Baseball Toaster Bad Altitude
HAPs: Los Angeles Dodgers
2007-03-07 17:46
by Mark T.R. Donohue

If I was choosing which teams to write about for my spring previews, I would stay the heck away from the Dodgers. There are a lot of people who read this page who know way, way more about Dodger baseball than I do, and you can be most certain that they're not shy about letting me know when I screw up. But I'm not the one making the picks, the polyhedral dice are. And the dice today say Dodgers. They are indeed cruel masters.

Since I'm a fan of another team in the same division, I'm not exactly broken up about the Dodgers' mystifying disorganization. Speaking as a wholly impartial observer, though, you have to ask: What is this team doing? Why does Los Angeles owner Frank McCourt let ignorant blowhards like Bill Plaschke influence his decision-making while ignoring more qualified blowhards like the Dodger Thoughts crowd? I don't know why. Certainly McCourt's firing of the highly qualified Paul DePodesta was inspired by distorted media coverage, as was his hiring of the decidedly old-line Ned Colletti. Colletti and McCourt's record in free agency seems like the work of men who are trying to do what's expected of the Dodgers rather than what is most likely to lead them to championships. Jason Schmidt? Yeah, well, okay, I guess maybe. Juan Pierre? That seems like a bit of a stretch. But what on earth are the Dodgers, who have prospects coming out of their ears, doing messing around with the likes of Luis "O.G. Original Gonzalez" Gonzalez and Mike "I Totally Thought He Was Retired" Lieberthal? It's the Chewbacca Defense all over again, people. This does not make sense.

That said, with the power outage in San Diego, the obsolescence of the Giants, and the Rockies and Diamondbacks still marshaling their forces for 2008 runs, the Dodgers might get back to the playoffs in 2007. Their rotation looks all right, even Colletti's best efforts can't keep all of the kids down, and while their lineup doesn't have any obvious superstars it doesn't have any colossal weak spots either. The Dodgers don't have the power bats you like to see at the infield and outfield corners, but they're not trying to compete with the Yankees and Red Sox. They seem terribly inefficient in terms of turning their obvious financial advantage over the other teams in the division into sustained dominance, but as the Cardinals proved last year, all you need to do is get into the playoffs. Anything can happen after that. And while I think the mainstream press has completely overstated Colletti's role in it, who had a more magical regular season in 2006 than the Dodgers? Nobody.

After years of reading about the Dodgers' incredible wealth of minor-league pitching talent, it's a little strange to take a look at their projected 2007 rotation and see retread city...Brad Penny, Derek Lowe, Randy Wolf. I'm not yet prepared to label him as a retread, but Jason Schmidt seems no lock to earn the amount of money he's set to receive. For the moment the only up-and-comer is Chad Billingsley. As a consequence of Colletti's Proven Veteran fetish, Los Angeles has spectacular starting pitching depth. But that was never the problem here. Can Schmidt reclaim the ace's mantle he once wore in San Francisco? I think he's a better bet than the Giants' candidate to replace him, Barry Zito, but I wouldn't put money down on either. The Dodgers needed to either get guys who can go deep into games or lengthen their bullpen significantly, and they haven't done either. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, though, look at the other offenses in the division. Los Angeles can surely get away with staffing their middle relief corps with a bunch of frustrated starting prospects this season. Big financial commitments to the likes of Schmidt, Pierre, and Nomar Garciaparra seem like a poor read of the cost/benefit analysis charts, though.

I don't really feel like writing a paragraph about the Dodgers' lineup, since it seems like much the same thing I just wrote about with the pitching. Is it great? Not hardly. Is it good enough? More than likely. Only the chance to once again celebrate my deep abiding hatred for Jeff Kent keeps me powering through. I personally loathe Kent, but I've never undersold his abilities as a player. I'm never surprised even as old as he is when he continues to be the most reliable offensive contributor for whichever team he's on. This year Los Angeles is depending on Kent's annoying reliability more than ever. Who else is going to hit home runs for the Dodgers? This is where Garciparra's extension really handcuffs them, because with their system depth they either have a guy who can mash already (James Loney) or failing that can generate one through trade in a hurry. The Juan Pierre signing is another knee-jerk dumb move by a GM and owner who care way too much about what The Los Angeles Times thinks. These signings are so bad in fact that they might end up canceling themselves out when these bums either get hurt or play themselves out of the lineup. It's not that there are better players the Dodgers could have signed, it's that they already have better players right there in camp. That doesn't reflect real well on management, but on the other hand, unless Colletti has another one of his brilliant trade brainstorms, these better young options are still available.

Another season in the high-eighty-win range and another playoff appearance seem preordained, but the buzz around the Dodger organization that built up the last few years among brainy baseball types has dissipated and moved on to Arizona. (And maybe soon Colorado? Anybody? Anybody?) Only the anticipation of whiling away a few lovely summer afternoons heaping verbal abuse on Kent has me at all excited about the Dodgers' many trips to Denver this upcoming season. It didn't used to be like that, and it doesn't have to be still. Free Hong-Chih Kuo!

(Full disclosure: I was one of the loudest non-Dodger partisans when it came to the Free Hee Seop Choi! movement. Maybe I don't know what's best for Big Blue after all.)

Vegas: 88.5 wins, 10-1 to win it all.

2007-03-07 19:05:03
1.   scareduck
Why does Los Angeles owner Frank McCourt let ignorant blowhards like Bill Plaschke influence his decision-making

Because he's a weak-willed slave to whatever prevailing wind blows? Because he's a coward?

I keep hoping he runs out of money. That doesn't look like it's going to happen, though.

2007-03-07 19:17:59
2.   trainwreck
I think our offense will be terrible until the prospects get to play.

Ned says Pierre was all apart of his master plan. I guess he really is a spy for the Giants.

2007-03-07 19:22:33
3.   Andrew Shimmin
I don't, as a rule, have a lot of patience for this argument, but, anybody who disses the Pierre signing must not be a true Dodger fan.

Oh. Wait.

2007-03-07 19:40:23
4.   Mark T.R. Donohue
I never really thought about it this way, but maybe it is a blessing in disguise that the principle Denver journalists who cover the Rockies, Troy Renck and Tracy Ringolsby, are complete uncritical tools. By rubber-stamping every move that Dan O'Dowd and the Monforts make, at least the local press isn't egging the Rockies organization into making stupid mistakes.

But, then again, they're complete tools and that's no fun to read.

2007-03-07 19:47:45
5.   Steve
That .5 of a win will be courtesy of Mark Hendrickson going .5-14 again this year.
2007-03-07 19:54:17
6.   regfairfield
The Lieberthal signing was necessary because prior to that the number two catcher in the organization 25 year old who slugged .296 in AA.
2007-03-07 20:08:49
7.   underdog
Lieberthal as a backup catcher is actually a great move, frankly. The guy's coming home, he's actually healthy (for once, for now) and is only gonna start two out of 7. A lot of other teams' fans, including the Yankees, really wanted him as their backup. Not that it's something to get too excited about mind you, but heck, he beats Sandy Martinez, or Toby Hall for that matter.

Keep in mind, too, that the surplus of Dodgers pitching will likely lead to trade(s) of some sort - likely for hitting. Though there's no guarantee of anything. You also seemed to have underrated the value of a lot of other good young players the Dodgers have coming up the ranks - players who are either already contributing (whom you already know about, the Martins, Ethiers, and so on) or within the year will be - less so in position players, though I think many of us are in love with Matt Kemp, more so with pitchers - besides Billingsley, there's (as you mentioned at the end) Kuo, there's Greg Miller, there's Jon Meloan, and further down the road there's Elbert, Kershaw and some others. But while you may have underrated some aspects of the team, you hit the nail on some others. My fantasy is that Billionaire relief pitcher Matt White buys the team if he doesn't make it.

I'm probably being naive in expecting guys like Hendrickson, Dessens and Tomko to be gone by early in the season, hard to always know what Colletti is thinking, but I do see Grady Little as one with little patience for pitchers who are losing it.

All I know is that the NL West will be unpredictable this year, and certainly a lot stronger than it was 2 years ago.

2007-03-07 20:15:30
8.   Steve
Paul DePodesta signed Paul Bako, he of the .203/.288/.283 line the year prior.
2007-03-07 20:45:11
9.   El Lay Dave
guys like Hendrickson, Dessens and Tomko
C'mon, someone's got to pitch long-relief in blowouts. Since K.C. pays all his salary, Dessens does deeds dirt cheap. IF someone will trade for the other two and pay their entire contract, it doesn't matter who or what is received in return.
2007-03-07 20:45:14
10.   Mark T.R. Donohue
It seems to me like it would make more sense for the Dodgers to get some veterans'-minimum kind of catcher who isn't going to grouse about playing time or encourage the newspaper guys to call for Martin's head if he gets off to a slow start. But of course I may be overidentifying due to Javy Lopez's ominous presence in Rockies camp.
2007-03-07 20:57:15
11.   overkill94
10 Lieberthal knew what he was doing when he signed with the Dodgers. He relished the opportunity to go home, make another million, and get to play once in a while.
2007-03-07 21:04:30
12.   Steve
There is no chance of this happening. For one thing, grittle would play Martin eight days a week if he could.
2007-03-07 21:09:15
13.   underdog
10 Well they had Toby Hall who was one of those grousing-about-playing time catchers unsatisfied being Martin's backup. As OK said above, Lieberthal was happy with the situation and that made a difference. I think Little does have a desire to rest Martin a little more than he did last season, but I guess we'll see.

9 Well of those three I'd rather keep Dessens, but the Dodgers also have some young guys who may not end up being the 5th starter but could serve in long relief (who knows, it could be Billingsley at least for awhile, if Tomko or Kuo beat him out).

2007-03-07 21:20:28
14.   sanchez101
This is a fairly good analysis from someone who's invested in the Dodgers loosing. There are two problems that I see that are very, very common from most internet analysts.

First, what matters is winning not maximizing each dollar spent. Everyone cares about playoff appearences and WS rings ... almost no one cares about winning the Marginal Payroll/Marginal Wins ratio. Much of the critism of Colletti comes down to "I wouldn't pay X player X amount of dollars." Never mind that Colletti has to sign players - he can't just sit out becuase he doesn't like market, its not that simple.

Which brings me to my other point - he has to spend a certain amount of money. The Dodgers can't run out a $80 million payroll on opening day. You can give a million reasons why this is silly - and I'd agree 100%. But this is the reality of the situation. Colletti and McCourt doesn't have the luxury of working with hypotheticals; they have to deal with the LA Times and joeaverage fan.

Now, lets say Colletti doesn't overspend (waste?) $25m in 2007 on Nomar/Pierre/Gonzo. Where does he spend that cash? On the pitching staff - he already spent ~$25m on Schmidt and Wolf (two of the better contracts IMO), any more would further bury Billingsley and Kuo. Should he have spent that money on middle relievers? eh. Should he have spent it on Soriano or Carlos Lee? Perhaps, but I don't see anyone making this argument. According to Colletti he only turned to Pierre after realizing that he didn't want to spend $100m and the better part of a decade on one of these guys.

The main element of the critical reviews of this offseason is that the Dodgers will play old veterans over the kids - who eveyone is so sure are better. OK. But how sure are you that Little is going to keep Loney on the bench while Nomar can't swing the bat or that Kemp will remain in AAA while Gonzo hits .250? Last year Little did a fine job mixing raw kids with brittle veterans. The only way this doesn't work is if they're too committed to the veterans - that might happen, but I don't see how you can assume that.

Colletti's okay with a $7m dollar OF coming of the bench if Kemp's hitting - the team still wins and he still keeps his job. Now what if he didn't sign Gonzalez and Kemp really does need another year in the minors? Marlon Anderson starts everyday, the Dodgers loose, Colletti looses his job - just ask DePodesta how this works. The veterans are insurance not substitutes for the prospects; otherwise he would have traded them. The old guys are insurance because he can't afford to loose - this isn't Colorado.

2007-03-07 21:28:30
15.   Andrew Shimmin
There's a case to be made for Nomar. And one for LuGo. There's no case to be made for Pierre. The Dodgers have better players under contract. Even stipulating that they absolutely needed to waste extra money, they should have given it to Gagne. Or held a raffle.
2007-03-07 22:52:45
16.   Suffering Bruin
"... while ignoring more qualified blowhards like the Dodger Thoughts crowd?"


Who you callin' qualified?

2007-03-09 17:18:38
17.   Yu-Hsing Chen
You may get your wish as Kuo so far certainly looks like he's got a good shot at winning the #5 spot. the good news for the Dodger is that they have build up some decent young pitching depth going foward, and umm... thx for Chin Hui Tsao ?;P he's throwing 95/96 again in ST already... and at least his arm hasn't fall off... yet... seriously though, if he returns healthy i think there's a good chance the Rockies be really sorry down the road about letting him go.

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