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2015 – Our Longshots are Better than Yours

December 31, 2014 2 comments

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Happy New Year’s to Dodgers fans. I hope 2015 is brighter than 2014, which to me at least was another unsatisfactory year. No TV while all the advertising was of every game, from spring training on, available + loads of extras by the crack new TV team. In my world, the advertising and hype was like a kick in the nuts. Vin Scully forced to shill for this new product, knowing no one was watching, even in his own home. Then lots of promises from the Guggenheim group and Stan Kasten and another quick ouster from the playoffs, perhaps more humiliating than the year before. No adjustments in season, no attention to defense, or chemistry. Now a new dawn. Geniuses from all corners will right the ship that the last genius (Kasten) couldn’t, and perhaps made worse.

2015 has to be better – unless it’s not. There are pro’s and con’s to what’s happened so far, and we’re still months away from knowing fully what the new year’s edition of the blue will be. Right now, I understand – in principle – what they’re doing, but then again, like the latest Paul Thomas Anderson movie, I’m don’t. The Sabergeeks are wetting themselves because naturally any move one of their kind makes is infinitely smarter than any move a hero of ours could make. What was there had to have been shit, in order to accept the changes made by the new suits. Dee Gordon stunk! Forget that he reinvented his game, made Billy Hamilton eat his dust and was not only the bigs’ base stealing champ but also an All-Star in his first year at a new position. He stunk because speed isn’t loved by Moneyballers and because Andrew Friedman and friends said so. Of course a year of Howie Kendrick for almost $10M is better than 4 more low-cost, controllable years of Dee running wild. What about after 2015, when Kendrick can leave if he wants to? Who cares? Anyone is better than Dee! Or so they’d have us believe.

Dan Haren was useless! Useless, Friedman says! And so, an expensive, oft-injured Brandon McCarthy and even more fragile Brett Anderson are a vast improvement. Never mind Hyun-Jin Ryu threw less innings in 2014 than he did in 2013 and had injuries that put him on the DL twice and Haren’s brittle body was of less value than McCarthy and Anderson’s upside. Oh, wait – Haren wasn’t brittle? Never mind. It’s all above our IQ pay grade – Friedman and team know potential and looking sideways at a stats sheet is the real currency baseball geniuses deal with. What happens if Ryu, McCarthy and Anderson all get hurt? Well, mediocre journeymen have been acquired for just that purpose. Anyone could have signed James Shields, Jon Lester or Max Scherzer – that’s the cowardly way to go. Better to work on guys whose “counting stats” aren’t that great but have the ability to beat the odds. These kinds of guys are ringers that real baseball minds know can be counted on. Unless they’re guys who already were in-house and therefore need to be jettisoned. You know – Haren, Brian Wilson, Brandon League, Erisbel Arruebarrena, etc. are all iffy, but Juan Nicasio, game-fixer Chin-hui Tsao, Sergio Santos and Enrique “Kike” (?) Hernandez are untapped potential.

On the surface of it, a rotation that includes Ryu with a shoulder concern, 4 years of McCarthy and Anderson may not seem secure, but what is? A bullpen that might be Kenley Jansen, JP Howell, Chris Hatcher, Joel Peralta, Nicasio and Tsao may not seem World Series caliber, but who can say? Ours is not to reason why…

The Dodgers so far have addressed some things that on the greater scope need not have been addressed. Normally when a rebuild like this is made it’s to get the team competitive and to win regular season games. Moneyball’s concept is to get the team to the dance and once there, hopefully have a chance. Any mathematician knows once in the playoffs anything can happen, and it’s too hard to predict. i.e. Wild Card teams have commonly went deep into the post-season. The 2014 Dodgers, with all their bulk and bloat and massive egos did win 94 games (losing 68). The problem, one could argue broadly wasn’t the regular season, but the post-season – you know, the part that is hard to predict. It’s unlikely the team Friedman and members assembled will win 94+ games. On the face of it, the team is worse in several areas, not better. That said, they are apparently putting a spin on the traditional rebuild and building for the harder to predict Oct games. And here, I guess, is where you can look at what’s been done and say the team may be improved over what was trotted out this past Oct.

Addition by subtraction – without big bats and big egos like Hanley Ramirez and Matt Kemp, the Dodgers have jettisoned two guys Don Mattingly probably couldn’t get through to, and certainly not manage effectively. Replacing those guys essentially with veterans like Jimmy Rollins and Kendrick, and a young, hungry Joc Pederson, the team may be not only better balanced, but less volatile. Donnie may be able to get through to these guys, who shouldn’t have any reason to push back on him. i.e. Joc will be happy to be there and not throw a hissy fit if asked to move to left field for some reason. Likewise, Rollins and Kendrick, while not spectacular, are professionals who won’t make demands like Hanley probably did. So this alone helps Oct play – a bit – IF the 2015 team, with the rotation so far assembled, and the pen so far mixed together, can win enough regular season games to get there. That remains to be seen.

Some of the fans of big brains running teams are in love with most every move the new regime has made. They don’t see any problem paying for many different players to leave because they were just “that bad.” I would argue that a responsible executive would try to get the most in return for players and pay the least to make it happen. If it takes eating salary, that should mean getting more back in players. To me this isn’t old math or new math, its common sense. While I said forever that a team feasibly built on pitching should also have a strong defensive presence, as well as a good mix of veterans and kids and therefore chemistry, and I am not complaining about Kemp being moved, I will say the return seems slight and sending him within the division is unfortunate. If the idea was to move Kemp within the West, I would have chosen Arizona, where Miguel Montero could have been had, vs. a PED using catcher like Yasmani Grandal, whose numbers haven’t been nearly as impressive as Montero’s.

I don’t want to go through each deal again, but outside of perhaps the Kendrick for Dee deal (essentially), I don’t see one that the Dodgers can honestly say they “won.” And like I noted, there’s a lot of reason to argue the Dee deal was terrible. Time will tell. I just wonder how this new team can win 94+ games – the number it would take to improve on the 2014 regular season. I guess that number is less important than making the playoffs and advancing due to more balance of offense and defense, less egos and a better blend of veterans and kids. If, however, we get through 2015 and the Dodgers don’t win the West, or even make the playoffs, or get there and are immediately sent packing as they have the past two years, it would be safe to assume the smarter pedigree suits failed both in terms of improving the product on the field, but also financially (I don’t see payroll going down in any of this).

Maybe it’s all a moot point, as most of us have no reason to assume there will be any more TV for fans of the Dodgers than in 2014. It’s odd that as a Steelers fan living in Los Angeles I saw probably half the team’s games this year – without an NFL package – but got to watch just a few Dodgers games. Again, living in Los Angeles, and a team that plays and televises close to 200 games – pre, regular and post season – vs. a team that plays under 20 and plays on the other side of the country. To me, no matter what all the new geniuses bring to the table, it’s hugely embarrassing this can happen. And NOT a way to treat fans who have been consistently abused for much of the past 30 years, and certainly NO WAY to treat Vin Scully in what may be his final year of calling the Dodgers. I’ve been very patient, as have many fans, but it’s time to show us something. Let’s start with games on TV we can all watch.

Happy New Year, friends and fans. May 2015 be less sucky than the past years have been.

Matt Kemp – Hipper than We Thought

December 18, 2014 Leave a comment

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It would appear Matt Kemp has big dog problems – arthritic hips (why would an extremely fit 30 year old have two deteriorating hips? Hmm). One has to wonder if this kills the deal, which would be interesting (funny) to see what Andrew Friedman and company do with their celeb outfielder coming back to the fold (and losing out on such a GREAT catcher like Yasmani Grandal – 13th overall in pitch framing, people! 13th! Pitch framing!). You thought Kemp was a bad clubhouse influence before… imagine how he’d feel about being shipped out and have to return?

It could be that the Padres would be happier without an expensive diva outfielder; even with the $32M the Dodgers ludicrously plan to pay for the right to get a slow-moving PED using catcher in their lineup. Why? Since the deal was struck, recent uber prospect Wil Myers was acquired, and the Padres already had a full outfield before either deal. Maybe Kemp is less a priority since they bought low on Myers? Perhaps Friedman will sweeten the pot – pay off ALL of Kemp’s contract and throw in Julio Urias or Corey Seager as well. Don’t question it; you’re not smart enough! :p

At least Kemp’s latest agent, former utility man Junior Spivey, says all is well. That and a $5 will buy you either a Starbucks red cup or maybe a viewing of a Kardashian sex tape.

Oh, as the stomach churns in Dodgerland.

Andrew Friedman Hates Novelty Beards

December 18, 2014 Leave a comment

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The winter boredom thought process…

To me it’s fascinating to watch what Andrew Friedman and his team of numbers geeks are doing with our beloved Dodgers. As I mentioned before, it has the same air (stink) to what Paul DePodesta did when he came on as the Dodgers GM. The basic rule of thumb appears to be – making over the team in MY image. Throw out anything from the previous regime, whether equal value is obtained or not and especially cut things that have no business being on MY team (i.e. base stealing, on-base percentage concerns, etc.).

It’s too early to tell, of course, but it seems from a layman’s point of view that this slash and burn approach is curious, to say the least. Many players are being pushed out with the Guggenheim gang set to pay their salaries to compete for other teams. Most of the deals have suspect return. It’s hard, as an example, to see many deals the Dodgers have “won”.

It’s quite possible all of this shakes out into a more “Giants like” worker bee type team that spreads around the offense and wins with better chemistry and less bloat, but some of the moves have been at least confusing.

Yesterday the black bearded Brian Wilson was sent packing to make room on the 40-man roster for oft-injured pricey 4th starter Brandon McCarthy. Given the state of the Dodgers bullpen, I’m not sure this was the best way to clear a spot. I’m not a Wilson lover – his injuries early on in 2014 set the tone for a catch-up type season. That said, the pen IS thin and Wilson did turn it around in the 2nd half with an ERA of 3.

I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt, thinking the newly acquired relievers offer better options. It will be interesting though to see if the Dodgers pay Wilson’s salary and he has a rebound year. He is a proven clutch performer with World Series hardware to back up the point. Not exactly a shlub you kick to the sidelines normally.

Then after the Wilson news, Friedman and group made Brandon League available. League, reviled by most Dodgers fans, actually had a nice season (2.57 ERA), especially since not being asked to close anymore. The plan here is paying half his salary in order to deal him – or $13M or so between Wilson and League, to add to all the other salaries they’re on the hook for with players who won’t be in blue in 2015.

It seems some of this has to do with Moneyball vanity. Again, DePodesta did the same when he tore apart Dan Evans team, and now the same is happening with Friedman. Previously the names added were household favorites such as Jason Grabowski, Hee Seop Choi, Oscar Robles, Antonio Perez, etc. Now we have McCarthy, Brett Anderson, Yasmani Grandal and Adam Libertore.

I am willing to suspend belief and see how this falls into place. My vested interest is seeing Joc Pederson patrolling centerfield and getting a real shot to contribute. For the record, many “fans” bashed Joc and called him Billy Ashley, as low an insult as you can heap on a Dodgers outfield prospect. I would respond with – you’re idiots.

Joc has performed at a high level every step along his minor league career, and plays good defense. The similarities with one dimensional Ashley end with both having male genitalia. Joc, for those who quickly dismiss the kid before he’s had a real audition, had a higher minor league OPS than Paul Konerko. Think about that. Joc, playing a skill position in centerfield, had a higher OPS in the minors than Konerko, arguably the Dodgers best hitting prospect the past several decades not named Mike Piazza.

Joc will be just fine. Its one thing Friedman and his nerd squad and I all agree on. Joc and Corey Seager are anchors for the Dodgers plan moving forward. If either is dealt, or fails, it will make this new makeover more curious. With three quarters of the infield having expiring contracts Oct of next year, and a lot of turnover on the field, Dodgers fans better hope that the kids are allowed to flourish.

All I know from what we’ve seen so far this hot stove season – don’t get Friedman mad. Don’t dare have had an option vest or have skills Saber folks don’t value. If so, you will be plying your trade in another town. But don’t worry; the Dodgers will still be paying your salary.

Brett Anderson for $10M?!

December 16, 2014 Leave a comment

Chicago Cubs v Colorado Rockies

In a nutshell…

Imagine if “dumb Ned” signed often-injured Brett Anderson to a $10M deal – while paying a healthier, less risky option (Dan Haren) $10M to go away? $20M (including Haren’s money) for a #5 starter and a too long (4 years), too expensive ($12M per) deal for the #4 (Brandon McCarthy). And let us not forget Hyun-Jin Ryu’s tender shoulder in the 3 slot. Could be quite a year for the Dodgers pitching staff.

Also, isn’t the idea of taking on injury risks paying them less? McCarthy, with his own injury past, and Anderson (only 1 season with over 19 starts), sounds like bad dealing to me. Sorry, if it were anyone but a “smart data guy” making these moves, fans would be livid.

Could all work out, but lots of risk at lots of money right now. LA payroll doesn’t appear to be shrinking, as Guggenheim had hoped, and it seems a good place for mediocre free-agents to come get rich.

GASP!!! Daring to Question the Genius of Andrew Friedman

December 14, 2014 1 comment

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The smoke has cleared. Its business as usual in MLB now and football is getting most of the headlines. Unless you’re PED cheat Melky Cabrera, then you’re still being rewarded for augmenting mediocre baseball skills into another plump payday.

The Dodgers whirlwind of moves at the winter meetings is done and fans wonder what happened and what will happen next. I made a mistake by posting about some of this on twitter because morons rule social media and immediately attack anyone’s opinion not their own. I had the audacity to question the moves Andrew Friedman and his geniuses made, as who can really say all the moves actually made the team better. I have Dodgers fans friends who are in agreement, and have even gotten on me for being so open-minded to what the data dorks in the Dodgers front office did. The reason I defend the principle of what was done is because it was basically what I had suggested. Where I offer criticism is in how it was carried out. Which players were acquired in the barrage of moves. Sometimes, it’s quite possible deals are made for deals sake. They don’t all work out, even if you have “big brains” making the moves. Looking at all the deals and what the Dodgers look like now, I think it’s quite reasonable to ask questions.

My opinion has always been the Dodgers were a weak team, not tough, not fundamentally sound, not good defensively and needed more balance. Just like a fantasy team, you want a spread of your talent. The Dodgers always relied too much on their “big bats” and for a pitching-oriented team, neglected defense. For well over a year I have cried to anyone who might listen how the mix was bad, chemistry was awful, coaches and the front office enabled the lazy, bad behavior and adjusting for more balance and defense would improve the product on the field. No, I was told, you’re a hater, you don’t know anything. The pundits everyone love on twitter and in sports columns know more. Sabermetrics proves how good bad players are. Well, I like some data, but I understand baseball is played by actual people and not calculators. Certain things like on-base percentage are important, but a lot of the other stats exist mostly to appease those who masturbate alone in their parents’ basements. The internet is all about feeling smarter than everyone else, and bullying those who don’t agree with you. I can dish it out, so I don’t care, but it doesn’t make for quality conversation (a lost art) when nerds and sycophants bully and attack your opinion – in your own little corner of the internet.

I look at the moves and completely understand WHY they were made. I’d argue with even my friends that the idea was good, the execution flawed. I get that Saberidiots don’t like speed and think its value is meaningless. They must hate when Kevin Kennedy talks endlessly how Dee Gordon is a very good player, how his speed in 2014 made a difference. Not only as a top of the order threat and MLB leading base stealer, but what it means to the game within the game, and how his legs affected defenses, pitchers and the #2 hitters’ at bats hitting behind him. His haters will say his on-base percentage was poor, his defense not good, his second half bad, etc. I would say if you imagined going into 2014 that Dee would hit around .300 most of the season, lead the game in steals and play a solid second base, you’d be ecstatic. But again, speed doesn’t matter. Heck, Theo Epstein hated it too – well, until he picked up Dave Roberts for nothing from Moneyball-minded pal Paul DePodesta and Roberts stole arguably the most important base in baseball history, sending the flat on their backs Boston Red Sox to an unbelievable World Series title.

Going into the off-season, I had no issue with the new high IQ front office dealing anyone. I hoped they wouldn’t move our most intriguing prospects, but anyone else, including Dee, would be ok with me. My reasoning was – and management must have thought the same – no one should be spared since the mix was bad and the team proved not to be very good as they couldn’t win with these players. Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Matt Kemp, Hanley Ramirez, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, the list goes on. Big names, big paydays, but all together, they proved two years in a row they couldn’t win when it mattered. I think it had to do with egos, fundamentals and heart. Whether we thought as much for the same reasons or not, Friedman and team agreed that the group the fans fell in love with in the post-McCourt era, wasn’t a very good team and something had to be done. So, they went to work.

Many of the deals seemed to be providing depth, something missing that hurt the Dodgers the past few years. While big names were all over the diamond, the backup situation, due to the trade with Boston, a lull in player development, injuries, etc., left the call up potential a huge issue. The Dodgers, unlike years past, could not call down to AAA and bring up that about-ready stud arm to step into the rotation. And during or because of this, clearly Stan Kasten lost confidence in the farm all around, as even while bleeding out over the past two years, help rarely came up from the minors. The pen was the pen was the pen. Kid arms, even those with a track record of success, like Paco Rodriquez, were not to be trusted. When the Dodgers expensive outfield had turmoil and defensive woes, uber prospect Joc Pederson was left to toil in second-rate towns. Friedman and team started gathering guys that could provide additional depth, while they planned bigger things for the past week in San Diego.

I understand that what has been accumulated is not the opening day lineup, and that likely different bodies will be added, and some others moved out, you can start to see the forest for the trees and figure out who most likely will be in place come April. Again, I don’t question the motivation for making moves, or even the rationale for why specific deals were made, but I do think they went a bit crazy with so many moves, so fast, possibly to impress and make a statement to the industry. Much like Paul DePodesta making over the Dan Evans Dodgers in his image, young executives tend to like to piss on every fire hydrant they can to show a) who’s in charge, and b) how much smarter they are than the previous regime. Time will tell how smart Friedman and his math geeks are, but we know what happened when DePodesta (no Jonah Hill), slash and burned a perfectly good Evans roster. Antonio Perez anyone? Jason Grabowski?

A question I have with what happened is not only did the Dodgers take on arguably the wrong players, but they’re paying them and the previous players too. Paying Dee Gordon and Dan Haren to pay Howie Kendrick, who’s also a walk free-agent. Paying San Diego $32M to have Matt Kemp possibly haunt the blue, while only getting PED cheat catcher Yasmani Grandal and two prospects?

Kemp is the big one people want to talk about. Kemp is a beloved, sexy hunk that women and men all want to bed. The fact is, whether he used performance enhancing drugs or not at some point (the league is dirty, sorry, you have to at least ask if top players touched the stuff), he hasn’t been as great an all-around player has his reputation suggests. In 2011, he was very, very, very good. Before that he was young, inexperienced, made many mistakes, upset coaches, and after, a lot of the same, including trade demands and tantrums when things didn’t go his way.

I am not a Matt Kemp fan, and mostly never was, but that said, I wouldn’t want to deal him within the division, unless the haul was a good one. Given the few options on the market for big bats, Kemp’s once cumbersome contract suddenly looked very palatable. The rumors started to increase on where Kemp might go, and San Diego began taking on legs. As I said, I wouldn’t want Kemp in San Diego, not so much because I believe he’s a monster, but because Dodger fans’ Murphy’s Law states it is a foregone conclusion that Kemp will be highly motivated to punish the Dodgers to show them they made a mistake. Given 18 games vs. the division rival, that’s 18 times out of 162 game schedule Kemp could cause damage. That said, it’s also as likely Kemp would disappear in San Diego, the big park, the injuries coming up again, continued lack of motivation, etc. It was a risk though, and unless the return was something like Kemp (no cash) for Andrew Cashner or Ian Kennedy + Grandal, I wouldn’t even consider it.

I have heard the nerds and cyber bullies stroking themselves lately to Grandal and his pitch framing (13th overall, which doesn’t sound so great if this is the main criteria you’re banking on). This is a term that’s come up in the new math but was never mentioned until Friedman and pals sprinkled it out there. I know enough about Grandal in that he’s a PED cheat. As we know, once a cheat, always a cheat. It’s quite possible he’ll go clean, but a lot of players cheat due to the financial implications and continue to do the same and hope they don’t get caught. Mostly, I have not been a big Grandal guy because he’s not a very good catcher, for an offensive-minded one (.225 avg last year, .327 OBP). I like the idea of power spread around the diamond, not locked up in a few players, but I much preferred the Miguel Montero mentions than Grandal. To me, if a catcher is serviceable and can pop 15-20 homers, that alleviates the need for pouting, flirting millionaire outfielders who are more style than substance. I’m not sure Grandal is good, but he’s got to be better than what we got last year out of the catcher position. I can accept Grandal, assuming he stops juicing and doesn’t fail drug tests, but the other part of the deal – two prospects and a massive check? I’m not thrilled. And again, I am not a Kemp fan and in part am relieved he’s gone. He wanted to go, he’s gone. It frees up a spot, possibly, for Pederson, and improves the team by adding a young player who’s healthier, hungrier, a better defender and has offensive upside himself. So I guess any Kemp deal always had the make-believe caveat that you “got Joc in the deal too”. But still – you couldn’t get more for Matt Kemp? What does that say about Friedman and company? And Kemp? Either Kemp just isn’t viewed as valuable as LA’s fawning fans would have you believe, or he was so toxic Friedman and company had to get him out of here. Probably some combination of the two. Still, not a great haul, so for Moneyball-lovers who say I don’t know what I’m talking about, you’re wrong. I do. I just would have gotten something better, especially if I was going to eat that much money. Bad trade, but not for the reason Kemp’s supporters would have you believe.

I don’t want to devote that much time to the other deals, but in summary – an old Jimmy Rollins for a team that’s not a World Series contender seems odd. Again, he’s old. He’s a much better defender, even at 36, than Hanley, but why did Kasten bring in two Cubans as Hanley insurance if neither could field the position once Hanley was gone? And why do you want a 36 year old Rollins when you’re sort of in rebuild mode? No interest in trying for Elvis Andrus?

Now you have a middle of the infield, hell, three-quarters of the infield, that is clearly short-term and just Corey Seager on the horizon to replace any of the three. Then what? Re-up with Howie Kendrick? Maybe. Kendrick is a good player for sure, but he wasn’t an All-Star last year, costs 4 times more than Dee and costs basically $20M plus this season – his $9.5M, Dee’s $2.5M and Haren’s $10M. And as I said, he’s a walk free-agent with no guarantee he’d stick around. Hard to say the middle infield situation was handled properly, or saved any money. I keep hearing how Friedman and team are saving money for the Dodgers, but I keep seeing them write checks to have guys play elsewhere, and take on big salary themselves. Brandon McCarthy? I hear how great he is because he “finally got it” in New York in the second half, but 4 years for a guy no one would have given 4 years to? With past injuries? $48M to man the bottom of the rotation where Haren was doing it for $10M? Am I missing something, is McCarthy so valuable? I never thought so. Serviceable, but not sure why he was a must-have item for 4 years (post-4 ERA lifetime with a losing record… yes, I know things like pitching wins are overrated to the smarties out there). Again, I was told how dead wrong I am here – the Moneyball fans know better.

In the end, I know more will be done – it better be. Right now the team lost two massive egos in Kemp and Hanley but still have man-child Puig, who finally needs to stop dancing and get serious about baseball. He was picked the cover boy of a video game but still sucked in the All-Star homerun contest and in Oct, and when it mattered most, was a bust in Oct and benched. Perhaps without fellow party boys Kemp and Hanley, Puig will not have the support group he did previously and maybe Donnie, not a good manager by any stretch, can wrestle his team back from the inmates. Puig needs to become the player he’s supposed to be and provide protection for A-Gone. He needs to stop acting silly, stop having mental gaffs and perform. 16 homers is not acceptable for a yoked out power hitter of such “potential.”

As of today the rotation still has some question marks, especially since Greinke can opt out and Kershaw can’t win in Oct. The pen has a great closer, but I’d argue question marks everyplace else. A good baseball team needs a very good bullpen. The Dodgers pen has been spotty for several years and that’s a huge reason they don’t win. Friedman and pals need to continue to fortify it – as they have, admittedly – but figure 9th inning on back. Right now, the games haven’t been shortened in such a way the Dodgers can reasonably expect anything different than 2013 and 2014’s results. But, there’s still time.

All of this is a work in progress. I get changes needed to be made – I have been calling for them for quite a while. I just am not sure the personnel acquired is the right group, and more, if the Dodgers actually won any deal Friedman has made. I’d argue his best deal was Dee for Kendrick, as it turned out, even though I could argue why a 26 year old lead-off presence under team control trumps an older, more expensive free-agent to be. The second deal that might be ok is the Tampa one for Joel Peralta and serviceable lefty Adam Liberatore for hard throwing former PED cheat Jose Dominguez and Greg Harris. Liberatore may be the steal of the deal, as it turns out. The other moves – flashy, headline grabbing, but I’m not sold they were quality hauls for the pieces moved away.

It’s not even Christmas, things will change. It’s possible addition by subtraction will turn the Dodgers around. Still, I see logjams and an unspectacular manager and coaching staff. I still see a big payroll and question marks now and next winter. As a Dodgers fan, I don’t know what to make of what’s happening. It smells a lot like the shitburger DePodesta served up. I don’t want to buy a Marlins hat, a Cubs hat, or even a Mariners or White Sox hat, but the old ticker can’t take much more of this. And it sure as hell is fed up with elder children hiding out in basements, typing venom on their iPads about how stupid fans are for not seeing the genius in every bowel movement Friedman and Farhan Zaidi take. Agree to disagree, but I have a right to my opinion.

Save Yourself a Headache, Don’t Try to Figure Out the Dodgers Moves Just Yet

December 11, 2014 Leave a comment

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Wheeling and dealing, left and right. A fun time of the baseball year.

I’ll start this edition by saying trying to make sense of today’s Dodgers moves is futile since they’re part of a bigger makeover. So analyzing the specifics right now isn’t worth it. Wait, wait and see what happens next and more, what the thing looks like when the smoke clears.

On the face of it, here are some random comments about deals and rumors of deals we’ve heard today…

Losing Dee Gordon is a big loss in terms of a catalyst, a kid who finally got it under Maury Wills’ watchful eye, and a fun player to watch. He will wreak havoc atop a fun Miami Marlins lineup – good for him, going to a good home. Those who say trading high on Dee was smart and he tired in the second half, or got lucky, well, you’re entitled to your opinion and you’re partially right. Trading high, like the Dodgers may next on Matt Kemp, is always a smart move. Not sure about the haul they got back, but regardless of who “won” the trade, Dee was the Dodgers position player MVP last season imo, all due respect to A-Gone and half-season Matty. Speed kills. Speed changes games. Speed makes pitchers nervous. Speed makes fielders nervous. Speed makes #2 hitters better as they get fastballs – something that was evident last year as the Dodgers #2 hitters thrived. Dee played a very solid defense, even though lazy pundits tonight have said he didn’t. I suspect they only know his defense from his shortstop days. I’ve heard Andrew Friedman said Dee was poor defensively. If this is true, Friedman didn’t watch Dee either and is wrong. Dee’s a good player and I hope he runs wild in Miami. I hope the Fish are a surprise NL power as they’ve certainly collected a nice group of players over there. Dee will be missed, because unlike many of the players on the team, Dee loved being here and was a joy to see each day.

Not sure how Brandon McCarthy for four years is better than Dan Haren for one. I guess I’m not a big brain like the Moneyball gang the Dodgers have assembled. McCarthy will be the 5 starter, or perhaps 4, depending on whether they add Cole Hamels and/or trade Zack Greinke.

If they add Hamels, they have Greinke insurance – two dominant lefties at the top of the rotation. Hyun-Jin Ryu had shoulder injuries twice last year and it’s reasonable to think he will be hurt in 2015, at least spend some time on the DL. So maybe you have Clayton Kershaw, Greinke and Hamels, with McCarthy, Andrew Heaney and others behind that if Ryu is hurt, or they move Greinke rather than wait for him to probably opt out after 2015. So then your rotation is Kershaw, Hamels, Ryu, McCarthy and the rest. As you can see, a lot depends on Ryu’s health and whether Greinke is around. i.e. big names, but still a little confusing to me.

I am not a fan necessarily of what I’m seeing but given the Dodgers were embarrassed two straight Octobers, I don’t mind any changes. I hope they don’t deal Joc Pederson or Corey Seager, but almost anyone else is ok with me. The folks enamored with celebrity hottie Matt Kemp moving to San Diego, likely in a three-team deal with Philadelphia, need to realize the Dodgers weren’t winning with him. If you could trade high on a young, cheap All-Star like Dee, you can trade high on an expensive, sometimes pouty, injury-marred Kemp. The fact of the matter is Kemp could bring back Hamels and maybe a catcher, and there are a lot of outfielders around beside him. He’s a luxury item that can be parlayed into another luxury item and clear space in the crowded outfield. My only thing is dealing Kemp within the division will no doubt come back to haunt the Dodgers as Kemp, if he stays healthy, is the kind of guy who will rise to the occasion vs. the blue. But, San Diego has to find a way to attract a big bat to spacious Petco and Philadelphia needs to move Hamels and get younger – so…

I know Yasmani Grandal’s name is bandied about as the next Dodgers catcher and I understand his value, especially as a power bat, but I wish Friedman instead got Miguel Montero. Better catcher, better hitter, not a proven PED cheat. I do like the idea of replacing Kemp and Hanley’s “big bats” (and big egos!) by spreading the offense around more evenly (KC style!) – some at catcher, some at shortstop, some probably at second (if/when Dodgers add Chase Utley). So assuming the dust clears and Kemp and Hanley are gone but Grandal, Jimmy Rollins and Utley are added, also allowing Joc to play, you might have a more balanced attack looking something like…

Rollins SS
Crawford LF (SVS vs. lefties)
Utley 2B Kendrick 2B***
A-Gone 1B
Puig RF
Uribe 3B
Joc CF
Grandal C

As you can see it’s more evenly distributed, with no need for those two “big bats”. Plus, decent defensively.

Anyway, these are some of my initial thoughts. I don’t like the pen and hope they fix that, and probably some of the long men they’ve added and other arms acquired as second parts of recent deals may address that. Teams need bullpens, and the Dodgers is not good. The rotation is a work in progress and I’m not as confident with all those big names as some are because I don’t know which will be there, and which might be hurt.

I do appreciate the interest in tweaking something that wasn’t working. Dodger fans are creatures of habit, so they don’t understand what is happening. They like to wave the foam fingers and talk about how hot Kemp is. The Dodgers have not been a serious contender and have been soft. Not sure if all this change will help – it could create new chaos – but it’s at least interesting to watch.

Unless you hear tomorrow the Dodgers have acquired Cole Hamels and perhaps Chase Utley in a three-team deal with San Diego, sending Matt Kemp to the Padres, don’t try to wrap your head around what’s happened so far. There are months until spring training, and nothing right now is as it appears.

*** Moments after posting this, the Dodgers apparently have flipped Andrew Heaney to Anaheim for Howie Kendrick. I told you not to try to figure any of it out. 🙂

Who are the Dodgers? We’ll Find Out Soon Enough

December 4, 2014 Leave a comment

LOS ANGELES ANGELS OF ANAHEIM VS LOS ANGELES DODGERS

The winter meetings begin in San Diego next week.

Forget Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Forget people lined up outside Walmart to trample one another over cheap TVs they don’t need. Forget the endless commercialism of Christmas. Forget the colorized version (loaded with commercials) of It’s a Wonderful Life. The real holiday experience for fans of MLB is the winter meetings. And this year, with a slew of new suits in the Dodgers front office, what is the plan?

So far the Dodgers have tinkered around the edges, re-signing guys you’d expect them to, and some you didn’t care about either way. There have been flimsy rumors of Matt Kemp moving, Cole Hamels coming, and now Jon Lester apparently being courted. All a prelude to next week. The winter meetings, and the time following it, should reveal what this expensive Dodgers front office is about and what the plan for the team is moving forward. Up until now, it’s still very vague.

Let’s look at some of the situations that have been talked about, and theories on what the Dodgers could do…

The outfield quagmire

The Dodgers of course created a surplus of expensive outfielders and bought time for kids to develop and now have a lot of pricey, seemingly less than motivated guys around with options perhaps being close to ready. Whether it’s more playing time for Scott Van Slyke, Joc Pederson getting his chance in center, Chris Heisey (?) factoring in or even replacing SVS, who gets traded, there are options. And that’s not even taking into account prospect Scott Schebler, who has hammered the ball for a few minor league seasons and did the same in this winter’s AFL.

The much talked about trade of Andre Ethier is one obvious way to free up outfield real estate. Ethier is centerfield depth and doesn’t complain, but since collecting his lotto-like new contract windfall, he seems less than interested in baseball. I’m not going to hypothesize on what happened to his game, but it’s pretty evident something drove him off the radar. So moving him would mean a small loss in terms of centerfield coverage, but mostly paying a majority of his contract – something the Dodgers may not want to do. Ethier, unlike Kemp, Yasiel Puig or even Carl Crawford, is an easy enough guy to stash on the bench. He can play all three positions, pinch hit and doesn’t mind not playing – more or less. He has value for this reason. If someone got hurt, you can plug the former All-Star in and not worry too much. That does have some merit. Not to mention, he could always bounce back. Unlikely, but not beyond comprehension.

Kemp is the guy linked to Baltimore, Seattle and San Diego because in a thin free-agent market for bats, his recently “horrible contract” suddenly isn’t so horrible. When Russell Martin gets $80M, taking a chance on Kemp seems worth $90M+. Would the Dodgers deal Kemp, having rightfully let Hanley Ramirez walk? I guess they need to ask – is Kemp, like perhaps Hanley was, part of the malaise that festered around Chavez Ravine the past few seasons? Is Kemp too Hollywood? Who would drive in runs if Kemp were gone, especially from the right side? Are the Dodgers close enough to really being a World Series team that Kemp’s loss would be a huge mistake?

I guess with Kemp it depends on what you can get in return, and how important the money owed to him is. I would also say, if his personality is a detriment, would he and Hanley not being around to enable young Puig be beneficial to the team? It’s easy to argue the Dodgers keep not advancing in October because of their lack of toughness and professionalism when it matters. Maybe losing some of the party boys, even those who rebounded to drive in a bunch of runs, isn’t such an awful thing. And, if the Dodgers look at the current team as if not a rebuild, a transitional team, would it be so bad to free up an outfield spot for someone else? Lastly, if the front office decides they want Pederson in center, that moves Puig back to right, which forces Kemp to left, where he went ape shit last season. Do the Dodgers want that distraction again?

I think probably they will listen to offers and go with the best deal/s they can make. If someone wants Crawford, they can have Crawford. If someone gives a good return for Kemp, they can have him, etc. I believe ideally the outfield quagmire is a good problem as they can turn a surplus into things they need – prospects, pitching, a young catcher, etc. Not to mention freeing up space for Pederson, SVS, Schebler eventually, etc. Having too much of something, even though it’s highly paid, isn’t the worst problem in the world.

It would be refreshing if Andrew Friedman and team explained to us what their vision is, but more than likely we will have to figure that out on our own as we see moves unfold. I’d look at this mess – $240M and counting – as a rebuildable mass that can be shaped any of a number of ways. I believe very soon – now – the Dodgers need to start trusting their top prospects, injecting youth and energy into the mix and moving out fat cats who didn’t help the Dodgers win many meaningful games anyway. Other teams play their top prospects, contenders too. I don’t know why it’s always said by pundits and fans that this kid or that can’t be trusted. It seems to work everywhere else. Since the light has been cast (some) on PEDs, baseball has become a young person’s game. More than ever young pitchers and hitters are rushed into action and largely perform at a high level. To assume Pederson or Corey Seager couldn’t do the same is silly. They could have growing pains and stumble through their first season as even the great Mike Trout did, or they could be serviceable or more right out of the gate. The Dodgers could go safe and play their superstars until their deals end, and even trade their kids, but I think it would be a massive mistake. The current configuration has been embarrassed in Oct twice in a row. The worst the kids do is fail. The millionaires did that too.

Who’s on short?

There has been a lot of talk of who plays short now that Hanley has been sent to Boston. I find it funny that so many were livid when I said the past year or two that Hanley should be dealt for a boatload of prospects, yet the Dodgers clearly did not want him around in LA. Brittle health, poor defense, questionable attitude, money. Why would the Dodgers have wanted Hanley back? In fact, it’s the reason Stan Kasten and crew snapped up every Cuban they could – having options if Hanley left. Now, he’s gone, but oddly two of the Cubans – Alex Guerrero and Erisbel Arruebarrena – are not even mentioned as options at short. There has been talk second baseman Darwin Barney can play short, or that the Dodgers might trade for Alexei Ramirez, or could pick up weed smoking, PED cheat Everth Cabrera, non-tendered yesterday by the Padres, but not one comment about the two Cubans brought in for the infield mix – at reasonably high prices.

I wonder why the Dodgers signed Guerrero, who was obviously Dee Gordon insurance but pretty much was signed based on a YouTube video. He was by all reports a shortstop learning to play second, but now with short opened, he’s not a consideration. Strange, since he can apparently hit and perhaps put up numbers as good as someone like Alexei Ramirez. Then there’s Arruebarrena, whose bat was always questioned but the scouting reports on his defense were such that he was signed as a certain option to at least field the position with the elite of the game. He hit decently in the minors and didn’t do much to terrify us in his big league auditions, yet he’s also not a consideration. I’d like to know who ok’d the two – maybe Kasten, or Ned, or even Logan White. As Kasten was running the show, I find it curious he agreed to pay these two a decent chunk of change and now they’re not even noted as possibilities – Darwin Barney is ahead of both on the depth chart.

If you keep the two, what are their roles? Minor league depth? Trade bait? They’re essentially prospects, but not the regular kind who make per diem money. Both make decent change, therefore you can’t as easily trade them, especially without much to go on and an obvious lack of interest in either from the front office.

To me the answer is simple – play Seager. Seager is an exceptional talent and arguably the best hitting prospect the Dodgers have had since Mike Piazza or Paul Konerko. He’s 20 and has just gotten his feet wet at AA, but he’s a man among boys and in the AFL, played very well among the game’s top prospects. As I said earlier, is this team really that close to the World Series that Seager cannot even be mentioned? What’s the worst that would happen if the team played Seager at short to open the season? He struggles? A) He’s so special a prospect that even if he did struggle, as he did moving from A to AA, he can adapt, B) if it’s that ugly, you fall back on Darwin Barney, Arruebarrena, Guerrero, move Juan Uribe back to short and play Guerrero at third, etc. i.e. it’s not the end of the world.

I will repeat, the Dodgers have to understand that they have these three uber prospects in Pederson, Seager and Julio Urias, and you can arguably add Schebler to the mix due to his impressive power and rapid advancement. Other teams play their kids and in my opinion, even with the top part of the Dodgers rotation, it’s no guarantee the team is prepared to advance any further than they have the past two seasons. Why not try Seager, Pederson and hell, perhaps Urias (soon)? With the backup possibilities mentioned, the experiment would either have a setback where you had to play someone after Seager faltered, or you’d see just how special Seager was. Anyone will experience growing pains when coming to the bigs; one could easily assume Seager is so great he could adjust and learn from the experience. Not to mention he’s still a shortstop, having not yet tried third regularly, and the opening is at short.

Super rotation?

The Dodgers are now talking about adding another good pitcher to make their possible super rotation 4 deep. Besides having 4 aces, the idea obviously is to create options should Zack Greinke take that opt-out after 2015, and if Hyun-Jin Ryu keeps getting hurt, as he did again in 2014. But would the Dodgers, with $240M in payroll, add more? Is it smart to add more when your team may not be ready to go all the way anyhow? Or perhaps you do add Jon Lester, Max Scherzer, Cole Hamels, James Shields, etc. because you know you will make a series of moves that will improve the questionable aspects of the team and the Dodgers will compete for the World Series next Oct.

Any way you look at it, it’s not a bad idea to have a crazy good rotation. Knowing your pitcher can win the game most every day takes the pressure off maybe your 20 year old shortstop, your rookie centerfielder, etc. Maybe you don’t need Hanley and Kemp to provide the “big bats” and drive in a lot of runs if your pitching staff is continually shutting down your opposition’s offense. With millionaire bats gone, but perhaps better chemistry, youth, energy, excitement and who knows, maybe even production (?), could be that a super rotation is the way to go.

I won’t speculate on who the Dodgers sign, but I will say the new geniuses have shown they obviously didn’t think much of Matt Magill and knew some long-man depth was needed as the call-up cupboard was bare, especially with Stephen Fife out all last year. Acquiring Juan Nicasio and Mike Bolsinger ensured some level of depth should Ryu or anyone else get hurt again (not to mention Joel Peralta and Adam Liberatore acquired from Tampa for the pen). Last year’s losses of Ryu, Josh Beckett and Dan Haren’s down cycle, caused quite a problem in the back of the rotation. Zach Lee picked a bad time to have growing pains.

I’d like to see the Dodgers add some pitching depth in the supposed outfielder trades. I recall better days when the Dodgers always went into spring training with top pitching prospects vying for a rotation spot, then being a short plane ride away in AAA when the need arose. It seems in recent years, the farm has focused on bats, which has some interesting qualities but is not “the Dodger way” and the pitching depth has been thin. Maybe some wheeling and dealing, along with Nicasio, Bolsinger, etc. creates a return to the organizational depth the team has lacked?

At any case, I don’t care how much the Dodgers spend, and I don’t know if the blue really “needs” more aces, but the value of a super rotation, coupled with depth, is a good thing. I just would prefer the arm is picked up via free-agency to trade. I don’t want to see Pederson, Seager, Urias or even Schebler moved to add another expensive pitcher to a team stuck in some form of neutral.

Final thoughts

I’ll end this saying while a nice sign of faith by Friedman and company opting to keep Donnie and his coaches, one has to wonder if this is the biggest blunder of the off-season? I have said I’m not sure this Dodgers team should even be entertaining Fall Classic aspirations, but it’s sort of a forgone conclusion you won’t be playing deep into Oct with a weak manager like Donnie at the helm. And that goes for his lackluster coaching staff.

Maybe the plan was to use this year to move pieces around and figure out more or less if this mix could perform with higher IQ (smirk) data boys in the front office. You know… they’re dumb, but our genius can get them to be less dumb. The worst that happens is the team proves to be slightly better, or worse, and ultimately Donnie and some coaches are fired. It beats (perhaps) eating all of Donnie’s new contract. If you have a mediocre to lazy employee, you first try to see if you can get them to improve. If not, you fire them.

I would guess Friedman and his gang don’t love Donnie but they want to see how everyone operates – with some tinkering by them – before lopping off heads. Besides, Guggenheim resources or no, they don’t want to buy everyone off. There are so many salaries you can, or want to, eat.

The winter meetings begin next week. It will be quite intriguing – more so than in recent years – to see what moves the Dodgers make. I am a realist, some would say a skeptic, but I don’t believe the Dodgers are ready to play in the World Series. Obviously there are good players around and great young kids on the immediate horizon. To me, 2015 is about seeing what the mix is, and perhaps we will see this week, that said mix is a lot better than the 2013-2014 editions. As a realist, I am remaining open-minded to that. As a skeptic, I say, “Show me.”