For the “Meh” Dodgers, All the Pieces are There
Let’s play what if…
What if Stan Kasten and Don Mattingly grew a pair (two pair?) and played the right collection of players, instead of not hurting rich people’s feelings and playing the most highly paid guys? Pretty much NO trades would be needed if simply the deck chairs were arranged differently. For example…
By playing defenders much of the time at short and especially in center (Hanley at least hits, center the argument is less), the benefits would be huge. A team built around its starting pitching would be greatly benefitting this pitching with glove men behind them. The Dodgers in actuality and statistically are a poor defensive team. Defend the popular players as much as you wish, but defense wins championships in all sports and for the most part, offense-first teams do not go deep into sporting post-seasons.
The biggest obstacle here is what to do with Hanley, who obviously will throw a tantrum if left on the bench. The “good” thing here is that he’s so physically challenged these days; the decision might be made by fate. At any rate, playing a defender at shortstop is a no-brainer, and those who defend Hanley because of past deeds or because he slyly walks to the plate with cool music playing, indeed have no brains.
Center is an area the Dodgers could make immediate improvement to by calling up Joc Pederson. He is instantly the best defensive centerfielder of the large group of outfielders and would become the pitchers’ best friend. While Ethier and Van Slyke have been gamely going about playing center, their lack of range is evident and now and in October, it’d be nice if a guy who could go get ’em was out there to do just that. I’d also say Pederson, with whatever growing pains he would experience, offers offensive upside certainly to Ethier. Pederson has speed and power and while his average won’t be the .325 or so it is in Albuquerque, if it’s anything above .260 say, with the potential to hit a jack, steal a base and more impressively manning center, it’s a big win.
The problem, of course, to calling up Joc is what to do with all of the outfielders already on hand. Kemp has shown he will sulk if not in the lineup and Puig isn’t going anyplace, so you have Ethier, Van Slyke and Crawford sitting around if this scenario came to be. The obvious answer is to deal at least Ethier, which should be doable if Kasten eats a portion of the contract. Ethier is a decent, sometimes better, veteran outfielder some team could surely use. The Dodgers could use him, if the situation weren’t what it is. Van Slyke is fine on the bench and just grateful to be in the bigs (though I would argue he needs to play more and should ultimately be in left most days). Crawford isn’t going anyplace due to that contract and physical shortcomings. I actually don’t mind Crawford coming and going, as if he’s checking in and out of a bed and breakfast. He definitely is no longer a reliable option for any team’s starting outfield, but he is quite a potent weapon off the bench and in spurts – recall last Oct? He can stay, on again, off again the DL as he’s a very pricey but potent weapon for a fairly thin bench.
That leaves Kemp and his long-term prognosis. Fans (chicks and some men) love him due to his past achievements and sexy modeling shoots, but the fact is he’s no longer a very good outfielder. Both leagues are filled with guys as good as Kemp in the outfield. I would look to move him, knowing Van Slyke and sometimes CC can fill in, but that isn’t likely to happen, at least not now. Perhaps the idea will be explored this Dec during the winter meetings.
I would not hesitate however to get Joc into center. The pitching becomes better, the overall defense improved, and as I said, perhaps it’s an offensive upgrade to boot. Will Kasten and Donnie have the balls to do this? Will they instead opt for the way things are now, or trade prospects (perhaps even Joc) for a journeyman centerfielder no better than a very young and untried Joc? We will know soon enough, I suspect.
That leaves tinkering in the pen and bench. As I said, all of the pieces are here – either on the roster now or in the minors, a phone call away. I would look long and hard (that’s what she said) at Maholm, Wilson and Perez. Also, of course, Haren. The starting pitcher issue likely will need to be addressed outside the organization, if it’s addressed at all. For a team that usually drafts pitching, its odd there is so little of the starting variety pushing for a big league promotion. I recall in years past how there was always a AAA guy waiting for a shot. Now we have Zack Lee, and he’s reverted badly in 2014.
The pen though seemingly has options. Whether you promote Paco, Yimi, or someone else with a cool name, I’d have more faith in them than I do 3 of the guys out there currently. I also have to think dealing second-tier prospects for a reliever would be easy enough to do, or if a move is made with Ethier or even Kemp. A good, less implosive reliever + promotions of a few of the Dodgers’ own would make an immense difference.
There are other things wrong, but mostly I think if honesty and not consideration of millionaires’ feelings were exercised, the Dodgers could make the tweaks needed to actually play consistent good baseball and make a legitimate run this post-season. Right now, as any twitter user knows, it’s excellence one day, and comedy/tragedy the next. The league is full of mediocrity so while the Dodgers have “one of the best records in baseball”, to me they haven’t even scratched the surface of what’s possible.
The nice thing is that bloated payroll has made it possible to stockpile everything a team could need. The fat cats pushed or have kept less expensive and deserving players off the field. If the Dodgers want to win and actually do it more through good play and less luck, someone has to grow a pair. Will it be bald Kasten, living off his Atlanta pedigree, or Donnie, who has about as much passion and energy as a very sleepy housecat? That is the question.