All Who Wander Aren't Lost: How the Dodgers Will Win Without J.D. Drew

Matt DeNicolaCorrespondent IDecember 7, 2006

IconAs the winter meetings progress, I'm getting a little tired of hearing about how the Dodgers are falling apart.  Sure, they've lost some players to free agency.  But is it anybody they can't replace?

Let's examine who precisely the Dodgers have lost in the offseason:

Julio Lugo - Batted .219 with 0 HR and 10 RBI, and was 6 for 11 when trying to steal bases (including a ridiculous attempt at stealing home) in 49 games in the National League.  Perhaps he will fare better in the AL, but waving goodbye to Julio is certainly no loss for the Dodgers.  Even without the terrible numbers, he would still be starting Opening Day on the bench behind Jeff Kent.

Greg Maddux - Indeed a nice addition for the 2005 stretch run.  But an ace like Jason Schmidt is a far better signing at $16 million per year than Maddux is at $10 million.  The Dodgers, needing to fill a slot in the lineup, simply could not afford both, and they made the right decision by going with Schmidt.  The numbers and consistency speak for themselves; Schimt has a 3.67 ERA over the past three seasons, and pitched three complete games last year.  Maddux?  A three-season ERA of 4.16, and he wasn't able to finish a game once last year.  In fact, he rarely made it past the 6th.  For a team that struggled to get innings out of its starters last year, Schmidt's ability to go deep into games is a HUGE commodity.  Don't get me wrong, Maddux is a good pitcher.  In the right ballpark, he may very well be a great pitcher.  But the fact is that the Dodgers replaced him with a better one.

JD "Nancy" Drew - His decision to leave LA -- in order to loot Boston's seemingly bottomless pockets -- poses a slightly bigger problem for the Dodgers than the loss of Maddux or Lugo.  Drew may not be a franchise player, but his 20 HR and 100 RBI were both tops for the club last year.  Still, while Drew was a solid player last season, he was certainly not an irreplaceable one.  With the place-setters the Dodgers have at the top of the order (Pierre, Furcal and Garciaparra), any number of solid players could replace Drew's production - and it doesn't have to be Manny Ramirez. 

Dodger fans should be encouraged that GM Ned Coletti hasn't been too impatient in replacing Drew.  Manny Ramirez, while seemingly a great fit, would be a disaster for Los Angeles.  A contract that would likely have to extend into 2008 and 2009 would be bad enough itself, but having to sacrifice legitimate young talent?  No way.  And the prospect of having to watch Manny play left field anywhere other than a little league park is simply too much to bear.  Be happy that Coletti passed on that. 

Dodger fans should also be encouraged that Coletti didn't spend the $12ish million freed up by JD Drew on Maddux.  The Dodgers were going to sign Schmidt regardless of what happened with Maddux.  Coletti could have easily offered Maddux the same deal the Padres were offering, and set up a golden starting 5: Schmidt, Lowe, Penny, Maddux and Billingsley/Wolfe.  Seems pretty nice, right?  Sure, until you realize that the Dodgers currently have eight major league starters on their roster (Schmidt, Lowe, Penny, Billinglsey, Wolf, Hendrickson, Kuo and Tomko).  What the Dodgers need is a bat, and by not signing Maddux, Coletti has confirmed that a bat is exactly what he intends to find next.  And considering the stockpile of pitching and young talent that he has to work with, landing a solid hitter is a definite possibility. 

Amidst all this talk of the Dodgers losing key pieces from a playoff team, what are they really missing?  Let's see:

The Current Batting Order

1.  Juan Pierre, CF

2.  Raphael Furcal, SS

3.  Nomar Garciaparra, 1B

4.  Jeff Kent, 2B

5.  James Loney/Matt Kemp, RF

6.  Russell Martin, C

7.  Wilson Betemit, 3B

8.  Andre Ethier/Marlon Anderson, LF

9.  Schmidt, Lowe, Penny, Billingsley, Wolf, P
Setup: Broxton
Closer: Saito
Key Bench Players: Ramon Martinez, Marlon Anderson, Olmedo Saenz, Matt Kemp. 
This is virtually the same team that made the playoffs last year, with the upgrades of Pierre for Lofton and Schmidt for Maddux.  The big question is not if Loney or Kemp can fill in for Drew; it isn't going to come down to that.  The big question is who the Dodgers will acquire to fill in for Drew.  Coletti has been on-point since he came to the Dodgers, and he continues to prove his worth with every decision he makes.  There may indeed be a glaring weakness at the heart of the Dodgers' order, but it's only December.  The LA faithful should have no doubt that by the time April 1st rolls around, Coletti will have filled the empty slot with someone better than J.D. Drew.