Bottom Feeders

Heading into the ’08 season, the Dodgers had massive expectations placed on them. New Hall of Fame manager, Joe Torre, brought a handful of rings with him to Los Angeles and that championship mentality was supposed to rub off on the Boys in Blue. GM Ned Colletti, shelled out the cash this offseason in order to sign high-priced slugger, Andruw Jones ($18mil per year), and Japanese pitcher, Hiroki Kuroda. Many analysts out there were not only picking the Dodgers to win the division…they were picking them to go all the way to the World Series. It seemed like the team had everything in place heading into the season; an excellent pitching staff and bullpen and a multitude of young offensive players with just as much potential as any others in the game. Add in the “big bat” of Jones that we always needed and the Dodgers looked like a force to be reckoned with…or so we thought. The team is already in the basement of the NL West not even a month into the season. What had all the makings of a tight division race is turning into a bloody massacre. As of April 22nd, the D-Backs are already 6 games ahead of the Dodgers in the standings. It pains me to say but the Dodgers are only a half game in front of the lowly Giants in the standings. It can’t get much worse than that. 

So what’s going on? What could possibly have happened to this team? Many expected the young Dodger bats to explode this season but they had the wrong team. So far it is the D-Backs who have been hitting the cover off the ball. The bats of players like Russell Martin and Matt Kemp have been virtually non-existent. There’s no excuse for Martin since he’s been playing everyday but Matt Kemp (who many believe is the best offensive player in the Dodgers’ lineup), has been getting benched on a regular basis to make room for the likes of Juan Pierre and the $18 million dollar man, Andruw Jones himself. 
Without a doubt, Jones has been the biggest disappointment, by far. He was brought in with the belief that he’d provide the lineup with some much needed power. ’07 was a down year for him but he still managed to hit 26 HRs with 96 RBIs. Over the offseason, Jones blamed elbow problems for last season’s woes and claimed that he was all better heading into ’08. His swing was supposedly fixed and he was in line for a big year…or that’s at least what he wanted us to think. Jones has been so unbelievably bad to start the season, it’s hard to justify starting him anymore. In 63 at-bats he’s hitting a miserable .159. I really don’t know what else to say about that…it’s pretty self explanatory. The low batting average might be somewhat acceptable if there were some big power numbers to go along with it but that hasn’t been the case at all. His first HR finally came last week against his former team the Braves and he only has 3 RBIs to show for the season. He’s literally getting out-powered by the likes of Gabe Kapler (4 HRs), Eric Hinske (4 HRs), Geoff Blum (2 HRs), Robert Andino (2 HRs), and former Dodger OF, Luis Gonzalez (2 HRs). Unless something quickly changes, it’s going to be hard to justify any playing time for Jones this year. We have minor league OF’ers who could produce more than that. If we’re going to flounder like this, we might as well let a kid like Andrew Lambo get some playing time. He’s only 19 but could probably match or top Andruw’s production already. I don’t think anyone will debate that the Andruw Jones signing was the worst of the offseason, by far. Now that we’re stuck with him, he’s only taking away at-bats from more worthy hitters like Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and yes, even Juan Pierre. 
I put this one on Colletti. Once again, he picked the wrong guy. Aaron Rowand is looking awfully good right about now but he’s manning center for the lowly Giants instead of for us. This obviously isn’t the first time that Colletti has signed a player who will cost the team games in the long run. Last year we went thru the wringer with Juan Pierre, who Colletti brought in for 5 years at $10mil+ per year even though we didn’t need another OF…or at least not that one. We could’ve gotten the exact same production that we got from Pierre out of a guy like Delwyn Young or Jason Repko. That’s what’s called talent evaluation. Somehow, Colletti got the idea that Pierre was a valuable player when he in fact was not. Either his scouts were feeding him bad information or Colletti thought it up himself. An old school scout might still view Pierre as a productive player but those in the new school know how wrong that view is. I’ve gone over it many times before but Pierre is a low OBP% guy who’s only good for stolen bases. Stolen bases are more of a negative than a positive, especially when the guy stealing the bases hits 7th or 8th in the order. In other words, getting caught stealing costs the team more than getting those stolen bases. The risk is not worth the reward….he could either get caught stealing and put an unnecessary out on the board or we could end up with a runner on 2nd for the #8 hitter or pitcher to knock in… Besides, I think Ned was the only person out there who thought the team needed more speed. Power is what we lack, not speed. 
That’s why I can’t entirely blame Ned for the Jones signing. In theory, it’s exactly what we needed…a big time, proven power hitter capable of knocking 50+ HRs over the fence in any given season. Not only did Jones have the power, he supposedly had a glove as well. Afterall, he’s won the Gold Glove every year since 1998 (but we all know how bogus the Gold Glove award is being that Derek Jeter wins the Award every year as well). For all of Pierre’s shortcomings, it was actually his fielding that hurt us the most. Players were getting extra bases on Pierre’s noodle arm every time the ball was hit to him. Comparatively, Jones has a cannon and can gun down runners from just about anywhere on the field. Obviously, he’s a massive upgrade over Pierre defensively but he has lost a step or two over the years. Many in the Dodger camp claim that he’s already a good 20 Ibs. overweight. His range has virtually been cut in half and he doesn’t have the same propensity for making highlight-reel catches anymore. The coaches are saying that he needs to get himself in shape but that’s a notion that doesn’t seem to be on his mental horizon. It appears that Jones has cashed in on baseball and is now just along for the ride. If he were just about any other player on the team, he’d be manning CF for the AAA affiliate in Las Vegas…but sending $18mil down to the minors is a tough pill for any GM to swallow. 
Eventually Ned is going to have to take the heat for this. The majority of his free agent signings haven’t gone well for the team. He basically throws away a large sum of money every year and blocks superior players from playing in the process. It costs the team games in the long run. Some of the blame has to fall on Joe Torre as well, even if the LA media would have you believe otherwise. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that you should bench a .159 hitter and play one of the more promising young players in the league (Matt Kemp) in his place… Torre has a reputation for sticking with his veterans thru thick and thin, even if it starts to become a detriment to the team. He may have had enough room for error with the Yankees to get away with that but the Dodgers simply can’t afford to lose production at any position. They must be firing on all cylinders in order to win the division. Unless last place is acceptable, we need to get production out of the players we put on the field. I have confidence in the fact that Torre will eventually realize this. Loyalty to Andruw Jones is not worth a last place finish. Loyalty to Juan Pierre is not worth losing games 1-0. As bad as it has looked, there is still a chance that Andruw Jones can get it together but it’s probably not a very good bet at this point. I guess Torre must think he’ll eventually pay off if he keeps going to him but the message may finally be sinking in. Jones batted 8th on Monday in Cincinnati and
is looking more and more like he may be banished to the bench until (or if) he gets over whatever is holding him back. 
The most frustrating part of this start is the fact that our pitchers have been doing their job. If we could get any amount of offensive production whatsoever, we’d be in good shape. The bottomline is Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier need to play everyday. If anybody should be platooning, it’s Jones and Pierre. It would work out well because they are right-handed and left-handed hitters respectively and are not carrying their weight in the lineup as everyday players. In my opinion, Torre should get the benefit of the doubt. It’s been a while since he’s managed in the National League and is still getting familiar with what he has and doesn’t have on this team. Expect him to make a few adjustments here and there as the season goes on and fix some of the problems that are currently plaguing us. At this point, a trade for a power hitting 3B doesn’t sound so bad anymore. We need more production than we’re getting out of that lineup and we’ll either have to bring in some new guys or figure out a way to get something out of what we’ve got. To say that the Dodgers have disappointed thus far is an understatement.