Just When You Think There’s Nothing Fun to Critique…

Hey! We’re not dead. It’s just that there’s only so many free agent rumors one can handle until the real fireworks start going. Just in sort of a post-October, pre-hot stove sort of malaise, as it were. We’re going to finish up the 2008 season reviews this week, and hopefully start talking about filling all of the enormous holes the Dodgers have to get to. But first things first: in fond memory of the dearly departed Fire Joe Morgan, we simply must discuss Bill Plaschke’s plan to improve the Dodgers in 2009. Actually I’m pretty surprised to say that there’s some reasonable ideas in here; it’s just that a lot of the ways he backs them up are laughable.

Since Plaschke columns are always comprised of one-line paragraphs, I’m not going to post every single one here. Instead, we’re going to go with his overall themes, and his first one is to let Manny go, because he’s old, overpaid, maybe a problem – you know the reasons. That’s a defensible position, and I could see either way being the right way. That said, I do like some of Plaschke’s reasons…

The Boston Red Sox advanced to within one game of the World Series in their first months without Manny.

As opposed to the two World Series they won in the previous four seasons with Manny? It’s a hard concept to understand, I know, but good players make your team better.

The Cleveland Indians won 91 games and their division title in their first season without Manny.

In Manny’s last year in Cleveland (2000), Cleveland won 90 games, but finished in second because Chicago won 95. The next year, the Indians returned a similar team except that they’d replaced Manny with a guy who hit nearly as well in Juan Gonzalez (148 OPS+) and added rookie Sabathia, who went 17-5 at 20 years old. That team won 91 games, but this time no other team in the division won more than 85 games. I’m thinking that more Sabathia and less competition might be the reason that Cleveland won that division title, much moreso than any post-Manny bounce?

If Manny Ramirez couldn’t carry this current team to that final lap during a postseason in which he hit .520, what makes you think he could ever do it?

If this team didn’t win despite Manny hitting .520, what exactly makes you think they have a better shot without that production?

Here’s how:

Ink an ace.

The lack of a true No. 1 starting pitcher was the reason the Dodgers lost to the Philadelphia Phillies, and even a lineup full of Mannies won’t change this.

First of all, a lineup of Mannies would win about 158 games, and I’m only even considering 4 losses based on the worry that all 9 of them would play hooky on the same day a few times. It’s true that Chad Billingsley’s failures really doomed the club in that series, although I like to think the fact that absolutely no one besides Manny and James Loney contributed to the offense was a pretty big reason too. Russell Martin and Blake DeWitt combining to go 3-30; would that be Manny’s fault or Billingsley’s?

Yes, CC Sabathia would be that guy, and here’s guessing he would walk away from the prospect of New York Yankees riches to pitch in an easier league for a more laid-back crowd within driving distance of his Bay Area hometown.

Sabathia has struggled in the postseason, but he’s always been overworked by the time his teams arrived there. Joe Torre would keep him fresh, and Dodger Stadium would make him shine.

“Joe Torre would keep him fresh”? The same Joe Torre that’s currently the manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers? The same guy who’s had a near Baker-eqsue reputation for latching on to a few pitchers and driving them into the ground? On what basis do you expect that Joe Torre would keep CC Sabathia “fresh”?

Plaschke then moves on to three points that while I’m okay with, he clearly didn’t come up with himself, since each has been bouncing around for weeks, if not longer: Sign Randy Johnson, trade for Adrian Beltre, and sign Rafael Furcal. Each of these are fine, except that I think Plashke severely underestimates how much competition there is out there for Furcal right now. Here’s where it gets fun again:

Count on the kids.

It’s interesting how some of the same people who have been applauding the club’s youth movement have also insisted on re-signing Ramirez.

 Um, that’s why they call it a youth “movement.” The kids are moving up. They are getting better.

You may remember that this is the same guy who consistently called for not waiting on the kids, until it became apparent that they were going to be good players and that he’d better change his tune on this, quickly. But let’s look at that middle sentence. We have of course been on the “kid” bandwagon forever around here – just look at our banner. However, I also want to see Manny come back. What makes Plaschke think these things are mutually exclusive? There’s no hot prospect outfielder that Manny would be blocking; we’re not talking about signing Mark Teixeira even though James Loney is already here. Half the benefit of having so many young players is that they make relatively small salaries, opening up a lot of payroll room for a big star like Manny. Wouldn’t the best outcome be a bunch of good young players… and Manny Ramirez?

March on Atlanta.

The Dodgers have hired a personal trainer to work with bulging bust Andruw Jones at his Georgia home.

“Every time we talk to the trainer, he says Andruw is working,” Colletti said.

Keep the pressure on Jones, maybe he can reshape his body to hit again in the post-steroids era. Other have done it. For $22.5 million, the Dodgers have to at least watch Jones try.

It’s great that the Dodgers have a trainer working with Jones, but there is absolutely no way you can count on him for anything other than single-handedly putting In-N-Out out of business. You can’t possibly swap out Manny for Jones in the outfield and expect it to be anything other than an enormous downgrade.

Wait for July.

After what happened last year, no Dodgers fan can fairly judge this team’s personnel until after the trading deadline.

Next summer, with the economic woes certain to affect big-spending, low-producing teams, there will be bargains everywhere.

If the Dodgers still need a big hitter, chances are there will be one available.

He won’t be another Manny. But if the Dodgers plan right, they won’t need one.

But according to your plan, there’s a gigantic Jonesian hole in centerfield. Getting Beltre and Furcal would be nice, but hardly enough of an improvement to make up for what we’d lose by playing Jones every day rather than Manny. Adding Sabathia to Billingsley, Kershaw, and Kuroda would of course be fantastic, but we’d be looking forward to a whole lot of 2-1 games with an offense lacking that huge bat.

Oh, and Bill – we do have a bullpen to worry about as well, you know.

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