READY FOR SPRING TRAINING? LET’S TAKE A LOOK AT THE TEAMS WE CARE ABOUT AS WE HEAD INTO THE 2015 SEASON!
It’s been a crazy offseason with some teams doing more than others, but with at least three NL West teams emerging with a reasonable shot at the postseason (where, as we know all too well, anything can happen). Let’s get started! I would like to point out that the offseason isn’t technically over but as of today, with the way things stand, here’s what I think:
LOS ANGELES DODGERS
Last year: Finished first in division with 94 wins. Six games ahead of Giants. Unceremoniously booted from the playoffs by the St. Louis Cardinals.
Projected 2015 Finish: First place in NL West with a projected 97 wins according to Baseball Prospectus.
Offseason: For a team that has done pretty well the last few campaigns the Dodgers’ ownership has made some startling changes. Let’s start with the front office. GM Ned Colletti was booted upstairs and will serve as an assistant to President Stan Kasten. In a rather unorthodox move Ned’s replacement, Andrew Friedman, former Tampa Bay GM, was actually hired as the VP of Baseball Operations. Friedman then hired Farhan Zaidi away from the Oakland A’s, where he had served as an assistant to Billy Beane, and named him the Dodgers new General Manager. As if that weren’t enough brainpower the Angelenos added another former GM, Josh Byrnes to act as an assistant to Friedman. If you count Kasten (who built the Braves teams of the 90s and laid the foundation for the current Washington Nationals ballclub) that makes four former major league GMs running the show.
The new regime is considered among the brightest, most innovative and knowledgable front offices in sports. They wasted no time in putting their stamp on their new team. After a brief period of evaluation of the organization’s resources the Brain Trust started small. They picked up veteran set-up man, Joel Peralta from the Rays for minor leaguers. Obviously, Friedman likes the guy to help shore up a bullpen that was an unmitigated disaster last year. Well, “disaster” might be pushing it, but it is safe to say that aside from some individual successes the Dodgers won in spite of the ‘pen as opposed to because of it – Peralta was just the start. Bye-bye Bearded One, Friedman DA’d former Giant, Brian Wilson, ending a painful full season that effectively cost Colletti his GM’s chair.. Chris Perez was also allowed to walk. Addition by subtraction.
Then things got interesting.
Shortstop, and one of the Dodgers’ best offensive players, Hanley Ramirez was not pursued as a free agent and the Dodgers waved goodbye as he signed with Boston. Along with the addition of Peralta the Dodgers dealt for the Rockies’ Juan Nicasio for bullpen depth. Then Minor League pitcher, Matt Magill was traded to the Reds in exchange for outfielder, Chris Heisey.
Now things really start heating up, the Dodgers then sent All-Star second baseman, Dee Gordon, SP Dan Haren and utility guy, Miguel Rojas and cash to the Miami Marlins for young stud pitching prospect, Andrew Heaney and prospects Austin Barnes, Chris Hatcher and Enrique Hernandez. Then they flip Heaney to the Angels for veteran 2B Howie Kendrick.
They sign free agent pitcher Brandon McCarthy, presumably to fill the departed Dan Haren’s spot in the rotation. But, then, Dodger fans are SHOCKED to hear that fan favorite and, arguably, their best player, Matt Kemp (and back up catcher, FedEx) was being dealt to division rival San Diego for catcher Yasmani Grandal, Joe Wieland and pitching prospect, Zach Elfin. Not to mention about $30 million to the Pads to help pay Kemp! Yowzer!!!
Prospect Zach Elfin wasn’t a Dodger long as he was immediately flipped to the Phillies for veteran shortstop, Jimmy Rollins. But we’re not quite finished, for good measure they picked up Brett Anderson, most recently of the Colorado Rockies, to compete for a rotation spot.
So, in review, gone are Matt Kemp, Hanley Ramirez, Dee Gordon, Dan Haren, Brian Wilson, Chris Perez, Tim Federowicz and Drew Butera. Coming Into Los Angeles (thanks, Arlo Guthrie) are Jimmy Rollins, Howie Kendrick, Yasmani Grandal, Brandon McCarthy, Brett Anderson, Joel Peralta and Juan Nicasio among others. In short, a very different team. Very different. But, are they better?
Three major components of the Dodgers’ offense last year was the trio of Gordon, Ramirez and Kemp. Granted, Gordon’s second half paled to his first half numbers, Kemp’s first half sucked compared to his second half and Hanley was good when he played, which wasn’t often enough, although he was considered a huge defensive liability (as was Kemp, in center, anyway). But, it’s fair to ask if the return on these assets was adequate.
The general consensus is that, yes, they got better. But many Dodger fans (and Zach Greinke) aren’t sure how. But let’s consider …
That logjam in the outfield was an untenable situation and somebody had to go. But Matt Kemp? Ethier and Crawford would have been far more acceptable options as trade fodder if you asked the average Dodger fan. I mean, heck, Kemp is a MVP-caliber player (when healthy), if you’re gonna trade him don’t you think you could do better than Yasmani Grandal in return? Matt Kemp AND $30M??? But, these guys are supposed to be smart, right? They didn’t ask us what we thought, they would never have pulled the trigger if they had. So, what’s the thinking?
Four quality outfielders is one too many. Add the fact that waiting in the wings is a center fielder the organization is VERY high on, Joc Pederson. That makes five guys for three spots. Ethier and Crawford have contracts that make them all but un-tradeable (thanks, Ned) and Pederson is off the table, so it was Don’t-Let-The-Door-Hitya-Where-The-Good-Lord-Splitya Matty, ol’ boy! Thanks for the memories! Still, why trade him inside the division? And why for a catcher who was hurt last year and has PED issues in his past?
Zaidi said from the outset that he didn’t care about doing business with division rivals, if he felt a deal made the Dodgers better, then the deal would be made. We can assume his thinking was along the lines of, “Even though we sent the Padres $30M they are still on the hook for $70M of Kemp’s salary (thanks, Ned) thus saving the Dodgers a pile. As it turns out the deal almost didn’t go through because Kemp’s physical showed that he has arthritis in both hips. He can still play at a high level, but you use your hips to hit. And run. And walk. Dodger fans are all too familiar with Kemp’s recent health issues. So, Matt was the logical choice to deal.
But for Grandal? Well, if you just came in from the outside and looked at the ball club objectively you would have to conclude that an area of weakness was behind the plate. We all love A.J. Ellis but he can’t hit a lick. He’s making $4M right now to be Kershaw’s caddy. Grandal is high on the Sabermetric Geeks list for his defensive prowess as a pitch framer. “Pitch Framing” is a big deal to these guys and if you have the type of staff the Dodgers’ have then you want your investment to enjoy every advantage it can get. A solid, “pitch framing” catcher is good to have. The fact that, when healthy, Grandal is a .280 hitter makes him that much more valuable. So, OK. Don’t forget that another player in the deal, Zach Elfin, was flipped for 2B Howie Kendrick, so in a way, he’s part of that deal as well.
So, as we enter Spring Training our lineup will look something like this:
SS JIMMY ROLLINS Rollins is getting a bit long in the tooth but he can still steal bases (22 last year) and is light years better than Hanley defensively. He’s on a one-year deal and it figures a big part of his job is to keep the seat warm for phenom Corey Seager. If Seager is ready sooner, then Rollins will be a high-priced mentor for the kid.
LF CARL CRAWFORD If Crawford can stay healthy, a very big “if,” then he is still a quality player. Not a great arm in the OF but a very capable hitter who can hurt you a lot of ways.
RF YASIEL PUIG Is he for real? Is he ready to prove it consistently? The Dodgers hope so. There is not a more talented or physically gifted player in baseball. But, we’ll see what we see. Whichever way it goes, it should be fun to watch.
1B ADRIAN GONZALEZ Do you know who led the NL in RBIs last year? Yep. It was A-Gone. Solid professional who will set a good example for the younger players and drive in his 100+ runs. Good with the glove too!
2B HOWIE KENDRICK Kendrick is one of those guys who quietly makes every team he plays for better. He won’t make headlines but teamed with Rollins the Dodgers will have a very reliable double-play tandem. Don’t get me wrong, many of us will miss Dee Gordon. We suffered through his growing pains and now that he’s started to fulfill his promise, we deal him away. When Dee gets on base he’s an instant rally. Problem is, he didn’t get on base enough. The Dodgers are choosing consistency over flash at second base. That’s cool. But I loved Dee Gordon.
3B JUAN URIBE Dodger fans still don’t quite trust this former Giant, but all he’s done is hold down the Hot Corner with Gold Glove caliber defense and manages to, somehow, get that big hit when you least expect it. He’ll have to continue his solid play if the Dodgers expect to dominate.
CF JOC PEDERSON OK, he’s a rookie. All I can tell you is that recently my son and I took the 10 AM Dodger Stadium tour and when we reached the dugout portion of the tour Adrian Gonzalez and Justin Turner were running sprints with Pederson on the outfield grass. A-Gone yelled over to the tour group and put his arm around Joc and bellowed, “Ladies and gentlemen, this guy right here is the reason why we could trade Matt Kemp!!! You’re gonna love him!” I, for one, will take the big first baseman’s word for it.
C YASMANI GRANDAL Well, let’s hope he’s healthy. Because if he is, he can hit. We’ve already talked about his defensive tools but his offense could be the thing that puts us over the top. He’ll hit about .100 points better than A.J. even if he’s in a wheelchair.
CLAYTON KERSHAW I don’t have to say anything more. Not just the best left-hander in the game (sorry, MadBum) but the best pitcher in either league. Worth every penny.
ZACH GREINKE Would be the ace on any staff that didn’t have Clayton Kershaw on it. So good it’s scary.
HYUN JIN RYU Could be the ace on a lot of staffs but will have to settle for being the best #3 in MLB. Big lefty with nasty stuff.
BRANDON McCARTHY OK, he’s a gamble. If he can hold up and throw 200+ innings the new Dodger front office will look brilliant. If he doesn’t? Well, they wasted their first $10M.
BRETT ANDERSON See “Brandon McCarthy.”
BULLPEN: This is the area that killed us last year and Dodger fans are legitimately concerned if the new Super Geeks in the front office did enough to address the issue. Yes, they let Brian Wilson and Chris Perez walk, which certainly couldn’t hurt, but adding Joel Peralta and Juan Nicasio (who could compete for a starter’s role) doesn’t seem like much. Granted, Kenley Jansen is a top tier closer but he wasn’t the problem last season, so maybe just having roles defined a little better from the outset will do the trick. There’s talent in those arms, it just has to be used effectively. Maybe there’s a move yet to made?
BENCH: Solid. Justin Turner may be my favorite player. He’s scrappy, not afraid to get dirty and has all of the traits you love to see in a ballplayer. If Howie or Uribe goes down, we won’t skip a beat. Darwin Barney is also a solid option to cover the middle infield, Scott Van Slyke is a solid bat who can spell A-Gone at first and play the outfield. A.J. Ellis will catch when Kershaw pitches and will step-in for Grandal when needed. He can’t hit but he’s a great guy to have on your team. All in all, a very solid bench.
MANAGER: Donnie Baseball. There’s a part of me that wishes he would go back to the Yankees. I think he does some things well (nobody could have handled the outfield glut any better) but he is not the most astute game manager. Fortunately, he has Tim Wallach sitting next to him (a guy a lot of people think should have gotten the job when Torre left). I won’t forgive Mattingly for leaving Kershaw out there against the Cards in the playoffs when he had Dan Haren in the bullpen. He let Kersh blow a four-run lead and wasted a perfectly good start. Granted, nobody trusted the bullpen, but he had Haren out there. And if the bullpen loses it, so be it. Leaving Kershaw out there was too much to ask, even of a stud like Clayton. But, maybe if he can concentrate on managing instead of stroking the egos of Hanley, Kemp and Ethier he might be a better field boss than I think. I sure hope so. He’s got the keys to the baddest sports car in the division, he better not wrap it around a tree!
SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
Last Year: Finished second in NL West six games behind Dodgers. Somehow managed to summon their Inner-Cockroach (thank you, Dave Benda) and managed to knock off another second-place team in the World Series for their third championship in five years.
Typing those last few words has caused me to involuntarily wretch and it’s taking me a moment to reel in my revulsion. Give me a second. Give me another second. There, that’s better. Like the Giants’ title, this too shall pass. OK. Let’s move on.
Projected 2015 Finish: Third place in NL West with 84 wins. Will miss playoffs.
Offseason: What offseason? Apparently the Giants are so good they can lose their third baseman (and one of their best, if somewhat streaky, hitters) in Pablo Sandoval and not even blink. I have noticed that being the good neighbors that they are, the Jints must have opened up their warehouse to the homeless. I’m seeing a ton of local hobos sporting new Panda Hats to keep their ears warm in the brutal San Francisco winter. Nice gesture, but haven’t these poor vagabond souls suffered enough? Must we strip them of ALL of their dignity? Nobody looks anything less than stupid in a Panda Hat. I can prove it:
See? I told you! What a rube!
But, to get back to the Giants’ offseason, I have to admit I’m not sure what the plan is. Same as the last five years? Throw Buster Posey out there with a bunch of stiffs and see what happens? I mean, you’re asking a lot if you think Nori Aoki can be the next Travis Ishikawa! Come on, Sabean, be reasonable! Although true to form, The Big Grump (my pet name for Sabean, he knows I kid because I love) did scour the end of every bench in Christendom to find Pablo’s replacement, The Mighty Casey McGehee (muh-gee), a lifetime .260 hitter who fits the mold nicely of the nondescript (but capable) players Sabean loves. Granted, with the way the Giants luck works he’ll end up fielding like Brooks Robinson and hitting like Pie Traynor (look up Pie Traynor, you young scalliwags). I mean, who am I to argue? Still, if I were a Giants Fan (thank gawd I avoided THAT malady) I would be wondering if Casey McGehee was the best we could do (no offense to Mr. McGehee) after the 1,837,692,458 consecutive sellouts we’ve provided the front office. But, no fear, we beefed up elsewhere, right, Sabes? Right?
Well, no, not really, folks, but don’t you worry your pretty little pointed heads! We also lost Michael Morse and his pesky home runs as well!!! Sure, he was Dave Kingman Redux, but he and Pablo did combine for a whopping 32 homers, so now with both of them gone we can concentrate on being a real Bochy-like team. We’ll replace those 32 homers with McGehee and Aoki (who hit a combined five last year) and we’ll bloop single the opposition into oblivion!!! Good thinking!
In fairness, hitting isn’t where the Giants make their hay anyhow. They’ve built their team to fit their ballpark. It’s their pitching that will make or break them and they still have a pretty good group of flingers. Not that there aren’t some big question marks with the rotation. After the brilliant Madison Bumgarner you have the very solid, but aging, Tim Hudson. OK. I like him. Then you move on to the very solid, but aging, Jake Peavy. I like him too, he’s tough against the Dodgers. Well, actually, he’s just tough period. But, he’s no Spring Chicken either. The real wild card (ugh!) in this is Matt Cain. Is he the Number Two, the Number Three? Who knows? Again, if he’s right, he helps make Señor Uglymug (Bochy) look like the genius he ain’t!
As we approach the tail-end of the rotation, things start to get real dicey. Tim Lincecum.
Timmy, Timmy, Timmy, wherefore art thou? Look, even I, as a hardened Dodger fan, can’t help but like Little Timmy Lincecum. The scrawny kid with the funky delivery mowing down big leaguers like they were his stoner buds over at The Green Door dispensary. But, folks, let’s be honest, can he hold down a spot in the rotation? We know he can still do it on occasion, I mean, he threw another no-hitter didn’t he? But can he do it all year long? It could be Sabean and the Giants don’t care. He’s proven he can be an effective spot starter or long man out of the bullpen and as far as the Jints are concerned, Petit and/or Vogelsong can hold down the 5 spot just fine. They could be right, but Lincecum is being paid a shit ton to be a mop-up guy.
As for the bullpen, I think the Giants have one of the better groups in the league. MLB TV doesn’t list them among the Top Ten, but regardless, it’s being counted on the be the backbone of this squad. They’ve put a lot of time and money into this bullpen so it had better be one of their strengths. Looking at their offense it seems certain the ‘pen will be asked to hold a lot of one-run leads. The Giants season will depend on how successful they are at doing so.
I know it’s early, but let’s look at a possible 2015 starting lineup for the defending Chumps, er, I mean, Champs…
CF ANGEL PAGAN He hits close to .300 but still doesn’t get on base quite as much as you’d like from a leadoff guy. He can cover the gaps in the huge AT&T outfield just fine. Fans like him. I would imagine the silver garland halos on a stick (their Angel In The Outfield) will replace the Panda Hat as the most idiotic headwear in grandstands anywhere. Jints fans DO like to play dress-up! It must be the Halloween colors he team sports.
LF NORI AOKI The big offseason addition. National League pitchers are shaking in their boots … NOT! He’s a nice player, but he’s no Gregor Blanco. Wait, maybe that’s why they got him!
C BUSTER POSEY I give Buster a lot of crap. I can’t stand the little skid mark. But, that’s because he’s the best player the Giants have had since Bonds. Still, I wonder if a move to first base isn’t coming sooner rather than later. I wouldn’t blame them for protecting Buster, it’s hard to get out of the way when you’re wearing a tutu!
1B BRANDON BELT He’s hitting cleanup now. That’s really all you need to know about the Giants offense. He’s also the reason behind the incredibly stupid looking Baby Giraffe hats they wear in Jintland. Holy crap, folks, are you REQUIRED to look silly at the ballpark?
RF HUNTER PENCE OK, I know he has the eyes of a Tweeker but he wears his pants ABOVE HIS KNEES and rides a scooter to work. I live in San Francisco so I can appreciate a whack job like Pence. Now, his sophomoric speechifying only works on the weak-minded and gullible but fortunately for him, the Jints have a locker room full of those! But he plays the game the right way and for that I salute him. Am I glad the Giants signed him? Yes! He is, cool as he is, grossly overpaid. Then again, he has a couple of rings and who am I to argue?
2B JOE PANIK I like him. Scappy. Good kid. He’ll make a fine utility man some day. Or Minor League IF instructor.
3B CASEY MCGEHEE I’ve already gone off on poor Mr. McGehee. I like him, but I do believe he’s a downgrade at the position. But, in that ballpark on that team, he’ll probably fit right in.
SS BRANDON CRAWFORD He went to UCLA. I will not speak badly of a Bruin. But, damn it! He looks AWFUL in those colors!
MANAGER BRUCE BROCHY This is a pet peeve of mine. Yes he has three rings, but Bruce Bochy is NOT, I repeat, is NOT, the genius Giants fans claim he is. True, he won in San Diego and he’s won here, but if you’re going to tell me he was HAPPY to put Travis Ishikawa’s name on the lineup card in a big, big, game I’m here to tell you that you’re nuts. No, you’re MORE than nuts, you are Les-Remley-Assbite-Crazy. And that my friends is freakin’ crazy.
Bochy has somehow guided these groups of basically nondescript players into three World Series titles. For that, I have to bend a knee. But you CANNOT tell me that he KNEW guys like Aubrey Huff, Cody Ross, Edgar Renteria or Travis Ishikawa would come up big in the right spot. If you believe that, go sit next to Les. I will be watching this season to see how he does without my fellow Deadhead and all-around-cool-dude, Tim Flannery in the third base coach’s box. Actually, I will tell you, he’ll ride his pitching into a third place finish and, barely, miss the playoffs.
You heard it here first!