Monthly archives: November 2005
Managerial Search Breakdown
Frankly, it's hard to tell the Paul DePodesta candidates apart from the Ned Colletti candidates, except that Colletti's surprisingly have less major league playing experience.
The column missing from this chart, of course, is "philosophy." We're still mostly in the dark about that for most of these guys.
The most peculiar aspect of the Dodger offseason, aside from the DePodesta firing, is the treatment of Hershiser. He was practically going to be the savior of the franchise - DePodesta's absence, however involuntary, from the team's meeting with Hershiser was supposedly of great signficiance - and then suddenly, Hershiser was irrelevant. One wonders whether this transformation was born of substance or carelessness.
My hunch is still that Lovullo should have been the choice. But it's just a hunch. Of the current candidates ... heck, I don't know. Only Little offers a standout track record, but even he comes with questions.
Dodger Thoughts on Baseball Musings Radio
David Pinto of Baseball Musings will have an interview with me at 5 p.m. on his radio program at TPS Radio. Links to hear the program are near the upper-right corner of the TPS Radio home page.
The Good, the Bad and the Healing
A fairly even-handed assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the big-name Dodger minor league prospects arrived today from Dayn Perry at FoxSports.com. A sample:
Chad Billingsley, RHP
Joel Guzman, SS
At the same time, Perry writes in another article that "thanks to a division packed with mediocrities, the Dodgers are poised to make their latest playoff drought a brief one."
Happy Birthday, Ross and Vin
How did I not know the two longtime Dodger announcers had the same birthday??? I'm ashamed.
But best wishes to them both!
I had long heard of Vic Power's fielding prowess, but I had never seen him interviewed and really gotten a sense of his personality until I finally got around to watching last summer's Viva Baseball documentary, focusing on the history of Latin players, on Sunday. It was a compelling program (and surprisingly poignant considering it aired on the decidedly unpoignant Spike TV), and Power's exuberance was one of the best parts.
And just like that, two days later, he is gone. Gone too soon, for me, in more ways than one.
Save Hee Seop
Yeah, I'm still hoping that Hee Seop Choi starts the season at first base for the Dodgers next year - there are bigger holes to fill, he's a power threat, he's inexpensive, he's a hyper-criticized defender, and gosh darn it, I like him.
On Sale Now! The Best of Dodger Thoughts
I am pleased to announce the release of The Best of Dodger Thoughts, a 325-page book featuring the top selections from this website since its creation in the summer of 2002.
It's a keepsake that any Dodger fan will want to have on his or her bookshelves. Unlike the chronological archives of Dodger Thoughts, The Best of Dodger Thoughts is organized thematically, with sections on:
In addition, there is a special 30-page bonus section featuring many of the best Dodger Thoughts reader comments. That's right - many of your words are compiled within the book, an enthusiastic celebration of your contributions in making Dodger Thoughts great.
Besides providing immediate enjoyment for you this offseason, The Best of Dodger Thoughts will also have long-term worth as a historical resource. It is a you-are-there record of an important chapter in Dodger history, and also a document of an important chapter in sportswriting history - the first printed compendium of blog coverage of the Dodgers. It will only become more valuable as time passes. For both longtime readers of the website and those who have never seen it, The Best of Dodger Thoughts will be well worth owning.
So join the thousands of happy, peppy people and step right up to purchase copies of The Best of Dodger Thoughts for yourself or for others as a holiday gift at Lulu.com. Your purchase price of $25.00 (it was originally priced at $24.99, but the extra penny entitles you to free Super Saver Shipping) will mostly cover the printing costs of the book, with the remainder to support the ongoing presentation of Dodger Thoughts online.
Support Dodger Thoughts and enjoy Dodger Thoughts.
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Burning and Building Bridges
A fringe benefit of the firing of Dodger general manager Paul DePodesta has been that my father and I are more able to agree on the Dodgers again. While Dad didn't have the relentless hatred for DePodesta that some possessed, he didn't like DePodesta's moves in the aggregate. But we agreed that the timing of his firing was nonsensical. Now, we're both sitting back on the same side of the table, watching and wondering what will happen.
Go for it or continue rebuilding? Nate Silver had an interesting article this week about the topic at Baseball Prospectus.
He uses as a launching point the Florida Marlins, who he says projected to win 77 games in 2006 before trading Josh Beckett and Carlos Delgado, but the discussion could certainly be relevant for Dodger fans.
For example, although a team that finishes with 77 wins will almost never make the playoffs, a team that we project to win 77 games will sneak into the playoffs about 11% of the time. But the question is not what an 11% chance of making the playoffs is worth in the abstract, but how the probability changes if a team adds or subtracts talent. For example, if the team buys a five-win player, increasing its win projection to 82 games, its playoff probability rises to 23%. On the other hand, if it sells (trades or fails to re-sign) a 5-win player, its playoff probability decreases to 4%.
Silver then goes on to divide teams into five categories: 1) 82 or fewer projected wins, 2) 82-87 projected wins, 3) 87-92 projected wins, 4) 92-97 projected wins, 5) 97 or more projected wins. The Dodgers currently figure to be in one of the first two categories. Here's what Silver says:
82 or fewer projected wins
However, the clubs toward the right-hand edge of Category I might consider becoming buyers if at least a couple of the following circumstances coalesce:
82-87 projected wins
In fact, however, standing pat is the worst alternative for these clubs. Whether to buy or sell is conditioned on some of the same factors that we've described above, but either strategy is superior to holding. Buying is likely to produce a reasonably good return; although a team with 85-win talent will make the playoffs occasionally, a team with 90-win talent will make the playoffs more often than not. On the other hand, if buying isn't feasible, then selling needs to be considered. Going from 85 wins to 80 doesn't hurt as much as going from 85 to 90 helps, and there is nothing worse for a baseball team than to be caught in the 84-78 netherworld.
It was this kind of reality that Paul DePodesta might have faced as general manager during the offseason a year ago - knowing that his team didn't project to 90 wins, he didn't dare stand pat.
With a new general manager, a weak division and a public relations tempest in a teapot, there is little likelihood that the Dodgers will consider holding. But note that there might be many reasons for the Dodgers to consider a rebuilding posture.
Silver offers much more, including a discussion about how a transaction can pay for itself many times over if it generates playoff revenue, but I don't want to steal any more from the article than I have.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Time to sit back in front of the TV and pop in a tape from the 1988 World Series ...
Page 2 of the Times sports section, for perhaps the first time in my lifetime, is taken up by a full-page ad. Page 3 has the usual Page 2 content, including a column by T.J. Simers good-naturedly mocking blogs for not doing any actual reporting.
From what I know about blogs, it doesn't appear you need much more than someone who likes to hear themselves talk, who knows how to type and who also owns a computer. It's not as if you have to interview anyone, or even attend a game, so long as you sound as if you know what you're talking about you know, kind of like sports talk radio.
Simers did attend Wednesday's Clipper game, but the only quotes he takes away from it is one from Clippers broadcaster Ralph Lawler saying that forward Elton Brand is playing "like a monster this season," and one from coach Mike Dunleavy saying, "Yes, we're good enough to be a playoff team. ... It's going to take 45 wins to get to the playoffs."
Welcome to the blogging fraternity, T.J.!
Werth Surgery Revealed
Eight and a half months after getting hit by a pitch in Spring Training, Dodger outfielder Jayson Werth hopes he finally found the cure: a specialized surgical procedure to repair a complete ligament tear, according to Ken Gurnick at MLB.com.
So Werth was never healthy during his disappointing 2005. That's the good news. The bad news is that he won't be healthy when Spring Training starts in 2006.
Unlike this past season, Werth probably wasn't going to enter 2006 as a projected starter. But this is a Dodger team in need of pleasant surprises, and it's going to be a longer wait to see if he can be one.
"I showed in '04 what I can do when I'm healthy. I can make an impact and it was no fluke," he said. "This year, at no time were things right in my wrist and when they went in there and found that it was severe, at least I've got the evidence of why. That explained a lot to me.
"I'm very interested in getting the wrist healed and as close to 100 percent as possible before I try to play. I've shown what I can do with it injured and nobody wants to see that again. I want to be the Jayson Werth that hit 16 home runs and helped the Dodgers win the [NL West]. I'm looking forward to that for myself, for the organization and for the fans. I love playing in L.A. and love being a Dodger. My agenda right now is to get healthy."
Werth is right to feel that he shouldn't be judged on his 2005 performance if he wasn't healthy (though again, why people keep these things secret is just foolish pride to me). But given that "Werth said doctors could not guarantee the injury would heal completely," the overall prognosis is less than sanguine.
The Loop Loses Lasorda
Ignorance is not bliss. In this case, ignorance is Tommy.
In Tuesday's Times:
What about Bud Black, whose pitching staff had the best earned-run average in the American League? That might be close enough for some Dodger fans who still can't understand how Mike Scioscia got away.
"Bud Black?" Lasorda screamed. "Bud Black?"
Lasorda was already irritated, standing there and waiting to see if any free turkeys were going to be left for him.
"Bud Black? Are you telling me you'd suggest someone to manage the Dodgers who has never managed a day in his life? You'd crucify us for that."
Hours later, the Dodgers ask for permission to interview Black.
How could Tommy Lasorda make that comment, unless he were no longer involved in the managerial search?
Will Lasorda now go around Dodger general manager Ned Colletti to voice his concerns about Colletti's interest in Black to Dodger owner Frank McCourt, the way he went around former Dodger general manager Paul DePodesta's last month?
Or was the entire controversy over DePodesta's managerial targets a smokescreen for a general desire by the anti-Depodesta contingent to push DePodesta out? The timing of DePodesta's firing suggests that it was his managerial search that was the final straw (reportedly his interest in in-house candidate Terry Collins). But once DePodesta was fired or replaced, did that render Lasorda irrelevant? And did Lasorda know it?
If he didn't know it earlier this week, he may well know it now. Kind of an interesting way to find out.
And even if Lasorda was just out sick one day and remains a vital cog, might I suggest that McCourt (who has had the Dodgers tied in knots from a public relations standpoint since he took over the team) and new Dodger PR guru Camille Johnston tell everyone in the organization not to make negative comments about a potential Dodger manager unless that person has been ruled out completely.
Boy, Torey Lovullo sounds pretty good to me right now. And bonus - he has managed a day in his life.
* * *
And, as reported by Dodger Thoughts reader Mark in the comments earlier today ... there are alternative ways to find a manager:
All of my other avenues for finding a good manager for my team have been exhausted, so I'm turning to Craigslist. Over the past few months, our organization has gone through some small turnover (our General Manager had to let go of our manager for gross incompetence, and then we had to dismiss our General Manager at the advice of my favorite newspaper columnist). There's an opportunity for you to be our next team manager, but only if you're willing to take the job. The past few people that we've looked at have all either declined to be interviewed, or have taken a job with a different team.
Before you respond to this ad, there are a few things you should know about our team, and a few requirements for you to get the position.
First and foremost: your actual baseball skills can be subpar, but you must, must, must absolutely be able to be a media darling. If you cannot be interviewed by the paper, radio, and tv every single day, regardless of whether we win or lose, then don't bother applying.
Second: you may or may not have some knowledge of statistics, but we will absolutely not allow you to use a computer to help with your work. Baseball is primarily about people, and about the amount of heart and soul they can put into their work. Using statistics can only cloud your judgement about the actual baseball skills of your players. ...
How Much Is An Innings-Eater Worth?
I've been among those urging the Dodgers to improve their starting pitching, but I'm going to play Devil's Advocate with myself.
Below is a comparison of the 34 starts made by Jeff Weaver in 2005, at a cost of about $9 million, with the 36 starts made by Scott Erickson, D.J. Houlton, Edwin Jackson and Derek Thompson, at a cost of about $1 million - in order of ERA within each start.
Weaver's outings were longer, and he had more games of exceptional quality (allowing two earned runs or less). On the other hand, the bottom third of his starts were about as bad as the bottom third of those by Erickson, Houlton, Jackson and Thompson.
But in general, the difference between Weaver and the motley crew he's being compared to is that every fifth game, Weaver would pitch an extra inning or two and allow one or two fewer runs.
Weaver is valued for his innings-eating skills, but are there other ways to eat those innings? Can they be swallowed more cheaply than Weaver would digest them? The going rate for an innings eater - based on what guys like Weaver, Derek Lowe and Odalis Perez command - is about $8-10 million per year. Instead of spending that kind of money on a pitcher who is going to make a difference every fifth day, maybe it's better to spend that kind of money on a hitter who is going make a difference every day.
If you use a 99-Cent Store brand starting pitcher, you would have to ask more from your bullpen. You'd probably end up carrying a seventh reliever to help pick up those middle innings your starter would sometimes miss. But if you have better offense, you're less likely to need that 25th roster spot for a position player anyway.
It's not as if Houlton and Jackson aren't likely to improve a bit in 2006. It's not as if Chad Billingsley isn't close to being ready for the big leagues. And it's not as if the Dodgers couldn't sign a pitcher for about $2 million who could hold opponents to four runs in six innings every fifth day, on average, before turning the game over to the bullpen.
So maybe starting pitching should be the last thing the Dodgers worry about.
Just thinking out loud, trying to consider all the possibilities.
Is the Times Running the Dodgers?
Nah, that's too simplistic, right? But the Dodgers have been granted permission to interview Times-boosted managerial candidate Bud Black (the Angels' pitching coach) to replace Jim Tracy, according to The Associated Press.
Update: Black doesn't want the job, AP writes in a follow. "Sorry, I'm washing my hair," Black said (or something to that effect).
Update 2: Black has second thoughts, we learn from Tim Brown of the (dum dum dum) Times. Apparently, Black doesn't follow the advice I got years ago: Always say "yes" first; better to say "no" later.
In the comments sections, though not on the main blog, I've provided updates on the fate of Arrested Development, a brilliant comedy that has won critical acclaim but stands on television's death row, with Fox's thumb on the lethal injection's needle.
It's a bitter time for fans of the show, just as it continues to be a bitter time for fans of Paul DePodesta, who doesn't have the comic chops of the Bluth family but was also more clever than his ratings showed.
In the world we live in, you don't always get enough time to prove yourself. That's not to say you couldn't run Arrested Development for seven seasons without the ratings improving. But when you have something that is both clever and different, and maybe even a little radical, you need to give your audience a long chance. You need to allow the people to give your program a second chance, maybe even a third.
I am tempted to curse the day that DePodesta traded Paul Lo Duca. While there was the potential for high rewards, and while it appears the trade will play out over the long term in the Dodgers' favor, it put DePodesta on the clock and in the gunsights of too many people. After thumbing his nose at the popular mentality, DePodesta had to be perfect; his genius had to be borne out every night.
At the same time, DePodesta wouldn't have been DePodesta without making a bold move to try to improve the Dodgers. As with Arrested Development, you live with the vision, you die with the vision.
And so, Monday night, instead of Arrested Development and DePodesta, we get Stacked and Ned Colletti. Instead of razor-sharp characters and thinking light-years ahead, we have set-up, set-up, joke. And many people will watch, and many people will be happy, and for all I know, the jokes may occasionally hit their mark. Enough advertisers will enjoy the resting in the bosom of Pamela Anderson for as long as they can suspend caring about getting lost in there, and enough Dodger fans will enjoy the familiar names - Jim Fregosi, Juan Pierre - passed along by Colletti to feel their own temporary peace. For that matter, perhaps David Hasselhoff and Paul Lo Duca will make guest appearances.
Ultimately, Stacked and Colletti will either be underrated surprises - with Colletti, to be honest, the more likely candidate - or they'll wake up one day to realize that their charms don't work under the spotlight anymore.
Maybe long-term success was never meant to be for Arrested Development and Paul DePodesta, but I fear I'll still be left wondering what might have been. All I can hope from Colletti is that he makes me forget.
Unhappy Thanksgiving, Hee Seop
Buried at the bottom of this Associated Press story, warning us to be patient while new Dodger general manager Ned Colletti searches for his first manager, is this tidbit:
Colletti mentioned first base, third base and the outfield as areas of need. He also said he hasn't been given a set figure concerning the team's payroll.
"I've conversed with Frank and Jamie about what I think we need, who I think we need," he said, referring to Dodgers owners Frank and Jamie McCourt. "I haven't been told to stop or slow down."
Without nominating Hee Seop Choi for sainthood, is it possible Colletti mentioned first base as an area of need but not the starting pitching? Whatever you might think of Choi, is there reason to think D.J. Houlton is superior? Or is it that the minor league pitchers like Chad Billingsley are closer to being ready than the minor league infielders?
Or did something just get lost in this game of telephone?
Hearts on Fire
Must be nice not to have any heart and soul on your team, so you can't get blasted by the media for trading your heart and soul - no matter how many players you threaten to get rid of.
Yes, baseball's favorite loading and unloading zone, the Florida Marlins, are at it again, and they are leaving a great deal of baggage unattended. As Bryan Smith at Baseball Analysts notes, this includes former Dodgers Paul Lo Duca and Guillermo Mota, who are on the very crowded trading block. (The other ex-Dodger from The Trade, Juan Encarnacion, is a free agent not expected to re-sign with the team.)
Lo Duca is a candidate to be headed to, of all places, Queens, where he would replace Mike Piazza as the Mets' starting catcher. Ten months ago, Lo Duca signed a three-year contract with Florida, yielding this quote in The Associated Press:
"When Jeffrey Loria said publicly not too long after we acquired Paul that he was not a summer rental, he meant it," said Marlins general manager Larry Beinfest, referring to the team's owner.
But times are tough again in Florida, which ranked 28th in attendance last year and where payroll might be cut to as low as $40 million, according to an unsourced report in the Palm Beach Post. And when times get tough, heart and soul becomes a luxury - even when it's heart and soul that hits .283.
Oh, but Dontrelle's true heart and soul of the Marlins, you say? Let's check back in a couple of years and see if Florida is still feeling Willis through and through.
Dodger Squaretable with Jaffe, Lederer and McMillin
Shortly after the Dodgers hired Ned Colletti as general manager, bloggers Jay Jaffe of The Futility Infielder, Rich Lederer of Baseball Analysts and Rob McMillin of 6-4-2 joined me in chatting about the future of the team under Colletti. And amazingly, someone unbeknownst to us recorded the entire conversation. Here's their EXCLUSIVE tape:
With the Rule 5 Draft approaching, James Loney, Andy La Roche, Joel Guzman, Greg Miller and Jose Diaz joined the Dodger 40-man roster today to remain unpoachable, according to Ken Gurnick at MLB.com. For more on Dodger minor leaguers, revisit the Dodger Thoughts Comprehensive, Non-Definitive 2005 Minor League Report.
Here's a sample: the report on Diaz:
Jose Diaz, Vero Beach/GCL Dodgers, 6-4, 247, 2/27/84: Warrin' Onlys. Only pitched 17 2/3 innings this season, only allowed one earned run (although three others were changed to unearned by the official scorer). He had Tommy John surgery in August 2004, but was throwing hard one year later. Not to be confused with the Jose Diaz that went to the Mets in the Jeromy Burnitz trade.
The Dodgers have 37 players on their roster and three openings.
Hershiser on Hold
Apparently, the Dodgers' phone communication did not improve when Paul DePodesta left town. According to the Dallas Morning News, Orel Hershiser hasn't heard from the Dodgers in more than a week.
If he doesn't get a call Thursday, he should scribble over the "I [heart] Dodgers" on his Pee Chee folder and keep his tender mercies back in Texas.
* * *
Is there a fair explanation for why the Dodgers have gotten pilloried for their 2005 season while the San Francisco Giants have gotten a complete writeoff for theirs?
There's this inconsistent application of "what have you done for me lately" thinking that seems only to apply to people within the Dodgers. Meanwhile, no one asks, "What's going on in San Francisco?" "Oh, nothing. It's just that Bonds was hurt." As if Bonds missing time was somehow less predictable than J.D. Drew missing time.
The Giants have gone from 100 wins to 75 wins in two years, and are seemingly less prepared for the future than Los Angeles. How long do they remain a model team? How long does reaching the 2002 World Series carry a glow?
"Otis Redding Was Right," by Alex Belth on Baseball Analysts:
One the greatest women fans I've ever known is my friend Marylou Ledden who grew up in Fitchburg, a small town about fifty miles west of Boston. Marylou had just turned 18 during The Summer of Love, also known as The Impossible Dream season in Boston, and I'm sure she knew as much about baseball as she did about sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. Her father, a burly Irish drinking man, would take her to the bleachers at Fenway Park, and although she was quite beautiful, she was also surely no pushover. ...
Ng to Stay ... And Other Notes About Colletti's Debut
First, this bit of news: Kim Ng said at today's Ned Colletti press conference that she will stay with the Dodgers, according to MLB.com.
"I've been here for four years and I want to be part of it," said Ng. "There are a lot of good things happening here on the baseball side."
And so, a vote of confidence for the Dodgers, a vote that means a great deal to me.
* * *
I was listening to the audio from Colletti's press conference, and before getting into the specifics of what kind of general manager he might be, what came through was what a great moment this is for him - and I mean this in the best possible way. It's the kind of satisfying career achievement, after years of work, that most anyone can appreciate. Moreover, as he went on speaking, Colletti succeeded in displaying more humility in one interview than Jim Tracy displayed all year.
Certainly, Dodger owner Frank McCourt found him endearing.
"Ned and I hit it off," said McCourt, according to Ken Gurnick's recap. "We had chemistry immediately and that's a very good sign."
So, we have the pleasantries, which are very nice. Of course, they're meaningless. Did McCourt and Paul DePodesta not hit it off? Did McCourt and Gary Miereanu or Lon Rosen not hit it off? Good dinner conversation isn't going to mean much over the next two years, compared to wins and revenues.
(Quick digression: Is there any documentation of Colletti and Tommy Lasorda meeting? I assume it must have happened - but Lasorda appears to be keeping a lower profile now than he did in October. I still suspect Lasorda will get to sign off on the next Dodger manager. Because everyone seems to want someone with experience and past success, Orel Hershiser would seem to be off the list. And with Ng staying, I wonder what job the Dodgers can offer Hershiser. Will the movement to repopulate the front office with True Dodgers die off this quickly? Not that True Dodgers can't be born of imports - they just have to help the cause.)
Anyway, the hiring of Colletti is somewhat like the approval of a Supreme Court justice. People are projecting their own fears or desires onto Colletti based on scraps from his past, but I'm not sure any of us can really know how he'll act wearing the black robe until he throws it over his sport coat.
Speaking about chemistry, Colletti starts off in what to me is a progressive frame of mind, but then almost completely reverses direction:
"I think it's tough to have a terrible team and say, 'We've got great chemistry,' " Colletti said. "Chemistry is really a byproduct, I believe, of winning. Everybody's got a different approach. Jimmy Frey used to tell me, 'Chemistry is the next day's starting pitcher. Chemistry is a three-run homer in the eighth.'
"But chemistry is important, because chemistry is really the character of the people. That, to me, is vitally important. The last few years, the organization I was with, we were highly successful not because we had the highest payroll or because we had the greatest players, but we hand-picked who went to that club. We didn't just take anybody. And we probably passed on more talented players, statistically talented players, players that had more star power, more allure, but who at the end of the day weren't going to be able to withstand a whole season."
The dissonance within this quote is why I basically don't even want to spend the time trying to predict what Colletti will do. Colletti's former team relied on the Times Square 100,000-watt billboard version of a more talented player, a statistically talented player, a player that had more star power, more allure, but who at the end of the day wasn't going to be able to withstand a whole season, in Barry Bonds. The Giants would not have been the Giants without that player - as 87 losses in 2005 proved. The Giants endured Bonds and a secondary chemistry question mark in A.J. Pierzynski in 2004 (giving up key prospects like Joe Nathan and Francisco Liriano to get him) en route to winning 91 games - and finishing behind the Dodgers. So what does it all mean?
My sense is that Colletti will go after any guy he feels can help the Dodgers, and use his public relations skills and even his own persona to reposition that guy as a solution, not a problem. Colletti will do so with the same magic that overnight turned Jeff Kent into the most respected Dodger, according to Bill Plaschke of the Times, instead of the ill-fitting malcontent Kent supposedly was a year ago when DePodesta signed him.
I would be less concerned about Colletti seeking out a talentless saint nice guy than finding a guy who legitimately has something to contribute, but overpaying for him.
Hee Seop Choi will prove to be an interesting test case. I'm pretty sure Colletti said today that one of the Dodgers' needs was at a "corner of the infield," not corners - perhaps meaning third base. Still, Choi may not have a future as a Dodger - who in the organization will have his back now?
What's funny is that few players illustrate the fallacy of the character argument better than Choi. The guy is popular among the fans, popular among his teammates, humble, yet he's been a target of the "character" columnists since Day 1.
Amid the other needs of the organization, Colletti will see if he can do better than Choi at first base. He will see if he can use Choi to fulfill those other needs. And ultimately, he might decide that Choi is the best fit at first base for the 2006 Dodgers. But it just goes to show how wide open the possibilities are, particularly in an offseason with no surplus of quality in the free agent market.
There's just no way to know about Colletti yet. And though I used to be someone who would fear the worst so I could be pleasantly surprised, now I'd rather just sit back and wait for it to happen. I've already learned I don't know everything, and I'm not even 40 yet.
My closing thought is just that I still think DePodesta was treated very badly. And even with him gone, I'm not reassured that the dysfunction of the Dodger working environment has been solved, or even addressed. Ng's decision to remain a Dodger - as much as it may be predicated on her not wanting to job-hunt during the holidays - is as good a piece of news as any we've had today.
Hiring Ned Colletti as general manager for the Dodgers is not a decision that makes sense to me, but I'm going to give Colletti the chance that many did not give Paul DePodesta.
As the McCourts prepared to buy the Dodgers two years ago, there were much more serious warning flags than those waving around Colletti. On paper, the choice does not seem particularly inspired. On paper, I don't see what Colletti offered that Kim Ng does not.
But Colletti is not Brian Sabean. Colletti is not the Giants. Colletti is Colletti.
I'm going to tell Colletti what I told McCourt as he bought the team. Be smart. Be good.
While we wait for a decision on the next Dodger general manager, I'm going to turn once again to Milton Bradley.
If other teams are willing to acquire Bradley, however low the price, why shouldn't the Dodgers keep him?
a) His situation with the Dodgers is uniquely untenable.
* * *
Update: A former Dodger center fielder, Brett Butler, is working his way up the managerial food chain. Butler will manage for the Arizona Diamondbacks' Class A Lancaster team next season. He helmed the Gulf Coast League Mets in 2004 before serving as first-base coach at Arizona this past season.
Update 2: Marcia C. Smith of the Register defends the McCourt ownership in a column today, under the idea that they have made mistakes but should be given more time. Smith makes some fair points, including the fact that it is not a meaningless accomplishment to say that the Dodgers are no longer losing money, but asks people to forgive the central irony of the McCourt ownership: The McCourts deserve the benefit of the doubt that they have failed to offer so many of their employees. Smith also singles out Ross Porter for a gratutitous jibe, for reasons I can't really fathom.
Update 3: The Dodgers can have both Jason Phillips and Kazuhisa Ishii if they want! The Mets have declined their 2006 option on Ishii. The bad news is, according to the terms of the Ishii-Phillips trade in March, the Dodgers are required to pay more than half of Ishii's $2.2 million buyout. (To be more precise, it's $1.3 million.)
If the Mets had picked up Ishii's option, the Dodgers would have been off the hook.
Update 4: In the National League MVP voting won by Albert Pujols of St. Louis, Jeff Kent of the Dodgers finished 19th, with 18 points. Kent got a fifth-place vote, a sixth, two eighths and a 10th.
Will someone, somewhere please go on the record? No? Oh well. Here's the Hush Hush update on the Dodgers.
Ned Colletti: An anonymous source told Steve Henson of the Times that the Giants assistant general manager aced his interview with the Dodgers and has a strong possibility of being hired.
Henson includes in his story this quote from a 2003 interview Colletti gave Baseball Prospectus: "How a player approaches the game, how he approaches life, far outweighs what the stat line looks like." This would seem to show that Colletti has the blind spot of not realizing that the stat line includes most of the relevant parts of how a player approaches the game - that whatever effect this has will show up in his statistical performance. On the other hand, Colletti does work for the team that employs Barry Bonds, so perhaps the stat line carries more weight with Colletti than he is letting on. Update: With his usual detailed analysis, Rob McMillin has much more at 6-4-2.
Theo Epstein: Anonymous sources told Tony Jackson of the Daily News that the Dodgers offered the former Boston GM the Dodger GM job plus an ownership stake - though we haven't heard any confirmation that Dodger owner Frank McCourt has even interviewed Epstein, or whether they just had a casual phone call. Holding my breath I'm not.
As a side note, the entire idea of the at-play ownership stake confuses and intrigues me. Would the McCourts want Epstein that badly? Or would they just be giving a way a sliver of their future to keep their current executive salaries in line?
Kim Ng: No updates on the current Dodger assistant general manager, which probably means that she's the fallback option.
Personally, I often dislike the signings the Giants make - and I think the superhuman performance of Bonds has disguised many of their mistakes. Everyone's crying about the Dodgers, but it's not like the 75-87 Giants were impressive in 2005. While Colletti might be a diamond in the rough, it's hard for me to believe he is vastly superior to Ng, who has the advantage of being in-house and familiar with the organization. Of course, I don't really know.
Is Colletti in the running because Ng has not won over the multipartisan Dodger political machine? Or is Colletti window dressing to position Ng not only as the best available candidate within Los Angeles, but outside as well?
On the player side ...
Milton Bradley: Teams aren't jumping over themselves to acquire the troubled Dodger center fielder, whom Ng and fellow Dodger exec Roy Smith have apparently shopped around. While there may be interest, no one appears eager to overpay, prefering to wait things out and either get Bradley cheap or as a non-tendered free agent. Again, Bradley's health might be as big a reason for this as his temperament*. Still, I seriously doubt Bradley has reached the status of a don't-even-come-near-us John Rocker.
Already suckers for public opinion, the Dodgers might have been as curious as anyone else to know how valuable Bradley remained.
Given the gloom that currently hangs over the franchise, the Bradley angst seems to fit in somehow. Right now, it seems that Bradley remains just another option in the Dodgers' search to fill out their outfield.
Hideki Matsui: Working with an unusual contract, Matsui becomes a free agent after Tuesday if the Yankees don't re-sign him. Late last week, it looked more and more like the separation might happen, but over the weekend reports emerged that New York would satisfy Matsui's salary demands.
If the Dodgers hit Spring Training with a six-man outfield of J.D. Drew, Bradley, Jose Cruz, Jr., Ricky Ledee, Jayson Werth and a star acquisition, that might be the best outfield in the division, depending only on how Bonds does in 2006. And it would provide a great head start on the Dodger bench. The salaries of Bradley, Cruz, Ledee and Werth would only add up to about $8 million.
*I found out Friday that I have been misspelling this word all my life. Somehow I missed that "temperament" has an "a."
Roy Gleason, believed to be the only major league player to later serve in the Vietnam War, has come out with an autobiography, Lost in the Sun, as told to Wallace Wasinack and Dodger team historian Mark Langill. A book signing is scheduled for Saturday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Barnes & Noble on 791 S. Main Street in Orange.
Dodger-Angel Thoughts on Baseball Prospectus
For the first time, I'm making a guest appearance on Baseball Prospectus, with this article on the Dodgers and Angels, "Baseball's Odd Couple."
In 2006, the Los Angeles Dodgers were asked to remove themselves from their place of residence; that request came from their fans. Deep down, they knew the fans were right, but they also knew that some day they would return to them. With nowhere else to go, they appeared at the home of their friends, the Los Angeles Angels. Several years earlier, the Angels' fans could have thrown them out, requesting that they never return. Can two local teams share a metropolis without driving each other crazy?
Blue Book Exam
1) Compare and contrast the changes and effects of relatively new ownership of the Times with the changes and effects of relatively new ownership of the Dodgers.
Don't Forget the Pitching, Whoever You Are
The Dodgers aren't pretty right now on the face of things. And they're not pretty on the arm of things, either.
There's a lot of talk about the Dodgers' TBD general manager needing to find more offense, and I don't argue with that. But there seems to be very little talk about improving the Dodgers' starting pitching, which is perhaps an even bigger weakness.
The Dodger offense had an OPS+ of 98, tied for 18th in baseball. Not good. Unfortunately, the Dodger starting pitching also had an ERA of 4.36 last season - 16th in baseball, despite pitching in Dodger Stadium. (As a consolation price, it was the best ERA in the division.) The team's overall ERA+ (including the bullpen) was 93, tied for 21st overall.
With free agency season underway, Derek Lowe, Brad Penny, Odalis Perez, D.J. Houlton and Edwin Jackson stand as the incumbents in the Dodger rotation. I happen to think it's possible that every one of those five pitchers will be better than they were in 2005. But that's probably optimistic. And for that matter, Perez could be traded to get that elusive bat.
Pitchers like Chad Billingsley, Jonathan Broxton and Chuck Tiffany lurk in the minors, so long-term solutions are available in house. Billingsley and Broxton might even be ready this year - and I'm curious whether, say, Kim Ng thinks so. But let's just consider this: I don't think opening the season with Jayson Werth as your starting left fielder is much worse than opening the season with Houlton as your No. 3 starter.
These are solvable issues, as long as they remain on the radar.
Sadly, Dodger Thoughts turns into a gossip rag ...
Could Beltre Return?
Many of you know I don't put much stock in idle chit-chat, but I have to make note of this, courtesy of Ken Gurnick at MLB.com:
The Dodgers might find that bat by assuming all (or part) of a contract another club would like to unload through a salary-dump trade. Names that come to mind include Todd Helton, Jim Thome, Aubrey Huff and Adrian Beltre. With the removal from the payroll of Darren Dreifort, Shawn Green and Jeff Weaver, among others, the new GM could have a net of $25 million additional to spend.
The Dodgers farm system is considered one of the most fertile in baseball and to get an All-Star type hitter, it likely would require the organization to swallow hard and dangle some of those jewels of the future -- Joel Guzman, Russell Martin, Chad Billingsley, Andy LaRoche, Edwin Jackson -- for much-needed help now.
Could you see the Dodgers trying to recapture the mystique of 2004 by reacquiring Beltre - getting a discount on his salary by giving up top prospects?
On the surface, a move as simple as signing Nomar Garciaparra to a two-year contract with incentives, to bridge the gap between now and the arrival of Joel Guzman and Andy LaRoche, might make sense - qualified only by questions about Garciaparra's health. But before people freak out in the good way or the bad way about the thought of bringing back Beltre, keep in mind that a) this remains unlikely and b) the value of any deal depends on the price. As I noted last week, there remain compelling reasons to value Beltre and compelling reasons to stay away from him.
Was it a mistake to let Beltre go? Man, I think you have to be awfully generous to Beltre to shout "yes" with any confidence. After all that's been said, Beltre was a flop in the first year of his new contract, worse than Drew, worse than Derek Lowe, worse than Brad Penny, certainly worse than Jeff Kent.But second acts do happen in Los Angeles. And like it or not, I suppose we should keep an eye out for Beltre, as well as any other True Dodgers who might be on the market.
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Gurnick's article also mentions that Jeff Kent, "who met with ownership two weeks ago, has told teammates he would ask for a trade if (Milton) Bradley returns." Now, putting aside the fact that these two could still mend fences (Bradley would have to have his entire carpentry set out to remain a Dodger, anyway), ask yourself how much Kent could bring in a trade this offseason.
Every year, you try to get at least 4,300 quality innings from your outfield: three outfielders x nine innings x 162 games. For 2005, Dodger general manager Paul DePodesta invested approximately $15.5 million to get his 4,300 innings. Based on past performance, what did DePodesta have the right to expect from his investment?
Here are the 2005 salaries for the Dodgers' six principal outfielders, followed by their most recent major-league statistics and what I think would have been a conservative preseason expectation for 2005 performance. (EQA is a league- and park-adjusted measure of offensive value, where .260 is average.)
J.D. Drew, $11 million
Milton Bradley, $2.5 million
Ricky Ledee, $1 million
Jayson Werth, $337,000
Jason Grabowski, $327,000
Jason Repko: $316,000
Now, here's a comparison between these rudimentary 2005 projections and the outfield's 2005 actual stats:
DePodesta appears to have been an outfielder short heading into Spring Training. Conservatively, he had about 2,550 innings of average to above-average outfield performance, leaving him 1,800 shy of what he needed in a lineup that was already carrying below-average hitting at catcher, if not at third base and shortstop as well.
Interestingly, thanks to Ledee's surprising .276 EQA, those preseason expectations were exceeded despite the widespread injuries. Overall, Drew, Bradley, Ledee and Werth gave the Dodgers 2,558 outfield innings of superior EQA. DePodesta had four good guys he just needed one or two more. The Dodgers remained an outfielder short, although late in the season, Jose Cruz, Jr. helped matters by providing an additional 367 innings of .314 EQA.
In the end, DePodesta delivered the equivalent of two above-average outfielders for $15.5 million, or nearly $8 million each. That's not bad at all - the only problem, perhaps, is that he didn't invest (or wasn't allowed to invest) enough in the outfield. (Update: To be fair, as I noted in the comments below, I optimistically felt back in February that Werth would play about 150 games at about a .280 EQA.) To be sure, one must ask the question, even in their abbreviated seasons, where would the Dodgers have been without Drew and Bradley?
It's also possible to speculate that had DePodesta retained Dave Roberts (900 innings, .284 EQA in 2005) in the summer of 2004 instead of Grabowski, DePodesta might still be working for the Dodgers today. The Roberts trade, which brought only non-prospect Henri Stanley in return, was more costly for the Dodgers than trading Paul Lo Duca, Guillermo Mota and Juan Encarnacion for Brad Penny, Hee Seop Choi and Bill Murphy.
The now DePodesta-less Dodgers enter the 2005-06 offseason with continuing outfield questions. Ledee is an outfielder with flashes of talent that you can't count on. Cruz does more but also remains inconsistent. Werth looks to be average maybe he can bump things up a bit. Drew is outstanding when healthy; Bradley (if staying) is solidly behind him. But again, these guys won't be enough. The Dodgers need a sixth solid outfielder or they need to exchange one of the existing crew for a fifth who really can be counted on for 1,400 innings.
(Sources for 2001-2005 actual statistics: Baseball-Reference.com and Baseball Prospectus)
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6-4-2 links to this column by Dave Krieger of the Rocky Mountain News in which DePodesta is discussed by Colorado's Dan O'Dowd, at once an ally of DePodesta's and a skeptic of the youth movement in the major leagues' general mangers offices.
"I think what's happening right now is that there are a lot of people being put into jobs that are really bright people," O'Dowd says. "But the biggest thing that I've learned about this job, and all the mistakes and growth that I've had here, is that you can be smart, you can have what you think is going to be a cutting-edge plan, you can surround yourself with a lot of intellectually stimulating people, but I'm telling you, without the ability to lead people, to handle confrontation in a productive way, to learn to deal with the media in a productive way, to learn to manage up and down in a productive way, to learn to handle adversity, which you're faced with on a regular basis, in a productive way, you have absolutely no chance to bring an organization together for a common vision.
"And there's no way at the age and the real-life experience some of these people are at that they can handle either those challenges or the challenges of immediate success, without any perspective on how to deal with it as you move forward. And I think that's a lot of what's happening in our game right now."
Good points - although another good point would be that it would be nice if the older folks in an organization were also team players and had the younger GM's back, instead of trying to undermine him.
O'Dowd is interested in hiring DePodesta in some capacity, according to the article.
If it were purely in the numbers, Scott Posednik and Geoff Blum wouldn't have hit game-winning home runs that brought the White Sox a World Championship.
Not to take Dodger Blues too seriously, but this is completely untrue. Please - I can't emphasize this point enough. The point has never been that Scott Podsednik or Geoff Blum or Jason Repko or Mickey Hatcher could never have a magic moment. Roll the dice enough, and any major league hitter batting or fielding at least .001 can have a magic moment. The point is, who is most likely to have a magic moment?
Some intangibles are truly unaccounted for, and we should be aware of our blind spots, but we should also be aware of how tangible some intangibles are. Every time Podsednik hits a key homer - guess what? That shows up in his stats. And appreciating that is where the real balance is, not the phony kind.
There is magic in baseball and I adore every bit of it. But a good use of stats can bring your team more magic, not less.
(Rob McMillin's entry at 6-4-2 got me started on this.)
Staring at Rock Bottom in '86
In 1986, the Dodgers finished 73-89. Following the season, Bill James wrote about the team in his 1987 Baseball Abstract:
Report: Hershiser Coming, Hart Staying
From Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News:
After a speaking engagement Friday in Denton, Dodgers vice president Tommy Lasorda, who has emerged as a major power broker in the Dodgers' drama, said the club planned to hire (Orel) Hershiser in a front-office capacity. Hershiser, the Rangers' pitching coach since June of 2002, has discussed multiple scenarios with the Dodgers, including manager and general manager.
"We're going to do something with him very shortly," Lasorda said.
The Rangers, however, apparently won't lose (John) Hart, the former GM who resigned in October to take an advisory role with the club.
According to a Rangers source, Hart took himself out of the running for a position with the Dodgers on Friday. Daniels said Hart indicated he'd remain with the Rangers in their last conversation. Hart did not return phone messages Friday.
Right now, it appears former Boston general manager Theo Epstein is or was the Dodgers' first choice for their own GM vacancy, followed by either John Hart (the Texas GM who gave Chan Ho Park all that money) or Dodger assistant general manager Kim Ng - with Orel Hershiser poised to become an assistant and Tommy Lasorda remaining a special advisor.
The average Dodger fan and sports columnist might accept Epstein grudgingly - he appears to wear the same spurs as the villain they sent packing, Paul DePodesta, except that Epstein won a World Series and acquired Dave Roberts instead of dumping him. The masses might accept Hart grudingly - noting that while he accomplished very little at Texas, he's old enough and has not been photographed with his computer. (Sigh.) They'd accept Ng very grudgingly - she offers a slim track record to work off of and is tainted by her DePodesta affiliation, but she also once worked for the Yankees and White Sox, and she brings the affirmative action quality that fits in with the Dodger tradition. T.J. Simers would probably trash her until she gave him a nice interview, then he'd befriend her.
The person members of the media seem to want the most might be the worst possible choice: Washington's Jim Bowden, whose list of accomplishments involves taking low-budgeted teams and bringing them in the neighborhood of .500, then trumpeting himself as a hero. (Meanwhile, Billy Beane gets trashed for not winning a World Series.) Why do the media want Bowden? Because he gives good quotes. He's one of them.
Bowden does make the occasional good move, such as Thursday when he unloaded Vinny Castilla, making the National League West champion San Diego Padres look bad. Castilla, 38 years old with a middling EQA of .259 last season, has become the starting third baseman of the Padres, at the cost of having to fill a spot in their starting rotation with the trade of Brian Lawrence. But Bowden is nothing special. Fortunately, he has not been contacted for an interview, according to Bill Plunkett in the Register.
My theory that a Ng-Hershiser combination could be the end result is still alive. Perhaps all Ng needs to do is soothe the overblown citywide anxiety by showing one example of valuing character or intangibles, and she'll end up with the job.
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It's more than possible that Elmer Dessens did the Dodgers a favor by declining his $1.35 million option for 2006. With 110 strikeouts in his last 170 innings over two years, he seems due for a downturn to me (of course, he has seemed that way to me all along). He's not an option as a starting pitcher because of how quickly he tires, and the Dodgers can find better bullpen values for long relief.
* * *
Speculation about the next Yankee starting center fielder not only includes Milton Bradley, but other recent Dodgers like Jose Cruz, Jr. and Juan Encarnacion. And still, the needle could point to Bubba Crosby, according to the Newark Star-Ledger.
* * *
Update: Ken Mandel of MLB.com writes that the Dodgers will likely be among those pursuing free agent reliever Billy Wagner, who Mandel says is seeking a $30 million contract. I can't imagine how someone could speculate that the Dodgers, with no GM and $10 million invested in True Dodger Eric Gagne, are even thinking about Wagner. No source is given for the speculation.
Update 2: Life goes on, and the Dodgers have re-signed Jose Cruz, Jr. to a one-year contract with a club option on 2007. Terms: $3.21 million guaranteed ($2.91 million plus a $300,000 buyout if the Dodgers decline the $4.5 million second-year option). Also, up to $300,000 in potential incentives.
This Land Is Your Land
People of the world, join in.
Thanks to Dodger Thoughts reader Jim Flanagan for setting it up.
Jackie Robinson had already decided to retire before the Dodgers traded him to the Giants, as this item from the Library of Congress indicates:
Jackie Robinson decided to retire from baseball after the 1956 season. He accepted a job offer from the Chock Full O' Nuts restaurant chain in New York and contracted with Look magazine to write an article to break the news and explain his reason: "My legs are gone and I know it." (from Glenn Stout's Jackie Robinson, p. 178) (Robinson had worked with Look before, most recently to publish an autobiographical series in January and February 1955.) In December 1956, a month before the "My Future" article appeared, the Dodgers' general manager told Robinson that the team had traded him to the New York Giants. Robinson followed through with his retirement plans, although the Giants' management tried to change his mind.
Thanks to the Dodger Thoughts reader who pointed this out in response to my article Sunday.
The GM Search Continues
We have live footage.
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Curious: Do those who complained that the Dodgers did not retain enough players from the 2004 National League West champions want your next general manager to:
a) move to reacquire those Dodgers who were let go?
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Toastermate Alex Belth of Bronx Banter passes along the news that "a statue of Pee Wee Reese with his arm around Jackie Robinson was unveiled yesterday in Brooklyn commemorating one of baseball's most touching moments." Ira Berkow of the New York Times has a story, accompanied by a picture of the statue with Rachel Robinson and Dottie Reese in front.
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Contrary to appearances, Cesar Izturis statistically had a better fielding season in his injury-curtailed 2005 statistically than in 2004, writes Clay Davenport of Baseball Prospectus.
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Update: The interview is two years old, but here are a couple of quotes that Dodger assistant general manager Kim Ng gave to Jonah Keri of Baseball Prospectus:
You can't go in there and tear a team apart. The Dodgers were built on pitching and defense. The Yankees were pretty well-balanced. There are a lot of different ways to build a club. To come in and say, 'I will do XYZ by doing ABC,' you're probably going to hurt yourself in the end.
I can say that I am a proponent of being strong up the middle offensively. It's something I saw with the Yankees having such great success, something I believe in. How you build a team also depends on the ballpark. In Dodger Stadium it's difficult to hit home runs, so you have to adjust to that. The people in place, ballpark factors, there's a wide variety of factors that differ with each organization. But a lot of the emphasis I would put would be on scouting and player development. Financial flexibility is the way to succeed, and having great scouting and player development is the best way to achieve that flexibility.
The relationship you have with the media is important to any organization, and you can run into problems if you don't maintain a good one. How you handle it depends on the personality of the person. You have to be open and up-front. But if the information you have, if sharing it has a chance of hurting your deal, you'd just as soon it not get out.
At the time, Ng indicated that Yankee general manager Brian Cashman was a great influence on her. Ng worked under Cashman for four years.
Unconfidential to KSPN 710
Next time, I'll be lighter. Snappy!
The Beltre Sigh
It's been almost automatic for me this year. Adrian Beltre's name is mentioned, and inwardly I sigh.
Beltre is a player I have always rooted for, whom I have never stopped rooting for, even now that he wears some other city's uniform.
One year ago, I wanted - and expected - Beltre to do well in 2005, and to do well in a Dodger uniform. Neither happened, and frankly, I haven't wanted to deal with it.
Though Beltre continued to play excellent defense in his first season with the Mariners, his offensive statistics declined dramatically from his near-Most Valuable Player season of 2004 - even when adjusted for the tough hitting environment of Safeco Field in Seattle. Beltre batted .255 this season with an on-base percentage of .303 and a slugging percentage of .413. Using park-neutral statistics, he ranked 15th among 20 major-league third basemen with 475 or more plate appearances in VORP (Value Over Replacement Player) and 13th in EQA (Equivalent Average) according to Baseball Prospectus. His OPS+, or on-base percentage plus slugging percentage relative to a league average of 100, was 90, according to Baseball-Reference.com.
Nevertheless, in a world where many decry the $55 million signing of J.D. Drew - who was twice as valuable (31.0 VORP) offensively in 72 games this season than Beltre (15.1) was in 156, people still make the case that letting Beltre go to the Mariners for $64 million was a mistake.
It's a multi-point case arguing that Beltre:
1) would have signed for less money to stay with the Dodgers, had Dodger general manager Paul DePodesta made a more personal effort.
Again, speaking as someone who wanted the signing to happen, who completely bought into Beltre's transformation in 2004, let's see how the arguments hold up.
1) Beltre would have signed for less money to stay with the Dodgers, had Dodger general manager Paul DePodesta made a more personal effort.
At some level, this is probably true. If DePodesta had somehow become Beltre's best friend (and I mean that sincerely, not snidely) and then made a competitive offer, it's hard to imagine Beltre leaving.
But how much of a discount would Beltre have granted? Five million dollars? Ten million? Even under the best of circumstances, as long as Beltre agent Scott Boras was negotiating the deal, it's hard to imagine the cost of Beltre's contract coming down very much. Furthermore, isn't it just as likely that in order to make Beltre feel loved, DePodesta would have had to back up his perfume and roses with pretty much the same dollars he would offer someone he didn't love?
While I think the hometown discount argument might be true at some small level, I don't think it's true at a relevant one.
2) Beltre plays a valuable defensive position and plays it well.
A true statement. That the Dodgers struggled to fill third base defensively this year makes it even more pointed. But, speaking again as someone who adored Beltre, it's hard to say that his defensive contributions outweighed his offensive deficiencies enough to make him worth retaining for at least $11 million per year. (And offensively, in 2005, Antonio Perez was better.)
3) Beltre plays almost every day.
Beltre has played more than 150 games in four consecutive seasons and five of the past seven, while suffering from a botched appendectomy in a sixth. In 2004, we watched him play - and even thrive - with painful foot and ankle injuries. He is a gamer.
Where there is doubt going forward, especially in an eight-figure contract, is whether those injuries might reduce his effectiveness, even if he is in the lineup. For example, we have seen Beltre steal 43 bases in 59 attempts during his first three full seasons, then decline to 19 steals in 29 attempts over his next four. Is that a warning sign, or just a tangent?
4) Beltre is 26, meaning his career peak is probably still ahead.
I spent a good part of 2004 arguing that not only was Beltre's offensive explosion in 2004 real, it was not a fluke. (Or are "real" and "not a fluke" the same thing? Oh well - I really just needed a way to link to two past articles.)
Contrary to the belief of even some of his supporters, 2004 was not Beltre's first good season. In 2000, he had an OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) of .835 with 20 home runs, 30 doubles and 56 walks - excellent for almost any third baseman of any age and absolutely outstanding for one who was 21. This followed a .780 OPS season in 1999, quite nice for someone at age 20. As I showed almost three years ago, it is not unusual for a young talent to start strongly, regress slightly, then regroup to become better than ever. For years, Beltre's offensive career track has most closely mirrored perhaps the best player of all time not in the Hall of Fame, Ron Santo. That, combined with the observable changes in Beltre's batting style in 2004 that showed him taking outside pitches to the opposite field instead of trying to pull them, led me to believe that Beltre would fulfill his superstar promise for many years to come.
However, Beltre supporters should at least consider the fact that for three of the past four seasons (we'll ignore the appendectomy year), his OPS has not topped .730. His EQA has not exceed the major league average in those years. There is certainly a great deal of risk that in a given year, Beltre is not going to deliver up to expectations. And that's a big deal when he's a cornerstone of your payroll.
5) Beltre was adjusting to a new environment, whereas in his Los Angeles comfort zone he would have done better.
This, I have to say, is perhaps the most peculiar argument I've seen Dodger fans have. A significant part of Dodger lore is the player who messes up in the L.A. whites, or is traded too soon, then goes on to have great success in another city. In fact, I would suspect that one of the few unifying threads between sabermetrically inclined and sabermetrically disinclined Dodger fans is this notion. So really, I'm surprised to see the argument materialize that the new surroundings hurt Beltre, and I have to think it's specifically a way to defend Beltre out of loyalty, love or hope - if not also a method to discredit DePodesta.
It's safe to say that you can find plenty of ex-Dodgers who needed no adjustment period with their new teams. It's also safe to say that any player who is worth $64 million should be talented enough not to require an adjustment period - that making this very argument undermines the overall case for signing him.
Furthermore, consider the players the Dodgers retain (yes, critics, there are some). Is there any kind of correlation, let alone causation, between repeated seasons in a Dodger uniform and maintaining performance?
Sure, it's completely possible that in the unique case of Beltre, leaving Los Angeles did harm him. We've all needed to adjust to new jobs, new homes, new cities, new bosses, new friends. We've all needed to adjust to distance from our families. But to what extent? Ultimately, it's a speculative argument, the kind of argument that could be made to justify signing any number of people.
At best, we're talking definite maybe on this one.
6) Beltre was a True Dodger.
Yep. Beltre was a home-grown hero. I sure didn't want to lose him. While I will always make the case that fans respond to winning, and that no one would be arguing for Beltre today if the Dodgers had won 91 games without him, I'm not going to criticize someone for wishing a player whose development they invested so much in was not let go. I think one can contend that in a year where he was so key to the team's 2004 success, and so young, and by most accounts so likeable, that DePodesta should have been willing even to overpay for him.
Even if you believe in DePodesta, hindsight now allows you to make a big-picture argument that in order to preserve himself as the long-term administrator of a plan to make the Dodgers a perennial World Series contender, he needed to throw a bone to sentiment - whether that meant not trading Paul Lo Duca, re-signing Jose Lima (gulp) or hanging onto Beltre. The team might have still gone 71-91, but perhaps the outrage would not have been so high. That's not my argument, but I can see it.
There you are, 1) through 6). Was it a mistake to let Beltre go? Man, I think you have to be awfully generous to Beltre to shout "yes" with any confidence. After all that's been said, Beltre was a flop in the first year of his new contract, worse than Drew, worse than Derek Lowe, worse than Brad Penny, certainly worse than Jeff Kent.
He wasn't worse than Jose Valentin - and look, if money is no object, I'll take Beltre 2005 over Valentin 2005 any day. But money is an object.
Within four years, we'll find out emphatically whether letting Beltre go was a mistake or not. I still think there's every possibility he'll return to All-Star status and make us rue the day (or continue to rue the day) that he left. But it pains me to say it that I'm less confident that day will come, and more open to the possibility that we were saved from witnessing a disappointing five years. After all, there was a time when I was not alone in thinking Raul Mondesi was going to the Hall of Fame.
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I am scheduled to be a guest on KSPN-AM 710's "The Big Show" with Steve Mason and guest host Matthew Berry at 3:40 p.m. today (with a possible rerun of my appearance in the 6 p.m. hour). Listen kindly.
Update: The interview has been postponed until approximately 5 p.m.
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Update: Jeff Angus of Management by Baseball has Part 2 of his series on the McCourts and DePodesta.
Jon Weisman's outlet
for dealing psychologically
with the Los Angeles Dodgers
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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Thank You For Not ...
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