Dodger’s Big Money Moves Aren’t Paying Off
Perhaps no team in the history of baseball has ever been as balls-to-the-wall aggressive over the course of both trade deadlines as the Los Angeles Dodgers were this season. The Dodgers’ new ownership, a group including Laker legend Magic Johnson, didn’t even flinch at the thought of picking up $300 million plus worth of player contracts if it meant a shot at immediately competing this season. Shane Victorino, Joe Blanton, Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Nick Punto, and Carl Crawford’s contract were all added to the roster mid-season in the hopes of giving LA the offense and starting pitching depth that manager Don Mattingly would need to make the playoffs.
Well thus far the high-priced replacements have, for the most part, stunk up the joint, going 8-13 since August 25th, the day of Adrian Gonzalez’s first game in Dodger blue. That isn’t to say the Dodgers won’t make the playoffs, because they’re 1 game out after splitting a 4 game set with St. Louis, but unless the newcomers, and Matt Kemp for that matter, start playing a little better, Los Angeles isn’t going anywhere.
The offense, which was supposed to become a point of strength for the franchise, has bottomed out, scoring just 3.14 runs per game, down from the 4.0 mark they put up before August 25th. Some of that drop in production is due to slumps from regulars like Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, and AJ Ellis, who are all posting numbers well below their stellar 1st halves. Kemp is hitting just .275 with 6 homers in 54 games since the break, well off the .355 average with 12 homers in just 36 games in the first half of the season. Ellis has seen a similar plunge in production, and is hitting 30 points lower thanks to a 70 point drop in his batting average on balls in play (BABIP). It could just be fatigue for the 31-year-old catcher in his very first season daily at the Major League level. Either way, if the Dodgers want to make the playoffs, the Dodgers are gonna need some sort of jolt to get the team kick- started.
The turnaround has to start with Adrian Gonzalez, the biggest of the big fish acquired at the deadline. Gonzalez will be paid about $21 million per year through 2018, his age-36 season, and thus far the initial returns have been poor. After his 0-5 yesterday against the Cardinals, Gonzalez is now hitting .233/.287/.372 with just 1 homer and 16 RBI in 21 games. Incumbent James Loney, who was shipped up to Boston, was hitting .254/.302/.344 so needless to say, Gonzalez hasn’t exactly been the upgrade the Dodger faithful were hoping for. If he can get it going over the final 2 weeks of the season, it would be an enormous boon to LA’s playoff chances.
The other players Los Angeles received in the trade with Boston were Carl Crawford (injured at the time of the trade), Nick Punto (who’s hitting .222 in 21 plate appearances), and Josh Beckett, who’s actually improved his play since escaping from Boston. Beckett’s 1-3 record doesn’t tell the story of how well he’s pitched. He has a 3.38 ERA (115 ERA+) while posting an elite K rate of 9. More often than not, guys who strike out a batter an inning while doing a solid job of limiting hits and walks will end up with wins instead of losses. As long as Beckett keeps this performance up, he will be in contention for a starting playoff slot – if the Dodgers can get there.
Los Angeles also did quite a bit of dealing with teams from the NL East as well, picking up Hanley Ramirez from Miami as well as multiple Philadelphia Phillies. Ramirez has mostly been solid in his first 50 games in Dodger blue, hitting .264/.324/.429 with 10 homers and 38 RBI. However, Los Angeles has offset some of that offensive value by playing Ramirez at shortstop, where his lackadaisical approach to defense and poor hands have cost the Dodgers runs. By simply moving him over to 3rd base and off of the most important of infield positions, shortstop, Los Angeles would improve their ball club.
The other additions from the NL East haven’t played as well as Hanley, in fact, they haven’t played as well as almost anybody. Joe Blanton would probably be having a greater amount of success if he placed the ball on a tee, because hitters have absolutely clubbed him for 7 homers to the tune of a 6.07 ERA in 46 innings. Fellow former Phillie, Shane Victorino, has continued his season-long doldrums and is hitting .234 after an awful 0-6 in extras against St. Louis yesterday. The Flyin’ Hawaiian was supposed to provide a steady top-of-the-order presence to a team that desperately needs one, and he’s done nothing of the sort. He’s essentially matched the on-base production of former lead-off men Tony Gwynn Jr. and Dee Gordon while providing just a bit more pop.
None of these upgrades have played as well as the new Los Angeles brass had previously hoped, but that doesn’t mean they are bad trades. Nearly all of the players traded away by the Dodgers weren’t going to provide the team any boost this season anyway, and the only significant major league piece traded away, starting pitcher Nathan Eovaldi, has since been bombed in Miami, posting an ERA north of 5.00.
Only the players acquired from the Red Sox (Beckett, Gonzalez, and Crawford) have contracts that run into next season, and it’s a safe bet that Beckett and particularly Gonzalez are at least able to provide some positive returns in the future. Anything Crawford can provide once he returns from Tommy John surgery next season will be extra, because his contract was the price to bring over Adrian Gonzalez.
But what the Dodgers would really like is for Gonzalez and the rest of the new blood on the team to start producing right now. A one game deficit only matters on the last day of the season in baseball and there is still plenty of time for LA to play catch up. The schedule ahead is daunting however. The Dodgers have a 9 game roadie coming up that begins in Washington before heading to Cincinnati. That 6 game stretch will either make or break Los Angeles’ season, because the final stretch, 3 at San Diego, 3 against Colorado, and 3 against San Francisco shouldn’t be so tough, especially if the Giants (currently 7.5 games up) have already clinched the NL West and opt to rest their star players.
The Dodgers’ playoff hopes may very well hinge on the offense finally figuring out a way to gel over the last 2 weeks of the season. If Kemp, Gonzalez, and co. can right the ship and make it through their next two series with a 3-3 split, the Dodgers will have an excellent chance of sneaking into the 2nd Wild Card spot, as long as they beat the teams they are supposed to beat. If LA struggles against the fantastic pitching staffs wielded by both the Nats and Reds, look out because the Brewers are charging hard and the Cardinals play somewhat of a cupcake schedule themselves the rest of the way, meaning the Wild Card spot will probably find its way to a team in the NL Central.