Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Keri Yawns (My Wayward Son): Dodgers To Finish Under 92 Wins

Jonah Keri over at ESPN's Grantland has run the numbers. And he's taking the Vegas bet that the Dodgers will finish under 91.5 wins:

I don't hate the Dodgers, honest They've certainly got a chance to compete for the NL West crown this year, and with all their riches they stand a good chance to be contenders for the foreseeable future and hopefully build a strong farm system to increase their chances at longer-term success.

But there are holes on the 2013 roster, and they're not easily fixed. Luis Cruz was a fun story last year, going for .297/.322/.431 and delivering a bunch of big hits in his first crack at semi-regular playing time in the big leagues. But there are reasons he toiled so many years in the minors: He has minimal power, never walks, and doesn't run particularly well. He isn't a championship-caliber everyday player by any stretch, and replacing him would be a bear. Think of the best third basemen in the league. Miguel Cabrera and Adrian Beltre aren't going anywhere. David Wright's signed to a long-term deal. So's Evan Longoria and Ryan Zimmerman and Aramis Ramirez. In theory, it's not impossible that the Dodgers could try another Adrian Gonzalez–style deal, in which they absorb an ungodly amount of salary via bad contracts for the sake of landing one player they really want. But that trade came with unique circumstances, and it's tough to find any team with a top third baseman (or a top shortstop, if you wanted to move Hanley Ramirez to third) that would offer similar parameters to pull off that kind of deal.

Outfield talent might be easier to find. But then you run into what we've called the Curse of Plenty, or if you prefer, the Carl Crawford Conundrum. The Dodgers owe Crawford $102.5 million over the next five years. Unfortunately, we don't know when Crawford will be fully healthy and ready to play in games that matter; he's starting to see some spring training action, but he's been out so long that it's hard to tell when he might be ready for regular-section action, much less if he can return to the high performance levels he showed in Tampa Bay, or even moderately productive levels in an everyday role. If Crawford's out, a platoon of Skip Schumaker and Jerry Hairston Jr. would cover left field, which again doesn't qualify as a championship-level combination by any stretch. It's possible that the Dodgers could pursue a big-time replacement, even being on the hook for nine figures with Crawford and another $42 million for Yasiel Puig, the Cuban prospect with lots of talent but also a very raw approach and just 23 games of minor league experience, none above Single-A. But you have to figure that even the Dodgers might have their limits.

There are other problems. Some are potentially terrifying, such as Greinke's injury proving to be more serious than first believed; some are smaller but still relevant, such as the injury histories of Mark Ellis and Chad Billingsley, Andre Ethier's struggles against left-handed pitching, and new closer Brandon League not being particularly good. These and other issues could potentially be addressed if the Dodgers had a bunch of good prospects close to major league–ready. They don't. Promising pitching prospects Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa went to Boston in the Gonzalez deal, while former top prospect Zach Lee has, at least for now, seen his development stall. The team's best hitting prospects are likely years away from making a splash in the majors. That lack of options hurts the Dodgers in two ways: There's not much there to call up for this season, and there aren't many players other teams would covet so intensely that they'd consider trading an established star to get them.

Again, this isn't to say the Dodgers are a bad team, or that they can't vie for a playoff spot. A full season of Gonzalez (and no James Loney) will be great. Kemp's an MVP candidate if he plays 150-plus games. Clayton Kershaw's probably the best pitcher in the National League. You get your first full year of Ramirez in a Dodgers uniform, and another one for A.J. Ellis, L.A.'s very good and underrated starting catcher. If you buy spring training stats, Hyun-Jin Ryu has looked promising in Arizona after the Dodgers nabbed him over the winter.

But the team's multiple question marks, combined with its likely inability to address its holes this year, point to something fewer than 92 wins. Like last year's Tigers, there's a window here for the Dodgers to be pretty damn good and still not make their number. After poring over 29 other possibilities, and considering the vig was only -105, the Dodgers under 91½ was the only bet I was willing to bet with confidence. It's not a 2012 Tigers-style lock, but it was the best of a really tough bunch.

91.5 wins is a lot, I admit. But man, all that hating, Jonah. There'll be peace when you are done. Lay your weary head to rest!

photo: AP / PAUL SANCYA (Sancya very much, indeed!)


spank said...

Don't you cry Nomo

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