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Bring on the Hated Ones!

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What a fun weekend series vs. McCain’s D’Backs. The park is usually half full at best and seems liberally peppered with fans sporting Dodgers gear. The D’Backs are in disarray, freefalling at home, and it seems just a matter of time before a managerial switch is made. As is usually the case, the manager alone can’t be held responsible for this, but someone has to be blamed. The D’Backs have plenty of time to right the ship, of course, but with a broken rotation and pen, it may be hard to do right away. Kirk Gibson could be the scapegoat, and I’d like to see him again sporting Dodger blue – if only as a better third base coach than the guy who nearly killed AJ Ellis and cost a big inning, and at best as depth should Donnie ever need to “disappear.” Gibby’s attitude, in any capacity, would be just what the team needs since Davey Lopes seems to have long ago lost the fire he displayed as a player. What’s left are quiet, stoic guys who don’t have the skills or motivation needed to kick expensive celebrity athletes in the ass. I seriously doubt Gibby would hesitate to do so.

Although with sketchy (at times) starting and relief pitching, the Dodgers are an impressive 9-4 through the early weeks of the season and head into SF to face rattled Tim Lincecum and the hated Giants. The bats are scorching so what could go wrong? Plenty. The Dodgers throw Josh Beckett and Paul Maholm and that could very well be hideous – let’s hope for the best. The pen has been overused and looks to see a lot of action in this series, which isn’t good since they too have been erratic, especially the amazingly still-around Brandon League, though at times, he’s not the only stinker in the bunch. Besides, as any Dodger fan knows the team famously will score 8 one day, and struggle to get 1 the next. Up is down, down is up, if you’re a fan of the blue.

I like what I see from a variety of players as many of the regulars are firing on all cylinders, or at least half their cylinders. Pretty boy sex machine Matt Kemp is bashing home runs but not much else – still, better than nothing. Perhaps his 2nd act is to be the next Adam Dunn or Rob Deer, if you go back that far. A healthy-ish Kemp is still a welcome change over the guy who’s been riding “remember 2011” for so long. While I am not a fan of his personally, for several reasons, I am aware that if he’s in the lineup, good things could happen.

I am more impressed however with the total transformation of Dee Gordon, as well as the steady play of Juan Uribe. With Gordon, I sensed a change when I heard how hard he worked during the winter. His willingness to not only move over to second base, but also learn to play it well, and continue to work on hitting fundamentals and bunting, showed in camp when he matched fantasy baseball wet dream Billy Hamilton hit for hit and steal for steal. While it seemed too much to ask, I always thought if Dee had some confidence, and support of the organization, he could thrive. I am sentimental for old school speed types who a baseball person would tell you change the complexion of a game with their legs – no matter what a Saber doofus blogger might say.

When Dee is on, which hasn’t been a lot in his career to date, amazing things can happen. Ask the D’Backs reliever yesterday who kicked at the mound while Dee alertly picked his (and the whole team’s) pocket and sped into second easily. 4 steals, and he probably could have had more if he wanted. Best of all, two walks led to this production yesterday. A patient, confident, focused and running Dee is as potent a weapon atop any lineup in either league. Hopefully slow Donnie realizes this and not only puts Dee in the leadoff spot most days, but lets him try against lefthanders as well. I love what Crawford has done this season as well, but I’d argue Dee leading off with Crawford batting second is the better way to go.

Uribe has been fun to watch since last season. His fielding is incredible and he should have been the NL Gold Glove, and so far looks to be the guy this year as well. While Corey Seager is inevitably coming, and there’s talk of Hanley moving to third, and what of Alex Guerrero? – Uribe just plays the game – well – every day and contributes with his bat, glove and personality. He’s a very likable, charismatic guy and reliable as a Swiss (Dominican?) watch. He and Dee deserve big kudos for their starts to the season, even though neither gets the props Hollywood Kemp does for the cool way he wears his hat and his movie star smile.

Also of note has been Adrian Gonzalez, of course. A-Gone is probably my favorite Dodger because he’s just a good, solid baseball player. I wish he would speak up more and lead not only by example, but by shaking the cage occasionally of some of his more superficial-minded teammates, but results are results. He has that beautiful left-handed swing, seems fully healthy and has been obliterating baseballs recently. His performance in Arizona was nothing short of remarkable. I’m happy he’s remembered with that sweet swing he doesn’t always need to pull and can go the other way against the shift always put on him. He’s locked in right now and I’d love to see 30+ homers and 110 rbi or so, but I’ll happily accept 20 and 100. He’s a fun player to watch and should always be a fan favorite because he earns that right with his play, not his comments or antics.

I won’t go into the other players right now – not much to say anyway. I want to make a few comments on the outfield logjam that will be misconstrued no matter how clear I make myself. Such is the way of the Internet.

The outfield:

Right now nothing is going to be changed or tweaked. Stan Kasten will ride this out as long as possible since the “4 outfielders” are only 3 or maybe even 2 any given night. Someone is always hurting in one way or another, and with Scott Van Slyke sitting there, it’s not a dire emergency to worry right now. That said, this is Dodger Therapy, and my job as the therapist is to vent and discuss topic fans may be thinking about. Throwing out ideas are not written in stone commandments, they’re meant to get people thinking and talking. I mean, how boring would it be if none of us could have opinions? I know the “experts” out there write their god-like wisdom down and no one dare question it, but my thinking has always been – throw many, many years of baseball fan experience out there, using hopefully some intelligence, intuition and an ability to hopefully grasp reality and predict the future a bit. My thoughts are not rule of law, but oftentimes I am reasonably good at playing the GM chess game and noting things that might come up down the road. That said, Kasten may not do anything, or he may do something. My job is to talk about – for fun – what I see and might suggest. Again, just to get people thinking and perhaps talking.

It’s sad I need to even say that, but stupid people make explanation sometimes needed. Me throwing out a “hey, what if…?” trade idea doesn’t mean I’m hell bent on something or presuming to be an insider. I just think of ways that could improve the club based on what the Dodgers have, what they might need, etc.

So as I see it, there are not just “4 outfielders”, but 6. I would say Van Slyke and Joc Pederson are part of the equation, even though Donnie seems to continue to undervalue the “new Scott Van Slyke.” I honestly feel he could start and do well for many teams, including the Dodgers. Like Dee, when he showed up last year fit and ready to play, saving himself from release and baseball purgatory, I knew things were not the same. Who was this thin guy who rediscovered his lost stroke? I recall the large body from the previous year that had trouble making contact.

It’s a good problem to have – too many outfielders, just like it’s nice to have so many infield options, when you count who is on the big club roster now, as well as those in the minors waiting a turn. Too much talent is never an issue.

So what will happen? I doubt anything. What could happen? Lots. I think at some point, depending how healthy the “4 outfielders” remain, Kasten will have options going into mid-season, assuming, that is, the guys continue to mostly stay healthy. So what does that mean? Is it necessary to deal Matt Kemp? Andre Ethier? Or heaven forbid, Cuban fan favorite Yasiel Puig? Again, unlikely. But… for fun (what?!) what if Van Slyke continues to impress in his limited role, and more, if Joc continues to tear up the Pacific Coast League? Then what? Or, what if Puig misbehaves again, or if Kemp continues to make it out there and shows he’s healthy and can be counted on to contribute once more? Hmm.

To me the most fun part of baseball – fantasy or real – is guessing what could happen, or suggesting what might. Life would be very boring if we had to only talk about the here and now and couldn’t wonder what if this prospect forced the Dodgers’ hand?, etc. Again, the “experts” will have none of this as their say is all that matters, but I like to have fun with this game – a crazy notion, I realize. So, let’s have fun.

Through the early going, Joc is hitting nearly .400 for the Isotopes with 3 homers and 3 stolen bases. His ops is 1.225. His critics would say it’s a small sample size (it is) and it’s Albuquerque, after all (it is) but is the kid supposed to hold back to reduce the numbers and thereby not get people talking? The fact is Joc is the number one prospect in the Dodgers organization and showed flashes this spring. Realistically he needs more time, and with a stocked outfield, is quite likely to get that time. But – he’s also (so far) demolishing opposing pitching and is the best defensive outfielder the Dodgers have (unlike Puig, he doesn’t need to be told to hit the cutoff man).

So let’s pretend it’s June and the Dodgers are doing well, and Joc is hitting – then what? Leave him down there, unless an injury occurs, and call him up in September? I assume that’s the plan, but what if something else happened? Perhaps the Dodgers need another pitcher for the pennant stretch and could trade Kemp, Ethier, Crawford or Puig – or maybe two of them? I know, I know – won’t happen. Maybe not, maybe it would. I have to think that the folks calling on Kemp this winter would continue to call, and more, if he showed he was healthy. If an injured Kemp garnered phone calls, wouldn’t a healthy one?

Of the “4 outfielders”, here’s how I see and perhaps value them to the Dodgers…

– Kemp – massive talent, massive ego. A fan favorite, capable of changing games at any time. Can in theory play any outfield position, signed long-term, but has a big name value that other teams would be interested in. Could net a bevy of good major-league ready prospects, solid major leaguers, and even a huge pitcher that could ensure the Dodgers rotation is crazy deep top to bottom. May be a bigger issue there if Clayton Kershaw’s injury is longer term than originally thought.

– Ethier – to me the steadiest, most reliable of the “4 outfielders” but also the least spectacular in terms of pure talent. Ethier, if the Dodgers picked up some of the freight, could net something interesting – a middle of the rotation starter, some kids. I think his value is more to the Dodgers perhaps than to other teams – unless a contender suffered an outfield injury. Ethier plays all outfield positions, doesn’t mug for the camera and is a good citizen. Even if he’s more a .270 hitter with so-so power and not the .280 type with more power, given the fact he now plays center (to some extent), he’s a valuable piece.

– Crawford – his contract, combined with his questionable health, would seem to make him the least attractive trade piece. He’s explosive at times, and like Ethier, probably of more value to the blue than on the open market. If you only got half the games out of Crawford, you still have a superstar in waiting that can come in – like he did last post-season – and contribute like a star should. i.e. he may not play as much as we’d like, but when in there, he can change games and obviously is a nice part come post-season. Moving him would be next to impossible. It would cost the Dodgers cash and more and the return would be minimal. He would seem someone we’re stuck with, and that might not be such a bad thing – especially if no one expects him to play every day.

– Puig – the youngest of the “4 outfielders”, it would seem crazy to suggest trading him. But… he also has the most trade value, and has an affordable contract. Would Kasten deal the electric young superstar? Again, I doubt it. If it were me, I would, if the price were right. I think the obvious trade you hear about is Puig for Giancarlo (Mike) Stanton. I think Miami would like this in part because they’d be moving a guy they’re going to have to pay a lot someday for one who isn’t as expensive but just as “sexy”. They could sell Puig to their Cuban fan base and it might be a win/win for both clubs. Stanton, after all, is a Southern California native and would be coming home (which sometimes works, and sometimes doesn’t). My reason for probably not doing this is it swaps one outfielder for another, and also adds another superstar player and contract to the mix. The same logjam applies, and Joc still has no place to play – unless they did this and moved Kemp or Ethier in a separate trade. Again, just talk, don’t have a cow. Puig likely isn’t going anywhere but I think it’s ok to discuss his shortcomings and suggest it might not be the worst thing in the world to turn him into say a very good pitcher and some prospects and allow Joc to play. Those who argue “you’re throwing away the future” miss that Joc is also the future. You’d be moving one part of the future for another, plus addressing a need (maybe starting pitching) and perhaps adding prospects. I don’t know the deal or the names – all I’m saying is its worth talking about since baseball is a 6-month marathon and it’s boring to just talk about the TV channel few of us get to watch.

Pitching:

Before I call it a night and get back to “Breaking Bad”, I will comment on the pitching. I was leery when the Dodgers signed Kershaw to that deal only because I don’t think any pitcher should get more than five years. That said, he’s the best in the game, young, and it’s not my money. I don’t want to be one of those Internet idiot fans who feel guardian of rich owners’ wallets. If they want to invest a few extra years in a pitcher, who am I to question that. I will say though that given the Dodgers luck not only with pitchers but long-term deals, it was inevitable that Kershaw would get hurt as soon as he got paid. I’m hoping this back tweak is the result of Bud Selig’s idiocy of scheduling regular season games in Australia after a short spring training and will not blossom into something worse.

If you listened to Dr. Robert Klapper’s “Weekend Warriors” show on 710 ESPN radio in Los Angeles this Saturday, you would have heard how the injury to Kershaw is tied to a rotator cuff issue as the muscle feeds into the shoulder. So – if not handled correctly, or if rushed, it’s possible Kershaw’s twinge could be something more serious. The obvious answer here is to let him rest, don’t push him, and let the others carry the load – even if it means the Dodgers’ ace missing half the year. A healthy Kershaw for the second half and post-season beats a rushed Kershaw who is on and off the disabled list and perhaps even cut on. Hoping the Dodgers play it safe, but a medical staff where Stan Conte is still in the fold always has me concerned.

Not a concern is our other ace, Zach Greinke, who to me is amazing. I also have major respect for Hyun-jin Ryu and to a lesser extent, have been impressed with Dan Haren. Depending though on what happens to Kershaw, the rest of the rotation worries me. Beckett seems long done, and Maholm makes me respect Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang more. Of course there’s Chad Billingsley on the horizon, but having just torn scar tissue in his surgically repaired right elbow, I don’t know if he should be rushed, or counted on, either. Hoping for the best because the free-agent-to-be could be the type of boost the Dodgers really need. Also in the mix are Zach Lee, Stephen Fife and Matt Magill. And down the road, probably a year or two from now, uber prospect Julio Urias.

With the pen, it appears Brian Wilson will be back this week in his old haunt of SF, and I hope that means Beckett or Brandon League is sent packing. League has continued to be awful, whereas Beckett just unreliable and frustrating. I think Maholm sticks around since he can mop up here and perhaps can right his ship. There is no reason however why League needs to be on the team, not with better options a phone call away, such as Jose Dominguez.

Last year it took until June for Kasten to address the bullpen, and clearly things are a lot better than they were this time last year. That said, there’s no reason to keep throwing trash out there, not in a must-win season like this. I think Beckett gets this start in SF and if he stinks it up, it will be a coin flip whether he or League goes. Both are owed too much money and throw gasoline on the fire. Beckett though still has some believing he could be an ace – probably to the same folks who bring up Kemp’s 2011 three years later.

In Dodgerland, all is good right now. There are some concerns, for sure, but there is a lot of depth. $230M payrolls (whatever the exact number is) tend to supply that. I just think that this is the team built to win now, but not necessarily THE team. The purpose of this collection of highly paid mercenaries is to bring a World Championship to a city that’s waited 26 years. Good god, can it really be that long? The idea, I assume, is to win a title, get the monkey off the team’s back, and continue to filter in the kids that will keep the machine running into the next decade. I seriously doubt the idea is to maintain the highest payroll in baseball by a large margin, unless of course that mean guaranteed titles. Right now, I’d settle for one.

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