Archive

Posts Tagged ‘theo epstein’

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

November 7, 2016 Comments off

gettyimages-484499393

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.

Told Ya So. Now What?

October 27, 2016 6 comments

zaidi-friedman-feature-630x310

As the playoffs approached I started to feel bad for long-suffering Dodgers fans, and even some of the young, naive and snarky ones. Maybe especially them. Anyone, really, who believed that this ownership group, this front office, and many of the players on this year’s roster, would undo nearly three decades of pain and suffering. I tried to warn them – anyone who reads my tweets or articles here knows this to be true. I did my best, but sometimes, well… a fan is short for fanatic, and the definition of is a person filled with excessive and single-minded zeal.

I saw the fervor building and deep hopes that this year it would be different. Admittedly, as a person who has spent wayyyy too much time analyzing Dodgers minutia over the past several decades, I knew it would not be. Again, feel free to look up my points of view from articles past to tweets long ago – it’s all there for the record. Andrew Friedman, and his boy troll Farhan Zaidi, were never going to do the impossible – not now, not with what they put together. When your front office is boasting never before has the disabled list been used so intensely, you know as a fan you are in deep doo doo.

I’ve chatted with friends and friends of friends who had one foot on the bandwagon themselves – these, people who should know better. Sort of like Trump Mania, they got swept away with the less experienced, believing a cake walk through a listless NL West meant things were different. I tried using reason – but they have no rotation! When would a team with no rotation – the only top tier pitcher coming off a serious back ailment and October yips – be enough to go to or win a World Series? But what of that tired, generic looking bullpen that logged wayyyy too many innings, covering for said lack of starting pitching? What of the team that also set another record – lowest batting average ever of a post season team vs. left-handed pitching? Last of 30 teams vs. left-handed pitching. No speed. Relying too heavily on a 22-year-old rookie, especially curious given the highest payroll in organized sports. No, you don’t understand, the chemistry – this year will be different! Ok. You can only argue so much, and who am I to piss on everyone’s shoes?

The Dodgers did as well as could be expected – not buoyed by greatness from the ownership group and front office, but more the soft Western division (the only other good team was the worst in baseball after the All-Star break) and bloat of payroll. Kids finally ripe, or nearly ripe, helped out immensely. The fans cheered the kids that the owners and front office executives provided, ignoring completely, or rewriting history, that the previous regimes did all the heavy lifting – scouting, drafting, signing almost anyone on the roster who had a good season, this includes Justin Turner and Clayton Kershaw. In fact, it’d be hard to find plus players the current group of geniuses found. Andrew Toles is the one that comes to mind, but like Kike Hernandez the previous year, too small a sample size, may still be exposed.

The fact of the matter is a lot of money was saved not signing Zack Greinke, not going after the free-agent arms like Johnny Cueto, David Price, Jordan Zimmerman, trade options like Cole Hamels, etc. but any savings were offset by overspending (again) on the walking wounded and never weres – Scott Kazmir, Brent Anderson, Brandon McCarthy, and so many “toolsy” Cubans we have not seen and likely never will. As I’ve stated before – an interesting high wire act of being cheap and being irresponsible with the wallet at the same time.

In reality, as I said last winter and this spring and many, many times (too many for most) during the year, the Dodgers could have fixed their 2015 playoff problems by addressing the issue that haunted them. The issue was starting pitching – rather than go it again with the lefty/righty ace combo of Kershaw and Greinke, and add more behind that, they instead subtracted. The sycophants wallet watching and saying how Greinke’s years 6-8 would bankrupt the team are the same types who don’t get how after trading top minor league talent for Andrew Miller, the Cleveland Indians are in the World Series. The illness that has taken over baseball fans where they feel compelled to be guardians of billionaire owners’ bottom line, as opposed to fans who deserve a title in their town, is impossible to argue with – believe me, I have tried. Whatever Greinke’s cost might be when he is older and less amazing means nothing if along the way you win a title, or perhaps more. The Indians understand this, and they are still playing today.

Kershaw and Greinke are a lot better than the alternatives, especially those brought in by Friedman, Zaidi and their gang of numbers crunching simpletons. What the Dodgers needed was to keep Greinke and add another arm of quality besides. Or – part with Greinke and sign two arms of quality. The problem last Oct was Anderson and the rest, not Kershaw and Greinke. The irony now that Greinke might be on the Dodgers radar as a winter trade target (the free-agent crop last winter was so vital as this year’s is non-existent) is humorous. Friedman lovers will hail a reunion as genius, even after saying how brilliant it was to let Greinke go. When you subtract your #2 starter and fill the void with a slew of question marks and DL cases, you’re just not bright. Innings, quality, healthy innings, are very key to constructing your pitching staff. The Dodgers had a big problem there from winter through spring into summer and fall. Micro-managing, using 7 pitchers per night since the starter could only go 2-4 innings, worked in the short term vs. very bad competition, but there is a massive difference between facing San Diego pitching and the Chicago Cubs.

I am curious to see if the administration learned this, or if they are going to go back to the same type of ineffectiveness that got them where they ended up. Part of the problem is the logjam of contracts and possible slots players like Kazmir and McCarthy take up. Not to mention Hyun-Jin Ryu, who was a warrior – until injuries made him unable to make the bell. The only way out of the situation is sucking up more salary, padding offers with desirable prospects and going for impact starting pitching via trade such as Greinke, Chris Sale or perhaps Justin Verlander, etc. Counting on sudden health and greatness from the guys Friedman did this year no doubt means the same problems in 2017 as 2016. And remember, Kershaw’s injury I warned you about in the past – occurred and could flare up again. Would you feel comfortable with Kenta Maeda as your ace and a group of young pitchers who are nowhere near ready for a 200-innings workload?

The rosy prospects of 2017 rely on one of two things happening – the Guggenheim ownership throwing out the current group or the current group suddenly learning from reality and making adjustments. I assume the second is more realistic as while I’d love for the Moneyball experiment to end in Los Angeles (again), more than likely it will be spun – we got to the championship series! Of course, when Ned Colletti did that two years in a row under Botox loving, penny pinching Frank McCourt, it was argued as not enough.

I guess it’s possible even a math crunching geek like Friedman could understand that his pitch and ditch fantasy approach to getting innings out of his overachieving and no name bullpen wasn’t ideal. But even if that happens, the market is pretty dry. It would indeed mean eating more bad contracts and trading parts many don’t want the team to trade. Them’s the breaks, as they say. Conventional baseball guys know that winter shopping is the easiest and most tried and true time to acquire assets. The July trading deadline is the other. Last winter, seemingly either out of Guggenheim trying not to spend or the executives’ need to look brighter than old school baseball guys, the Dodgers waited the shopping frenzy out. Only after almost every name was taken off the board, did Friedman move. In July, top teams loaded up, Friedman waited till the last hours and traded three prospects for two walk free-agents. It seems the pattern is Friedman always waits, and ultimately is left out in the cold.

His supporters will deny this and argue but the fact is that teams who want to win get the parts they require and do so aggressively. You don’t watch the Red Sox, for example, sit on their hands as the best players are looking for homes. The Cubs loaded up as soon as Theo arrived and are playing in the World Series because of it. For the Dodgers, there’s always an excuse why this player or that didn’t come to LA. Too expensive, a risk, or just plain not interested. The fans, sadly, in a large part have come to not only accept these excuses, but parrot them back as a sort of gang standing behind the bully’s back in support. Stockholm Syndrome – the fans oftentimes are more in support of geeks than they are their own self-interest. Shouldn’t fans of a baseball team be looking after themselves? A team like the Dodgers has gone through multiple ownership changes over the past three decades and so much money has come in via record attendance, increased parking, concessions and merchandise fees, massive TV deals that don’t allow the games to be televised to the majority of the market and any savings planned by playing inexpensive prospects (from previous regimes). As a fan, when I yell out the window like that guy in the movie Network, that I’m as mad as hell… I believe it’s my right as a fan. I would never consider, for example, screaming how awesome a polo shirt wearing dork from Tampa or Oakland is. Yet, the game has changed, and many do just that.

Again, it’s not just the uninformed, there are some real fans swept up in this. Longtime fans – fans over 40 years old – fans who actually witnessed Dodgers greatness in their lifetime and know all too much about the roots dating back to Flatbush. Fans by their very nature, I guess, want to believe. You can’t fault them for that. I do fault them for supporting sleazy executives however over their own best interests.

It’s too early to say what will happen in 2017. It depends, as I noted, whether the front office is sent packing (won’t happen) or they learned from the past. If neither of those things happen, 2017 will be less successful than 2016 just based on the unlikelihood of the entire division phoning it in again. If the Giants add Kenley Jansen, or if the Boston exec who is taking over the Diamondbacks does anything, that alone would make it harder to repeat the success of this year. I have hinted what should have been done and what needs to be done – innings need to be added to the rotation. Reliable, solid innings. It will require bold moves and trades, since signing good pitchers to free-agent contracts apparently escaped the draft pick hoarding dummies the Dodgers employ. It will require finally getting that Ryan Braun for Yasiel Puig (and of course more, Puig has proven he needs to be gone) deal or something like it, so a big right handed presence is added to the lefty heavy lineup. It will mean adding some youth and speed to the top of the order, probably at second base (oh for Dee Gordon or Jose Peraza, huh?). It will mean lopping off frequent DL guys who almost never are healthy and on the active roster.

The Dodgers, we are told, have all the financial wherewithal in the world and want to win. I see cheapness, I see intensely stupid spending. I would like to see that turn into smarter spending, healthier bodies, more positive results and less of the magic potion Friedman and Zaidi and Josh Byrnes and Gabe Kapler and all the rest of them giggle feverishly and try to concoct in their nerd lab. There’s a reason the game was largely unchanged for more than a century, the formula is pretty simple. The tinkering, looking sideways, squinting and trying to be overly clever was devised for teams with no other possible option. A team, going through a near 30-year drought without a championship, with the highest payroll in sports, and more money in the kitty than anyone, should not be building this way. The experiment in Los Angeles is frustrating and ugly. Let’s use some smarts. “Moneyballer” Theo Epstein was wise enough to understand this – turning impossible situations in Boston and now in Chicago around. I guess the question is, how smart (stubborn) are Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi? Or the Guggenheim Group, for that matter.

What is Wrong with Dodgers Fans?

January 1, 2016 12 comments

stupid

Happy New Year, everybody. Although under 12 hours old, 2016 is looking to be an active one for Dodgers commentary. This morning I awoke to a great exchange by the ever-wise Dodger Oracle (follow on Twitter @TheDodgerOracle) and several clueless Dodgers fans. One exchange include pearls of wisdom from someone who calls himself Utility Fan, perhaps because he idolizes utility men starting in the Dodgers infield. Here are a few of his brilliant thoughts…

Capture

 

Capture2.PNG

 

These nuggets are indicative of a brand of fan I can’t identify with. It’s beyond the Stockholm Syndrome I always chat about, wherein fans feel some obligation to rich executives and even richer owners, rather than fans who struggle all week at work to earn money to take their fans to a ballgame. I guess it’s why Donald Trump is so popular.

This mentality is an offshoot of earlier generations of fans who booed players who were once Dodgers and who come back in different uniforms, whether they left on their own or were traded away. Now don’t get me wrong, if a prickly character like Gary Sheffield comes back into town, boo at will, but someone like Mike Piazza, who came up in the system and was a star for many years? Or Shawn Green, who conducted himself with the utmost of class while in blue and fought Paul DePodesta as the geeky GM tried to ship him away? They’re booing a guy who did local charity work and after each home run gave his batting gloves to kids sitting in the stands. I didn’t understand it then, and I don’t today.

It’s odd if you have a pro-Dodgers/anti-rich guy attitude you’re labeled a villain by these folks. Of course I wear that as a badge of honor since it means the very people I try to get thinking are upset (thought is hard for them). Today (Happy New Year!) I received an irate response to a recent article I wrote on this very blog. First of all, I know my ideas (reason, common sense) aren’t for everyone. I don’t expect folks who disagree with me to read my words and I don’t care to sway them. They, after all, have to look at themselves in the mirror every day and have people in their lives already who don’t like or respect them. I would say if my articles or tweets upset you, please do not read them. There are plenty of thoughtful, intelligent people out there who enjoy and share a like sensibility. The miserable and snarky are welcome to follow a Sabermetrics sycophant or other executive lover’s words.

I will finish this brief New Year’s edition of Dodger Therapy with the earlier mentioned retort on my recent article It’s indicative of this type of mental illness that proliferates baseball fans the country over, but especially the Dodgers fans now that pinheads are calling the shots in the front office. I will show both the words of this poster, grabarkewitz, and my responses. Enjoy, and have a great day with family and friends and a truly wonderful 2016.

***

“You sure you are not Plaschke because I haven’t read such moronic dribble in my whole life. For all of things you blame this front office for, you seem to avoid the big thing – they have only been in charge for one year. First, they have to reverse the seven years of Ned Colletti’s regime and before that rebuild what was destroyed under the McCourts. As of today, we have the number one farm system and it didn’t take tanking like the Cubs or Astros, but using our financial might to rebuild what was broken.”

Thank you for your kind words. I would say first off that do we know the Dodgers have the #1 farm system right now? It was #3 during last season and that included Joc Pederson, Corey Seager, Scott Schebler, Chris Reed and Hector Olivera, who are all in the big leagues, the last three with other teams. Of what’s left, most were in the system before Andrew Friedman and his little gremlin Farhan Zaidi came to power.

I keep hearing fans touching themselves over all the draft picks the Dodgers are accumulating or could get which is nice, except for the reality that many times draft picks amount to nothing and if last June’s draft is any indication of the talent evaluating might of Friedman, Zaidi and gym rat minor league talent evaluator Gabe Kapler, I’m a bit leery.

You’re right the Dodgers have been using Guggenheim’s financial might to acquire picks and young players, but is this the best use of money when you had a finite window with the world beating pair of Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, and now are left with three years of Kershaw before that window also closes? For example, is it wise to celebrate $60M being paid to Hector Olivera in essence to get Jose Peraza, who was then spun for a potentially interesting White Sox arm and two older prospects? Or, was it wise to pay $80M for major league players to play against the Dodgers last year? Perhaps if it amounted to October success, but it did not. Which leads me to your obvious Ned Colletti bashing.

Personally, I would take Ned back in a minute if we could. Since he’s currently on the payroll, perhaps the same influence in ownership that nixed Kapler as manager and chose Dave Roberts, will eventually grow weary of the brainy arrogance of Friedman and his henchmen and put Ned back into the driver’s seat. This isn’t to say I love Ned, I don’t. I did however always think his criticism was unfair. Outside of a very manly mustache, Ned put together good fundamental teams that always gave the Dodgers a chance to compete. In July, he made straightforward trades that addressed weaknesses. There were no needlessly complicated moves such as Friedman’s three-team thriller with Atlanta and Miami last July that didn’t really help the team at all.

I also find it intriguing that fans slam Ned as if it’s a sport, yet his Dodgers teams did exactly what Friedman’s did – win the West. In fact, Ned’s teams, as you point out, under great financial limitations by Frank McCourt, were playing for the league championship. Until Friedman’s teams do better in October, and the way he’s been building the teams (Moneyball style), that seems unlikely, it would be unfair to say this regime is markedly better than Ned’s. Also, what of Stan Kasten? While Ned is often blamed for shortcomings in the end of his time as GM, you and I both know uber genius Kasten was brought in and had final say over everything player personnel wise. Worth mentioning as it shows that since taking over ownership from McCourt, Guggenheim has changed plans multiple times and all fans have to show for it is a TV deal that keeps 70% of the Los Angeles area from watching Vin Scully’s last days behind the microphone.

***

“The fact that you cannot see the plan is mystifying to me because is quite obvious. Getting younger while also bridging the gap to the farm system. Kendrick fit that role as did Rollins. Trading Gordon filled three big holes – catching depth (which we didn’t have), depth on the ML roster and a set up guy. In my opinion, it was a great trade for us. The plan this year is very easy to spot – get younger, be less beholden to the overpaid (no matter how you slice it, Greinke is overpaid and I, for one, am glad we are not on the hook for that contract) and improve our depth. I can even see the Utley signing for what it is, improving depth at a marginal cost.”

Thanks for allowing me insight into your superior intellect. I would counter, I suppose, by saying the fact that you SEE the plan is even more mystifying than me missing it. If the idea is to “get younger while also bridging the gap to the farm system” I’m not sure we’ve seen that much of that happening. Chase Utley for $7M to replace 32-year-old Howie Kendrick or 27-year-old Dee Gordon is getting younger? I would say in reality Utley is older than Howie and Howie was older than Dee. The truth of the matter is Moneyball connoisseurs do not value the running game, so they decided to “trade high” on Dee. Zaidi himself this past season admitted they underestimated what that high was as Dee surpassed his 2014 season by quite a bit.

Allowing second ace Zack Greinke to leave and fans (Stockholm Syndrome) citing his age (32) as a good reason for his departure would be more meaningful if Friedman didn’t then sign Scott Kazmir (32) to replace him as the #2 (assuming, of course, if they don’t package prospects for a better #2 – after all, “it’s still early”). There is definite risk in signing ANY pitcher long-term, but one could argue with a decent track record of durability, monster numbers and an athletic body, Greinke might be worth banking on. Especially, I would say, if you had that incredible 1-2 punch of Kershaw/Greinke that few teams (none?) could match. I would say that’s where that “financial might” you noted would be useful – moreso than Olivera’s rich signing bonus and eating $80M to make players hit home runs against the Dodgers.

I’ll be devil’s advocate and say Friedman WILL still tinker and perhaps try to add a more legitimate #2 to slot behind Kershaw, but for now the reality is many optimistic fans are trying to suggest Kazmir makes the Greinke exit more palatable and I’d say it really doesn’t. Don’t get me wrong, Kazmir and yesterday’s addition of Kenta Maeda (who I like) definitely adds more quality innings to the lower part of the 2016 rotation than what Friedman foisted on us in 2015, but neither is Zack Greinke. Why is this important? Well, Moneyball loves to use a jumble of numbers to predict how many individual stats can be mixed together to win X numbers of games. That’s a nice theory and has success during a 162 game season (witness last year’s tepid West title). On the other hand, as Billy Beane himself has said, the algorithm goes out the window in Oct. That explains why the Dodgers folded rather quickly, even with “superior intellect” in charge of decision making (Friedman and Zaidi geniuses are better than Stan Kasten as solo genius, I guess, though result was no different).

Your comment about the Dee Gordon trade being “great” is even more glowing than Zaidi’s comment, which I noted earlier. You’re also wrong in the package the Dodgers received in return for the award-winning second baseman. Essentially what the Dodgers got was Howie Kendrick, who is now suddenly deemed “too old”, Chris Hatcher, who was horrendous until the end of 2015 and Austin Barnes. Yasmani Grandal, the catcher you credit the Gordon trade for acquiring, actually came from San Diego in the Matt Kemp move that also cost $35M in cash. So if you think Grandal’s .282 first half, .162 second half, and .000 in October was a sensational haul for Kemp, plus $35M, you have every right to that opinion. But no, trading a young(ish) All-Star/Gold Glove/Defensive Player of the Year in Gordon may not be a complete slam dunk, as it turns out.

Oh, and you note Utley came at marginal cost. $7M is a lot for an old player with a history of injury concerns. I’m not a fan by any means, but the Nationals just signed Stephen Drew for $3M (that’s less than half) and Drew had more home runs, more RBI and a higher OPS in 2015. So if you want to be concerned with the owners’ wallet, be fair and admit the Utley deal wasn’t a youth movement and didn’t come at a great price.

***

“Lastly, you lost all credibility the moment you made the claim that keeping Gordon would’ve translated into more wins. How many more wins in ’15 from ’14 did the Fish get with Gordon in their lineup? Don’t bother looking it up – they won six less games, in a weaker division with less injury issues than the Dodgers. You can have your asterisks on the back of baseball cards, I will take what I am seeing for the 2016 Dodgers, another division title and in the playoff crapshot, maybe a ring. I like our odds a whole lot better with this front office than that under Ned Colletti.”

Well, as I said in the opening, you are entitled to your opinion and by no means should you read my tweets or articles if they offend you (I would not read yours). We discussed all of this but I guess I will leave it as we shall see. I don’t personally believe the Dodgers (Fangraphs would disagree) can expect to win the West with both San Francisco (3 titles in 5 seasons) and Arizona (they won much more recently than the Dodgers) greatly improved. It would take an addition like Sonny Gray, another arm or two in the bullpen and a bat or the complete maturity of Yasiel Puig to honestly convince me the Dodgers could cruise to a West crown (cruise too strong a word, even with a pitcher like Gray, the Dodgers have their work cut out for them).

Blaming Dee Gordon’s amazing season on the Marlins losing games has no basis in reality, so I’ll let that go. If you honestly believe having the batting champion and Gold Glove at second over Utley and/or .27o minor league career hitter, utility man Kike Hernandez at second will equate to more wins, much less more excitement, I don’t know what to say.

I am happy you are enthralled with the math geeks in the front office. I personally like a more traditional approach, such as Dan Evans, or straightforward, like Ned, or if it includes lots of analytics (they are important, don’t get me wrong, just need to be used in conjunction with actual baseball IQ and common sense), Theo Epstein. Theo, for example, uses numbers but when given resources, such as he was in Boston and now Chicago, acquires good players. You don’t see a lot of confusing, multi-team deals that you have to squint at, look sideways, and then argue throughout the year and winter if the team improved. It’s pretty evident, given his track record with Boston and Chicago, Theo’s teams improved immensely. With Friedman and Zaidi and whatever dorks they have tied up in back, it’s harder to say.

***

Have a very Happy New Year, everyone. I think we all have the same goal, but some of us just prefer to sniff the rarefied air of executives’ asses. I prefer freshly mowed grass, a little old fashioned organ music and a bag of peanuts.

It’s Always Early Until It Isn’t

December 28, 2015 3 comments

Capture

The week between the holidays (no, Christmas! Say Christmas, not the holidays!) is a dull one so rather than slip into a coma I will pontificate about a few Dodgers thoughts that are on my head. None of them is particular new from me, just will elaborate a bit for those who enjoy my stance on things, and for those who hate my guts. We Freudians are an acquired taste, after all.

While there are fan boys and girls who still have faith in Andrew Friedman and his minion, I think it’s becoming apparent that the cleverest guys in the room are in over their head. Oh, their supporters will tell you how it’s still early and they can get this second or third tier pitcher or that, or make some miraculous deal for a Miami malcontent controlled by Scott Boras, etc., but in commonsense real world terms, the act that plays in Tampa and Oakland does not work in the country’s second largest market. Nor should it.

It’s apparent to me that changing gears to a Moneyball-minded guy was Guggenheim’s way of doing what Frank McCourt did when he replaced brilliant baseball mind Dan Evans with doofus Theo wannabe Paul DePodesta. Like DePodesta, the idea here is to go in another direction – re: cheap.

Believe me; I am not afraid of streamlined teams that play kids. Over the past several decades, I have rooted for kids who came into the system and awaited their arrival. All those rookies of the year and so many before and after them. At the same time, I realize not every prospect will succeed and many are to be carefully tucked away for trade currency when then the time is right.

You can argue that in the post steroids era (haha, post) kids are more important than ever. Teams that win seem to have a good young core and aren’t afraid to play their babies, such as KC in recent years and the infant Cubs baptism by fire this season.

If the Dodgers wanted to go young, I’d be for it – except with the following reservations. First, with the aforementioned 3 decades of mediocrity, an alarming number for a fan of the storied Dodgers, you have to take into account what a rebuild means. For example, can the Dodgers, with fans antsy for a winner, with Clayton Kershaw leading the staff, a massive payroll and relatively new owner and management team afford to wait several more seasons for a young team to gel?

Also, if the plan is to go young (no one admits that’s the plan, but Stan Kasten has been hinting at it), why not really go young? Trade veterans for top prospects and infuse the Ravine with a young beating pulse and make baseball excitement that way? Yes, if your plan is to go young (cheap), deal Kershaw, deal Adrian Gonzalez, deal Justin Turner, deal Andre Ethier, deal… you get my point. If you moved the vets, you open spots for kids and most importantly, get a lot more kids. Think about various Miami fire sales and other cities where boatloads of bluechips were accumulated.

I think because it hasn’t been said in such direct terms, the plan is to go younger but more to go cheaper. It’s a half-assed attempt to rebuild right now that is confusing to fans. Since no official word has been given, hardcore fans and pedestrian variety foam finger wearers assume the Dodgers are in another of their “win now” years. Yet, the off-season has so far shown good players going to all the top teams, but none to the Dodgers. Not to mention, the Dodgers top two rivals each got better since the World Series finished.

So who are the Dodgers? What are the Dodgers? Are Friedman and friends inept at big market baseball dealing? Are they under some Guggenheim imposed mandate to strip down payroll? Do they honestly feel losing the best #2 starter in baseball and replacing him with… with no one… is better?

There is still time, as the apologists will point out, but not really. At this point, most of the best names are off the board and settled in with teams actually intent on making a run. The Dodgers could settle for some additions that likely aren’t going to improve their 2016 fortunes any, or they can deal top prospects to try to get back to where they were this year. If that is the answer, I’d say why not have just signed Zack Greinke or one of the available starters as winter shopping began, and/or added free-agent bullpen parts to address that weakness? Personally, for a team I always hear has endless resources, I’d much rather use said resources than moving blue chips.

Friedman and his compatriots make confusing moves such as dealing certain prospects for others and then having pundits assume something remarkable will happen after those kids are acquired. It often seems like rearranging deck chairs as it’s hard to ever say for sure if a Friedman move makes the Dodgers any better. The supporters would smugly say how silly, of course the Dodgers are better. From a mere novice who just has watched a lot of baseball over lo these many decades, I’m not convinced.

Take for example if the plan was to get young and maybe more athletic, why deal Dee Gordon for essentially Howie Kendrick, then seem to say Kendrick is too old so the second baseman will be expensive prospect Jose Peraza (acquired for the $60M man Hector Olivera). Then turn Peraza into a White Sox haul of some mediocrity and perhaps go with marginal minor league utility man Kike Hernandez as your second baseman, with ancient Chase Utley as his potential platoon partner? How is this getting younger or more athletic? Or, dare I ask, better?

Maybe the idea is whoever we bring in (we being Friedman and friends) is better than whoever we inherited. Why? Because we’re clever, we’re outside the box thinkers, we’re geniuses. That’s one theory. Another is they keep making moves and end up without a chair when the music stops. Personally, either long-term perspective or win-now, Dee Gordon seems a better fit for second base than Kike and Utley, as does Howie Kendrick.

There is a feeling out there in smarty pants baseball circles that solid hitting and versatile Ben Zobrist is one of the best players in baseball, after all, statistics of some kind bear this out. Now Zobrist for sure is a good player to have on your team and a clutch performer but I don’t think he’s one of the best players in baseball. I also think going for a cheaper option to be your Zobrist, whether it’s playing a utility man like Justin Turner all the time at third base or Kike at second, isn’t the answer for two regular position spots. Turner is a good player but would be better suited as a backup who fills in as needed, plays around the diamond and gets plenty of rest (bad knees and his production isn’t that outstanding for a regular MLB third baseman anyway). Kike? Who knows? We’ve seen beloved utility men come and go in LA. It seems like just yesterday angry fans were telling me how ignorant I was for not wanting Luis Cruz to play every day, as well as Nick Punto and Skip Schumaker. Utility men are utility men and have plenty of value as such, but they’re usually utility men for a reason – i.e. they don’t play any position well enough to be a regular there.

Anyhow, I digress. From a completely layman’s perspective, it seems like Friedman and men are in over their heads. I think ownership, such as it is, is starting to see this as well. Low body fat heart throb Gabe Kapler was about to leave one job he is unqualified to hold for another and become the Dodgers latest field manager, that is, until Mark Walter (probably) nixed it. I think the compromise was Dave Roberts could run the team (I say that in loose terms, Friedman will no doubt butt in constantly, as will Farhan Zaidi) but their ringers would be on Roberts’ coaching staff. Quite a collection of stiffs, busted prospects and the like.

So as we stand here at year’s end, we should wonder what is happening with the Dodgers. Would a 3rd or 4th place finish in the West signal ownership to throw the latest Sabermetrics smart asses out? Would they only do so if fans got sick of the team and stopped coming to games? (at least McCourt had the games on TV, no butts in the seat mean out of sight, out of mind nowadays) Is the team rebuilding, or not? If not, why wait on good players to go elsewhere? If a youth movement, why keep Kershaw and others? Are they afraid to say the words “youth movement” and deal beloved current players, again, as it could alienate fans and cost Guggenheim revenue? Does Friedman actually have a plan or is he simply overwhelmed? I mean, just like DePodesta, he’s no Theo, that’s for sure. Theo uses analytics, as did Dan Evans, but also understood good players and uses money to acquire those players. Friedman? Unless you count money blown on Cubans as a big success, so far it hasn’t panned out. Lots of money has been spent, but on very little that has helped the Dodgers win baseball games.

So, I will concede that it’s “still early” and in theory the Dodgers could sign several pitchers, make a trade or two, play some kids and the team could slug it out with the Giants and Diamondbacks for the NL West crown. That could happen, but considering winning the division years in a row did not amount to October success, even that pipedream doesn’t give evidence the 2016 Dodgers can be any better than this year’s team. Zack Greinke in a red uniform  with a snake on it seems to reiterate that point.

It’s a strange time in our lives and as it relates to baseball in general, certainly Dodgers baseball. Cleverness is applauded and rooting on executives seems to have taken the place of demanding your team field the best team they possibly can each season. Obscure stats, looking sideways like a confused German Shepherd, and unsubstantiated optimism more “patriotic” than getting pissed that your team is screwing up.

I’m an old timer, admittedly not as cool or edgy as some of the younger folks out there, but I come from a generation where if something walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, you have no problem saying, “That’s a duck.” Andrew Friedman and his merry men appear to be out of their element and taking a big shit on a rich tradition that is now so faint it’s almost hard to relate to it anymore. I think at one time there were great Dodger teams with players like Jackie, Snider, Campy, Hodges, Newcombe, Garvey, Cey, Fernando, Orel, etc., etc. to cheer on and watch win but honestly, maybe it’s just dementia settling in. The last Dodgers team to hoist a gold trophy was in 1988 and that was a magical fluke of a season. Going back 7 years more, that was probably the end of the era of Dodgers true dominance in the National League. Whatever has been going on recently stinks like three day old white fish, and for you gentiles in the audience, that isn’t pleasant. Think Kris Jenner after a day at the beach.

The only saving grace for me (sorry, apologists) is that if Friedman and his smarm posse fail, and hopefully it shuts the door on Moneyball ever playing in LA again. Of course a new owner could come in and repeat the same mistake, but occasionally you’d like to believe history can educate people. Or maybe not.

In the meantime, it’d be nice to know what the plan is for the Dodgers’ immediate future. Are they a young team willing to punt the Kershaw era as they did the Kershaw/Greinke era? Are they going to try some razzle dazzle and remake the team in their image – one filled with bad Zobrist wannabes and many Cubans? Will they be shown the door? We shall see. As long as it’s “still early” there’s no reason to panic.

By the way, that’s your cue to panic.