Don’t Panic Yet, but Maybe Soon
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.