For Los Angeles Dodgers fans, the realization that their club hasn’t played a meaningful game in the last month of the season remains tough to swallow.
Los Angeles is headed for a sub-.500 record and an offseason of turnover, a 500-foot home run from the last two seasons that saw the Dodgers advance to the National League Championship Series.
For a club as tradition-rich as the Dodgers operating in the second-largest market in the country—a market that provides a wealth of knowledgeable and passionate baseball people—such unnecessary turmoil that has savaged the organization in the last year has left the team with a county of exasperated fans.
But what the mangled ownership fails to realize is that this is a fan base that lives for the Dodgers, dies for the Dodgers and, above all else, supports the Dodgers.
In 2009, Dodger Stadium packed in more fans than any other ballpark in America. The team thrived, Manny Ramirez drew, and the people cheered.
What about this year, a year that has seen the corpse of Ramirez come and go along with one of the most successful managers in baseball history in Joe Torre because the losing became too much and the absence of a front-office leader became too crippling?
Without much reason to, the fans still showed up.
Los Angeles trails only the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Yankees in attendance this year.
Yeah, I know, population of a city has a ton to do with it, but it doesn’t have everything to do with it. Hell, Milwaukee currently ranks in the top 10 in attendance this year right behind the Boston Red Sox.
So, no, this isn’t St. Petersburg, where great baseball is going unwatched.
This is the feeble state of the Dodgers, where putrid baseball is undeservingly consumed.
Which is exactly why things need to change in Chavez Ravine this winter so that an organization worthy of October returns there, so that fans deserving of a World Series get there.
Here we present five potential changes that could help the Los Angeles Dodgers return to prominence in 2011.
Let’s start with the obvious.
Not once during spring training did a baseball fan look at the Dodgers starting rotation and think, “Yeah, that team has enough arms to contend.”
I’m sure of that, because how could you?
Clayton Kershaw’s fantastic, Hiroki Kuroda’s solid, Chad Billingsley’s unknown, and Vicente Padilla’s serviceable.
OK, now what?
The fifth spot played the part of a roulette wheel, spinning and spinning and coming to a stop every so often. John Ely had a little success early, but that production wasn’t going to last.
Kershaw has the look of a perennial Cy Young contender, and Billingsley has the talent to join Kershaw but hasn’t yet showed the consistency.
And that’s where the Dodgers rotation begins in 2011.
Kuroda will be a free agent, and the Dodgers could benefit from resigning him. He will give Los Angeles somewhere around 200 innings and a solid ERA. He can be very good pitching in the N.L. West.
Same goes for Ted Lilly, whom L.A. traded for in July.
Lilly was one of the more coveted starting pitchers at the trade deadline, but his stuff will take him only so far. He needs to be in the right environment to succeed, meaning a pitcher’s park and a weaker hitting division.
Lilly posted a nice first half with the Cubs, which made him a valuable trade chip, but he’s not anchoring a rotation the older he gets.
Lilly may want to cash in a little bit with this deal, so we’ll have to see how general manager Ned Colletti approaches a contract with the southpaw.
The Dodgers could bring back Vicente Padilla, which they may want to do considering the status of starting pitching set to hit the free agent market.
It goes Cliff Lee and… well, that’s about it.
You would think that a team that hauls in the money L.A. does while offering a place to live like Southern California would be right in the thick of the Lee negotiations, but that deal ain’t happening.
The consensus is that Lee is all but a Yankee, as New York will probably blow past any other proposal in terms of overall dollars while the Dodgers don’t get involved in many mega-deals.
One interesting name to consider? Javier Vazquez.
We know one thing’s for sure: Vazquez will not return to The Bronx. He parlayed a great 2009 campaign with Atlanta into a return to New York this year, and the results have been about the same as the last time he pitched in the A.L. East.
But Vazquez still has good stuff and misses bats, which is why he may do very well for himself by returning to the N.L. and, specifically, a pitcher’s park like Dodger Stadium. Facing San Diego, Arizona, and San Francisco a handful of times every year wouldn’t hurt, either.
Whatever the Dodgers do, they must add more arms, and it’s unlikely those arms will come via trade.
Kershaw and Ethier are the two best players on the Dodgers, and if there’s ever an organization that needs some stability and a plan for the future, this is it.
At 22 years old, Kershaw is a week away from posting his second consecutive season of a sub-3.00 ERA while making at least 30 starts.
He’s a big lefty with big stuff, and the guy that you would expect to see at the top of a championship rotation.
There’s no way Kershaw can be allowed to leave Los Angeles, so the Dodgers ought to take that out of the equation now and lock the kid up.
He’s mature enough to handle the expectations of an increased salary and the responsibility of being an ace.
Ethier, meanwhile, is in his fifth year with the Dodgers and was a legitimate MVP candidate through the first couple months of the season until he broke a bone in his finger taking batting practice.
Ethier has still hit 23 home runs this year and produced an on-base percentage above .350.
Entering his age-29 season in 2011, it’s time for Ethier to have some security and know that his bat will be a focal point of the Dodgers offense in the immediate future.
This isn’t a “move” as much as it is a necessity for the Dodgers.
Andre Ethier is the Dodgers best position player simply because Matt Kemp has, for the time being, chosen not to be.
That’s not a knock on Ethier whatsoever. That merely speaks of the insane ability of Kemp.
Listed at 6'3", 225, Kemp has the size and physical ability to be a five-tool player.
He will continually do things on the field that make fans stop and wonder what they just saw.
The problem is, that previous sentence goes for the spectacular plays and the boneheaded ones.
At times, Kemp and Torre didn’t see eye-to-eye and Torre ended up benching Kemp later in the year as a way to get through to his young phenom that more is expected of him.
Kemp’s agent, Dave Stewart, had some words for Colletti when the GM publicly lambasted Kemp on a local radio station.
This he said-he said novella doesn’t erase the fact that, in order to field the best possible product, the Dodgers need Kemp in centerfield and they need him to excel.
That will be one of Mattingly’s biggest jobs as he prepares for his first season as a big league manager.
Perhaps Mattingly will bring a fresh approach to Kemp and will be able to connect with him since Mattingly is younger and understands playing for such a high-profile team. Torre did, too, but old school doesn’t always mesh with new school.
Kemp has the talent, personality, and charisma to be a big shot in Hollywood.
However, some folks feel like he hasn’t earned that celebrity status and hasn’t shown the maturity to handle it, either.
Of course, maybe this is all part of the maturation process of Matt Kemp and he will turn out to be the star he is capable of becoming.
It’s on Mattingly to help him make it happen.
The Dodgers rank next-to-last in the N.L. in home runs and fourth-to-last in runs scored.
So suggesting the club needs more offense isn’t exactly breaking Pulitzer-caliber news.
But where is that support going to come from?
The answer appears ugly.
The Dodgers have room for a bat in left field, and the free agent market offers three potential fits.
There’s Carl Crawford, a guy the Yankees and Angels will probably be after in hot pursuit.
Crawford will demand a hefty contract, so that could take L.A. out of the picture immediately.
There’s Jason Kubel, who has a club option with a minimal buyout with the Minnesota Twins.
Kubel won’t fix all the Dodgers problems, but he is a year removed from hitting 23 homers with a .907 OPS, so that’s certainly an upgrade over the bag of French rolls the Dodgers currently have.
And then there’s ex-Dodger Jayson Werth.
Werth has been fantastic for the Philadelphia Phillies and, by all accounts, wants to remain in Philly.
But, like any player would, he also wants to make his money now, and who knows if the Phillies will shell out the big bucks for him when they have other big names to accommodate.
Other than those names, L.A. doesn’t have a ton of options.
A big bat probably won’t come via a trade, as the Dodgers have gutted some of their farm system and would probably be reluctant to completely empty it for one hitter.
What the Dodgers need to hope for is the health of Rafael Furcal and the rebirth of Russell Martin.
For the Dodgers to reach their potential as an organization and return to pumping out quality baseball teams, Frank and Jamie McCourt need to be gone.
Of course, that is extremely difficult.
The couple is in the middle of a divorce case, which has been hung up on the ownership of the club.
Frank says that he should be the outright owner of the team while Jamie says she should have a stake in it.
Lawyers have said the easiest thing to do for their divorce would be to sell the team and evenly split the assets, but neither one of them wants to do that.
So we’re all stuck.
It would be very difficult for MLB to force the McCourts to sell the team, especially when the McCourts' inept ownership isn’t even the most damaging front-office debacle.
For all we know, at least the McCourts aren’t finagling money from the team like Jeffrey Loria and Co. are doing down in Florida.
No, what the McCourts do is neglect the obvious needs of their ball club while continuing to indulge in ridiculous personal expenses.
What happened when the McCourts' $27 million Malibu home didn’t have a pool big enough to fit Jamie’s aquatic needs? They simply bought the house next door, too.
For another $19 million.
Add in two more L.A.-area homes, $6.5 million for a glorified home office, a $6 million condo in Vail, Colo., a $4.6 million place in Cabo, a $7.7 million pad at the Yellowstone Club in Montana, a private jet at $2 million per year, and a private hairstylist for Frank at $150,000 a year, and you can see why Dodgers fans are infuriated when ownership says the club is strapped for dollars to improve the team.
And it’s not only about now, but about the future.
Dollars are why L.A. sent top prospect Carlos Santana—a kid who many believe will be an All Star catcher—to Cleveland for Casey Blake just so it wouldn’t have to pick up the remaining few million on Blake’s deal.
This type of confusion permeates the Dodgers and is why the club won’t live up to its name under Frank, or Jamie, McCourt.
L.A. needs an owner who is willing to pour his or her revenues back into the team in an effort to produce a winning club first and foremost.
But until that happens, Los Angeles gets the guy and gal from Boston who can’t seem to settle on who keeps whose home.
I hope the hundred-thousand-dollar perms were worth it.
Follow Teddy Mitrosilis on Twitter. You can reach him at email@example.com.