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July 26, 2006
Not So Artful Dodgers
Are Dodgers fans just a little worried yet?
Yesterday, Ned Colletti made his latest attempt to keep the Dodgers in contention, acquiring Elmer Dessens from the Royals for Odalis Perez two right-handed pitching prospects and $8 million. The deal was as much a dump of Perez-who has been a disaster since the start of 2005 and who recently criticized the organization-as an acquisition, although Dessens was certainly remembered well after his 3.56 ERA as a reliever and spot starter last year.
There's a definite pattern developing here, and it's one that was predictable. Colletti is very willing to trade products of the farm system for minor upgrades to the major-league roster, just as Brian Sabean was during all the years Colletti worked under him in San Francisco. I'd argue that Colletti is even more likely to do so over the next two seasons, as he has no investment at all in the current Dodger prospects.
Now, this isn't necessarily the worst idea in the world. Flags fly forever, and you should be able to pull the trigger on deals that increase your chance of acquiring one. The attrition rate of prospects is high, and opportunities to win championships are rare. Even if the impact of any one player on a race is small, division titles and playoff spots are often won by small margins. That we dramatically overhype the importance of the trade deadline doesn't mean deals made in late July don't have meaning.
The problem for Dodger fans is that Colletti has been sending prospects around the country willy-nilly while not actually acquiring impact players, real upgrades. Elmer Dessens isn't a top-tier relief pitcher; he's a 34-year-old journeyman with middling stuff who has never held a high-leverage role. It's possible that his 36-to-7 K/UIBB ratio this year represents some kind of improvement, but his body of work is more likely to be meaningful, and that body of work screams, "staff filler."
Neither Blake Johnson nor Julio Pimentel is a top prospect. Both are 21-year-olds with live arms who weren't pitching well at Vero Beach this year, and it's possible, even likely, that neither ever ends up pitching in the majors. That doesn't justify giving them away for no real return.
Colletti has now made five trades since the start of the year, and in three of them, he's traded prospects for major-league talent. (The exceptions were this week's swap of Sandy Alomar Jr. for right-handed reliever B.J. La Mura, and January's four-pitcher deal with the Mets, which defies classification.) He's dealt away Edwin Jackson, Chuck Tiffany, Dioner Navarro, Johnson and Pimentel and received Danys Baez, Mark Hendrickson, Toby Hall and Dessens in return. Baez's gaudy save totals aside, Colletti hasn't added a single player who is likely to have a high-profile role with a good team. There's an argument to be made that the Dodgers would be better off had Colletti been tied to a chair in the basement after pulling off the Andre Ethier--panned by me, but so far a big win-and Jae Seo deals.
Other than Navarro, the Dodgers haven't lost any prospects who are likely to have long, successful careers, and I don't say that to minimize the loss of a catcher who could post a .370 OBP over 1200 games. But there are still a few days to go here, and the Dodgers have as deep a farm system as any team in baseball. They should be on a path to playing a largely homegrown, largely inexpensive division favorite from 2007-09, and the only person who can prevent that is Colletti. Acquiring veterans for the sake of their service time isn't going to make the Dodgers more likely to win in 2006, and it could take a real bite out of some good teams that could be on the field in future seasons.
If anyone should know what impact young players can have, it's Colletti. Virtually every good story associated with the Dodgers this season is the product of a young player-or in Takashi Saito's case, an unknown one-coming in and playing very well. Ethier, Saito, Matt Kemp, Russell Martin, Jonathan Broxton…the lesson should be that faith in homegrown talent is often rewarded, especially when that homegrown talent has been assembled by a keen evaluator like Logan White. The current Dodgers aren't the Sabean/Bonds-era Giants, and if Colletti continues to act as if they are, he could be making a mistake that costs the organization for years to come.
But I guess as long as he doesn't use a spreadsheet…