Within this specific blog, “What’s in Ned’s Head”, I will try to make sense of some of the curious moves made by Dodgers’ GM, Ned Colletti. There’s no doubt that he has made some strange moves during his short tenure in Los Angeles, some that leave you scratching your head, some that make your jaw drop and some that can be explained when looked at in a different light. I will try to extract logic from seemingly senseless bufoonery. It’s not an easy task but I’ll do my best. Some moves are justifiable and others are hopeless. This is a topic that will be revisited because I do not have enough time to cover all of the odd moves made in one blog.
#1. The Julio Lugo Trade
At first glance this was a complete and total waste of time. We had absolutely no need whatsoever for Julio Lugo. Furcal and Kent were injured at the time but neither guy was expected to be out for long. Lugo completely bombed in LA and saw his playing time disappear when the incumbents got healthy. This trade appeared to be a major mistake on the surface but when you look a little deeper you will see the genius involved. We traded two minor leaguers, Joel Guzman and Sergio Pedroza, to the Devil Rays for Lugo. Guzman was a once highly touted, power hitting, middle infielder who’s stock had slipped in recent years and was converted to the OF due to his poor fielding ability. Many saw Guzman as a solid regular in time but hasn’t reached his potential in Tampa. When you dig a little deeper you will find that this trade was essentially a minor league/prospect exchange because Julio Lugo became a free agent once the season ended and signed with the Boston Red Sox during the offseason. Due to Lugo’s production over the years, he was classified as a Type A free agent by Elias Sports Bureau. ESB has devised a system that ranks MLB players based on production. A Type A free agent is considered to be ranked in the top 20% of their position. If another team signs your Type A free agent in free agency, the team is required to pay a compensatory 1st round draft pick to the team that free agent is leaving. In Lugo’s case, the Boston Red Sox gave us the 20th overall pick in the ’07 draft. With that pick the team drafted 18 year old high school pitcher, Chris Withrow, out of Midland Christian High School in Texas. Assistant GM and former Director of Scouting, Logan White, describes Withrow as a “frontline starter” with “outstanding mechanics”. So in essence we traded Joel Guzman for Chris Withrow. When this trade is viewed from that angle, it looks a whole lot better than it did at the time. If Withrow really does fulfill the potential that Logan White sees in him, this could be one of the greatest moves of Colletti’s tenure with the team.
#2. The Juan Pierre Signing
I’d like to be able to point to something under the surface as to why this deal made sense but I can’t and it didn’t. This deal was absolutely mind-boggling and was the definition of a “panic move”. Once again, Colletti missed out on the big name, free agent, power hitters like Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Lee and ended up with Pierre as a passable consolation prize, or so he thought. Pierre was always a popular player with the fans ever since his World Series days with the Marlins. Colletti must’ve thought that fans would be satiated by a big name, well-liked, nice guy in celebrity-hungry Tinsel Town. However, most Dodger fans are from places other than Hollywood and just want a winning team. They saw thru the facade and never understood the deal from day one. We already had a superior centerfieder in Matt Kemp and a far better leadoff hitter in Rafael Furcal. Not only was Pierre pushing better players like Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and Jason Repko to the bench, he was no better than a #7 or #8 hitter on this team. Due to Ned’s frenzy to sign an outfielder, any outfielder, we ended up with a feeble-fielding, noodle-armed, inconsequential featherweight who kept a rising superstar (Matt Kemp) on the bench for half the season. Of course, part of the blame should go to Grady Little (who’s another story all to himself) for playing the guy but I’m sure there was substantial pressure from the front office to play their new ten million dollar man. All in all, Colletti managed to grossly overpay for an under-skilled, unneeded outfielder that he locked up for way too long (5 years). The length of the deal was astonishing when you consider Ned’s disdain for long-term deals. As it was reported (and evidenced by the contract) he was unwilling to give a far better outfielder (Andruw Jones) 3 years let alone 5. Not only did Ned go berzerk on the number of years for Pierre, he also (reportedly) gave him a limited no-trade clause. ARE YOU KIDDING ME!!! There really is no explaining this one. All I can say is that if I were a professional baseball player, I’d sign Pierre’s agent immediately.
#3. The Luis “Gonzo” Gonzalez Signing
This one really bothered me because it showed Colletti’s true colors. Ned was signed right out of our most hated rival’s front office…the Giants. He was mentored by popular media punching bag, Giants’ GM, Brian Sabean. Sabean is world-renowned for his infatuation with elderly players. The teams that he assembles are often referred to as “geriatric” and “ancient”. Of course, Sabean had the unenviable job of mixing personalities with the volatile Barry Bonds, something that doesn’t really allow for a young, inexperienced team. He needed guys who had been around the block a couple of times and knew how to deal with the media circus that was constantly surrounding the team. The Dodgers, on the other hand, were in far better condition. The case can be made that Jeff Kent is has somewhat of a mercurial disposition but the Dodgers were in the opposite position of their cross-state rivals. Our farm system has been stocked to the brim with top prospects for years now (thanks to former Director of Scouting and current Assistant GM, Logan White). Many of those prospects are now coming into form and taking their place on the big league team. Many had thought that emerging stars like Matt Kemp, James Loney, Andre Ethier and Chad Billingsley would be fixtures of the everyday lineup for the Blue Crew in ’07. That belief was ruthlessly crushed when Ned signed the 39 year old, ex-Diamondback to an incentive-laden one year contract. At least he didn’t go the Juan Pierre-route and lock him up to a half-decade-long deal but again, the move pushed worthier players aside. Had the deal been made 10 years earlier, it would’ve been a great move for the team. Ten years ago Gonzo was the type of power-hitting outfielder that this team needed but at the ripe-old age of 39, his power had been sapped, his bat speed slowed and his range in the outfield virtually cut in half. All he did was eat up at-bats that could’ve gone to much more productive players. Colletti was quoted at the time as saying that he didn’t want to give a starting job to young players who hadn’t “earned it”. That statement really blew me away because Gonzo had only hit .271 with 15 HRs the previous year which wasn’t any better than the numbers that the “unproven rookies” would’ve put up if given the chance. Since then, Ned seems to have learned his lesson. About midseason or so, Gonzo was surpassed on the depth chart by the young players previously mentioned and started causing problems in the clubhouse. He had underperformed throughout the season and added fuel to the clubhouse fire on top of that. By the end of the season the clubhouse had fractured down the middle between vets and young players, the team suffered a historic collapse that ended any chance that they may have had at making the playoffs and former manager Grady Little’s fate was sealed. Gonzo was released when the season ended and made statements that he wanted nothing to do with team. When Grady Little was fired and replaced by future Hall of Famer, ex-Yankee skipper, Joe Torre, Gonzo changed his tune and said that he would welcome a comeback now that the team had new leadership. That was wishful thinking on his part because the team had no use for him and wanted nothing to do with him. He’s definitely worn out his welcome in LA. When factoring in all of the ill-effects that emanated from this deal, it proved to be one of the more costly decisions that Colletti has made as general manager.