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The Lost Season

March 21, 2018 Comments off

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Not a lot of followers left, but oh well, will push on. Happy 2018 baseball season to you. The game is great, even though there is a lot wrong with the current MLB version and the latest corrupt commissioner. Nonetheless, if you grew up on baseball as I did, or came upon it late, it’s still a wonderfully entertaining game.

The good news for MLB is talent is deep throughout the league, great teams still exist that play the game right, and there’s promise for quite a battle with teams like the Astros, Cubs, Yankees, Red Sox, Twins, Diamondbacks, Nationals, Rockies and yes, the Dodgers, all looking to be part of the fun.

The not so good is money over fans, collusion and the illness of “data” overtaking the enjoyable parts of the game. Those three things, of course, are all tied together. In order for owners to profit, and MLB to profit, it became necessary to undergo a new round of collusion, which they can explain away with “data.” Show me the “data” that says this winter’s free-agent crop couldn’t improve a team that actually is attempting to compete – including the Dodgers. No need to actually do that, as none exists.

The Dodgers came within a game of winning the World Series and that was enough for most fans. We can dismiss how if the current ownership and front office was actually “all in”, how they would have won their first title since 1988. Just adding Justin Verlander alone would have made the difference, considering the Astros rode him to the trophy. However, no, that would have meant taking on a contract and the front office will have you believe that isn’t possible. Why? They will throw out salary caps and so forth but as any fan not wrapped up in Sabermetrics will tell you, a team’s window for winning is short and closes quickly, even for wealthy teams. Player age, some move on, some retire, etc. If you are in a window of opportunity, you either go “all in” or are out.

The fans have been told it’s vital to keep costs down, even though we all know much of the salary will be off the books following this season. What are they saving up for? Kershaw’s move to Texas? Apparently, the salary cap is the issue – but is it? Do we care if a rich investment firm pays a little more? After all, they have all that TV revenue (most of LA can’t even watch the Dodgers and haven’t for years, thus creating a long-term problem as children are growing up not able to watch the team on TV), not to mention the increased ticket prices – including charging additional if the game is expected to actually be good. I wonder if they will give refunds if the game turns out to be bad? Probably not.

So the game, especially in LA, a large market with a lot of prospective ticket sales where a Saber minded front office reigns, is now more about rooting on wealthy owners and smarty pants front office executives to a fan’s own self interests. Who cares if you work hard to scratch together money to attend a game with your family – your focus should not be on seeing the best possible players added to your roster in July and over the winter, but the best cost effectiveness for the owners. It’s like a Republican tax plan (sorry to any GOP followers who may be reading this) – as long as the top is doing well, that’s all that matters.

Again, like politics, it’s working. I follow baseball across the country and see other teams’ fans excited by the players they are adding. The great teams are getting greater, the young upstarts loading up, those in the middle generally retooling, but then there’s the Dodgers. The Dodgers are a team that many are penciling in for the World Series, dismissing the strong NL competition altogether. And considering the roster, mostly due to Dan Evans once upon a time hiring Logan White and Ned Colletti working with White in drafting a majority of the current young players, the Dodgers may very well be in the playoffs again.

I’d caution that the Diamondbacks are pretty good, as are the Rockies, and the Giants not only added talent but have a lot to prove – their track record and a healthy Madison Bumgarner alone should be reason enough to take them seriously. Is it possible the Dodgers can win the West again? Sure. Is it possible they can suffer setbacks and fall to the middle of the pack? Sure.

It is not so much whether the Dodgers were good enough to compete – clearly, they were. But it was the lack of conviction when it mattered that is my concern. Last winter and July the front office did little. This winter the front office has done little. Supporters (cultists) say it’s brilliant the Dodgers did nothing. They saved money! Since when should a fan be concerned with a wealthy investment firm saving money? I don’t get it.

The fact of the matter is the Dodgers didn’t win the World Series and lost (at home, no less) to the Astros. The Yankees also lost a game 7 to the Astros but added talent over the winter, including homerun champ Giancarlo Stanton, who is a Southern California native and said he preferred to play in LA. Whether you think Stanton’s monster season is an outlier or not, you have to admit the idea that winners go all in and also rans do not. For a team with a 30 year void of championships, all the money and prospects in the world, not to operate with a sense of urgency is off-putting.

The Dodgers added another junk pile reliever, Tom Koehler, to replace their last one, but that one turned out to be pretty good – Brandon Morrow – who will now close, at least for a while, for the Cubs. Morrow of course replaced Joe Blanton. While there is a pattern here of the front office finding ringers, we can point to the current bullpen and recent ones where the ringers didn’t pan out. Many times, they haven’t. So assuming that the Koehler, already injured, can replace Morrow and offer the security needed to get the ball to Kenley Jansen is a bit of a stretch.

I look at other top teams and they may not only have signed Morrow, but added something additional. Nowadays a good team has 2-3 closer options, though I’d argue it’s not an all new idea. I’ve been saying for years baseball is beautiful due to its simplicity. To win, generally, you need a strong rotation – guys who can log innings and have a track record of success. 4 starters are needed, feel free to try a kid in the 5th slot.

You need a reliable closer and several setup men. The idea is on the front end to log innings – hopefully 6-7 – and have the ability to lock down games on the backend with your closer and setup men. The middle relievers that nowadays are seen far too much to be effective come October, are just guys. Interestingly, apologists of Sabermetrics assume any guy wearing a uniform and cap is great – so they will argue that all of these bodies are “depth” and therefore unique from what any other team’s roster has. Sorry, every team in baseball has a roster of people who eat meals, sleep and shit – as well as a minor league system of similar human beings. Having your roster full does not put you in a position of obvious success.

A team that wants to compete and win – generally we start with the Yankees and Red Sox and fan out – does their best to fill needs. If there is a weakness, they look to improve upon it. They do this with money; they do it with prospects via trade. A good team does not sit idly by while other teams get better. The Dodgers had a remarkable run in 2017 but the likelihood the Giants will be as terrible and that the division overall isn’t one of the more competitive in the sport, is just silly.

Anyway, who am I to tell you what to think? If you really feel it’s great not to add talent and wonderful owners have bean counters from small markets to make sure every possible cent in your pocket ends up in their vault, kudos to you. I’m of the opinion that as a customer, we have rights. We have the right to expect the best possible talent on the field if they expect us to focus and spend. It’s very weird to quarrel with one another and try to act superior for the end-result of wanting the rich to get richer.

MLB has become that, due to what I said earlier – money over fans, collusion and using “data” as an excuse to justify this greed. I don’t want to disparage anyone’s intelligence, but hopefully logic prevails and you understand my only goal is to explain a fan should deserve the best of its team every single year. If you expect less, you should dedicate your time and money to other things.

The Dodgers may do well in 2018 but I see this being a lost season. Not addressing the rotation, not addressing the bullpen, not addressing the need for another bat (unless you count Matt Kemp’s return, which was just a way to “salary dump” the front office’s horrible signings of injured pitchers) and doing this while knowing Kershaw might leave, Seager has a serious elbow problem, etc., is criminal. I say that as a lifetime Dodgers fan and a lifetime baseball fan. If you disagree, it is your right, but you would be wrong.

I’ll be keeping an eye from the wings but as I have for several years now, since the bean counters crawled into town, will focus on the game where it is played well, by teams that actually want to be all in. I love baseball – it can be MLB, minors, college, high school or little league. My attention – and might I add, my money – are not going to the Dodgers’ wealthy owners as they do not respect me. No TV, no money from me. Raising ticket prices, especially for “good games”, no money from me. Business should work like that. Fans should be the ones put on a pedestal and respected, not corporations, not finance companies, not executives who keep costs down for their bosses.

Have a great 2018 baseball season – it should be a good one.

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Good Enough to Be Good Enough

April 2, 2017 7 comments

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There are two sides to every story. Either the story being told by those either employed or indebted to the Dodgers propaganda machine as well as the notion “it’s their time” or the alternative.

I’ve witnessed the Dodgers’ front office fumble and bumble their way since coming into power, doing very little, or worse, making boneheaded gaffs. The results some cheer about, but to others, myself included, they are the same, no better, than the results from the past.

The Dodgers can’t help but being in the thick of things. They have Clayton Kershaw, after all, and had Zack Greinke and other arms. They have Kenley Jansen. They have Corey Seager. You add up the parts and no matter who is running the show on and off the field, the Dodgers assemblage of talent is enough to be at or near the top of their division. They have been finished first or second 10 times in the past fifteen years. They have won 0 championships during this time, and 0 championships in almost three decades.

I have tried to say, much to the dislike of many, that this is all well and good but the steps forward are not great. If being at or around the top of the National League West is the goal, things are going fine. I don’t see how the current front office or ownership should be given credit, however, as the end results are no greater than usual. You can even point to the win/loss record, which shows a nominal decline in victories the past three seasons.

Dodgers fans are rabid and that is a wonderful thing for the Guggenheim Group and current Dodgers front office. The team, in some ways, is in poor shape if you consider availability to the large marketplace. The only way to see Dodgers games is if you attend them – at great cost – or if you happen to be in a portion of the greater Los Angeles area who gets the new-ish TV channel. The historic organization’s games are not readily available to most of the populace.

In 2016, the Dodgers won the West and advanced to the NLCS vs. the Chicago Cubs, the team who ultimately won the World Series in a thrilling 7-game series vs. Cleveland. While the Dodgers record of futility neared three decades, it was nowhere near that of either the Cubs or Indians. Thus, the baseball gods determined it was destiny, and the Dodgers never had a chance.

Still, supporters of this front office and ownership group would argue, they “could have won”. Well, in some world I suppose they could have. Teams with little starting pitching and little relief pitching seldom win championships. The Dodgers, in my opinion, were very lucky in 2016. I would credit the front office for patching together an eyesore and getting a lot out of the pieces they had. It does not appear to me a sustainable plan, if winning championships is your end goal.

It was painful to watch Kershaw pretty much go it alone, and Jansen doing the same from the backend of the bullpen. The other starters were hurt or gassed and could barely muster three innings at a time. The bullpen, overworked all season due to the shortcomings of the starting five, did the best they could on heart and whatever talent they had. The better team won, as usually is the case.

Knowing how Moneyball general managers operate, I did not expect changes in the off-season. In fact, because their high school chemistry experiment “worked” – to some degree – it no doubt would validate their hypothesis that they were on the right track.

It was interesting how they and their disciples continued to point to the Cubs as a “similar” team, although the construction was not at all alike. Theo Epstein, who has Moneyball roots, after all has changed quite a bit since moving to the big stage, first in Boston, then in Chicago. With deep pockets backing him, Epstein loads his rosters full of great professionals, as well as farm bred talent. Pitching depth, position depth, stars, great role players… he does not leave things to chance. As a result, his Boston teams have won and now his Chicago team.

The winter shopping season is one the Dodgers front office usually ignores, as is the mid-season trade deadline. They seem to look at these peak times as pedestrian. “Anyone can shop during these times; we’ll show them.” They sit idly by while starting pitchers move from team to team, as well as proven relief pitchers. Speedsters are never a consideration since the only reason to have any speed at all on a Moneyball team is perhaps moving from first to third – interestingly, a skillset rarely to be found in Los Angeles baseball these days.

I was not surprised that the 2017 team went to spring training not altogether different from the 2016 team that ended the year, losing in Chicago. A few guys left, a few came in, but the same issues that cost the team in 2016 are still those weaknesses as the new season gets underway.

The writers and announcers who cover the team and want access to the clubhouse are painting a rosy picture that this looks to be a world beater. Many have said the Dodgers will not only be in this season’s Fall Classic, but win it. I can only assume this is because they feel they are due, not because of big acquisitions made, unless you count Logan Forsythe as the difference maker.

Personally, I don’t see it. I do see a Dodgers team that will be around the top, as they always are, but not necessarily in first place. Last season, part of the Dodgers luck was the complete lack of fortune for the San Francisco Giants, whose second half was dismal. The Giants bullpen was a disaster and they acquired a closer this winter to rectify that. Still, being held to a budget the Dodgers are not, they still have some problems in their pen, though they have more reliable innings in the rotation. At any rate, however that comparison pans out, it seems unlikely the Dodgers can count on the Giants taking half of the year off again.

With the Giants therefore improved and the natural development, possibly, of the rest of the West – most particularly Colorado – the Dodgers must be a bit better in 2017 than in 2016. With 81 games against the West, just by virtue of the Giants adding a closer and the Rockies talented offense and young pitchers developing a bit more, that should be more of a challenge.

In a perfect world, the Dodgers get health they did not get in 2016. As I pointed out, it’s unrealistic to hope that all the many (often desperate) moves the front office employed is a repeatable formula. So, Kershaw being Kershaw for six months and Rich Hill, an older player who has no track record to illustrate he is a regular rotation piece, much less a #2 starter, is imperative. Kenta Maeda, who was wonderful for most 2016, needs to get stronger during his second season in the big leagues and be there at season’s end, which he was not at all last year.

The bottom of the rotation is the same collection of injured and suspect parts, mostly due to the front office wasting money on players such as Brandon McCarthy, who any honest person knew was a bad signing from day one, to Scott Kazmir – like Hill, a player who was out of MLB and toiling in the independent leagues. Both pitchers, like Hill, received $48M contracts. When you have so much money invested in players, you are hand tied to use them, thus additional arms were not added.

So, the Dodgers need Kershaw not to have a flare up of his back problems, Maeda to remain reliable (just stronger) and Hill to overcome the odds at age 37. Then between frequently injured Korean warrior Hyun-Jin Ryu, McCarthy, Kazmir and young Julio Urias, who has been pushed to develop quickly but is not ready for a full season workload, the front office hopes for two starter spots to be filled. It’s a lot to ask to go right, given reality and the health and circumstances of most of these pitchers.

There are also players such as Alex Wood, Ross Stripling and Brock Stewart who supporters point to as the remarkable depth the front office has acquired but the truth is most of the players to be counted on were here before they arrived. I’d also add that depth is an interesting word that is bandied about by Dodgers writers and announcers as if it’s unique to the team. Every team has minor league rosters to call upon and additional players set aside as contingency plans. Perhaps the Dodgers depth is more in the spotlight since the health of the regulars is so poor.

In closing I will say that the Dodgers should be near the top once again – with such a large payroll and the Kershaw, Jansen and Seager alone, they have a chance based on that alone. I think the Giants will be very much a factor and at some point, the front office should admit their faults and add quality innings from somewhere. Perhaps they do get good fortune with some of the walking wounded the past couple years, as well as unexpected success from journeymen like Hill, McCarthy and Kazmir.

Personally, I’d put young Urias in the pen since innings are innings, after all, and why waste his down in the minors? I’d put those innings to better use, shoring up an average bullpen and then when the innings count made sense, stretch him out for the rotation, if needed. At any rate, the bullpen would be that much better while the MASH unit of pitchers gave their all once again.

I’m not sure what to make of the outfield, which is Joc Pederson in center, forever to be platooned, and similar platoons everyplace else. Yasiel Puig seems to forever be tainted by being tantalized by Hollywood too soon, Andre Ethier continues to have health issues and Andrew Toles, a player with exceptional athletic ability, has defensive limitations and is told not to steal bases – perhaps one of his biggest plusses.

The infield is solid, though not spectacular. It does have the chance to be very good however if Adrian Gonzalez can somehow turn back Father Time and Forsythe continues to develop. The latter is in the right place as the mandate for a Dodgers offense is to swing for the fences and his 20-homerun power seems to be ideal for the Moneyball Dodgers. Justin Turner’s knees must hold up once more at third base. Seager is remarkable but had a spring with back issues, who like Kershaw, you have to wonder about. All in all, the offense of the Dodgers runs through the infield.

I am not a fan of Yasmani Grandal, though I know many are. Grandal, a former PED user, is also tailor made for this front office as his strength is trying to hit home runs. I prefer catchers who field first primarily and make contact. Maybe this player is Austin Barnes, who won a roster spot as all Andrew Friedman Miami acquisitions do. It will be interesting to see what happens at catcher if Grandal gets hurt, as he does. He’s being asked to play more than ever in 2017.

The Dodgers have enough talent on the roster and coming up through the minors to be near the top once again. It would be nice if they started to take real steps forward and understand they have the financial wherewithal, not to mention the prospects, to acquire players more guaranteed than what they tend to count on. The trademark of the front office seems to be trying to make it to the top by taking the harder route. Reliable innings in the starting rotation, strong setup men at the back of the bullpen, shortening games, is for chumps. Complex trades, working the disabled list like a traffic cop and platooning across the diamond seems immensely more satisfying to these smarties.

The method may be madness, but it has its fan club. Certainly, those on the Dodgers payroll, or who like access to the players and free pre-game meals. World Series winners in 2017? I don’t see it but anything is possible. It has been about thirty years and the payroll is the largest in organized sports. Maybe they are right, maybe they are due.