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

November 7, 2016 Comments off

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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.

Told Ya So. Now What?

October 27, 2016 6 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

And Now They Act Surprised

June 29, 2016 Comments off

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Well, here we are, the eve of July and the Dodgers are in a huge heap of trouble. With a thin rotation, now ace Clayton Kershaw’s back is bothering him. He’s flying back to LA to be examined but knowing Kershaw, he’ll be ok. But, what if he isn’t? Even if he’s fine, maybe a little less Kershaw-esque than he’s been throughout the year, it opens up a discussion I’ve brought up many times since last season, this past winter, this spring and all season long – Andrew Friedman and his Peter Lorre-like henchman, Farhan Zaidi, did a piss poor job of building a starting rotation and pitching staff, especially for a large market team desperately needing a win after 30 seasons, and most especially when payroll is over $230M.

The Dodgers under Friedman had holes last season but the reason they didn’t go deeper in October was the reluctance to add a viable third ace to the rotation. I understand not wanting to deal Corey Seager or perhaps even Julio Urias but to be so stingy with all of the kid pitchers when options like David Price and Cole Hamels were available, cost the Dodgers in 2015. As we knew then and now, Brett Anderson isn’t the answer in important October games. Kershaw did his job. Zack Greinke did his job. Another solid arm would have helped the Dodgers advance, but small market bean counters like Friedman and Zaidi were, well, thinking small. Hoarding young pitchers as if they were the crown jewels. Newsflash to those in decision making positions for big market baseball teams mired in a 30 year drought – you can trade prospects, especially pitchers. What’s the likelihood the kids held are ever going to be on the level of Price or Hamels? Almost none. Big market teams can always buy an arm in a pinch. This doesn’t mean I advocate gutting the farm all the time to win now, but if you can go further than you have been and already have two supreme pitchers (as the Dodgers did last year), you should be all in and do what it takes – save for moving Seager.

But even Seager could have been moved, if the price was right. If you could get Mike Trout, moron Bryce Harper or someone like that, anyone is in play. But let’s assume the Dodgers just needed something extra last July, as they did. If your acquisitions are of the bargain basement variety Friedman made, you end up shorthanded. Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi are small market, small minded guys who think they are still in those tiny towns. If they were consistent, I wouldn’t have as much to say. But while cheaping out on big league talent, taking flyers instead on reclamation projects and injury marred nobodies, they still manage to spend a fortune on god knows what. All winter long we saw signings of unknown Cubans for lots of money, none of which has helped the Dodgers. Will they someday? Perhaps. But I’d argue with recent releases of the Stan Kasten batch of Cubans, and the failures of Yasiel Puig to put it together, it’s easy to debate that Cuban talent is overrated, especially at the price tags the players sign for. Let’s be frank – would you prefer unknown Cubans with “tools” and “potential” or proven big leaguers? Or strong performers from the Japanese league? (even ones without several injury concerns)

It’s quite a feat to both be extremely cheap and completely fiscally irresponsible. How does one even manage to spend so much and field a team with so little? Gone is Greinke, replaced with Kenta Maeda and several injury question marks there, plus Scott Kazmir, who was out of baseball not long ago. The pipedream of greatness from Mike Bolsinger or rebounds of epic proportion from Brandon McCarthy or Hyun-Jin Ryu and Brandon Beachy was always far-fetched. Now here we are, the end of June, and the Dodgers flagship radio station, 570 AM in LA, keeps making excuses. Who could have known? Who could expect? Umm, anyone? It was obvious even if Kershaw could stay healthy and win 20-25 games, it would be a challenge for the Dodgers to beat a reloaded San Francisco team. You need strong pitching to win and 1.5 to 2.5 starters isn’t enough. In fact, it’s a step backward from 2015.

Tonight the Dodgers are starting a guy who was pitching in A ball this year. All season long we’ve heard Friedman supporters talking about “depth.” All of the names that are called either fail or get hurt. When you troll the bargain bin, you can’t expect much. It’s unlikely 29 other teams all missed out and you’re just that much smarter than all of the other baseball executives. But that seems to be the case. The Dodgers front office is packed with big egos who consider themselves brighter than everyone else in baseball. It’s moronic, to them, to just go shopping in the off-season and get players that have track record of success, and hopefully good health. It’s too easy, so a deep thinker like Friedman, or one like Zaidi, don’t do things that way. A “dummy” like Ned Colletti would do that, and that’s not how they think. In complete honesty, Ned was a far brighter baseball mind than the idiots running the show now, and I’m the first to admit Ned was no genius, just a fairly competent, experienced baseball guy. The goal of a Friedman run front office is not necessarily to win – the Dodgers were already doing that under Ned and Stan Kasten – but to do it by showing the world they are smarter than everyone else. So if they could win with guys no one had heard of, waiver wire pickups, AAAA castoffs, injury guys, etc., the fruits of victory would taste that much sweeter.

Well, here we are. Excuses being made why everyone is hurt, or why others didn’t pan out. Excuses why the offense is one of the worst in baseball, why the pen has no real set up men and rotating no one’s on any given day. A great pitching staff can compensate for a low producing offense. Dan Evans, shackled by Fox ownership and given almost nothing to spend each winter, managed to field amazing defensive teams with strong pitchers – usually coming with different looks that confused opposing hitters. Evans’ teams were solid and just needed 1-2 more bats, but alas, it was never meant to be. Now here we are today, offensively challenged, still waiting for Puig to explode, but only the pitching is not what it was under Evans. The rotation is thin, the bullpen thin. We are told, wait, keep waiting. It’s been 3 decades, but we must keep waiting. I’d be happy to wait if an answer were on the horizon. I don’t see how you can ask patience while having the highest payroll in baseball. Those are mixed messages. If you have a payroll of what the current Dodgers do, it’s perfectly right for fans to expect it to be a go year. If you are rebuilding for 2018, as Friedman says he is, then payroll should be small. And if you’re building for years from now, you don’t really need Kershaw, who can walk in 2018, or Kenley Jansen, a free-agent after this year, or Adrian Gonzalez, or some of the other stars on the roster.

Dodger fans are divided – either confused, as I am, by what is going on. Or they’re young and never saw a winner. They have no point of comparison and assume this is a Dodgers team like the teams from Flatbush were or the 1970s juggernaut teams. Hey, they were blue caps with white lettering on them.

I feel sorry for fans of the Dodgers, both the old guard and new. The ownership group hired bean counters that have put their massive egos over the good of the fans and city. There is no real plan except to get cheaper, while apparently blowing that massive TV deal’s money and gate on items that can’t help the big club in any capacity. The pipedream is that somewhere down the line there will be a winning Dodger team filled with kids grown on the farm (mostly by Logan White under Ned’s supervision) and every prospect will be a superstar. Payroll will be very low, allowing the Guggenheim Group even larger profits, and isn’t that what America is about nowadays? Forget the fact it almost never works that way – a) that the prospects all hit, and b) that it could ever happen in a large market like LA anyway (or should).

Fans need to stop asking what happened or wondering how Kershaw could get hurt. They have to stop grousing about bad luck and how this could happen to anyone. No, it really couldn’t. Logically if the Dodgers had kept Greinke and added Price, Hamels, Jordan Zimmerman, Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija whoever, they’d have three strong pitchers. They could have added Maeda, injury question marks or no, to the lower part of the rotation. Having 4-5 pitchers you know you can count on for the majority of their starts is what you should aim for when constructing a pitching staff. You also need a strong bullpen to shorten games. If you work backward, you can have relievers shorten a game to 6-7 innings, allowing you the luxury of 5-6 inning starts on occasion from your starters. The Dodgers under Friedman gambled with innings in the rotation as well as the pen. This is exactly what happens when you think like this. It’s not a surprise that at some point Kershaw, who has logged a ton of innings, might himself get hurt. It’s not a surprise that other guys either couldn’t deliver or are hurt. It’s what you would expect if you were paying attention and not focused on showboating how bright you are.

The Dodgers now are in a quagmire that not much can be done about. I would be surprised even if Friedman and Zaidi wanted to make a big trade or two, if it would be enough. The holes are throughout the boat, not just one or two places. The solution is easy and complex. To get the Dodgers sailing right, Guggenheim has to admit their mistake, bring in an actual baseball person and clean house. This means losing all the cooks in the current kitchen, as well as most of Dave Roberts’ know-nothing coaches, all hand-selected by Friedman, of course. This would be quite a shakeup and of course it wouldn’t help in 2016. The Dodgers are playing for a wildcard and even if they get there, should Kershaw win that game, then what? There are few options behind Kershaw and may not be until Urias develops into a solid option who can log 200 innings. Of course by that time, Kershaw will likely have opted out and be wearing a Rangers hat. Then the question for Friedman apologists will be, what do we have behind Urias?

Does Pepto-Bismol come in blue?

For Too Trusting Dodgers Fans, it’s Time to Squint and Use Your Imagination

January 28, 2016 12 comments

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The off-season used to be my favorite time of the baseball year, which is odd since that’s when the teams aren’t playing. I think it was my constructive way of making the cold stretch between playoff baseball and spring training more bearable. Nowadays baseball is a 12 month sport. You can listen to MLB Network Radio or watch their TV channel and get year-round coverage. In the past, you listened on terrestrial radio and hoped some baseball mention occurred between the incessant NFL and NBA talk. We’ve come a long way, baby.

The off-season was a good time for a baseball geek because you could marinate in the months of talk, trade ideas, free-agent possibilities, non-roster invites, etc. Everyone is a winner as the next season approaches, until of course you take off your rose colored glasses and realize your team, possibly, isn’t that good. Being a large market team, one with much past success, a Dodgers fan generally has had reason to be optimistic. Even in lesser years, the downside wasn’t as bleak as those of other teams in smaller markets.

When Frank McCourt was allowed into town by corrupt commish Bud Selig, Dodgers fans were exposed to a reality fans in many of MLB’s markets had to cope with each year. For us, the spoiled and somewhat entitled, it was quite a rude awakening. A Dodgers team cash poor? A relatively dry farm? Bankruptcy? Bounced checks to stadium personnel, including beloved icon Vin Scully? Stadium beatings? What was going on?

McCourt was forced out and a slew of possible owners were trotted out. The group who bought the Dodgers were a global investment firm with deep pockets and selling their plans with the big smile of Los Angeles’ favorite son, Magic Johnson. Fans were so happy to be rid of McCourt and his pathetic reign as owner that they wanted to believe wholeheartedly in the Guggenheim Group who used loveable Magic as their mascot. Magic wouldn’t do us wrong! That’s what long-suffering, brutalized Dodgers fans wanted to believe. Magic played basketball, and pretty much only talks about basketball, but hey, he knew Tommy Lasorda and went to some games, so that’s close enough.

Well, after some immediate maneuvers to get butts (dollars) back in the seats, and after several different plans, different architects, it’s beginning to look a lot like the same old, same old, just in a different package. Instead of Frank McCourt and his now ex-wife using the team and fans as their own personal ATM, we have Guggenheim reaping huge profits from a large gate and even larger, record TV deal. $8B is a lot of money, and more obscene when the majority of fans in the LA area cannot watch the games, and are only “treated” to Vin Scully for three innings on radio (in these Scully’s last years behind the mic).

Each plan was foolproof, until it wasn’t. Now the Dodgers have doubled down on well-regarded executives, while ignoring most aspects of on the field talent. If the Dodgers faced off against other teams with executives, they might have a reasonable chance of winning. As it is, a portion of fans are still desperate to believe (and have to believe), while others, myself included, are tired of being played.

The plan is genius – turn the fans on themselves while Guggenheim and the executives all get rich. Let fans bicker and call one another names, while logically they should all be unified since they have the same common goal – a good, entertaining and championship quality Dodgers team. Like America itself, due to social media and brains warped by technology perhaps, the fans are angry and divided. Half are angry at those fans who are not “real fans” (i.e. have the exact same opinions as they do) and the rest are angry at the snow job they’ve endured for about 3 decades. If one knows anything about the Dodgers, they will realize that this drought is especially shameful for an organization that has championships and history on its side. The Dodgers of 2016 are not the Dodgers of the 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s or even the past decade plus.

In all my years, I haven’t seen a situation like this as a Dodgers fan. Oh sure, McCourt’s era was worse on many levels, but the consistent drubbing we’ve been asked to endure since the end of the O’Malley era, through FOX, and even today, is beyond explainable. Fans should be mad as hell and bright enough to realize when you have the largest payroll in baseball you should have good enough a team to at least participate deep into Oct. Fans should understand that when you’re given a window of opportunity to win now, you need to seize it. When you’re given Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke in their prime and “unlimited resources”, you have to keep that together and win a few titles. At least one.

What has happened the past few years especially is sad. That half the Dodgers fan base is more impressed by slick operating “suits” than talented players like Dee Gordon is mystifying. Throughout my years following the Dodgers, my friends and I, and fans we encountered along the way or at games never had more allegiance to executives than the players wearing the uniform. There were a few cases where some idiot disrespected the uniform and we wanted them gone, but those incidents were rare. When Al Campanis, a good longtime Dodgers face made indefensible remarks on “Nightline”, we understood that all his years of loyal service did not make him exempt. We did not root Campanis on, we wanted a winning ball club. We got one in 1988, and Campanis has seldom been thought about since.

Nowadays it’s all about the executives. The Dodgers main genius is Andrew Friedman, who did remarkable things in small market Tampa but has been churning his wheels here on the big stage. He spends like a demon, yet is frugal at other moments. He buys items one wouldn’t buy, and passes on obvious ones. His supporters point this out as brilliance and align with him to catch some of the moonbeams that run off, but so far there is nothing to show for all this expense and odd logic. I argue, and half of the fans agree, that the team is going backwards. I think many could understand taking steps back if it were necessary. For example, Houston cleaned house, rebuilt and became very good last year. Philadelphia is reloading after riding out the veterans for too many years. Colorado, perhaps, will get it and clear out some of the familiar names to acquire the pitching they desperately need. None of these cities are Los Angeles, however. The Dodgers are rebuilding while still riding the largest payroll. That could be a smart approach if the money being spent amounted to terrific players. You could then say “We have all these great players to win now, plus we’re setting ourselves up to win for years to come.” A dynasty, if you will.

There are talented kids on the current roster as well as in the farm, not so much thanks to Friedman and his group though. These players mostly came into the system via Ned Colletti and Logan White, who ironically were pushed aside and out. And mostly I go back to the money being spent – on payoffs for players to go elsewhere, Cuban players who never amount to anything, and overspending on marginal big leaguers that could have been had for much less. While this money is being wasted, corners are cut elsewhere, whether it’s letting Greinke go, not signing free-agent relief pitchers of note (they did sign Joe Blanton, who might turn out to be a decent pick up based on last season’s relief role, but there were other, more proven options), bats, etc. I am not sure what the Dodgers payroll will be when they open the season, and to me it’s just a number at this point – Guggenheim is loaded and should be paying a lot – but I do know I look at the roster and don’t see the value.

As I said at the top, the off-season is a fun time as any team still has a chance. Could the Dodgers and their large payroll win in 2016? Maybe. But in honesty I see a team with all the problems of last year’s unit with more weaknesses beside. The Dodgers fortunes rest on good luck happening, which is ok if you’re a fan in Tampa, Houston, Milwaukee, etc. but it shouldn’t be the case for fans with the largest attendance in the league and deepest pockets. When your owners ink an $8B TV contract, you shouldn’t be hoping they “save some money” and not re-sign Greinke, or not get a few solid relief pitchers, a big bat, etc. When Guggenheim collects all the money they have been since coming into town, as fan you should DEMAND the best talent possible and yes, a championship team. Whenever I hear Moneyball and geeks who made it work in small markets come in, the hairs on the back of my neck instantly ride up. Paul DePodesta’s worth in Oakland is a nice story, as is Friedman’s in Tampa, but Los Angeles is a big market and hello! the fans here deserve a winner after a nearly 30 year dry spell. i.e. there is urgency here in the City of Angels that there isn’t in Oakland or Tampa. That’s why I think they hired the wrong guys for the job – again. Guggenheim either ignored history or are stupid. The Sabermetrics first philosophy failed when DePodesta assembled the most laughable roster I’ve ever seen as a Dodgers fan, and now the mistake is happening again. I just wonder if the NEXT owner will learn from this latest turn.

If the Dodgers get freak like production from Corey Seager and electrifying stuff from Julio Urias, and get very lucky with health by known brittle players, and maybe the Giants and Diamondbacks suffer some setback, it’s quite possible the Dodgers can sneak in. Again, I’d say a lot has to break right for this to happen. If it does happen, it would be even luckier if it played in October. The true Moneyball philosophy Billy Beane has noted several times is using the analytics to fill out a statistical Bingo card so the team gets X number of hits, X number of runs, X number of wins, etc. out of their machine April-September. October, as Beane has said, is “luck” and the algorithm goes out the window.

Ironically the Dodgers already had a division winning team under Colletti, and were in a better position in October as well. Recall, Colletti’s Dodgers, even with McCourt pocketing money left and right, were very close to the World Series – twice. The team has gotten weaker since, in the bullpen especially, and with a lighter, more party-like atmosphere that I would argue winning teams generally don’t exhibit. On top of that, now the biggest October factor – Kershaw + Greinke – is gone. The half of the fan base that buys anything Friedman throws out there, argue the team is deeper now. I would argue, loading up on lesser pitchers with injury question marks is not depth, its quantity. Quantity over quality isn’t a selling point to me, and if it comes in handy, it might April-September, but not October. Going into short series, I would much prefer having Kershaw and Greinke (even with Kershaw’s October jitters of the past) to Kershaw and Scott Kazmir, or Kershaw and Kenta Maeda. So a team that had a formula for winning in the regular season but not in October addressed (“fixed”) the regular season part, not the post-season portion. That’s Moneyball, and why it hasn’t worked in Los Angeles.

We have several weeks now before pitchers and catchers report and a month before spring games begin. The executive loving faithful remain dogged that Friedman will not disappoint, he will make a big trade, or trades, and the Dodgers will be right up there with MLB Network Radio’s mentioned top contenders for 2016 – Chicago, New York, San Francisco, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Washington and Arizona. I’m not sure that trade or trades are going to happen, but I’d prefer a little less ego and brilliance and a lot more common sense. The top teams in MLB loaded up over the winter and improved themselves. You don’t need a PhD to see how either. Top teams in both leagues acquire talented players. You know the players, you know their production, and you can see how they fit into a rotation or lineup. You don’t need to turn your head like a confused dog and squint to see why they made a great pick up. With the Dodgers nowadays, everything is needlessly complex. A trade often includes several teams, then some players are flipped, salaries absorbed, etc. In the end, you’re told how intelligent the move was, but you just can’t see it. I can see how other teams are getting better, I can’t see it with the Dodgers. I can’t see how a punch and Judy lineup not being fortified is improvement, adding injury risks or sending an ace to a rival is progress. Half of you can, and those of you are like the people who can look at those weird dot pictures in the mall and see a sailboat. Good for you; I’ll just go to the museum and look at real art.

Don’t forget to watch the special video bonus…

Look, a Sailboat!

What is Wrong with Dodgers Fans?

January 1, 2016 12 comments

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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…

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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.

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“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.

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“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.

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“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.