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A Pox that Has Spread Across the Southland

December 9, 2016 21 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 7, 2016 Comments off

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The World Series is over; the clocks have changed and now baseball diehards get to await the Hot Stove league. It used to be my favorite time of the year but under Andrew Friedman, Farhan Zaidi and the rest, it’s less than thrilling if you are looking forward to your Dodgers making a big splash. The new normal seems to be to remain content with getting to the playoffs, not really making a push. Mark Walter confirmed this recently with his comments about ten years of getting to the playoffs being more prudent than making a big push for a go year. Sigh.

Fans of this group of executives crow that hey, even with a record amount of disabled list visits, the combined geniuses of the Dodgers front office made 2016 a pretty successful season. Of course, no thought goes into the obvious – the injuries were all inevitable since the front office invested in risky, often injured players, mostly pitchers. Whatever magic that happened in 2016, one must remember that it was indeed magic. To assume, for instance, that a team can be constructed of suspect innings in the rotation and that the pen can compensate once more, is foolish. It’s not a repeatable formula to have relievers and minor league journeymen fill in the innings left by management constructing a rotation of question marks.

We shall see, I suppose, what cards Friedman and Zaidi play. And if, more importantly, the Diamondbacks, with a new general manager and new manager, and Giants, in search of bullpen help, decide to make an effort in 2017. The division is weak and winnable. I’m sure Friedman and Zaidi, and the Dodgers ownership group, understands this. Of course, it’s possible that the two other teams who usually are in the thick of things, will make an effort in the coming season. If so, will whatever Friedman and Zaidi do this winter be enough? And what will they do? What can they do? Well, let’s consider a few things.

I would say the most obvious way to improve the rotation is by adding Zack Greinke via a big trade with Arizona, or someone similar in another deal. But, given the fact Friedman and Zaidi allowed Greinke to leave, would they even feel it necessary to go this route? After all, when Greinke left, they made no effort to add anyone of that talent level and only moved on to Scott Kazmir and Kenta Maeda once most every other option was off the table. But assuming rumors are true and Friedman and Zaidi would like Greinke back, or some other solid ace-type pitcher, that would certainly be the easiest way to add quality behind Clayton Kershaw, who has now shown besides being vulnerable in Oct play, is not super human and can end up on the disabled list. Again, repeating the magic that occurred once Kershaw hit the injured list, seems a poor strategy.

Assuming Friedman and Zaidi stick to their guns, however, and don’t believe Greinke is worth the investment, or even that another pitcher of that cost (think bottom line, we are talking about owners who are a large investment firm, after all), then what? Well, it would mean more of the same. The same being a rotation that likely looks identical to 2016’s – Kershaw, Kazmir, Maeda, and probably youngsters Julio Urias and Jose De Leon. The thought here, of course, everyone remains healthy and that Urias and De Leon make like the Braves young arms of the 80s and become top tier hurlers in no time at all. Seems like a stretch to me. One, that the kids can take on the additional innings workload so quickly and develop that fast vs. big league hitting, and two, that the walking wounded all stay healthy.

The word “depth” has been bandied around a lot by Friedman cultists. It’s to imply in its use that Friedman is a sorcerer, like Dr. Strange, and he has an ability to make the lower reaches of his 25-man roster that much more special than those of the other 29 teams in league. In other words, everything he touches turns to gold. It’s to assume that every other general manager has no concept of backups, on the major league roster or in the minors. It’s ridiculous and in reality, means not acquiring talent and relying on plans B, C and D.

Friedman devotees will point, as Mark Walter seemed to recently, that you just need to get to the playoffs and then “depth” and the dark arts take over and through luck and prayer you are as apt to win as a “better” team. Well, there have been cases where wild card teams have won, but I’d say most teams that have are fundamentally good teams and it’s not an accident they did well. I’d also say, as this year’s post season attests, that the Chicago Cubs were picked by Vegas and others to win the World Series in 2016. They had the most wins and they won, even when down 3 games to 1. Was it luck? No, it was an incredibly talented roster put together and masterfully played by Theo Epstein, who had done it before – in Boston, and a very solid manager in Joe Maddon. Luck? Perhaps a smidge, but while Friedman and Zaidi loaded up on players like Brandon McCarthy, Brent Anderson Chris Hatcher, Kike Hernandez, Kazmir, etc., Theo loaded up with Jon Lester, Ben Zobrist, Aroldis Chapman, etc. Luck didn’t have anything to do with it – understanding which players are great and collecting as many as possible, did.

It’s too early to predict what will happen in the Hot Stove this winter but I will say it would take a lot of good baseball work to improve the Dodgers more than hoping Ned Colletti and Logan White’s farm fills in the gaps. Last winter’s shopping season, which went largely ignored by Friedman and Zaidi, was so important because this winter the cupboard is bare. I believe the best free-agent pitcher available is Jeremy Hellickson, if that tells you something. I know Moneyball fans turn their noses up at anything that resembles the old way of doing things, but there’s a reason why most teams look to the winter meetings as the time to fill needs. It’s how business is done.

Say Friedman and Zaidi realize they better add reliable innings behind Kershaw, and they might. The cost will be more than dollars; it will be in the prize prospects so many baseball fans covet. Personally, I have no problem dealing young players, if it makes sense and if it fills needs for a chance to win now. After all, while the Dodgers have spent almost 3 decades doing it in a less than aggressive fashion, winning is what it’s all about. It’s why the Cubs and Indians both dealt huge chips in their farm system for a chance to play in this year’s World Series. It’s almost once in a lifetime – in fact, for the Cubs fans, it was once in several lifetimes. Do you think Theo regrets trading for Chapman? The Indians for Andrew Miller?

It would be curious to me to see Friedman and Zaidi, however, deal blue chips for pitching when said pitching was available this time last year for cash. I know, I know – the Sabermetrics lovers will say, but it costs a draft pick! Who cares? The way Friedman drafts, it’s inconsequential anyway. And what draft pick will undoubtedly become as good as an ace the team could have signed? It’s a one in a thousand shot (I didn’t use a Moneyball calculator, I just used that figure for dramatic effect, so don’t have an aneurysm trying to fathom that).

I would say, without knowing the war room plans of Friedman, Zaidi, the genius of Gabe Kapler and Josh Byrnes, etc. that more than likely the 2017 team will more or less resemble the 2016 bunch, except with more emphasis on Ned’s kids and less pixie dust. As I said, to bank on magic to be as plentiful next year as it was this, probably isn’t the best plan in the world. But, we shall see, we shall see. Fire up the Hot Stove, it will be a trade heavy winter as the shopping isn’t there. Let’s see what Friedman and his merry men can conjure up.

And Now They Act Surprised

June 29, 2016 Comments off

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Well, here we are, the eve of July and the Dodgers are in a huge heap of trouble. With a thin rotation, now ace Clayton Kershaw’s back is bothering him. He’s flying back to LA to be examined but knowing Kershaw, he’ll be ok. But, what if he isn’t? Even if he’s fine, maybe a little less Kershaw-esque than he’s been throughout the year, it opens up a discussion I’ve brought up many times since last season, this past winter, this spring and all season long – Andrew Friedman and his Peter Lorre-like henchman, Farhan Zaidi, did a piss poor job of building a starting rotation and pitching staff, especially for a large market team desperately needing a win after 30 seasons, and most especially when payroll is over $230M.

The Dodgers under Friedman had holes last season but the reason they didn’t go deeper in October was the reluctance to add a viable third ace to the rotation. I understand not wanting to deal Corey Seager or perhaps even Julio Urias but to be so stingy with all of the kid pitchers when options like David Price and Cole Hamels were available, cost the Dodgers in 2015. As we knew then and now, Brett Anderson isn’t the answer in important October games. Kershaw did his job. Zack Greinke did his job. Another solid arm would have helped the Dodgers advance, but small market bean counters like Friedman and Zaidi were, well, thinking small. Hoarding young pitchers as if they were the crown jewels. Newsflash to those in decision making positions for big market baseball teams mired in a 30 year drought – you can trade prospects, especially pitchers. What’s the likelihood the kids held are ever going to be on the level of Price or Hamels? Almost none. Big market teams can always buy an arm in a pinch. This doesn’t mean I advocate gutting the farm all the time to win now, but if you can go further than you have been and already have two supreme pitchers (as the Dodgers did last year), you should be all in and do what it takes – save for moving Seager.

But even Seager could have been moved, if the price was right. If you could get Mike Trout, moron Bryce Harper or someone like that, anyone is in play. But let’s assume the Dodgers just needed something extra last July, as they did. If your acquisitions are of the bargain basement variety Friedman made, you end up shorthanded. Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi are small market, small minded guys who think they are still in those tiny towns. If they were consistent, I wouldn’t have as much to say. But while cheaping out on big league talent, taking flyers instead on reclamation projects and injury marred nobodies, they still manage to spend a fortune on god knows what. All winter long we saw signings of unknown Cubans for lots of money, none of which has helped the Dodgers. Will they someday? Perhaps. But I’d argue with recent releases of the Stan Kasten batch of Cubans, and the failures of Yasiel Puig to put it together, it’s easy to debate that Cuban talent is overrated, especially at the price tags the players sign for. Let’s be frank – would you prefer unknown Cubans with “tools” and “potential” or proven big leaguers? Or strong performers from the Japanese league? (even ones without several injury concerns)

It’s quite a feat to both be extremely cheap and completely fiscally irresponsible. How does one even manage to spend so much and field a team with so little? Gone is Greinke, replaced with Kenta Maeda and several injury question marks there, plus Scott Kazmir, who was out of baseball not long ago. The pipedream of greatness from Mike Bolsinger or rebounds of epic proportion from Brandon McCarthy or Hyun-Jin Ryu and Brandon Beachy was always far-fetched. Now here we are, the end of June, and the Dodgers flagship radio station, 570 AM in LA, keeps making excuses. Who could have known? Who could expect? Umm, anyone? It was obvious even if Kershaw could stay healthy and win 20-25 games, it would be a challenge for the Dodgers to beat a reloaded San Francisco team. You need strong pitching to win and 1.5 to 2.5 starters isn’t enough. In fact, it’s a step backward from 2015.

Tonight the Dodgers are starting a guy who was pitching in A ball this year. All season long we’ve heard Friedman supporters talking about “depth.” All of the names that are called either fail or get hurt. When you troll the bargain bin, you can’t expect much. It’s unlikely 29 other teams all missed out and you’re just that much smarter than all of the other baseball executives. But that seems to be the case. The Dodgers front office is packed with big egos who consider themselves brighter than everyone else in baseball. It’s moronic, to them, to just go shopping in the off-season and get players that have track record of success, and hopefully good health. It’s too easy, so a deep thinker like Friedman, or one like Zaidi, don’t do things that way. A “dummy” like Ned Colletti would do that, and that’s not how they think. In complete honesty, Ned was a far brighter baseball mind than the idiots running the show now, and I’m the first to admit Ned was no genius, just a fairly competent, experienced baseball guy. The goal of a Friedman run front office is not necessarily to win – the Dodgers were already doing that under Ned and Stan Kasten – but to do it by showing the world they are smarter than everyone else. So if they could win with guys no one had heard of, waiver wire pickups, AAAA castoffs, injury guys, etc., the fruits of victory would taste that much sweeter.

Well, here we are. Excuses being made why everyone is hurt, or why others didn’t pan out. Excuses why the offense is one of the worst in baseball, why the pen has no real set up men and rotating no one’s on any given day. A great pitching staff can compensate for a low producing offense. Dan Evans, shackled by Fox ownership and given almost nothing to spend each winter, managed to field amazing defensive teams with strong pitchers – usually coming with different looks that confused opposing hitters. Evans’ teams were solid and just needed 1-2 more bats, but alas, it was never meant to be. Now here we are today, offensively challenged, still waiting for Puig to explode, but only the pitching is not what it was under Evans. The rotation is thin, the bullpen thin. We are told, wait, keep waiting. It’s been 3 decades, but we must keep waiting. I’d be happy to wait if an answer were on the horizon. I don’t see how you can ask patience while having the highest payroll in baseball. Those are mixed messages. If you have a payroll of what the current Dodgers do, it’s perfectly right for fans to expect it to be a go year. If you are rebuilding for 2018, as Friedman says he is, then payroll should be small. And if you’re building for years from now, you don’t really need Kershaw, who can walk in 2018, or Kenley Jansen, a free-agent after this year, or Adrian Gonzalez, or some of the other stars on the roster.

Dodger fans are divided – either confused, as I am, by what is going on. Or they’re young and never saw a winner. They have no point of comparison and assume this is a Dodgers team like the teams from Flatbush were or the 1970s juggernaut teams. Hey, they were blue caps with white lettering on them.

I feel sorry for fans of the Dodgers, both the old guard and new. The ownership group hired bean counters that have put their massive egos over the good of the fans and city. There is no real plan except to get cheaper, while apparently blowing that massive TV deal’s money and gate on items that can’t help the big club in any capacity. The pipedream is that somewhere down the line there will be a winning Dodger team filled with kids grown on the farm (mostly by Logan White under Ned’s supervision) and every prospect will be a superstar. Payroll will be very low, allowing the Guggenheim Group even larger profits, and isn’t that what America is about nowadays? Forget the fact it almost never works that way – a) that the prospects all hit, and b) that it could ever happen in a large market like LA anyway (or should).

Fans need to stop asking what happened or wondering how Kershaw could get hurt. They have to stop grousing about bad luck and how this could happen to anyone. No, it really couldn’t. Logically if the Dodgers had kept Greinke and added Price, Hamels, Jordan Zimmerman, Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija whoever, they’d have three strong pitchers. They could have added Maeda, injury question marks or no, to the lower part of the rotation. Having 4-5 pitchers you know you can count on for the majority of their starts is what you should aim for when constructing a pitching staff. You also need a strong bullpen to shorten games. If you work backward, you can have relievers shorten a game to 6-7 innings, allowing you the luxury of 5-6 inning starts on occasion from your starters. The Dodgers under Friedman gambled with innings in the rotation as well as the pen. This is exactly what happens when you think like this. It’s not a surprise that at some point Kershaw, who has logged a ton of innings, might himself get hurt. It’s not a surprise that other guys either couldn’t deliver or are hurt. It’s what you would expect if you were paying attention and not focused on showboating how bright you are.

The Dodgers now are in a quagmire that not much can be done about. I would be surprised even if Friedman and Zaidi wanted to make a big trade or two, if it would be enough. The holes are throughout the boat, not just one or two places. The solution is easy and complex. To get the Dodgers sailing right, Guggenheim has to admit their mistake, bring in an actual baseball person and clean house. This means losing all the cooks in the current kitchen, as well as most of Dave Roberts’ know-nothing coaches, all hand-selected by Friedman, of course. This would be quite a shakeup and of course it wouldn’t help in 2016. The Dodgers are playing for a wildcard and even if they get there, should Kershaw win that game, then what? There are few options behind Kershaw and may not be until Urias develops into a solid option who can log 200 innings. Of course by that time, Kershaw will likely have opted out and be wearing a Rangers hat. Then the question for Friedman apologists will be, what do we have behind Urias?

Does Pepto-Bismol come in blue?