Well, you can’t really fire owners… so maybe I should have titled this something else. But with multiple reports surfacing that the Los Angeles Dodgers have reached a multi-year contract extension with GM, Ned Colletti. Colletti has been in the news a lot recently, with all the high profile acquisitions recently made by the Dodgers. It’s clearly premature to say one way or the other whether all of these moves are either booms, busts, or somewhere between. But if the reports of Colletti’s extension are accurate, it bears looking at whether he has earned it.
The Guggenheim group is clearly willing to spend money. But as John Henry can certainly tell you, building a winning club is about more than throwing money around. There has to be a plan. And who knows, maybe there is one.
The Argument For Colletti: Clearly, he wants to win. He cares. And he does not shy away from the media. It would have been easy for him at any time during his tenure under disgraced former owner, Frank McCourt, to gripe about lack of funds to build a competitive club while McCourt essentially swindled the city of Los Angeles for the better part of a decade. So he took his limited budget and tried to fill holes with servicable veterans, leaning on superstars Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw to keep the team respectable. When new ownership took over this year, and having coffers that were once again overflowing, he pilfered megastar shortstop Hanley Ramirez from the Marlins for a nominal cost in the large scheme of things, agreeing to take on the remainder of Ramirez’ big contract. Ramirez has been great since joining the Dodgers, justifying the trade. He also gambled and won that former all star closer, Brandon League was not a one year wonder, and with a little mechanical help could rediscover his old self. This allowed him to trade up and coming reliever, Josh Lindblom for Shane Victorino for help at the lead off spot and in left field. Victorino is declining and has been average at best, but that’s a monstrous improvement over the platoon of Juan Rivera and Tony Gwynn Jr. Also, Victorino goes free agent after this season so there’s no financial commitment for the future. Finally, there was the totally under-the-radar signing of Mark Ellis, who despite a life-threatening leg injury early in the year, has been super steady.
The Actuality: Colletti has behaved a bit like new royalty, inheriting a powerful position and running roughshod over the townsfolk with a bevvy of new rules and regulations. It’s easy to point to the Ramirez acquisition as shrewd business, but was it? Miami had essentially decided they were going to cut bait with Ramirez and deal him. It can’t take a whole lot of shrewdness when someone wants to trade their all world shortstop for pennies on the dollar when he, chronologically figuring, hasn’t even really reached his prime yet. Add in that the team was desperate for rotation help. Rumors abound that Matt Garza, Ryan Dempster, Cliff Lee, James Shields, and others could be on their way. Not all of them, of course, but keep in mind, someone was needed with Chad Billingsley making his first of two trips to the DL this season. Ted Lilly was already a long term absence. And in this situation, the best he could do was Joe Blanton. Taking nothing from Blanton, he’s the honest sort who shows up and puts in an earnest shift when he’s called upon, and won’t bitch if his spot in the rotation gets skipped. Problem with Blanton is, he’s nearly an exact facsimile of Aaron Harang, except with slightly better command and not as effective of a repertoire. And there’s no way to argue that his performance, which is about what was expected, is any better, or even at the same level, that they would have gotten from a AAA call up like Stephen Fife or John Ely, or giving the durable Jamey Wright a shot.
The Mega Deal: Turn the clock back to 2009, if someone said you could have Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and Josh Beckett, with the added bonus of being able to permanently close the gaping black hole of production at first base that James Loney brought annually, and all it would cost you was a few marginal prospects, and one guy (Rubby De la Rosa) with serious potential, what would you say? Of you course you would. But this is 2012, not 2009. Gonzalez is still an elite run producer and good fielder, but his power numbers have shown signs of regression and that doesn’t figure to reverse with time. Carl Crawford was a catastrophic signing for Boston, missing the majority of the last two season with a bad elbow, and playing horribly when actually playing. Beckett is still a fierce competitor, but he is in a self-admitted adjustment period from flame throwing dominator, to a more Greg Maddux like cerebral pitcher. In the unlikely event that he completes the Maddux transition, it will turn out to be good for both player and team. In the more likely outcome, he becomes yet another Aaron Harang. Lastly, assuming that Crawford recovers well enough from Tommy John surgery to play, he blocks 42-million dollar prospect, Yasiel Puig, who defected from Cuba and joined the Blue Crew with the hype of having five big league tools, and being near major league ready. Gonna trade the recently extended Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier? Yeah, didn’t think so. Now what?
The Verdict: If Gonzalez remains a super productive 100+ RBI guy for the next four or five years; if Crawford even approaches his .290, 15 HR, 40 SB, 120 R echelon of a couple years ago; if Beckett reinvents himself as a control pitcher and wins in the region of 13-16 games for the next two years; if all of these things happen, then the trade will be looked at as a huge success for Colletti and the Dodgers. In the far more likely scenario, Gonzales plays well but with a gradual decline in production, Crawford will show the effects of a career-altering surgery and never again reach his all star levels, and Beckett will be servicable… in other words, Aaron Harang. In THIS scenario, Colletti has saddled the Dodgers with 250 million dollars in unmovable payroll, and the team will be mired in mediocrity. After all, how good were the Red Sox with these three guys? Exactly. Why would the Dodgers improve dramatically, apart of course from the jettisoning of perennial disappointment, Loney?
Again, nobody can predict the future. But one thing is for sure, lavishing Colletti with a rich extension before the effectiveness of his roster reconstruction is ludicrous, don’t you think? If you have 15, and the dealer is showing a face card, of course you can make a valid argument for hitting. But would you double down?