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Saturday, July 12, 2008

Ross Newhan On The Dodgers Losing Their "Way"

Ross Newhan's "Reading Between The Lines" in today's Times came as something of a surprise to me, especially this:
If the ultimate yardstick is wins, losses and postseason appearances, there was consistent success on the field and remarkable continuity to the staff in virtually every department from the time Walter O'Malley brought the Dodgers to L.A. in 1958 until Peter O'Malley sold them in 1998.
It's funny, because the Dodgers' farm system fell apart in the late 80's and early 90's, leading to one of the most spectacular failures in Dodger history, the free agent contract of Darryl Strawberry, not to mention playing a significant role in the trade of Pedro Martinez. It also forgets that the Dodgers had five losing seasons from 1984 through 1993, a substantial drought that the 1988 title did much to assuage. Further, the Dodgers had not won a single postseason game (forget series!) from their 1988 title until the sale, and only in the 2004 postseason, when they squeezed an NLDS win out of Jose Lima did they even break that slide. The underlying problems remained: inattention to the farm system, incompetence with and/or disdain for free agency signings, and a general failure to properly evaluate baseball talent. The Dodgers squandered what talent they did have, and mismanaged the rest.

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the Dodgers' farm system fell apart in the late 80's and early 90's

Here are some of the players the Dodgers' farm system produced in the late '80s and early '90s, listed by year of ML debut:

1987 Tim Belcher, Mike Devereaux
1988 Ramon Martinez
1989 John Wetteland, Darrin Fletcher, Jose Vizcaino
1990 Jose Offerman, Dave Hansen, Darren Holmes
1991 Eric Karros, Juan Guzman
1992 Mike Piazza, Pedro Martinez, Eric Young, Pedro Astacio, Henry Rodriguez
1993 Raul Mondesi, Omar Daal
1994 Chan Ho Park, Ismael Valdez, Darren Dreifort
1995 Hideo Nomo, Felix Rodriguez, Todd Hollandsworth, Roger Cedeno

There are many adjectives I could imagine being used to describe that haul. "Falling apart" sure ain't one of 'em.

The Dodgers collapsed not because their farm system failed them, but because Tommy Lasorda, like old managers tend to do, lost the ability to develop and deploy and trust young talent.
One lousy middle infielder was all it would have taken to prevent the DeShields/Martinez trade. I submit that while there may have been a pipeline of top-flight talent delivered over a fairly long span, it wasn't fecund enough to meet the Dodgers' needs.
One lousy middle infielder? Eric Young had a pretty decent career -- 15 years as a Major League 2Bman, .359 OBP, 465 SBs -- but the Dodgers left him unprotected in the 1992 expansion draft after his rookie season, so that they could continue the joys of Lenny Harris, Mike Sharperson, and Jody Reed.

Or maybe they could have resisted the urge to trade eventual 18-year veteran middle infielder Jose Vizcaino for, uh, Greg Smith, just as Vizcaino was establishing himself (away from Tommy Lasorda) as a useful everyday player.

The Dodgers were just farting away talent at the time, because they apparently thought it would grow on trees forever.

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