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

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.”

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