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What Black Magic Can the Dodgers’ Hot Stove Conjure Up?

November 7, 2016 Comments off

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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.

Let’s Pull the Plug on the Andrew Friedman Experiment

June 1, 2016 12 comments

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The believers are still out there but at this point they are truly delusional or just grossly ill-informed. Unless Clayton Kershaw wins 25-30 games with his current stellar ERA, it would be hard to imagine the Dodgers, as constructed by dueling dingbats Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi, making the post-season. The Giants are a better team, as are many other teams around the National League.

The injuries keep mounting and Friedman’s so-called “depth” is all but depleted. In fairness, it never really existed anyway – merely a battle cry for Sabermetrics fans and the truly hopeful. As mediocre pitchers hit the disabled list, their supposed replacements either fail or never make the bell. A few weeks ago amateur pundits (Moneyball fans) were boasting of great arms like Mike Bolsinger, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Julio Urias, Brandon McCarthy, etc. ready to step in and lead the little Dodgers ($236M little) to the promised land. Well, Bolsinger is what he is, Ryu’s shoulder looks like a career ender, Urias is 19 and has 60 innings left in his arm before being shut down (we hope he gets shut down, or else he’ll be lost for 1.5-2 years), and McCarthy is off wherever JD Drew, Andruw Jones, Darren Dreifort and other non-performers disappeared to when getting fat paydays before pulling up with an ache or pain.

The Dodgers are what I and many of you always assumed they would be – mediocre. If you are being honest (a hard feat for many who bleed blue and want so badly to think front office geeks know more than people with actual baseball experience – and common sense), the Dodgers have Kershaw, Kenta Maeda who currently has a hand concern, as well as shoulder and elbow concerns, and nothing else of note in the rotation. The pen is worse, believe it or not, with Kenley Jansen and a cast of gasoline cans. No matter what spreadsheet you look at, no one has ever won anything with 2.5 pitchers out of 11-12. Depth would really need to step up to help Friedman/Zaidi’s Dodgers.

I tune in to 570 radio, the Dodgers flagship station in Los Angeles, and listen to the sports guy buffoons making excuses all the time. Today they were suggesting Urias isn’t really being forced into action out of desperation, but merely a test to see if he can respond to major league beat downs. A moment later they asked resident apologist David Vassegh who else could come up from the minors to help – since Urias is being asked to face the Cubs tomorrow in place of Maeda, rather than his scheduled start (replacing herky jerky and disabled Alex Wood on Saturday vs. the lowly Braves). There was a pause, or two, and some muttering, before saying pretty much no one was around who could help the big team.

I want to remind you all that injuries are part of baseball and they can happen to many teams at any time. That said, this was all predicted well in advance by me, and some of you. If you spend winters acquiring garbage and using tea leaves to figure out your rotation and bullpen, this is exactly what will happen. Many of you defended Friedman and Zaidi, saying those in disagreement didn’t know anything, were out of touch and didn’t understand the genius of the depth being acquired. Way too much confidence was put into the returns of either average at best arms or seriously damaged ones. To assume the likes of Brandon Beachy, McCarthy, Bolsinger and Ryu were going to suddenly become large market saviors was absurd. I love Ryu, but as I said last year, all winter and this March through now, to think he was going to come right back and perform, or even make the bell, was unrealistic. Shoulders, sadly for him, are career enders. If he makes some starts this year, consider Friedman lucky. More than likely he will not and certainly not be very consistent. That is my guess, I wish I were wrong.

The Dodgers, if you want to call them that, are a team in turmoil. It will be interesting to see how loyal the Guggenheim collective is with Paul DePodesta II. Friedman has seemed overmatched from the get-go. He has made a plethora of moves, bet on longshots and only occasionally does anything pan out. I’d say Trayce Thompson, so far, has worked out, but not much else. Big bets such as Chris Hatcher and the rest of his bullpen finds would be in the minors for most good teams. To think this is the end result of a $236M payroll makes it all quite criminal.

Say what you want about Ned Colletti, the guy turned around an abysmal (very similar to this team, as a matter of fact) DePodesta roster in one year and made it a fairly representative contending team. Ned made a few mistakes, but I’d argue they were nowhere near the number or level of Friedman/Zaidi. In the end, you could watch the teams Ned put together without having a puke bucket at hand. They felt like Dodgers teams – or at least as much as they could given the owner was fleecing the brand and the fans for every cent he could.

Friedman/Zaidi are betting on 2018, which to me is merely a way to ask for pardon for several more years of incompetence. If you project down the line, you can imagine Corey Seager, Joc Pederson and Urias in the mix, and if lucky, a couple of the kid pitchers we always hear about. But to assume all, or most, of the kid pitchers will deliver, or even stay healthy, is a bit far-fetched. What Sabermetrics lovers forget is that every prospect doesn’t make it and those who do often become average or below starters or relievers. They become backups and depth. To think Friedman’s bet that his Cubans and holdovers from Ned and Logan White will all be stars and the team can have a low payroll (apparently paramount to Guggenheim’s end plan) and be composed of young kids is not only false but should be unacceptable.

Teams comprised of kids should be left for cities where financially that is the only option. A contending team, and of course a large market team, should have a mix of stars, veterans and kids. If you look at the rosters of teams most likely to be around in Oct, the Dodgers do not stack up. If you look toward Friedman’s go-year of 2018, anything resembling a star likely will be gone from LA, and this might include Kershaw. So a plan to wait two more years and hope all the kids are ready to perform is a bad plan for sure.

The only way out of this hinges on what Guggenheim baseball folks think of Friedman’s handiwork. If they like the idea of trimming down payroll and collecting TV money for games no one can see, as well as gate, merchandise, etc., then perhaps Dodgers fans will be subjected to this product for a generation. If Guggenheim, perhaps, sees the brand tarnishing, the gate slowing, and/or need a scapegoat (as Frank McCourt did when he hired, then fired, Depodesta), maybe Friedman and Zaidi are shit canned as they should be. Let’s hope Mark Walter, who seemed to steer Dave Roberts into the manager’s seat over Friedman insider Gabe Kapler, is getting as fed up as most of us are.

It would take Friedman/Zaidi to be fired to turn this around, not that it would be easy for anyone. It would be a ground-up rebuild, likely jettisoning the roster filler acquired by the geeky duo. The new architect (let’s assume they are competent and bright like Dan Evans or Ned or some other experienced baseball man or woman) could cut ties with those Friedman is clearly too sentimental about. AAAA players he favors, bullpen torches and the walking wounded and/or incompetent can be sent away. Some of the veterans or stars could be flipped to bring in younger players perhaps, not necessarily blue chips but major league qualified younger players. The Yasiel Puig experiment could mercifully end (deal him to Texas for Jurickson Profar – the Rangers would likely be intrigued, Profar is blocked at short and second anyway). I would feel more confident because we would still have the prospects Ned and Logan White acquired and a smarter person shopping this off-season. But what about 2016? Sorry, this year is a pipe dream most any way you look at it. Kershaw will have to carry the team on his back in a 1988 Orel Hershiser manner, but even Orel had Tim Belcher, Tim Leary and a bullpen.

My hope is that fans continue to speak up and stop buying expensive tickets to games that ultimately don’t matter anyway. If the owners don’t want to televise the games, stay home and find something else to do. I won’t cave and give Guggenheim money until they show a concern for the fans and the historical brand and replace the morons who have created a roster so convoluted only a snarky geek could like it. Andrew Friedman is overmatched or just a stubborn idiot. His skeevy looking sidekick Farhan Zaidi is a poor man’s Peter Lorre . The two have taken the fun out of Dodgers baseball and when I tune in to 570 or see fans chatting blue online, I can’t believe the nonsense going on. The team was poorly created and not prepared. If the goal was to field an inferior product, they’re doing a wonderful job. When mediocre or poor players don’t do well, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. When often injured (and barely passable) players don’t find an elixir for all that ails them and come charging to the rescue, it’s not “bad luck.” Under Friedman and Zaidi, the incompetence has reached new levels – which is saying a lot considering this team was owned by McCourt at one time and designed by DePodesta.

If you like what is happening, or are just there for the 35 Kershaw starts, good for you. I wish you all the happiness. The truth can be painful. As a lifetime Dodgers fan, I call it as I see it. The fans have been fucked over for three decades in one way or another and 2018 will not be any different unless the front office is swept clean. Save your money, read a book, see a summer blockbuster, but don’t count on Friedman and Zaidi’s Dodgers for summer enjoyment unless you like torturing yourself.