The World Series is over; the clocks have changed and now baseball diehards get to await the Hot Stove league. It used to be my favorite time of the year but under Andrew Friedman, Farhan Zaidi and the rest, it’s less than thrilling if you are looking forward to your Dodgers making a big splash. The new normal seems to be to remain content with getting to the playoffs, not really making a push. Mark Walter confirmed this recently with his comments about ten years of getting to the playoffs being more prudent than making a big push for a go year. Sigh.
Fans of this group of executives crow that hey, even with a record amount of disabled list visits, the combined geniuses of the Dodgers front office made 2016 a pretty successful season. Of course, no thought goes into the obvious – the injuries were all inevitable since the front office invested in risky, often injured players, mostly pitchers. Whatever magic that happened in 2016, one must remember that it was indeed magic. To assume, for instance, that a team can be constructed of suspect innings in the rotation and that the pen can compensate once more, is foolish. It’s not a repeatable formula to have relievers and minor league journeymen fill in the innings left by management constructing a rotation of question marks.
We shall see, I suppose, what cards Friedman and Zaidi play. And if, more importantly, the Diamondbacks, with a new general manager and new manager, and Giants, in search of bullpen help, decide to make an effort in 2017. The division is weak and winnable. I’m sure Friedman and Zaidi, and the Dodgers ownership group, understands this. Of course, it’s possible that the two other teams who usually are in the thick of things, will make an effort in the coming season. If so, will whatever Friedman and Zaidi do this winter be enough? And what will they do? What can they do? Well, let’s consider a few things.
I would say the most obvious way to improve the rotation is by adding Zack Greinke via a big trade with Arizona, or someone similar in another deal. But, given the fact Friedman and Zaidi allowed Greinke to leave, would they even feel it necessary to go this route? After all, when Greinke left, they made no effort to add anyone of that talent level and only moved on to Scott Kazmir and Kenta Maeda once most every other option was off the table. But assuming rumors are true and Friedman and Zaidi would like Greinke back, or some other solid ace-type pitcher, that would certainly be the easiest way to add quality behind Clayton Kershaw, who has now shown besides being vulnerable in Oct play, is not super human and can end up on the disabled list. Again, repeating the magic that occurred once Kershaw hit the injured list, seems a poor strategy.
Assuming Friedman and Zaidi stick to their guns, however, and don’t believe Greinke is worth the investment, or even that another pitcher of that cost (think bottom line, we are talking about owners who are a large investment firm, after all), then what? Well, it would mean more of the same. The same being a rotation that likely looks identical to 2016’s – Kershaw, Kazmir, Maeda, and probably youngsters Julio Urias and Jose De Leon. The thought here, of course, everyone remains healthy and that Urias and De Leon make like the Braves young arms of the 80s and become top tier hurlers in no time at all. Seems like a stretch to me. One, that the kids can take on the additional innings workload so quickly and develop that fast vs. big league hitting, and two, that the walking wounded all stay healthy.
The word “depth” has been bandied around a lot by Friedman cultists. It’s to imply in its use that Friedman is a sorcerer, like Dr. Strange, and he has an ability to make the lower reaches of his 25-man roster that much more special than those of the other 29 teams in league. In other words, everything he touches turns to gold. It’s to assume that every other general manager has no concept of backups, on the major league roster or in the minors. It’s ridiculous and in reality, means not acquiring talent and relying on plans B, C and D.
Friedman devotees will point, as Mark Walter seemed to recently, that you just need to get to the playoffs and then “depth” and the dark arts take over and through luck and prayer you are as apt to win as a “better” team. Well, there have been cases where wild card teams have won, but I’d say most teams that have are fundamentally good teams and it’s not an accident they did well. I’d also say, as this year’s post season attests, that the Chicago Cubs were picked by Vegas and others to win the World Series in 2016. They had the most wins and they won, even when down 3 games to 1. Was it luck? No, it was an incredibly talented roster put together and masterfully played by Theo Epstein, who had done it before – in Boston, and a very solid manager in Joe Maddon. Luck? Perhaps a smidge, but while Friedman and Zaidi loaded up on players like Brandon McCarthy, Brent Anderson Chris Hatcher, Kike Hernandez, Kazmir, etc., Theo loaded up with Jon Lester, Ben Zobrist, Aroldis Chapman, etc. Luck didn’t have anything to do with it – understanding which players are great and collecting as many as possible, did.
It’s too early to predict what will happen in the Hot Stove this winter but I will say it would take a lot of good baseball work to improve the Dodgers more than hoping Ned Colletti and Logan White’s farm fills in the gaps. Last winter’s shopping season, which went largely ignored by Friedman and Zaidi, was so important because this winter the cupboard is bare. I believe the best free-agent pitcher available is Jeremy Hellickson, if that tells you something. I know Moneyball fans turn their noses up at anything that resembles the old way of doing things, but there’s a reason why most teams look to the winter meetings as the time to fill needs. It’s how business is done.
Say Friedman and Zaidi realize they better add reliable innings behind Kershaw, and they might. The cost will be more than dollars; it will be in the prize prospects so many baseball fans covet. Personally, I have no problem dealing young players, if it makes sense and if it fills needs for a chance to win now. After all, while the Dodgers have spent almost 3 decades doing it in a less than aggressive fashion, winning is what it’s all about. It’s why the Cubs and Indians both dealt huge chips in their farm system for a chance to play in this year’s World Series. It’s almost once in a lifetime – in fact, for the Cubs fans, it was once in several lifetimes. Do you think Theo regrets trading for Chapman? The Indians for Andrew Miller?
It would be curious to me to see Friedman and Zaidi, however, deal blue chips for pitching when said pitching was available this time last year for cash. I know, I know – the Sabermetrics lovers will say, but it costs a draft pick! Who cares? The way Friedman drafts, it’s inconsequential anyway. And what draft pick will undoubtedly become as good as an ace the team could have signed? It’s a one in a thousand shot (I didn’t use a Moneyball calculator, I just used that figure for dramatic effect, so don’t have an aneurysm trying to fathom that).
I would say, without knowing the war room plans of Friedman, Zaidi, the genius of Gabe Kapler and Josh Byrnes, etc. that more than likely the 2017 team will more or less resemble the 2016 bunch, except with more emphasis on Ned’s kids and less pixie dust. As I said, to bank on magic to be as plentiful next year as it was this, probably isn’t the best plan in the world. But, we shall see, we shall see. Fire up the Hot Stove, it will be a trade heavy winter as the shopping isn’t there. Let’s see what Friedman and his merry men can conjure up.