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Wasted Movement

April 18, 2017 16 comments

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at Los Angeles Dodgers

 

Happy post Easter hangover to you. I thought I’d write a short article since the whole 140 character thing doesn’t really work all the time. In general I seem to get a lot of followers who follow anything with the word “Dodger” in the name (“Tax Dodger”? Reserved for the Commander in Chief, I guess). Once I tweet a few cynical (honest) comments, they quickly unfollow. Such is life.

Anyway, I thought I’d comment on the topic everyone is talking about – Rich Hill’s 2nd DL stint in as many starts. How is this a surprise to anyone? Andrew Friedman, trying to save face, is making the rounds, saying he’s not worried. No, front offices love when their expensive new toys end up chronically injured. Who are you trying to fool, Andy? Sure, you might feel you have “depth” (I call ’em semi warm bodies), but it couldn’t have been in the plans to have your #2 behind Clayton Kershaw saying it would take a “medical miracle” to get him on the mound again. And now talk of his going to the pen to save the boo boo finger? Really, you signed a 37 year old pitcher to a $48M deal with the intention of him being just another bullpen guy, next to your AAAA retreads? Sorry, not buying that.

I know the beat writers and local radio guys won’t question the genius of the front office as they don’t dare lose access to the clubhouse – and the free meals. I on the other hand have nothing to lose. I write what is very apparent – hardly genius at all. It just so happens in today’s world, if you exhibit a decent amount of common sense, you look intelligent. Who woulda thunk?

As I have tweeted many times, all you have to do is go to this blog and comb through the old articles and see my take on everything Dodgers. All the injuries discussed in advance, all the bad deals commented on as they were made, the mediocre or worse players the Moneyball minded acquire, debunked early on. Again, it’s not being super smart, it’s using basic intelligence. And yes, just having seen a lot of baseball in my life. It’s the same thing Saber guys (I don’t think women are stupid enough to be Saber) dislike traditional minded scouting and managing for. It’s too simple. You watch, you gauge it on lots and lots of similar circumstances (100+ years of MLB, pretty much) and you can therefore make semi logical assumptions. One might call it “data”, but I hear that term has been trademarked.

Here we are 13 games into the 2017 season and the Dodgers are in third place, 1 game over .500. The fans, as always, are up and down like the temperature. If they beat the Padres, whose entire payroll is less than what Kershaw makes alone, they talk shit and boast, gearing up for the World Series appearance. If they lose to a better Western foe, they panic.

The season is long and I will go on a limb and say the type of front office work the Friedman/Zaidi and assorted Dream Team collection of overpaid executives are doing could work as well in 2017 as it did in 2016. I think I figured it out, though, like a bad detective show, my answer was right in front of me the whole time.

While I think the West should certainly be better than it was last year (Giants will wake up, Rox seem improved and only getting better, Arizona perhaps better under their new Moneyball-type front office), I can see the Dodgers making the playoffs. Before you get too excited, I can also see them missing the playoffs. Somewhere between winning the West, getting the wild card and losing out in the playoff round robin, is where they will be. I am not one to predict outcomes of divisions so much as a lot of things happen.

I will say that unless changes are made (and why would they be?), it’s unlikely the Dodgers, as constructed now, will advance to the World Series, should they get anywhere near. My reason is I look at tonight’s tragic lineup and I just don’t see where $230M was spent. Any given night the lineup, starter and/or bullpen participants might be aged journeymen or AAAA castoffs. Friedman calls it “depth” – Paul DePodesta didn’t even call it that, but maybe he should have. His roster was the same littering of nobodies and never weres.

With Hill having recurring blister problems, it makes me wonder why Friedman would take a chance on him again. Last July, Friedman waited till the 11th hour before the trade deadline to move three prospects for Hill and Josh Reddick, who apparently Friedman didn’t realize hadn’t done anything since May. Ok, I’ll make excuses and say Friedman thought he could wait everyone out and find lightning in a bottle – after all, Moneyball centerfold Billy Beane snatched Hill up during the off-season after seeing him throw a few good games in unimportant late season starts for Boston. If Hill was good enough for Beane…

Hill, of course, came over hurt, spent a long time on the DL and then made some useful starts in September and October for the Dodgers. But facts are facts and Hill was an aging player, not long out of independent league ball (like Scott Kazmir, who Friedman admitted was a poor signing just a year before as he shopped him this winter, with no takers). But with the free-agent and trade markets thin (the time to shop was the winter before when names like Zack Greinke, Johnny Cueto, J.A. Happ, etc. were available), Friedman doubled down on Hill. After all, he just dealt three prospects to get him, so to walk away empty handed, and still have a gaping hole in the rotation, seemed unacceptable, even to him. So as is his custom, an identical $48M deal went to Hill – like it had to Brandon McCarthy and then Kazmir. I guess that’s the cap where a Moneyballer feels comfortable “wasting” on starting pitching.

I would say $48M is an ok figure, if you got something out of it. So far, the amount is cursed for Friedman and his little troll Zaidi – all three of the guys acquired have trouble staying healthy. In case you wondered, 3 x 48M = $144M, which is a lot of money and should mean something more capable for your rotation than what Friedman’s guys have shown – at least so far (this being written on April 17, 2017, for historical purposes).

My biggest problem with Friedman and his building of a roster isn’t necessarily the players he selects – ok, it’s a large part about that – but what the ultimate toll it takes on the team in general. As I’ve said before, a rotation is not just the quality of your 5 starters (not 16 starters, as Friedman would have you believe), though that should be top of mind, but it’s the innings. I understand the game is changing and either change with it or die but I can’t believe it’s optimal to have 16 guys tossing 3-5 innings commonly, as opposed to 5-6 guys capable of going 6-8 more frequently.

I know it’s ancient history, but I vividly remember Dodger teams with an ace, 2 or 3 very good pitchers and then 1-2 either called “innings eaters” or perhaps 1 of those and a kid, hoping to stick in the rotation. It wasn’t long ago that Friedman so hated this that he chased Dan Haren out of town, paying his salary to go to Miami. Really, how is Haren at any point much different than Hill, McCarthy or Kazmir? I guess you could argue, he was healthier.

Innings are important because it’s something you can hang your hat on. You can assume your starting pitcher is not only capable of going deeper into games, but taking the ball every 5th day without drama. You don’t need to call a collection of junk, and terrible contracts, “depth”. Your depth is your minor league system, as it always has been and is for every team in the major leagues. If you have 4-5 credible starters who are likely to stay healthy, you can make a phone call should someone get hurt. That “data” is based on 100+ years of the game’s history. Trite, boring, but honest and true.

I think like DePodesta, the Moneyball way Friedman and Zaidi play is merely about looking more clever and smarter than your average baseball guy – folks like myself included. Naive? Giggle inducing ideas such as going with known commodities, staying away from continually injured players – absurd! It’s far more fun to tinker like a very bored fantasy baseball general manager and make things happen. Oh, in the end it could work but all the “wasted movement” isn’t beneficial to anyone. When your new $48M contract is already looking vomit-inducing and you are talking about putting this #2 starter into your bullpen, it’s not good. Not on this Earth, not on any world.

Like I said, it’s possible the Dodgers can win the West – who knows if the Giants, Rox and Diamondbacks might stumble? Plus, the Dodgers have spent a lot more than anyone else, not only in the West, or the National League, or MLB, but in professional sports. That “depth” allows you at least a chance to win, even if your front office is run by overzealous micro-managers with too much time on their hands.

On the other hand, this Moneyball style always proves to address the regular season. Remember, before these guys arrived, the Dodgers were doing well in that respect. More often than not the Dodgers are near the top of the division, even when mere mortals are calling the shots. Moneyball is usually employed when a team does not have the financial wherewithal to compete any other way. It’s odd when it’s employed with deep pockets and a monster payroll.

The team tinkers and scratches to get to the post-season, celebrates this accomplishment but doesn’t win. Don’t feel too bad for Friedman, no Moneyball team ever wins. Or hasn’t yet. It’s because, in the paraphrased words of Billy Beane, the post-season is too unpredictable, the “data” doesn’t work there. Luck is involved, he says. No, I don’t think that’s quite true.

While maybe “data” can predict X number of runs an ever-changing lineup should produce, and how many runs an ever-changing rotation should allow, it doesn’t account for quality. Quantity, oh sure, plenty of that. Proudly Friedman sycophants will point to how quantity is as important as quality. This is said to praise the “depth” – which is actually just less talented players than what otherwise could be assembled. More means more, to them. But in the post-season, Billy Beane might say it’s harder to predict and luck, whereas I would say it’s quality. Here the quantity means less, and that’s why Freidman’s subpar independent league and career minor league players have problems.

It’s not genius to discover independent league and career minor leaguers – why, they’re right there in independent leagues and minor leagues all across the country. It’s not genius to pluck them from obscurity and then sign them to contracts of their dreams. It’s curious, weird even and clogs your roster full of guys that more than likely are not going to hold up and win in October.

It’s early – just the middle of April – but we are seeing the “depth” put to use as the players were never capable in the first place. While anyone can get hurt at any time and certainly bad breaks happen, it is not dumb luck when it happens to players who have a track record (data!) of this happening to them. Only Friedman and his people didn’t understand Hill would be hurt. As his players fall like dominoes, Friedman and his followers say, “Who could have known?” Well, we all knew and continue to scratch our heads in astonishment.

I think the appeal here is painting themselves into a corner and trying to get out. Houdini did it to show his superiority and fantasy baseball managers do it when they are bored out of their minds. Make dumb moves, drop better players, constantly swap our anyone with a pulse and hope it works. If it does, you can puff out your chest and claim superiority. Again, it’s “wasted movement” and unnecessary.

It’s an outdated way of thinking, sure, but would it be so terrible to have a rotation with at least 3-4 very solid guys you had a pretty safe expectation for making it through the season unscathed? Would it be ludicrous to assume your bullpen could be 3-4 men deep? Even 2 deep? Would it be insane to think if you had a payroll larger than anyone else’s your roster would likely have more great players than other teams?

All out of touch, old school ways of thinking, I realize. What do I know? I’m just a guy who has watched a lot of baseball for a lot of years. I sometimes write baseball articles, all archived here, with dates, and I seem to somehow do a remarkable job calling a lot of the “unforeseen events” that befall Friedman and his think tank, before they happen. I don’t call it “data” – just common sense and reasonable intelligence. Enjoy the ride and remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Have the Pepto-Bismol and Prilosec at your side; nothing is easy in a Friedman universe.

Wasted movement.

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.

The Fans’ Loyalty Should Not be Greater than the Owners’ Loyalty to Us

February 15, 2017 8 comments

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Happy Valentine’s Day.

 

Tomorrow, the Dodgers begin the spring training portion of the 2017 season. Lots has been said of the Dodgers improvement, some true, some not, and many expect the boys in blue to be among the top handful of teams in baseball this season – largely based on their high payroll and “depth.”

 

Before I get into that, I do want to say what I have tweeted several times this week – the lack of TV across the LA market for a 4th season is shameful. The Dodgers have been passed around from one bad owner to another since Peter O’Malley decided to sell the team to Fox. At the time, we fans knew it was quite a change – going from mom and pop ownership to a greedy Rupert Murdoch run corporation that only was interested in baseball in order to start a local sports network. Little did we realize, however, how bad it would get.

 

It’s debatable to some whether the skullduggery of Frank and Jamie McCourt is worse than the Guggenheim Partners time as owners, I would say different. When “Hall of Fame commissioner” Bud Selig handed the keys to the Dodgers kingdom to a cash poor Boston parking lot attendant, we knew it wasn’t good. As the McCourts rode high on the hog and drove the franchise into embarrassment, bouncing checks to staff, including Vin Scully, and cheaping out on security until people’s lives were in danger, we ultimately rebelled. Now, with Magic Johnson’s smiling (now absent) kisser conning us into believing everything was ok again, we sit staring at our blank TV screens, or MeTV re-runs of “Hogan’s Heroes” instead of our LA baseball team.

 

I would say from Fox to the McCourts to Guggenheim, LA Dodgers fans have been passed from one bad guardian to another, much like the Baudelaire children in the “Unfortunate Events” books and Netflix episodes. None of them have/had Dodgers tradition at the core of their belief system – all have been in it for profit motives purely. Yet, through generations now, Dodgers fans infight and quarrel and flaunt loyalty ownership doesn’t have to them. It’s quite amazing, the level of love and Stockholm Syndrome displayed since O’Malley sailed off into the sunset.

 

To me, it’s easy. Greed + no TV coverage = you lose my loyalty. You want it back? Focus on our needs, and that includes games on TV. Stealing Vin Scully’s final years was a heinous act. Lest anyone think Guggenheim is in no way like the McCourt era, think about that. Consider it when you get an overload of Charlie Steiner.

 

We will never get back what was taken from us, and considering the misdirection of the overly bloated narcissistic front office, it makes it hard to forgive. All of my life, and prior, the Dodgers were a team known for strong pitching. Over the years there were good offensive teams, and bad ones. The pitching was always key. Look through the Dodgers record books and recall the names. Behind the greats were many good ones, and those who held the fort, eating innings and supplying consistency that always kept the Dodgers in the thick of the National League race.

 

I don’t recall, prior to this administration, such a dismissal of pitching. The Fangraphs lovers among you will point to cobbled together stats and suggest this is the best pitching staff in baseball. I may not understand numbers like you pretend to (by reading some nerd’s analysis), all I have to base my opinion on is many decades of following baseball and end results. A team, especially a Dodgers team, should be built around pitching – starting and relief. It seems an afterthought or a “ho-hum” to the collective geniuses that run the Dodgers.

 

So, if you put together no TV, no Vin and very little pitching, it’s hard for me to get overly excited. There’s a reality that says the rotation is three guys, all of whom have concerns. Clayton Kershaw may be the best pitcher in baseball but after years of carrying the burden of the team on his back, his back gave out. Backs can flare up at any time, and while Kershaw may be healthy all of 2017, his sudden vulnerability at least merits a conversation.

 

Rich Hill has resurrected his career from independent league hurler (like his fellow well paid staff mate Scott Kazmir), but he’s also an older pitcher who has spent a lot of time on disabled lists across baseball. To assume his “Koufax-like curve” can be counted on for a full season is perhaps a stretch. Then comes Kenta Maeda.

 

I liked the signing of Maeda, but then I like the signing of most Asian players. Maeda is a gamer with good stuff, but he’s also Japanese and their seasons are shorter than those in the bigs, so his eventual tiring in 2016 should have been expected. He was gassed the last quarter of the season and of course in October, when we all closed our eyes and crossed our fingers as he went to the hill. He is slight of frame and while he could improve on his stamina and continue to evolve, he could also at least be considered someone who may have a solid first half and then vanish after that.

 

The rest of the rotation is more worrisome than the top three. Julio Urias is a talent touted as another Pedro Martinez. He sure can look good, but he’s also 20 and his young arm is not ready for a full season’s workload. In fact, I’d say given the way he was pushed in 2016, due to Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi not considering reliable innings out of the rotation last year, he could even be a candidate for an injury due to overuse. I am not worried about Urias at the start of the season, but like Maeda, I am worried what happens as the year progresses. A baby pitcher should have his innings built up through the minors; Urias’ success and the front office’s desperation has rushed that timeline. Watching how they use him in 2017 should be interesting.

 

With Urias as the 4th starter (he should ideally be the 5th), it means a gaggle of curiosities will compete for the last spot. At this point most fans realize the signings of Kazmir and Brandon McCarthy were foolish ones by Friedman/Zaidi. They will compete with Hyun-Jin Ryu, former warrior with a shot shoulder, and assorted guys Friedman devotees will tell you are superstars in the making. No, they are just guys. The league is full of guys who fill roster spots, go up and down from the minors to the bigs and are not stars. Newsflash – not everyone who comes up through the Dodgers system will be a star. And another newsflash – every team has “depth” – it’s called a 40-man roster and minor league system. Living, breathing humans do not “depth” make.

 

For these reasons, the Dodgers rotation does not impress me. It’s possible they will have a decent first half, enabling Friedman/Zaidi to make a July deal for the 2nd half, but I’d argue, given what we see from most of their deals, and the fact the beef in the rotation should already have been added, who cares? As of today, the rotation is not ready for Oct play, which begs the question: “What have Friedman/Zaidi fixed since taking over?” I’d argue the deficiency the team had was the Oct part of the equation – that one more piece or two that could get the Dodgers over the hump. They already were making the playoffs for years. That isn’t enough. Friedman/Zaidi tinker, like mad scientists, but with the April through September part of the team, which, like I said, was in good enough shape before.

 

Friedman/Zaidi and their disciples would tell you it’s all about the regular season; the playoffs are all luck and a total crapshoot. That’s what Billy Beane has said, and the Moneyball record of World Series titles would bear that out. Small market executives, like Beane, like Friedman, like Zaidi, think like this because they must. They are traditionally hampered by lack of resources, financial most specifically, and need to assume getting to the dance is good enough. Perhaps, once in the post-season, they get lucky – it happens. Just not to Moneyball teams.

 

Guggenheim must have had their reasons for hiring Moneyball types to run the Dodgers – either hoping to save some money they could put into their own pockets (that’s not working, Friedman and Zaidi spend like gold-diggers out on the town), or because they were tipped off that the game has gone data and whiz kids who are all Ivy League are the ones you want in charge. I’m not dismissing data, it’s important (I recall loving Ross Porter’s constant stats that drove fans insane), but it doesn’t seem to apply to the work being done by Friedman, Zaidi and their crowded front office team.

 

Friedman inherited a windfall. He got a playoff team with a new rich ownership group and ripe farm system. A smarter man would have added the missing parts – perhaps a 3rd starter better than Brett Anderson – in order to go deeper into Oct. Instead, much like Paul DePodesta before them, a lot of tinkering, convoluted, needlessly complicated trades, signings of Cubans, reliance on unimpressive and often injured pitchers (overpaid), and other factors have led the team to no more Oct ready than before. I’d add, taking the long way around the mountain, creating needless busywork to get there.

 

At some point, perhaps luck will roll the Dodgers way and they will win. There IS talent on the roster. Some of the prospects in particular, holdovers from Ned Colletti and Logan White, look like this generation’s great Dodgers – Corey Seager, Joc Pederson, Julio Urias and Cody Bellinger, to name a few.

 

I just have no idea why fans continue to believe in a front office that shuffles pieces around, wastes money, skimps on money (hard to do both at the same time) and is rebuilding the regular season part of the team that was already a playoff contender, rather than the post-season part, which was the obvious weakness.

 

I chock it up to youth – easy to say, as I am old. I think baseball fans are not as diehard as they used to be, and youth comes with lack of perspective. As you get older, not only do you have to sometimes wake up in the night to pee, but you gain wisdom. As Louis C.K. famously mused in one of his routines, just by virtue of being on the planet longer than a young person, you generally come to know more. A young fan has the right idea – love their team, no matter what, but without a frame of reference, it’s easy to not really know what the fuck you are talking about. I have been young, and now I am old. Believe me, I know more now than I did when I was young.

 

I won’t even go into depth about the bullpen that was not improved at all over 2016, or the 2 guys for every position approach in the lineup that could work – if rosters are expanded to 35. A new season is upon is, so don’t let me burst your bubble. I will say, perhaps don’t be gullible. Keep your eyes open and your head up. Call “bullshit” when you see it. And yes, you should be very angry that for a 4th season, games are not on TV across all of Los Angeles. I would suggest you don’t pay for games, or McCourt’s expensive parking. If they won’t televise the games, listen on the radio, or just read the box scores the next day. If they don’t care enough about you, you shouldn’t care so much about them. Guggenheim is in it for the money, just as Fox and the McCourts were. The team has not been to the World Series since 1988, and that was a fluke. The rot had set in after the 1981 championship and the greats from the 70s teams moved on.

 

We are owed more than this. The fans’ loyalty should not be greater than the owners’ loyalty to us. Bickering on Twitter can be amusing, but it does not hold the owners accountable. Demand more and if they don’t give it, consider what else you want from life. Maybe it’s going to the beach, catching the latest superhero movie in the theater or just spending more time with family and friends. For me, if a group of smarties can’t figure out your rotation needs reliable innings and your bullpen should be several guys deep at the back, you don’t deserve my respect. If the games aren’t even available to watch, why should I care?

 

Here’s to another season of Dodgers baseball. Let’s see what happens. Have a Happy Valentine’s Day, everybody.

The Slow Boat is Painted Dodger Blue

January 27, 2017 2 comments

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I hope everyone is doing well and surviving the election craziness with the post-election craziness. I decided, to lighten the mood, I would put together a few thoughts on the Dodgers recent moves and non-moves, for anyone who cares. If you disagree, hate me or are merely stupefied, feel free to move on to another blog. My feelings won’t be hurt. With that said, on with the show.

So Fangraphs came out with their usual prediction of Dodgers superiority. Gee, I wonder why geeks obsessed with Saber data would keep picking a team with a brain- (uggh) trust full of geeks obsessed with Saber data. Let me think about that for a moment. Ok, forget it.

The source is as suspect as you would think. If you agree with the obsession with data vs. reality, that’s all well and good. You are entitled to your opinion, and I mine. As hosts of one of the MLB Network Radio shows said the other day, Fangraphs has their opinions and they believe the Dodgers are the best team in baseball but unfortunately in reality games are not played on spreadsheets and real injuries and likely DL stints do matter. They said the Cubs don’t have these concerns, the Dodgers do. I’d also add, no matter what data you are looking at, you are either high or dumb to assume the Dodgers current pitching staff is championship quality.

I had a little back and forth with some folks recently who disagree and hold Fangraphs up as a Scientologist holds up L. Ron Hubbard’s work, and as you can imagine, that went nowhere. They insisted that “every analyst agrees” that the Dodgers are better than the Cubs and the favorite to win it all. I believe this was the same case made last year, but my main point of contention is that I listen to pretty much every show on MLB Network Radio, at some point during a week, and I have yet to hear anyone “agree” with Fangraphs assessment. In fact, I hear the opposite.

I hear a lot of questioning why Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi would deal the same blue chip they planned for “baseball’s best second baseman”, Brian Dozier, in a deal for Logan Forsythe. As I’ve pointed out, the Dodgers had Dee Gordon, then had Howie Kendrick, then had José Peraza, and then Howie again and still found a way to have no second baseman, necessitating moving José De León for one.

I guess one could argue they solved all their problems if they added Dozier or even Ian Kinsler. But is it the same marked improvement getting Forsythe, a 30-year-old journeyman with a .255 career average and some question about his glove?

This is not to bash Forsythe, who I can see being an upgrade over Chase Utley and that bum who hit .190 but has nude photos apparently of the front office and therefore keeps making the roster, but is it worth passing on three guys we had and dealing a prospect that could have come in handy at some point either for the rotation or another deal – to get Forsythe?

Someone I heard referred to Forsythe as a kid. Umm, 30 is not a kid. In fact this morning the GM show on MLB Network Radio mocked how genius Tampa’s GM was to turn a 30 year old second baseman into an elite pitching prospect, age 24.

I am of the opinion, and I’ve said it many times, prospects are currency. This discussion is not about holding onto prospects, De León or most any other. I understand that a farm should ideally cultivate future big leaguers for your roster, as well as be used to deal for parts you might need. Holding onto every prospect is not to be applauded, it’s foolish. So a problem I have with the Dodgers front office is taking the slow boat in everything they do. Keep what you want, deal what you don’t. Surely even the Dodgers front office understands not each prospect will be a superstar. But perhaps, just maybe, you could deal some of them for useful parts – before their value is gone.

I have no real problem with dealing De León for Forsythe and again, suspect it will be some improvement over the mess at second base last season. That said, I don’t know if one can say it’s improvement over Dee, Peraza or even Howie (and in Howie’s defense, I say that meaning the longtime second base fixture Howie, not the utility fielding occasional player Friedman created last year).

My issue, or better, comment is that as always, the Dodgers seem to take the long route to everything. A guy like Theo Epstein comes in, with many fewer resources than Friedman inherited, and gets to work fast. Within a few years the team is completely made over and winning a championship. It’s not the time only, it’s the approach. Problems are fixed. With the Dodgers, it’s always breaking down what’s unnecessary to break down and trying something new. Money that can be spent on proven big leaguers instead paid to Cuban prospects. Aces dealt. Injury marred pitchers or AAAA nobodies acquired. It all just seems so unnecessarily exhausting.

I suspect if Theo had Dee, he would have kept him. If he felt Dee was a trade high candidate, and somehow he got Peraza, or wanted Howie, I think he would have done that. Friedman and his merry men had to go through 5-6 players to settle on Forsythe – the optimal word here is settle. They hoped to land Dozier, after all.

Again, no offense made to Forsythe, I suspect he will be a decent enough part, not spectacular, but decent. But it is terribly humorous (and sad) to see Friedman apologists spinning this as a genius move. They too wanted Dozier. Friedman made it seem like Dozier (he of the cold streaks that last a month) was the solution. The welcome mat was out, and then Forsythe is acquired. Not for less, mind you, but for the same prospect Dozier was targeted for.

The genius comedy comes from the spin then going to how De León wasn’t that good anyway. I have said many times that scouts have claimed De León was not the Pedro Martinez type many had crowed he was, but perhaps eventually a middle of the rotation starter. No one listened. Now when De León is dealt for Forsythe (why must it always be Tampa, by the way? And Oakland. They made a minor deal with Oakland this week as well – so embarrassing), the story is rewritten that Forsythe is one of the best players ever and De León was nothing special. Ho ho ho

So for whatever it’s worth, the Dodgers infield looks pretty much set. It’s a good infield – there, I said it. It’s got a superstar (Seager) and useful parts. The great depth falls off fast if anything happens to Turner or Forsythe but such is life. I would say the Dodgers infield is not an issue anymore, unless you start wondering about speed. The team’s foot speed and athleticism are still lacking, but then, Sabermetrics doesn’t care about that.

I am of the opinion the Dodgers are marginally better than they were in October, thanks to this trade. I was not impressed with the winter up until now, and I’m still not sure I can say I’m impressed. But, doing something more than retaining your own free-agents, is a start. I would temper anticipation by reminding loyalists that the division has improved and the cake walk the team enjoyed in the West last year might be harder to repeat. So, the question is – has enough been done to repeat as Western division champs, or go all the way, if such ideas are in your head.

I’d say the West is a dogfight with the Dodgers having a chance based mostly on the health of the rotation. The Giants, if I had to guess, look like frontrunners. The Rockies look interesting to. And at some point the Diamondbacks might get their act together.

I think the Dodgers lineup, depending what configuration they use in the outfield, is serviceable. If Yasiel Puig could ever get it together, or a real right-handed power bat in the outfielder were added via trade, I’d be a bigger believer. There are good parts, and some question marks. No one knows what the three outfield spots will look like, or how many outfielders Friedman will run out there to fill those three spots. Twelve?

I’m still a firm believer in things like speed (absent), health (absent) and a deep pitching staff (likely absent). I think you win series in October by lining up well with your competition and what we witnessed last October was hard to watch. I’m not used to seeing starters hoping to “gut their way” through three innings. I’m not used to a bullpen one deep (ok, two – but Blanton likely won’t come back, and his October performance sadly was his lowlight for the year).

I think when you put together a pitching staff you need to think foremost about innings. How many innings can I count on my starters for? If you have a bunch of injured pitchers and potential DL stints, it’s a huge problem. It means your day’s start is in question, as are the games after it, since you likely taxed your pen to make up for the innings your injured starter could not go. i.e. for every suspect member of your rotation, it costs 2-3 days afterward as well. So if you have 2-3 suspect starters, you likely will always be running on fumes. This was the case with the 2016 Dodgers and their spent bullpen that was asked to do too much in October.

You would think the lesson would be learned and a few horses were added to the rotation and a few stoppers to the back of the pen, but it’s virtually the same group we saw last season. Brandon Morrow was brought in on a minor league deal, but he’s just more proof to my point. It is only the end of January, so who knows, perhaps a trick is up Friedman’s sleeve. If so, I’d still say why does he always have to go the long way? Theo certainly wouldn’t.

That’s all I have for now. To summarize – Logan Forsythe may be a fine person and a decent second baseman. He certainly helps compared to what was at second most of last season. That said, as a Dodgers fan you had three answers already around and teased with a bigger fish and ended up with a 30 year old Tampa Ray and it cost you one of the top prospects in the organization. Was it worth it? Only time will tell. I will simply say the dancing around and shuffling of musical chairs was clearly unnecessary. A smarter front office wouldn’t have chosen this route.

I will also remind that this isn’t about holding onto prospects. Some of course you choose and hang onto for dear life – Seager is one, and Bellinger looks to be another. Every prospect a future superstar for your team? Only in some fantasy world. If you pick the guys you want and deal some others for needs, that’s ok. I’d argue that for all the credit he gets as someone holding onto prospects (mostly chosen and developed under Logan White and Ned Colletti), he did deal three to Oakland in July and another to Tampa this week. The net haul is the right to sign Rich Hill for a lot of money and Logan Forsythe. Not sure that’s exactly how you best use this important currency.

Another funny thing from the debate I had the other day. Someone was telling me how De León wasn’t that good anyway and luckily we have Grant Holmes, who will be much better. I had to break it to the guy that Holmes might be better, but he will be better in Oakland.

The final point of comedy I will share this Friday afternoon is a CBS Sports article I saw yesterday, again saying how the Dodgers are better than the Cubs. The article was very firm in that the Dodgers have everything the Cubs had and more and that Friedman and the front office are geniuses. Wow, something other than Fangraphs, saying the exact same thing.

As I am rather skeptical of such rhetoric, I did a quick Google search and found the author (Jonah Keri) of the CBS Sports article had written a book. The topic? What a genius Friedman is and how he transformed the Tampa Rays. Again, consider the source. I have not in all honesty heard such praise on the Dodgers winter or the Dodgers unseating the Cubs anywhere else. I listen to MLB Network Radio fairly regularly, read what the known baseball writers say, etc. but I am not hearing it.

Can the Dodgers win? Well, it’s been three decades and the team does have some good players, so sure, maybe. Would I say they are a favorite? Even in their own division? Would I say they are better than the Cubs? The Indians? The Red Sox? No, I couldn’t say that. They are the same team they were in October, with a new second baseman and a few hail marys added as “depth.” I’d say losing Blanton from the pen and not really replacing him makes it arguably a net negative.

Let’s see what else these guys do. It just shouldn’t take this long. Their route is very unnecessary, which tells me they are either extremely arrogant or clueless. You decide.

One Last Therapy Session for 2016

December 23, 2016 5 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Pox that Has Spread Across the Southland

December 9, 2016 21 comments

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I don’t want to get ahead of myself and have intentionally not written any articles since the playoff ouster, but like Donald Trump – the best predictor of what will happen is by what has happened. So far, contenders made deals at the Winter Meetings to shore up needs, trading away top prospects, opening up the checkbook and ensuring their fans 2017 will be a fun season with a retooled team to enjoy. The Dodgers? As is the custom in the Andrew Friedman era, unconventional non-moves, overpaying for inferior quality and PR-machine generated rumors to get fans excited enough to attend games next season – at increased ticket and parking prices. TV? No such luck, you can hear about how great the all Dodgers network is, but likely never see it for yourself. This is the way the latest negligent owner – the wealthy investment capital firm called the Guggenheim Group, runs business. Fans are just customers to pay higher rates and buy concessions and merchandise – the checks are already in the bank. Sadly, a new generation of fans are more loyal to trillionaire finance companies and overpaid executives than to themselves. Being guardians of these people’s wallets vs. their own self-interests as baseball fans. “Greinke was greedy!” “Kenley doesn’t deserve that!” “We got a bargain with Kazmir!” It’s a mental illness tide that has swept across Los Angeles like herpes, and where once Angelenos wore Fernando jerseys and rooted Garvey, Cey, Orel, Sax, Yeager, Gibson, etc., they now put their loyalties out to Friedman, his pet troll Farhan Zaidi, gym rat Gabe Kapler, Josh Byrnes, and their ilk. I am embarrassed by what the Dodgers have become, but more, what the fans have become.

Turned to bickering, if you point this out, the Twitter trolls will attack. How dare you question the genius of giving $16M to Brent Anderson? You’re too naive to see why Brandon McCarthy was a far smarter signing than keeping Greinke. If you had half a brain, you’d know trading away Dee Gordon for closer of the future Chris Hatcher was a master stroke. Oh, you don’t see the value in signing and then paying Cubans to leave? You idiot! Kiké Hernández, Austin Barnes, Josh Ravin, Luis Avilan – oh, you’re too ignorant to see greatness! All hail the small market executives who make us all better by allowing us to witness their brilliance! It’s a pox that has spread across the Southland and is fueled by the Internet bullying compulsion.

I am a grounded person living in a real world. I have the common sense to not vote for reality show billionaires for President of the United States or believe a second round of Moneyball in the country’s 2nd largest market will succeed after the 1st failed miserably. I have waited and watched and believe me, all the way up until Paul DePodesta blew up a highly competitive, fun Dodgers roster in 2004, I NEVER bashed the Dodgers front office. I understood that occasionally a deal didn’t work out but by and large knew the gatekeepers of my team had our best interests and knew what they were doing. Again, common sense told me what DePodesta did to the Dodgers roster was not in anyone’s best interest but his own. The Moneyball mentality, as shown by DePodesta and now this gang of rats, is about their own self-interest. To be smarter, look more clever, cute, as unconventional as possible to stick their middle fingers up at the fans and traditional baseball principles to be superior. What worked in part in Oakland out of necessity, is not made for the richest team in the sport. Small minded, small market narcissists should not be allowed the keys to the Dodgers kingdom. Like DePodesta, ultimately this will be figured out and the current crop shown the door. But in the meantime, fans, real fans who grew up loving the Dodgers, listening to stories their parents and uncles and aunts and cousins – and Vin Scully! – told them, are left to twist in the wind, paying higher prices, cheering on – what? A collection of bodies, intermingled with a few actual stars, when so much more could be delivered – if only ego maniacs were not calling the shots.

The fan boys and Sabermetrics sickos applaud every bad move and non-move. It empowers them, as they grew up playing too much fantasy baseball and paying too much attention to bloggers’ love of obscure statistics. They never admit that after tens of millions are squandered on career injury cases, the elderly, the never were’s – and said players are paid off to leave – that they were wrong. When Friedman loads his rotation with McCarthy, Anderson and Kazmir, and looks for a team foolish (desperate) enough to take on their deals, or has to juggle more roster moves than anyone in the history of the game to compensate for his short-sightedness, the cultists pretend it’s not happening and puff out their chest for the latest $48M deal given to an old pitcher with a history of injuries – someone, like the other, was out of baseball and trying to catch on with independent league teams. If Friedman and Zaidi signed the guy, they reason, it must be a masterful move. Until it’s not, and you’ll never hear from them that day.

All I know is what I know. I look at what has happened and what is happening. I use that reality to gauge the future. I see the mistakes from the past repeating themselves. Wait for 2018. 2018! 2018! Ok – in 2018 magic potion will sprinkle from the skies over Chavez Ravine and every prospect in the system will be a superstar. Payroll will be low, homegrown talent will rule Blue Heaven on Earth. Never will a prospect bust, or just be a bench player. In this utopia, every player under the age of 22 will be a superstar. Never mind Clayton Kershaw will have an opt out; never mind generally most prospects do not become superstars; never mind the clear majority of the prospects were handed to Friedman from Ned Colletti and Logan White. 2018 is the year. The year. So why should fans spend hard earned money in 2017? Why not wait?

I see the reality of good teams getting the pieces they need to remain good, or get better. I see deals happening where the Giants addressed their main deficiency – a closer. I see the Red Sox being bold enough to deal a Cuban (egad!) to acquire an ace starter. I see the Cubs lose their closer and quickly acquire another – plus a setup man, so they can return for another World Series title. I see the White Sox inexplicably give up when they had most of the pieces, but reload with other teams blue chips. I see the Yankees, who came close after a bold youth movement mid-season, reacquire their closer. I watch the Cardinals add a great defender, offensive player and leader in center field. On it goes. I see the Dodgers talk about players they are “in” on – or more accurately, I see baseball writers say they probably are, but of course time and time and time again they are beat to the punch. The fan boys remain hopeful. They scoff, “Anyone can shop at the Winter Meetings. Anyone can make deals in late July.” They are convinced every absurd move, every lack of action, is right. It must be. If the actions of Friedman and Zaidi are not, everything the fan boys believe in is false. The prospect of this is dizzying, so they act superior, bully online and disappear when “ringers” fail and are paid off to leave town.

As I said at the top, it’s “still early” – though I would also argue not shopping, not dealing, when others are is a big disadvantage, and an unnecessary one. Since cult members are obsessed with owners saving money, shouldn’t the Dodgers save on airfare and hotel by leaving their genius brain trust at home and not attend the Winter Meetings at all? Imagine how all powerful and magnificent they would look if they snubbed their nose at baseball convention and sat it out altogether? Wouldn’t they be awesome?

It is possible the Dodgers make moves – and they will, some – and it’s also possible that in the course of doing this they surprise somehow and do something unprecedented in the Friedman regime and do something right. But that wouldn’t erase all the mistakes – the dumb trades, the unnecessary holes they create, the unrealistic, small time thinking that you must keep EVERY prospect and can never deal some for what you need at the big-league level. It will not change the fact that 2016 was a rather lucky year where the entire division took a nap and repeating that luck statistically (they will like that term) isn’t likely.

When the Guggenheim conglomerate hired Moneyballers to run the Dodgers, it was in large part to reduce payroll and hand over control to a “new” philosophy they’d heard about in Brad Pitt movies. The investment firm honchos do not know or care about baseball – the Dodgers are another piece of the portfolio. You pay $2B to a Botox’d dandy and immediately get an $8B TV deal – plus the gate, MLB revenues, merchandise, etc., etc. If a bunch of kangaroo and monkeys could run out onto the field at 7:10 to play the games, that would be fine with the owners. As long as 40K+ paying customers showed up to watch.

I hope for a few things. I hope first that fans fight back and boycott the games, leaving Guggenheim to look at balance sheets and scratch their heads. The plan worked with Frank McCourt – stop attending games, hitting ownership in the wallet, works. I hope the Moneyballers are shown the door so the few great pieces like Kershaw and Corey Seager, Joc Pederson and Adrian Gonzalez, aren’t left out to dry. I hope Los Angeles baseball fans stop rooting for rich executives and start believing as fans of the game and team, that they deserve better. I hope fans who bicker and snipe at one another realize we’re all supposed to be in it together and quarreling is what we are supposed to do with Giants fans, Padres fans, Diamondbacks fans and Rockies fans – all in a respectful, decent way that doesn’t turn us into ugly animals like Twitter trolls and an orange president-elect. I hope for these things, and mostly for the young, naive or continually let down to wise up and see the truth. As the X-Files TV show famously stated, “The truth is out there.” It really is, you just must open your eyes and see it.

What Black Magic Can the Dodgers’ Hot Stove Conjure Up?

November 7, 2016 Leave a comment

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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.