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It’s a Wonderful Time to be a Suck Up

September 1, 2016 12 comments

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One month to go and the fans are getting anxious. I see the tweets. Some are realizing what morons Andrew Friedman and his pet gnome Farhan Zaidi are; while others are thrilled the Dodgers are clinging to the vapors of first place in the worst division in baseball, the NL West. Of course the majority of the latter group are typical LA fans – thrilled by beach balls, parking lot fights and selfies. Too young to know better, or so is their excuse.

 

The Dodgers ownership is beside themselves that over 3 million fans attended games this year – or as most understand, 3 million tickets were sold. That’s the important thing, after all. Win, lose or draw (do they have ties in baseball?), the greedy finance company known as the Guggenheim Group get their money. They have that sneaky TV deal with evil empire Time Warner Cable pouring money into the offshore accounts, TV partnerships with MLB, gate receipts, merchandise and expensive stadium food. The parking goes to former sleazy owner Frank McCourt, bless his heart.

 

Fans are still in-fighting, brainwashed by a steady dose of LA media sucking up to the Dodgers gang of geniuses in the front office. The reporters – print, radio or TV – want access to the locker room and the free food before games, after all. It’s hard to find any media person in LA say anything negative, or dare I say, truthful, about the way the front office has conducted business since the last change in direction that landed Friedman and Zaidi into power. LA Times beat reporters triumphantly point to the scoreboard – “First place!”, they declare – while it lasts. If you point out the team has mostly been in first place for many years, under previous general managers, and that payroll is the highest in sports, as well as playing 80 games vs. terrible NL West competition, they shrug their shoulders and head for the free eats.

 

Since the message is always sunny, the majority of fans boast of “the Azul” and liken the slugs on the field in 2016 to some of the greatest to ever wear the Dodgers uniform. I figured out some time back that besides mass hypnosis, a lot of this was because the fans are in their teens and twenties and even early thirties and just do not know better. In their lifetimes – think of that! – in their lifetimes they have never seen a truly great Dodgers team. Their parents – yes, parents – mention names like Garvey, Lopes, Baker, Smith, Sutton, Fernando, Cey, etc., etc. and they look starry eyed at their folks while wearing a Luis Cruz or Charlie Culberson jersey. i.e. their perspective is skewed. There is no saving them. They root the laundry Jerry Seinfeld used to mention fans cheering on. “Who is Jerry Seinfeld?”, they ask.

 

If you try to appeal to them with logic and commonsense you are wasting your time. They are loyal to the core, just like Guggenheim wants. They need these young ones to buy hats and shirts and jerseys and get fanatical so the money keeps rolling in. I will sometimes, for fun, make obvious comments on something that is screwed up and I get attacked or responded to with some confused remark. It’s like explaining the sequence of events in “Pulp Fiction” to a Dalmatian.

 

I can’t fault the young and blissfully ignorant – hell, if the media is so enthralled with mediocrity, why should a vaping kid with a black Dodgers lid be any different? The Dodgers are dead – long gone, a ghost. The final lap of Vin Scully’s career is superficially celebrated but the majority of fans either can’t wait for the old codger to disappear or have no idea why this “boring old guy” is famous anyway.

 

The Dodgers have one month to sail into the playoffs – helped by a final month full of weak West foes – or choke. The team is interesting – the pen holding its own for the most part, save for various shitheels Friedman tries here and there, but overworked. The rotation is crap on a stick – the worst I can remember in all my years of following the Dodgers. The lineup is a patchwork any given night since analytics maintain you can’t throw your “best” players out there, you must always be clever and innovative – keep them guessing, seems to be the Friedman/Zaidi mantra.

 

The Dodgers score 10 runs or 0. They hit homers that get the fans jumping up and down but have trouble hitting in the clutch, moving runners over, stealing bases, taking extra bases and basically all the staples that baseball run producing is supposed to entail. When I wonder how this will play in October, some wet behind the ears whelp thumps his chest mightily and like Bill Shaikin himself, says, “Scoreboard! First place!”

 

No one cares that with 80 games against doormats and a payroll double most other teams, one should expect a degree of success. Again, logic is lost on the clueless. And after all, who am I to rain on their parade? If they want to think the 2016 Dodgers are the team that will break the jinx and bring a parade, full of rioting and hospitalization, to LA, so be it. The game is their game, after all. The young have inherited the Earth – the VMAs, Instagram, Snapchat and Kylie Jenner have deemed it so.

 

I am from a long past generation. Antiquated ideas that flawed data has determined is passé. In my twisted world a general manager would start with pitching – build a strong bullpen that is several power arms deep, shortening games and work back to the rotation. The rotation would consist of three very good starters – healthy, reliable, and capable of going deep into games. The four spot would be someone who could also reliably take the ball and pitch competitively. The fifth spot could be a veteran or a tryout for a top pitching prospect. The farm would have several other pitching prospects and a few veterans capable of stepping in in a pinch. I know this sounds like madness to the young, but it was the way baseball pitching staffs were considered and put together for many years. I know, the data has shown that it’s better to use a jumble of minor league lifers and reclamation projects, and that a rotation can consist of anyone with a pulse. Or who once had a pulse.

 

Again, I recall Dodgers rotations that were amazing, and some that were passable. I don’t recall a time when day to day, every month, no one could say who the day’s starting pitcher was going to be. I don’t recall such a cavalier attitude being given to pitching. This is, was, the LA Dodgers, after all. The team’s pitching has been legendary. Or at least that old man behind the mic has claimed.

 

I am at a loss how a front office full of geniuses – more cooks in the kitchen than Nobu – can spend so much money and have so little to show for it on the field. I mean, a payroll over $200 million while half the lineup, the starting pitcher and several members of the bullpen were just recently UPS drivers is quite an amazing achievement. How do you spend that much and get this little? It’s an art, I tell you.

 

The fans, guardians of finance companies’ wallets, will support any move the front office makes. Pay Zack Greinke until he’s nearing 40? Bah! Give the money to a few untried Cubans instead and overpay some guys coming off major injuries. Spread that green around. Any moron could look at the winter free-agent market and sign a few solid arms, but it takes brains to wait until all of those players are gone and then pull something out of your ass. Remember, it’s poker. Wait it out. Wait till every possible move that makes sense has happened, then pounce. Cleverness is more important than commonsense.

 

I also like how when trouble is evident, the brain trust waits longer still, and lets word leak that something huge is coming. Then the fans get all excited, chattering to themselves about this team’s ace or that team’s best bat and lo and behold, without fail, Friedman and Zaidi hit speed dial in the 11th hour and call on their buddies in Tampa and Oakland to bail them out. Hoarding prospects like nuggets during the California Gold Rush, the duo then foists over kids for anything their old friends want to give them. Rich Hill, old, a walk free-agent – on the disabled list! – and a walk free-agent Josh Reddick who was on the DL himself and has about as much pop as Tim Tebow, assuming the ball is an announced batting practice fastball, heralded as a genius move.

 

A good one was when Friedman had to move clubhouse hero AJ Ellis to get more offense from that all important backup catcher position. Granted, AJ can no longer hit, but if you look through baseball history, or most big league rosters, how many backup catchers do? AJ is a smart player, beloved by his teammates – most especially the guy who wears #22 and is compared to Sandy Koufax – and is essentially another coach or manager in the clubhouse and on the field. Yes, with a rotation in tatters, Friedman felt the need to risk clubhouse chemistry and momentum by moving AJ for another backup catcher. I guess he figured that his new acquisition could pinch hit in the 3rd inning, when one of his horrific starters was lifted, even though it would mean Kike Hernandez or Andrew Toles catching if something happened to passed ball king Yasmani Grandal. Another old guy baseball mindset – who gives a fuck what your backup catcher is hitting? Is he a good catcher? Is he a good game caller? Is he intelligent? AJ is all of these things, Friedman none of them.

 

There is one month left and I would assume the Dodgers should make the playoffs. The Giants have shown no fight in them in the second half and while the Dodgers’ shortcomings have been noted, I can’t say for certain the Giants have a run left in them. I sense they do, but who knows? So that means the Dodgers could win the West or get the wildcard, thrilling the legion of Southland fans to no end. They will point to progress – how the team made it to the playoffs, forgetting they have for years. If they make the wildcard, it will be heralded as an amazing achievement, especially due to all the injuries. No mention will be made that the geniuses acquired known injury cases – and a July 31st deadline arm already on the DL.

 

If the Dodgers don’t do well in October, or miss the playoffs altogether, the suck ups in the media and on social media will cite the amazing year in spite of difficulties. Again, no mention will be made that the difficult road wasn’t one that had to be traveled – how an easier road, with a real baseball man (just one, or two – not a consultancy), using both the financial resources available and prospects to shop with, could have been taken.

 

Kudos will be given to the progress the farm system made, neglecting the fact that almost all of the prospects were inherited from the previous regime. Corey Seager will win Rookie of the Year and get consideration for MVP, but was drafted and cultivated before Friedman and Zaidi slithered into town. Same for Julio Urias. Ditto for Jose De Leon. And others.

 

It would take an epic collapse for the greedy stiffs at Guggenheim to consider a change so likely Friedman, Zaidi and their merry men are here to stay. This will encourage reporters to write and say nice things about the smart guys in the front office and get fans enthusiastic for 2017. The Dodgers will of course start advertising season tickets for the coming season while many of the young fans throw their blue foam fingers aside and grab Rams and Kings gear.

 

As most of us longtime Angelenos know, life in LA is about all the diversions. You can get In N Out Burger, see a Kardashian at the Calabasas Commons, hit the beach, believe the Lakers have a shot, sit in traffic on the 405 and smoke your weed out in public in Van Nuys. The City of Angels, the dream factory, a fantasy world where Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi are baseball royalty. It’s not necessarily a great time to be a baseball fan in LA, but it’s a wonderful time to be a suck up.

Sorry True Believers, The Dodgers Have A LOT of Work to Do

October 16, 2015 4 comments

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Well, I hate to say I told you so, but I told you so.

The 2015 Dodgers season fooled a lot of people – either casual fans, Moneyball lovers or the just delusional. The season went exactly as it had to, given the mismanagement of new genius Andrew Friedman. In case you hadn’t noticed, Friedman’s team of consultants fielded a less competitive team than stocky Ewok lookalike Ned Colletti did. Some have deluded themselves into thinking this year was better… newsflash: it was not.

The Dodgers have A LOT of work to do to get this 30-year drought off their back. As I noted in previous articles, I see them going backward, not forward. There isn’t a single area of the team that doesn’t need fixing. The front office through the field coaches to the lineup and pitching. The fans too could use some self-improvement – read the article I posted last night about the decline of twitter and social media as a whole due to mean-spirited mob mentality.

Very few good things happened this year and for anyone who bought a ticket, paid too much for parking, overpriced beer, food and gear, I sympathize with you. Your hearts are in the right place, but you were all duped. The Guggenheim ownership group has done very little right since coming in, while somehow making in-stadium fans feel things are markedly better than they used to be. Perhaps in terms of massive brain trauma they are, but the team itself, the brand, has almost never been lower in all the years I’ve followed the Dodgers. Let us begin…

The Good:

I would say the good is very little. The only things I can see Friedman and his suits did well were obvious things I noted as must-haves in 2014. They focused on defense (even this tarnished with the poor trade of Juan Uribe to Atlanta) and got rid of clubhouse distractions Matt Kemp and Hanley Ramirez. They missed one however in believing Yasiel Puig could be transformed without his enablers around – he couldn’t. Puig regressed across the board and for those who used to criticize me for saying Puig would be lucky to have a career like Raul Mondesi’s (assuming his ceiling was far above Mondy’s), you were wrong. Puig was a trouble spot, loafer and unhelpful (while necessary) part of the team all season long.

So defense for a team built around pitching is good, even though outside of two great starters, I would argue they didn’t build around pitching. And as noted, the chemistry fix was smart, but they didn’t complete the job. So all in all the good is at best a B-.

Philosophy:

The Dodgers fault from the get-go was allowing Friedman total control of every aspect of the team. He doesn’t seem to be Theo Epstein smart, and even Theo has enough humility to hire good people around him (Joe Maddon, etc.). Friedman, like most egotistical executives in all walks of life, clearly dictated how the Dodgers would play baseball in 2015. I can’t point blame at Don Mattingly or his coaches nearly as much as I can at Friedman. The buck stops with him.

Starting with devaluing Dee Gordon and causing a void of speed and leadoff presence atop the lineup to blowing out players and paying their salaries to play elsewhere (sometimes within the division), to trying to prove his superior intelligence by cherry picking disastrous players either with injury histories or no histories (like Paul DePodesta, Friedman loves AAAA nobodies that prove time and again to be nobodies for a reason), 2015’s shortcomings should rest squarely in the hands of the architect. Friedman WANTED this team the way it was constructed and way it played, so I’m giving him full credit.

Anyone who knows baseball understands pitching wins. The Dodgers pitching – save for the two aces – was always going to be a question mark. Brett Anderson was better than expected in terms of health, but that was always a risky pick up given his physical track record. Brandon McCarthy has always been marginal and also a physical nightmare. The slew of arms Friedman had coming and going on a near daily basis were a who’s who of baseball trivia, none of them making an impact.

A team without a full rotation and very thin bullpen has no place in October, so another first round ouster is no surprise to me. And now one of the aces is leaving, or could be signed at a greater price, for more years, and entering his middle 30s with a lot of mileage on his golden arm, so how the 2016 Dodgers pitching staff will look is anyone’s guess. I will say it has to be better thought out and deeper. There’s something to be said for adding known commodities with a history of health. Not knowing who will pitch a given day, who can come out of the pen, etc. is not a way a front running team should operate. Friedman’s lack of understanding, or brash egotism, sunk the 2015 Dodgers from the start.

But the troubles go deeper than the pitching. The offense, except when clicking in spurts against very bad NL West competition, was a strangely crafted bunch with a failing philosophy of swinging for the fences – the more pull hitting, the better. For the majority of 2015 you saw very little going with the pitch, hitting strategically with runners on base, etc. Friedman, like other Moneyballers before him, wanted a lot of homeruns and to his credit, and Big Mac’s excitement to preach this principle, it worked. The Dodgers hit a lot of homeruns with at face value a not very homerun-friendly lineup. Needless to say it didn’t impress me because swinging for the fences isn’t a great hitting philosophy for an entire team.

The offense worked, except when it didn’t. It didn’t, for example, against good teams, in any month, let alone October. If you look at the 2015 Dodgers record vs. each team, they fattened up against patsies in the West – San Diego, Colorado and Arizona, and had a losing record vs. most good teams – for example, EVERY team that played in this year’s post-season. For good measure, the hated Giants even beat the crap out of the Dodgers.

If you can’t beat good teams, you shouldn’t consider yourself a serious threat to win the World Series. Fans believe with their heart, and are drunk half the game anyway, so to truly feel the Dodgers were a good team this year was ignoring the truth. I’m sure Friedman, a man who relishes data, had to be concerned with the fact his team only could beat bad teams. I think that became apparent with desperate lineup switches in September and October and suddenly leaning heavily on Corey Seager, who wasn’t even deemed promotion-worthy till late in the year.

Friedman needs to stop being Al Davis and hire the right people on the field to make the moves. His baseball philosophy isn’t based in reality. Perhaps he subscribes to Billy Beane’s idea that it’s his job to get the team to October based on statistical probability of what players reasonably should do over the course of the year – once there, it’s impossible to predict. That works fine in Oakland, perhaps, but with a $300M payroll and ability to absorb any amount of contracts or luxury tax penalty? Does. Not. Compute.

Other Things:

While Friedman should be held most responsible for this year’s team, I am not giving a pass to Donnie and his staff. I think, as I said earlier, top to bottom there are problems with the team – from deficiencies to bloat, poor philosophy and unfounded ego.

Donnie is not the great thinker you’d want to manage a top ball club. Luckily for the Dodgers, this isn’t a top ball club. Donnie got the job by being a good soldier under Joe Torre and was a good hitting coach. He apparently is in demand for some reason in Miami, so likely Friedman will toss him out as his scapegoat and Donnie will bask in the Florida sun. That’s okay with me because while a great former player and a decent guy, he’s not a terrific X’s and O’s kind of guy.

I’m not sure who should manage the Dodgers next and it really doesn’t matter what you or I think anyway. Friedman will do what Friedman does and do what he wants. Personally, I’d love to see Friedman sent packing and Dan Evans brought back to construct the team, and Alex Cora hired to manage. The team needs an influx of smarts and not the kind data loving pundits fantasize about either, but actual baseball IQ.

So Donnie will go, the fans will be happy, and neglect the fact that the house is rotten from the inside out. Moving Donnie out will NOT make the Dodgers suddenly a great team, maybe not even a really good team. Donnie and his coaches – all could go in my opinion, especially useless Mac – are all tired and had difficulty getting the most out of the botched collection of players Friedman handed them. I really can’t blame them. When Justin Turner, a former waiver wire bench player, is your big threat, you have trouble. When Kike Hernandez is the best thing you got in a trade for NL batting champ and stolen base leader Dee Gordon, you have trouble. When you’re leaning on journeymen outfielders in a pennant race, guys who weren’t even in the big leagues until they arrived in LA, you have trouble. THIS is a $300M team? Friedman spends as much and as inefficiently as George W. Bush.

Turn over the entire coaching staff and perhaps with Friedman letting HIS staff (he inherited the current group) handle the on-field action, things will improve. It couldn’t get much worse.

The Dodgers won the West in a down year for the Giants and with three other dogs in the race. Beating up on bad teams and losing to anyone with a pulse isn’t “winning” – not with a payroll and expectations the Dodgers had going into this season.

Let’s face it; it’s been over three decades since the Dodgers were a dominating team so humility should be practiced by everyone. When I read tweets from Dodgers fans talking shit to the Giants fans, I chuckle. The Giants have won 3 titles recently, so winning the West – with triple the payroll of the enemies from up north, should not be setting you off into a victory lap.

To get back – if even possible – to the Dodgers way, the Dodgers – Guggenheim – need to get smarter. Hiring “smart guys” (walking around referring to yourselves as smart makes me wonder how smart you are anyway) isn’t enough. The smart guys may ultimately “get it” and create a winning formula, but let’s face it, Friedman’s whirlwind of suspect trades and bad signings were his attempt to “get it” for 2015. The end result, as noted, is less satisfying than Ned Colletti teams under evil Frank McCourt, which at least made it to the NLCS.

I think A LOT of work needs to be done. It’s frightening to think how poorly the team played, how bad the hitting philosophy is, the station to station base running, lack of team speed, strikeouts, 3/5 of a bad rotation, soon to perhaps be 4/5, a terrible bullpen, and now no Nancy Bea Hefley and soon, no Vin Scully. Not to mention no TV for the majority of people living in Los Angeles.

While thugs beating the crap out of fans aren’t happening as much, the dark embarrassment of the Dodgers is still alive and well. I would love to say, sign Zack Greinke, that will fix everything, or hire this guy, sign this FA, etc. The truth is there are many, many issues here and it starts with the ownership group, the front office and as they say, the shit rolls downhill. Simply blaming Don Mattingly would be oversimplifying the problem. Mattingly didn’t deal Dee Gordon, didn’t sign Brandon McCarthy, admire Yasmani Grandal for his pitch framing or Kike Hernandez for his tight fitting pants. The team played as well as they could given what they are. Losing a 5 game series to the Mets when you have Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke going 4 of the 5 is pretty god awful. All that was missing was Scott Van Slyke trying to out freeze Joe Kelly in a human statue standoff.

The Dodgers need to get A LOT better. It’s up to Guggenheim to figure out how to do that. Calling Dan Evans. Dan Evans to the Dodgers front office please.