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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.

It’s a Wonderful Time to be a Suck Up

September 1, 2016 12 comments

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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.

It’s Always Early Until It Isn’t

December 28, 2015 3 comments

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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.

In Baseball, Like Everything Else, Common Sense is Right More Often than Wrong

July 2, 2015 2 comments

keep-calm-but-i-told-you-so

It’s been a nice summer, not having to deal with anonymous and therefore brave Internet trolls proclaiming to be Dodgers fans. I still get the occasional “drive by” trash talk, which is funny since I don’t tweet anymore. It’s a huge compliment that even those who don’t follow me take the time to say something completely devoid of fact, chock full of venom, toward me. Thank you for those who obviously have such a crush on me.

As those of you who followed my posts and long-form blog entries know, most of what I have said comes true. It’s a gift and a curse, as Adrian Monk famously said, but it’s a “super power” I’ve had for as long as I’ve followed the Dodgers. I recall a day when I called into Dodger Talk and spoke with Geoff Witcher – one of the big voice radio guys whose presentation was greater than his knowledge. I asked about a prospect named Pedro Guerrero, who was tearing up the minors. I told Geoff I thought he would be a great hitter for the Dodgers. In typical polished radio guy parlance, he told me he might be ok, perhaps a 15 homer guy and part of the bench someday. I told Geoff he’d be more than that. Not long after, he was a co-MVP for the Dodgers World Series team and a fixture in the center of the offense – although he couldn’t slide worth shit – until he and Kirk Gibson butted heads in 1988.

In recent years I’ve “called” the thin Dodgers bullpen, who needed to be dealt, who shouldn’t be dealt, etc. I’ve astutely pointed out you need a strong bullpen – working from the back out, and a pitching staff that included less spectacular innings eaters (thus sparing the pen). I pointed out how vital team chemistry is and called out pretty boy Matt Kemp, much to the disdain of his female and male admirers, and Hanley’s lazy approach. I said – look it up if you want, it’s in the tweets and in the blog editions – how calling up Joc Pederson would mean more to the team than the superstar party boys the Dodgers put together. I said not only would Joc provide offensive firepower, but he’d be a pure centerfielder and good teams – any sport – have a strong defense. I was mocked for having the audacity to question Kemp and Hanley, but also the foolishness to think Joc was anything more than a product of Albuquerque’s altitude. Again, look it up, it’s all written down as proof.

I pointed to Joc’s several seasons in a row – different towns, different leagues – of being the complete package. The always on point Dodger Oracle noted how not only was Joc successful in the minors, but his output statistically was greater than Paul Konerko, who outside of Mike Piazza, in my opinion was the best offensive Dodger prospect in several generations. No, I was a fool, wrong as usual, the anonymous trolls said. They would loop in those on mutual block lists like Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Prostate and other pundits who naturally would laugh at such things. Dee Gordon… a spark? A catalyst that threw off managers’ games and brought havoc to pitchers and catchers and defenders league wide? What a fool! I was told that years of defending Dee, only to see him become an All-Star last season, was a fluke. Andrew Friedman, the smartest man in the world, knew best to trade high on Dee. He was useless. Well, he’s lead the National League in hitting all season and was the steal of the winter per many national journalists and baseball people. And the Dodgers have had lead-off issues as a result. Oh, and Dan Haren! How dare I say he was a valuable part of the pitching staff; a former ace who gobbled up innings and save for a month or so slump in 2014, held the bottom of the rotation firm. Who needs him?! Better to pay 2nd half of 2014 surprise Brandon McCarthy for four years – plus Haren’s 2015 salary! – for a better pitcher. Well, I warned, McCarthy has always been hurt, and Friedman already added Brett Anderson, plus – so important! – Hyun-Jin Ryu and that bad shoulder. Wouldn’t it have been smart to add some less questionable guys and keep healthy Haren? No!!! You fool!!! You know NOTHING about baseball. cc all the Moneyball lovers to validate such takes, but of course.

Those who have read my opinions (and that’s all they are, I don’t proclaim to be a sage) also recall my many, many, many comments about Yasiel Puig. I have suggested that his presence likely was as big a part of the chemistry concern in the Dodgers’ clubhouse as star fucker Kemp and party hearty Hanley. Unlike the other two, I understood why keeping Puig made sense, though I suggested many times that if they could find value back in a trade, it might be wise to move the new edition of Raul Mondesi (also citing it would be a challenge for Puig to ever reach Mondesi’s “underachieving” career tally of 271 homers and 229 stolen bases). I was told Puig was leagues beyond Mondesi – not true – and that he would be an MVP in short time. Also, his fun and games, tardiness, bickering with teammates and obvious Kardashian/Jenner-like ego was just Puig being Puig and part of the fun. I was an idiot to suggest dealing him for Mike Stanton or good pitching (this was pre Stanton’s complete breakthrough and massive contract extension). Well, now we hear from journalist and Dodger follower Molly Knight, in her new book (“The Best Team Money Can Buy”), that Puig has indeed been a concern, a cancer, upsetting many of his teammates, even beloved guys like Justin Turner and Zack Greinke. His antics, his entourage, engaging in a relationship with a minor league coach’s daughter, his constant tardiness, his diva-like persona have become an open topic of disdain in the Dodgers locker room. Perhaps it’s no coincidence than when he was shelved for a good part of this season with his hamstring problem, the team rather excelled (except for that inconsistent/inept bullpen and bottom of the rotation) with Andre Ethier stepping up.

During the absence, with regular playing time, Ethier, much more of a good soldier and professional than Puig, put up numbers as good as almost any outfielder in the league, and certainly on par with his glory days in blue. With Scott Van Slyke and Alex Guerrero around (I won’t mention Carl Crawford, he’ll limp around till October, assuming the Dodgers get to play in October), and even Scott Schebler a phone call away, is it really necessary to have this combustible piece on the roster anymore? Imagine if the Dodgers traded Puig… maybe they could turn him into some of that much-needed pitching that’s missing. While his value can only get lower due to the finally public clubhouse cancer comments, he’s still viewed as an amazing athlete and ticket seller. Plus, the Dodgers have offensive potential coming out of their ass with Hector Olivera and Corey Seager soon to be in the lineup.

Would the team be any worse for the wear without Puig, and instead Ethier and SVS playing more, with Olivera and Seager up as well? Would turning Puig into a very good young pitcher or even veteran with several parts for the bullpen be bad? Cole Hamels? A blue chipper? Relief pitchers that have a proven track record as opposed to reclamation projects holding back a team whose payroll tops $300M? I’m going to say something once more that I’ve said many times – and been attacked for by people (young and dumb, it’s not their fault) who don’t know better… balance is the key. An offensive-heavy team usually doesn’t win in any sport; you need the pitching and defense too. The Dodgers, to Friedman’s credit, have done a lot of the things I have advocated for years – addition by subtraction, losing those bloated egos and marginal all-around talents, shoring up the defense, and playing the kids. Those are things I think Friedman and his large team of executives have done well. Bravo! But skimping, or choosing the wrong guys, for the rotation and bullpen, taking risks on a team with endless financial resources, is just foolish. Use some of the chips on hand to address the weaknesses.

Earlier this year, I spoke with friends who follow the team. None of us actually watch the games since the Guggenheim group is much like the Fox group, worse in some ways, and doesn’t give a shit about the fans. The games are not televised to most, so why would we care? Contrary to popular opinion, out of sight really is out of mind. Lifelong fans I know are very disinterested, more chatting with friends about the foibles rather than the games themselves, which is albeit very tragic. During our discussions, we suggested how the Dodgers could use parts such as Alex Guerrero or Scott Van Slyke, or maybe (gasp!) even Julio Urias, whose ego reportedly is also not in check, to obtain the pitching the team obviously needed. No way, of course, should Friedman deal Corey Seager. So we groused how Guerrero could easily slot into some team’s everyday lineup, especially as a DH in the American League, or wouldn’t SVS be a 20+ homer guy given 400+ at bats? Well, all that remains true. The Dodgers bench is bustling with bodies, especially once Olivera and Seager arrive. Even everyone’s favorite, Justin Turner, might fetch something good for the pitching staff. But now, lo and behold, Puig possibly could be a trade piece. Again, would the Dodgers offense be worse if Ethier were allowed to play every day, and when he wasn’t, perhaps SVS was, or Guerrero, and Oliver and Seager were soon to be in the mix. I’d say, not at all. And with the chemistry fix of not having Puig’s ego and entourage trying to crash team travel, probably much improved. Remember, the team did well while he was out – if only they had the pitching in place to not lose some of those games.

Anyway, it all remains to be seen how it plays out. I don’t imagine Puig will be traded, but you never know. I just chuckle as this latest development is just another “I told you so” moment. The bullpen woes for the first half of the last several years, the iffy additions this winter, the Kemp and Hanley issues, Joc, and now Puig. It’s all documented, yet doesn’t resonate with “smarter fans.” Most of these bright fans weren’t even born when the Dodgers were last actually a force – that era ended in 1981, when the famed 70s team was scattered to the wind. 1988, as most know, was beautiful and magical and also an anomaly. Before and after were a lot of listless teams that drifted without direction and a broken infrastructure as O’Malley abandoned ship, Fox razzle dazzled us, then a Botox’d dandy ran the thing aground, and finally global financial gurus took away the joy of watching games on television.

I’ll go on record again as saying the Dodgers need several solid relievers from Kenley Jansen backward, plus stability in the rotation and moving out any piece that causes clubhouse disrupt if they want to beat the Cardinals and more in October. A collection of bats, lots of exciting Cubans, and brainwashed broadcasting guys chiming like Scientologists how great the pitching is isn’t going to work. The data heads who take glee being bullies online know nothing about actual baseball and while they have fanboy wet dreams over what Friedman is doing, the old adage of pitching, defense and timely hitting is what wins baseball games in real life.

Oh, and huge kudos to former Dodger great Mike Scioscia for refusing to listen to dimwitted GM Jerry Dipoto’s “advice” on using data to win baseball games. Mike knows baseball as much as any person alive and for a suit to tell him what to do is beyond insulting. Dipoto – another thing I have mentioned endlessly over the years (again, feel free to look it up!) – was a mediocre GM who squandered away money on the wrong star players. The organization blaming Josh Hamilton, a drug addict, for having a relapse and not Dipoto for signing a junkie to an ill-advised long-term contract is beyond ludicrous. Not to mention inking older in body and mind Albert Pujols to a 10 year deal. His 2015 has been outstanding, well, his June sure was, but before and likely after was a colossal waste of money and fans who blame Pujols at any point should instead point the finger to smarty pants Dipoto. A fan with any intelligence would have known better – I know I did. Mike Scioscia, the Dodger who never should have gotten away, should take his victory lap and make Dipoto scrub his toilet.

It was nice touching base – ignore the trolls, they secretly have crushes on executives because they look so cute in their fitted suits. The rest of us know better.