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.
One month to go and the fans are getting anxious. I see the tweets. Some are realizing what morons Andrew Friedman and his pet gnome Farhan Zaidi are; while others are thrilled the Dodgers are clinging to the vapors of first place in the worst division in baseball, the NL West. Of course the majority of the latter group are typical LA fans – thrilled by beach balls, parking lot fights and selfies. Too young to know better, or so is their excuse.
The Dodgers ownership is beside themselves that over 3 million fans attended games this year – or as most understand, 3 million tickets were sold. That’s the important thing, after all. Win, lose or draw (do they have ties in baseball?), the greedy finance company known as the Guggenheim Group get their money. They have that sneaky TV deal with evil empire Time Warner Cable pouring money into the offshore accounts, TV partnerships with MLB, gate receipts, merchandise and expensive stadium food. The parking goes to former sleazy owner Frank McCourt, bless his heart.
Fans are still in-fighting, brainwashed by a steady dose of LA media sucking up to the Dodgers gang of geniuses in the front office. The reporters – print, radio or TV – want access to the locker room and the free food before games, after all. It’s hard to find any media person in LA say anything negative, or dare I say, truthful, about the way the front office has conducted business since the last change in direction that landed Friedman and Zaidi into power. LA Times beat reporters triumphantly point to the scoreboard – “First place!”, they declare – while it lasts. If you point out the team has mostly been in first place for many years, under previous general managers, and that payroll is the highest in sports, as well as playing 80 games vs. terrible NL West competition, they shrug their shoulders and head for the free eats.
Since the message is always sunny, the majority of fans boast of “the Azul” and liken the slugs on the field in 2016 to some of the greatest to ever wear the Dodgers uniform. I figured out some time back that besides mass hypnosis, a lot of this was because the fans are in their teens and twenties and even early thirties and just do not know better. In their lifetimes – think of that! – in their lifetimes they have never seen a truly great Dodgers team. Their parents – yes, parents – mention names like Garvey, Lopes, Baker, Smith, Sutton, Fernando, Cey, etc., etc. and they look starry eyed at their folks while wearing a Luis Cruz or Charlie Culberson jersey. i.e. their perspective is skewed. There is no saving them. They root the laundry Jerry Seinfeld used to mention fans cheering on. “Who is Jerry Seinfeld?”, they ask.
If you try to appeal to them with logic and commonsense you are wasting your time. They are loyal to the core, just like Guggenheim wants. They need these young ones to buy hats and shirts and jerseys and get fanatical so the money keeps rolling in. I will sometimes, for fun, make obvious comments on something that is screwed up and I get attacked or responded to with some confused remark. It’s like explaining the sequence of events in “Pulp Fiction” to a Dalmatian.
I can’t fault the young and blissfully ignorant – hell, if the media is so enthralled with mediocrity, why should a vaping kid with a black Dodgers lid be any different? The Dodgers are dead – long gone, a ghost. The final lap of Vin Scully’s career is superficially celebrated but the majority of fans either can’t wait for the old codger to disappear or have no idea why this “boring old guy” is famous anyway.
The Dodgers have one month to sail into the playoffs – helped by a final month full of weak West foes – or choke. The team is interesting – the pen holding its own for the most part, save for various shitheels Friedman tries here and there, but overworked. The rotation is crap on a stick – the worst I can remember in all my years of following the Dodgers. The lineup is a patchwork any given night since analytics maintain you can’t throw your “best” players out there, you must always be clever and innovative – keep them guessing, seems to be the Friedman/Zaidi mantra.
The Dodgers score 10 runs or 0. They hit homers that get the fans jumping up and down but have trouble hitting in the clutch, moving runners over, stealing bases, taking extra bases and basically all the staples that baseball run producing is supposed to entail. When I wonder how this will play in October, some wet behind the ears whelp thumps his chest mightily and like Bill Shaikin himself, says, “Scoreboard! First place!”
No one cares that with 80 games against doormats and a payroll double most other teams, one should expect a degree of success. Again, logic is lost on the clueless. And after all, who am I to rain on their parade? If they want to think the 2016 Dodgers are the team that will break the jinx and bring a parade, full of rioting and hospitalization, to LA, so be it. The game is their game, after all. The young have inherited the Earth – the VMAs, Instagram, Snapchat and Kylie Jenner have deemed it so.
I am from a long past generation. Antiquated ideas that flawed data has determined is passé. In my twisted world a general manager would start with pitching – build a strong bullpen that is several power arms deep, shortening games and work back to the rotation. The rotation would consist of three very good starters – healthy, reliable, and capable of going deep into games. The four spot would be someone who could also reliably take the ball and pitch competitively. The fifth spot could be a veteran or a tryout for a top pitching prospect. The farm would have several other pitching prospects and a few veterans capable of stepping in in a pinch. I know this sounds like madness to the young, but it was the way baseball pitching staffs were considered and put together for many years. I know, the data has shown that it’s better to use a jumble of minor league lifers and reclamation projects, and that a rotation can consist of anyone with a pulse. Or who once had a pulse.
Again, I recall Dodgers rotations that were amazing, and some that were passable. I don’t recall a time when day to day, every month, no one could say who the day’s starting pitcher was going to be. I don’t recall such a cavalier attitude being given to pitching. This is, was, the LA Dodgers, after all. The team’s pitching has been legendary. Or at least that old man behind the mic has claimed.
I am at a loss how a front office full of geniuses – more cooks in the kitchen than Nobu – can spend so much money and have so little to show for it on the field. I mean, a payroll over $200 million while half the lineup, the starting pitcher and several members of the bullpen were just recently UPS drivers is quite an amazing achievement. How do you spend that much and get this little? It’s an art, I tell you.
The fans, guardians of finance companies’ wallets, will support any move the front office makes. Pay Zack Greinke until he’s nearing 40? Bah! Give the money to a few untried Cubans instead and overpay some guys coming off major injuries. Spread that green around. Any moron could look at the winter free-agent market and sign a few solid arms, but it takes brains to wait until all of those players are gone and then pull something out of your ass. Remember, it’s poker. Wait it out. Wait till every possible move that makes sense has happened, then pounce. Cleverness is more important than commonsense.
I also like how when trouble is evident, the brain trust waits longer still, and lets word leak that something huge is coming. Then the fans get all excited, chattering to themselves about this team’s ace or that team’s best bat and lo and behold, without fail, Friedman and Zaidi hit speed dial in the 11th hour and call on their buddies in Tampa and Oakland to bail them out. Hoarding prospects like nuggets during the California Gold Rush, the duo then foists over kids for anything their old friends want to give them. Rich Hill, old, a walk free-agent – on the disabled list! – and a walk free-agent Josh Reddick who was on the DL himself and has about as much pop as Tim Tebow, assuming the ball is an announced batting practice fastball, heralded as a genius move.
A good one was when Friedman had to move clubhouse hero AJ Ellis to get more offense from that all important backup catcher position. Granted, AJ can no longer hit, but if you look through baseball history, or most big league rosters, how many backup catchers do? AJ is a smart player, beloved by his teammates – most especially the guy who wears #22 and is compared to Sandy Koufax – and is essentially another coach or manager in the clubhouse and on the field. Yes, with a rotation in tatters, Friedman felt the need to risk clubhouse chemistry and momentum by moving AJ for another backup catcher. I guess he figured that his new acquisition could pinch hit in the 3rd inning, when one of his horrific starters was lifted, even though it would mean Kike Hernandez or Andrew Toles catching if something happened to passed ball king Yasmani Grandal. Another old guy baseball mindset – who gives a fuck what your backup catcher is hitting? Is he a good catcher? Is he a good game caller? Is he intelligent? AJ is all of these things, Friedman none of them.
There is one month left and I would assume the Dodgers should make the playoffs. The Giants have shown no fight in them in the second half and while the Dodgers’ shortcomings have been noted, I can’t say for certain the Giants have a run left in them. I sense they do, but who knows? So that means the Dodgers could win the West or get the wildcard, thrilling the legion of Southland fans to no end. They will point to progress – how the team made it to the playoffs, forgetting they have for years. If they make the wildcard, it will be heralded as an amazing achievement, especially due to all the injuries. No mention will be made that the geniuses acquired known injury cases – and a July 31st deadline arm already on the DL.
If the Dodgers don’t do well in October, or miss the playoffs altogether, the suck ups in the media and on social media will cite the amazing year in spite of difficulties. Again, no mention will be made that the difficult road wasn’t one that had to be traveled – how an easier road, with a real baseball man (just one, or two – not a consultancy), using both the financial resources available and prospects to shop with, could have been taken.
Kudos will be given to the progress the farm system made, neglecting the fact that almost all of the prospects were inherited from the previous regime. Corey Seager will win Rookie of the Year and get consideration for MVP, but was drafted and cultivated before Friedman and Zaidi slithered into town. Same for Julio Urias. Ditto for Jose De Leon. And others.
It would take an epic collapse for the greedy stiffs at Guggenheim to consider a change so likely Friedman, Zaidi and their merry men are here to stay. This will encourage reporters to write and say nice things about the smart guys in the front office and get fans enthusiastic for 2017. The Dodgers will of course start advertising season tickets for the coming season while many of the young fans throw their blue foam fingers aside and grab Rams and Kings gear.
As most of us longtime Angelenos know, life in LA is about all the diversions. You can get In N Out Burger, see a Kardashian at the Calabasas Commons, hit the beach, believe the Lakers have a shot, sit in traffic on the 405 and smoke your weed out in public in Van Nuys. The City of Angels, the dream factory, a fantasy world where Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi are baseball royalty. It’s not necessarily a great time to be a baseball fan in LA, but it’s a wonderful time to be a suck up.