Let’s Talk About Shortstop

For all the talk flying around about CC Sabathia, Manny Ramirez, and whether we should prefer a winning baseball team or helping children, it’s really looking more and more likely that shortstop is going to be the most important decision the Dodgers have to make this offseason. With Rafael Furcal sounding like he’s all but a memory (likely to the A’s or Giants), Chin-Lung Hu hardly impressive in 2008, and Ivan DeJesus, Jr. not ready to be handed the Opening Day gig, the Dodgers are going to have to find a shortstop somewhere.

Any of this sound familiar? It should, because we did almost this exact same thing back in June. You always hear about how third base has been a black hole for the Blue since Adrian Beltre left; well, shortstop hasn’t really been that much better. So let’s take a spin through the intertubez and check out some of the options…

jackwilsonswingsJack Wilson. Believe it or not, Jack Wilson’s garnered a mention in about a dozen posts in the history of this blog, because his name seems to constantly pop up in rumors. So by now, you probably now how I feel about him – he’s pretty mediocre. Oh sure, he’s a good fielder, and he’s had one or two decent offensive seasons. That doesn’t exactly make up for the 78 career OPS+, the .312 career OBP, the 6 of 8 seasons with OPS+’s of 77 or under, or his career shortcomings at Dodger Stadium (.558 OPS). He’s a mediocre veteran on the wrong side of 30, and he’s not cheap – $7.25 million due in 2009 with a $500k buyout on his $8.4 million 2010 salary nor is he coming off of a good season, being the 36th ranked SS in VORP (behind Nomar and David Eckstein) when he wasn’t hurt. Basically, I don’t think much of him as a solution, though I’d probably take him if he only cost a relatively small contract, if we can’t do any better. So you can imagine how I feel about the return the Pirates are looking for:

The Dodgers have prospects, too, and, according to a Wednesday report by Yahoo!, want the Pirates to pay “a huge chunk” of Wilson ‘s remaining money. Fox Sports reported earlier in the week that the Pirates sought shortstop Chin-Lung Hu, outfielder Delwyn Young and a third player, but Los Angeles pulled away.

The Pirates do not see Hu, a .193 hitter in his first 77 major league games, as anything more than a defensive replacement for Wilson , so the rest of the trade component will be key. By no means will Hu be the centerpiece.

The funny thing about that is, I wouldn’t trade Chin-Lung Hu straight up for Jack Wilson. I realize that Hu didn’t show much in 2008, but at least he’s got hope for improvement. We know exactly what Jack Wilson is, and that’s an overpaid older mediocre shortstop. Hu is at least as good of a defender (probably better), and still has time to show the offensive form that got him so hyped in 2007 – at a fraction of the cost. Now I understand that the Pirates and their fans wouldn’t want to trade their starting shortstop for a player who hit as poorly as Hu did this year – it’s a hard sell. But since I don’t really want Wilson at all, there’s a simple solution: don’t bother trading for Jack Wilson!

In situations like these, it’s always interesting to see what fans of the other team say. At the BuccoBlog, they don’t see much about Hu or Young to get excited about, and while I disagree it’s not hard to see why they’d feel that way. From the comments of that same thread, though, it seems that some of their fans realize that Wilson isn’t all that much to get excited about:

Can Huntington sell Wilson’s valuable defense, contact hitting and agressive baserunning to get back top value or maybe more?
by DITO

Yeah, all NH has to do is find a team that’s never employed a scout, has no internet connection and no subscription to any magazine that has baseball stats.
by WTM

No wonder they’re coming to Colletti! Just kidding. Sort of. Anyway, since I’d barely give him a job if he came for free, much less at a cost of prospects, let’s just drop the whole “Jack Wilson” thing, can we?

Edgar Renteria… or Orlando Cabrera. Ken Rosenthal (via MLBtraderumors) chimes in on Wilson, but also drops this nugget:

On the free-agent front, they are showing mild interest in free-agent shortstop Edgar Renteria but not Orlando Cabrera, believing that Cabrera would require too long a contract, sources say.

renteriatigersRenteria, as you might remember, had apparently signed a two year, $18 million deal with the Giants last week before reports were proven false. I’d been all set to laugh at San Francisco for that deal, because what the hell does a rebuilding team need with an over-the-hill shortstop who’d cost a draft pick? It makes slightly more sense for the Dodgers, as they’re a contender. Frankly, I’m not exactly sure why Cabrera is expected to get a better deal than Renteria. I’ll grant that Cabrera is the superior fielder, but he’s also a year older, has historically been a weaker offensive player than Renteria, and in a season in which Renteria was killed for having “lost it”, they each ended up with identical 84 OPS+ scores.

Renteria’s not the player he once was, but I don’t think that he’s as cooked as most believe. In 2007 for Atlanta, he had the second best season of his career (.390 OBP!), and he’s now proven twice that while he thrives in warm weather NL cities (Miami, Atlanta, St. Louis), he struggles in cold weather AL cities (Boston, Detroit). Well, guess what: the Dodgers aren’t based out of Minnesota. Besides, while Renteria was – like the rest of the Tigers – absolutely brutal in the first half last year, he definitely turned it around in the second half, putting up a line of .296/.343/.469. He’s hardly the ideal solution, I’ll admit. But if he’s somehow undervalued enough to agree to just a one or two year deal, I’m okay with a line like that, and with a contract that short it’s not blocking DeJesus.

Angel Berroa. Again from Rosenthal:

If Furcal signs elsewhere, the Dodgers’ top in-house candidate to replace him could be Angel Berroa, a capable fielder who batted only .230.

Berroa, who was acquired in a trade with the Kansas City Royals and started for most of the time when Furcal was out, had his $5.5-million option for next season declined. Because Berroa hasn’t accrued enough major league service time to become a free agent, he remains under the Dodgers’ control.

The last day to tender contracts to such players is Dec. 12, and if the Dodgers don’t re-sign him by then, they’ll probably let him go because the collective bargaining agreement forbids clubs to re-sign or tender contracts to players that would cut their salaries from the previous season by more than 20%. Berroa earned $4.75 million in 2008, meaning the Dodgers would be forced to pay him at least $3.8 million if they tender him a contract.

No, no, no. No. Just no. $3.8 million for Angel Berroa? I wouldn’t take him at the major league minimum, even if someone else was paying it. I’m not even going to link to our previous articles about him, because you know it all by now. He’s a complete black hole at the plate and despite Rosenthal’s assertion of him as a “capable” fielder, is average at best. As we’ve said before, if we’re going to have to play a shortstop who can’t hit, it might as well be Hu, the superior fielder who’s at least got a prayer of offensive improvement.

Now at this point you’re probably thinking, “MSTI, you’re against everyone. Who do you want?” Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer to that. My thinking is that either Hu or DeJesus is going to be the man at the position, but that you can’t depend on either in 2009. So you want to get a player on a one-year deal, two at the most, who won’t kill you in 2009, but also won’t cost a ton in prospects to acquire. That counts out Jack Wilson, who the Pirates want a ton for, and Angel Berroa, who would kill us. So as much as I hate myself for saying it, I can’t see a better option right now: Edgar Renteria on a very short term deal.

- Mike Scioscia’s tragic illness msti-face.jpg

You Should Have to Pass a Test to Have a Blog

(Before we get started, fair is fair. We bash Bill Plaschke relentlessly around here, which is only because he’s generally the worst columnist in sports. So on the rare occasion that he actually says something I agree with, I feel obligated to point it out. Check out Plaschke’s response to the Jamie McCourt firestorm, because believe it or not, he’s right on. Due to this, I fully expect that the earth will collide with Mars by the end of the year.)

Usually I don’t address trade rumors from other blogs, because they’re not so much “rumors” as some ridiculous idea thought up by someone with no connection to the team whatsoever. Yet today we’re going to bend that rule a bit for two reasons – one, because the blog we’re about to discuss seems to have some professional writers (radio hosts and ESPN.com writers) and two, because some things are simply so idiotic that they must be addressed. To let things like what you’re about to see go by without comment would yankeefansnearly be as much of a mistake on my part as theirs, because if you don’t roll up that newspaper and lightly bat the puppy on the nose while saying “no”, how will they ever learn? Besides, it’s the slowest time of the year, so I’ll take what I can get.

It is with this in mind that I bring you the New York Baseball Digest, also known as “the Worst Baseball Blog ever”. In particular, their post about what the Yankees should do about Andy Pettitte, which is relevant here due to the recent “Pettitte to Dodgers” rumors we’ve heard. After some discussion about whether the Yankees should offer Pettitte arbitration or not, we get to this:

I personally feel the Yankees do not need Pettitte, that he is on the decline and doesn’t have the same bite on his reknowned cut fastball. The Yankees are interested in Sabathia and Lowe because they were dominant #1starters down the stretch, helping their teams into the playoffs. But, Pettitte was the exact opposite of Sabthia and Lowe, was terrible down the stretch, fashioning a 2-7 with a 6.23 ERA in his final 11 starts. So, if you were Brain Cashman, the reason you like Sabtahia and Lowe should be the reason you DON’T LIKE Pettitte – he was terrible when it counted most.

Other than the fact that a supposed media professional should be able to go better than 1-3 on spelling “Sabathia” right (and let’s not even get into “Brain” Cashman), this backs up what I said the other day about signing Pettitte – that’s he’s done, cooked, and not worth anywhere near the money he’ll command. Yankee fans, judging from what I’ve read and heard, seem to agree. He’s at the end of the rope. Which is why this next paragraph will make you throw yourself into the highway:

The Yankees do not want to give Pettitte similar money as last year, knowing he is on the decline and is, at best in 2009, going to be a fifth starter. But, the Yankees need to offer arbitration, and hope that the Dodgers’ need for a veteran starter is too much and they offer Pettitte a two year deal for good money. But, if Pettitte does accept arbitration, seek to trade him and possibly Johnny Damon (because LA could also use a leadoff hitter) to the Dodgers for a young player or two. I like Matt Kemp and James McDonald straight up.

Matt Kemp and James McDonald straight up for Andy Pettitte and Johnny Damon, is it? I bet you do like that. Because who wouldn’t like trading two expensive guys in their mid 30s for two future stars making the minimum that are under 25? No, forget the fact that Matt Kemp is better than Johnny Damon right now (2008 leadoff stats: Kemp .305/.360/.492 vs Damon .305/.376/.468, not to mention Kemp’s rocket arm vs. Damon’s Pierre arm), and forget the fact that McDonald is likely going to be better than Pettitte in 2009, because it’s not like McDonald was dominating the Phillies in the NLCS while Pettitte was imploding down the stretch. None of that matters! Because it’d help the Yankees! Hey, while you’re at it, why not trade Hideki Matsui for Russell Martin? Kei Igawa for Chad Billingsley?

You know, usually I feel that Dodger fans’ particular disgust of Red Sox and Yankee fans is a bit overblown. But why is always the Yankee fans and their blogs that come up with these ridiculous ideas that have no consideration for why the other team would possibly make such a deal?

So we salute you, New York Baseball Digest. Your idiocy has provided me with a morning of entertainment intermingled with occasional thoughts of how we can bombard your server to get your site offline, if only to spare the rest of us from your ridiculous, underthought, poisonous trade “ideas”.

- Mike Scioscia’s tragic illness msti-face.jpg

Is It Too Late to Register www.FireTheMcCourtsNow.com?

lovejoyI’m hardly the first one to cover this (see: DodgerThoughts, 6-4-2, Sons of Steve Garvey, BaseballThinkFactory, Ken Rosenthal and many more), but I’ll be damned if I’m going to miss out on this shitstorm. Let’s chalk this one up as “another reason having a real job stinks, because they expect you to actually work instead of blog”. For the record, I just scanned those other blogs to get the links and have not yet read their responses, so it’ll be interesting to see how similar to them it ends up.

As you’ve no doubt heard by now, Jamie McCourt said one of the dumbest things in American history the other day. Let’s do this with a fervor usually reserved only for Bill Plaschke! I don’t even usually swear that much when I write here, but this one’s got some special sauce involved…

Would Dodgers fans react negatively if the team were to pay big money to free agents when the nation’s economy is in sharp decline and many Americans are losing their jobs?

That was the question posed by Dodgers President Jamie McCourt as she made an appearance with her husband, team owner Frank McCourt, Tuesday at an event where it was announced the club’s charitable foundation would help build 42 youth fields around Southern California.

Anywhere, Los Angeles. Two recently laid-off Angelenos try to distract themselves from their inability to find a job by discussing their favorite pastime, Dodger baseball.

“Steve, I think I’m going to lose my house. I won’t be able to send my kids to college. But at least I still have baseball to look forward to.”

“Tom, I feel your pain, I can’t find a job either. Hey, I hear the Dodgers might sign CC Sabathia. How great of a rotation would CC/Billingsley/Kershaw/Kuroda be? Unstoppable!”

“What! How could they do that! I can’t find work, and they’re going to give Sabathia all that money! I’m offended by that! Boooo!”

“Tom, what the hell are you talking about? Sabathia’s getting his money no matter where he signs. Ticket prices are going to be high no matter what, and it’s not like we’re getting a refund if CC doesn’t get that salary from the Blue, so shouldn’t we at least want to see our team win while we’re down in the dumps?”

“You’re right, Steve. I’m being ridiculous. Because while the economy sucks, I’m not a fucking moron and realize that a billion-dollar baseball team giving a hundred million dollars to a great player will have absolutely no impact on my life other than to make me happy to see them win.”

“If you bring somebody in to play and pay them, pick a number, $30 million, does that seem a little weird to you?” Jamie McCourt asked in an interview at the Evergreen Recreation Center in East Los Angeles. “That’s what we’re trying to figure out. We’re really trying to see it through the eyes of our fans. We’re really trying to understand, would they rather have the 50 fields?”

Do you ever read something and you want to say three sentences at once in reply, but you have to force your brain to relax and just do one at a time so it’ll make sense? Because right now I’m not sure which thought is trying to push it’s way out of my head first: the idea that paying for 50 baseball fields is somehow costing enough that a top free agent is no longer affordable (seriously, how much did these fields cost? Is the grass made out of emeralds? Do the kids get Hall of Famers to coach every position) or the idea that Jamie McCourt basically just said “if you want the Dodgers to get good, though expensive, players, then you’re a monster who hates children.” Because, you know, when the Dodgers went out and got Manny and sold about ten billion $300 replica jerseys and fake dreadlocks and playoff tickets, all of you were bad people for supporting that expensive player and giving all that money to the McCourts.

You want to see it through “the eyes of the fans”? Guess what: we’re all for kids. Build them fields. Be a good citizen of the community. Build the next generation of baseball fans, because that’s how this business is going to sustain itself – and who knows how many kids we’ve already lost through 9pm EST World Series starts and the like. But there is no one – no one – who’s going to say “I’d rather the Dodgers miss the playoffs, in order for some kids to have a nice field to play on.” I’m not pretending that a baseball team winning is more important than supporting the youth of the America – it’s not, let’s keep our priorities straight – but do NOT insult our intelligence by suggesting that one has anything to do with the other.

Once again, just in case I wasn’t clear. This is not an either/or proposition! I salute you for building these fields, I really do. You’ve probably made a difference in the lives of some kids, and that’s commendable. But the idea that the “charitable donations” budget and the “baseball operations” budget is one and the same is ludicrous. And again, let’s not forget that the cost of 50 youth baseball fields maybe covers Manny’s per diem.

The Dodgers recently made a two-year, $45-million offer to slugger Manny Ramirez that they later withdrew, and the McCourts seemed to be hedging against lavish spending during a time of such great economic uncertainty.

Not that anyone ever expected Manny to accept this offer in the first place, but we all know how poor the economy is right now, and I have no problem with fidiuciary responsibility; no one is suggesting or asking that we become the West Coast Yankees.

Jamie McCourt said the fact that the majority of contracts were guaranteed was a significant issue.

“I think, oddly enough, maybe if things weren’t guaranteed, then we could pay for it,” she said. “If people can’t play anymore, it’s like, ‘Oh well, see ya.’ Different story. Whatever money they are guaranteed could be money that we could otherwise have given to community.”

Oh dear God. You’re complaining about guaranteed contracts? Welcome to the last 30 years. Hey, you know what else is an issue? Free agency! Why can’t we bring back the reserve clause and tie players to their original teams forever? That’d be great for us poor, poor owners! Damn you, Curt Flood!

As for the second part of that quote… look, I know Jamie McCourt is a smart woman with her fancy degrees and all, but I am actually getting offended with how stupid she thinks baseball fans are. Are you really, truly, honestly suggesting that if contracts weren’t guaranteed, then underperforming players would be cut loose and their salary given to the community? Would you really be giving the $18 million or so due Andruw Jones to needy families? Or are you saying that you can’t afford to give more to charity because your cash is all tied up in expensive players? We’ve said pretty much everything bad you can say about Juan Pierre around here, but “takes food out of the mouths of orphans” isn’t exactly a level we’ve made it to yet.

Frank McCourt said that while he and his wife contribute money out of their own pockets to the Dodgers’ charitable causes, the team and its foundation are separate entities and the funds to pay for the fields won’t be taken out of the team’s operating budget. But he, too, said the Dodgers had to re-examine their priorities.

Frank, I think you may want to have a chat with the missus, because she seems to think otherwise. I think that chat should maybe start with, “hey. could you keep your fat mouth shut when you have no idea what you’re talking about?”

Later in the article, McCourt was asked about the absurd spring training prices, while Dylan Hernandez astutely points out McCourt’s error:

Because of the economy, Frank McCourt was asked, had the Dodgers overpriced the tickets for spring training games at their new facility in Glendale, Ariz.?

He said no, adding that only a small percentage of tickets cost $90. (Actually, they can cost as much as $125 for “premium” games.) He called the other seats, which range from $18 to $30 for “regular” games and $20 to $35 for “premium” games, “very affordable.”

“And keep in mind,” Frank added, “there’s also going to be the berm seating at the ballpark,” referring to tickets to sit in the grass behind the outfield fences, which will cost $8 or $10, depending on the game.

I love spring training. Love it. Well, loved it, now that it’s moving from Vero to Arizona, but that’s another story entirely. But even I wouldn’t pay $35 to see Luis Maza, Pablo Ozuna, and BJ LaMura amble around the field. If the economy is so bad that you’re choosing between free agents and children, Frank, then why are meaningless practice games so much?

Oh, right. The scented towels.

You know what, I’ve tried. I really have. I’ve been a Dodger fan for two decades and I can’t imagine anything happening that would change that. But I just cannot stomach any more of these woe-is-me stories from millionaires. McCourt has made some immense mistakes since taking over, from how much money he had to borrow to buy the team to the ridiculous way he caved to Plashke in prematurely firing Paul DePodesta. We’re starting to see real repercussions on the field of play due to these new penny-pinching ways, and unfortunately, this points to a much larger issue. Look, I don’t need to see you outspend the Yankees. But these are the Los Angeles Dodgers we’re talking about here. This is a huge market, and one that annually is at or near the top of the league in attendance. We shouldn’t be pinching pennies. We shouldn’t have had to throw in Carlos Santana just so you could avoid paying the $2 million left on Casey Blake’s deal, and we shouldn’t even be speaking to the Pirates about Jack fucking Wilson, much less demanding the Pirates eat most of his salary (to clarify here, I’m not saying it’s not a bonus if we have to pay him less, because it is; it just reeks of “we’ll only do this trade if it doesn’t cost us anything” more than it does a good baseball deal. I wouldn’t do Wilson for Hu straight up, much less Wilson for Hu, Young, and another player.)

I get it. The economy is lousy for everyone, and due to that handing out $160 million or so to Sabathia might not be the most prudent course of action. That’s reasonable, and if that’s the case, so be it. We’d understand. Or at least we’d accept it a whole hell of a lot better than we would be treated like idiots who can’t smell what a load of horsecrap “free agents OR KIDS!” is.

I am, for the moment, truly disgusted. Happy Thanksgiving.

- Mike Scioscia’s tragic illness msti-face.jpg

I Guess I’ve Got No Choice

Sweet merciful crap! The rumors! My god, the rumors. You know, usually I look forward to this time of year so much, because what’s more fun than the Hot Stove League? Wondering what big name will don the Dodger blue for the first time, trying to figure out how all the puzzle pieces will fit together for the next year. It’s wonderful.

Until the 400th time you hear some two-bit reporter come up with a non-sourced rumor that only benefits his hometown team and somehow gains legs, that is. I’ve heard some people complain that the Dodgers have somehow been dragging their feet in not making any moves yet, but I just don’t see it. We all know that the big-time free agents always wait as long as possible before signing, and other than that the only moves have really been the Giants signing Jeremy Affeldt and the Marlins making a few salary dumps.

Anyway, things have really been coming to a head the last few days, despite the fact that we all know nothing is going to happen until at least the December 1 arbitration deadline and likely not until the December 8 winter meetings, so I figure it’s time to check into some of these.

* Good god, Jack Wilson again? Via MLBtraderumors, FOXsports.com’s Ken Rosenthal is reporting that the Dodgers are interested in trading for Pirates SS Jack Wilson, but that the price (Chin-Lung Hu, Delwyn Young, and a third player) was deemed too high. This isn’t the first time we’ve heard Wilson rumors floating around, and at least this is a little more palatable than when we’d heard Matt Kemp was involved over the summer. But come on, three players for Jack Wilson? He’s known to be a good defender and a below-average bat. Which sounds like, oh, I don’t know… Chin-Lung Hu? I don’t think that Hu’s going to get a shot to be the Opening Day shortstop, but if we’re going to have a good field/no hit guy there, I think I’d rather the guy who’s not getting paid $7.25 million in 2009, is especially atrocious in Dodger Stadium (.558 OPS), and is costing several young players to acquire. At least Hu’s got some upside. PASS.

* Wait, Andy Pettitte? Also from Ken Rosenthal, Andy Pettitte has apparently spoken with Joe Torre about a reunion in Los Angeles. If true, this is a tough call. On one hand, he’ll be 37 next year, is coming off the worst year of his career (plus a 5.35 ERA in the second half) and after having made $16 million in each of the last three years, is unlikely to want to take much of a pay cut. On the other hand… actually, I don’t think there is another hand. I wouldn’t mind giving him a shot at a more reasonable price, but if he wants $16 million or anything close to it? I’d rather have Eric Stults. Somehow I feel Torre would disagree with me. PASS.

* Okay, Ken, I see you, you can stop making a scene. Clearly just trying to get my attention, Rosenthal seems to have the Dodgers in on just about everyone, so let’s finish with him right here. He’s also suggesting that the Dodgers A) should sign Trevor Hoffman and B) could be interested in acquiring Mike Lowell. Though I disagree that Jonathan Broxton needs to be “protected” or somehow can’t be trusted, I’m not against signing Hoffman at the right price. He might be 41, but he still bested his career WHIP last year. If the price is right? Why not. As for Lowell, he’s 35, injured, and owed $25 million. Just because he’s old, busted, expensive and a Red Sox doesn’t mean that he has to end up with the Dodgers. Oh… right. Of course it does. OKAY and PASS.

* I agree with T.J. Simers?! I hate it when this happens, but at least this time it’s just joining together to acknowledge that Bill Plaschke is awful.

I GO away and Plaschke immediately makes the case again not to bring back Manny Ramirez, while suggesting the Dodgers trade for Jake Peavy, Adrian Beltre and “count on the kids.”

Sounds like I’m not the only one in need of some time off.

* Come on Giants! I know the “Edgar Renteria signs with Giants” rumors were proven false (so far), but a man can still have a rooting interest. What could be better than your hated rival, supposedly in a rebuilding stage, committing $18 million and a draft pick to sign an over-the-hill shortstop? Renteria to the Giants! Feel the holiday spirit – if you believe in it hard enough, it can happen!

* And those other guys? Right, CC, Manny, and Furcal. Look, I think we all know the deal with these three. CC’s got an enormous offer on the table from the Yankees, but hasn’t accepted it yet. Manny got an expensive but short-term offer from the Dodgers, which was quickly rejected while Scott Boras tries to get someone to literally sign their souls over to him. Furcal… well, don’t keep your hopes up. By the time you read this, he might have signed with the Giants or A’s, but more likely he’s not going anywhere for a few weeks. Unfortunately, it does seem that where he does end up, it won’t be in Los Angeles – not when he’s (apparently) receiving four year offers. After all the injuries we watched him suffer through in his three year deal, don’t expect the Dodgers to beat that this time.

- Mike Scioscia’s tragic illness msti-face.jpg

MSTI.com’s 2008 in Review: Manager

We’ve made it! This is the last 2008 review.

Uh oh. This is the last 2008 review. Now I’ll be forced to delve into the endless Manny/Sabathia/Furcal etc. rumors that are basically the same lies repeated over and over, won’t I?

87toppsjoetorreJoe Torre (C-)
I suppose the absolute best thing I can say about Joe Torre is, “he’s not Grady Little”. Unfortunately, that’s not exactly high praise. When Joe came out to the Left Coast last year, we were told that we could expect his expertise would be of immediate help in two areas: that after years in New York, his calming influence would help a clubhouse torn apart by the “old vs. young” fracture, and that damn it, anyone who led a team to the playoffs 12 years in a row just knows how to win - whatever that means.

Now as to the first point, we did hear a whole hell of a lot less about clubhouse dischord this season, and I don’t deny Torre his due credit for that. Keeping the clubhouse calm has always been a strength of his, and that’s all well and good. The problem I have with that, however, is that I’ve never felt the clubhouse issues were as bad as the local papers made them out to be. Obviously, stories of teammates that have issues with each other make for good copy, but I think the real reasons that we didn’t have such issues this year is that the elderly combatants of 2007 were either gone (Luis Gonzalez) or injured and/or ineffective (Jeff Kent), while young players like Andre Ethier were really stepping it up. How could you complain about a productive young player acting a certain way when you’re hitting .240 or on the DL yourself? It just doesn’t seem like this was ever nearly as large an issue as it’s been portrayed.

To the second point, the playoff streak Torre carries is all but meaningless to me. I can’t even explain how many ridiculous stories in the media were floating around about how Joe Torre was such a huge success for coming to LA and “showing the young Dodgers how to win”, while the Yankees missing the playoffs for the first time since 1942 was somehow proof that Torre was the man with the magic touch. The idiocy of such stories is mind-blowing to me – the Yankees were a better team in 2008 than were the Dodgers, and it’s not really even close. They won 5 more games despite playing in what was quite possibly the best division in the history of the sport and having to suffer through far more damaging injuries to the starting rotation. I’m not suggesting that Joe Torre did a terrible job (his grade is more due to how highly he was touted coming in), but let’s not forget that in 14 seasons as a manager before heading to the Yankees, he made the playoffs once and never won 90 games. Suddenly he’s a great manager once he puts on the pinstripes? No, I’d say it’s much more due to having the best collection of talent in the game, not to mention how lousy the entire division was for much of that time (remember, the Red Sox didn’t become the Red Sox until about 2003). In his first year in LA, as we’ve said many times, the division title he won owes an enormous debt to the complete ineptitude of the rest of the NL West.

I don’t mean to imply that I’m completely anti-Torre; not at all. The outfield situation alone had the potential to be a disaster of epic proportions, and that’s even before Manny showed up. How do you juggle a foursome of two talented young players, one expensive mediocre veteran, and one Hindenberg – both in terms of size and how badly he flamed out? It didn’t always work out smoothly (early in the year we had our disappointments about the lack of playing time at various points for both Kemp and Ethier) but when Kemp and Ethier end up first and fourth, respectively, in at-bats for the team I can’t really complain all that much about it. I especially give him credit for eventually realizing that Juan Pierre just was not one of the three best outfielders and finally showing him the bench without it becoming a team-consuming issue, though I imagine much of that is due to Pierre being a professional (mostly) about it.

In addition, we were all worried about what would happen once Torre got his hands on talented young relievers like Jonathan Broxton, given his propensity for running relievers into the ground in New York (which finally caught up to former Yankee Scott Proctor this year). While we have some pretty big issues with his bullpen usage, overuse wasn’t really a big problem. No full-time reliever went over 71.1 IP (Wade) or 71 games (Beimel), and that’s not that bad.  There were definitely things to like about Joe Torre in 2008.

But here’s what else we got with that. We had to have Mark Sweeney wasting a spot on the bench all year long. Once Furcal was out injured, we had to have Pierre leading off every single day despite overwhelming evidence that it was hurting the team. We had the bizarre usage of young ace Chad Billingsley in his first outing, which ruined his April – and fortunately nothing more serious than that. We had Jeff Kent continually slotted into the cleanup spot despite it being completely obvious he couldn’t handle it anymore. We had the abuse of Russell Martin and insane usage of him at third base on his “days off”, and we had Andy LaRoche never getting a chance to play despite the clear need for him. Possibly most infuriating of all, there was the insistence on using the lousiest pitchers in the bullpen in the toughest game situations.

Finally, we had the most face-blowing quote of the entire year:

“I tried to reason who was going to give me the better at-bat – Berroa or Loney,” Torre said.

It took me months of intensive therapy to get over that one, friends.

All in all, Joe Torre wasn’t terrible. It’s just that with all the glowing lights and heavenly music that accompanied him, “wasn’t terrible” isn’t exactly what we were hoping for.

- Mike Scioscia’s tragic illness msti-face.jpg