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June 19, 2012
Painting the Black
The most telling aspect of the Ryan Dempster-to-Los Angeles rumors is not that the Dodgers, second in the majors in rotation earned run average, are looking for even more starting pitching. Nor is it that the Cubs are open for business. The most telling aspect about these rumors is that nobody trusts Ned Colletti. Take these carefully selected comments from True Blue LA as evidence:
I guess I’m not real confident of putting Ned and [Theo Epstein] in a room and hoping we come out on top.
The origins of the Colletti distrust date back to his first deal. About a month into Colletti’s tenure, he hooked up with Billy Beane and consummated a deal, sending mercurial outfielder Milton Bradley and forgettable utility man Antonio Perez to the A’s for Andre Ethier. In 2007, Nate Silver graded Colletti across various job requirements. In that piece he wrote, “This move was widely criticized at the time,” citing Ethier’s modest reviews as a prospect. In other words, people doubting Colletti is nothing new.
There are five levels of response to any given transaction based on the general manager involved:
In the middle is indifference. To the left is reverence, which is flanked by backlash to the reverence. This is the sweet spot for a general manager: when you’ve done such a good job that people actively mock you because of it. To the right of indifference is backlash; further to the right still is backlash to the backlash. Colletti seems to live on the right side of the scale, in part because of his willingness to trade young for old.
Colletti has traded 36 young players since taking over as GM. “Young,” in this case, includes players either in the minor leagues or at the beginning stages of their big-league career at the time of the trade. It’s a subjective measure, but that’s a given. Of those 36 players, 17 have never appeared in the majors. Fourteen of the remaining 19 have recorded one Win Above Replacement Player or fewer (with three finishing at less than -1 WARP). That means that, essentially, five players have had productive big-league careers since being traded by Colletti. Those players are Edwin Jackson, Dioner Navarro, Cody Ross, Carlos Santana, and James McDonald.
In the spirit of Silver’s piece, let’s go case-by-case and award a pass or fail to each trade:
Traded Edwin Jackson and Chuck Tiffany to the Devil Rays for Danys Baez and Lance Carter
Traded Dioner Navarro, Jae-Weong Seo, and Justin Ruggiano to the Devil Rays for Mark Hendrickson and Toby Hall
Traded Cody Ross to the Reds for a player to be named later (Ben Kozlowski)
Traded Jon Meloan and Carlos Santana to the Indians for Casey Blake
Traded James McDonald and Andrew Lambo to the Pirates for Octavio Dotel
Colletti’s evaluation mistakes cost the Dodgers two middle-of-the-r
Tagging Colletti as a good or bad general manager adds no value. What can add value is breaking general managers down to tools and skills. Colletti seems to understand that future value is worth less than present value, particularly when his team has the ability to compete now and the resources to compete later. Proper evaluation is the engine in Colletti’s machine. That means the Dodgers have to continue to land potentially useful players and continue to evaluate and harvest the potentially overvalued prospects. Every once and a while, Colletti is going to miss on a player. It happens; even John Schuerholz, the master of farm system self-evaluation, lost a few times.
This isn’t to say that Dodgers fans should have blind faith in Colletti, just that cowering in fear seems to be equally as unreasonable.