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It’s July and Time for Dodger Fan Déjà Vu

July 9, 2018 Comments off

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Hello, all – I hope your summer is going well and if you live in Los Angeles and happened to just experience the heat wave that hit us Friday, I hope you’re alive. Palm Springs weather – fun times!

 

I thought I would write a short long-form piece as I haven’t in a while and with the mid-season point upon us, trade winds blowing, etc., I felt it might be fun to pontificate. As always, I understand my viewpoints are too sensible for many of you, so by no means think I feel you need to align yourself with me. If you prefer to feel all is well because you lack perspective (e.g. you are young and don’t know better) or brainwashed by fantasy baseball and Sabermetrics gurus, by all means, get thrilled over nothing. Life is full of disappointments; the Dodgers have been a constant for three decades now.

 

I have been getting dribs and drabs on local sports talk radio, the bloggers, the non-controversial beat writers who don’t want to lose their clubhouse access that the Dodgers are back in it! Awesome! They’re a top team! Easily a World Series contender! Name the headline.

 

It’s hard on Twitter to summarize thoughts in the limited about of space, especially to passersby who don’t have a frame of reference and context. To some of you, wisely you get it. In a nutshell, I have been a Dodgers fan all my life and somewhere around the time the ball club was sold to Fox, I started to formulate my current crusty exterior.

 

I witnessed a wealthy entertainment company come in and buy my beloved team to create a local sports network. Oh sure, while their intentions were selfish, they did open up payroll, which at certain times could have helped you and I, the suckers who just root for our team as a pleasant diversion from everyday life. The problem there was Kevin Malone was hired because he was a rising name in baseball circles and told Fox what they wanted to hear – that he could simultaneously rebuild a farm that Peter O’Malley let fall apart AND at the same time buy a winner in one off-season. No respectable individual would claim they could do one or the other immediately, let alone both at the same time. Kevin Malone, as some of you might recall, was an insecure guy who called himself “The Sheriff” and wanted to make his mark. He was Donald Trump before Donald Trump’s political interests, or Andrew Friedman when Andrew Friedman was in college not getting laid.

 

Malone’s gaffs caused Fox to close the vault and even though Dan Evans (you’d like him, kids – he was all about data before it was cool!) replaced Malone, they had a strong enough foothold on their sports network empire not to trust baseball executives with any more of their money. That led to Frank McCourt.

 

Like Fox, McCourt bought the team – well, that’s not correct… McCourt was given the team by that era’s shady commissioner, Bud Selig. MLB and Fox were in bed financially so when Fox wanted out of baseball ownership, Bud did whatever they wanted to make that happen. McCourt was handed the team without any serious wherewithal and Fox co-signed to make it happen. McCourt’s interests were as selfish as Fox’s. He wanted fame, wealth and a lavish lifestyle. It was a low-risk investment and he exploited the fans’ loyalty as he got daily haircuts, many mansions, and eventually was forced to sale after stadium visitors got beaten into comas, checks to Vin Scully bounced and people finally boycotted the games.

 

The Dodgers were back on the market and the third molesting uncle came along – a wealthy investment firm that used a Trojan horse in the guise of friendly, smiling Magic Johnson to again sucker fans into thinking better days were ahead. You can read my brilliance in archived columns here, explaining what was happening each step of the way. It wasn’t like I was a genius but I created Dodger Therapy as a place for all of us long abused fans to talk it out. The problem, most people are either unaware, stupid or easily conned. At the time, there was no Donald Trump to compare this to, but as we are all aware, nowadays there’s a great divide and for various reasons, one side is perfectly sure that the idiocy and lies make perfect sense in some way.

 

Magic knew about as much about baseball as your grandmother did, and that’s an insult actually to your grandmother. He was used for his smile, his connection to the city and to make a large investment firm buying a baseball team seem somehow plausible. It has since come out (I told you years ago, again, go back through all the old columns for yourself) that the Guggenheim group apparently used money from investors inappropriately and are under investigation for it. Their motive, of course, was to make a shitload of money off the Dodgers pending TV deal and the fans stupidity.

 

They paid $1B (!!!) over asking to McCourt AND let him retain stadium parking lots because the idea of paying $2B total for an $8B TV deal seemed a tidy profit. McCourt put in almost nothing when he “bought” the Dodgers from Fox and ended up massively rich, so much so his ex-wife sued after noticing how her pasty, deadbeat husband (who she left financially for dead) slither his way into a fiscal windfall due to everyone using the Dodgers as a pyramid scheme.

 

My point has always been to call out what is wrong, where injustice is happening, where hypocrisy is occurring and what could be done about it. I know I am not a voice anyone really listens to, not rosy enough, not full of shit enough. My take sounds bad because, well, after 30 years of mediocrity, it is. That is a long time. 30 years. More than many fans’ entire lifetimes. Of course, then some old crackpot saying “Andrew Friedman sucks!” or “Guggenheim is screwing you!” does not resonate. How could it? Maybe if I offered a bag of weed or a vape device with each Twitter post, I’d get more interest? Note to self…

 

Over recent years, I have grown tired of battling with idiots online. I do not mind if you have a different opinion than I do, but at least make a credible defense of your point of view. Sadly, I have wasted far too many years observing this downward trend so when some fresh voice pops out of the woodwork, it’s easy to defend myself against such ill-informed ideas. Follow the team for half a century, then come back to me.

 

Each year that has passed recently the fans get their hopes up based on what they feel a baseball team should do, so therefore the Dodgers should too. I agree with that, but unfortunately, what many do not get is quite intentionally Guggenheim hired Andrew Friedman and his band of small-market dipshits due to their ability to look for ringers when given limited resources. I cannot fully explain how it is Guggenheim wants to cost cut while entrusting their boy to overspend on bullshit, but that’s the interesting thing here. More interesting is how no matter what Friedman peddles, fans eat it up. If he does nothing, or almost nothing, at the trade deadline – he’s heralded for his genius! If he sits out the winter while every other team improves, he’s brilliant! If he overspends on marginal players or those who never will play a game at Dodger Stadium, he’s crafty! No, I’m here to make it known that he’s just an idiot and has no clue what he’s doing. It may have worked in Tampa, since the stage was much smaller, but it isn’t working here.

 

Today I flipped on local LA radio briefly to catch Vic the Brick and Fred Roggin blathering about how the Dodgers need to trade prospects for Orioles star Manny Machado and Zach Britton. They reasoned, prospects are well, just that, prospective, and these guys are stars. I can’t argue with that logic, and I have made similar statements hundreds of times myself. The flaws to their comments, and those in all the blogs and mainstream newspaper pieces I read is a) they’re assuming the Dodgers actually want to go all-in, and b) that these moves would do it, put them on par with the best teams in baseball, most of which are powerhouses in the AL. Let me explain.

 

Again, this is mostly to summarize for those who may not know much about me and my ideas. While it’s traditional to say – “Hey, the trade deadline is coming up, the Dodgers should get (this star, that star)…” – you’re not being honest with yourself. You’re considering the Dodgers a well-run, large market baseball team. They are not. They haven’t been since Andrew Friedman came into town. You are assuming also the Dodgers want to win, really win. No, Guggenheim is happy just getting butts in the seats and selling beer, food, merch and parking access. At this point, Guggenheim is more concerned with investigations than the product on the field. After all, they got their TV riches (most of you don’t get the games on TV though).

 

If the Dodgers were all in, last year was when they should have been there. Last season they had a team that ran away with the West and had options available to cement a championship available. Instead, they waited to the last few minutes before the trade deadline to get the Texas Rangers executives to blink and ended up with Yu Darvish as their savior, as well as a couple marginal/bad relief pitchers. Fans were ecstatic! Of course, I had Darvish on one of my fantasy teams and understood how poor he had been most of the season. The Dodgers could have added Justin Verlander instead, but that would have meant paying him in 2018, so they let Houston acquire him. That one non-move cost the Dodgers the 2017 World Series as well as to perpetuate the constant revolving door in the Dodgers rotation this season. If you think it isn’t fair to criticize the Dodgers for what they did or didn’t do vs. what Houston did – do some research on relative market size between LA and Houston, the time between World Series appearances, etc. My point is, a little team like Houston took last year seriously, a big team like the Dodgers did not.

 

We then went through a winter where Houston added another ace and pretty much every other team worked to shore up needs. The Dodgers did nothing all off-season and fans of course lauded them as geniuses! “You just want to waste money!” the sycophants would argue. “What about trades?” I might counter. “You want to give up our future!” You cannot argue with people anymore, they resort to bullying and if they falter, their pack will take up their fight. As a lifetime fan, I just want a team that more or less resembles a team I followed my whole life, or even a very good team that looks slightly different. Your “patriotism” is immediately questioned. You can’t be a Dodger fan and say something bad about Andrew Friedman, and you can’t be an American and say something bad about Agent Orange. Both are supreme rulers; we must bow before their greatness and kiss their feet. Our own self-interests are secondary, third, fourth, to what makes them look good.

 

So now, fans, like this time last year, are waiting for the big deals to occur. One of two things will happen – a) no deals will occur, or very minor ones to appease the rabble and the team will fall sort but say “We tried! We were in on all those stars!” or b) they learned from inaction last July and will deal for some star power. Of course, if b were really much of an option, why didn’t they learn during the hot stove league? They assumed their oft-injured pitchers and inexperienced kids were enough?

 

Let’s just consider now Manny Machado and Zach Britton, since their names were brought up today. Could the Dodgers be working on a deal for both? Sure. The Orioles would love to get rid of them and get something for their rebuild, but would a team probably not looking to keep Machado beyond this year deal anything of serious worth for him? I can see if the Yankees did, or Boston, or Chicago, as they would consider resigning him, but the Dodgers? While the Dodgers could afford the price Machado would want, and no doubt he’d be thrilled to be in a large market, would they run up the credit card immediately after paying it down? Would Machado go back to third with Corey Seager coming back? If so, what happens to Justin Turner? I guess you could go Turner at first, Machado at third and the ghost of Pepe Frias at second but until I see Andrew Friedman target a real star and sign him, I can’t believe it. Now if Machado was an untested Cuban kid, or an oft-injured journeyman starting pitcher, sure.

 

Everyone is up in arms because the Halos took two of three from the Dodgers in Anaheim this weekend. They immediately say “The Dodgers need Machado! They need offense!” Well, I’d say they just scored 30 runs recently in a series vs. Pittsburgh and have set homerun records, so perhaps not. I would say the Dodgers entire offensive approach is feast or famine and has been since Moneyball came into town. No one hits line drives, no one not named Justin Turner settles for a single when runners are in scoring position, no one steals a base, etc. It’s all about swinging hard, every time, and get that home run. It’s why a guy like Max Muncy came come out of nowhere and swings from the heels every at bat and sits near the break with 20 homers and 38 rbi (everyone wants him to be an all-star, btw, which is rather humorous to me). Is offense though the Dodgers biggest need?

 

So you have to believe the Dodgers would go all in now when they didn’t last year or this past winter and that they feel Machado makes the difference and can get them back to the World Series, or hopefully win it, when last year and this winter the prospects were too important to move. You also have to factor in that they’d be ok losing prospects for a rental, or spending a fortune to keep Machado. All of that is worth mulling over.

 

Then there’s Britton. Now in my opinion, and I heard it echoed last night during ESPN’s telecast, you need a rotation capable of logging innings, a bullpen, and a closer to win. They brought this up, as I have, in criticism of Moneyball’s patchwork approach to a game – where 9 pitchers are trotted out nightly, starters going anywhere from 3-5 innings, and no real setup man to speak of. Obviously, of many issues I have with Andrew Friedman and his philosophies, the fundamental ignoring of pitching as vital is first and foremost. So would a setup man for closer Kenley Jansen be helpful? Why of course! btw, Kenley being the only representative to the all-star game (as of now) for the Dodgers pitching staff should tell you all you need to know.

 

As for Britton, he was the best relief pitcher in baseball in 2016 but this is 2018. He isn’t good this year and while might be helpful if thrown into a Machado deal, is certainly no guarantee to give the Dodgers a lockdown bullpen. A sexy name, for sure, but the solution to Paul Goldschmidt? I don’t believe so.

 

We have a few weeks to see what will happen. Personally, I’d respect Andrew Friedman more if he did what the Yankees did a few years ago and traded players away for a short term rebuild. If he got some talent, then smartly went shopping – both in free-agency and trade and revamped the roster for 2019 and beyond. But this is like asking a chicken to give you milk. It would require Andrew Friedman to undergo a “Regarding Henry” experience and completely change his personality. He is happy tinkering, making ten moves when one or two would suffice, and taking the long way around and problem that presents itself. He’s the classic scenario of the man being too proud to ask for directions.

 

Could the Dodgers win if they dealt kids for Machado and Britton? Sure. They could win doing nothing. Wait, win? Win the World Series? I wouldn’t go that far. I think as it stands now they could win the West or make the wildcard but realistically, as Vic noted today, they are pretty thin if you look at their lineup vs. an AL power house lineup. Of course the little 1988 Dodgers teams beat the Bash Brothers, Eck, Dave Stewart and the rest. I just don’t see any reason to believe this team has magic, or at least anymore pixie dust as last year’s team. Maybe more desperate, but not more magic.

 

Personally I would say the best thing that could happen is Guggenheim is found guilty of fraud, is forced to sell, Andrew Friedman and his clowns are pushed out by a new owner and we start all over again. A new uncle to promise us a better life. Hey, it beats what we have now. Will that owner be kinder to us, consider our feelings and not use us to finance some scheme? Probably not, but then the world has become a pretty dark place, so to assume there are rainbows and unicorns anymore is probably not realistic. Unless of course you are a fan of a team that seems to try year in and year out, isn’t using algorithms to calculate bare minimums to acquire wins, etc. My suggestion is forget Machado, forget Britton, buy yourselves a Yankees, Red Sox or Astros hat. If you are adverse to that, try a Mariners, Cubs or Brewers hat. Less wear and tear on your psyche and your doctor will praise you for your reduced blood pressure.

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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.