This is one of a series of posts in which we rip each team for their offseason blunders and laud them when necessary for the occasional savvy move.
The Dodgers finally got their man(ny), but did they really have a good offseason? That is a more interesting question than most people think.
Sure, the Dodgers eventually re-signed Manny Ramirez for far less money than most people expected, re-signed shortstop Rafael Furcal out from under Atlanta’s nose, and acquired Orlando Hudson, who is a defensive and probably even an offensive upgrade over Jeff Kent at this stage, but they also lost staff ace Derek Lowe, closer Takashi Saito, and setup man Joe Beimel to free agency and only replaced them with Randy Wolf and Guillermo Mota, which is somewhat akin to replacing two Porsches and a Corvette with a used Miata and a suped-up Schwinn.
And sure, the Dodgers succeeded in holding a relatively hard line in the Manny negotiations and got a great deal on Hudson, but this may be more a product of real destitution on LA’s part rather than any actual good judgment, as other moves suggest that good judgment remains in short supply within the Dodgers brain trust.
Mota, for example, had a brilliant run with the Dodgers from 2003-04 as Eric Gagne’s setup man, but at this point in his career he is basically a replacement-level arm, and thus even at a reasonable-sounding $2.35 million he is overpaid. Meanwhile, newly minted backup catcher Brad Ausmus won’t even provide replacement level production when he plays, especially now that whatever was left of the 37-year-old’s vaunted defensive abilities have melted away with age. His one $1 million salary might as well be chucked into the L.A. River when better production could be had from a younger player for the major league minimum.
Moreover, the Dodgers still have made no signs of even considering locking up some of their young stars to below-market contracts that buy out their increasingly expensive arbitration years, and came dangerously close to going to an arbitration hearing with Andre Ethier over about $500,000.
All the signs – the one-year contracts, the letting free agents walk, the surprising restraint in the Manny negotiations, the insistence on deferred money, and the nickel and diming everywhere else (such as the team throwing in their best catching prospect in a deal just to get the Indians to pay $2 million of Casey Blake’s salary), all point to a team (and owner) living on the edge (or just over the edge) of their means, which is never a good place to be in massive worldwide economic crisis.
Sadly, the Dodgers themselves, and Ned Colletti in particular, are largely responsible for the financial straitjacket in which they find themselves. Out of a projected $100 million payroll this year, about $30 million is going to 4 players who will not contribute much, if anything, this year: Jason Schmidt, Juan Pierre, Andruw Jones, and Brad Penny (the latter two are not even on the team anymore). Throw in the $5 million being paid to extremely overrated manager Joe Torre which would be better spent on actual players, and the Dodgers are wasting more than a third of their payroll.
But worst of all, it is becoming increasingly clear that five years into McCourt’s tenure as owner, and three years into Colletti’s tenure as GM, the Dodgers still do not show any sign of having any kind of long-term plan. Colletti & Co seem to float in the moment, twiddling their thumbs as they live from move to move, contract to contract, kind of just making it all up on the fly.
Sometimes this leads to good deals like getting Manny on the cheap last season, but other times it leads to really really bad moves – like signing Jason Schmidt even when your doctors tell you he has a torn rotator cuff, because you like big name veterans, or signing Juan Pierre to be your centerfielder, only to sign Andrew Jones to be your centerfielder the next year without having anywhere for Pierre to go, only to pay Jones off to just leave your team.
And meanwhile, you’ve got a bunch of guys on one year contracts or living from arbitration year to arbitration year, and thus no cost certainty or even contracts at all on even your best young players, meaning you are entirely dependent on your farm system to improve your team or even just keep a team on the field, because you certainly don’t have any money for free agents not named Manny Ramirez.
Too bad your farm system is increasingly barren after all the promotions and trades you’ve made. Oh well, at least you finally got your Manny. And the NL West still sucks.
Offseason Grade: B
Acquisitions: 2B Orlando Hudson, P Randy Wolf, C Brad Ausmus, P Guillermo Mota, IF Mark Loretta, P Claudio Vargas, P Jeff Weaver, IF Juan Castro
Losses: P Derek Lowe, P Brad Penny, P Greg Maddux, P Takashi Saito, P Chan Ho Park, P Joe Beimel, P Jason Johnson, 2B Jeff Kent, CF Andruw Jones, 1B Nomar Garciaparra, C Gary Bennett
Projected Lineup, Rotation, and Closer:
C Russell Martin
1B James Loney
2B Orlando Hudson
3B Casey Blake
SS Rafael Furcal
LF Manny Ramirez
CF Matt Kemp
RF Andre Ethier
SP Chad Billingsley
SP Hiroki Kuroda
SP Clayton Kershaw
SP Randy Wolf
SP Jason Schmidt
CL Jonathan Broxton