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A Pox that Has Spread Across the Southland

December 9, 2016 21 comments

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I don’t want to get ahead of myself and have intentionally not written any articles since the playoff ouster, but like Donald Trump – the best predictor of what will happen is by what has happened. So far, contenders made deals at the Winter Meetings to shore up needs, trading away top prospects, opening up the checkbook and ensuring their fans 2017 will be a fun season with a retooled team to enjoy. The Dodgers? As is the custom in the Andrew Friedman era, unconventional non-moves, overpaying for inferior quality and PR-machine generated rumors to get fans excited enough to attend games next season – at increased ticket and parking prices. TV? No such luck, you can hear about how great the all Dodgers network is, but likely never see it for yourself. This is the way the latest negligent owner – the wealthy investment capital firm called the Guggenheim Group, runs business. Fans are just customers to pay higher rates and buy concessions and merchandise – the checks are already in the bank. Sadly, a new generation of fans are more loyal to trillionaire finance companies and overpaid executives than to themselves. Being guardians of these people’s wallets vs. their own self-interests as baseball fans. “Greinke was greedy!” “Kenley doesn’t deserve that!” “We got a bargain with Kazmir!” It’s a mental illness tide that has swept across Los Angeles like herpes, and where once Angelenos wore Fernando jerseys and rooted Garvey, Cey, Orel, Sax, Yeager, Gibson, etc., they now put their loyalties out to Friedman, his pet troll Farhan Zaidi, gym rat Gabe Kapler, Josh Byrnes, and their ilk. I am embarrassed by what the Dodgers have become, but more, what the fans have become.

Turned to bickering, if you point this out, the Twitter trolls will attack. How dare you question the genius of giving $16M to Brent Anderson? You’re too naive to see why Brandon McCarthy was a far smarter signing than keeping Greinke. If you had half a brain, you’d know trading away Dee Gordon for closer of the future Chris Hatcher was a master stroke. Oh, you don’t see the value in signing and then paying Cubans to leave? You idiot! Kiké Hernández, Austin Barnes, Josh Ravin, Luis Avilan – oh, you’re too ignorant to see greatness! All hail the small market executives who make us all better by allowing us to witness their brilliance! It’s a pox that has spread across the Southland and is fueled by the Internet bullying compulsion.

I am a grounded person living in a real world. I have the common sense to not vote for reality show billionaires for President of the United States or believe a second round of Moneyball in the country’s 2nd largest market will succeed after the 1st failed miserably. I have waited and watched and believe me, all the way up until Paul DePodesta blew up a highly competitive, fun Dodgers roster in 2004, I NEVER bashed the Dodgers front office. I understood that occasionally a deal didn’t work out but by and large knew the gatekeepers of my team had our best interests and knew what they were doing. Again, common sense told me what DePodesta did to the Dodgers roster was not in anyone’s best interest but his own. The Moneyball mentality, as shown by DePodesta and now this gang of rats, is about their own self-interest. To be smarter, look more clever, cute, as unconventional as possible to stick their middle fingers up at the fans and traditional baseball principles to be superior. What worked in part in Oakland out of necessity, is not made for the richest team in the sport. Small minded, small market narcissists should not be allowed the keys to the Dodgers kingdom. Like DePodesta, ultimately this will be figured out and the current crop shown the door. But in the meantime, fans, real fans who grew up loving the Dodgers, listening to stories their parents and uncles and aunts and cousins – and Vin Scully! – told them, are left to twist in the wind, paying higher prices, cheering on – what? A collection of bodies, intermingled with a few actual stars, when so much more could be delivered – if only ego maniacs were not calling the shots.

The fan boys and Sabermetrics sickos applaud every bad move and non-move. It empowers them, as they grew up playing too much fantasy baseball and paying too much attention to bloggers’ love of obscure statistics. They never admit that after tens of millions are squandered on career injury cases, the elderly, the never were’s – and said players are paid off to leave – that they were wrong. When Friedman loads his rotation with McCarthy, Anderson and Kazmir, and looks for a team foolish (desperate) enough to take on their deals, or has to juggle more roster moves than anyone in the history of the game to compensate for his short-sightedness, the cultists pretend it’s not happening and puff out their chest for the latest $48M deal given to an old pitcher with a history of injuries – someone, like the other, was out of baseball and trying to catch on with independent league teams. If Friedman and Zaidi signed the guy, they reason, it must be a masterful move. Until it’s not, and you’ll never hear from them that day.

All I know is what I know. I look at what has happened and what is happening. I use that reality to gauge the future. I see the mistakes from the past repeating themselves. Wait for 2018. 2018! 2018! Ok – in 2018 magic potion will sprinkle from the skies over Chavez Ravine and every prospect in the system will be a superstar. Payroll will be low, homegrown talent will rule Blue Heaven on Earth. Never will a prospect bust, or just be a bench player. In this utopia, every player under the age of 22 will be a superstar. Never mind Clayton Kershaw will have an opt out; never mind generally most prospects do not become superstars; never mind the clear majority of the prospects were handed to Friedman from Ned Colletti and Logan White. 2018 is the year. The year. So why should fans spend hard earned money in 2017? Why not wait?

I see the reality of good teams getting the pieces they need to remain good, or get better. I see deals happening where the Giants addressed their main deficiency – a closer. I see the Red Sox being bold enough to deal a Cuban (egad!) to acquire an ace starter. I see the Cubs lose their closer and quickly acquire another – plus a setup man, so they can return for another World Series title. I see the White Sox inexplicably give up when they had most of the pieces, but reload with other teams blue chips. I see the Yankees, who came close after a bold youth movement mid-season, reacquire their closer. I watch the Cardinals add a great defender, offensive player and leader in center field. On it goes. I see the Dodgers talk about players they are “in” on – or more accurately, I see baseball writers say they probably are, but of course time and time and time again they are beat to the punch. The fan boys remain hopeful. They scoff, “Anyone can shop at the Winter Meetings. Anyone can make deals in late July.” They are convinced every absurd move, every lack of action, is right. It must be. If the actions of Friedman and Zaidi are not, everything the fan boys believe in is false. The prospect of this is dizzying, so they act superior, bully online and disappear when “ringers” fail and are paid off to leave town.

As I said at the top, it’s “still early” – though I would also argue not shopping, not dealing, when others are is a big disadvantage, and an unnecessary one. Since cult members are obsessed with owners saving money, shouldn’t the Dodgers save on airfare and hotel by leaving their genius brain trust at home and not attend the Winter Meetings at all? Imagine how all powerful and magnificent they would look if they snubbed their nose at baseball convention and sat it out altogether? Wouldn’t they be awesome?

It is possible the Dodgers make moves – and they will, some – and it’s also possible that in the course of doing this they surprise somehow and do something unprecedented in the Friedman regime and do something right. But that wouldn’t erase all the mistakes – the dumb trades, the unnecessary holes they create, the unrealistic, small time thinking that you must keep EVERY prospect and can never deal some for what you need at the big-league level. It will not change the fact that 2016 was a rather lucky year where the entire division took a nap and repeating that luck statistically (they will like that term) isn’t likely.

When the Guggenheim conglomerate hired Moneyballers to run the Dodgers, it was in large part to reduce payroll and hand over control to a “new” philosophy they’d heard about in Brad Pitt movies. The investment firm honchos do not know or care about baseball – the Dodgers are another piece of the portfolio. You pay $2B to a Botox’d dandy and immediately get an $8B TV deal – plus the gate, MLB revenues, merchandise, etc., etc. If a bunch of kangaroo and monkeys could run out onto the field at 7:10 to play the games, that would be fine with the owners. As long as 40K+ paying customers showed up to watch.

I hope for a few things. I hope first that fans fight back and boycott the games, leaving Guggenheim to look at balance sheets and scratch their heads. The plan worked with Frank McCourt – stop attending games, hitting ownership in the wallet, works. I hope the Moneyballers are shown the door so the few great pieces like Kershaw and Corey Seager, Joc Pederson and Adrian Gonzalez, aren’t left out to dry. I hope Los Angeles baseball fans stop rooting for rich executives and start believing as fans of the game and team, that they deserve better. I hope fans who bicker and snipe at one another realize we’re all supposed to be in it together and quarreling is what we are supposed to do with Giants fans, Padres fans, Diamondbacks fans and Rockies fans – all in a respectful, decent way that doesn’t turn us into ugly animals like Twitter trolls and an orange president-elect. I hope for these things, and mostly for the young, naive or continually let down to wise up and see the truth. As the X-Files TV show famously stated, “The truth is out there.” It really is, you just must open your eyes and see it.

GASP!!! Daring to Question the Genius of Andrew Friedman

December 14, 2014 1 comment

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The smoke has cleared. Its business as usual in MLB now and football is getting most of the headlines. Unless you’re PED cheat Melky Cabrera, then you’re still being rewarded for augmenting mediocre baseball skills into another plump payday.

The Dodgers whirlwind of moves at the winter meetings is done and fans wonder what happened and what will happen next. I made a mistake by posting about some of this on twitter because morons rule social media and immediately attack anyone’s opinion not their own. I had the audacity to question the moves Andrew Friedman and his geniuses made, as who can really say all the moves actually made the team better. I have Dodgers fans friends who are in agreement, and have even gotten on me for being so open-minded to what the data dorks in the Dodgers front office did. The reason I defend the principle of what was done is because it was basically what I had suggested. Where I offer criticism is in how it was carried out. Which players were acquired in the barrage of moves. Sometimes, it’s quite possible deals are made for deals sake. They don’t all work out, even if you have “big brains” making the moves. Looking at all the deals and what the Dodgers look like now, I think it’s quite reasonable to ask questions.

My opinion has always been the Dodgers were a weak team, not tough, not fundamentally sound, not good defensively and needed more balance. Just like a fantasy team, you want a spread of your talent. The Dodgers always relied too much on their “big bats” and for a pitching-oriented team, neglected defense. For well over a year I have cried to anyone who might listen how the mix was bad, chemistry was awful, coaches and the front office enabled the lazy, bad behavior and adjusting for more balance and defense would improve the product on the field. No, I was told, you’re a hater, you don’t know anything. The pundits everyone love on twitter and in sports columns know more. Sabermetrics proves how good bad players are. Well, I like some data, but I understand baseball is played by actual people and not calculators. Certain things like on-base percentage are important, but a lot of the other stats exist mostly to appease those who masturbate alone in their parents’ basements. The internet is all about feeling smarter than everyone else, and bullying those who don’t agree with you. I can dish it out, so I don’t care, but it doesn’t make for quality conversation (a lost art) when nerds and sycophants bully and attack your opinion – in your own little corner of the internet.

I look at the moves and completely understand WHY they were made. I’d argue with even my friends that the idea was good, the execution flawed. I get that Saberidiots don’t like speed and think its value is meaningless. They must hate when Kevin Kennedy talks endlessly how Dee Gordon is a very good player, how his speed in 2014 made a difference. Not only as a top of the order threat and MLB leading base stealer, but what it means to the game within the game, and how his legs affected defenses, pitchers and the #2 hitters’ at bats hitting behind him. His haters will say his on-base percentage was poor, his defense not good, his second half bad, etc. I would say if you imagined going into 2014 that Dee would hit around .300 most of the season, lead the game in steals and play a solid second base, you’d be ecstatic. But again, speed doesn’t matter. Heck, Theo Epstein hated it too – well, until he picked up Dave Roberts for nothing from Moneyball-minded pal Paul DePodesta and Roberts stole arguably the most important base in baseball history, sending the flat on their backs Boston Red Sox to an unbelievable World Series title.

Going into the off-season, I had no issue with the new high IQ front office dealing anyone. I hoped they wouldn’t move our most intriguing prospects, but anyone else, including Dee, would be ok with me. My reasoning was – and management must have thought the same – no one should be spared since the mix was bad and the team proved not to be very good as they couldn’t win with these players. Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Matt Kemp, Hanley Ramirez, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, the list goes on. Big names, big paydays, but all together, they proved two years in a row they couldn’t win when it mattered. I think it had to do with egos, fundamentals and heart. Whether we thought as much for the same reasons or not, Friedman and team agreed that the group the fans fell in love with in the post-McCourt era, wasn’t a very good team and something had to be done. So, they went to work.

Many of the deals seemed to be providing depth, something missing that hurt the Dodgers the past few years. While big names were all over the diamond, the backup situation, due to the trade with Boston, a lull in player development, injuries, etc., left the call up potential a huge issue. The Dodgers, unlike years past, could not call down to AAA and bring up that about-ready stud arm to step into the rotation. And during or because of this, clearly Stan Kasten lost confidence in the farm all around, as even while bleeding out over the past two years, help rarely came up from the minors. The pen was the pen was the pen. Kid arms, even those with a track record of success, like Paco Rodriquez, were not to be trusted. When the Dodgers expensive outfield had turmoil and defensive woes, uber prospect Joc Pederson was left to toil in second-rate towns. Friedman and team started gathering guys that could provide additional depth, while they planned bigger things for the past week in San Diego.

I understand that what has been accumulated is not the opening day lineup, and that likely different bodies will be added, and some others moved out, you can start to see the forest for the trees and figure out who most likely will be in place come April. Again, I don’t question the motivation for making moves, or even the rationale for why specific deals were made, but I do think they went a bit crazy with so many moves, so fast, possibly to impress and make a statement to the industry. Much like Paul DePodesta making over the Dan Evans Dodgers in his image, young executives tend to like to piss on every fire hydrant they can to show a) who’s in charge, and b) how much smarter they are than the previous regime. Time will tell how smart Friedman and his math geeks are, but we know what happened when DePodesta (no Jonah Hill), slash and burned a perfectly good Evans roster. Antonio Perez anyone? Jason Grabowski?

A question I have with what happened is not only did the Dodgers take on arguably the wrong players, but they’re paying them and the previous players too. Paying Dee Gordon and Dan Haren to pay Howie Kendrick, who’s also a walk free-agent. Paying San Diego $32M to have Matt Kemp possibly haunt the blue, while only getting PED cheat catcher Yasmani Grandal and two prospects?

Kemp is the big one people want to talk about. Kemp is a beloved, sexy hunk that women and men all want to bed. The fact is, whether he used performance enhancing drugs or not at some point (the league is dirty, sorry, you have to at least ask if top players touched the stuff), he hasn’t been as great an all-around player has his reputation suggests. In 2011, he was very, very, very good. Before that he was young, inexperienced, made many mistakes, upset coaches, and after, a lot of the same, including trade demands and tantrums when things didn’t go his way.

I am not a Matt Kemp fan, and mostly never was, but that said, I wouldn’t want to deal him within the division, unless the haul was a good one. Given the few options on the market for big bats, Kemp’s once cumbersome contract suddenly looked very palatable. The rumors started to increase on where Kemp might go, and San Diego began taking on legs. As I said, I wouldn’t want Kemp in San Diego, not so much because I believe he’s a monster, but because Dodger fans’ Murphy’s Law states it is a foregone conclusion that Kemp will be highly motivated to punish the Dodgers to show them they made a mistake. Given 18 games vs. the division rival, that’s 18 times out of 162 game schedule Kemp could cause damage. That said, it’s also as likely Kemp would disappear in San Diego, the big park, the injuries coming up again, continued lack of motivation, etc. It was a risk though, and unless the return was something like Kemp (no cash) for Andrew Cashner or Ian Kennedy + Grandal, I wouldn’t even consider it.

I have heard the nerds and cyber bullies stroking themselves lately to Grandal and his pitch framing (13th overall, which doesn’t sound so great if this is the main criteria you’re banking on). This is a term that’s come up in the new math but was never mentioned until Friedman and pals sprinkled it out there. I know enough about Grandal in that he’s a PED cheat. As we know, once a cheat, always a cheat. It’s quite possible he’ll go clean, but a lot of players cheat due to the financial implications and continue to do the same and hope they don’t get caught. Mostly, I have not been a big Grandal guy because he’s not a very good catcher, for an offensive-minded one (.225 avg last year, .327 OBP). I like the idea of power spread around the diamond, not locked up in a few players, but I much preferred the Miguel Montero mentions than Grandal. To me, if a catcher is serviceable and can pop 15-20 homers, that alleviates the need for pouting, flirting millionaire outfielders who are more style than substance. I’m not sure Grandal is good, but he’s got to be better than what we got last year out of the catcher position. I can accept Grandal, assuming he stops juicing and doesn’t fail drug tests, but the other part of the deal – two prospects and a massive check? I’m not thrilled. And again, I am not a Kemp fan and in part am relieved he’s gone. He wanted to go, he’s gone. It frees up a spot, possibly, for Pederson, and improves the team by adding a young player who’s healthier, hungrier, a better defender and has offensive upside himself. So I guess any Kemp deal always had the make-believe caveat that you “got Joc in the deal too”. But still – you couldn’t get more for Matt Kemp? What does that say about Friedman and company? And Kemp? Either Kemp just isn’t viewed as valuable as LA’s fawning fans would have you believe, or he was so toxic Friedman and company had to get him out of here. Probably some combination of the two. Still, not a great haul, so for Moneyball-lovers who say I don’t know what I’m talking about, you’re wrong. I do. I just would have gotten something better, especially if I was going to eat that much money. Bad trade, but not for the reason Kemp’s supporters would have you believe.

I don’t want to devote that much time to the other deals, but in summary – an old Jimmy Rollins for a team that’s not a World Series contender seems odd. Again, he’s old. He’s a much better defender, even at 36, than Hanley, but why did Kasten bring in two Cubans as Hanley insurance if neither could field the position once Hanley was gone? And why do you want a 36 year old Rollins when you’re sort of in rebuild mode? No interest in trying for Elvis Andrus?

Now you have a middle of the infield, hell, three-quarters of the infield, that is clearly short-term and just Corey Seager on the horizon to replace any of the three. Then what? Re-up with Howie Kendrick? Maybe. Kendrick is a good player for sure, but he wasn’t an All-Star last year, costs 4 times more than Dee and costs basically $20M plus this season – his $9.5M, Dee’s $2.5M and Haren’s $10M. And as I said, he’s a walk free-agent with no guarantee he’d stick around. Hard to say the middle infield situation was handled properly, or saved any money. I keep hearing how Friedman and team are saving money for the Dodgers, but I keep seeing them write checks to have guys play elsewhere, and take on big salary themselves. Brandon McCarthy? I hear how great he is because he “finally got it” in New York in the second half, but 4 years for a guy no one would have given 4 years to? With past injuries? $48M to man the bottom of the rotation where Haren was doing it for $10M? Am I missing something, is McCarthy so valuable? I never thought so. Serviceable, but not sure why he was a must-have item for 4 years (post-4 ERA lifetime with a losing record… yes, I know things like pitching wins are overrated to the smarties out there). Again, I was told how dead wrong I am here – the Moneyball fans know better.

In the end, I know more will be done – it better be. Right now the team lost two massive egos in Kemp and Hanley but still have man-child Puig, who finally needs to stop dancing and get serious about baseball. He was picked the cover boy of a video game but still sucked in the All-Star homerun contest and in Oct, and when it mattered most, was a bust in Oct and benched. Perhaps without fellow party boys Kemp and Hanley, Puig will not have the support group he did previously and maybe Donnie, not a good manager by any stretch, can wrestle his team back from the inmates. Puig needs to become the player he’s supposed to be and provide protection for A-Gone. He needs to stop acting silly, stop having mental gaffs and perform. 16 homers is not acceptable for a yoked out power hitter of such “potential.”

As of today the rotation still has some question marks, especially since Greinke can opt out and Kershaw can’t win in Oct. The pen has a great closer, but I’d argue question marks everyplace else. A good baseball team needs a very good bullpen. The Dodgers pen has been spotty for several years and that’s a huge reason they don’t win. Friedman and pals need to continue to fortify it – as they have, admittedly – but figure 9th inning on back. Right now, the games haven’t been shortened in such a way the Dodgers can reasonably expect anything different than 2013 and 2014’s results. But, there’s still time.

All of this is a work in progress. I get changes needed to be made – I have been calling for them for quite a while. I just am not sure the personnel acquired is the right group, and more, if the Dodgers actually won any deal Friedman has made. I’d argue his best deal was Dee for Kendrick, as it turned out, even though I could argue why a 26 year old lead-off presence under team control trumps an older, more expensive free-agent to be. The second deal that might be ok is the Tampa one for Joel Peralta and serviceable lefty Adam Liberatore for hard throwing former PED cheat Jose Dominguez and Greg Harris. Liberatore may be the steal of the deal, as it turns out. The other moves – flashy, headline grabbing, but I’m not sold they were quality hauls for the pieces moved away.

It’s not even Christmas, things will change. It’s possible addition by subtraction will turn the Dodgers around. Still, I see logjams and an unspectacular manager and coaching staff. I still see a big payroll and question marks now and next winter. As a Dodgers fan, I don’t know what to make of what’s happening. It smells a lot like the shitburger DePodesta served up. I don’t want to buy a Marlins hat, a Cubs hat, or even a Mariners or White Sox hat, but the old ticker can’t take much more of this. And it sure as hell is fed up with elder children hiding out in basements, typing venom on their iPads about how stupid fans are for not seeing the genius in every bowel movement Friedman and Farhan Zaidi take. Agree to disagree, but I have a right to my opinion.