Of all the questions and accusations and anger raging around the Dodgers these days, one truth is beyond debate.
They are a bad baseball team. The first quarter of their season has been torched. The pile of ashes is as high as Chris Taylor’s socks.
There can be no argument with the 17-26 record. There is no way to rationalize the six consecutive losses to the league’s two worst teams. There is no spinning the empty offense, the shaky rotation, the flammable bullpen.
The Dodgers stink. They’re a mess. They have gone from first to burst in mere months, their meltdown beyond reason, beyond individual blame, the nightly damage shoveled together under a larger question.
Should Dodgers management attempt to save this season, or begin reshaping for next season?
Should the Dodgers trade prospects for the two or three stars needed to guide them into the playoffs, or should they simply accept the ugly truth of injuries and miscalculations and begin clearing the books for the offseason acquisitions that could lead them to a World Series run next season?
Sacrifice for now, or save for later? Cater to the emotion of fans starving for a championship now, or bank on the good will of last year’s World Series appearance and promise them a better effort next year?
I’ve heard this discussion raging throughout town in recent days, so I engaged in one myself, debating with my Dodgers lifeline, a person with deep Dodgers roots whose instincts on big Dodgers moves have usually been correct.
I called him. I asked what he would do. He quickly gave me an answer. It was not what I expected. An argument raged.
My take was, with rising ticket prices and a lousy television deal, ownership owes it to fans to do whatever it takes to compete for a championship every season.
His take was, it’s already too late, be practical, trade big contracts, keep the kids, get the message to fans that you are setting it up for a big run next year when you re-sign Clayton Kershaw and add a free agent like Bryce Harper or Manny Machado.
Wait, how can you give up on the season when it’s only May?
Do the math. They probably have to go somewhere in the neighborhood of 70-49 just to get a wild card. This team is not going 70-49.
But if they do get the wild card, isn’t that worth it?
Not if they have to pitch Kershaw in the wild-card game, because that means they would have to then win a five-game series with him pitching only once, and the rest of the rotation isn’t good enough.
So why can’t they use their depth to bring in the stars to fix that rotation?
They need more than starting pitching. They need a second baseman. They need a center fielder. They need an entirely new bullpen besides Kenley Jansen.
Aren’t there available players out there that could fill those needs?
They can’t mortgage the future for a wild-card game, and they can’t take on big salaries beyond this year if they want to stay under the luxury-tax threshold and have a chance at somebody like Harper or Machado.
So they’re just supposed to quit?
No, they get better, but they get better with next season in mind, bringing in younger established players who can add energy to the clubhouse and set the stage for the future.
How are they supposed to get those players?
Trade some of their veteran assets who could help pennant contenders. Trade Matt Kemp, or Rich Hill, or Yasiel Puig, or Alex Wood, or Logan Forsythe or even Yasmani Grandal, who you could sign back this winter.
Wouldn’t Dodgers fans go crazy if you moved some of those guys?
Not if Dodgers fans are made to understand that reloading is not rebuilding, and that they can be back in the World Series next year.
How would that be possible?
They’ll still have a rotation led by Kershaw and Walker Buehler, an infield with Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager and Justin Turner, and a closer in Jansen. Now add a couple of big free-agent bats and some middle relief and you’re right back at the top.
Teams can just take a year off like this?
The San Francisco Giants did it twice. In the year following their first two World Series championships, they didn’t even make the playoffs, then won again the next year.
But big-market teams don’t act like this, do they?
Think about 2016, when the New York Yankees traded Aroldis Chapman to the Chicago Cubs in the middle of a season after they had made the playoffs the previous year. The Yankees missed the playoffs, but eventually brought Chapman back and went deep in the postseason last year.
But the Giants and Yankees both won titles in the last 30 years, while Dodgers fans are still waiting, so why should they accept taking a break?
In order to save this season, Dodgers management will have to throw good money after bad, and I guarantee they’re too smart for that.
But, be honest, wasn’t it Dodgers management who blew this in the first place?
Blame is an awfully harsh word. The Dodgers gambled that players who had career years would repeat those years. They gambled they would stay healthy. They lost both those bets.
But couldn’t they have minimized those gambles by bringing in a veteran like last year’s other final four teams?
Fans don’t want to hear it, but the luxury-tax threshold is a real thing. They could not go over that tax last winter if they wanted any chance at Harper or Machado next winter. It’s a fact of baseball. Even the richest teams have to make sacrifices.
So just sacrifice this season?
No, it’s not a sacrificing, it’s a reshaping.
I’m not buying it, not now, not in May, not with an entire summer stretched before us and a deep-pocketed ownership obligated to give their best efforts to a title-starved fan base.