Do Kershaw + Tanaka Equal a World Series Win?
Oh happy day!
The Dodgers announced they came to terms today with lackadaisical starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw. The terms of the deal are 7 years for $215M. I hope with his newfound wealth he takes good care of the kids in Africa he and his wife always visit. That’s a lot of clean water, farm animals and education.
Folks on twitter remind me – when I mentioned in 1998 the Dodgers signed then ace Kevin Brown to his own 7 year deal, but for “just” $105M – that Kershaw is much younger than Brown – and better! Well, I didn’t say that to compare the two. My point was a 7 year deal for an ace 15 years ago was a lot less expensive than it is today. I am not trying to say Brown is better than Kershaw, or any such thing. I think though, since the topic went awry, that it’s easy to dismiss Brown’s contributions in blue. Easy to say Kershaw is a saint and Brown was a surly douche bag. Some of that could be true, but the end point is both signed for longer than a pitcher should be signed by a desperate Dodgers team. Both signed with the notion that all that money would/will translate into a World Series crown or two, and if so, that certainly is worth X and therefore the deal “worth it”. Of course, a marquee starter also means more butts in the seat on days he pitches, and even days he doesn’t. i.e. the salary isn’t strictly about how many wins or strikeouts or some other Saber stat you prefer. Think big picture, folks.
Well, I am. It’s too many years for a pitcher, but hey, the fans in LA deserve it after 25+ years of torture. The smarty pants East Coast baseball geniuses point to the Dodgers bloated payroll and comment – mostly snarkily. If it were the Yankees, Red Sox, even Phillies, or somehow the Rangers or Angels, it’d be ok. The Dodgers, in their crisp white uniforms with the blue script on the chest, are always ripe for the haters. How dare they buy a title?! It’s ok if the Yankees do, or Boston. As we learned when Bud Selig and his owner brothers allowed Fox to hand over the Dodgers to a cash poor Boston carpetbagger, baseball has a dislike of the Dodgers.
After that shitty era, and all the trappings that went along with it – bankruptcy, embarrassment, comas, bounced checks to Vin Scully, etc., the Guggenheim troop marched in and promised something different. To their credit, with bumps along the way, they’ve delivered. The “buying” of a title is secondary to buying the fans’ hearts back. So much ill will had transpired under the previous ownership that something big had to be done to get fans believing (and spending!) again. So, as we all know, they addressed the depleted farm system by purchasing a roster of big name stars that would A) bring fans and excitement back to Chavez Ravine while B) allowing the farm time to catch up. We hear the names – Seager, Pederson, Lee, Puig, Guerrero, Stripling, Garcia, Dominquez, etc., etc. and we get excited. Young blood is on the way.
The new owners have lived up to their end of the bargain and now are set for fun at the Ravine as well as a pipeline from the current stars to the upcoming kiddies. International scouting is at the forefront, signings of International free-agents, and more, the Dodgers are now capable of being players in any available talent acquisition – something that had disappeared during Fox and of course through greedy McCourt. While the Dodgers may not sign Masahiro Tanaka, they are mentioned as finalists in the hunt. And more, named at all. Yu Darvish was available a few seasons ago and the Dodgers couldn’t even entertain the notion of making an offer. Times have changed.
Back to the matter at hand – Kershaw.
I’m very happy he’s back. While I like to point out the things casual fans and starry eyed enthusiasts never would – for example, that Kershaw folded terribly in all important Game 6 in St. Louis and while he comes up during the season, has yet to translate that to big games that matter – I very much like the guy. He’s as close to Sandy Koufax (sans the big wins) as many fans have seen. But 7 years – oof.
The MLB Network Radio folks were abuzz with the signing, of course, as big money always gets big reactions. I look at it this way – what choice did the Dodgers have? A popular player in his young prime, an ace, a guy already under team control – the Dodgers had to make every effort to sign him. Kershaw played it coy and cat and moused the team, but ultimately realized $30M annually and a loaded roster with no end in sight might just make him as happy as life in his beloved Texas. The signing – or should I say the timeliness of the signing – is intriguing.
The general theory is that since the Dodgers are suitors for Tanaka, signing Kershaw first was a must. Imagine if they signed Tanaka first – also 25 years old, but without an inning of major league ball under his belt. Very easily the perennially mopey looking Kershaw could have interpreted that the Dodgers feel Tanaka is more important, and dragged his contract pout into the season and potentially into October. No, that would not do.
So now that the Dodgers have signed Kershaw, will they go after Tanaka? I haven’t heard any expert say they won’t. The Yankees are dying in the frigid East because Tanaka may be the difference for them between making the playoffs, and not. The Dodgers don’t “need” Tanaka, and in fact he could be the Dodgers 3rd or 4th starter if he signs. In NY, he’s their ace immediately.
All of this is funny, of course, since the Yankees used to be the ones in the Dodgers position and the baseball world would watch as George’s team grabbed any and every player they wanted. Their motives were simply to be the best, not so much a case of winning back fans or buying time for their farm to evolve. Whatever the reason, after decades of mediocrity (with albeit some good), we just deserve it. I’ve had to endure Paul DePodesta’s spend thrift shit rosters with Saber nitwits explaining why Hee-Seop Choi was a great player, and how Brad Penny was an ace, or Oscar Robles a major league shortstop. You can feel any way you want, but for me, I deserve to see top players in my town’s uniform for a change. Why not?
The problem with baseball payrolls is not that the Yankees or the Dodgers are big spenders; it’s that there aren’t more teams’ owners with as much conviction. Not every team can afford what Guggenheim apparently can, but they don’t need to pocket revenue sharing either to “pay off debt”.
I for one want the Dodgers to sign Tanaka. I’ve said as much since I first heard about his mastery in Japan last summer. I think signing Tanaka would cap a Murderer’s Row of starting pitchers to go along with a very deep bullpen (yay, bullpen!) and while other twitter folks have mentioned a row of great starting pitchers doesn’t always equate to championships, I would say it doesn’t hurt. Pitching is everything. As long as you have some offense, you can win with great pitching. Dan Evans’ underfunded teams would get pretty close with almost no offense at all at times. The Dodgers, as they stand now, have a lot of offense. It’s been so long since the team’s won; it’s easy to look for reasons to sabotage what should be euphoria.
Get Tanaka, so the worst starter is Dan Haren, who isn’t bad – especially the second half of 2013. Come mid-season, the Dodgers could move Haren, a free-agent in the off-season anyway, and promote one of the young arms who are close to ready – Stripling, Lee, Fife, Magill… Imagine a rotation where one of those big four starters isn’t even able to start in the post-season when a 3 man rotation goes into effect? It’s chilling.
I also want Tanaka since the agent for pretty much the entire Dodgers rotation builds opt out clauses into his clients’ deals. Not that he would, but if Zack Greinke decided to walk in 2 years, or wanted a bigger contract from the Dodgers, there would be depth in place to absorb that. By then the Dodgers could have the next Kershaw in the minors, and decide to let Greinke walk. Kershaw’s deal has an opt out after 5; same thing.
I look at the larger picture and think how do you win now, but also stay stocked for years – hopefully, setting you up for a dynasty. And the greedy fuck in me says I want to see a dominant team that crushes opponents. Most of the time, the Dodgers barely get by; they aren’t customarily a team that blows teams away and instills fear.
I will end there with the caveat that I in no way feel Kershaw or no, Tanaka or no, the Dodgers are guaranteed anything. Too often hungrier teams steal victory from the bloated fat cats of baseball. I still question the team’s heart and look to the non-pitchers with some confusion. I don’t see a lot of leaders on this team, and outside of outstanding pitchers, who steps up to be that person that gets everybody on track. As you know, a pitcher usually isn’t that guy, no matter how good he is.
I see work to be done with an empty bench and no doubt trades of backed up pitchers for experienced veterans to replace the departed folks like Ellis, Schumaker, Punto, Hairston, etc. So I don’t know what we have there, and it’s concerning. I also look at the outfield and honestly think I’d feel most comfortable if the 5th outfielder – top prospect Joc Pederson – was in the mix, and not so much the 4 more popular, and more highly paid, guys. I worry a lot about that outfield – only Andre Ethier seems mature, and he’s the least gifted physically of the bunch. Two others are into obnoxious reality skanks or other famous folks, and young Yasiel Puig is young and stupid.
The infield is better, but has concerns – at least to me, the realist. Bringing back Juan Uribe was not only necessary but brilliant. He and A-Gone ensure solid corners and professional players, and Hanley Ramirez offers one of the most feared bats in baseball, but not much defense, injuries and his own emotional baggage. Second base is a black hole that we won’t know more about until sometime in March. There are reasons to worry, or at the very least try to remain humble.
Ken Rosenthal wrote an article how the Dodgers have seemingly spent a trillion dollars, yet have question marks galore. I agree. For all of the spending, there is definitely reason for optimism but also no guarantee this mix of expensive guys will form an actual team. And in my opinion, smarts and grit are elements you can’t buy and there on any good baseball club. Let’s hope Donnie dim bulb not only learns how to piece together a lineup on a more consistent basis, but is also able to get through to these guys who could buy and sell him. If management isn’t able to hone this gang into an actual team, it will be a waste of a lot of money.