Why the Manny deal makes sense

Today is the end of an era.  The brief, but productive, Manny era, that saw the Dodgers win back to back division titles and NL Divisional series before falling to the Phillies the past two years.  And now it’s time to move on.  Not like we didn’t know this was coming.  Even before Manny stated this year would be his last in LA, we already knew it.  But you never like to see it end like this.

Now I’m not going to defend Frank McCourt, but this decision to trade Manny is a good baseball decision.  The Dodgers are not going to the postseason this year.  They are 10 games behind the Padres with 31 to play.  More significantly, they are in fourth place and have three other teams to leapfrog.  If they’d beaten up on Colorado this past weekend, then they would have at least a decent shot but losing that series puts them 6 1/2 games back in the wild card, behind four other teams.  It’s not likely they could leapfrog both San Francisco AND Colorado, plus the Phillies and Cardinals.  So now’s the time to get realistic.

Any baseball fan knows how the business side works.  If you’re competitive, you add players.  If you’re out of it, you start being open to trading parts of your roster.  And now is the time to send Manny Ramirez to a competitor.  In these mid to late season trades, you sometimes get prospects and in others, you just get salary relief.  Even if you get a prospect, often the salary relief is a huge part of the deal.  Saving $4 million, even with $3 of it deferred, is a big deal off the books.  I believe if the Dodgers thought they might bring Manny back, they would not just let him go for salary relief.  They are not likely to trade Ted Lilly or Scott Podsednik or Hiroki Kuroda, all of whom will be free agents.

But much like last year when they got Jim Thome from the same White Sox, now they are giving Manny up to a contender.  He’s banged up, he’s more suited to a DH role and there’s no chance he was going to come back next year.

I have a sense that the Dodger fans’ anger in the posts I’ve read is related more to salary relief that will go to Frank McCourt than any other reason.  Unfortunately, he’s the owner of the team, that’s where the savings are.  I think we all would love to believe that the $4 million savings will somehow find it’s way back on the roster next year, in the form of Carl Crawford, Jayson Werth or other top hitter.  And sadly, we have nothing to bolster that belief, especially with the internal documents that have been released before the trial. 

Prior to this season, I found myself defending the sub-$100 million payroll.  After all, there’s no reason to have a large payroll for the sake of having a large payroll.  We had relatively young players in Kemp, Ethier, Martin, Kershaw, etc. who didn’t require huge salaries yet.  At the same time, I didn’t think we should pursue John Lackey because I didn’t think his performance was worth what we’d need to pay for him.  I figured that if he was within what McCourt would pay him, Moreno would easily keep him.  And Lackey hasn’t helped the Red Sox, Piniero hasn’t helped the Angels.  Three of the teams who would be in the playoffs right now are in the bottom half of payroll.  So it’s not a guarantee of success.

However, the role of the owner is to put the best possible team on the field.  And certainly, seeing who was returning, it appeared we had the parts going into this year, certainly with position players and the bullpen.  Instead, the bullpen has imploded and the offense has not produced well.  The starting pitching was OK, and again, who could we have gotten?  Lackey might have made it more solid, but if he doesn’t improve, the Red Sox may regret the next four years.    Piniero hasn’t panned out for the Angels.  Even the longshots, Ben Sheets and Rich Harden, have not been successful this year.  So I can see the point of staying with a lower payroll this year.

But next year?  We have some glaring holes and we don’t have the minor league players to fix them.  Catcher is a huge concern.  Loney is not giving us power from first base.  Furcal’s back is a question mark.  Blake is OK, but may be better as a role player than a starter.  Do we try to keep Podsednik, the speed and the leadoff hitter, or do we go after Crawford or Werth?  And that is where the real Frank McCourt will show up.  The Dodgers are a big market team and there is no justification to spend like a mid-market team as he has been doing.

And now, he has nearly $4 million extra to play with.  No matter who the owner is and what he’s going to do with the money, from a baseball standpoint, this move makes sense.


Manny and Vinnie

I don’t think there is a Dodger fan on the planet that wasn’t overjoyed to see that Vin Scully is returning for another year.  He is, by far, the greatest sports announcer and to have his gift for another year is at least one thing Dodger fans won’t have to worry about next season. 

There’s one thing I often wonder about.  Vin is considered by most to be such a great announcer.  So why don’t more announcers emulate his style and his approach and try to make themselves better announcers?  I suffered for years living in Atlanta and listening to the Braves announcing team.  Then when I lived in Tucson, it was the Diamondbacks team.  And the Rangers announcers here in Dallas aren’t much better (but to their credit, in a spring telecast before the 2009 season, they did simulcast an inning of Vin Scully calling the game into the Rangers broadcast). 

I think part of the problem is the belief of having to create a team.  Having a play by play announcer and then an analyst, believing that somehow will create better coverage.  Instead, you have two people talking about what they did last night or are going to do, thinking they have to say something to fill the time between pitches, making themselves more important than the game they are calling, and many clearly show biases toward their team.  With Vin, you have an amazing personality that can paint a picture of what he is seeing, whether the Dodgers win or lose, you sense that he feels he has witnessed something amazing, even by the other team.  One of my favorite things is to notice, in a truly great moment, that he will announce what happened and then just stay quiet and let the background noise really tell the story.  Thank you, Vin.  You have given us Dodger fans a great gift.

Now turning to Manny.  I understand some of the feelings.  Some.  Yes, he was suspended for 50 games last season for PEDs.  Yes, his power numbers are down this year and he’s been hurt often.  And yet, I am amazed to see how quickly some people turn on him.  For all he’s done for the Dodgers, I think he deserves better.  He is one of the greatest hitters in baseball.  We’ve had them before, like Gary Sheffield, Eddie Murray, Darryl Strawberry, but Manny has changed the Dodgers more significantly than any player since Kirk Gibson. 

When Manny came here in a trade, his work ethic and personality were questioned.  The Dodgers were well behind the Diamondbacks.  When he came here, not only did he begin to hit, but so did several other players, including Kent and Ethier.  There was a change in the confidence level of the team, and it carried them past Arizona and to a first round playoff win over the Cubs.  Even in his second year, with his suspension, Juan Pierre and Casey Blake stepped up in his absence, Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp flourished, and the Dodgers won a second straight title and another first round win against the Phillies.  Yes, they lost that series again, and there’s a lot of what-ifs, but if Broxton had gotten Rollins, the series would have come back to LA and they would have still had a good shot to get to the World Series.  And while people like to make a mention of Manny’s salary, he saved the Dodgers a lot of money last year because he was not paid for those 50 games during his suspension. 

So this year, who knows why the power numbers are down?  Lack of PEDs?  Age?  Injury?  Manny’s never been a great defensive players so expecting him to play good defense seems unrealistic.  Sure, when the power numbers are down, it makes it harder to justify it, but was it a coincidence that in his return, the other Dodgers hit four home runs?  Hell, maybe re-sign him and put him out there just to have him in the lineup to help Ethier and Kemp hit! 

It appears likely that Manny will be put on waivers and could be headed to St. Louis, Chicago, Dallas or Tampa Bay.  I think it would be hilarious if Boston put a claim to keep him from Tampa Bay and got stuck with him.  But I will not be celebrating Manny leaving the Dodgers.  I remember that before he arrived, the Dodgers had won just one playoff GAME since 1988, forget about winning a series.  I remember how he transformed a team of overmatched kids more intent on fighting with the veteran players than performing on the field into a cohesive team of hitters and fielders.  This year the fundamentals, defense and good baserunning have gone downhill, but I will remember two great postseason series wins and getting us closer to the World Series than the Dodgers have been in the previous 20 years.  This season could have gone so much differently if Frank had been more focused on “Where do we need to improve and how can I get the players that will take us higher?” instead of keeping the payroll around $100 million.  They could be winning even without Manny.

Since I live in Dallas, I can easily compare the Dodgers’ situation to the Rangers during their whole ownership fiasco this year.  During the time they were in ownership limbo, the Rangers had catching issues, they got Bengie Molina.  They needed an ace, they got Cliff Lee.  Needed a right handed bat, they got Jorge Cantu.  Kinsler got hurt, they got Cristian Guzman, who promptly got hurt, but that’s another story.  The day after they were approved by MLB, they lowered concession prices.  They really need a roof on the stadium for July and August games, but they’re at least doing what they can for the fans and for the team.  And now there’s a rumor they could be after Manny if he goes on waivers.  I really hope they get that opportunity. 

Goals for 2011 season

Having just watched the Rangers meltdown here on TV Wednesday night, I didn’t think anything could top it.  The Red Sox came close early Thursday afternoon…then leave it to the Dodgers to top both of them!  I’m not officially saying the season is over, but I haven’t seen anything to make me believe it’s going to improve enough to jump over both the Giants and Padres. 

That said, while we had some question marks coming into this season, notably starting pitching and second base, we were pretty set.  A quick look ahead towards next season shows a lot more holes and a lot of concern that we don’t have an owner willing to adequately fill them.  Going into this season, we were supposed to have a huge offensive team and questionable starting pitching.  I’d say the reverse has been true.  The offense has sputtered often this season and the starting pitching has been better than expected.  So I’m going to quickly cover the positions and areas that should be covered:

Catcher:  Russell Martin.  It appears that the Dodgers and Martin may be stuck with each other for at least this next year.  The Dodgers traded Carlos Santana and Lucas May away and there doesn’t appear to be a lot of options on the free agent market next year.  Certainly not with the skills, declining though they may be, for Martin.  So let’s hope he recovers from his injury and may find his hitting stroke again next year (yeah, I’ve been saying that for the past few years, but still have to hold out hope, right?).

First Base:  Loney is one player I would put on the trading block.  I like him, and he’s been good at driving in runs.  But looking at his average, he’s more in the Mark Grace/Lyle Overbay mold than a power hitting first baseman.  His power has not developed as hoped.  What is sad is that one of the rumors suggested they could have traded him this year for Oswalt, and had a third solid starting pitcher locked in, but failed to do that.  If they could work a deal for Prince Fielder or a similar power hitting first baseman, how great would that be?  He’s not the reason they aren’t winning, but this is an area they could improve on.  Another possibility is a trade with the Rangers for Chris Davis?  He hasn’t proven he can hit at the major league level yet, but if he does, he’s got tremendous power and good defense to boot.

Second base:  They are set with Theriot.  Debate on whether DeWitt will be better, but he’s OK.

Shortstop:  The same question every year is can Furcal stay healthy?  Seems that when he’s having a good year, he gets hurt and if he stays healthy, he has a mediocre year.  Tough to rely on him as your team’s leadoff hitter.  The Dodgers have some players in the minors who project to be good in this position (DeJesus and Dee Gordon), but how soon will they be ready?  I’d love to see him healthy enough where they could get some value in a trade, but that’s not likely.  Still, if he’s healthy, I have no problem running him out there.

Third Base:  This is one area they need to address.  I was sort of surprised they signed Blake to a three year deal, I just don’t see him as a reliable everyday third baseman.  If they could get Beltre back as a free agent, no guarantee he’ll hit like he is doing with Boston, but he’s an improvement over Blake.  I was sort of hoping they’d trade Blake and move DeWitt back to third base, but that didn’t happen.  Another option could be if they got another regular catcher, could they move Martin to third, but there’s no guarantee his hitting would bounce back and that he’d be any better than Blake.  I’d like to see them get Beltre or another starting third baseman and then move Blake to a bench role for next year, since he can play first and outfield as well.

Left field:  I don’t understand the fuss over Manny saying this year is his last with the Dodgers.  That was obvious.  They have to replace him after this year and it remains to be seen if the younger players can hit consistently without him in their lineup.  Huge loss.  There’s a lot of options.  Go after Jayson Werth or another outfielder in a big trade.  Or try to keep Podsednik, who gives you a legit leadoff hitter and base stealing threat.  But if they keep Podsednik, then they almost HAVE to trade Loney and get more power in that position.  It will be interesting to see what happens here.  Good chance there will be a spring battle between Xavier Paul, and some free agents like Jay Gibbons, Reed Johnson and others.

Center Field:  Here’s a huge question.  Do they give up on Kemp and trade him for other help?  I say no.  You have to keep him.  For what you are paying him, you have to work with Kemp and hope that he focuses better and puts the defensive and baserunning blunders behind him.  Now if you get a huge offer for him, then maybe you consider it.  But having to fill the shoes of both Manny AND Kemp in the same offseason?  That would be tough.  I’d consider trading Kemp for a player along the lines of Prince Fielder or Adrian Gonzalez, if those possibilities came up.  I’m not even sure I’d trade him for Zack Greinke.  Kemp, if playing well, is an every day difference maker.  If they could get a bona fide center fielder and move Kemp to left, maybe that helps defensively.  But I think they really need to keep Kemp.

Right field:  Ethier is all set there.

Bench:  There will be some spots open.  Ausmus is retiring, Belliard is probably gone.  AJ Ellis could back up Martin.  Carroll is under contract and despite my concern over how much his contract is worth, he’s earned it this season.  Maybe they keep Castro for next year in middle infield as well?  I’d like to see them go after Beltre or another upgrade at third base and then move Blake to the bench as well.  That would take care of the infield.   Outfield is question marks – do they keep Reed Johnson and/or Jay Gibbons here?  Do they have Xavier Paul here on the bench or do they get him at bats in AAA if he doesn’t win the job? 

Starting Pitching:  Just like last year, there are question marks here.  Only Kershaw and Billingsley are under contract for next year, which is a very good place to start.  I see both of them continuing to improve.  I think there’s a good chance they re-sign Kuroda.  Padilla has done a great job after getting off the DL, wouldn’t mind seeing him come back if they can do that affordably.  Not so sure about Lilly, but we tried letting a youngster win the job in spring training last year and that didn’t work so well.  Could come from a group including Ely, Monasterios and others.  I think Ely might be good trade bait, considering he doesn’t have overpowering stuff but still pitched pretty well this year.  The big fish next year is going to be Cliff Lee, but if the Yankees have designs on him as reported, and with the Rangers ready to mount a serious run at him, along with the money he’ll get at least as much as Sabathia, I don’t see McCourt seriously going after him. 

Bullpen:  Wow, do we need help here.  The question on Broxton will be is this the real Broxton now or has he just hit a bad patch?  If the latter, there’s some concern at closer.  But you can figure him into the bullpen.  They need to re-sign Kuo.  They have Belisario and Jansen set, Troncoso is a possibility.  Monasterios is there, although after this season, they should be able to send him back to the minors without having to return him to the Phillies.  He could be their long man, but they could use some more proven arms if they can get them affordably.  I wonder about Joe Beimel, will he be a free agent? 
Dotel is likely gone.  Sherrill will be non-tendered and either let go or signed at a reduced rate.  No way are they going to pay him an arbitration raise over what he made this year.  The question is do you give up on Broxton in this bad stretch?  If so, maybe they could make a trade to the Red Sox for Papelbon, who appears to be blowing saves and wearing out his welcome there.  But would Papelbon be any better and would he agree never to prance around on our field like he does in Boston? 

Manager:  Will Torre come back or won’t he?  I’m leaning towards no.  This season has been a disaster and there’s no realistic proof that McCourt will allow Colletti to spend to get the free agents he needs.  The farm system is pretty shallow right now and there’s not a lot there for trades.  I’m a bit concerned about handing the reins over to Mattingly, with no track record to suggest success.  He hasn’t even really proven he’s a good hitting coach.  I think Tim Wallach would be a better choice, maybe even Bobby Valentine. 

Bottom line is that I don’t know if the Dodgers are going to get better anytime soon.  McCourt’s deferred money on past contracts is piling up as it comes due like credit card bills when you run up large tabs and don’t pay them off.  That limits the amount he can spend. They could use key free agents like Lee, Werth and Beltre, but they would all be looking for large contracts.  The farm system does not look promising to help the big league club right away.  So as disappointing as this year is right now, it might look really good compared to the next several years.