As the playoffs approached I started to feel bad for long-suffering Dodgers fans, and even some of the young, naive and snarky ones. Maybe especially them. Anyone, really, who believed that this ownership group, this front office, and many of the players on this year’s roster, would undo nearly three decades of pain and suffering. I tried to warn them – anyone who reads my tweets or articles here knows this to be true. I did my best, but sometimes, well… a fan is short for fanatic, and the definition of is a person filled with excessive and single-minded zeal.
I saw the fervor building and deep hopes that this year it would be different. Admittedly, as a person who has spent wayyyy too much time analyzing Dodgers minutia over the past several decades, I knew it would not be. Again, feel free to look up my points of view from articles past to tweets long ago – it’s all there for the record. Andrew Friedman, and his boy troll Farhan Zaidi, were never going to do the impossible – not now, not with what they put together. When your front office is boasting never before has the disabled list been used so intensely, you know as a fan you are in deep doo doo.
I’ve chatted with friends and friends of friends who had one foot on the bandwagon themselves – these, people who should know better. Sort of like Trump Mania, they got swept away with the less experienced, believing a cake walk through a listless NL West meant things were different. I tried using reason – but they have no rotation! When would a team with no rotation – the only top tier pitcher coming off a serious back ailment and October yips – be enough to go to or win a World Series? But what of that tired, generic looking bullpen that logged wayyyy too many innings, covering for said lack of starting pitching? What of the team that also set another record – lowest batting average ever of a post season team vs. left-handed pitching? Last of 30 teams vs. left-handed pitching. No speed. Relying too heavily on a 22-year-old rookie, especially curious given the highest payroll in organized sports. No, you don’t understand, the chemistry – this year will be different! Ok. You can only argue so much, and who am I to piss on everyone’s shoes?
The Dodgers did as well as could be expected – not buoyed by greatness from the ownership group and front office, but more the soft Western division (the only other good team was the worst in baseball after the All-Star break) and bloat of payroll. Kids finally ripe, or nearly ripe, helped out immensely. The fans cheered the kids that the owners and front office executives provided, ignoring completely, or rewriting history, that the previous regimes did all the heavy lifting – scouting, drafting, signing almost anyone on the roster who had a good season, this includes Justin Turner and Clayton Kershaw. In fact, it’d be hard to find plus players the current group of geniuses found. Andrew Toles is the one that comes to mind, but like Kike Hernandez the previous year, too small a sample size, may still be exposed.
The fact of the matter is a lot of money was saved not signing Zack Greinke, not going after the free-agent arms like Johnny Cueto, David Price, Jordan Zimmerman, trade options like Cole Hamels, etc. but any savings were offset by overspending (again) on the walking wounded and never weres – Scott Kazmir, Brent Anderson, Brandon McCarthy, and so many “toolsy” Cubans we have not seen and likely never will. As I’ve stated before – an interesting high wire act of being cheap and being irresponsible with the wallet at the same time.
In reality, as I said last winter and this spring and many, many times (too many for most) during the year, the Dodgers could have fixed their 2015 playoff problems by addressing the issue that haunted them. The issue was starting pitching – rather than go it again with the lefty/righty ace combo of Kershaw and Greinke, and add more behind that, they instead subtracted. The sycophants wallet watching and saying how Greinke’s years 6-8 would bankrupt the team are the same types who don’t get how after trading top minor league talent for Andrew Miller, the Cleveland Indians are in the World Series. The illness that has taken over baseball fans where they feel compelled to be guardians of billionaire owners’ bottom line, as opposed to fans who deserve a title in their town, is impossible to argue with – believe me, I have tried. Whatever Greinke’s cost might be when he is older and less amazing means nothing if along the way you win a title, or perhaps more. The Indians understand this, and they are still playing today.
Kershaw and Greinke are a lot better than the alternatives, especially those brought in by Friedman, Zaidi and their gang of numbers crunching simpletons. What the Dodgers needed was to keep Greinke and add another arm of quality besides. Or – part with Greinke and sign two arms of quality. The problem last Oct was Anderson and the rest, not Kershaw and Greinke. The irony now that Greinke might be on the Dodgers radar as a winter trade target (the free-agent crop last winter was so vital as this year’s is non-existent) is humorous. Friedman lovers will hail a reunion as genius, even after saying how brilliant it was to let Greinke go. When you subtract your #2 starter and fill the void with a slew of question marks and DL cases, you’re just not bright. Innings, quality, healthy innings, are very key to constructing your pitching staff. The Dodgers had a big problem there from winter through spring into summer and fall. Micro-managing, using 7 pitchers per night since the starter could only go 2-4 innings, worked in the short term vs. very bad competition, but there is a massive difference between facing San Diego pitching and the Chicago Cubs.
I am curious to see if the administration learned this, or if they are going to go back to the same type of ineffectiveness that got them where they ended up. Part of the problem is the logjam of contracts and possible slots players like Kazmir and McCarthy take up. Not to mention Hyun-Jin Ryu, who was a warrior – until injuries made him unable to make the bell. The only way out of the situation is sucking up more salary, padding offers with desirable prospects and going for impact starting pitching via trade such as Greinke, Chris Sale or perhaps Justin Verlander, etc. Counting on sudden health and greatness from the guys Friedman did this year no doubt means the same problems in 2017 as 2016. And remember, Kershaw’s injury I warned you about in the past – occurred and could flare up again. Would you feel comfortable with Kenta Maeda as your ace and a group of young pitchers who are nowhere near ready for a 200-innings workload?
The rosy prospects of 2017 rely on one of two things happening – the Guggenheim ownership throwing out the current group or the current group suddenly learning from reality and making adjustments. I assume the second is more realistic as while I’d love for the Moneyball experiment to end in Los Angeles (again), more than likely it will be spun – we got to the championship series! Of course, when Ned Colletti did that two years in a row under Botox loving, penny pinching Frank McCourt, it was argued as not enough.
I guess it’s possible even a math crunching geek like Friedman could understand that his pitch and ditch fantasy approach to getting innings out of his overachieving and no name bullpen wasn’t ideal. But even if that happens, the market is pretty dry. It would indeed mean eating more bad contracts and trading parts many don’t want the team to trade. Them’s the breaks, as they say. Conventional baseball guys know that winter shopping is the easiest and most tried and true time to acquire assets. The July trading deadline is the other. Last winter, seemingly either out of Guggenheim trying not to spend or the executives’ need to look brighter than old school baseball guys, the Dodgers waited the shopping frenzy out. Only after almost every name was taken off the board, did Friedman move. In July, top teams loaded up, Friedman waited till the last hours and traded three prospects for two walk free-agents. It seems the pattern is Friedman always waits, and ultimately is left out in the cold.
His supporters will deny this and argue but the fact is that teams who want to win get the parts they require and do so aggressively. You don’t watch the Red Sox, for example, sit on their hands as the best players are looking for homes. The Cubs loaded up as soon as Theo arrived and are playing in the World Series because of it. For the Dodgers, there’s always an excuse why this player or that didn’t come to LA. Too expensive, a risk, or just plain not interested. The fans, sadly, in a large part have come to not only accept these excuses, but parrot them back as a sort of gang standing behind the bully’s back in support. Stockholm Syndrome – the fans oftentimes are more in support of geeks than they are their own self-interest. Shouldn’t fans of a baseball team be looking after themselves? A team like the Dodgers has gone through multiple ownership changes over the past three decades and so much money has come in via record attendance, increased parking, concessions and merchandise fees, massive TV deals that don’t allow the games to be televised to the majority of the market and any savings planned by playing inexpensive prospects (from previous regimes). As a fan, when I yell out the window like that guy in the movie Network, that I’m as mad as hell… I believe it’s my right as a fan. I would never consider, for example, screaming how awesome a polo shirt wearing dork from Tampa or Oakland is. Yet, the game has changed, and many do just that.
Again, it’s not just the uninformed, there are some real fans swept up in this. Longtime fans – fans over 40 years old – fans who actually witnessed Dodgers greatness in their lifetime and know all too much about the roots dating back to Flatbush. Fans by their very nature, I guess, want to believe. You can’t fault them for that. I do fault them for supporting sleazy executives however over their own best interests.
It’s too early to say what will happen in 2017. It depends, as I noted, whether the front office is sent packing (won’t happen) or they learned from the past. If neither of those things happen, 2017 will be less successful than 2016 just based on the unlikelihood of the entire division phoning it in again. If the Giants add Kenley Jansen, or if the Boston exec who is taking over the Diamondbacks does anything, that alone would make it harder to repeat the success of this year. I have hinted what should have been done and what needs to be done – innings need to be added to the rotation. Reliable, solid innings. It will require bold moves and trades, since signing good pitchers to free-agent contracts apparently escaped the draft pick hoarding dummies the Dodgers employ. It will require finally getting that Ryan Braun for Yasiel Puig (and of course more, Puig has proven he needs to be gone) deal or something like it, so a big right handed presence is added to the lefty heavy lineup. It will mean adding some youth and speed to the top of the order, probably at second base (oh for Dee Gordon or Jose Peraza, huh?). It will mean lopping off frequent DL guys who almost never are healthy and on the active roster.
The Dodgers, we are told, have all the financial wherewithal in the world and want to win. I see cheapness, I see intensely stupid spending. I would like to see that turn into smarter spending, healthier bodies, more positive results and less of the magic potion Friedman and Zaidi and Josh Byrnes and Gabe Kapler and all the rest of them giggle feverishly and try to concoct in their nerd lab. There’s a reason the game was largely unchanged for more than a century, the formula is pretty simple. The tinkering, looking sideways, squinting and trying to be overly clever was devised for teams with no other possible option. A team, going through a near 30-year drought without a championship, with the highest payroll in sports, and more money in the kitty than anyone, should not be building this way. The experiment in Los Angeles is frustrating and ugly. Let’s use some smarts. “Moneyballer” Theo Epstein was wise enough to understand this – turning impossible situations in Boston and now in Chicago around. I guess the question is, how smart (stubborn) are Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi? Or the Guggenheim Group, for that matter.
The believers are still out there but at this point they are truly delusional or just grossly ill-informed. Unless Clayton Kershaw wins 25-30 games with his current stellar ERA, it would be hard to imagine the Dodgers, as constructed by dueling dingbats Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi, making the post-season. The Giants are a better team, as are many other teams around the National League.
The injuries keep mounting and Friedman’s so-called “depth” is all but depleted. In fairness, it never really existed anyway – merely a battle cry for Sabermetrics fans and the truly hopeful. As mediocre pitchers hit the disabled list, their supposed replacements either fail or never make the bell. A few weeks ago amateur pundits (Moneyball fans) were boasting of great arms like Mike Bolsinger, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Julio Urias, Brandon McCarthy, etc. ready to step in and lead the little Dodgers ($236M little) to the promised land. Well, Bolsinger is what he is, Ryu’s shoulder looks like a career ender, Urias is 19 and has 60 innings left in his arm before being shut down (we hope he gets shut down, or else he’ll be lost for 1.5-2 years), and McCarthy is off wherever JD Drew, Andruw Jones, Darren Dreifort and other non-performers disappeared to when getting fat paydays before pulling up with an ache or pain.
The Dodgers are what I and many of you always assumed they would be – mediocre. If you are being honest (a hard feat for many who bleed blue and want so badly to think front office geeks know more than people with actual baseball experience – and common sense), the Dodgers have Kershaw, Kenta Maeda who currently has a hand concern, as well as shoulder and elbow concerns, and nothing else of note in the rotation. The pen is worse, believe it or not, with Kenley Jansen and a cast of gasoline cans. No matter what spreadsheet you look at, no one has ever won anything with 2.5 pitchers out of 11-12. Depth would really need to step up to help Friedman/Zaidi’s Dodgers.
I tune in to 570 radio, the Dodgers flagship station in Los Angeles, and listen to the sports guy buffoons making excuses all the time. Today they were suggesting Urias isn’t really being forced into action out of desperation, but merely a test to see if he can respond to major league beat downs. A moment later they asked resident apologist David Vassegh who else could come up from the minors to help – since Urias is being asked to face the Cubs tomorrow in place of Maeda, rather than his scheduled start (replacing herky jerky and disabled Alex Wood on Saturday vs. the lowly Braves). There was a pause, or two, and some muttering, before saying pretty much no one was around who could help the big team.
I want to remind you all that injuries are part of baseball and they can happen to many teams at any time. That said, this was all predicted well in advance by me, and some of you. If you spend winters acquiring garbage and using tea leaves to figure out your rotation and bullpen, this is exactly what will happen. Many of you defended Friedman and Zaidi, saying those in disagreement didn’t know anything, were out of touch and didn’t understand the genius of the depth being acquired. Way too much confidence was put into the returns of either average at best arms or seriously damaged ones. To assume the likes of Brandon Beachy, McCarthy, Bolsinger and Ryu were going to suddenly become large market saviors was absurd. I love Ryu, but as I said last year, all winter and this March through now, to think he was going to come right back and perform, or even make the bell, was unrealistic. Shoulders, sadly for him, are career enders. If he makes some starts this year, consider Friedman lucky. More than likely he will not and certainly not be very consistent. That is my guess, I wish I were wrong.
The Dodgers, if you want to call them that, are a team in turmoil. It will be interesting to see how loyal the Guggenheim collective is with Paul DePodesta II. Friedman has seemed overmatched from the get-go. He has made a plethora of moves, bet on longshots and only occasionally does anything pan out. I’d say Trayce Thompson, so far, has worked out, but not much else. Big bets such as Chris Hatcher and the rest of his bullpen finds would be in the minors for most good teams. To think this is the end result of a $236M payroll makes it all quite criminal.
Say what you want about Ned Colletti, the guy turned around an abysmal (very similar to this team, as a matter of fact) DePodesta roster in one year and made it a fairly representative contending team. Ned made a few mistakes, but I’d argue they were nowhere near the number or level of Friedman/Zaidi. In the end, you could watch the teams Ned put together without having a puke bucket at hand. They felt like Dodgers teams – or at least as much as they could given the owner was fleecing the brand and the fans for every cent he could.
Friedman/Zaidi are betting on 2018, which to me is merely a way to ask for pardon for several more years of incompetence. If you project down the line, you can imagine Corey Seager, Joc Pederson and Urias in the mix, and if lucky, a couple of the kid pitchers we always hear about. But to assume all, or most, of the kid pitchers will deliver, or even stay healthy, is a bit far-fetched. What Sabermetrics lovers forget is that every prospect doesn’t make it and those who do often become average or below starters or relievers. They become backups and depth. To think Friedman’s bet that his Cubans and holdovers from Ned and Logan White will all be stars and the team can have a low payroll (apparently paramount to Guggenheim’s end plan) and be composed of young kids is not only false but should be unacceptable.
Teams comprised of kids should be left for cities where financially that is the only option. A contending team, and of course a large market team, should have a mix of stars, veterans and kids. If you look at the rosters of teams most likely to be around in Oct, the Dodgers do not stack up. If you look toward Friedman’s go-year of 2018, anything resembling a star likely will be gone from LA, and this might include Kershaw. So a plan to wait two more years and hope all the kids are ready to perform is a bad plan for sure.
The only way out of this hinges on what Guggenheim baseball folks think of Friedman’s handiwork. If they like the idea of trimming down payroll and collecting TV money for games no one can see, as well as gate, merchandise, etc., then perhaps Dodgers fans will be subjected to this product for a generation. If Guggenheim, perhaps, sees the brand tarnishing, the gate slowing, and/or need a scapegoat (as Frank McCourt did when he hired, then fired, Depodesta), maybe Friedman and Zaidi are shit canned as they should be. Let’s hope Mark Walter, who seemed to steer Dave Roberts into the manager’s seat over Friedman insider Gabe Kapler, is getting as fed up as most of us are.
It would take Friedman/Zaidi to be fired to turn this around, not that it would be easy for anyone. It would be a ground-up rebuild, likely jettisoning the roster filler acquired by the geeky duo. The new architect (let’s assume they are competent and bright like Dan Evans or Ned or some other experienced baseball man or woman) could cut ties with those Friedman is clearly too sentimental about. AAAA players he favors, bullpen torches and the walking wounded and/or incompetent can be sent away. Some of the veterans or stars could be flipped to bring in younger players perhaps, not necessarily blue chips but major league qualified younger players. The Yasiel Puig experiment could mercifully end (deal him to Texas for Jurickson Profar – the Rangers would likely be intrigued, Profar is blocked at short and second anyway). I would feel more confident because we would still have the prospects Ned and Logan White acquired and a smarter person shopping this off-season. But what about 2016? Sorry, this year is a pipe dream most any way you look at it. Kershaw will have to carry the team on his back in a 1988 Orel Hershiser manner, but even Orel had Tim Belcher, Tim Leary and a bullpen.
My hope is that fans continue to speak up and stop buying expensive tickets to games that ultimately don’t matter anyway. If the owners don’t want to televise the games, stay home and find something else to do. I won’t cave and give Guggenheim money until they show a concern for the fans and the historical brand and replace the morons who have created a roster so convoluted only a snarky geek could like it. Andrew Friedman is overmatched or just a stubborn idiot. His skeevy looking sidekick Farhan Zaidi is a poor man’s Peter Lorre . The two have taken the fun out of Dodgers baseball and when I tune in to 570 or see fans chatting blue online, I can’t believe the nonsense going on. The team was poorly created and not prepared. If the goal was to field an inferior product, they’re doing a wonderful job. When mediocre or poor players don’t do well, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. When often injured (and barely passable) players don’t find an elixir for all that ails them and come charging to the rescue, it’s not “bad luck.” Under Friedman and Zaidi, the incompetence has reached new levels – which is saying a lot considering this team was owned by McCourt at one time and designed by DePodesta.
If you like what is happening, or are just there for the 35 Kershaw starts, good for you. I wish you all the happiness. The truth can be painful. As a lifetime Dodgers fan, I call it as I see it. The fans have been fucked over for three decades in one way or another and 2018 will not be any different unless the front office is swept clean. Save your money, read a book, see a summer blockbuster, but don’t count on Friedman and Zaidi’s Dodgers for summer enjoyment unless you like torturing yourself.