Los Angeles Dodgers' Yankees-Style Spending Spree Has Them No Closer to a Title
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The Los Angeles Dodgers have been on a New York Yankees-style spending spree since the beginning of June. But the team’s lackluster performance of late has them no closer to a World Series title than they were on June 20, when they still had the best record in Major League Baseball (42-27).
The Dodgers are 32-41 since then and fans are understandably beginning to worry.
The on-field results haven’t inspired the same level of excitement that was sparked by the news of free agent signings, contract extensions and major trades. But it’s way too early for Los Angeles general manager Ned Colletti and the principle members of Guggenheim Baseball Management to start panicking.
The new ownership group’s generosity with their wallets has been matched by their honesty about the organization’s rebuilding strategy. Team president Stan Kasten has been clear that, while the Dodgers wanted to get better immediately, they would not compromise the team’s future to do so.
This turned out to be a classic case of under-promising; which is good because Los Angeles certainly isn’t over-delivering.
Fans wanted to believe that the team could compete for a World Series this year. But building a model for success that is sustainable in the long term is the top priority in Los Angeles.
None of this means that the Dodgers should regret any of the moves that they’ve made, as they are still in the best interest of the team’s future. In fact, there are several reasons why Los Angeles isn’t close to being a championship contender in 2012.
Moves Were Never Intended to Be Shortsighted
Hanley Ramirez and Adrian Gonzalez were brought in to help the Dodgers compete well beyond the 2012 season.
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The Dodgers have been Major League Baseball’s most active team since Guggenheim Baseball Management closed the book on the Frank McCourt era in April.
Some of the trades that Los Angeles made were intended to address short-term needs. But when you look at their transactions in totality, putting a consistently competitive team on the field is obviously the Dodgers’ top priority.
The four best players acquired in those deals—including Hanley Ramirez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez—are all under the Dodgers’ control through 2014 and beyond. These were clearly not short-term fixes aimed at a 2012 World Series run.
Kasten and Colletti are focused on rebuilding the minor league system in order to bring back a franchise philosophy based on player development. Their dedication to this strategy is reflected in the two biggest trades that Los Angeles didn’t make.
The Dodgers passed on deals to acquire Ryan Dempster from the Chicago Cubs and Cliff Lee from the Philadelphia Phillies. Los Angeles was not willing to part with the level—or number—of prospects that it would have taken to get either deal done. That’s proof that management is serious about prioritizing the team’s long-term goals.
Poor Performance From New Players
Adrian Gonzalez has struggled at the plate since returning to his Southern California roots.
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Except for Ramirez, the Dodgers have not gotten what they paid for from the nine players acquired since mid-July. Even he has a disappointing .266 batting average and 41 strikeouts in 44 games for Los Angeles, and he’s only 3-for-6 in stolen base opportunities.
Shane Victorino hasn’t been the answer to the Dodgers’ problem in the leadoff spot in the lineup. Failing to consistently score runs has been the team’s biggest issue all year, and Los Angeles expected Victorino to help in that area.
Adrian Gonzalez—along with Ramirez, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier—should be a core member of one of MLB’s most potent lineups. But Gonzalez is hitting just .227 with one home run and 10 RBI in 16 games since joining Los Angeles, and Kemp has been slumping badly, hitting just .138 in September.
The additions to the starting rotation and bullpen haven’t been any better.
Joe Blanton has traditionally been a very good pitcher after the All-Star break, but he’s been worse for Los Angeles than he was in Philadelphia this year. In seven starts for the Dodgers, Blanton is 1-4 with a 6.25 ERA and 1.61 WHIP.
Josh Beckett has been slightly better in his three starts for Los Angeles. But only one of those three outings was considered a quality start, and he hasn’t been the difference maker that the Dodgers need to help an injury-riddled starting rotation.
Randy Choate has a 3.60 ERA and a 1.60 WHIP in 25 appearances for Los Angeles, not exactly the type of numbers expected from a lefty specialist.
Brandon League struggled in a setup role during his first few weeks with the team, but he’s turned it around a bit since being inserted into the closer role that he thrived in with Seattle last year.
The newest Dodgers need to play to their potential if the team has any chance of making up the six game deficit in the NL West or at least capturing the second NL Wild Card spot. If they don’t, fans can start looking forward to free agency this winter.
All-Star center fielder Matt Kemp has missed 56 games in 2012 with hamstring and shoulder injuries.
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As disappointing as the new Dodgers have been, the team has been hurt even more by the players that were already on the roster at the start of 2012.
Kemp missed 53 games earlier this season with a hamstring injury, and he missed two more games this past weekend with a partially frayed labrum in his left shoulder.
He returned to the lineup last night, but who knows how much the shoulder will bother him the rest of the season.
The starting rotation has been crippled by injuries to LHP Ted Lilly and RHP Chad Billingsley.
Lilly has been out since early May with an injury to his pitching shoulder. His rehab has taken longer than expected, and he’s not expected to return to the starting rotation when he returns later this month.
Billingsley’s loss has been particularly tough for the Dodgers. He was the team’s best pitcher after the All-Star break before leaving his August 24th start with discomfort in his elbow.
Billingsley won’t return in 2012, and he's hoping to avoid Tommy John surgery which would keep him out all of next season as well.
Los Angeles lost some depth in its bullpen when closer Kenley Jansen went down with a reoccurring heart condition. He missed a month with the same condition last season, and is expected to be out until at least September 17.
Pieces on Back Order
The Los Angeles Dodgers will have to wait until 2013 to add Carl Crawford to their lineup after he underwent season-ending Tommy John surgery in August.
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The Dodgers acquired a pair of outstanding players this season that were never expected to contribute to the 2012 club. That can’t be overlooked when evaluating Los Angeles’ inability to compete with MLB’s best teams in 2012.
Los Angeles signed Cuban outfielder Yasiel Puig to a record seven-year, $42 million contract in June. But the 21-year-old hadn’t played organized baseball in over a year since defecting to the United States in 2011 from his Cuban club Cienfuego.
Puig played well in 23 games for the Dodgers’ Rookie and High-A affiliates this season. He’s scheduled to play in the Arizona Fall League, and should be ready to contribute to the major league squad next season with a strong spring training in 2013.
Carl Crawford underwent Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow shortly before the Dodgers acquired him from the Red Sox. His rehabilitation is scheduled to take anywhere from seven to 10 months which will make him available by June of next year at the latest.
Crawford and Puig can’t both play left field. But using the first half of the 2013 season to evaluate their performances will give Los Angeles an opportunity to decide how to use both players.
If both Puig and Crawford play well, the Dodgers could decide to trade one of them. They are both attractive assets that could be used to speed up the minor league rebuilding process or address holes on the major league roster.
Still Trying to Catch Up to the Competition
The St. Louis Cardinals used a combination of homegrown talent, key free agent signings and trades to build their 2011 Word Series championship team.
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Every move that the Los Angeles Dodgers have made was geared towards closing the gap between them and the best teams in Major League Baseball.
In the National League alone, the Washington Nationals, Atlanta Braves, St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants all provide a blueprint for how to build a franchise that can achieve sustained success.
The Cardinals and Giants in particular—winners of the last two World Series—have been experts at combining player development, free agency and trades to form the core of a championship team.
St. Louis has eight players that are 30 or younger that were key members of last year’s World Champions. Players like Albert Pujols (homegrown), Lance Berkman (free agent), Matt Holiday and Adam Wainwright (trades) highlight the numerous ways that a team needs to acquire talent to win consistently.
The Giants are led by a core of Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Pablo Sandoval. All five players were key members of the 2010 World Series championship team, are 27 years old or younger and are products of San Francisco’s farm system.
They’ve continued to be one of the National League’s premier teams by adding veterans like Angel Pagan, Hunter Pence and Ryan Vogelsong to complement their talented youngsters.
Dodgers president Stan Kasten was the architect of the Braves teams that won 14 consecutive division titles in the '90s and early 2000s. He also started the rebuilding effort in Washington as the former president of the Nationals, so he’s familiar with teams built for long-term success.
Los Angeles is definitely headed in the right direction, and their spending spree is simply a way of accelerating the rebuilding process. The Dodgers aren’t a World Series contender yet, but those days are not too far off in the future.