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Friday, August 01, 2008

ManRamifications For The Dodgers

The Angels' recent trade for Mark Teixeira seems to have sparked perhaps the busiest single trade deadline day in memory. Not only was Ken Griffey, Jr. moved to the Chicago Sox, but the Dodgers seemingly stumbled into Manny Ramirez after a three-way deal between the Red Sox, Marlins, and Pirates collapsed earlier in the day. The move made the front page of the Times today, and all but preempted a pro forma press conference announcing the next World Baseball Classic semifinals and finals would be held in Dodger Stadium.

It's undeniable that, for this year at least, Ramirez will represent a substantial offensive upgrade for the Dodgers. No matter whether he replaces any of Juan Pierre, Matt Kemp, or Andre Ethier, Ramirez's 20 home runs to date is almost as much as Kemp and Ethier's combined 23. Among players not on the DL (I'm thinking of Rafael Furcal), Manny's .529 slugging average would rank first on the team, just ahead of his former- and once again teammate, Nomar Garciaparra.

But if the deal helps the Dodgers in the here-and-now, there's substantial reason to question whether it helps over much longer than 2008. The Dodgers have had a chronic problem acquiring name talent — both on the field, as in the case of Nomar, and at the helm, as with Joe Torre — of dubious future value from the marquee franchises of the northeast. This has been especially problematic when, as in this case, they end up having to give up something of substantial value in order to get that talent. The principle problem with this deal is that it severely compromises the Dodgers at third base beyond 2008, a position that has been in constant flux since Adrian Beltre left as a free agent following the 2004 season. Good third basemen are hard to find, and it's far from clear that extending 34 year old Casey Blake or signing him as a free agent in the offseason is a real solution. Whether or not it's true that the Dodgers were internally conflicted on LaRoche's future value, it's hard to understand how the Dodgers could be so hungry for any kind of postseason appearance that they would ship off a quality catching prospect, a presumptive third baseman of the future, and the assorted leavening players that undermine depth, if nothing else, all for a shot at a pennant that is all but certainly out of reach. The Dodgers have spent more time under .500 than above it (only 32 days) in a weak division.

The cost in prospects was just one complaint Christina Kahrl had ($):

... [I]t's an obvious improvement to a lineup that needed the help, although the problem is whether or not this means that the Dodgers will wind up picking up the 2009 or 2010 options. If they have to or had to to get his Mannyness to agree to the trade, a deal that doesn't cost them anything now financially will end up becoming a bit of a millstone, since they'll be stuck with an increasingly fragile lead-gloved old man in left, and if that's what they wanted for their stretch run, why not just keep LaRoche and sign Barry Bonds?

It's worth asking that question, because while the immediate financial expense is negligible, where this deal costs the Dodgers right now is in talent, talent that they need now, and will need far into the future. LaRoche could wind up being the best bet to be the Pirates' token All-Star for the next five or six years, and not simply because a Pirate has to go, but because there are few better bets to star at the hot corner in the years to come. Having dealt him, future Dodgers squads will have to find their third baseman on the free-agent market—with the man who gave you Andruw Jones and Juan Pierre doing the shopping—lest they have to return to Blake DeWitt. Neither of those things have as much to offer a team as LaRoche, so in terms of measuring the full cost of what adding Manny does for this team, you've got to throw that onto the scale; signing Barry Bonds would not have cost them Andy LaRoche, and it would have involved no more (or less) of a distraction than Manny being Manny will, no matter how star-struck and craven the local media may be during its first exposure to the man. LaRoche was expensive enough, but Morris isn't chopped liver; although less developed, having pitched in Low-A after missing all of 2007 after Tommy John surgery, he's also talented enough to come back to haunt them.

No matter how this trade came about, and it has all the hallmarks of being something that the Dodgers stumbled into, it also has the side effect of keeping Ned Colletti in the saddle for at least a bit longer provided the Dodgers at least make the postseason, that is, if they win the division. At this moment, that looks unlikely; the Dodgers' odds of even getting to the postseason are now at 30%, according to the latest numbers by Baseball Prospectus following yesterday's 2-1 loss to the division-leading Snakes. But let us say for the moment that Manny's stick is sufficient, that the balance of power has changed in the NL West. There's a strong likelihood that one or both of Manny Ramirez and Casey Blake won't be back in Chavez Ravine in 2009, and even if one or both do return, age will take an inevitable toll on their abilities on the field.

Ned Colletti's tin ear for talent has led to bad contract after bad contract, from Schmidt to Pierre to Andruw Jones, and arguably, the Jeff Kent and Nomar extensions as well. Colletti is simply not a very good GM, consistently mistrusting young players, and making the wrong deals for the wrong kinds of veterans. The sooner the Dodgers can be rid of him the better. 2009 could easily become the sort of year that causes a GM to do really stupid things, as 1992 ended up netting the Dodgers the heartbreak of Darryl Strawberry.

Finally, this deal also sheds an increasingly disturbing light on the Dodgers' supposed One True Genius in the front office, Logan White. Yesterday, Diamond Leung quoted White as saying he was "[n]ot at all" sad to see LaRoche go to Pittsburgh for a rental. White is on the short list of Potential Replacements For Flanders, and the real possibility exists that White simply doesn't like what he's drafted, or that he has a "win now" mentality forced on him from ownership. Either way, it seems like he's bookending a restoration of the Dodgers' farm system by helping to steadily destroy it just as its fruits are ripening. That would make him equally ill-suited to run the team should that job fall in his lap. Unfortunately, it's not possible to fire the owners.

Manny suits up tonight. Enjoy the show, while it lasts.

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