Dodgers: $240MM of Uncertainty
Over the past six months, the Los Angeles Dodgers have sent a clear message to their fans and their competition, as to how they will be conducting business moving forward. The approach is simple: “Spend Huge.” It is as un-nuanced a plan as can be devised, but even still, there are many question marks twisting behind the classic, rigid serifs of the linking “L” and “A,” and not just for this year.
The Dodgers have a 1-2 punch that will rival that of the Giants, after adding Zack Greinke. But after the new righty, the drop-off is steep. Chad Billingsley strained his UCL in the middle of last season. And fact that this injury has healed without surgery should not entirely settle concerns about the stout right-hander. UCL strains are a warning sign that the ligament is compromised.
Speaking of compromise, Josh Beckett will almost certainy be in the rotation to start the season, and I find it interesting that even among the most optimistic Dodger fans, there is little delusion about how mediocre a pitcher Josh Beckett is. He has been sliding for some time and depending on how that trend continues in 2013, the Dodgers may be forced to slide him out of the rotation.
The Dodger’s also signed Korean lefty Ryu Hyun-jin to a six year deal worth $36MM. But it remains to be seen whether he will actually be capable of starting in the big leauges. And given the fact that his fastball sits at about 91 mph, it will be interesting to find out if he can do anything more than stick as a left-handed specialist. The deal looks like a steal for a 25 year-old starter, but $36MM is a lot to spend for a LOOGY.
As far as any question marks with Greinke go, do not pay them any heed. The righty is one of the most consistent and competent pitchers of the last five years. He is a fierce competitor and has a clean, athletic delivery, which has helped him maintain ace stuff. Those members of the media that still point to his history of anxiety issues are simply ignoring the fact that this young man has excelled amid the constant pressure of the Major Leagues, without significant incident, since 2006.
The other thing the rotation has going for it is that Los Angeles still has Chris Capuano, Ted Lilly, and Aaron Harang on their roster. So, even if Beckett and Ryu fail, the floor for the rotation remains high. If nothing else, this should make for one of the more fascinating position battles when spring rolls around.
IHowever if you want to talk about stars with issues, Los Angeles has plenty of conversation starters. After signing Andre Ethier to a decent, but questionable deal, Ned Coletti stole Adrian Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez from limping Goliaths in exchange for major salary relief. In 2013, the Dodgers will pay Carl Crawford enough money to make Mitt Romney blush, and they will hope that 2011 was an aberration. Crawford is the biggest question mark, but that’s okay. At worst he should be a league average left-fielder with some speed. What the Dodgers can’t afford is for Adrian Gonzalez’s power to continue to fade, while Hanley Ramirez continues to swing more and more recklessly.
A-Gon’s isolated power (ISO) has been consistently sinking from a lofty .270 in 2009, to .164 in 2012, finishing just ahead of Mariners 3B Kyle Seager. A whole season of the .145 figure from his time with the Dodgers last year would have placed Gonzalez between Norichika Aoki and Neil Walker. Meanwhile, at shortstop, Hanley Ramirez saw his production rebound nicely from a disastrous 2011 campaign, but swung at pitches out of the zone 30.5% of the time, his first season breaching 30%. It’s easy to pitch around a batter who swings at pitches out of the zone. Meanwhile Hanley’s defense was 10 runs below average for the third straight season at shortstop, and was nearly as poor at third base.
You knew it was coming. Last month it was widely reported the Dodgers were close to completing a $6B dollar TV-deal with Fox. What has been less widely reported is that the Dodger ownership group may have misunderstood the language in their deal with MLB, regarding what income is put into the shared revenue pool. The Dodgers believed that their ownership stake in the network would have protected all but $1 billion of the TV deal from revenue sharing. The actual figure is twice as large, according to Forbes. This has the Dodgers scrambling to figure out how to maximize television revenues, perhaps abandoning the deal with Fox entirely. This should send Dodgers fans into a bit of a panic, and has already sent me rolling on the floor laughing.
Dodger fans can be as proud as they want that their team is now seemingly flush with cash, and they can be as proud as they want about what this team may accomplish on the field. But I hope that Dodger fans realize that they is not much to be proud of regarding the way this team was put together. It was not built with cunning and patience, but with blunt force. This is why L.A. has to gamble on stars with problems. Adrian Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez could just as easily crush this team as carry it. Aside from the Zack Greinke signing and Matt Kemp’s extension (both total no-brainers), there are no reasons to dispense “Coletti for Mayor” bumper stickers. The bright side is that the gunslinging mentality that has changed the Dodgers completely, may not have any effect on competitive balance in the NL West.