2015 – Our Longshots are Better than Yours
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.