Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Baseball Prospectus Tells Dodgers What To Do...

Nate Silver of BP has been running a series of articles on what each MLB club should do in the offseason to prepare for next year. Echoing the SoSG mantra of "Free James Loney," here's what Nate has to say about the Dodgers:

Los Angeles Dodgers
2007 Record: 82-80, fourth place
2007 Attendance: 3.9 million, first in the NL2007
Payroll: $108 million, sixth in MLB

Key Free Agents (2007): LF-L Luis Gonzalez, LHP David Wells, RHP Rudy Seanez, 1B/3B-R Shea Hillenbrand, C-R Mike Lieberthal, 2B-R Jeff Kent (club option), LHP Randy Wolf (club option)
Key Free Agents (2008): SS-S Rafael Furcal, RHP Derek Lowe, INF-R Nomar Garciaparra, LHPs Joe Beimel and Mark Hendrickson, RHPs Brad Penny and Esteban Loaiza (club options)
Key Long-Term Commitments: RHP Jason Schmidt, $12M/year through 2009; CF-L Juan Pierre, $9.1M/year through 2011
Key Ready-Now Youngsters: OF-R Matt Kemp, 1B-L James Loney, 3B-R Andy LaRoche, SS-R Chin-Lung Hu, LHP Clayton Kershaw, RHP Jonathan Meloan, INF-S Tony Abreu
Needs: 1. SP depth; 2. CF

What They Should Do: Hold. Play. The. Kids. The Dodgers simply need to deploy their existing assets correctly, rather than seek help from elsewhere. To get a bit more specific about it, next year’s lineup should look as follows:
SS Furcal
C Martin
1B Loney
2B Kent
LF Kemp
RF Ethier
3B LaRoche
CF Pierre

That group would be significantly better than league average at two positions (catcher and second base), slightly better than average at three positions (shortstop, left field, and probably first base), about average in right field, and slightly below at center and third (though not for long in Andy LaRoche’s case, especially with Nomar Garciaparra serving as his caddy). Overall, it’s one of the better position player groups in the league.

So then you take the money you’re saving yourself on Luis Gonzalez and spend it on a mid-level starting pitcher, to round out a rotation with Penny, Lowe, Schmidt, and Chad Billingsley. Coupled with the great one-two punch in the bullpen, that is also an above-average group.

That’s it. You’re done. You’ve spent next to nothing--and you still have a potential pennant winner on your hands. It looks like about an 88-win core that can creep into the 90s if the veterans stay healthy.

What They Will Do: Strong Buy. There is no bigger disconnect in baseball between the Dodgers’ ability to develop talent and the front office’s lack of appreciation for that talent. Matt Kemp is someone that they should be thrilled to have in their lineup for the next six years. Andy LaRoche’s time is now. So is Chin-Lung Hu’s, and the Dodgers should consider trading Rafael Furcal to make way for him. Instead, all rumors are that Ned Colletti’s compass is pointed in the opposite direction.

What I envision happening is something like the following: Kemp or LaRoche are included in a deal for a premium starting pitcher. And then-–guess what-–you do have a hole at left or third, and you do need to work the free agent market to repair it. But it isn’t a hole that existed before; it’s one that you’ve created yourself. The behavior is literally almost pathological, a kind of Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome: Colletti seems determined to make the Dodgers sick so that he can make them well again. Playing the kids-–these talented kids from your farm system that embody everything that used to be called the Dodger Way-–well, that’s just too darn obvious.

If the Dodgers feel like they have to have a 94-win club instead of an 88-win club-–and there’s no reason they should feel that way after drawing almost four million fans last year-–there are still a couple ways they could accomplish this. For instance, beat Curt Schilling’s second-best offer by 30 percent, which probably means something like $18 million. By definition, you’re overpaying, but the magnitude of the mistake is much, much smaller than trading Kershaw and Kemp for one year of Johan Santana, or signing Alex Rodriguez and permanently burying either LaRoche or Hu.

Or, beat Torii Hunter’s second-best offer by 10 percent, and see if you can’t get someone else to eat most of Juan Pierre’s contract. Of course, all of this speculation may be premature; the Dodgers haven’t done anything yet this winter but replace Grady Little with Joe Torre, which surely has to be considered an upgrade. But based on their past performance, they’re not a club to which I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt.


Steve Sax said...

How funny is it that the two needs that Silver thinks the Dodgers have are the EXACT areas that Neddie C addressed for us in the off-season last year: Starting pitching (Jason Schmidt multi-year deal) and center field (Juan-for-Four Pierre multi-year deal). Wolf's one-year deal notwithstanding, it's comical that the money spent resulted in a persistent gaping hole one year later.

And even if you argue that Schmidt's injury was unforeseeable, how does one explain Juan Pierre?

Pedro Guerrero said...

Hey, you forgot to substitute LA-Rod at 3b instead of LaRoche. I'll gladly give up the hot corner for him. -- Pete

John Stodder said...

or shortstop. A-Rod at SS, LaRoche at 3B, Furcal as trade bait for some pitching.