Monday, October 24, 2005

Bleedin' Some Dodger Blue

Since the Yankees were eliminated from the playoffs on October 10th, all the buzz in the New York newspapers has circled around the relationships between George Steinbrenner, Joe Torre, and Brian Cashman. Last week, we got an answer to the Torre question. Entering this week, it’s all about the Cash-man.

Anyone reading this site knows about the Cashman situation, so I’m not going to delve into the specifics. In fact, an article can be found in any local newspaper over the past week or so that can fully explain what is going on. The reason that each of these articles can explain the entire situation is that nothing has really developed. Cashman is in limbo, just as he was on October 10th.

In turn, there surely will be at least one Cashman article in every New York and northern New Jersey sports section until the situation becomes resolved. The media, the fans, and the team seem to be in agreement on wanting Cashman back. The problem lies within the Tampa contingent, which the media and fans don’t particularly care for, but whom Steinbrenner still trusts.

From what I’ve read in the newspapers (I still look to them for factual information, but never more for opinions), the Yankees want to have a resolution early this week so that they can gear up for another tumultuous off-season. There has been a development over the past few days, however, that has me pondering new possibilities. This development is the job security of Dodgers GM Paul DePodesta.

Before I go into my bit about why I want DePodesta running the show in New York, I just want to make it clear that I realize this will never happen. If Cashman doesn’t come back, it will be because of his lack of true authority in the front office. Given autonomy over baseball decisions, Cashman would most likely re-up with the Yanks. So any GM brought in would be subject to second-guessing and back stabbing via Tampa. In order for DePodesta to be effective, he must have autonomy. This is why such a move would never be made.

With that out of the way, I think that DePodesta has done a fine job in LA, considering what he’s had to work with. That may not make a whole lot of sense, considering he was hired right before the 2004 season and essentially handed a division-winning team. And then in 2005, the team that he overhauled mid-season and reconstructed in the off-season stumbled to finish 20 games under .500.

Obviously, my admiration for DePodesta stems from my love of Moneyball, in which DePodesta is characterized as a progressive thinker, refusing to accept age-old notions of how to build a ball club. If the Dodgers fire him this off-season, he will not have been granted ample opportunity to build a ball club. Rather, he will have been cut off before his vision could be properly manifested.

One glance at the ’05 Dodgers roster reveals two pertinent facts: 1) they were riddled by injuries and 2) these aren’t “Moneyball” guys. In fact, there’s a guy who had 319 at bats who was expelled from the A’s under Beane and DePodesta because he didn’t fit the mold – Olmedo Saenz.

The only guys on the team who had OBPs over .350 were J.D. Drew (.412), whose season ended before the halfway mark when he was plunked in the wrist (though he avoided a knee injury), Milton Bradley (.350), ditto with the injuries, and Jeff Kent (.377), the only one on the team with more than 450 at bats.

Despite the lack of success in ’05, the Dodgers look pretty poised for 2006, though they’d be in a much better position if DePodesta sticks around throughout the off-season. Right off the bat, they’re getting J.D. Drew back, and since Bradley will most likely be shipped elsewhere, he’ll be in center field, a position that he purports is better for his chronically ailing knee.

Kent will be back at second, and although he’ll be 38 – his skills suffering another year of decline – his ability to get on base shouldn’t be much compromised. At the backstop, 22-year-old former Yankees prospect Dioner Navarro will be handling the duties, and will surely prove the Yanks idiots for dishing him, especially since a catcher is on their wish list. Navarro came up after the All-Star break last year and posted an impressive .273/.354/.375 in just 176 at bats. He has a propensity to take pitches, which is exactly what the system calls for.

There may be another “Moneyball” player in the mix now, as Jose Cruz was imported via waivers in August. True, he had been released by the Devils Rays and then the Red Sox in ’05, but he seems to fall under that “defective” players category that Moneyball covets. Not only did he draw 66 walks over 370 at bats, but he saw nearly 4 pitches per plate appearance, which is in the upper echelon. By the way, those 66 walks – more than any Dodgers player not named Jeff Kent.

That leaves left field, which more than likely will be patrolled by Jason Werth, who has drawn nicknames like “not werth a dollar,” and the like. He’s another guy who doesn’t hit for a high average, but will take a walk. Oh yeah, and his pitches seen per plate appearance in ’05 was a beefy 4.48, .41 points higher than Jason Giambi, who along with Barry Bonds is king of the category.

At shortstop, Cesar Izturis will be back from injuries that caused him to miss 60 games, though Oscar Robles proved an adequate replacement. Izturis is young still, and may be able to fit himself into the DePodesta system. That leaves just the corner positions. It will surprise the hell out of me if DePodesta doesn’t make a run at Bill Mueller, considering he doesn’t re-up with the Red Sox. And at first, well, Hee Sop Choi certainly isn’t the answer. But there may be no better solution out there, considering Paul Konerko doesn’t seem to have the Dodgers on his radar. Maybe a reunion with former A’s first basemen Erubiel Durazo is in the cards.

As far as pitching is concerned, the Dodgers are right in the middle of the league. Jeff Weaver will more than likely be back next season, and although he’s not exactly an ideal ace, he’s – how should I describe him? – half decent. Derek Lowe is coming off a pretty good season, Odalis Perez had an uncharacteristically bad one at Dodger Stadium, and Brad Penny is always a threat. Edwin Jackson, a 21-year-old right hander who spend much of the year in Las Vegas, could be ready to debut in the rotation.

In the old bullpen, Eric Gagne will return, and he might actually have help this time. Duaner Sanchez had a good year at 25 years of age, and former Yankees prospect Yhency Brazoban showed flashes.

So it becomes clear that it would be foolish to relieve DePodesta of his duties, considering this is the year it may all come together. The pieces are in place, so why not let the guy keep his job and wait for the results to determine his fate? Hey, it worked in Oakland, although the A’s always had a few top tier pitchers to go along with the Moneyball offensive system.

Just remember, Billy Beane inherited the A’s in 1997, and didn’t make the playoffs until 2000. In his first season, 1997, the A’s actually finished worse than they had the previous year. Similarly, the Dodgers finished worse in 2005 than 2004, after DePodesta’s first off-season. Yes, DePodesta was dismantling a team that had been generally succeeding, but his view is that such success is ephemeral, and that once his team is assembled, perpetual success may be achieved.