This is one of a series of posts in which we rip each team for their offseason blunders and praise them for their wily moves.
If the Dodgers had done absolutely nothing at all this whole offseason, I would have given them an “A” grade, because given this year’s free agent class and the incredible amount of talent already in the Dodgers system, I honestly feel that would have been the best course of action. Indeed, the Dodgers failed to contend last season, not because they didn’t have the right players, but because they had the right players and refused to play them until it was too late.
Just think: even if the Dodgers had not signed a single free agent, they could have put this team on the field (2008 ages in parentheses):
C Russell Martin (25)
1B James Loney (24)
2B Jeff Kent (40)
3B Andy LaRoche (24)
SS Rafael Furcal (30)
LF Delwyn Young (26)
CF Matt Kemp (23)
RF Andre Ethier (26)
Outside of Kent, that is an incredibly young, incredibly talented team with lots of upside and would have had no real holes anywhere in the lineup. The Dodgers would also have had an already set bullpen and rotation, and even if someone went down with an injury, they would have already had reasonable in-house replacements – Nomar Garciaparra at 1B and 3B, Juan Pierre and Jason Repko in the outfield, Chin-Lung Hu and Tony Abreu in the middle infield, and Hong-Chih Kuo, Eric Stults, and Johnathan Meloan in the rotation and bullpen.
Of course, we all knew that there was no way in hell that Ned Colletti would stand pat and run that lineup I have proposed out there, given his completely lack of trust in anyone younger than 30 and his deep, abiding love of the big name. And sure enough, Colletti ran out and splashed around in a pool of Frank McCourt’s money, signing new manager Joe Torre, centerfielder Andruw Jones, and Japanese starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda. These moves drew a lot of positive press, but did they really help the team for 2008? Let’s have a look…
Joe Torre is one of the most respected managers in the game, and if the Dodgers had one spot they could have upgraded after last season, it was at the end of the bench, where Grady Little showed a disturbing lack of ability to keep control over his clubhouse, which fell into backbiting and bickering as the Dodgers fell out of contention. So it seems pretty hard to take issue with the Dodgers signing a manager who is widely regarded as one of the best around at handling a major league clubhouse.
But I am going to take some issue nonetheless. As I have argued previously in this space, I think that Torre’s in-game managerial skills are overrated at best, and downright suspect at worst. Also, as right as he may have been for the Yankees in the late 1990s, I am not at all convinced that Joe Torre is the right manager for this Dodgers team, now, in 2008, ie a team whose chances of contending absolutely depend on a manger who is willing to play largely untested but supremely talented kids over proven but inferior veterans, a manager I am not at all sure Torre is capable of becoming.
For example, Torre has already gone on the record as saying he is likely to view Juan Pierre as a starter:
“I’ve always been one to favor experience….Juan Pierre brings so many things. He plays all the time, he gets 200 hits, steals 60 bases. We know he has no power, but he’s a gamer. He’s the type of player that fits into a winning situation.”
Ouch. That is not a good sign.
Meanwhile, Torre remains the highest-paid manager in the game, and I am not sure that money wouldn’t have been better spent elsewhere – say signing a top-flight middle reliever or something.
Similarly, the press also rained praise upon Ned Colletti for signing Andruw Jones, despite the high price tag, hailing it as a case of buying low and minimizing risk by not locking the team in to Jones’s mid-30s decline years. But Andruw Jones was pretty helpless at the plate last year, and while he is extremely unlikely to repeat last year’s showing, and certainly represents a big upgrade from Juan Pierre in center, both offensively and defensively, it is not at all clear that the Dodgers have made themselves a better team by giving Jones Manny Ramirez money for the next two years, unless Colletti and Torre are committed to forcing Pierre into a bench role, which there is no sign that they are. If, as seems to be the plan, Juan Pierre is shifted to left field, the Dodgers may actually be a worse team for having signed Jones, because if Juan Pierre is allowed to take away even 200 at-bats that would otherwise have gone to Matt Kemp or Andre Ethier, the Jones signing becomes worse than a wash.
The third big offseason move the Dodgers made was to sign highly sought after Japanese starter Hiroki Kuroda to a 3-year $35.3 million deal. While Kuroda definitely pitched like an ace in Japan, most projections have him pitching more like a 4th starter in the major leagues, which means that at $12 million per year, he would be one of the most expensive 4th starters around. Evaluating the Kuroda deal comes down to the question of whether Kuroda would outpitch Esteban Loiza this year (the man he is bumping from the rotation), and even though he probably could, it is very questionable whether the difference in their performance would be worth all that money.
The only other move the Dodgers have made all offseason at the major-league level was to sign veteran Gary Bennett to be their backup catcher. While this deal didn’t make big headlines, I think it was another questionable move by Ned Colletti, signing a veteran where a rookie or a no-namer would do. I can’t help asking myself the question, “Is Gary Bennett even replacement level?” We are talking about a guy who has had an OBP under .300 for the last five seasons in a row, and has never walked more than 24 times in a season. And given that everyone recognizes that star catcher Russell Martin was probably overused last year and will need to be rested more often this season, it would have behooved Colletti to have come up with a backup catcher who could at least achieve replacement level output when he plays.
Still, when all is said and done, the Dodgers’ offseason has to be accounted a success this year, because Colletti somehow resisted the temptation to trade away Matt Kemp, James Loney, and Clayton Kershaw, and didn’t make any truly terrible deals as he has done in past years with Juan Pierre and Jason Schmidt. Assuming Colletti can show similar restraint going forward, Dodgers fans have reason to be cautiously optimistic about this coming season, and especially the next few years after that.
Offseason Grade: B
Additions: Joe Torre, Andrew Jones, Hiroki Kuroda, Gary Bennett
Losses: Luis Gonzalez, Randy Wolf, David Wells, Mark Hendrickson, Mike Lieberthal, Olmedo Saenz
Projected Lineup, Rotation, and Closer:
SS Rafael Furcal – .270/.333/.355, 25 SB
LF Juan Pierre – .293/.331/.353, 64 SB
1B James Loney – .331/.381/.538
CF Andruw Jones – .222/.311/.413, 26 HR
RF Matt Kemp – .342/.373/.521
2B Jeff Kent – .302/.375/.500, 20 HR
C Russell Martin – .293/.374/.469, 21 SB
3B Andy LaRoche – .226/.365/.312
RHP Brad Penny – 16-4, 3.03
RHP Derek Lowe – 12-14, 3.88
RHP Chad Billingsley – 12-5, 3.31
RHP Hiroki Kuroda – 12-8, 3.56 (Japanese stats)
RHP Jason Schmidt – 1-4, 6.31
CL Takashi Saito – 1.40, 39 SV