Three Decades and Counting
Happy Opening Day, everyone. Today the Dodgers have as good a chance as anyone of winning their division, the pennant and even the World Series. Enjoy it while you can; tomorrow’s another day.
The Dodgers open the season against the lowly, also Moneyball-inspired, San Diego Padres. Two dogs playing at Petco; apropos. It’s nice the Dodgers and ace Clayton Kershaw face off against the Friars, one of two teams in the West they should finish ahead of. Should.
Fans likely will be impressed by Kershaw’s mastery tonight and if you bet on sports, betting on a Kershaw start would seem money in the bank. Expect the Twitter-verse abuzz with boasts and trash talking in a classy manner becoming of Dodgers fans in recent years. Then the rest of the week there will be excuses, as there always are, for the losses, errors, left runners, injuries, and perhaps even that ownership doesn’t care enough to let 70% of fans in the Los Angeles marketplace see the team’s games on TV.
The other day I jokingly (sort of) remarked how in some ways the Guggenheim ownership group is as bad as the Frank McCourt reign of terror. Immediately simpletons attacked me for suggesting the smiling Magic Johnson fronted group could be anywhere near as bad as the tragedy of the Botox’d regime of old. Umm, that’s the problem – in the Dodgers fan world and America as a whole – stupidity is abundant.
I would say as a fan there is very little difference between a Boston parking lot heir ripping off the fans for his own personal gain and what’s happening now. Each side has left unspeakable scars in Dodgers fans consciousness. Whether it’s McCourt going cheap on stadium security and allowing fans to get hurt or Guggenheim pocketing money while fans are left to imagine what Vin Scully’s years might look and sound like, same bullshit, different day. Both owners also employed Moneyball nerds to dismantle rosters of professional baseball players and insert players no one knows who probably were driving a Sparkletts route a few months previous (no offense to Sparkletts drivers – I have more respect for you than I do sleazy executives and rich investment bankers).
The Dodgers new owners are repeating the sins of the previous – as in America, apparently no one learns from history. When Paul DePodesta destroyed a solid Dan Evans built roster for his own ego – only to appear clever – it was criminal. Guggenheim came in and after quickly giving up on a new direction under Stan Kasten, went the same route McCourt did and hired cost-cutting Sabermetrics guys. The rosters, then and now are sprinkled with unknowns, while in this case, still maintaining a NL high payroll. It’s quite an achievement to have little talent on the field yet spend well over $200M. The 2016 Dodgers have a payroll about $100M higher than the World Champion Kansas City Royals, with a fraction of its talent or heart. One should award the two-headed snake called Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi executives of the year for this feat alone.
The Dodgers spring training was a series of injuries that left the front office dropping the D word (“depth”) every chance they could. They made it sound like it was good players were getting hurt as it tested them even sooner than they imagined. Fans meantime were left scratching their heads and surprised all this great talent Friedman/Zaidi added was hurt – and so fast. Well, when you sign mediocre, often-injured players they tend to be hurt. I’ve said it for years and each season some new bully on Twitter calls me out for being “negative.” Truth = negativity, if it’s not their truth.
It still amazes me that Dodgers fans – way too many of them – side with a front office and ownership team that obviously doesn’t give a rat’s ass about them. For Guggenheim, they gladly doubled the estimated $1B sale price many financial experts assumed they’d have to pay McCourt for the team since they knew full well the TV deal with Time Warner Cable would net $8B, or $6B in immediate profit after paying off McCourt. Add to that baseball’s best gate, merchandise, expensive beer and hot dogs, parking, etc. and it’s quite a nifty payday. Yet, like lemmings, the Dodgers fans cheer and plan their day at the park, angry at anyone who dares question why a team with a near 30 year championship drought would opt for marginal minor league utility players in starting roles. As Jerry Seinfeld famously said, “Fans root for laundry.”
These are not the Dodgers I grew up with, rooted for, and this includes even more recent Dodgers teams. I loved Dan Evans’ underfunded, huge hearted teams, and to a slightly lesser degree the teams Ned Colletti put together that featured smart big league players and were always a player short (since the owner needed daily hair styling at his mansion). But as I witnessed Paul DePodesta destroy a solid roster, I’ve seen it happen again. While I feel sorry for Kershaw and Adrian Gonzalez, I feel sadder for the idiots who dedicate more than just their summers – perhaps every day of their lives – to a team that stopped being the Dodgers of old long ago.
Instead of smart, motivated players the fans are supposed to pay for (live, you can’t watch on TV) jokesters and career minor leaguers, or castoffs from other organizations. The saving grace is kids – the farm Logan White and Colletti cultivated, mostly. I have always been a big fan of the prospects, and still am, so I’m very excited to see how Corey Seager’s career goes, as well as some of the others, but I’m sorry, in a market as large as Los Angeles, with that aforementioned near three decade drought, to construct a team around kids is sad. With the always talked about wherewithal of Guggenheim, there has to be a bigger sense of urgency than to wait to see if the kid pitchers in the system pan out. As I’ve told people for years, prospects are currency – not each makes it, and as often as they bolster your big league roster directly, equally they are there to be used in case of need to acquire great big league players in trade. Anyone who covets prospects to the extent they assume each will be an impact player on the roster is fooling themselves. Their value means more in smaller markets anyway, where money isn’t plentiful. The fact that Plan A is the kids is telling. Guggenheim wants to extract far more than $6B out of fans in Los Angeles.
This isn’t meant to attack the kids – the Dodgers have good ones and they are probably the lone reason for excitement in 2016 and beyond. As good teams got better over the winter, the Dodgers famously did nothing. Then the spring injuries, with 10 players starting the season on the DL. Friedman/Zaidi apologists will have you believe this is a freak occurrence, but they’re not. Like last season, I called this in the winter. If you build your team like DePodesta or Friedman/Zaidi have, this is what you get. The only time this philosophy should be your go-to is if you are in that tiny market that financially has no other way to compete. Friedman has brought his Tampa mindset to Los Angeles, and don’t think that’s by coincidence. Just as McCourt brought in Oakland celebrity DePodesta in to cut costs, Guggenheim has with Friedman, and then Zaidi.
The fans will need to decide what they want to do. Will they continue to go along with this odd method of spending a lot of money on random pieces while cutting obvious good ones, or will they boycott? It took some time for fans to stand up to McCourt and maybe the same thing needs to happen again. Could the Dodgers win the West? I would say no, but I suppose it’s possible. But does it matter? The Dodgers won three Western titles in as many years and still can’t win in October. With a thin rotation and marginal pen, I can’t imagine October success even if the opportunity arose. The Moneyball faithful would say, well, this is by design – playoff baseball is too hard to predict from a data perspective. I would counter with that’s why good teams build teams like Dan Evans did, and even Colletti did – getting as many good or at least proven players as they can.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence you look at the top contending teams and see known names, talented players, and a lot of them, on the rosters. Then you look at the Dodgers roster and outside of a few names, you are left with unknowns, question marks, injury risks and the aged. The only way to celebrate this brand of Dodgers baseball is if you’re either delusional or brainwashed. Anyone who would take the Dodgers current roster over the Cubs, Cardinals, Royals, etc. is stupid or so in love with the cleverness of Moneyball they’re ripe for Scientology membership.
We will see how 2016 shapes up. I sense it will be a very painful season for Dodgers fans who honestly feel we deserve better. For the apologists, the possibly mentally ill, it will be a celebration of numbers and math that has no basis of fact. While the top teams move into October and play for a World Series ring, the Dodgers fans will be snapping at one another about what changes need to be made and how to get more very average minor league players from other organizations into the Dodgers lineup and rotation. Three decades and counting.