Monday, August 25, 2008

What Are the Dodgers Thinking?

Have the Dodgers completely lost their way, or what? Let's "review the bidding" for the past two years.

After the 2006 season, the Dodgers signed free agent Juan Pierre, for a 5-year contract worth $44 million. I like Pierre a lot. My favorite Pierre story is how he went out into Yankee Stadium many hours before the first game of the 2003 World Series, before anybody else was in the stadium, and started rolling balls down the third base line. Satisfied that the Yankee groundskeepers had not "stacked the deck" against him (i.e., bunts down the line would have a chance of staying fair), Pierre proceeded to bunt for a base hit on the very first pitch of the World Series! The Marlins never looked back after that, beating the Yankees in 6 games.

The down side to Pierre is that he is not the prototypical centerfielder, in that he does not hit home runs. His forte is speed, bunt hits, stealing bases, running down balls in the outfield, etc. Also, he is not the prototypical leadoff hitter in that he doesn't walk much.

Pierre responded by having a very typical year in 2007. He played in all 162 games (for the 5th straight year), hit no home runs, walked only 33 times, struck out only 37 times, hit .293, slugged .353, and had an on-base percentage of .331. The latter 3 figures were slightly below his career averages, but essentially, the Dodgers got what they had expected from Pierre.

So what did the Dodgers do in the offseason? They went and signed Andruw Jones for $36 million for 2 years! This was wrong on 2 counts: first, they already had a good centerfielder; and second, Jones had just had a horrible year in 2007, and anybody who watched him could see his skills and motivation had declined considerably. He hit only .222, a horrendous figure for someone playing a position where hitting is important (i.e., not a middle infielder), and worse yet, he slugged only .413, which was down .118 from the year before.

Jones got off to a horrendous start with the Dodgers, hitting under .200, and then getting hurt. Torre put him hitting 8th in the lineup, and on July 28th Torre benched him and said he would only be a spot starter for the rest of the season.

So, one would think, this puts Pierre back in center, right? No, not quite. The Dodgers have some yo-yo named Matt Kemp playing center instead. All you need to know about this bum is this story from an LA paper yesterday:

"Playing in a ballpark the Dodgers visit only once a year and at a strange, shadowy time of day mandated by the Fox network, Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp responded to a fifth-inning fly ball hit in his general direction on Saturday by throwing up his hands, the universal sign for a ballplayer who has lost a ball in the sky. "I think we all thought he was trying to deke the baserunners when he did it," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said. "But obviously, when it fell behind him, that wasn't the case."

The ball landed approximately 30 feet behind Kemp, allowing Philadelphia left fielder Pat Burrell to pull into second with a gift double, Jimmy Rollins to score and Ryan Howard to drive in two runs with his subsequent single, putting the Dodgers in a 6-2 hole in a game they eventually would lose 9-2.

After the game, Kemp dutifully fielded questions from reporters about the gaffe. But to say he answered them would be a bit of a stretch. Did you lose it in the sun? "I guess," he said. How long did you see it before losing it? "That's a great question," he said, sarcastically. "I would have caught it if I saw it.""
When he's played at all, Pierre has been playing in left. So, what did the Dodges do recently? They traded for Manny Ramirez, who has a huge contract and obviously has to be played, and his position is left.

The Dodgers' loss yesterday to the Phillies is typical of their whole season. In the first inning Andre Ethier drew a 5-ball walk when the umpire lost track of the count! The thing about this is, that nobody on the Dodger team noticed this at the time, or if they did, nobody said anything at the time to the umpire. In the 9th inning, the Dodger closer could not protect the lead, and the game goes into extra innings. Then in the top of the 10th, the Dodgers load the bases but cannot score the go-ahead run, and they end up losing in the 11th. Pierre's only appearance was to pinch-hit for the pitcher in the 7th. Jones is in the minors on a rehab assignment.

Some of that money the Dodgers have spent on all those outfielders could have been spent on getting a reliable closer, and a better hitting coach. Even a better pitching coach would seem appropriate, since the closer says he knows what he's doing wrong ("flying open"), but can't seem to correct it. Any good pitching coach should be able to correct a mechanical flaw like that.

In the weakest division in baseball, the Dodgers stand at only .500, 3 games back. This is pathetic and unacceptable.

3/18/16 update.  Pierre played three seasons for the Dodgers and then was traded to the White Sox. Andruw Jones was released after hitting .158 for the Dodgers in 2008, which meant the Dodgers had to eat the second year of his absurd $36M contract. Jones played four more years, never hitting higher than .247.

The Dodgers stuck with Matt Kemp, even signing him to an 8-year, $160M contract extension after the 2011 season. They finally got fed up with his lackluster play and his negative clubhouse influence, and traded him to the Padres after the 2014 season, sending $32M to the Padres to soften the financial hit for the Padres in assuming such a bloated contract.

Manny Ramirez stuck with the Dodgers till August of 2010, when he was claimed on waivers by the White Sox, He retired 5 games into the 2011 season, facing a 100-game suspension for a second failed drug test.

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