Hi, and welcome to another edition of Dodgers Dugout. My name is Houston Mitchell, reminding you that we are less than three months away from opening day (April 4).
It's not all bad
In the last newsletter, I graded the deals Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi made while with the Dodgers, and it wasn't pretty. But that was just a look at one aspect of their job, and I am going to guess that they would have agreed with a lot of the grades themselves. So let's take a look at what they have done right, because they have had their strong points since coming here.
First, the Dodgers farm system is as strong as it has been in years. Friedman and Zaidi refused to part with Joc Pederson, Corey Seager or Julio Urias for a short-term boost last season, and the Dodgers have an extremely deep corps of pitchers in the minors that will either boost the team in this and future seasons, or be valuable trade chips later the line when the price is right.
Those pitching prospects are led by Urias and Jose DeLeon, considered by many to be two of the top prospects in all of baseball. Urias could contribute to the team this season after getting some time in at triple-A Oklahoma City, and DeLeon could contribute next season. Both are potential aces and are part of the reason the Dodgers did not mind giving Scott Kazmir the option to opt-out of his deal after this season.
Second, letting Zack Greinke leave instead of giving him a six-year deal worth in excess of $200 million. My heart says "Bring back Greinke!" but my brain says "We didn't win the World Series with him, why would that change?" And Friedman and Zaidi have to make decisions with their brains and not their hearts. If you want to know why, just look at the Lakers, who went with their heart and ruined their team by giving Kobe Bryant a two-year max contract.
Remember, the $300-million payroll of 2015 was a mirage. Of that, $90 million of that went to players who were either out of baseball or playing for other teams. Most of that came off the books this year. The Dodgers never planned to spend $300 million again on payroll, and a smart front office can put together a winning team without spending that much.
It seems to me Friedman and Zaidi have a plan: to build a team that has the potential to be competitive for the next 10 years by using homegrown players like Pederson, Seager, Kershaw, Urias, DeLeon, Cody Bellinger, Austin Barnes ... the list goes on. Some of those players, like a Dee Gordon, may be sacrificed in a deal that goes bad. Some may be sacrificed in a deal that brings in the key piece to the puzzle. Some of them will go on to long, productive Dodger careers, some will turn out to be busts.
But building for the future is important, because the team on the field now is getting old. Adrian Gonzalez's skill set is one of a man who will wake up one day and be a below-average player (think Fred McGriff). Justin Turner has a bad knee. Carl Crawford is already looking over the hill, and Andre Ethier is going to be 34 in April and going into his 11th season. This team will get old in a hurry.
Setting aside the bad trades, the biggest problem I have with Friedman and Zaidi is their apparent inability to communicate with Dodgers fans and tell them what their plan is. They sort of hint around, but seem to want to treat everything like it is a CIA meeting.
In the absence of information, Dodgers fans are left to conclude that they have no plan. Friedman and Zaidi don't seem to realize that Dodgers fans want to win a World Series, and want to win it now. They want to win one before Clayton Kershaw becomes a free agent. They would love to win one in Vin Scully's final year. If you are 27 or younger, you have never seen the Dodgers win a World Series.
The Dodgers don't seem to realize how long fans have waited and why they seem so impatient. It's like being stuck on a cruise ship a mile from port. The first three mechanics had many years to fix it and never could. So when these new mechanics come aboard, they need to realize that we have been drifting out here for a while, so if we are a little impatient for the boat to get fixed, try to look at the big picture and understand.
Also, Dodgers fans just want to feel like the team cares about them, but the Dodgers do a really poor job of making the fans feel that way. Instead, they get told very clearly that ticket prices are increasing for a team that is cutting payroll and hasn't won a World Series in 28 years. But there is no thought-out plan about telling Dodgers fans "Here is our plan. We know you have waited a long time to win a title. We think this will give us the best chance to win multiple titles."
Because I think that is their plan. But without being told that clearly, Dodgers fans get scared out here, drifting in the ocean.
Kenta comes to town
The Dodgers introduced their newest pitcher, Kenta Maeda, at a news conference on Thursday. Maeda signed an eight-year deal that guarantees him $25 million, with incentives that could lift it up to the $100 million range, according to reports.
Why the strange contract? Maeda had some irregularities in his physical, believed to be elbow issues.
This is exactly the kind of deal a team with great financial resources, such as the Dodgers, can afford to take. There is very little downside for the team, with the possibility of great reward. Plus, Maeda has extra incentive to perform as well as possible, because the better he plays and the more he pitches, the more money he gets. And Maeda was happy the Dodgers took the risk, saying "I want to repay them with results." What Friedman and Zaidi did was brilliant. Maeda has the potential to be another Hiroki Kuroda, who was an extremely effective starter for the Dodgers and Yankees. In fact, Kuroda and Maeda were teammates last season in Japan.
Kuroda thinks the biggest problem for Maeda will be adjusting to pitching more often than once a week. "If he can overcome the difficulty of pitching on four days' rest, he'll do well," Kuroda said.
Maeda will wear No. 18, the same number Kuroda wore with the team and the number most long-time Dodgers fans will recognize as belonging to Bill Russell.
One of my favorite Dodgers when I was a kid died Saturday. Lance Rautzhan was a relief pitcher with the team from 1977 to 1979 and pitched in two World Series. Rest in peace.
Howard Cole takes a look at the most underappreciated Dodgers of all time. I would add one name to his list: Pedro Guerrero. Read it here.