2011 was the ultimate roller coaster ride for Dodgers fans. By July 6th they were a season worst 14 games under .500, and really all fans had to look forward to were the amazing exploits of MVP Matt Kemp & Cy Young award winner Clayton Kershaw. Then something interesting happened, they finally promoted Dee Gordon and stuck him in the lineup everyday. Jerry Sands was also finally given the chance to play everyday in September and he responded with a .344 average and 14 game hitting streak.The Dodgers won 25 of their last 35 games and went into the off-season with some hope. Ned Colletti told Dodgers fans exactly what they wanted to hear in an interview with ESPN just after the end of the season when he was asked to evaluate his team for 2012:
"We need to figure out left field…but we’re leaning towards Jerry Sands, especially after the way he finished this season with us."
Finally it looked like they were going to stop jerking around with the talented young slugger and give him the everyday job he earned, and thrived at once he was given the opportunity. Then Ned really teased Dodgers fans when he talked about adding a “Big Bat” to the middle of the lineup:
"We have flexibility if we keep catcher, second base, shortstop and left field as non-arbitration eligible players like we have now, then it is definitely possible that we could afford to spend the money on a significant middle-of-the-order bat"
There it was, the tone was set, the Dodgers were actually going to let the young kids play and were going to be legitimate players in the “hot stove league” for a top flight free agent, rather than just signing a bunch of used up over the hill veterans to overpriced 2 year deals. But as all Dodgers fans are painfully aware the free agent offseason signings couldn’t have possibly gone any worse than it did.
Instead of slotting Sands in left 33 year old Juan Rivera was brought back at $4.5 million, Tony Gwynn Jr. was given $2 million for 2 years, and 36 yr old Jerry Hairston Jr, he of the career .258 average and .326 obp, was given $6 million and 2 years on his contract. And the mind numbing spending didn’t stop there. 35 yr old Mark Ellis was given $8.75 million over 2 years to play 2B, and 36 year old Matt Treanor $1 million to back up A.J. Ellis. So much for Colletti’s plan to
"To keep catcher, second base, shortstop and left field as non-arbitration eligible players like we have now"
Instead Ned spent almost $22 million dollars on 5 players, who average 34 years old, and who basically block the young players and severely hamper the payroll flexibility the bankrupt Dodgers desperately need. But, Ned’s bizarre spending just kept on going. Rather than even discuss a contract with Hiroki Kuroda Ned gave 35 year old Chris Capuano and 34 yr old Aaron Harang both 2 year contracts at a total of $22 million. Colletti discussed the bullpen in the ESPN article saying:
"We’re pleased with our deep young bullpen, we’d still be open to signing another veteran reliever, but that would be a low priority"
Well that low priority resulted in 35 yr old Mike MacDougal getting a million dollars to return for a year and Todd Coffey $1.3 million for 1 year. Add that all up and instead of adding the all important middle-of-the-order bat to a young but potentially talented lineup, the Dodgers got 9 players, all on the wrong side of 30, and spent $46 million to do so.
Throw in Ned’s less than productive free agent signings from a year ago, Juan Uribe, Matt Guerrier and Ted Lilly and the $24.75 million they are owed in 2012 and you’ve got nearly $70 million dollars in free agent signings on a group of aging veterans who’s best days are all behind them. Consider this, Ted Lilly will be the highest paid player on the Dodgers roster in 2012 at $12, and the Dodgers owe $20 million to players who are no longer even on the roster.
Manny Ramirez $8 million, Andruw FREAKING FAT you know what. (EDITED) Jones $3.375 million, Juan Pierre $3 million, Rafael Furcal $3 million, Hiroki Kuroda $2 million, Jon Garland $1.5 million and Casey Blake $1.25 million. Analyze that list of Colletti free agent signings, factor in Jason Schmidt, as well as the financial burden these signings have placed the Dodgers under, and you can’t tell me that the Dodgers have spent wisely or benefited statistically in free agency under the Ned Colletti regime.
And not to throw more salt in the wound, but it’s not going to get any better in 2013, in fact it’s going to get much, much worse. Lilly, Capuano, Harang, Uribe, Ellis, Hairston, and Guerrier will be paid roughly $48 million with and additional $10 million going to Manny, Andruw and Kuroda. Not only do these players eat up salary, they are guaranteed roster spots and worse important playing time the Dodgers top young prospects should be getting. They need the opportunity to develop at the major league level during this time, not languish in the minors for another year.
Come spring 2013 Rubby De La Rosa will be fully recovered from Tommy John Surgery and ready to take back his rightful spot in the starting rotation as the Dodgers #2 starter , but how can he when Lilly, Harang, Capuano and Billingsley all have guaranteed deals? And does anyone think the Dodgers will be able to trade a 37 year old Lilly who will be owed $13.5 million, or a 37 year old Capuano at $6 million or a 35 year old Harang at $7 million? Where do promising young pitching prospects Nate Eovaldi, Allen Webster, Chris Withrow or possibly even Zach Lee fit into the equation?
How is Shawn Tolleson going to be the next young dominant bullpen power arm when MacDougal, Coffey and Hawksworth stand in the way? Is Jerry Sands going to get the opportunity to play everyday when Juan Rivera is being paid $4.5 million dollars? How is a promising prospect like Alex Castellanos supposed to demonstrate his skill at the big league level when he’s being blocked at every position by Jerry Hairston Jr? Scott Van Slyke could very likely be a late blooming power hitting prospect who also hits for a high average, but where does he expect to get at-bats when someone like Sands can’t even find them?
Dodgers pitchers and catchers report to camp in just about a week, yet instead of being full of hope for the upcoming season, I look at what happened this offseason and I am simply at a loss for words.
At the very least we are closer every day to the end of the Frank McCourt debacle as owner of the Dodgers. The new ownership group will be selected on April 1st and McCourt must be out by the end of April. Yet, again being the pessimist I am, does anyone expect McCourt to simply pack his stuff and move on, or will he more likely have to be dragged from the Dodgers front office.
Let’s not forget that McCourt divided the Dodgers into more than 20 separate companies and LLC’s. Josh Fischer at Dodger Divorce.com posted an article back in April that showed the twisted web that is the Dodgers organizational flow chart. Whoever ends up being the Dodgers new owner must do so under 1 all important stipulation. Frank McCourt must not be a part of the Dodgers organization under any circumstance. He can’t keep the parking lots, he can’t keep the concessions, he doesn’t deserve to keep anything,
He had his shot and he blew it in spectacular fashion, the thought of him somehow retaining ownership of the parking lots and forcing the new ownership group to rent them from him is not a pleasant one. Surely whoever emerges from the bidding as the winner realizes that he must do so with full control over the Dodgers and ALL of the LLC’s. Does the fact that McCourt get’s to choose who replaces him seem grossly unfair to anyone aside from me?
But come April 30th a new ownership group will be in place. They will bring the Dodgers financial strength but they will certainly have their work cut out for them. Aside from operating under a TV deal that basically allows FOX to broadcast the Dodgers games the next 2 years for free (remember McCourt took the cash for the broadcasting rights for the next 2 years last season) the new ownership team will be tasked with rebuilding a depleted minor league system, one that has become irrelevant in international signings as of late. They will also be inheriting a 50 year old stadium in need of hundreds of millions of dollars in repairs, and they will also be inheriting all of the awful backloaded free agent deals Ned Colletti is so fond of signing players to.
Regardless spring training is near, the end of the McCourt era has less than 50 days left and the Dodgers still have Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw, arguably the best hitter and pitcher in the National League. Now if only all of the 30 something free agents Ned Colletti spent so much money on during free agency can produce, or possibly just get injured so the young guys can play, the Dodgers very likely may contend for a division title in 2012.