The Polar Vortex Edition of Dodger Therapy
This is when things get realllllly slow for me.
The Steelers season is over, UCLA football is finished, the Kings are playing sure, but that’s it. Now we sit through the dog days of winter, watch most of the country freeze over and await the thaw of spring. The Dodgers, college baseball, all the goodness of sitting in the stands, eating sunflower seeds and listening to baseball haters moan how long the season is.
In order to keep myself from complete Jack Nicholson in the Shining insanity, I am putting together words for you to read (hopefully) on thoughts surrounding the game. Various topics. Why not?
First of all – the Hall of Fame. A few ideas here. I am very happy for Greg Maddux and Frank Thomas. Maddux is a beast, a nerd who carved hitters up with masterful command and mound intelligence. The complete package, including a plethora of Gold Gloves. It was a pleasure to see him in Dodger blue, albeit at the end when his biggest contribution was as mentor to the other Dodgers pitchers. Man, that guy could pitch.
I found it hysterical – and disgusting – reading notable twitter doofuses critique Maddux and say how they’d leave him off their ballots. Of course, that’s why you live in your parents’ house and masturbate uncontrollably. Your too smart for the rest bit sickens me and is everything wrong with baseball since the invention of fantasy and the coming of Moneyball. You think too much. Maddux thought more. Maddux’ thoughts amounted into perfection and complete domination of the game’s best hitters. Your thoughts lead to stupid comments anyone who’s followed baseball for some time chuckle over. Maddux is a first ballot Hall of Famer, deservedly, and you’re dumb asses.
Frank Thomas blew me away from the moment I heard about him. His much anticipated debut for the White Sox, back when they were experimenting with Campbell’s soup C’s on their hats, was a thing to behold. The Big Hurt definitely fell into that bucket of “I can’t believe what I’m seeing”. Eventually his era would be known as the Steroid Era but I don’t think Thomas was guilty. The guy was built like a moose and a college football player. Of course anyone on the ballot nowadays could be looked at sideways, but like Maddux, Thomas’ domination was more than just a little extra on his fly balls. Thomas was a student of hitting, a Walt Hriniak disciple, and had a brilliant eye. He could hit anything near him, and most away from him. He took walks, he hit for average, he hit for power. He was amazing.
I am a suspicious person by nature and one who has strong opinions of Bud’s dirty league. Nothing would surprise me, and I definitely subscribe to the “if it’s too good to be true, it’s probably too good to be true” school, but the Big Hurt was a hitting machine from Day One and due to his massive size – which didn’t change like some other bald headed homerun greats – he was one of the most incredible hitters I’ve ever seen personally.
That leads to the other same-era players on the current ballot that did not get in.
Baseball has a real problem, obviously, with suspicion surrounding everything that has happened in the recent past, as well as the current and foreseeable future. That said, unless there is evidence of any sort to tie a player to cheating – concrete evidence, be it failed tests, a mountain of evidence, Congressional appearances, court cases, books, etc. – I think we need to look at players from this time period with an unbiased eye.
Mike Piazza, in my opinion, is a Hall of Famer. Like Thomas, he was amazing from his first appearance. He wasn’t skinny and suddenly huge. His numbers weren’t normal and then insane. Piazza was a monster from the time he appeared in Dodgers camp and Roy Campanella told Tommy Lasorda the best catcher at Vero was this young rookie, not the big league catchers the team intended to break camp with.
Piazza slugged his way into Dodgers fans hearts, hitting for both power and average – all while playing the toughest position on the field. His critics would say he wasn’t a great catcher, but I would disagree. He excelled in areas Saber geeks would never acknowledge. He handled very good Dodgers pitching staffs and helped make them among the top couple staffs in the league annually. He stood in there at the plate like no man since Mike Scioscia. Buster Posey could take notes from the bravery Piazza showed behind the dish. And remember, a great hitter like that didn’t have to stand there and block the plate; he could have swiped cowardly at runners like Posey does, but he didn’t. He was a modern era monster hitter with respect for the game and the past and the long, rich history of Dodgers catching – a segment in my opinion every bit as impressive as the blue’s pitching greats. Campanella, Roseboro, Yeager, Ferguson, Scioscia, etc.
Was Piazza a great defender? Depends on how you look at it. He had a strong but mostly inaccurate arm and the throwing definitely fell off along the way. Of course you want a good arm on your catcher, but handling a pitching staff is the biggest priority. Piazza handled a United Nations of pitchers and the guys responded. I already mentioned the plate blocking. And then there was that hitting. That opposite field power. Just a beast. He was the best hitter I may have seen personally wear Dodgers blue, and there have been some great ones.
I think it’s a crime Piazza isn’t in the HOF already. He deserves to be. I would say a lot of guys who fall into this group – players gossiped about, questioned, but never proven guilty of anything. Baseball has a mess on their hands thanks to their commissioner who let it happen, and continues to let it happen. I think you do one of two things – ignore everyone from this era, putting in deserving veterans who pre-date the PED time frame, or allow the ones you have no real evidence of anything. If it’s just some hearsay that perhaps someone used, you have to let it go. EVERYONE could have been using, so to cherry pick a few based on their relationships with baseball writers is stupid. Baseball needs to heal; the fans are tired of the bullshit. And for god’s sake, let Pete Rose in. Put the truth on his plaque, but put him in. It’s idiotic to hold fast on this in an era where every season the past 20 has sketchy behavior linked to it.
Today there was some talk with Ned about things going on, including Clayton Kershaw and Hanley Ramirez extension talk, Alexander Guerrero and other second base options, the health of certain players, Don Mattingly’s extension, etc. I’ll briefly hit some of these topics…
Regarding Kershaw, I’ve made it plain how I feel about this. In any case, a massive long-term deal to a pitcher is a bad idea. If the Dodgers “win” with Kershaw and he “allows” them to hand over hundreds of millions of dollars, at some point they will still “lose”. The armchair GM in me would never give any pitcher – ANY PITCHER – more than 5 years. I just think it’s stupid and there is no chance the player can ever stay healthy the lifetime of a longer contract.
Kershaw has a lot of mileage on his still young left arm and the chance of injury over the next 5-10 years is pretty great. That said, it’s not my money (not really; it’s always the fans’ money paying for these types of things), and if the Dodgers want to keep their ace – the best pitcher in baseball (although not yet the big game winner I’d like to see) – so be it. If they want to give him 10-15 years instead of my preferred 5, that’s their business. Who knows what the value of a player really is? Maybe Kershaw’s presence means more butts in the seats, and not only on days he pitches. Maybe it means a title or two (hard to say, it’s been 25 since we’ve seen one here in LA), and who can quantify what that means in terms of overall revenue? Basically, I am game if Stan Kasten is. I’ll enjoy the team either way – Kershaw or no.
I understand how much current Dodgers fans love Kershaw. But perhaps he doesn’t love you as much. Maybe he wants out of LA. Maybe he just wants to explore the business end of the game – which is his right. Maybe he wants to pitch in Texas. Or Philadelphia. Or Anaheim. Or New York. Or Boston. Maybe he just wants to keep people guessing. Or maybe he doesn’t know what he wants, and is keeping his options open.
I get it. He has every right to do whatever he wants. The Dodgers are over a barrel though as they can either keep trying to sign him long-term, trade him, or let him finish out his deal and perhaps walk in October. If the latter, then it might be worth it if they win this season. Like I said, if the “worst” happened and Kershaw walked, with the Dodgers getting just a first round pick for their troubles, it might not be the worst thing in the world. It would mean they got that pick, maybe a title in 2014, and didn’t have to pay Kershaw upwards of a quarter of a billion dollars to stay in blue. If his arm fell off in 2015 or beyond, it would be the problem of his new team. And who knows… with Logan White and company handling the scouting, maybe that draft pick turns into the next Kershaw.
Anyway, that’s the worst case scenario. You’d have to think that Kershaw will eventually sign with the Dodgers. I mean, where is he going? Would he leave after all the lean years, right when money is plentiful, the image and fortunes of the team is improving, and it’s a chief destination spot for players again? And if the Dodgers can get over their immaturity and win in 2014, would Kershaw walk away from the only team he’s ever known, a team that just won the World Series? It’s hard to believe.
It will be interesting to see how this game of “chicken” plays out. I am hoping the Dodgers go in for Masahiro Tanaka, not only to bolster the pitching staff now, but to offer good “Kershaw insurance” moving forward. If Kershaw decided to leave, a staff anchored by Zack Greinke, Tanaka and Hyun-jin Ryu doesn’t sound bad. And all that money they didn’t give to Kershaw could be used to acquire another top flight arm for 2015 and beyond.
The future is bright as it pertains to the Dodgers pitching – with Kershaw or without.
I think signing Hanley Ramirez is a priority and why not? The guy hit like a monster in the games he was healthy for in 2013. Signing Hanley works in several ways… it keeps him happy, and happy Hanley is better than pouting Hanley. It makes him tradable – no, I would not give him a no-trade clause so he could later be dealt, as his defense erodes, or when the team finds solid solutions for the middle infield. It also keeps him in blue should they decide to keep him. It would be one less thing to worry about for the next 5 years. I think this will get done, and I hope they don’t give him a no-trade. I like him – to me his presence, along with the bullpen being fixed – were the two biggest reasons for the Dodgers turnaround in June. Even more than the arrival of Yasiel Puig. That said, I don’t entirely think he’s the right piece for the Dodgers long-term, and I question a lot of the pieces in the current mix. This is why Ken Rosenthal’s column recently about how the Dodgers are spending a ton but still have so many question marks is relevant.
The Dodgers have a lot of pieces in place, but they may not have the right pieces. It remains to be seen if Hanley is a major asset for years to come in blue. His health, his track record of grumbling and his shaky defense make me wonder. I’m a purist – and as one moron on twitter recently said “a bitter old white guy.” Sue me. I like smart players who are less spectacular by and large but very smart, gritty and reliable. I would trade tools galore for intelligent players who just find ways to do their jobs without a lot of mistakes. I have said before, and I’ll say it again here for those who may have missed it – I would gladly take 8 Dave Roberts over 8 Matt Kemps or 8 Yasiel Puigs. I think that’s how good teams win – the Cardinals, the Red Sox, etc.
In a perfect world, I’d like my shortstop to be a fielder first, a hitter second. Same thing with catcher. In the modern era, since the arrival of “the shortstops” – A-Rod, Jeter, Garciaparra – defensive prowess has become less valued by fans and stats are all that matters. You have to remember, the shortstops of the last 2 Dodgers championship clubs were Alfredo Griffin (.259 with 1 home run in ’88) and Bill Russell (.233 with no home runs in ’81… Derrel Thomas also played short that season, hitting .248 with 4 home runs). If Hanley does a serviceable job with the leather, I’m happy with him. His bat is so awesome it allows for some leeway. But if he’s a mess, or if he can’t stay healthy, I’d prefer a more traditional shortstop. That’s just me; I know many people feel otherwise, and you’re entitled to your opinions.
Folks need to give up the pipe dream that the rotation will be saved by Chad Billingsley and Josh Beckett. The Dodgers certainly aren’t counting on these guys, and you’d think after so many fans chirped last winter about Ted Lilly, Billingsley and all the other “options” the Dodgers had (only to learn guys like Stephen Fife, Matt Magill, etc. would be needed to save the day), folks would learn.
Billingsley – outside of that hot stretch where he won 6 in a row, I believe, has been mostly a disappointment for years. It’s his inability to grow as a pitcher, perhaps soft, who knows, but he hasn’t lived up to his promise. His contract is about to expire and I would be shocked if the Dodgers re-upped with him. I see a scenario where he comes back mid-year and helps the bullpen, or perhaps is pressed if someone gets hurt, or more likely is dealt. I think Billingsley’s best days are behind him, at least in blue. It’s possible he goes elsewhere and reinvents himself, but that seems unlikely. I’d guess he’s more or less done in blue, except as some possible depth – until a trade is worked out, or some bullpen need arises.
More of a longshot would be Beckett, who wasn’t very good when he was healthy. His injury isn’t run of the mill and if the Dodgers were really counting on him and had faith, they wouldn’t have signed Dan Haren or be discussing Tanaka. Beckett falls into that bucket of depth I mentioned above, and if he looks ok, I’m sure the Dodgers wouldn’t mind moving him for prospects this spring to some pitching hungry team. i.e. don’t expect him to be a factor in blue anymore. Not that he ever was in LA anyhow.
I’ve said enough in the past about the starry eyed reality tail chasing outfield, so I won’t go there again this time. I just had to vent a little, and talk about some of the news happening in baseball. As it stands now, we’re just over a month away from pitchers and catchers reporting, and college baseball starting up. I count down to that, and spring training, not opening day. I love the process that is baseball – the hot stove dealings, the rumors, the signings, spring training, seeing which prospects step up, who disappoints, etc. Opening day is nice, but since Bud idiotically has the blue opening on another continent, I’ll just prepare for mid-February and then March, when spring play begins.
Keep it real, Dodgers fans. Be kind to one another; don’t be a douche. LA gets a bad rep for its grunting, animalistic fans – i.e. Raider Nation, which Magic densely refers to as “Dodger Nation”. I’d like to think we’re all a bit more evolved than that and are more Vin Scully than Duck Dynasty. If you are someone who is close-minded and/or hateful, feel free to unfollow me on twitter. I don’t want morons reading my words anyway. As a person who loves the long history of the Dodgers and who has suffered greatly the past 30+ years of following the blue, I have no patience for that. It’s time for blue goodness. It’s time to get back to winning.