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Wasted Movement

April 18, 2017 2 comments

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at Los Angeles Dodgers

 

Happy post Easter hangover to you. I thought I’d write a short article since the whole 140 character thing doesn’t really work all the time. In general I seem to get a lot of followers who follow anything with the word “Dodger” in the name (“Tax Dodger”? Reserved for the Commander in Chief, I guess). Once I tweet a few cynical (honest) comments, they quickly unfollow. Such is life.

Anyway, I thought I’d comment on the topic everyone is talking about – Rich Hill’s 2nd DL stint in as many starts. How is this a surprise to anyone? Andrew Friedman, trying to save face, is making the rounds, saying he’s not worried. No, front offices love when their expensive new toys end up chronically injured. Who are you trying to fool, Andy? Sure, you might feel you have “depth” (I call ’em semi warm bodies), but it couldn’t have been in the plans to have your #2 behind Clayton Kershaw saying it would take a “medical miracle” to get him on the mound again. And now talk of his going to the pen to save the boo boo finger? Really, you signed a 37 year old pitcher to a $48M deal with the intention of him being just another bullpen guy, next to your AAAA retreads? Sorry, not buying that.

I know the beat writers and local radio guys won’t question the genius of the front office as they don’t dare lose access to the clubhouse – and the free meals. I on the other hand have nothing to lose. I write what is very apparent – hardly genius at all. It just so happens in today’s world, if you exhibit a decent amount of common sense, you look intelligent. Who woulda thunk?

As I have tweeted many times, all you have to do is go to this blog and comb through the old articles and see my take on everything Dodgers. All the injuries discussed in advance, all the bad deals commented on as they were made, the mediocre or worse players the Moneyball minded acquire, debunked early on. Again, it’s not being super smart, it’s using basic intelligence. And yes, just having seen a lot of baseball in my life. It’s the same thing Saber guys (I don’t think women are stupid enough to be Saber) dislike traditional minded scouting and managing for. It’s too simple. You watch, you gauge it on lots and lots of similar circumstances (100+ years of MLB, pretty much) and you can therefore make semi logical assumptions. One might call it “data”, but I hear that term has been trademarked.

Here we are 13 games into the 2017 season and the Dodgers are in third place, 1 game over .500. The fans, as always, are up and down like the temperature. If they beat the Padres, whose entire payroll is less than what Kershaw makes alone, they talk shit and boast, gearing up for the World Series appearance. If they lose to a better Western foe, they panic.

The season is long and I will go on a limb and say the type of front office work the Friedman/Zaidi and assorted Dream Team collection of overpaid executives are doing could work as well in 2017 as it did in 2016. I think I figured it out, though, like a bad detective show, my answer was right in front of me the whole time.

While I think the West should certainly be better than it was last year (Giants will wake up, Rox seem improved and only getting better, Arizona perhaps better under their new Moneyball-type front office), I can see the Dodgers making the playoffs. Before you get too excited, I can also see them missing the playoffs. Somewhere between winning the West, getting the wild card and losing out in the playoff round robin, is where they will be. I am not one to predict outcomes of divisions so much as a lot of things happen.

I will say that unless changes are made (and why would they be?), it’s unlikely the Dodgers, as constructed now, will advance to the World Series, should they get anywhere near. My reason is I look at tonight’s tragic lineup and I just don’t see where $230M was spent. Any given night the lineup, starter and/or bullpen participants might be aged journeymen or AAAA castoffs. Friedman calls it “depth” – Paul DePodesta didn’t even call it that, but maybe he should have. His roster was the same littering of nobodies and never weres.

With Hill having recurring blister problems, it makes me wonder why Friedman would take a chance on him again. Last July, Friedman waited till the 11th hour before the trade deadline to move three prospects for Hill and Josh Reddick, who apparently Friedman didn’t realize hadn’t done anything since May. Ok, I’ll make excuses and say Friedman thought he could wait everyone out and find lightning in a bottle – after all, Moneyball centerfold Billy Beane snatched Hill up during the off-season after seeing him throw a few good games in unimportant late season starts for Boston. If Hill was good enough for Beane…

Hill, of course, came over hurt, spent a long time on the DL and then made some useful starts in September and October for the Dodgers. But facts are facts and Hill was an aging player, not long out of independent league ball (like Scott Kazmir, who Friedman admitted was a poor signing just a year before as he shopped him this winter, with no takers). But with the free-agent and trade markets thin (the time to shop was the winter before when names like Zack Greinke, Johnny Cueto, J.A. Happ, etc. were available), Friedman doubled down on Hill. After all, he just dealt three prospects to get him, so to walk away empty handed, and still have a gaping hole in the rotation, seemed unacceptable, even to him. So as is his custom, an identical $48M deal went to Hill – like it had to Brandon McCarthy and then Kazmir. I guess that’s the cap where a Moneyballer feels comfortable “wasting” on starting pitching.

I would say $48M is an ok figure, if you got something out of it. So far, the amount is cursed for Friedman and his little troll Zaidi – all three of the guys acquired have trouble staying healthy. In case you wondered, 3 x 48M = $144M, which is a lot of money and should mean something more capable for your rotation than what Friedman’s guys have shown – at least so far (this being written on April 17, 2017, for historical purposes).

My biggest problem with Friedman and his building of a roster isn’t necessarily the players he selects – ok, it’s a large part about that – but what the ultimate toll it takes on the team in general. As I’ve said before, a rotation is not just the quality of your 5 starters (not 16 starters, as Friedman would have you believe), though that should be top of mind, but it’s the innings. I understand the game is changing and either change with it or die but I can’t believe it’s optimal to have 16 guys tossing 3-5 innings commonly, as opposed to 5-6 guys capable of going 6-8 more frequently.

I know it’s ancient history, but I vividly remember Dodger teams with an ace, 2 or 3 very good pitchers and then 1-2 either called “innings eaters” or perhaps 1 of those and a kid, hoping to stick in the rotation. It wasn’t long ago that Friedman so hated this that he chased Dan Haren out of town, paying his salary to go to Miami. Really, how is Haren at any point much different than Hill, McCarthy or Kazmir? I guess you could argue, he was healthier.

Innings are important because it’s something you can hang your hat on. You can assume your starting pitcher is not only capable of going deeper into games, but taking the ball every 5th day without drama. You don’t need to call a collection of junk, and terrible contracts, “depth”. Your depth is your minor league system, as it always has been and is for every team in the major leagues. If you have 4-5 credible starters who are likely to stay healthy, you can make a phone call should someone get hurt. That “data” is based on 100+ years of the game’s history. Trite, boring, but honest and true.

I think like DePodesta, the Moneyball way Friedman and Zaidi play is merely about looking more clever and smarter than your average baseball guy – folks like myself included. Naive? Giggle inducing ideas such as going with known commodities, staying away from continually injured players – absurd! It’s far more fun to tinker like a very bored fantasy baseball general manager and make things happen. Oh, in the end it could work but all the “wasted movement” isn’t beneficial to anyone. When your new $48M contract is already looking vomit-inducing and you are talking about putting this #2 starter into your bullpen, it’s not good. Not on this Earth, not on any world.

Like I said, it’s possible the Dodgers can win the West – who knows if the Giants, Rox and Diamondbacks might stumble? Plus, the Dodgers have spent a lot more than anyone else, not only in the West, or the National League, or MLB, but in professional sports. That “depth” allows you at least a chance to win, even if your front office is run by overzealous micro-managers with too much time on their hands.

On the other hand, this Moneyball style always proves to address the regular season. Remember, before these guys arrived, the Dodgers were doing well in that respect. More often than not the Dodgers are near the top of the division, even when mere mortals are calling the shots. Moneyball is usually employed when a team does not have the financial wherewithal to compete any other way. It’s odd when it’s employed with deep pockets and a monster payroll.

The team tinkers and scratches to get to the post-season, celebrates this accomplishment but doesn’t win. Don’t feel too bad for Friedman, no Moneyball team ever wins. Or hasn’t yet. It’s because, in the paraphrased words of Billy Beane, the post-season is too unpredictable, the “data” doesn’t work there. Luck is involved, he says. No, I don’t think that’s quite true.

While maybe “data” can predict X number of runs an ever-changing lineup should produce, and how many runs an ever-changing rotation should allow, it doesn’t account for quality. Quantity, oh sure, plenty of that. Proudly Friedman sycophants will point to how quantity is as important as quality. This is said to praise the “depth” – which is actually just less talented players than what otherwise could be assembled. More means more, to them. But in the post-season, Billy Beane might say it’s harder to predict and luck, whereas I would say it’s quality. Here the quantity means less, and that’s why Freidman’s subpar independent league and career minor league players have problems.

It’s not genius to discover independent league and career minor leaguers – why, they’re right there in independent leagues and minor leagues all across the country. It’s not genius to pluck them from obscurity and then sign them to contracts of their dreams. It’s curious, weird even and clogs your roster full of guys that more than likely are not going to hold up and win in October.

It’s early – just the middle of April – but we are seeing the “depth” put to use as the players were never capable in the first place. While anyone can get hurt at any time and certainly bad breaks happen, it is not dumb luck when it happens to players who have a track record (data!) of this happening to them. Only Friedman and his people didn’t understand Hill would be hurt. As his players fall like dominoes, Friedman and his followers say, “Who could have known?” Well, we all knew and continue to scratch our heads in astonishment.

I think the appeal here is painting themselves into a corner and trying to get out. Houdini did it to show his superiority and fantasy baseball managers do it when they are bored out of their minds. Make dumb moves, drop better players, constantly swap our anyone with a pulse and hope it works. If it does, you can puff out your chest and claim superiority. Again, it’s “wasted movement” and unnecessary.

It’s an outdated way of thinking, sure, but would it be so terrible to have a rotation with at least 3-4 very solid guys you had a pretty safe expectation for making it through the season unscathed? Would it be ludicrous to assume your bullpen could be 3-4 men deep? Even 2 deep? Would it be insane to think if you had a payroll larger than anyone else’s your roster would likely have more great players than other teams?

All out of touch, old school ways of thinking, I realize. What do I know? I’m just a guy who has watched a lot of baseball for a lot of years. I sometimes write baseball articles, all archived here, with dates, and I seem to somehow do a remarkable job calling a lot of the “unforeseen events” that befall Friedman and his think tank, before they happen. I don’t call it “data” – just common sense and reasonable intelligence. Enjoy the ride and remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Have the Pepto-Bismol and Prilosec at your side; nothing is easy in a Friedman universe.

Wasted movement.

It’s Always Early Until It Isn’t

December 28, 2015 3 comments

Capture

The week between the holidays (no, Christmas! Say Christmas, not the holidays!) is a dull one so rather than slip into a coma I will pontificate about a few Dodgers thoughts that are on my head. None of them is particular new from me, just will elaborate a bit for those who enjoy my stance on things, and for those who hate my guts. We Freudians are an acquired taste, after all.

While there are fan boys and girls who still have faith in Andrew Friedman and his minion, I think it’s becoming apparent that the cleverest guys in the room are in over their head. Oh, their supporters will tell you how it’s still early and they can get this second or third tier pitcher or that, or make some miraculous deal for a Miami malcontent controlled by Scott Boras, etc., but in commonsense real world terms, the act that plays in Tampa and Oakland does not work in the country’s second largest market. Nor should it.

It’s apparent to me that changing gears to a Moneyball-minded guy was Guggenheim’s way of doing what Frank McCourt did when he replaced brilliant baseball mind Dan Evans with doofus Theo wannabe Paul DePodesta. Like DePodesta, the idea here is to go in another direction – re: cheap.

Believe me; I am not afraid of streamlined teams that play kids. Over the past several decades, I have rooted for kids who came into the system and awaited their arrival. All those rookies of the year and so many before and after them. At the same time, I realize not every prospect will succeed and many are to be carefully tucked away for trade currency when then the time is right.

You can argue that in the post steroids era (haha, post) kids are more important than ever. Teams that win seem to have a good young core and aren’t afraid to play their babies, such as KC in recent years and the infant Cubs baptism by fire this season.

If the Dodgers wanted to go young, I’d be for it – except with the following reservations. First, with the aforementioned 3 decades of mediocrity, an alarming number for a fan of the storied Dodgers, you have to take into account what a rebuild means. For example, can the Dodgers, with fans antsy for a winner, with Clayton Kershaw leading the staff, a massive payroll and relatively new owner and management team afford to wait several more seasons for a young team to gel?

Also, if the plan is to go young (no one admits that’s the plan, but Stan Kasten has been hinting at it), why not really go young? Trade veterans for top prospects and infuse the Ravine with a young beating pulse and make baseball excitement that way? Yes, if your plan is to go young (cheap), deal Kershaw, deal Adrian Gonzalez, deal Justin Turner, deal Andre Ethier, deal… you get my point. If you moved the vets, you open spots for kids and most importantly, get a lot more kids. Think about various Miami fire sales and other cities where boatloads of bluechips were accumulated.

I think because it hasn’t been said in such direct terms, the plan is to go younger but more to go cheaper. It’s a half-assed attempt to rebuild right now that is confusing to fans. Since no official word has been given, hardcore fans and pedestrian variety foam finger wearers assume the Dodgers are in another of their “win now” years. Yet, the off-season has so far shown good players going to all the top teams, but none to the Dodgers. Not to mention, the Dodgers top two rivals each got better since the World Series finished.

So who are the Dodgers? What are the Dodgers? Are Friedman and friends inept at big market baseball dealing? Are they under some Guggenheim imposed mandate to strip down payroll? Do they honestly feel losing the best #2 starter in baseball and replacing him with… with no one… is better?

There is still time, as the apologists will point out, but not really. At this point, most of the best names are off the board and settled in with teams actually intent on making a run. The Dodgers could settle for some additions that likely aren’t going to improve their 2016 fortunes any, or they can deal top prospects to try to get back to where they were this year. If that is the answer, I’d say why not have just signed Zack Greinke or one of the available starters as winter shopping began, and/or added free-agent bullpen parts to address that weakness? Personally, for a team I always hear has endless resources, I’d much rather use said resources than moving blue chips.

Friedman and his compatriots make confusing moves such as dealing certain prospects for others and then having pundits assume something remarkable will happen after those kids are acquired. It often seems like rearranging deck chairs as it’s hard to ever say for sure if a Friedman move makes the Dodgers any better. The supporters would smugly say how silly, of course the Dodgers are better. From a mere novice who just has watched a lot of baseball over lo these many decades, I’m not convinced.

Take for example if the plan was to get young and maybe more athletic, why deal Dee Gordon for essentially Howie Kendrick, then seem to say Kendrick is too old so the second baseman will be expensive prospect Jose Peraza (acquired for the $60M man Hector Olivera). Then turn Peraza into a White Sox haul of some mediocrity and perhaps go with marginal minor league utility man Kike Hernandez as your second baseman, with ancient Chase Utley as his potential platoon partner? How is this getting younger or more athletic? Or, dare I ask, better?

Maybe the idea is whoever we bring in (we being Friedman and friends) is better than whoever we inherited. Why? Because we’re clever, we’re outside the box thinkers, we’re geniuses. That’s one theory. Another is they keep making moves and end up without a chair when the music stops. Personally, either long-term perspective or win-now, Dee Gordon seems a better fit for second base than Kike and Utley, as does Howie Kendrick.

There is a feeling out there in smarty pants baseball circles that solid hitting and versatile Ben Zobrist is one of the best players in baseball, after all, statistics of some kind bear this out. Now Zobrist for sure is a good player to have on your team and a clutch performer but I don’t think he’s one of the best players in baseball. I also think going for a cheaper option to be your Zobrist, whether it’s playing a utility man like Justin Turner all the time at third base or Kike at second, isn’t the answer for two regular position spots. Turner is a good player but would be better suited as a backup who fills in as needed, plays around the diamond and gets plenty of rest (bad knees and his production isn’t that outstanding for a regular MLB third baseman anyway). Kike? Who knows? We’ve seen beloved utility men come and go in LA. It seems like just yesterday angry fans were telling me how ignorant I was for not wanting Luis Cruz to play every day, as well as Nick Punto and Skip Schumaker. Utility men are utility men and have plenty of value as such, but they’re usually utility men for a reason – i.e. they don’t play any position well enough to be a regular there.

Anyhow, I digress. From a completely layman’s perspective, it seems like Friedman and men are in over their heads. I think ownership, such as it is, is starting to see this as well. Low body fat heart throb Gabe Kapler was about to leave one job he is unqualified to hold for another and become the Dodgers latest field manager, that is, until Mark Walter (probably) nixed it. I think the compromise was Dave Roberts could run the team (I say that in loose terms, Friedman will no doubt butt in constantly, as will Farhan Zaidi) but their ringers would be on Roberts’ coaching staff. Quite a collection of stiffs, busted prospects and the like.

So as we stand here at year’s end, we should wonder what is happening with the Dodgers. Would a 3rd or 4th place finish in the West signal ownership to throw the latest Sabermetrics smart asses out? Would they only do so if fans got sick of the team and stopped coming to games? (at least McCourt had the games on TV, no butts in the seat mean out of sight, out of mind nowadays) Is the team rebuilding, or not? If not, why wait on good players to go elsewhere? If a youth movement, why keep Kershaw and others? Are they afraid to say the words “youth movement” and deal beloved current players, again, as it could alienate fans and cost Guggenheim revenue? Does Friedman actually have a plan or is he simply overwhelmed? I mean, just like DePodesta, he’s no Theo, that’s for sure. Theo uses analytics, as did Dan Evans, but also understood good players and uses money to acquire those players. Friedman? Unless you count money blown on Cubans as a big success, so far it hasn’t panned out. Lots of money has been spent, but on very little that has helped the Dodgers win baseball games.

So, I will concede that it’s “still early” and in theory the Dodgers could sign several pitchers, make a trade or two, play some kids and the team could slug it out with the Giants and Diamondbacks for the NL West crown. That could happen, but considering winning the division years in a row did not amount to October success, even that pipedream doesn’t give evidence the 2016 Dodgers can be any better than this year’s team. Zack Greinke in a red uniform ¬†with a snake on it seems to reiterate that point.

It’s a strange time in our lives and as it relates to baseball in general, certainly Dodgers baseball. Cleverness is applauded and rooting on executives seems to have taken the place of demanding your team field the best team they possibly can each season. Obscure stats, looking sideways like a confused German Shepherd, and unsubstantiated optimism more “patriotic” than getting pissed that your team is screwing up.

I’m an old timer, admittedly not as cool or edgy as some of the younger folks out there, but I come from a generation where if something walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, you have no problem saying, “That’s a duck.” Andrew Friedman and his merry men appear to be out of their element and taking a big shit on a rich tradition that is now so faint it’s almost hard to relate to it anymore. I think at one time there were great Dodger teams with players like Jackie, Snider, Campy, Hodges, Newcombe, Garvey, Cey, Fernando, Orel, etc., etc. to cheer on and watch win but honestly, maybe it’s just dementia settling in. The last Dodgers team to hoist a gold trophy was in 1988 and that was a magical fluke of a season. Going back 7 years more, that was probably the end of the era of Dodgers true dominance in the National League. Whatever has been going on recently stinks like three day old white fish, and for you gentiles in the audience, that isn’t pleasant. Think Kris Jenner after a day at the beach.

The only saving grace for me (sorry, apologists) is that if Friedman and his smarm posse fail, and hopefully it shuts the door on Moneyball ever playing in LA again. Of course a new owner could come in and repeat the same mistake, but occasionally you’d like to believe history can educate people. Or maybe not.

In the meantime, it’d be nice to know what the plan is for the Dodgers’ immediate future. Are they a young team willing to punt the Kershaw era as they did the Kershaw/Greinke era? Are they going to try some razzle dazzle and remake the team in their image – one filled with bad Zobrist wannabes and many Cubans? Will they be shown the door? We shall see. As long as it’s “still early” there’s no reason to panic.

By the way, that’s your cue to panic.

Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before

October 19, 2014 1 comment

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The more things change, the more they remain the same in the Dodgers universe.

Stan Kasten used Ned Colletti as the scape goat and human shield when surprisingly irate Dodger fans clamored for blood. Or Kasten and Guggenheim assumed they were. Lately Dodgers fans are more into selfies and talking about which players are hot than understanding the inner machinations of the baseball management structure. Ned was sent packing – not far, he got a token consultant position – much like Frank McCourt’s “Theo”, Paul DePodesta, was sent out when fingers were being pointed at him. The Dodgers GM job has become like the Raiders head coaching position under Al Davis – a convenient body to push out when higher management/ownership’s vision doesn’t play out as planned.

Get used to it; new head man underneath the bigger head man, Andrew Friedman, will soon be hiring his own patsy to get ousted should his maneuvers not work. The rumor for Friedman’s dupe is former Arizona and San Diego GM Josh Byrnes. So rest assured, while fans blamed Ned for Kasten’s mistakes, Byrnes will be blamed for Kasten and Friedman’s. The important takeaway here is the more cooks theory happening. Like corporate America, it’s always important for upper management to have more needless layers and bloated salaries in their ranks. I just wonder if Kasten is the “architect”, what is Friedman. And more, what is Byrnes? Oh well, I’m just an old school baseball fan who predicted 2014’s fate long before the season played out, what do I know? Certainly not as much as a Moneyball certified 37 year old like Friedman.

Its a few days before the World Series, so I will use this idle time in the baseball schedule to hypothesize and comment on a few things. Unlike the wiser pundits out there with cool names about certain former Dodgers illnesses, etc., I don’t proclaim to have the answers or believe my takes are more valid than yours or anyone’s. My opinions are just that – opinions – and based solely on a good degree of common sense and many, many years of watching actual baseball games – not studying Excel spreadsheets or bullying people online.

It’s no surprise to me that the Kansas City Royals will face off against mortal Dodgers enemy, the San Francisco Giants. These two teams have balance and play smart baseball. The Royals would appear unstoppable and have more overall balance than the Giants, but with a gulp of disgust, I admit the Giants have been there and done that and have played very good baseball this October, so it should be a competitive World Series. That said, I hope the Royals continue their unblemished record and quickly dispose of the Giants, but Madison Bumgarner is out of his head right now, so it will be a difficult accomplishment to pull off.

The important thing here is how the Royals, who I have compared to the Dodgers under Dan Evans, have it all. Balance between starting pitching, relief pitching, speed, defense, timely hitting, power and heart is the key. I can’t think of any team in MLB who has a better balance than the Royals, and they deserve to win. Kasten, Friedman and their puppet GM should take note. Like Evans, Dayton Moore constructed his current Royals from the back of the bullpen out. The Dodgers need to do that this off-season, and fortunately for the three-headed decision maker, the most wriggle room for the Dodgers is in the bullpen. Hard throwers from Kenley Jansen back are the solution to success in 2015 and beyond. Shortening games. The Dodgers needed to rely too frequently on their starting pitchers to go 8, or at least 7, and that ended up causing a lot of problems – especially vs. the Cardinals in the games Kershaw started. I would recommend doing whatever it takes to get that solid bridge in place to Kenley.

The last thing I will say about the World Series is Dodgers fans have to stop acting like douches when it comes to the Giants and their fans. Is it optimal that the Dodgers keep getting ousted and the Giants, no matter who wears the black and orange, get to the Fall Classic? No. But to pretend fans of the blue wouldn’t rub it into Giants’ fans faces every chance they could is dishonest. The Giants fans are obnoxious, but their team has been dialed in under Cujo eyed Bruce Bochy and they play smart baseball. As a result, not by accident, they win. They don’t have bubble machines, and unless you could little Busty Posey, they don’t have hunks. They play hard, fundamental baseball and take care of business on the field. I’d also say the past two years, Dodgers fans should think the Cardinals are the most hateable team anyway – in my opinion, they’re evil, their fans are idiots, and all the class and good will of 100+ seasons before this has been eroded. The Cardinals are the new Giants and far less likeable than the Hated Ones.

Pray for a blue and white win this next week, or it will be a long, horrible winter and spring.

Getting back to the Dodgers…

This bring in the young whiz kid to call the shots thing sounds more than a bit familiar. As mentioned, pasty former owner/current Dodgers partner Frank McCourt pushed out a perfectly excellent baseball man in Dan Evans and brought in his own young genius, Paul DePodesta. DePodesta, who looks nothing like Jonah Hill, screwed up the team in record time; dismantling a solid baseball team mid-season and constructing the worst Dodgers roster ever assembled. When the villagers took to the streets with torches and pitch forks, McCourt canned his boyfriend.

I admit I don’t know much about Friedman’s abilities outside of the fact he got a lot out of a little in Tampa. He’s young, apparently very smart (his introductory press conference Friday was full of vague corporate speak that always is confounding to fans of oh, say baseball), isn’t afraid to move veterans, and can work on a budget. This is where things get interesting to me.

Guggenheim pocketed $8B from the Time-Warner TV deal that has left most people in Los Angeles without televised Dodgers games. To buy loyalty, they collected all the expensive contracts other teams wanted to move and gave us the bubble dancing party animals we’ve all grown to love and loathe. Now Friedman comes in with a history of working cheap and the Dodgers have said they’d like their $240M payroll become more like $190M, hardly a “cheap” team (side note to Dodgers brass – don’t tell us what you plan to reduce payroll to. That sends a familiar and distasteful message… field the best team, and if it comes in $50M less than last year’s, great. Fans don’t need to be obsessed with payroll like we’ve become). I guess my questions are will Friedman get rid of the bloat, as I’ve been calling for, and how aggressive he will be at doing that? Also, how far will it go – how low will payroll drop, and if it’s necessary, say, to add a few very good relievers to create that late inning bridge to Kenley, will the uber wealthy Dodgers cry poverty?

Some of these questions may seem silly, but given the void in the baseball schedule and trying to get my head around what Guggenheim and Kasten are doing, I don’t mind putting my neck out and asking such questions. Here are a few more (those who know me know I’m not afraid to be completely honest)…

Will reducing salary and changing things up extend to the main pieces in the team’s offense? Will Andre Ethier finally be sent packing, and/or will it include Matt Kemp moving on? Would they re-sign Hanley Ramirez when they have Erisbel Arruebarrena, Alex Guerrero and Miguel Rojas around? Would they go another route and find a different shortstop altogether, some proven guy who fields the position and hits with a bit more certainty than the three guys I just mentioned? Would they move Dee Gordon to free up second for Guerrero? Will they acquire David Price, James Shields, or some other sexy starter to go after Hyun-Jin Ryu? Would they consider packaging petulant Cubano Bop star Yasiel Puig and Zach Lee for hometown favorite Giancarlo Stanton? As big as Stanton would be in LA, Puig might be bigger in Miami.

I can sense some of you feel your blood boiling. I look at the Hot Stove league as one of the best times in my baseball year. I love rumors, I love what if scenarios. I love to deconstruct and reconstruct the team I love. In my opinion, no one is untradeable – even the three prize kiddies I love so dearly – if you can get something that makes sense for now and the future. As for moving favorites like Kemp or even Dee, think about it – both have very high values. You trade high, not low. Kemp was nearly impossible to deal, except perhaps to the Mariners, but now, coming off a mysteriously great second half, you could move him to a team in need of a bat and star power. Dee went from outhouse to penthouse, an NL All Star appearance. If you wanted, you could get something good for Dee and put Guerrero at second. Especially if you believed Dee played over his head and his awesome year was something of a fluke.

Personally I believe in Dee. He looked comfortable, even very good at second base defensively. Even during the times his bat slowed, his glove work was always top notch. Factor in his game-changing speed and what he did for guys batting in the two hole, not to mention who could bat leadoff if Dee were gone, I say you do not move him. That said, it’s an intriguing thought and the off-season (coming soon) is for such conversations and speculation.

I think Kasten/Friedman/Byrnes need to find a way to trim fat, insert energy and all-important balance into a celebrity laden roster of lazy baseball players. If you want examples of what I think the Dodgers need, you just keep watching the Royals. I can accept more superstars than KC – Guggenheim SHOULD have to spend some of that $8B TV deal – but the notion is less superstars, more substance. The Giants manage to find very good major league players and avoid a roster of massive ego $20-25M guys. To be honest, I can’t even tell you who makes the most on the Giants. Busty Posey? Perhaps. It’s not as apparent as it is with the Dodgers, where fun and games and investment portfolios take precedent over driving in runners from third.

I would be more than fine with a 2015 outfield of Carl Crawford/Scott Van Slyke (platoon), Joc Pederson and Stanton. Or even Kemp in right and some of the other bloat moved. The Dodgers have to get smarter, less selfish, and more balanced (there’s that word again). If they just swap out Chris Perez with some new reliever and add another starting pitcher, I don’t think anything will change much. And maybe that’s the plan. Let Donnie Mattingly and team muddle through 2015 and get serious in 2016 when Tampa’s skipper Joe Maddon may be available for the Dodgers. There’s an argument to be had for saying why make a lot of drastic changes if you’re handing the keys back over to Donnie? But, you can also argue that at some point – soon – Joc, Corey Seager, Julio Urias and some of the kiddie relievers WILL be in Chavez Ravine, so maybe you start serious construction in anticipation of that.

I think this off-season will be an interesting one. Although similar in some respect to what happened the last time a young man was put in the position of calling the roster shots, this time the tear down would be welcome. DePodesta threw out good, smart baseball players that were winning in order to feed his own ego. He had to show everyone he was smarter than old school baseball guys (he didn’t know, perhaps, Evans was into data when he was still wetting himself). Friedman (and his buddies Kasten and Byrnes, assuming he’s the GM Friedman hires) could break apart something we know isn’t working. I have to assume he/they would also be bright enough to understand the value of adding Joc’s young athleticism to the outfield, holding onto a pure hitter like Seager appears to be, and a young ace like Urias. So, I’m not worried. In fact, outside of being confused over who does what and why we need so many executives in the Dodgers front office, I’m open for anything – even if it meant dealing Dee, who’s arguably the most exciting player on the field when the Dodgers play.

The Dodgers have gotten comfortable and content. They are all about flash and not hard work. I welcome some change. I would love to see a more complete roster and a smart baseball guy like Maddon leading the show. I want new coaches, especially a new hitting coach. I want it all. I want to stop seeing the Giants have success in Oct and I want to stop listening to and reading sour grapes Dodgers fans whining that the Giants and their fans are jerks. They’ve earned the right to crow. If it were our Dodgers winning, we would too. Stop blaming them, blame the Dodgers multi-layered front office. Demand better. And if your goal is to use the Dodgers for masturbatory material, then you have the team you deserve. I’m an old guy who appreciates well played, professional baseball. I am demanding more. And some god damned games televised in LA.

Go, Royals. You’re the Dodgers team I want to root for.

I told you

October 8, 2014 4 comments

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Well, sometimes it hurts to always be right…

As I predicted from the off-season, through spring training, and every step leading to the playoffs, the 2014 Dodgers were not built for Oct baseball. As a wise friend said, it’s like Billy Beane admitting his team is good enough to get there, but once in the post-season, anything can happen and he has no control over it. The $235M payroll Dodgers turned out to be an expensive Moneyball collection of individuals, not a “team.” The pieces were cobbled together by Stan Kasten to win over Angelenos who had grown weary of McCourt’s antics and parking lot mayhem. Stars – pretty stars – guys who could be counted on X amount of home runs, RBI, wins, etc., etc. were assembled without thought of old baseball truisms like timely hitting, defense and leadership. A bullpen? Who needs a bullpen? Certainly Kasten didn’t think so, and he did nothing to alter the path as the season progressed. Suddenly it became a surprise to pundits and fans that lo and behold, the Dodgers didn’t have one.

Well, it didn’t matter, since the Dodgers did have starting pitching. Forget Ryu was coming off a month long break due to a shoulder surgery and all world Cy Young/MVP candidate Kershaw came off a beat down in Game 6 last year vs. the same St. Louis Cardinals. Surely this year would be different. Just hope and pray the starters all went 8, to get the ball to mostly reliable closer Kenley Jansen. Expensive starters pitch late into games, right?

Fans too easily point to Don Mattingly, who is a simpleton to be sure. He’s not a good manager, too safe, too unimaginative and not cut out for playoff action when the managerial guide book is thrown out the window. As bad as Donnie is, it’s not his fault – or not all of it. There is plenty of blame to go around for why the Dodgers again have been eliminated and will have to watch the Fall Classic on TV, and here are some of the goats and reasons why they are…

Clayton Kershaw – as good as Kershaw is in the regular season, he’s as bad in the playoffs. Blame Mattingly if you wish, but Kershaw is paid a ton of money to get the ball and win important ballgames. Kershaw had to win Game 6 last year and got crushed. He had to win the other night at Chavez Ravine and sailed along nicely until he got pulverized. He had to win today and gave up the huge homer that buried the Dodgers. Donnie makes mistakes, as Donnie isn’t a good manager, but when you make as much as Kershaw does and are called not only the ace, but the best pitcher in baseball, you have to deliver. Like them or not, but Curt Schilling wouldn’t have lost these games. He wouldn’t have made that costly pitch today. Roger Clemens. Greg Maddux. Tom Glavine. Randy Johnson. And the list goes on. When you accept a lot of money, you accept responsibility. Donnie is a moron for continuing to bat Puig in the 2 hole when he’s striking out as much as you or I would, but Kershaw was given leads and all he had to do was be Kershaw – and he couldn’t. I said it in the winter and again during the season – everyone loves him, and for good reason, but Kershaw is NOT a big game pitcher. He’s young, he may be at some point (if his confidence isn’t shattered much like another talented farm product – Ismael Valdes – was), but last year and this, he hasn’t manned up when it mattered most. Donnie is a dunce, can’t think outside the box, but Kershaw lost 2 of the 3 games the team dropped and only has himself to blame. Disagree if you want, but its fact. Let’s hope it’s a Cardinals thing and not a post-season thing. Let’s hope the young man learns from this and wins a ring or two down the road. He’s young enough that it would make a great story – remember how he couldn’t win the big games, and now he can? He’d be the John Elway of baseball. Right now, he’s an MVP candidate who should feel sick holding the award (should he get it).

Donnie Baseball – he’s the popular patsy for the pedestrian Dodger fan and he is as bad as all that. His skill is being Joe Torre, and keeping the clubhouse content. I see it that he lets the inmates run the asylum and is an enabler. Donnie is either too stubborn or too dumb to make obvious changes. For quite some time he penciled Kemp and Ethier into the heart of the lineup while they were dead in the water. This post-season he batted Puig second when he couldn’t make contact. When he had to make a pitching change, he goes to Scott Elbert, a guy Kasten never should have included on the playoff roster. He pinch hit Van Slyke for Ryu when Ryu was sailing along. His lineups are thoughtless and he has no game calling skills. Al Campanis meant him when he said something about “lacking the necessities to manage.” When Kershaw was imploding the other night, he didn’t believe his eyes – he listened to Kershaw say he was fine. After he actually got up to investigate. A smarter manager would know the team was bleeding out and perhaps you throw convention out the window and do something radical like bring in your closer – have Jansen pitch two innings, stop the bleeding and restore order. Also, Kershaw could have left without being humiliated, which would have been a plus. But what if you used Jansen, you say, and then he wasn’t around for the ninth? Who gives a shit? There would be no call for Jansen if you were to bleed out. If the situation came up, you let Howell, Wilson, Haren, anybody throw the ninth. The playoffs are unlike the regular season. You don’t have to put together the same lineup you would vs. San Diego in July. Every man is available, anytime, because every out is important. Each game is a must-win game. If you have guys cold as ice, bench them. Move them around. With AJ and Crawford hitting the ball, why is Puig batting second? AJ bat second? Sure, Scioscia did it. A contact hitter – more, a smart hitter – can do damage up there, as opposed to the bottom of the lineup. The point is, Donnie can’t manage and enables his players to goof off as he prefers a happy clubhouse to a gritty, smart, focused one. I hope to god he’s not allowed to manage the “real Dodgers” – the team coming after this selfie taking, bubble dancing monstrosity. I don’t want him turning Joc and Seager into pretty boys who dance to pre-game concerts and pose for clothing store catalogs. I don’t want him to manage the Dodgers period. Getting a real baseball manager in there who smashes the bubble machine and tells these party boys it’s time to play baseball, and isn’t afraid to be creative with his lineup and thinking, would do wonders for the Dodgers. One wonders if Farty Arte will fire Scioscia. I would say he’s probably safe due to winning the most games in baseball’s regular season, but Donnie, while finishing first, didn’t do so in as impressive fashion as the Anaheim skipper. Donnie should go. Kasten would be sacrificing him and no one in LA would balk. Fans don’t care about Donnie, and they don’t think he’s a good manager. Nice guy, former star, but not a good or tactical manager. The Dodgers can do better. Then can some coaches. Donnie’s a dunce, but he’s not the only one responsible for this. He played the hand dealt to him by Kasten.

Stan “Baldy” Kasten – he may have been the genius behind the Braves teams or perhaps he was a bit lucky with good scouts and amazing fortune. He may have a grand scheme and showed smarts not dealing the main prospects mid-season… but… his inability or unwillingness to make adjustments, especially in the pen, crippled the Dodgers. Giving a dull tool like Donnie the option to use Elbert in a must-win playoff game makes him every bit as responsible as his manager. Insisting Elbert, Wilson, Perez, etc. were good during the regular season and after and not considering Paco Rodriguez, Yimi Garcia and other kids was foolish. Believing his $235M team could get by with a bad pen was idiotic. Thinking defense wasn’t important was ridiculous. I argued with people on Twitter until I finally decided it wasn’t worth it and stopped posting – they too said I was wrong to assume defense and relief pitching didn’t matter in Oct. It’s pretty much everything, not a luxury. Look at Kansas City. Why are the Royals so good? Defense, pitching, relief pitching, timely hitting, chemistry, leadership, and enough power to get the job done. The Royals also have a dumb manager, but that team is so well constructed it’s hard for Yost to screw it up. With the Dodgers, a team missing a lot of those components, mistakes are magnified. The Dodgers never would have survived the one game play-in with Oakland. Kasten may have tricks up his sleeve, but I fully believe today’s loss is a good thing ultimately for the Dodgers and their fans. It stings, but it will force Kasten to address the bullpen, perhaps Donnie and the coaches, and maybe even move some celebrity millionaires. Would it be so bad to turn some hot shot into a gamer in the Royals mode? If the Dodgers won and advanced deeper into Oct, fans, and Kasten himself, likely would feel all was well and not want any changes. The rude awakening for the second year in a row shows changes need to be made – if only a real bullpen acquired. Kasten has annoyed me all season because he’s had a lot of the pieces, but ignores them, banishes them and insists on guys he brought in who proved they weren’t up to the task. Try as I might, I can’t understand why Paco spent the entire season in AAA and more, why he was left off the post-season roster after showing he was performing well in Sept. I hope Kasten gets busy and improves the team. Bullpen, defense, leadership, toughness. Trade away a few celebrities. The female fans will moan but they’ll get over it. The blueprint should be the current Royals team – a group that resembles something former Dodgers GM Dan Evans put together. There’s a reason that team feels magical, why they make crazy defensive plays, come back from behind, mow down opponents in late innings, etc. They’re a good team, a well-constructed team – the 2014 Dodgers are not a team, but a collection of parts. It bought some time, but when Kasten had other options on hand, he dismissed them. Is it some scheme we’re not aware of, arrogance, stubbornness, or a mix of the three? Kasten is the guy who created the current Dodgers, and re-signed Donnie, so he’s very much to blame for this season. $235M should buy more. Oh, and if you’re also working under the assumption Donnie is the problem for everything, you must also believe Ned is the problem. I don’t mind if you blame Ned, but he’s just a figurehead – Kasten runs the team. Getting rid of Ned would be like dealing with your Obama hatred by removing Biden. In the case of who makes actual decisions for the Dodgers, follow the shine off the bald head.

I won’t go into individual players any more than I have because it’s unnecessary. The players are what they are, and were never going to be much more than that. I choose to look at the ace/best pitcher in all of baseball, the manager and architect of the team. I think the buck stops there. Frankly I’m annoyed the National League representative in the World Series will be some team that makes me ill. I’m going for Kansas City, and if they lose in the ALCS or big dance, it will still have been an impressive season for them. It’s easy to like the Royals because they play baseball the right way. They’re a cohesive unit and a fun team that plays fundamentally sound and with a ton of energy. The Dodgers need to get some of that back. The 1988 team had it, Dan Evans’ teams had it, but it’s not been around since perhaps the back to back NLCS teams McCourt underfunded. It’s time for change. It’s time to get back to playing baseball smartly, and not worrying about bubbles, dancing, walk up music and who has more groupies. Old fashioned? You bet! But it’s the way you win in Oct – and as I said, the current Dodgers’ brand of baseball was never going to fare well in the post-season. And look where they are now.