New Dodgers Ownership Is Giving Similar Free Rein As The Old One

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The only difference between the new Dodgers’ ownership, fronted by Magic Johnson and backed by a lot of rich people, is that they’re more well-liked and aren’t plundering the organization to keep up a lavish lifestyle as the McCourts did. In the personnel department, the GMs have been allowed to do what they wanted in terms of player moves and that extends past current GM Ned Colletti and to former GM Paul DePodesta—Frank McCourt’s first hire.

The Dodgers have made a series of bold deals this season in turning over the roster and adding major money and veteran players Hanley Ramirez, Joe Blanton, Shane Victorino, Brandon League and Randy Choate. They were also willing to take on Cliff Lee’s $87 million contract; signed Matt Kemp (while McCourt was selling the team) and Andre Ethier to contract extensions; and invested $42 million in Cuban defector Yasiel Puig.

But is there a difference between what Colletti/DePodesta did then as to what’s happening now?

In 2004, in his first full season as the Dodgers’ GM and functioning with former GM Dan Evans’s players and manager Jim Tracy, DePodesta had a free hand to do what he wanted and took a sledgehammer to a team that was 60-42 and in first place in the NL West by making a series of disastrous trades, decimating what had been one of the game’s best bullpens by trading righty reliever Guillermo Mota along with catcher Paul LoDuca and outfielder Juan Encarnacion to the Marlins for first baseman Hee-Seop Choi, righty starter Brad Penny and lefty reliever Bill Murphy. The entire intent of these deals was to flip Penny to the Diamondbacks for Randy Johnson—adding more money—but Johnson refused to sign off on the trade. Penny made one start for the Dodgers and got hurt. DePodesta also traded for catcher Brent Mayne and outfielder Steve Finley. The Dodgers staggered to the finish line, made the playoffs and were dispatched in the first round by the Cardinals.

DePodesta was fired after the 2005 season when the club, after a 12-2 start, fell to 71-91 amid infighting among other players he brought in with a tone deafness as to clubhouse chemistry. Milton Bradley and Jeff Kent along with the always charming Penny turned the clubhouse toxic and it showed on the field. After the season, McCourt replaced DePodesta with Colletti.

Colletti has never let the media perception and public demands that he bag a season by selling dissuade him from being aggressive and trying to win when his team is within striking distance of a playoff spot. With the Dodgers in last place and under .500 (though close enough to first place to provide ample justification), he went for it at the deadline in 2006 by acquiring Greg Maddux, Julio Lugo and Wilson Betemit. Benefited by the weak NL, the Dodgers went on a hot streak and won the Wild Card before losing to the Mets in the NLDS.

After a disappointing 2007, the Dodgers spent big to hire legendary former Yankees’ manager Joe Torre. In 2008, they traded for Manny Ramirez and all his baggage and Manny went on a tear, leading the Dodgers to the NLCS. They signed him for two more years after that. At the deadline in 2008, they also acquired Casey Blake from the Indians for top prospect Carlos Santana and reacquired Maddux.

In 2009, as they were on the way to winning 95 games and the NL West, they acquired Jim Thome, George Sherrill, Ronnie Belliard and Jon Garland. In 2010, struggling but again in striking distance of the top of the division, they traded for Ted Lilly, Ryan Theriot, Octavio Dotel and Scott Podsednik. It didn’t work and Torre’s managerial career ended with an 80-82 season and the first missed playoff season since before he managed the Yankees.

McCourt owned the team that entire time.

Now, with the new ownership and team president Stan Kasten, the Dodgers are being lauded for “going for it” with money as no object. But it’s the same as it’s been for the past eight years. To say that Colletti is a veteran-centric GM who doesn’t care about prospects is ignoring that he refused to surrender top pitching prospect Zach Lee and that the Dodgers have spent big on draft picks and international free agents; that he drafted Clayton Kershaw and developed him into a superstar; that the club has been willing go after veterans from other clubs and act quickly to rectify mistakes by benching struggling, highly-paid vets like Juan Uribe.

It’s easy to credit Dodgers’ new ownership, but the truth is that it’s the GM—decidedly not a stat guy—who is the one who should be recognized for the way he’s running the team and his ability to ignore outsiders telling him what he should do and instead following his own path. It’s no surprise. The evidence is right there in black and white. This is how Colletti runs his team and that’s the way it was then and the way it is now.

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1st Round Draft Picks Traded for Middle Relievers is a Bad Move

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One of the more curious trades made on deadline day was the Cardinals sending former 1st round pick Zack Cox to the Marlins for Edward Mujica, a mediocre reliever who has a penchant for giving up lots of home runs. There are many palatable explanations to feed to the hungry public as to why such a deal would be made. With the Cardinals, Cox’s path was blocked at first base by Allen Craig and Matt Carpenter and at third base by David Freese; at 23, Cox is struggling at Triple-A after tearing apart the lower minors; the Cardinals needed help in the bullpen and wanted—for whatever reason—Mujica.

All are legitimate enough. But I’d think a former 1st round pick would bring back more than a homer-prone, journeyman relief pitcher who, bottom line, isn’t that good. There could be issues we don’t know about. Scott Kazmir was traded by the Mets in an atrocious maneuver, in part, because of his attitude. Trading Kazmir wasn’t the mistake the Mets made—pitching coach Rick Peterson wound up being right about Kazmir’s small frame and breakdown potential—but that they traded him for Victor Zambrano.

In today’s game, 1st round draft picks are losing their value and it’s not because they’re not talented, but because teams are more willing to trade them since one of the main reasons 1st round picks get chance after chance is due to the attachment to their names, “1st round pick” and that the clubs no longer have as much money invested in these players. Cox received a $3.2 million, 4-year contract when he was drafted as the 25th overall pick in 2010, including a $2 million bonus. That was relatively in line with the rest of the draft, apart from the Dodgers giving over $5 million to Zach Lee three picks later.

Now things are drastically different in the MLB Draft. The implementation of what amounts to a salary cap with punishments for exceeding the spending limits has rendered nonexistent the leverage of drafted players. That is clearly going to affect how clubs value those high picks and they’ll be more willing to trade them for less than what would be perceptively acceptable to the outsider. With the attention paid to the draft by the newly minted “draftniks” who think they know more than in-the-trenches scouts and experienced GMs, there’s a greater scrutiny placed on what’s done with those picks. When a team like the Nationals or Diamondbacks trades a chunk of their farm system to get a veteran Gio Gonzalez or Trevor Cahill, it’s debated more intensely than when the Red Sox traded Jeff Bagwell (a 4th round pick) for Larry Andersen in late August of 1990. As terribly as that trade is viewed now, the Red Sox weren’t wrong. Bagwell was a very good hitter and back then, the value of on base percentage wasn’t what it is now. He didn’t have any power in the minors and they had Wade Boggs blocking him with Scott Cooper ahead of Bagwell in the minor league pecking order. Anderson posted a 1.23 ERA in 15 relief appearances for the Red Sox and did exactly what they wanted him to do in helping them win their division. Who could’ve looked at Bagwell and expected him to become an MVP, Gold Glove winner, and future Hall of Famer? No one.

The Cox for Mujica isn’t similar to that trade because Andersen was a proven veteran reliever and Cox has shown minor league power that Bagwell never did. Is Cox what he was projected to be when the Cardinals drafted him and paid him so well? Probably not. But he’s 23 and his numbers in the lower minors were bolstered by a high batting average so his on base percentage looked better than it does now even though he’s walking about the same amount of the time. The Marlins got a better third base prospect than the one they gave up, Matt Dominguez, to get Carlos Lee (who they’re going to unload soon), and all they gave up was Mujica, who was a Marlins’ non-tender candidate after this season.

It was a productive deal for the Marlins and a head-scratcher for the Cardinals. With the diminished amount of money spent on high draft picks, we’ll see more of this in the future. While it wasn’t a good thing for players to get repeated passes for poor on-field play and bad off-field behaviors because of draft status and clubs’ fears of being embarrassed by a failed pick, nor is it a good thing that top draft picks are traded for middle relievers. It will happen again and teams are going to regret it because it’s not a smart baseball decision to make.

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