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The Slow Boat is Painted Dodger Blue

January 27, 2017 2 comments

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I hope everyone is doing well and surviving the election craziness with the post-election craziness. I decided, to lighten the mood, I would put together a few thoughts on the Dodgers recent moves and non-moves, for anyone who cares. If you disagree, hate me or are merely stupefied, feel free to move on to another blog. My feelings won’t be hurt. With that said, on with the show.

So Fangraphs came out with their usual prediction of Dodgers superiority. Gee, I wonder why geeks obsessed with Saber data would keep picking a team with a brain- (uggh) trust full of geeks obsessed with Saber data. Let me think about that for a moment. Ok, forget it.

The source is as suspect as you would think. If you agree with the obsession with data vs. reality, that’s all well and good. You are entitled to your opinion, and I mine. As hosts of one of the MLB Network Radio shows said the other day, Fangraphs has their opinions and they believe the Dodgers are the best team in baseball but unfortunately in reality games are not played on spreadsheets and real injuries and likely DL stints do matter. They said the Cubs don’t have these concerns, the Dodgers do. I’d also add, no matter what data you are looking at, you are either high or dumb to assume the Dodgers current pitching staff is championship quality.

I had a little back and forth with some folks recently who disagree and hold Fangraphs up as a Scientologist holds up L. Ron Hubbard’s work, and as you can imagine, that went nowhere. They insisted that “every analyst agrees” that the Dodgers are better than the Cubs and the favorite to win it all. I believe this was the same case made last year, but my main point of contention is that I listen to pretty much every show on MLB Network Radio, at some point during a week, and I have yet to hear anyone “agree” with Fangraphs assessment. In fact, I hear the opposite.

I hear a lot of questioning why Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi would deal the same blue chip they planned for “baseball’s best second baseman”, Brian Dozier, in a deal for Logan Forsythe. As I’ve pointed out, the Dodgers had Dee Gordon, then had Howie Kendrick, then had José Peraza, and then Howie again and still found a way to have no second baseman, necessitating moving José De León for one.

I guess one could argue they solved all their problems if they added Dozier or even Ian Kinsler. But is it the same marked improvement getting Forsythe, a 30-year-old journeyman with a .255 career average and some question about his glove?

This is not to bash Forsythe, who I can see being an upgrade over Chase Utley and that bum who hit .190 but has nude photos apparently of the front office and therefore keeps making the roster, but is it worth passing on three guys we had and dealing a prospect that could have come in handy at some point either for the rotation or another deal – to get Forsythe?

Someone I heard referred to Forsythe as a kid. Umm, 30 is not a kid. In fact this morning the GM show on MLB Network Radio mocked how genius Tampa’s GM was to turn a 30 year old second baseman into an elite pitching prospect, age 24.

I am of the opinion, and I’ve said it many times, prospects are currency. This discussion is not about holding onto prospects, De León or most any other. I understand that a farm should ideally cultivate future big leaguers for your roster, as well as be used to deal for parts you might need. Holding onto every prospect is not to be applauded, it’s foolish. So a problem I have with the Dodgers front office is taking the slow boat in everything they do. Keep what you want, deal what you don’t. Surely even the Dodgers front office understands not each prospect will be a superstar. But perhaps, just maybe, you could deal some of them for useful parts – before their value is gone.

I have no real problem with dealing De León for Forsythe and again, suspect it will be some improvement over the mess at second base last season. That said, I don’t know if one can say it’s improvement over Dee, Peraza or even Howie (and in Howie’s defense, I say that meaning the longtime second base fixture Howie, not the utility fielding occasional player Friedman created last year).

My issue, or better, comment is that as always, the Dodgers seem to take the long route to everything. A guy like Theo Epstein comes in, with many fewer resources than Friedman inherited, and gets to work fast. Within a few years the team is completely made over and winning a championship. It’s not the time only, it’s the approach. Problems are fixed. With the Dodgers, it’s always breaking down what’s unnecessary to break down and trying something new. Money that can be spent on proven big leaguers instead paid to Cuban prospects. Aces dealt. Injury marred pitchers or AAAA nobodies acquired. It all just seems so unnecessarily exhausting.

I suspect if Theo had Dee, he would have kept him. If he felt Dee was a trade high candidate, and somehow he got Peraza, or wanted Howie, I think he would have done that. Friedman and his merry men had to go through 5-6 players to settle on Forsythe – the optimal word here is settle. They hoped to land Dozier, after all.

Again, no offense made to Forsythe, I suspect he will be a decent enough part, not spectacular, but decent. But it is terribly humorous (and sad) to see Friedman apologists spinning this as a genius move. They too wanted Dozier. Friedman made it seem like Dozier (he of the cold streaks that last a month) was the solution. The welcome mat was out, and then Forsythe is acquired. Not for less, mind you, but for the same prospect Dozier was targeted for.

The genius comedy comes from the spin then going to how De León wasn’t that good anyway. I have said many times that scouts have claimed De León was not the Pedro Martinez type many had crowed he was, but perhaps eventually a middle of the rotation starter. No one listened. Now when De León is dealt for Forsythe (why must it always be Tampa, by the way? And Oakland. They made a minor deal with Oakland this week as well – so embarrassing), the story is rewritten that Forsythe is one of the best players ever and De León was nothing special. Ho ho ho

So for whatever it’s worth, the Dodgers infield looks pretty much set. It’s a good infield – there, I said it. It’s got a superstar (Seager) and useful parts. The great depth falls off fast if anything happens to Turner or Forsythe but such is life. I would say the Dodgers infield is not an issue anymore, unless you start wondering about speed. The team’s foot speed and athleticism are still lacking, but then, Sabermetrics doesn’t care about that.

I am of the opinion the Dodgers are marginally better than they were in October, thanks to this trade. I was not impressed with the winter up until now, and I’m still not sure I can say I’m impressed. But, doing something more than retaining your own free-agents, is a start. I would temper anticipation by reminding loyalists that the division has improved and the cake walk the team enjoyed in the West last year might be harder to repeat. So, the question is – has enough been done to repeat as Western division champs, or go all the way, if such ideas are in your head.

I’d say the West is a dogfight with the Dodgers having a chance based mostly on the health of the rotation. The Giants, if I had to guess, look like frontrunners. The Rockies look interesting to. And at some point the Diamondbacks might get their act together.

I think the Dodgers lineup, depending what configuration they use in the outfield, is serviceable. If Yasiel Puig could ever get it together, or a real right-handed power bat in the outfielder were added via trade, I’d be a bigger believer. There are good parts, and some question marks. No one knows what the three outfield spots will look like, or how many outfielders Friedman will run out there to fill those three spots. Twelve?

I’m still a firm believer in things like speed (absent), health (absent) and a deep pitching staff (likely absent). I think you win series in October by lining up well with your competition and what we witnessed last October was hard to watch. I’m not used to seeing starters hoping to “gut their way” through three innings. I’m not used to a bullpen one deep (ok, two – but Blanton likely won’t come back, and his October performance sadly was his lowlight for the year).

I think when you put together a pitching staff you need to think foremost about innings. How many innings can I count on my starters for? If you have a bunch of injured pitchers and potential DL stints, it’s a huge problem. It means your day’s start is in question, as are the games after it, since you likely taxed your pen to make up for the innings your injured starter could not go. i.e. for every suspect member of your rotation, it costs 2-3 days afterward as well. So if you have 2-3 suspect starters, you likely will always be running on fumes. This was the case with the 2016 Dodgers and their spent bullpen that was asked to do too much in October.

You would think the lesson would be learned and a few horses were added to the rotation and a few stoppers to the back of the pen, but it’s virtually the same group we saw last season. Brandon Morrow was brought in on a minor league deal, but he’s just more proof to my point. It is only the end of January, so who knows, perhaps a trick is up Friedman’s sleeve. If so, I’d still say why does he always have to go the long way? Theo certainly wouldn’t.

That’s all I have for now. To summarize – Logan Forsythe may be a fine person and a decent second baseman. He certainly helps compared to what was at second most of last season. That said, as a Dodgers fan you had three answers already around and teased with a bigger fish and ended up with a 30 year old Tampa Ray and it cost you one of the top prospects in the organization. Was it worth it? Only time will tell. I will simply say the dancing around and shuffling of musical chairs was clearly unnecessary. A smarter front office wouldn’t have chosen this route.

I will also remind that this isn’t about holding onto prospects. Some of course you choose and hang onto for dear life – Seager is one, and Bellinger looks to be another. Every prospect a future superstar for your team? Only in some fantasy world. If you pick the guys you want and deal some others for needs, that’s ok. I’d argue that for all the credit he gets as someone holding onto prospects (mostly chosen and developed under Logan White and Ned Colletti), he did deal three to Oakland in July and another to Tampa this week. The net haul is the right to sign Rich Hill for a lot of money and Logan Forsythe. Not sure that’s exactly how you best use this important currency.

Another funny thing from the debate I had the other day. Someone was telling me how De León wasn’t that good anyway and luckily we have Grant Holmes, who will be much better. I had to break it to the guy that Holmes might be better, but he will be better in Oakland.

The final point of comedy I will share this Friday afternoon is a CBS Sports article I saw yesterday, again saying how the Dodgers are better than the Cubs. The article was very firm in that the Dodgers have everything the Cubs had and more and that Friedman and the front office are geniuses. Wow, something other than Fangraphs, saying the exact same thing.

As I am rather skeptical of such rhetoric, I did a quick Google search and found the author (Jonah Keri) of the CBS Sports article had written a book. The topic? What a genius Friedman is and how he transformed the Tampa Rays. Again, consider the source. I have not in all honesty heard such praise on the Dodgers winter or the Dodgers unseating the Cubs anywhere else. I listen to MLB Network Radio fairly regularly, read what the known baseball writers say, etc. but I am not hearing it.

Can the Dodgers win? Well, it’s been three decades and the team does have some good players, so sure, maybe. Would I say they are a favorite? Even in their own division? Would I say they are better than the Cubs? The Indians? The Red Sox? No, I couldn’t say that. They are the same team they were in October, with a new second baseman and a few hail marys added as “depth.” I’d say losing Blanton from the pen and not really replacing him makes it arguably a net negative.

Let’s see what else these guys do. It just shouldn’t take this long. Their route is very unnecessary, which tells me they are either extremely arrogant or clueless. You decide.

Told Ya So. Now What?

October 27, 2016 6 comments

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As the playoffs approached I started to feel bad for long-suffering Dodgers fans, and even some of the young, naive and snarky ones. Maybe especially them. Anyone, really, who believed that this ownership group, this front office, and many of the players on this year’s roster, would undo nearly three decades of pain and suffering. I tried to warn them – anyone who reads my tweets or articles here knows this to be true. I did my best, but sometimes, well… a fan is short for fanatic, and the definition of is a person filled with excessive and single-minded zeal.

I saw the fervor building and deep hopes that this year it would be different. Admittedly, as a person who has spent wayyyy too much time analyzing Dodgers minutia over the past several decades, I knew it would not be. Again, feel free to look up my points of view from articles past to tweets long ago – it’s all there for the record. Andrew Friedman, and his boy troll Farhan Zaidi, were never going to do the impossible – not now, not with what they put together. When your front office is boasting never before has the disabled list been used so intensely, you know as a fan you are in deep doo doo.

I’ve chatted with friends and friends of friends who had one foot on the bandwagon themselves – these, people who should know better. Sort of like Trump Mania, they got swept away with the less experienced, believing a cake walk through a listless NL West meant things were different. I tried using reason – but they have no rotation! When would a team with no rotation – the only top tier pitcher coming off a serious back ailment and October yips – be enough to go to or win a World Series? But what of that tired, generic looking bullpen that logged wayyyy too many innings, covering for said lack of starting pitching? What of the team that also set another record – lowest batting average ever of a post season team vs. left-handed pitching? Last of 30 teams vs. left-handed pitching. No speed. Relying too heavily on a 22-year-old rookie, especially curious given the highest payroll in organized sports. No, you don’t understand, the chemistry – this year will be different! Ok. You can only argue so much, and who am I to piss on everyone’s shoes?

The Dodgers did as well as could be expected – not buoyed by greatness from the ownership group and front office, but more the soft Western division (the only other good team was the worst in baseball after the All-Star break) and bloat of payroll. Kids finally ripe, or nearly ripe, helped out immensely. The fans cheered the kids that the owners and front office executives provided, ignoring completely, or rewriting history, that the previous regimes did all the heavy lifting – scouting, drafting, signing almost anyone on the roster who had a good season, this includes Justin Turner and Clayton Kershaw. In fact, it’d be hard to find plus players the current group of geniuses found. Andrew Toles is the one that comes to mind, but like Kike Hernandez the previous year, too small a sample size, may still be exposed.

The fact of the matter is a lot of money was saved not signing Zack Greinke, not going after the free-agent arms like Johnny Cueto, David Price, Jordan Zimmerman, trade options like Cole Hamels, etc. but any savings were offset by overspending (again) on the walking wounded and never weres – Scott Kazmir, Brent Anderson, Brandon McCarthy, and so many “toolsy” Cubans we have not seen and likely never will. As I’ve stated before – an interesting high wire act of being cheap and being irresponsible with the wallet at the same time.

In reality, as I said last winter and this spring and many, many times (too many for most) during the year, the Dodgers could have fixed their 2015 playoff problems by addressing the issue that haunted them. The issue was starting pitching – rather than go it again with the lefty/righty ace combo of Kershaw and Greinke, and add more behind that, they instead subtracted. The sycophants wallet watching and saying how Greinke’s years 6-8 would bankrupt the team are the same types who don’t get how after trading top minor league talent for Andrew Miller, the Cleveland Indians are in the World Series. The illness that has taken over baseball fans where they feel compelled to be guardians of billionaire owners’ bottom line, as opposed to fans who deserve a title in their town, is impossible to argue with – believe me, I have tried. Whatever Greinke’s cost might be when he is older and less amazing means nothing if along the way you win a title, or perhaps more. The Indians understand this, and they are still playing today.

Kershaw and Greinke are a lot better than the alternatives, especially those brought in by Friedman, Zaidi and their gang of numbers crunching simpletons. What the Dodgers needed was to keep Greinke and add another arm of quality besides. Or – part with Greinke and sign two arms of quality. The problem last Oct was Anderson and the rest, not Kershaw and Greinke. The irony now that Greinke might be on the Dodgers radar as a winter trade target (the free-agent crop last winter was so vital as this year’s is non-existent) is humorous. Friedman lovers will hail a reunion as genius, even after saying how brilliant it was to let Greinke go. When you subtract your #2 starter and fill the void with a slew of question marks and DL cases, you’re just not bright. Innings, quality, healthy innings, are very key to constructing your pitching staff. The Dodgers had a big problem there from winter through spring into summer and fall. Micro-managing, using 7 pitchers per night since the starter could only go 2-4 innings, worked in the short term vs. very bad competition, but there is a massive difference between facing San Diego pitching and the Chicago Cubs.

I am curious to see if the administration learned this, or if they are going to go back to the same type of ineffectiveness that got them where they ended up. Part of the problem is the logjam of contracts and possible slots players like Kazmir and McCarthy take up. Not to mention Hyun-Jin Ryu, who was a warrior – until injuries made him unable to make the bell. The only way out of the situation is sucking up more salary, padding offers with desirable prospects and going for impact starting pitching via trade such as Greinke, Chris Sale or perhaps Justin Verlander, etc. Counting on sudden health and greatness from the guys Friedman did this year no doubt means the same problems in 2017 as 2016. And remember, Kershaw’s injury I warned you about in the past – occurred and could flare up again. Would you feel comfortable with Kenta Maeda as your ace and a group of young pitchers who are nowhere near ready for a 200-innings workload?

The rosy prospects of 2017 rely on one of two things happening – the Guggenheim ownership throwing out the current group or the current group suddenly learning from reality and making adjustments. I assume the second is more realistic as while I’d love for the Moneyball experiment to end in Los Angeles (again), more than likely it will be spun – we got to the championship series! Of course, when Ned Colletti did that two years in a row under Botox loving, penny pinching Frank McCourt, it was argued as not enough.

I guess it’s possible even a math crunching geek like Friedman could understand that his pitch and ditch fantasy approach to getting innings out of his overachieving and no name bullpen wasn’t ideal. But even if that happens, the market is pretty dry. It would indeed mean eating more bad contracts and trading parts many don’t want the team to trade. Them’s the breaks, as they say. Conventional baseball guys know that winter shopping is the easiest and most tried and true time to acquire assets. The July trading deadline is the other. Last winter, seemingly either out of Guggenheim trying not to spend or the executives’ need to look brighter than old school baseball guys, the Dodgers waited the shopping frenzy out. Only after almost every name was taken off the board, did Friedman move. In July, top teams loaded up, Friedman waited till the last hours and traded three prospects for two walk free-agents. It seems the pattern is Friedman always waits, and ultimately is left out in the cold.

His supporters will deny this and argue but the fact is that teams who want to win get the parts they require and do so aggressively. You don’t watch the Red Sox, for example, sit on their hands as the best players are looking for homes. The Cubs loaded up as soon as Theo arrived and are playing in the World Series because of it. For the Dodgers, there’s always an excuse why this player or that didn’t come to LA. Too expensive, a risk, or just plain not interested. The fans, sadly, in a large part have come to not only accept these excuses, but parrot them back as a sort of gang standing behind the bully’s back in support. Stockholm Syndrome – the fans oftentimes are more in support of geeks than they are their own self-interest. Shouldn’t fans of a baseball team be looking after themselves? A team like the Dodgers has gone through multiple ownership changes over the past three decades and so much money has come in via record attendance, increased parking, concessions and merchandise fees, massive TV deals that don’t allow the games to be televised to the majority of the market and any savings planned by playing inexpensive prospects (from previous regimes). As a fan, when I yell out the window like that guy in the movie Network, that I’m as mad as hell… I believe it’s my right as a fan. I would never consider, for example, screaming how awesome a polo shirt wearing dork from Tampa or Oakland is. Yet, the game has changed, and many do just that.

Again, it’s not just the uninformed, there are some real fans swept up in this. Longtime fans – fans over 40 years old – fans who actually witnessed Dodgers greatness in their lifetime and know all too much about the roots dating back to Flatbush. Fans by their very nature, I guess, want to believe. You can’t fault them for that. I do fault them for supporting sleazy executives however over their own best interests.

It’s too early to say what will happen in 2017. It depends, as I noted, whether the front office is sent packing (won’t happen) or they learned from the past. If neither of those things happen, 2017 will be less successful than 2016 just based on the unlikelihood of the entire division phoning it in again. If the Giants add Kenley Jansen, or if the Boston exec who is taking over the Diamondbacks does anything, that alone would make it harder to repeat the success of this year. I have hinted what should have been done and what needs to be done – innings need to be added to the rotation. Reliable, solid innings. It will require bold moves and trades, since signing good pitchers to free-agent contracts apparently escaped the draft pick hoarding dummies the Dodgers employ. It will require finally getting that Ryan Braun for Yasiel Puig (and of course more, Puig has proven he needs to be gone) deal or something like it, so a big right handed presence is added to the lefty heavy lineup. It will mean adding some youth and speed to the top of the order, probably at second base (oh for Dee Gordon or Jose Peraza, huh?). It will mean lopping off frequent DL guys who almost never are healthy and on the active roster.

The Dodgers, we are told, have all the financial wherewithal in the world and want to win. I see cheapness, I see intensely stupid spending. I would like to see that turn into smarter spending, healthier bodies, more positive results and less of the magic potion Friedman and Zaidi and Josh Byrnes and Gabe Kapler and all the rest of them giggle feverishly and try to concoct in their nerd lab. There’s a reason the game was largely unchanged for more than a century, the formula is pretty simple. The tinkering, looking sideways, squinting and trying to be overly clever was devised for teams with no other possible option. A team, going through a near 30-year drought without a championship, with the highest payroll in sports, and more money in the kitty than anyone, should not be building this way. The experiment in Los Angeles is frustrating and ugly. Let’s use some smarts. “Moneyballer” Theo Epstein was wise enough to understand this – turning impossible situations in Boston and now in Chicago around. I guess the question is, how smart (stubborn) are Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi? Or the Guggenheim Group, for that matter.