Hi, and welcome to another edition of Dodgers Dugout. My name is Houston Mitchell and I’m trying to make sense of the Dodgers’ offseason.
Phillies get Realmuto
For most of the offseason I’ve been waiting for the Dodgers to make a big move. Not because I necessarily thought they needed to make a big move, but because I thought the moves they did make were building up to something. After it became apparent, they weren’t going to sign Bryce Harper (and I fully agreed with the Dodgers not wanting to give anyone a 10-year deal), then I thought for sure that J.T. Realmuto was a possibility. And I preached to all of you to have patience and let the big picture be revealed before passing judgement. That all changed Thursday when the Phillies acquired Realmuto from Miami for catcher Jorge Alfaro, pitching prospects Sixto Sanchez and Will Stewart and future considerations. Then the offseason moves officially became puzzling.
Now when I get mystified over things like this, I try to replay events in my mind to see if I missed something. Let’s look at the major offseason moves by the Dodgers so far:
--Yasmani Grandal became a free agent and signed with Milwaukee.
--The Dodgers signed free-agent reliever Joe Kelly to a three-year, $25-million deal.
--The Dodgers traded Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig, Alex Wood and Kyle Farmer to Cincinnati for Homer Bailey, who they released, and two minor leaguers who may be able to contribute in three years or so. It’s a move designed to clear payroll.
--The Dodgers acquired Russell Martin from Toronto for two minor leaguers.
--The Dodgers signed free-agent outfielder A.J. Pollock to a five-year, $60-million deal.
The Kelly signing was weird, because after a few seasons of bringing in a lot of cheap relievers and just riding whoever was hot during the season, they finally spent money for a set-up man, only to sign a guy who is average at best. Kelly allows almost a hit an inning and walks a lot of guys (4.4 every nine innings last season). He’s not particularly good with runners on base. He has been outstanding in the postseason, which may be what the Dodgers are counting on. But still, this is the guy you open the checkbook for?
Grandal certainly wore out his welcome during the playoffs last season and I have always found him to be overrated on defense. He is very streaky on offense, but he’s better than the 2018 versions of Martin and Austin Barnes. It’s certainly possible that Martin is rejuvenated by returning to Los Angeles, or that Barnes recaptures some of his 2017 magic.
The Dodgers do have two top-rated catching prospects, Will Smith and Keibert Ruiz, who most believe are about a year away from becoming starters. But Realmuto is eligible for free agency after the 2020 season, so that really isn’t much of an obstacle. Getting Realmuto this season would have been nice. A lot nicer than hoping Martin and Barnes get better in a hurry. Plus, if he has a big year, you have three guys who are tradeable in Realmuto, Smith and Ruiz. So you get basically a free season from one of the best catchers out there and then have the fun position of whether to trade one of the two best catching prospects in the game, or trade one of the best young catchers in the game.
I do hear a lot that Martin is a “good clubhouse guy,” which is certainly nice to have. But I’ll take the bad clubhouse guys who hit .300 with 30 homers and 100 RBIs every year and you take the good clubhouse guys who hit .200 with no power and we’ll see who wins more games.
Trading Kemp, Puig and Wood is what convinced me that the Dodgers had something bigger in mind. Otherwise that trade doesn’t make a lot of sense. Yes, Kemp had a brutal last couple of months last season. But he always, always starts a season red-hot, so what was the rush to trade him right now? Puig may be toxic in the clubhouse, but he wasn’t toxic on the field. He wasn’t perfect, but he had a 120 OPS+ last season and plays solid defense. That’s not easy to replace. Wood gave the team pitching depth. He wasn’t as good as he was in 2017, but he was never going to be that good again. He was still above average. To get two low-level minor leaguers for those three players (and Farmer) is thievery by the Reds.
Making the trade sound even dumber is when your manager, a few days after the trade, says he is pleased with the roster but they need “more right-handed hitting.” Um, didn’t you just trade two of your best right-handed hitters?
If Pollock stays healthy, then that’s a good signing. He’s a good player and an excellent center fielder, something the Dodgers haven’t had in quite a while. But staying healthy is an issue for him.
By losing Kemp, Puig and Grandal, the Dodgers lost about 1,400 at-bats and about 70 homers. The additions of Barnes and Pollock will not make up for that. Neither will adding Alex Verdugo into the mix. Adding back in a healthy Corey Seager, and a full season from Justin Turner, will help make up for that.
Most prognosticators have the Dodgers the clear favorite to win the NL West again. And when you get to the playoffs, anything can happen, unless you play a much better team in the World Series, in which case you are going to lose. And let’s face it, the Dodgers are the best team in a pretty bad division, which is sort of like being the valedictorian of summer school.
It seems to me that the Dodgers are not better than last season. You can argue that they are about the same, but I would argue they are slightly worse. And that’s not a good thing. For the Dodgers to go all the way this season, they need the following things to happen, assuming everyone else plays to a similar level as 2018:
1. Martin or Barnes to play well on offense.
2. Pollock to stay healthy.
3. Hope that Kelly can become that reliable set-up man, or that Pedro Baez of the last couple of months of the season was for real.
4. Kenley Jansen needs to recapture his old form.
5. No major injuries.
6. Seager to be 100%.
Those are a lot of things that have to go right. And they all very well could.
Let’s face it, the current front office has gotten them to the World Series the last two seasons. They have earned a little slack. I know a lot of you don’t like Andrew Friedman because he refuses to spend money to make the team better, but Friedman can only work with the budget he is given by ownership. If they tell him to stay under the luxury tax threshold, then you can’t get mad at him for not signing a big name. Plus, let me reiterate, he has helped build a team that reached the World Series the last two seasons. He deserves credit and respect for that.
But this offseason doesn’t make sense at all right now. The mixed messages being sent this offseason, like unloading right-handed hitters and then wanting more right-handed hitting, gives fans the impression that there are 12 people trying to steer the ship, which never works. The Dodgers have to realize, I hope, that trading Kemp, Puig and Wood just made the fan base convinced something big was going to happen. That finally opening the checkbook for a set-up guy made the fans convinced something big was going to happen.
But nothing has happened.
The Dodgers feel like the guy who goes to buy a new car, gets the nicest car on the lot, then doesn’t want to spend the extra $500 for air conditioning. The car looks great, but everyone who rides in it with you is going to think you are a cheapskate, no matter how much you spent on the car.
A lot of fans will go to Dodger Stadium this season. But if the team gets off to a slow start, or goes through a slump at some point, those fans are going to say “Why didn’t these cheapskates spend the extra $500 for air conditioning?”
That won’t be a fun world to live in, but it’s the world the Dodgers have created for themselves.
Farewell Frank Robinson
One of the greatest players in baseball history, Frank Robinson, died last week at age 83 because of complications from bone cancer.
As a Dodger fan, it was always easy to hate Robinson. He was arrogant and knew how to push people’s buttons. He would basically dare Don Drysdale to hit him with a pitch. When he was managing the Giants, he leaned heavily into the whole Dodgers-Giants rivalry and knew what would get Dodgers fans mad, and knew how to irritate Tommy Lasorda.
But for me at least, and I hope for most Dodgers fans, it was a hate that was similar to how you hate a bad guy in pro wrestling. Secretly you admired him, because you knew he was a throwback to another era. That he backed up all his actions and that he played the game the way you want it to be played. He even played one season for the Dodgers, hitting .251 with 19 homers and 59 RBIs in 1972.
It’s a tremendous loss. He may be the most underrated great player in history. He was also the first African-American manager, taking over the Cleveland Indians in 1975. And if you think he didn’t hear taunts about that, well, think again.
I’ll never forget him breaking into tears when he had to remove a third-string catcher during a game when he was managing the Washington Nationals.
The catcher hadn’t played in a while and was banged up a bit, allowing seven stolen bases during a game and throwing a ball or two away before Robinson took him out in the middle of an inning. Robinson burst into tears afterward when talking to the media, feeling responsible for putting the catcher in the game and then having to embarrass him by taking him out during an inning. It was a rare look at a side of Robinson he rarely showed.
The worst part of getting older is reading about people like Robinson dying. Not only does it make you realize you are getting older, it also kills a small part of your childhood. I think now about the players who are older than Robinson and dread reading those headlines.
A few players older than Robinson, who was born in 1935:
Born in 1934
Born in 1932
Born in 1931
Born in 1928
Born in 1927
Vin Scully (not a player, but I had to list him)
Born in 1926
Lasorda is the oldest living member of the Hall of Fame.
Another sad death
Linda Goldbloom, 79, attended the Dodgers-Padres game on Aug. 25 with members of her family. They sat on the loge level between home plate and first base. During the game, she was struck in the head by a foul ball. She died four days later as a result of bleeding in her brain, according a L.A. County coroner’s report.
The Dodgers reacted to the news more than five months later with this statement: “Mr. and Mrs. Goldbloom were great Dodgers fans who regularly attended games. We were deeply saddened by this tragic accident and the passing of Mrs. Goldbloom. The matter has been resolved between the Dodgers and the Goldbloom family. We cannot comment further on this matter.”
When some started criticizing the Dodgers for not talking about her death when it happened, they released another statement on Tuesday: “The Dodgers generally do not make public reports of accidents that take place at Dodger Stadium. We avoid doing so out of respect for the privacy of the persons involved in the accidents and their families. However, nothing prevents such persons or their families from making such information public at the time of the accident.”
This is just a terrible, tragic thing to happen. The protective netting doesn’t extend to where Goldbloom was sitting. Goldbloom’s daughter has called for the netting to be extended.
There’s really no comment to make here. I just didn’t want Goldbloom’s death to go unnoticed in this newsletter.
Frank Robinson takes on Dick Stuart in “Home Run Derby.” Watch it here.