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September 23, 2011

Kiss'Em Goodbye

Los Angeles Dodgers

by Steven Goldman, Kevin Goldstein and ESPN Insider

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Kiss 'Em Goodbye is a series focusing on MLB teams as their postseason dreams fadewhether in September (or before), the league division series, league championship series or World Series. It combines a broad overview from Baseball Prospectus, a front-office take from former MLB GM Jim Bowden, a best- and worst-case scenario ZiPS projection for 2012 from Dan Szymborski, and Kevin Goldstein's farm-system overview.

Today we show the door to the Los Angeles Dodgers, who had to deal with their owner's ongoing divorce saga and couldn't compete for a playoff spot despite featuring two of the best players in baseball.

Baseball Prospectus' Take
Projected 2012 Lineup

The Dodgers might have to do something to help a lineup that has more holes than heroes. Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp will have to shoulder the load until help arrives, which could be a while.

Signs of hope: Despite finishing the season with a record around .500, a triumph in itself given the club’s constrained circumstances, the Dodgers might prove to have possessed both the NL MVP and Cy Young Award winner in Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw. The latter evolved from “very good” to “ace,” while Kemp seems to have been freed by exchanging the critical Joe Torre and his coaches for Don Mattingly and, in particular, his first-base coach Davey Lopes. Andre Ethier had another solid season bracketed by injuries, and first baseman James Loney, after a thoroughly risible summer (.256/.301/.325 through the end of July), came alive in August and September, batting .359/.425/.627 in 44 games from August 1 to date. Loney is eligible for arbitration, so he changed the likelihood of his being non-tendered from “automatic” to “We’ll have to think about this.” In the bullpen, rookie Kenley Jansen threatened to tie or surpass Carlos Marmol’s year-old record for strikeouts per nine, but there was more in the rookie pitching department: promising showings by rookie pitches Javy Guerra, Nathan Eovaldi, and (prior to Tommy John surgery) Rubby De La Rosa showed the farm system had some little life in it. 

Signs of disaster: Almost everything else. The roster was a messy series of compromises mixing acquisitions from the club’s more ambitious pre-bankruptcy days of expensive vets and fresh-cut flowers in every room, young players trying to get established, and stopgaps who were brought in to fill out the clubhouse on the cheap. Thus the Dodgers gave the world vivid contrasts in the form of Jay Gibbons and Jerry Sands, Jamey Carroll and Dee Gordon, not to mention Casey Blake, Juan Uribe, and… Well, we’re still waiting on the “and” there (Ivan DeJesus, Jr? Justin Sellers?); the Dodgers system was not exactly equipped to cope with the major league club’s inability to supply itself from the outside, and general manager Ned Colletti trading off promising prospect Trayvon Robinson for a trio of lesser prospects didn’t help. With their ownership situation consuming all available oxygen, the Dodgers had a very quiet 2010-2011 offseason; another zombie-stroll through the winter seems likely this year, but the club is unlikely to come through it as well.

Signs you can ignore: The aforementioned Loney hot streak for one; he has been thoroughly mediocre since 2008, and while it’s nice to think that Mattingly or hitting coach Dave Hansen helped him turn over a new leaf, it’s not something to bet on, particularly when resources are so dear. Beyond that, it’s possible that almost everything about this season should be disregarded given the uncertainty surrounding ownership and the club’s finances. The Dodgers have few significant free agents (damaged goods Jonathan Broxton; Hiroki Kuroda, who might have his heart set on a return to Japan; 35-year-old catcher Rod Barajas; aging utlitymen Carroll and Aaron Miles; an $8 million club option on starter Jon Garland) but they also have few significant players. Three of them, Kershaw, Kemp, and Ethier, will be up for arbitration, and it this point it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Dodgers try to get out from at least one of the contracts. Recent reports have the Dodgers being able to spend this winter and retain their core, but we'll see how that plays out in actuality. Even if they can spend, this club has a long way to go. —Steven Goldman, Baseball Prospectus

Bowden's Bold Move
Before talking about any bold move the Dodgers should make, one must consider the background against which the team stands. Currently, the Dodgers sit in bankruptcy court and have a $150 million unsecured loan from Major League Baseball to finance the Chapter 11 reorganization.

Further, Fox currently has TV broadcast rights with the Dodgers through 2013. The contract has an exclusive negotiating window at the end of next year. But McCourt also has asked MLB to go back and approve the original extension from Fox he proposed in June and also has gone to the courts to void the current Fox contract to allow for the Dodgers' TV rights to be auctioned off in the event MLB continues to disapprove the original extension. Ironically, this comes after McCourt received a personal $30 million loan from Fox earlier this year to make payroll. McCourt is going through a very ugly and public divorce and is desperately trying to hold onto the Dodgers even though both divorce and bankruptcy courts are involved and MLB's preference is that the McCourts sell the team because of the damage being done to the public image of baseball and the Dodgers.

It is high drama in Chavez Ravine these days, and aptly, there is only one bold move for the Dodgers to make in order to restore their luster: sign either Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols. It is clear this is what the front office would like to do. The Dodgers' payroll is approximately $115 million, but they will have roughly $35 million coming off the books and non-arbitration-eligible players at no less than four positions. That would leave enough room for Fielder or Pujols. The Dodgers presently rank 10th in the NL in runs scored, 12th in homers, and 11th in OPS, much of that due to Kemp and Ethier. However, if the Dodgers were able to sign Fielder or Pujols, they would become one of the better offensive teams in the NL.

The question is, would MLB or the court systems allow a team in bankruptcy without an approved TV rights deal to sign a player to the type of contract that it would take to land Fielder or Pujols? There is an argument that a Fielder or Pujols signing would actually increase the value of the team if and when it is ever sold. This type of signing certainly would help improve attendance, change the perception of the Dodgers in Los Angeles, and augment the lineup and their chances of winning next year. However, the type of deal that both Pujols and Fielder eventually will receive might be industry-changing, and there are real questions whether MLB and or the court system would approve that type of transaction. —Jim Bowden

Hopes and Fears
Best-case scenario ZiPS projection: 87-75

Despite the ownership mess this season and some major holes in the lineup, the Dodgers still have been able to play respectable ball this season. Kemp's breakout came at the right time and right in his prime seasons. They'll need more of that from Kemp to be competitive in 2012. The infield doesn't have a whole lot of offensive upside in 2012. Juan Uribe still is young enough to have a comeback of sorts, with ZiPS projecting an OPS+ of 95 for him—enough to be above replacement level. To make some noise in the division, the scenario's going to have to include some overachieving in the Kershaw/Chad Billingsley/Ted Lilly/De La Rosa front four to go along with the solid outfield.

Worst-case scenario: 71-91
It's very hard to see the Dodgers putting together a balanced offense in 2012 with the players currently in the organization. Kemp is having an MVP-type year, but if he falls back to merely being a very good hitter in 2012, the Dodgers could rank lower than 10th (their current NlL ranking) in runs scored. The team has a few good prospects, but the minor league system isn't up to the Dodgers' historical standard, and there aren't any real impact bats in the infield coming up quickly. Los Angeles didn't commit enough time in a lost season to really see what it had in players like Trent Oeltjen, so it doesn't have as much information about what those players can contribute in the majors as it should. Dan Szymborski, Baseball Think Factory

Organizational Future
The embarrassing ownership situation in Los Angeles began to have its effect on the standings in 2011, and the farm system as well. The big league club found some youth with a high-speed, empty-average shortstop in Dee Gordon, but overall, the system remains weak, and an inability to spend in the draft or internationally further dampens the club's future. There are a handful of young arms, highlighted by righties Zach Lee and Allen Webster, who could play future roles in the Dodgers' rotation, but an imbalanced system has left the club—which now ranks 13th in the NL in slugging—severely lacking in offensive prospects. Nothing will get better until the ownership situation is settled, and the longer Frank McCourt sticks around, the deeper the holes to dig out get in every aspect of the organization. Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Steven Goldman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Steven's other articles. You can contact Steven by clicking here
Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

16 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

Bradley Ankrom

Good to have you back, Jimmy B.

Sep 23, 2011 06:27 AM
rating: 0
 
timber

And just in time, too. It had been, what, about three days since he last recommended that a team sign Fielder? Withdrawal was starting to make me hyperventilate.

Sep 23, 2011 08:14 AM
rating: 4
 
dodgerken222

Just for the record, de la Rosa is out for the 2012 season.

Sep 23, 2011 07:16 AM
rating: 3
 
flyingdutchman

I love you, Jim Bowden. You actually made me laugh out loud.

Sep 23, 2011 07:35 AM
rating: 0
 
dodgerken222

I think that this analysis is a bit overly negative. I know strong finishes by also-rans have to be taken with more than a few grains of saly. Mike Quade got a contract because the awful Cubs finished 2010 24-13. Some thought the Orioles were at least a .500 team this season because of their strong September last year. I get it. However, the Dodgers have been 41-26 over their last 67 games. That's not just a finish, it's more like the final 40 per cent of the year. Dee Gordon has more hits in September than anyone in the league, and he's even shown a slight ability to take a walk recently. He'll steal at least 50 bases next year and while he is still raw in the field, he has the tools to be an above-average defensive player. Jerry Sands will have his ups and downs, but he has hit over .380 since his recall and looks like a totally different hitter from his first stint earlier this season. I too am skeptical about the Loney surge, but he has hit better for a longer time than at any point in his career. Given his defense, he should be at least a league-average first baseman for a change. Ethier certainly should improve at least power-wise if his knee surgery was successful. Kenley Jansen is, at he moment, the most dominant reliever in baseball. Javy Guerra, though he usually makes it interesting, has saved 19 of 20.
The main thing, though, is the division. These Dodgers certainly look as good as the Diamondbacks did before this season started. Arizona's success has been largely because of their bullpen, and we know how relievers' performances can change year-to-year. The Giants will be in the mix because of their pitching, but they were a lot worse than the Dodgers this year offensively, and the Dodgers didn't scare many pitchers this year.
The Dodgers team that finished 2011 is a lot different than the April team. It didn't depend on the corpses of Furcal and Blake and it didn't have a Marcus Thames/Jay Gibbons left fielder. As a Dodger fan, I didn't feel good at the end of the 2010 campaign. At the moment, I feel very hopeful, bordering on confident, for 2012.

Sep 23, 2011 08:00 AM
rating: 1
 
Karl Barth

It's nice to read some optimism about the Dodgers. I really do hope the pitching is coming together and I would love for Gordon's 2011 to be a step forward and not small sample size pixie dust. But I think expecting Loney to be league-average is delusional.

Haven't we suffered enough years of "maybe he'll hit better"? Let's make Loney someone else's problem. I'm sure there's some team out there that will see Loney's September and decide he's a bargain from the scrap heap. I won't begrudge them one point of his .310 obp in 2012.

Sep 27, 2011 05:05 AM
rating: 0
 
dodgerken222

Actually, the Dodgers did not have a zombie-like 2010-11 off-season. It may have been better if they did, however. We signed Juan Uribe to a 3-year deal, Ted Lilly and Matt Guerrier to the same, and inked Rod Barajas, Tony Gwynn Jr., Marcus Thames and, on a more positive note, brought back Hiroki Kuroda. Add up those contracts and it's a bit more, money-wise, than the living dead.
Other reasons for the Dodgers to be hopeful for 2012: the emergence of Scott Elbert and Josh Lindblom in the bullpen, Nathan Eovaldi as an effective swingman. If Juan Rivera can be re-signed, he'd be reat as a reserve outfielder and a platoon partner for Loney/ The Dodgers do not have a long way to go. One more solid bat and a bounceback by Billingsley would put this team in the thick of the race.

Sep 23, 2011 08:21 AM
rating: 0
 
Richie

You understand Kemp and Kershaw can't help but regress some.

Sep 23, 2011 09:14 AM
rating: 2
 
Richie

Leastwise are very, very likely to.

Sep 23, 2011 09:15 AM
rating: 1
 
ddufourlogger

Welllll, Kemp, yes. I wouldn't be surprised if this was a career year for him, but also wouldn't be surprised if he was able to maintain 90% of this level for the next 5 years. He's that talented. But in Kershaw, I'm pretty sure they have an elite-level ace for the next 10 years. Look at his peripherals and K-rate; he's that kind of good. And he's got a favorable pitching environment. I like him to be Cliff Lee-level good for years.

Sep 23, 2011 11:56 AM
rating: -1
 
Patrick M

"But in Kershaw, I'm pretty sure they have an elite-level ace for the next 10 years."

Care to lay odds on that? Over all of baseball history, the list of pitchers able to maintain "elite-level ace" for 10 years is extremely short. Unless, of course, you are defining that term down to a point of absurdity.

Sep 25, 2011 15:55 PM
rating: 0
 
beerchaser42

Strong finish aside, McCourt hangs over this franchise like the sword of Damocles. His 15 minutes of infamy are on overtime. Until he can be rooted out and fully neutered, it's hard to see any significant degree of success for the Dodger franchise. And this from a diehard Dodger fan.

Sep 23, 2011 10:54 AM
rating: 4
 
PeterBNYC

Mr. Bowden, I see your mega-deals going into the same trash bin as the Fox extension- MLB simply cannot permit McCourt, who should never have been allowed to buy the club, to take steps like this, which would affect the value of the club for the next ten years. I can't believe the bankruptcy court would allow any such mega-deal either. Sorry Prince/ Albert, someone else will have to step forward.

If Selig won't do it, then find someone who will. ["Mr. Selig, this is your legacy. How do you like it?"] I can understand certain owners wanting Selig to continue to twist slowly in the wind, but come on, guys. This is the Dodgers!

Sep 23, 2011 12:35 PM
rating: 0
 
Lloyd Cole

I can commiserate with "timber", above. But this REALLY was an unlikely place for Bowden to repeat his "do anything you have to in order to sign Fielder" meme. Why not just suggest they buy the Space Shuttle and put it in the Chavez Ravine parking lot, retooled as a security device?

Sep 23, 2011 12:49 PM
rating: 2
 
Karl Barth

As a Dodger fan, I like Bowden's sentiment. Get Loney out of LA and put in someone who can hit. From that standpoint, a Fielder/Pujols signing makes sense.

It does seem to be a stretch to think the Dodgers would be allowed to drop a $150-200M commitment on anyone during the off-season, though.

Sep 27, 2011 04:59 AM
rating: 0
 
dodgerken222

Kemp and Kershaw regress? Actually, I don't see why. It isn't as if they came out of nowhere. Kemp just turned 27 and has had only one year that he batted under .290. This may have been a career year but next to Pujols, I can't think of any NL hitter more likely to have a 300-30-100 year in 2012. Kershaw is 23. He has cut his walks every year and his innings per start is on a steady rise. He was 13-1 with a 1.22 ERA over his last fifteen starts. Ten years is a lot to ask of anybody to perform at an elite level but, barring physical issues, he should certainly be one of the top pitchers for the next six years. His 21-5 mark may regress, but that's true of anyone with that high a winning percentage, even if his actaual performance improves. Kemp certainly couldn't have had worse protection behind him or less OBP in front of him than he had this year.

Sep 26, 2011 00:27 AM
rating: 0
 
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