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The 2-Days-In Dodger Report

March 23, 2014

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A trip down under and 2 wins vs the hated D’Backs, so while the team flies towards Los Angeles, I thought I’d take a long-form look at some of the recent topics that have been burning up my twitter TL – mostly due to me throwing out said topics. Haha

To start with, newbies who follow me seem to not understand what my twitter account says upfront. My twitter account is a place for me to vent, and for followers to vent, and to share in the collective pain that has been most of the past 32-33 years of Dodgers baseball. It’s therapy because Dodgers fans have been used and abused by owners, baseball itself, players, etc. and have become the Rodney Dangerfields of MLB fans, imo.

The embarrassment and whippings continue as 70% of Los Angeles households are unable to even watch Dodgers games on TV, and have resorted to crying, begging and looking for ways to get the attention of the team and Time Warner Cable, who owns the team’s TV rights. Through this shameless moaning, the Dodgers have been mostly mum, and TWC only asks you to switch to them (of course they do). The providers for 70% of the households claim to be hand-tied since they don’t want to raise the rates of all their customers across the board just to appease very vocal and passionate Dodgers fans. It’s also possible the providers haven’t even really begun to negotiate since spring training games are meaningless, and the Australia series is something of a gimmick.

The bottom line is since the 1981 World Series and except for the miracle year of 1988 and of course some exciting moments here and there afterward, a good three decades of abuse has been heaped upon Dodgers fans. From O’Malley giving up when he couldn’t get his football team, to the selling to Fox, to Kevin Malone’s gaffs and ultimately Bud Selig and the other owners allowing the team to be given to Frank McCourt (given, since he had no money to buy the team), the bankruptcy, price gouging, poor rosters, shitty GM, parking lot shootings and beat downs, bounced checks to Vin Scully and stadium personnel, etc. Therapy is very much needed and if you are someone new to the show and cringe when I say harsh things about a certain player or the construction of the roster itself, tough.

I have sat through the glory days and the agony and my little piece of the Interwebs is to vent. I heap love and praise upon things blue, and call out bullshit. The more seasoned fans that identify with said pain and have read more than just an occasional tweet of mine out of context gets it. So I celebrate those who unfollow because frankly they’re not worthy of such sacred therapy. They’re delusional bandwagoners who like a star studded roster and want to man handle Matt Kemp in the locker room. This is serious business, this is life, this is a longtime love affair with the Dodgers and the recollection of Duke, Koufax, Garvey, Hershiser, Gibson, Lopes, Cey, Fernando, Piazza and so on. Anyway, that disclaimer and affirmation of my qualifications as a long-suffering Dodgers fan and therapist of all things blue aside, let’s get on with the topics that burn bright after only 2 regular season games.

Pitching Will Carry The 2014 Dodgers

I firmly believe there is enough talent on this star glimmering roster, and depth thanks to Guggenheim again spending in the international market, plus the emergence of more Logan White draft picks, that the Dodgers will appear in the post-season in 2014. I can’t say they will win it all because it’s too early to tell, but with the rotation and bullpen assembled, the team can’t help but be good.

I think the top three guys – Kershaw, Greinke and Ryu – are as dominant as any 1-2-3 in baseball. The parts that fill out the bottom of the rotation show promise. Today I tweeted I am somehow believing that Billingsley, with an urge to prove himself and get ready for a decent off-season payday, seems the most promising of the veteran group of Haren, Beckett, Maholm and Billingsley himself. I like Zach Lee more, and hope he forces his way into the rotation at some point, but the way Billingsley is progressing, and the way the other three veterans are treading water, leads me to believe more in ol’ Bills. That’s not to say I think he will be a dominant force or nearly as good as the big three, but he could surprise.

With that rotation and the pen, anchored by Kenley, Wilson, Perez, and so on, it would seem next to impossible for Donnie Baseball to fuck this up. Since the pitching is mostly handled by Honeycutt, less Donnie interference should at least keep the strength of the team from going off track. Now the position players, lineups, etc., with Donnie’s DNA all over it, anything can go wrong.

The Dodgers fortunes rise and fall with the pitching staff, and it’s thankfully a good one. Kudos to Kasten for finally realizing that and not doing a repeat of last year where he used smoke and mirrors and didn’t address the obvious bullpen holes until June.

The Outfield from Hell

That outfield, full of millionaires and massive egos, is the favorite point of baseball writers and so-called experts (i.e. folks who don’t actually follow the Dodgers). It’s easy to see why – star names everywhere and guys you more or less root for being knocked off their pedestals. The concept of “4 outfielders for 3 spots” proved silly last year and it was surprising (not really) the same know nothings wrote about the issue this off-season and spring. Let me make it painfully clear – there is no “4 outfielders” issue in Los Angeles. If anything, the issue is there are not enough healthy, reliable outfielders for 2014.

It’s still March and already Crawford is in and out of the lineup and mostly absentee. Kemp has come into camp bragging he’s still the man and as good as anyone on the roster (umm, no you’re not and until you can actually run and stay healthy, you will never be). His Daddy Warbucks meets hip-hop and GQ shtick has grown old and if anything, he’s more a distraction nowadays than help. Occasionally some dummy will still point to his dominance in 2011. Hello? It’s 2014 and the guy who somehow beat him out that year for league MVP has been proven to be a cheat and is now trying to make amends and be accepted back by teammates and fans. Kemp should follow suit. The “I’m swole” rhetoric he came into came with is indicative of his problems. He’s the poster child for petulant modern day spoiled athletes everywhere and through that a disgrace to the uniform. Mostly he’s a non-factor because he’s brittle as glass and seems unlikely to ever be counted on again as an everyday centerfielder for the Dodgers. Perhaps not even an everyday DH for Texas or Seattle.

Yasiel Puig is beloved for many of the reasons Kemp is. He’s a showboating hunk whose mantra is “style over substance.” I’m from a different generation – one many of my twitter followers aren’t. They don’t get my criticism of Puig has to do with watching a guy waste his talent. They like players who wear their hats slightly cocked to one side, don’t bend the bill and goof off when seriousness would be a better on-field emotion. As I tried to convey today, if given the choice between a hot dog with all the tools in the world and an actual baseball player who is out there every day, runs hard, plays hard, seldom makes mental blunders, and is a selfless teammate, I’d opt for that person. In a heartbeat I’d take the outfield equivalent of Casey Blake to Kemp or Puig. Why? Because I know I could pencil that guy into the lineup every day and not have to worry about whether he will be ready to go, and what mistakes he might make that could cost me the game, or extend one of our pitchers’ innings.

Puig is massively talented and young and could very well turn it around. No one will need to say “I told you so” because I know. I rooted very vocally for him to make the team last March and happily commented on his contributions early on. While I don’t credit him solely for the Dodgers fortunes changing in June, he was most definitely one of the initial sparks that woke up a team left for dead. Puig very well could and should put up nice numbers this year, but he’s also the guy who barely hit .200 in September, slept through most of the post-season and looked lost, and fat, this spring.

His charm is that he’s a wildcard, capable of electrifying the stadium at any moment, but this isn’t the NFL or the NBA, its MLB. Baseball is a marathon, not a sprint, and baseball is chess to those other sports ultimate fighting theatrics. It’s interesting to see a player maybe better suited for the NFL in a baseball uniform, but after more than 25 years without a championship, and a more than 30 year nightmare, I prefer less experiments and more proven commodities. I know, I’m old, I’m boring, I’m out of touch, but all I know is a lineup of Dave Roberts types would go farther than a lineup of Kemp and Puigs. The reason, heart, smarts, the ability to maximize every bit of knowledge and talent vs. the need to look cool along the way.

The Dodgers are low on leaders, low on smart baseball players. I would say the two brightest on the team are A-Gone and AJ, and there are others that aren’t bad, and some that are just idiots. The outfield isn’t a strong point of this team, imo, and the only one of the “4 outfielders” I don’t worry about is Ethier, whose star faded and is now just a pretty solid journeyman outfielder. There’s nothing wrong with that. Ethier contributes, added centerfield to his resume and even has said he’d try out first base on occasion. He’s selfless, which is what this team needs more of. In my opinion the outfield I’d like to see (and I know I won’t) is Crawford, Pederson, Ethier.

I include Crawford because he’s worth more to the Dodgers than he is to other teams. No one is going to deal for an expensive player who can no longer stay healthy. Crawford however is very solid when he is playing, so penciling him in means a spot for Van Slyke. Crawford’s value to the team is as a spot starter and potential weapon when games matter. His post-season showed that in short spurts, he’s still a capable and powerful outfield presence. He just can’t be counted on, nor should he be. Which is why unless the plan is to play Van Slyke more often (I hope), they need a better outfield option than Baxter or Figgins – you can argue neither should even be on the roster.

So there isn’t an outfield surplus, there’s an outfield deficit. I’d love to see Pederson get his chance, though initially he could be overmatched, and I’d love to see another player brought in to offer depth for Crawford, Kemp and Puig. A $225M (whatever it is now, who can count that high?) team should be able to find a decent outfielder they can call in off the bench.


The Hanley, Dee, Guerrero, Arruebarruena thing

One of the main reasons I criticize the construction of this star-heavy, expensive Dodgers team is not because I don’t think they won’t win – I already stated they should – but it’s because of the variables that are quite unpredictable and at best less than ideal. Among them, Hanley Ramirez.

Hanley obviously is the offensive pulse of the team. Forget Kemp, forget Puig, its Hanley. That’s why the Dodgers don’t miss Kemp anymore. When Kemp was good, it was Kemp with second banana Ethier. Now it’s Hanley, and then A-Gone, and the various complimentary pieces, including Puig. A healthy Kemp would be amazing and make the lineup that much more frightening, but it’s a credit to the money spent that Kemp isn’t even needed anymore. Hanley is the king.

As amazing a hitter Hanley is (a Manny of sorts), he’s not a great baseball player. He’s definitely not a great NL baseball player. And on top of that, he’s not an NL shortstop you want behind a team built around pitching. As I said at the top, the fortunes of the team rest on that pitching, so to skimp on defense isn’t a bright idea, again, imo.

Hanley is somewhat serviceable at short, but most realize he should be at third. You can’t really say though he would easily adapt to third again, be happy there, or not be a liability in that position. As it is, the two best defensive players in the Dodgers infield are A-Gone and Uribe – in a perfect world you’d have the defensive stars at short and second.

Getting Hanley for nothing from Florida was a brilliant move and a nice salary swallow by the new Dodgers ownership, but is Hanley the guy you want to commit to long-term at shortstop? I doubt it.

I think ultimately Hanley will be resigned and then dealt at a later date, once Arruebarruena and Seager prove themselves. For now, it’s not a concern, only in that he will need to be signed soon, or else bolt for the Yankees or some other large payday with the Dodgers only getting a draft pick as well as the defensive concerns he brings up any given day. Yesterday, for example, he blew a sure double play because he didn’t want to toss the ball to Dee covering second, and instead ran over to tag second himself, and throw on to first. This play resulted in 0 outs, instead of 2, and at worst, 1.

The infield puzzle is as confusing as the outfield one, except there are enough pieces here where you can see viable options no matter how you put it together. Offhand I could see a future with Seager, Arruebarruena, Guerrero, A-Gone that looks pretty good. Or even Hanley, Arruebarruena, Guerrero, Seager, though for the baseball IQ reasons I stated earlier, I’d hate to see A-Gone shipped out. As I’d prefer Dave Roberts littered rosters to Kemp or Puig filled ones, I’d also take A-Gone in my infield to Hanley, even understanding Hanley’s sheer explosiveness.

For the time being, no decision needs to be made, only if Hanley will be resigned, and for how much, how long, and of course whether he’s given a no-trade clause (can’t imagine that happening).

The Dodgers signing Arruebarruena seems to say they know Hanley isn’t really a shortstop anymore, and will either be moved to third, with Uribe used as a valuable all-over-the-infield option, or moved.

At second, it’s interesting and great to see Dee turning his fortunes around with a dedicated off-season plan to make himself into a second baseman, as well as a nice spring and exciting game 2 (offensively), but there’s always the questions of his defense (ball hits him in the glove yesterday, he drops it) and well, his Dee-ism. Dee is a likeable kid but seems synonymous with mistakes and that AAAA player tag.

Luckily this isn’t a real problem because at best Dee finally settles into a spot (2nd) where he’s comfortable and tears it up at the top of the lineup and puts opposing pitchers, catchers and defenses on their heels, or he busts and ultimately Guerrero steps in and offers the Cuban equivalent of Jeff Kent, save for the scowl, redneck trappings and stinky Giant aftertaste.

Like I said, the infield is a mystery, but unlike the outfield, has moving parts you can see fitting together somehow.

Let the Games Begin

Outside of the above, I’d suggest since Kasten gets another crack at moving pieces around before opening day vs the Padres, he rethink some of the guys he has currently in place. I liked Chone Figgins when he burst upon the scene for the Halos, but that was forever ago. He’s been done for some time now and mostly is an asset for his head, not his body. He can take a walk because he’s smart and has pitch recognition abilities, but can’t hit a lick and isn’t a plus defender at any position. I have to think that there are better utility options to replace those who left.

Baxter is a nothing in my book and while perhaps he can pinch hit and field, is just a guy. Most teams have as good or better options on their AAA roster, so I’d think with Guerra about to be traded, and other parts in the system, there has to be a way to add a more quality bench option than Figgins or Baxter.

I’m ok with Turner, but I’d hate to see Mark Ellis being let go so Turner can play second base most days. Donnie is a nut when it comes to mixing in his bench. It’s ok to keep guys fresh, but if you’re platooning marginal major leaguers at the expense of better ones, you’re doing your team and your pitching staff a disservice. Knowing Donnie’s penchant for using bench guys as heavily as he does, I just prefer they be better than some of those Kasten has collected.

And in a nutshell, that’s my 2 games in take on what’s happening with the Dodgers. Again, please take my “negative” comments for what they are and what my twitter account is meant to be – fans that love the Dodgers but have been Gitmo beaten down so many times they need a place to speak up. Criticizing is not bashing. It’s like when family members criticize one another, or friends do to other friends. It’s not that you don’t love your family, or your friends, on the contrary – you love them so much you feel comfortable commenting, in brutal honesty sometimes.

The day I stop being honest, is the day I would unfollow myself. Is such a thing even possible? Maybe I’ll ask some homey with his hat cocked to one side, bill straight like new, and original stickers and tags still on it. That would be fresh, yo. #swole

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