My second post ever on Dodger Thoughts was a State of the Union dated July 22, 2002 — and boy, what a trip down memory lane that is. Let’s put it through the Excerptatron 4000.
So, with a Dodger team that overachieved in the first half of the season and has underachieved in the second half, what do you do?
When you look at the Dodgers, it’s easy to see that their biggest weakness is on offense. Beyond Shawn Green, the team has very little power for baseball in the 21st century. The team is last in the league in walks. Cesar Izturis is the worst offensive shortstop in baseball; Mark Grudzielanek and Adrian Beltre are close to worst at their positions. So despite some decent batting averages from the likes of Paul Lo Duca and Dave Roberts, this is a team that struggles to score. During the team’s best months of May and June, the team was getting on base a little bit more, but not a lot more. Really, they were just combining their hits better.
Defensively, on the other hand – and in saying that, I’m combining pitching and fielding – this has been the best Dodger team in several years. Despite the injuries to Kevin Brown and Darren Dreifort – and even including a July slump – the Dodgers are near the top of league pitching charts. Izturis and Roberts have propelled the team to a place at or near the top in fielding. Very surprising developments.
My first thought is to improve the obvious weakness. My second thought is to improve the obvious strength, because they are so bad offensively that it almost seems hopeless. I think the Dodgers have a better shot winning a game 1-0 than they do 6-5.
But then you look at the organization, and you go, how can they possibly improve? There are so few prospects at the minor league level that are of interest to other teams. And the only major league player that would interest anyone is Beltre, who is still only 23, but with his long slump, worth less now than he was three months ago.
My fear with a weak but contending Dodger team (a situation that we’ve faced in 1999 and 2001, most recently) is that in an effort to parlay a longshot playoff bid, the Dodgers will give up too much young talent and lose any chance to really become something in ensuing the seasons.
This year, based on the chemistry the team showed through the beginning of July, and with no one but the aging Atlanta Braves appearing dominant, I might be more inclined to take a chance. But the fact of the matter is, I just don’t believe there are any moves that can be made. We’ve got no way to get anyone worth a damn.
Right now, the Dodgers are just playing poorly – making errors and bad pitches to match their poor hitting. The players on this team are good enough to win if they’re playing solidly, bad enough to lose if they’re playing poorly, and I don’t see that any addition is going to change that in 2002.
And then, of course, there is the threat of a strike, which could make any moves for the postseason worthless. Sentiment around the sport seems to feel that the playoffs will happen, if belatedly, but it is something to think about.
Maybe it’s too passive, but right now, I would just wait. I would wait and see if this team can turn itself around and start playing well. I would wait and see if Dreifort and Brown can give them just a few meaningful innings in September – not in a starting or even starring role, but just enough to give the overall staff a little boost. Dubious, I know, but I think that’s the best we can hope for.
Long before Fox made the absurd move of trading Piazza, reasonable minds would wonder what it would take for the Dodgers to elevate a perennial 90-game winning team into a team that could win a World Series. This legitimate approach has been erased by a philosophy of trying to build a team that can somehow sneak into the playoffs and maybe luck into a World Series, with the hope I guess that Kirk Gibson will limp to the plate at age 46 and homer. I have long advocated that the Dodgers go back to trying to build a legitimate World Series champion, through a solid farm system and solid trades, even if it means tearing the current team apart.
This year’s team has been more fun to watch, at least until two weeks ago, than any Dodger team for a while. But in my mind, it is not a team that you can tinker with to get over the top. It is a pretender, and while it still has the possibility to go far, it does not have the likelihood.
The current Dodgers should focus on returning to the first-half quality of play. They should celebrate the success whatever success they have this year. But when it comes to any transactions, their focus should still be on 2003 and beyond.
Think of it this way: The Dodgers price/earnings ratio is still inflated, and this is still a bear market. If any trades are being made in baseball over the next month, the Dodgers should be selling, not buying.
I just went back to look at the Dodgers’ record on this date, and they were 56-44, a mere 2 1/2 games out of first place. In that context, this was an awfully pessimistic take. They weren’t eliminated from the division race until September 23, with five games to go in the season.
I can’t tell you what I thought about that, because the night before, my first child was born.
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