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It’s Always Early Until It Isn’t

December 28, 2015 3 comments

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The week between the holidays (no, Christmas! Say Christmas, not the holidays!) is a dull one so rather than slip into a coma I will pontificate about a few Dodgers thoughts that are on my head. None of them is particular new from me, just will elaborate a bit for those who enjoy my stance on things, and for those who hate my guts. We Freudians are an acquired taste, after all.

While there are fan boys and girls who still have faith in Andrew Friedman and his minion, I think it’s becoming apparent that the cleverest guys in the room are in over their head. Oh, their supporters will tell you how it’s still early and they can get this second or third tier pitcher or that, or make some miraculous deal for a Miami malcontent controlled by Scott Boras, etc., but in commonsense real world terms, the act that plays in Tampa and Oakland does not work in the country’s second largest market. Nor should it.

It’s apparent to me that changing gears to a Moneyball-minded guy was Guggenheim’s way of doing what Frank McCourt did when he replaced brilliant baseball mind Dan Evans with doofus Theo wannabe Paul DePodesta. Like DePodesta, the idea here is to go in another direction – re: cheap.

Believe me; I am not afraid of streamlined teams that play kids. Over the past several decades, I have rooted for kids who came into the system and awaited their arrival. All those rookies of the year and so many before and after them. At the same time, I realize not every prospect will succeed and many are to be carefully tucked away for trade currency when then the time is right.

You can argue that in the post steroids era (haha, post) kids are more important than ever. Teams that win seem to have a good young core and aren’t afraid to play their babies, such as KC in recent years and the infant Cubs baptism by fire this season.

If the Dodgers wanted to go young, I’d be for it – except with the following reservations. First, with the aforementioned 3 decades of mediocrity, an alarming number for a fan of the storied Dodgers, you have to take into account what a rebuild means. For example, can the Dodgers, with fans antsy for a winner, with Clayton Kershaw leading the staff, a massive payroll and relatively new owner and management team afford to wait several more seasons for a young team to gel?

Also, if the plan is to go young (no one admits that’s the plan, but Stan Kasten has been hinting at it), why not really go young? Trade veterans for top prospects and infuse the Ravine with a young beating pulse and make baseball excitement that way? Yes, if your plan is to go young (cheap), deal Kershaw, deal Adrian Gonzalez, deal Justin Turner, deal Andre Ethier, deal… you get my point. If you moved the vets, you open spots for kids and most importantly, get a lot more kids. Think about various Miami fire sales and other cities where boatloads of bluechips were accumulated.

I think because it hasn’t been said in such direct terms, the plan is to go younger but more to go cheaper. It’s a half-assed attempt to rebuild right now that is confusing to fans. Since no official word has been given, hardcore fans and pedestrian variety foam finger wearers assume the Dodgers are in another of their “win now” years. Yet, the off-season has so far shown good players going to all the top teams, but none to the Dodgers. Not to mention, the Dodgers top two rivals each got better since the World Series finished.

So who are the Dodgers? What are the Dodgers? Are Friedman and friends inept at big market baseball dealing? Are they under some Guggenheim imposed mandate to strip down payroll? Do they honestly feel losing the best #2 starter in baseball and replacing him with… with no one… is better?

There is still time, as the apologists will point out, but not really. At this point, most of the best names are off the board and settled in with teams actually intent on making a run. The Dodgers could settle for some additions that likely aren’t going to improve their 2016 fortunes any, or they can deal top prospects to try to get back to where they were this year. If that is the answer, I’d say why not have just signed Zack Greinke or one of the available starters as winter shopping began, and/or added free-agent bullpen parts to address that weakness? Personally, for a team I always hear has endless resources, I’d much rather use said resources than moving blue chips.

Friedman and his compatriots make confusing moves such as dealing certain prospects for others and then having pundits assume something remarkable will happen after those kids are acquired. It often seems like rearranging deck chairs as it’s hard to ever say for sure if a Friedman move makes the Dodgers any better. The supporters would smugly say how silly, of course the Dodgers are better. From a mere novice who just has watched a lot of baseball over lo these many decades, I’m not convinced.

Take for example if the plan was to get young and maybe more athletic, why deal Dee Gordon for essentially Howie Kendrick, then seem to say Kendrick is too old so the second baseman will be expensive prospect Jose Peraza (acquired for the $60M man Hector Olivera). Then turn Peraza into a White Sox haul of some mediocrity and perhaps go with marginal minor league utility man Kike Hernandez as your second baseman, with ancient Chase Utley as his potential platoon partner? How is this getting younger or more athletic? Or, dare I ask, better?

Maybe the idea is whoever we bring in (we being Friedman and friends) is better than whoever we inherited. Why? Because we’re clever, we’re outside the box thinkers, we’re geniuses. That’s one theory. Another is they keep making moves and end up without a chair when the music stops. Personally, either long-term perspective or win-now, Dee Gordon seems a better fit for second base than Kike and Utley, as does Howie Kendrick.

There is a feeling out there in smarty pants baseball circles that solid hitting and versatile Ben Zobrist is one of the best players in baseball, after all, statistics of some kind bear this out. Now Zobrist for sure is a good player to have on your team and a clutch performer but I don’t think he’s one of the best players in baseball. I also think going for a cheaper option to be your Zobrist, whether it’s playing a utility man like Justin Turner all the time at third base or Kike at second, isn’t the answer for two regular position spots. Turner is a good player but would be better suited as a backup who fills in as needed, plays around the diamond and gets plenty of rest (bad knees and his production isn’t that outstanding for a regular MLB third baseman anyway). Kike? Who knows? We’ve seen beloved utility men come and go in LA. It seems like just yesterday angry fans were telling me how ignorant I was for not wanting Luis Cruz to play every day, as well as Nick Punto and Skip Schumaker. Utility men are utility men and have plenty of value as such, but they’re usually utility men for a reason – i.e. they don’t play any position well enough to be a regular there.

Anyhow, I digress. From a completely layman’s perspective, it seems like Friedman and men are in over their heads. I think ownership, such as it is, is starting to see this as well. Low body fat heart throb Gabe Kapler was about to leave one job he is unqualified to hold for another and become the Dodgers latest field manager, that is, until Mark Walter (probably) nixed it. I think the compromise was Dave Roberts could run the team (I say that in loose terms, Friedman will no doubt butt in constantly, as will Farhan Zaidi) but their ringers would be on Roberts’ coaching staff. Quite a collection of stiffs, busted prospects and the like.

So as we stand here at year’s end, we should wonder what is happening with the Dodgers. Would a 3rd or 4th place finish in the West signal ownership to throw the latest Sabermetrics smart asses out? Would they only do so if fans got sick of the team and stopped coming to games? (at least McCourt had the games on TV, no butts in the seat mean out of sight, out of mind nowadays) Is the team rebuilding, or not? If not, why wait on good players to go elsewhere? If a youth movement, why keep Kershaw and others? Are they afraid to say the words “youth movement” and deal beloved current players, again, as it could alienate fans and cost Guggenheim revenue? Does Friedman actually have a plan or is he simply overwhelmed? I mean, just like DePodesta, he’s no Theo, that’s for sure. Theo uses analytics, as did Dan Evans, but also understood good players and uses money to acquire those players. Friedman? Unless you count money blown on Cubans as a big success, so far it hasn’t panned out. Lots of money has been spent, but on very little that has helped the Dodgers win baseball games.

So, I will concede that it’s “still early” and in theory the Dodgers could sign several pitchers, make a trade or two, play some kids and the team could slug it out with the Giants and Diamondbacks for the NL West crown. That could happen, but considering winning the division years in a row did not amount to October success, even that pipedream doesn’t give evidence the 2016 Dodgers can be any better than this year’s team. Zack Greinke in a red uniform ¬†with a snake on it seems to reiterate that point.

It’s a strange time in our lives and as it relates to baseball in general, certainly Dodgers baseball. Cleverness is applauded and rooting on executives seems to have taken the place of demanding your team field the best team they possibly can each season. Obscure stats, looking sideways like a confused German Shepherd, and unsubstantiated optimism more “patriotic” than getting pissed that your team is screwing up.

I’m an old timer, admittedly not as cool or edgy as some of the younger folks out there, but I come from a generation where if something walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, you have no problem saying, “That’s a duck.” Andrew Friedman and his merry men appear to be out of their element and taking a big shit on a rich tradition that is now so faint it’s almost hard to relate to it anymore. I think at one time there were great Dodger teams with players like Jackie, Snider, Campy, Hodges, Newcombe, Garvey, Cey, Fernando, Orel, etc., etc. to cheer on and watch win but honestly, maybe it’s just dementia settling in. The last Dodgers team to hoist a gold trophy was in 1988 and that was a magical fluke of a season. Going back 7 years more, that was probably the end of the era of Dodgers true dominance in the National League. Whatever has been going on recently stinks like three day old white fish, and for you gentiles in the audience, that isn’t pleasant. Think Kris Jenner after a day at the beach.

The only saving grace for me (sorry, apologists) is that if Friedman and his smarm posse fail, and hopefully it shuts the door on Moneyball ever playing in LA again. Of course a new owner could come in and repeat the same mistake, but occasionally you’d like to believe history can educate people. Or maybe not.

In the meantime, it’d be nice to know what the plan is for the Dodgers’ immediate future. Are they a young team willing to punt the Kershaw era as they did the Kershaw/Greinke era? Are they going to try some razzle dazzle and remake the team in their image – one filled with bad Zobrist wannabes and many Cubans? Will they be shown the door? We shall see. As long as it’s “still early” there’s no reason to panic.

By the way, that’s your cue to panic.

Don’t Panic Yet, but Maybe Soon

December 11, 2015 3 comments

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To be sure, there’s plenty of time left before spring training, so to panic now is premature. My comments, which I feel are honest, are based on not just the calendar date but based on what Andrew Friedman and friends have done since arriving in Los Angeles, what I’ve witnessed so far this winter, and what I think they will or more, will not do.

 

There are those who love Sabermetrics and grew up on a steady diet of the stuff mixed into their fantasy baseball teams. There are others who just inexplicably idolize executives, and no doubt are Donald Trump supporters. Then there are cockeyed optimists who always assume someone with a big title must know a lot. Me, I go with the gut and many decades of baseball experience. To me, if it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck.

 

As I’ve said over the years, baseball is pretty simple. You need to have strong pitching (rotation and most importantly in the bullpen), timely hitting, defense and speed. If you have a good balance of those things, not only will your team win on the field, but also in fantasy baseball. Baseball, like life, is about finding balance. If you are heavy in some areas and not others, balance it out by buoying the deficient. If you are full of potholes all over the place, well, you have troubles. The Dodgers, in my opinion, have holes in most areas which means it would be challenging for someone to fix, let alone a team who won’t admit such problems are even problems.

 

As it is now, the Dodgers can be fixed. Less every day since good players have come off the table. The issue I have with Friedman and his merry men is that they always seem to try to overthink things and I believe this is because they truly believe they are superior intellects to we mortals. Anyone can sign a person like Joakim Soria if the bullpen needs help, but far more interesting to come up with convoluted three/four team trades which “could” address the problem, perhaps not, will cost prospects, but my, won’t they look clever. This is my problem with Friedman and team, they’re making an over 100 year sport that is pretty basic at the core of it, needlessly complex. And I believe it’s to make themselves appear uber smart.

 

As it is right now, a more basic GM (whatever the title you want to put for the decision maker) could sign some players and fill holes that way. I would have probably kept Zack Greinke since it’s hard to deny the Dodgers strength last year was the 1-2 punch of Clayton Kershaw and Greinke. Even replacing him with Johnny Cueto, should they do that, is not strengthening anything. I guess you could argue adding Hisashi Iwakuma + Cueto beats just Greinke alone, but that remains to be seen as both pitchers have had injury problems in the past. Besides that, the Dodgers should have had a better 3 option last year as the season mostly was Kershaw and Greinke, with an assist from Brett Anderson, vs. the world. Note to Friedman – teams need good 3/4/5 options as well, which the Dodgers were suspect on. Don’t get me started again on Brandon McCarthy.

 

So let’s assume the Dodgers sign Cueto, or even Yovani Gallardo or someone like that. That pitcher + Iwakuma “could” be better than Greinke and rotation bum du jour, so maybe – perhaps – possibly – the rotation isn’t any worse for the wear, possibly even better. Personally, if I were willing to give Greinke 5 years, I would also have no big issue giving him 6. Or… if I didn’t think Greinke was worth 5, let alone 6, I would have not waited and signed David Price or Jordan Zimmerman. i.e. I wouldn’t have waited. Friedman’s either very slow, or too fast. He will make no moves, or too many moves. He’s either spending like a mad man on untested Cubans and willing to swallow $80M salary for players to play against the Dodgers, or he’s Tampa Bay minded and cheap. Meantime, his fans, such as Molly Knight and unnamed others (you know who you are) crow how no one can top the Dodgers because they have so much money. Well, what good is the money if you can’t keep your second ace or add other top players who have signed elsewhere this winter?

 

When the better aces went away, suddenly we are to believe Friedman finally realized a bullpen is a good thing. Why he didn’t know this last year when daily he was calling up unknown AAAA pitchers who got spanked and went right back down to AAA, is beyond me. Maybe he watched the playoffs and noticed the teams that were still playing had good pens, and the Royals won the whole thing with a decent rotation but dominant pen. So Friedman, who thinks relief arms are interchangeable, suddenly gets the idea that two closers is the way to go. Of course we know that Aroldis Chapman turned out to (perhaps) be a maniac who chokes women and shoots off guns near them in his garage, but was the plan ever to have two closers? Would he have flipped Chapman, or maybe dealt Kenley Jansen? Both guys are free-agents after this year, so at best he’d have one season of two dominant closers, neither I assume would want to set up the other in their contract year. It’s been said Kenley, for example, was not happy hearing the brass was bringing in another closer. And why would he be? Why would Chapman want to go to LA and possibly back up Kenley? Just another sign that Friedman doesn’t really know what he wants, what he’s doing and for sure not considering that the guys in uniform are actual people and perhaps two closers wouldn’t want to play nice together. Most GMs would know this and have opted for Soria, Darren O’Day or some other set up man instead. Again, easier.

 

If that wasn’t enough, and it remains to be seen if indeed Chapman to LA is officially dead or not, there were rumors Friedman turned his attention to the Yankees’ Andrew Miller. This is literally a player Friedman could have had last winter for cash. But remember, when good relievers were available last winter, Friedman thought he was fine with the likes of Joel Peralta, Ian Thomas, Josh Ravin, Chris Hatcher, etc., etc.

 

Forget the rotation and bullpen for a moment. Both can be fixed, but perhaps won’t be. What about the lineup. I’ve heard many pundits saying the Dodgers lineup doesn’t have that bonafide big bat most teams have. Adrian Gonzalez is no doubt a very good player, but he’s probably not that scary talent that top teams covet. He’s a very good second banana, which is fine with me. I guess the plan was sexy Matt Kemp was the top dog, but we know what happened there. Or wild horse Yasiel Puig, another we know what happened guy. There are some interesting pieces around – young Corey Seager (too young to count on him now to be that guy), Joc Pederson. Then you have a fall off that includes utility men playing every day and faded stars. It’s not a bad lineup, but you can argue it’s gotten worse under Friedman and more frighteningly, seems what they want. You don’t hear the Dodgers going after Heyward, Davis, Frazier, etc. Heck, they aren’t even interested in Howie Kendrick, who apparently was more intriguing to their plans than Dee Gordon.

 

To me it’s unclear what Friedman wants and what his ultimate plan is. Again, there is plenty of time to address needs and I’m sure he will to whatever extent. In February we will have a more clear idea of what the 2016 Dodgers can be. I would say Friedman should be under the gun a bit as Bill Plaschke said in his column yesterday. Friedman Saber fans roasted Plaschke but shouldn’t fans be concerned not only about the near 30 year (!!) drought the Dodgers have had, but also another wasted era of talent? Lots of great Dodgers players have come and gone but if Kershaw should opt out of his contract in a couple years and you look back having wasted (albeit he added to the problem by struggling in Oct at times) the Kershaw years, the Greinke and Kershaw partnership, etc., that will be a very, very bad thing. So yes, Friedman should be held accountable and there is some definite truth to the win now mantra. Not to mention with money apparently in abundance, there’s little excuse for the team not snapping up free-agents as they come available.

 

Andrew Friedman may yet prove himself to be the “genius” his fan club would have you believe he is, but so far, he’s looked much less than that to me. I prefer keeping it simple, looking at needs, character, etc. and not sideways at secondary stats. Give me hardnosed players and I will be happy. Health, determination, consistency and fundamentals. To me those things mean more than being clever – or coming away from the winter meetings almost empty handed.