In Baseball, Like Everything Else, Common Sense is Right More Often than Wrong
It’s been a nice summer, not having to deal with anonymous and therefore brave Internet trolls proclaiming to be Dodgers fans. I still get the occasional “drive by” trash talk, which is funny since I don’t tweet anymore. It’s a huge compliment that even those who don’t follow me take the time to say something completely devoid of fact, chock full of venom, toward me. Thank you for those who obviously have such a crush on me.
As those of you who followed my posts and long-form blog entries know, most of what I have said comes true. It’s a gift and a curse, as Adrian Monk famously said, but it’s a “super power” I’ve had for as long as I’ve followed the Dodgers. I recall a day when I called into Dodger Talk and spoke with Geoff Witcher – one of the big voice radio guys whose presentation was greater than his knowledge. I asked about a prospect named Pedro Guerrero, who was tearing up the minors. I told Geoff I thought he would be a great hitter for the Dodgers. In typical polished radio guy parlance, he told me he might be ok, perhaps a 15 homer guy and part of the bench someday. I told Geoff he’d be more than that. Not long after, he was a co-MVP for the Dodgers World Series team and a fixture in the center of the offense – although he couldn’t slide worth shit – until he and Kirk Gibson butted heads in 1988.
In recent years I’ve “called” the thin Dodgers bullpen, who needed to be dealt, who shouldn’t be dealt, etc. I’ve astutely pointed out you need a strong bullpen – working from the back out, and a pitching staff that included less spectacular innings eaters (thus sparing the pen). I pointed out how vital team chemistry is and called out pretty boy Matt Kemp, much to the disdain of his female and male admirers, and Hanley’s lazy approach. I said – look it up if you want, it’s in the tweets and in the blog editions – how calling up Joc Pederson would mean more to the team than the superstar party boys the Dodgers put together. I said not only would Joc provide offensive firepower, but he’d be a pure centerfielder and good teams – any sport – have a strong defense. I was mocked for having the audacity to question Kemp and Hanley, but also the foolishness to think Joc was anything more than a product of Albuquerque’s altitude. Again, look it up, it’s all written down as proof.
I pointed to Joc’s several seasons in a row – different towns, different leagues – of being the complete package. The always on point Dodger Oracle noted how not only was Joc successful in the minors, but his output statistically was greater than Paul Konerko, who outside of Mike Piazza, in my opinion was the best offensive Dodger prospect in several generations. No, I was a fool, wrong as usual, the anonymous trolls said. They would loop in those on mutual block lists like Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Prostate and other pundits who naturally would laugh at such things. Dee Gordon… a spark? A catalyst that threw off managers’ games and brought havoc to pitchers and catchers and defenders league wide? What a fool! I was told that years of defending Dee, only to see him become an All-Star last season, was a fluke. Andrew Friedman, the smartest man in the world, knew best to trade high on Dee. He was useless. Well, he’s lead the National League in hitting all season and was the steal of the winter per many national journalists and baseball people. And the Dodgers have had lead-off issues as a result. Oh, and Dan Haren! How dare I say he was a valuable part of the pitching staff; a former ace who gobbled up innings and save for a month or so slump in 2014, held the bottom of the rotation firm. Who needs him?! Better to pay 2nd half of 2014 surprise Brandon McCarthy for four years – plus Haren’s 2015 salary! – for a better pitcher. Well, I warned, McCarthy has always been hurt, and Friedman already added Brett Anderson, plus – so important! – Hyun-Jin Ryu and that bad shoulder. Wouldn’t it have been smart to add some less questionable guys and keep healthy Haren? No!!! You fool!!! You know NOTHING about baseball. cc all the Moneyball lovers to validate such takes, but of course.
Those who have read my opinions (and that’s all they are, I don’t proclaim to be a sage) also recall my many, many, many comments about Yasiel Puig. I have suggested that his presence likely was as big a part of the chemistry concern in the Dodgers’ clubhouse as star fucker Kemp and party hearty Hanley. Unlike the other two, I understood why keeping Puig made sense, though I suggested many times that if they could find value back in a trade, it might be wise to move the new edition of Raul Mondesi (also citing it would be a challenge for Puig to ever reach Mondesi’s “underachieving” career tally of 271 homers and 229 stolen bases). I was told Puig was leagues beyond Mondesi – not true – and that he would be an MVP in short time. Also, his fun and games, tardiness, bickering with teammates and obvious Kardashian/Jenner-like ego was just Puig being Puig and part of the fun. I was an idiot to suggest dealing him for Mike Stanton or good pitching (this was pre Stanton’s complete breakthrough and massive contract extension). Well, now we hear from journalist and Dodger follower Molly Knight, in her new book (“The Best Team Money Can Buy”), that Puig has indeed been a concern, a cancer, upsetting many of his teammates, even beloved guys like Justin Turner and Zack Greinke. His antics, his entourage, engaging in a relationship with a minor league coach’s daughter, his constant tardiness, his diva-like persona have become an open topic of disdain in the Dodgers locker room. Perhaps it’s no coincidence than when he was shelved for a good part of this season with his hamstring problem, the team rather excelled (except for that inconsistent/inept bullpen and bottom of the rotation) with Andre Ethier stepping up.
During the absence, with regular playing time, Ethier, much more of a good soldier and professional than Puig, put up numbers as good as almost any outfielder in the league, and certainly on par with his glory days in blue. With Scott Van Slyke and Alex Guerrero around (I won’t mention Carl Crawford, he’ll limp around till October, assuming the Dodgers get to play in October), and even Scott Schebler a phone call away, is it really necessary to have this combustible piece on the roster anymore? Imagine if the Dodgers traded Puig… maybe they could turn him into some of that much-needed pitching that’s missing. While his value can only get lower due to the finally public clubhouse cancer comments, he’s still viewed as an amazing athlete and ticket seller. Plus, the Dodgers have offensive potential coming out of their ass with Hector Olivera and Corey Seager soon to be in the lineup.
Would the team be any worse for the wear without Puig, and instead Ethier and SVS playing more, with Olivera and Seager up as well? Would turning Puig into a very good young pitcher or even veteran with several parts for the bullpen be bad? Cole Hamels? A blue chipper? Relief pitchers that have a proven track record as opposed to reclamation projects holding back a team whose payroll tops $300M? I’m going to say something once more that I’ve said many times – and been attacked for by people (young and dumb, it’s not their fault) who don’t know better… balance is the key. An offensive-heavy team usually doesn’t win in any sport; you need the pitching and defense too. The Dodgers, to Friedman’s credit, have done a lot of the things I have advocated for years – addition by subtraction, losing those bloated egos and marginal all-around talents, shoring up the defense, and playing the kids. Those are things I think Friedman and his large team of executives have done well. Bravo! But skimping, or choosing the wrong guys, for the rotation and bullpen, taking risks on a team with endless financial resources, is just foolish. Use some of the chips on hand to address the weaknesses.
Earlier this year, I spoke with friends who follow the team. None of us actually watch the games since the Guggenheim group is much like the Fox group, worse in some ways, and doesn’t give a shit about the fans. The games are not televised to most, so why would we care? Contrary to popular opinion, out of sight really is out of mind. Lifelong fans I know are very disinterested, more chatting with friends about the foibles rather than the games themselves, which is albeit very tragic. During our discussions, we suggested how the Dodgers could use parts such as Alex Guerrero or Scott Van Slyke, or maybe (gasp!) even Julio Urias, whose ego reportedly is also not in check, to obtain the pitching the team obviously needed. No way, of course, should Friedman deal Corey Seager. So we groused how Guerrero could easily slot into some team’s everyday lineup, especially as a DH in the American League, or wouldn’t SVS be a 20+ homer guy given 400+ at bats? Well, all that remains true. The Dodgers bench is bustling with bodies, especially once Olivera and Seager arrive. Even everyone’s favorite, Justin Turner, might fetch something good for the pitching staff. But now, lo and behold, Puig possibly could be a trade piece. Again, would the Dodgers offense be worse if Ethier were allowed to play every day, and when he wasn’t, perhaps SVS was, or Guerrero, and Oliver and Seager were soon to be in the mix. I’d say, not at all. And with the chemistry fix of not having Puig’s ego and entourage trying to crash team travel, probably much improved. Remember, the team did well while he was out – if only they had the pitching in place to not lose some of those games.
Anyway, it all remains to be seen how it plays out. I don’t imagine Puig will be traded, but you never know. I just chuckle as this latest development is just another “I told you so” moment. The bullpen woes for the first half of the last several years, the iffy additions this winter, the Kemp and Hanley issues, Joc, and now Puig. It’s all documented, yet doesn’t resonate with “smarter fans.” Most of these bright fans weren’t even born when the Dodgers were last actually a force – that era ended in 1981, when the famed 70s team was scattered to the wind. 1988, as most know, was beautiful and magical and also an anomaly. Before and after were a lot of listless teams that drifted without direction and a broken infrastructure as O’Malley abandoned ship, Fox razzle dazzled us, then a Botox’d dandy ran the thing aground, and finally global financial gurus took away the joy of watching games on television.
I’ll go on record again as saying the Dodgers need several solid relievers from Kenley Jansen backward, plus stability in the rotation and moving out any piece that causes clubhouse disrupt if they want to beat the Cardinals and more in October. A collection of bats, lots of exciting Cubans, and brainwashed broadcasting guys chiming like Scientologists how great the pitching is isn’t going to work. The data heads who take glee being bullies online know nothing about actual baseball and while they have fanboy wet dreams over what Friedman is doing, the old adage of pitching, defense and timely hitting is what wins baseball games in real life.
Oh, and huge kudos to former Dodger great Mike Scioscia for refusing to listen to dimwitted GM Jerry Dipoto’s “advice” on using data to win baseball games. Mike knows baseball as much as any person alive and for a suit to tell him what to do is beyond insulting. Dipoto – another thing I have mentioned endlessly over the years (again, feel free to look it up!) – was a mediocre GM who squandered away money on the wrong star players. The organization blaming Josh Hamilton, a drug addict, for having a relapse and not Dipoto for signing a junkie to an ill-advised long-term contract is beyond ludicrous. Not to mention inking older in body and mind Albert Pujols to a 10 year deal. His 2015 has been outstanding, well, his June sure was, but before and likely after was a colossal waste of money and fans who blame Pujols at any point should instead point the finger to smarty pants Dipoto. A fan with any intelligence would have known better – I know I did. Mike Scioscia, the Dodger who never should have gotten away, should take his victory lap and make Dipoto scrub his toilet.
It was nice touching base – ignore the trolls, they secretly have crushes on executives because they look so cute in their fitted suits. The rest of us know better.