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Good Enough to Be Good Enough

April 2, 2017 7 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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One Last Therapy Session for 2016

December 23, 2016 5 comments

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‘Tis the eve before Christmas eve so why not talk a little Dodgers? It’s been an important yet overall uneventful off-season for the guys who wear Dodger blue. Important because someone high up the food chain, likely Mark Walter again, told the dueling dummies of Friedman and Zaidi and their gaggle of geniuses they better keep Kenley Jansen and Justin Turner or not only would the club not have a real shot vs. a closer-added Giants team, but worse, the fans might not show up for the higher ticket, parking and concessions prices. While all thoughts are of a magical 2018, Guggenheim still wants to squeeze every cent out of hopeful/delusional Dodgers fans. That $8B ($6B in profit after paying the blue blood con man) TV deal is hardly enough for rich capitalists. So, after risking losing both Kenley and the ginger haired ewok to other teams, Friedman and Zaidi “came to their senses” and signed the pair for market value – i.e. what they should have and could have paid in Oct. Interesting how baseball works.

With the important out of the way, we are back to hearing how the Dodgers are “in” on every big name, without anything to show for it. After July’s dance around Chris Sale and Ryan Braun, now the music has changed to Brian Dozier, who also is getting his tires kicked by the Giants. While Dozier would be a huge offensive shot in the arm and help answer the void Friedman and Zaidi created vs. left-handed pitching, I’m not a huge fan. That said, if the Giants add him plus their new closer, it’s curtains for LA, unless they switch course and land Ian Kinsler.

Dozier, who I had on fantasy, dropped when he was struggling below .200 for a long period of time and then grabbed when I spied he was coming out of his long funk, is definitely a guy you’d be “buying high” on. Is he the offensive beast we saw in the second half, or the guy who takes months off? I say he’s the ideal Friedman and Zaidi feast or famine hitter. He’d help a lot, but is he the best fit? I don’t think so. Better fits were Dee Gordon and Jose Peraza, or César Hernández of the Phillies. I’m of the antiquated opinion a speedy lead-off guy would help more than another swing for the fences type. Of course, I’d also add a legit outfield bat to help fulfill that dearth of production from the right side of the plate, be it Braun (who is crucified for Dodgers fans for cheating the year our guy likely was cheating) or some other run producing bat.

Ian Kinsler would be a much bigger asset, in my opinion, to Dozier, but he comes with his own set of concerns. While a pure hitter in the sense of Corey Seager and Adrian Gonzalez, turner is 34 and would probably insist on a contract extension, considering his deal ends after 2017 (with an option for 2018) and the blue are on his no-trade list. I guess it depends how much Friedman and Zaidi want to “win now” and how much they believe in Willie Calhoun. For the record, I don’t think Friedman and Zaidi care about winning now – they firmly are planning for all their prospects to become stars. The “win now” thing is coming from the top, and like I said, only then to keep the stadium full. One more for the record, not to say Calhoun won’t be great someday, but right now he’s a kid who hit. 254 at AA, so not quite ready for serious conversations, not to mention a left-handed bat.

I’d say finding two bats from the right side should be a big priority that shouldn’t wait until spring training, but knowing the way the Moneyballers operate, we might not see anything substantial until then. I’d say if you could get that César Hernández type and add a solid bat to replace Yasiel Puig in the outfield, the offense is in a good place. If they add Dozier, I’d still look for a bat for the outfield, as Dozier is fully capable of disappearing for weeks, months, at a time.

You should think how a lineup is perceived by an opposing team. The more “scary” guys you have, the harder it is for them to plan against. i.e. Kinsler a lot better and scarier than Dozier, unless Dozier is in a hot streak. Kinsler will keep teams honest. If you have Seager, Turner and Adrian and then add Kinsler, that’s four bats capable of getting a hit most of the time. Braun, like him or not, is the same way. In my experience, the more “scary” guys you add, the better your chances are, and the harder it is for opposing teams to pitch to. If you have a lot of .240 (or below) types with 100+ strikeouts, much easier.

Beyond that, I’d say the Dodgers need a real #2 starting pitcher but I guess that can wait until July. Rich Hill, they believe, is that #2, but like Scott Kazmir, a guy who was pitching in independent baseball not long ago and you end up there for a reason. Hill is not a #2. On his best day, he adds a smart arm that deepens your staff, but in no reality is he capable of stepping up in a big way when the World Series is on the line. I wouldn’t consider him an anchor anyway, some might disagree. To them, I’d say go check his career and his track record of injuries.

So, the rotation is what it is and likely is hopeful on magic and prayer, just like last year. Perhaps in July, when fighting for the West lead, or more likely the NL wildcard, a team will have dropped out and Friedman and Zaidi can trade off some of the prospects they cling to like gold. Prepare for a lot of mix and match like 2016 in the meantime – fun!

That leaves the pen, which obviously is much better with Kenley being back. That said, last year it was overworked due to the 3-5 inning starts regularly out of an ill-prepared pitching rotation. I don’t see it being any different in 2017, even if they retain Joe Blanton. And I would look to keep Blanton, and add another setup man. Friedman and Zaidi must have noticed the game has changed and while they assume starting pitching doesn’t matter, you’d assume they’d realize a killer pen does. It was evident in Oct. The Dodgers are innings short in the rotation and one deep at the back end of the pen. You need to be 3-4 deep, so thinking Pedro Báez and the other meatheads Friedman and Zaidi have accumulated meet that criteria, would be plain dumb.

The idea is to shorten games, and the Dodgers current crop of relievers are interchangeable mid innings types. I don’t see that “scary” factor that is also required in your rotation and bullpen, as well as your lineup. I doubt Bruce Bochy, Joe Maddon and other managers panic when they see anyone beside Kenley throwing in the Dodgers pen. Ideally, especially when your payroll is over $250M, you have quality and “scary” out there. So, again in my most humble opinion, the Dodgers should think of that. Back end of the pen needs to be deeper, the current mix isn’t going to cut it.

I guess I will leave you there. I hope we don’t see 2016 redux next season. If any Dodger fan is thrilled just because Kenley and Turner are back, remember, this team wasn’t good enough to win, and I’d say lucky as hell to have gotten as far as they did. The idea, if you look around baseball during this Hot Stove season, is to improve. The Dodgers have not improved. The rotation is still spotty, the lineup can’t hit left-handers, the pen is one deep, etc. There is work to be done if the Dodgers want to move forward. The Giants, again, have moved forward. The good teams are acquiring pieces to set them up for deep runs. The Dodgers have been smart to keep two key pieces, but are no better now than they were on October 22nd. That’s the night they lost game 6 in Chicago, if you weren’t sure.

Plenty of time to fix the issues that need to be fixed, so I’m just a voice of reason. What is the goal for 2017? Filling the parking lot and stadium or getting back to the NLCS, and go further? We shall see, we shall see.

Have a very Merry Christmas; Happy Hanukkah; lovely Kwanzaa and safe and sane (haha, good luck!) New Year. 29 years and counting.

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.

Told Ya So. Now What?

October 27, 2016 6 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.