all if any are dealt to improve the fortunes of the Dodgers.
A few things worth noting – or restating, as I’ve said some of this prior…
Matt Kemp is a wonderfully gifted player, capable, as he showed in 2011 (now going on 3 years ago), of carrying a team on his brawny back. Unfortunately, he’s been riddled with injuries – let us count them – destroyed shoulder, badly fractured ankle, shredded hamstrings and multiple surgeries and repairs on all. Matt Kemp COULD be the guy he was in 2011, but then, most said after resting the end of 2012 he would do that in 2013. In 2013 he was as injured as always, old injuries and new, and due to the shoulder problem, couldn’t swing the bat. Due to this, he was exposed and a veritable strikeout machine. Donnie Mattingly is so dense that regardless of player health and more, reality – he pencils these famed sluggers into his lineup card no matter what. So while those dreamy eyed fans who recall Kemp going 4 for 5 before stupidly not sliding at home plate and injuring his ankle, I recall the truth that he was a detriment to the lineup most of the games he played – especially prior to hitting the DL for a long stretch early in the season.
Now – can Kemp become Kemp again? Will he suddenly get healthy, swing painlessly and remain healthy long enough to make a difference? Recall – without Matt Kemp the Dodgers could very well have gone to the World Series had the Cardinals’ Joe Kelly not “accidentally” plunked Hanley Ramirez in the ribs his first at bat of the NLCS. What does that mean? It means that while Matt Kemp is a “difference maker” – he did not make a difference in 2013. Could he in 2014? Perhaps. Or not.
No one knows for sure if Matt Kemp will ever be the guy he was again. I would doubt he can steal bases like he did before, and that was a nice perk of his game. I also doubt the ability to patrol CF like he once did. The Dodgers would play him there, but is that best for his overall health? Would playing LF, say, be more beneficial to him staying healthy and therefore actually playing more games down the road?
The problem with Matt Kemp that fans who swoon over his beautiful eyes and now lean frame (hmmm) don’t get is that since the Dodgers new owners have come in, all they’ve seen of Kemp is disaster. He hasn’t done anything since running into that wall in Denver. Whether fair or not, if you were the Dodgers owners and saw this very expensive, very unproductive player sitting there since you came into town, what would you do? They get that Matt Kemp was the runner up to PED cheat Ryan Braun in 2011’s NL MVP polling, but they also know more about his health than you or I do. And while they might believe things will have to get better for Kemp, they also have a business to run and probably don’t want as many injury question marks littering the roster as they did in 2013. Not to mention that their #1 prospect happens to play OF, and CF in particular.
I have no idea what will happen with Matt Kemp. I suspect he will remain in blue because it’s generally not good to sell low on a player, even if it means dumping that albatross of a contract that used to look so good (long term deals almost NEVER work out for the team or the fans – think about that the next time you want Clayton Kershaw signed for 10-15 years). I also question whether another team would risk anything decent in trade, and then pay a big chunk of Kemp’s contract for a guy that might not even be able to pass a physical at this point. So, lovers of Kemp’s fashionable clothing and sexy facial hair, you may get to hang onto the dream boat, and if so, I side with you and hope he rebounds into at least a serviceable star player. I don’t hope that for the reasons you do, I suspect. I hope that because I am a Dodgers fan first and foremost and if Kemp is in blue and healthy, it helps the Dodgers win baseball games and makes my summer more enjoyable.
Now what about Andre Ethier, he of the dreamy dark eyes and wild mussed hair? When women (and men!) aren’t swooning over Kemp’s tight pants, they’re fanning themselves over Ethier. Ethier’s contract was maligned in the past but much easier to move than Kemp’s. Ethier hurt himself last season too, but in general is far healthier and 1000x more likely to be in the lineup come Opening Day than Kemp. Also, while his numbers mysteriously took a dip too in 2013 (hmmm), he added to his resume by playing a pedestrian CF in Kemp’s absence. Those who think Ethier is now a CF are off base; but in a pinch he can play the position.
The Dodgers outfield is a puzzle that is impossible to solve. I can guess many ways it plays out and it would all be just that. I don’t think Stan Kasten himself knows the answer. 4 very talented players, all with question marks. 3 of the 4, the most highly paid, of course, all with major injury questions. The healthy one, the young and relatively inexpensive one, is a 23 year old work in progress who was brilliant and frustrating. Is he Roberto Clemente II or the guy who used to be said to be that – Raul Mondesi? Hey, at least he’s healthy, young, and could easily improve. The other 3…?
I would not deal Ethier only because he’s easier to move than Kemp. As Ned Colletti alluded to, and I already knew, the FA crop of OFs next winter isn’t great. That said, if we moved one, we could always trade for a veteran plug, a kid, or fill the slot from within. I personally wouldn’t mind seeing Joc Pederson get his chance or Scott Van Slyke – providing he isn’t standing at attention in an important championship game like a mental patient – showcasing his revitalized pop. In other words, if we moved one or both of Kemp and Ethier, we could figure it out somehow in-season or next winter. I’m not that worried.
I think ANY trade needs to be made for the right reasons, however. The Dodgers have a lot of money, so a salary dump isn’t necessary. If we could get something key in return, whether it’s major league talent we need at other positions – third, second, pitching, bench – or more prospects (farm needs as much help as possible, especially position player depth), fine by me. I would just caution management not to move someone that could come back to make us look bad (obviously Kemp more an issue here than decent but hardly spectacular Ethier) if it didn’t help the Dodgers.
In other words, make your deals this week; just make sure the blue improves.
I will end this pre Winter Meetings mini edition with another statement on Clayton Kershaw. Fans HATE when I say this…
I love Kershaw and except for not being able to win the big game (a big except), is very much like Dodgers God, Sandy Koufax. Kershaw is brilliant, and likeable and good. He’s a Dodger, clearly. Just as Orel Hershiser was. Something about devoutly Christian pitchers in blue and white, I guess.
That said, something is amiss with Kershaw. I could be off here (wouldn’t surprise me), but it seems the cat and mouse game with Kershaw and the Dodgers should be looked at as entering a critical stage. The Dodgers CANNOT afford to go into the season with Kershaw unsigned beyond 2014. If Kershaw wants to see what’s out there and leaves, the Dodgers will be screwed. I know that what could happen is the season begins and the Dodgers continue to talk extension with Kershaw and his representatives, but that’s a distraction the player and the team do not need. The time to talk money and years is now.
If Kershaw is frightened by the length and obscene amount of money the Dodgers apparently have offered him, I don’t blame him. But… counter with what you DO want. Is it 3 years? 5 years? Tell Stan Kasten, Ned Colletti and team what it is that will make you happen, Clayton. If it’s what I’d offer – 5 years at $30M (that’s $150M for those who don’t know how to multiply) – fine. That would make Kershaw a FA again at 30, still in his prime, and ripe to sign a massive payday (if he’s of the mindset that $30M a year for he and his wife isn’t massive enough). That would be a great deal for Kershaw, and a better deal for the Dodgers than the 10-15 year rumored deals we’ve heard of.
Kershaw is a pitching machine, but he also has a lot of mileage on that left arm. To assume for one second that he wouldn’t be hurt after signing a 10-15 year deal – or a 5 year pact – is ridiculous. Pitchers break down all the time – ask Stephen Strasburg or Chad Billingsley – so a fat 5 year contract for huge money should make Kershaw very happy. Besides… why would he want to leave the Dodgers, the only team he’s ever played for, when things are finally sunny? They just brought back Orel Hershiser, Nomar Garciaparra, and threw in some hottie from MLB Network to boot (Alanna Rizzo). If Kershaw wants to get off the train at this point I seriously question his mind and his heart. Brian Wilson knew it was too good a situation to leave; so should Kershaw.
If Kershaw cannot put into words what he wants – I’d ask him very slowly, frequently, and even let him point to pictures if it made it easier – then the Dodgers have no choice but to shop their prize left-hander. The team simply has to be as good as it can be – now and down the line – and if Kershaw does not feel comfortable here, and won’t sign before his 2014 season turns him into a pumpkin, Stan Kasten should make phone calls.
Now while you’re snarling and sobbing and cursing my existence, imagine the bevy of blue chips Clayton Kershaw could fetch. Unlike Matt Kemp, there are no current injury concerns lingering. No massive contract to consider. Stan Kasten could go to any team, point to their 40 man roster and start selecting whomever he wished. That’s what Kershaw could do.
I’d prefer they sign him to that extension and such talk can end, but those are the facts. He needs to sign an extension, and it should happen before the season begins, ideally.
Well, that’s all for now. I hope some excitement occurs over the next 3 days and we have fun things to talk about in Dodgerland. The Steelers have let me down, the Bruins season is mostly done, so all I have is the LA Kings until counting down for pitchers and catchers to report, and getting ready for some college baseball to bridge the gap till opening day.
I hope I have eloquently stated my case for the popular players many of you adore. I am not a bad guy. I am like you, I hope – a Dodgers fan. I have seen the fruits of victory and the Botox’d bankruptcy of bitter defeat. I am proud to be a Dodgers fan again and am very excited about the possibilities of what 2014, 2015 and beyond can bring. Perhaps even that elusive World Series trophy we haven’t glimpsed in a quarter of a century.