Why The Dodgers Aren't Dead Yet

I have to say nice try by Plaschke for fully making the about-face and advocating playing younger players. But in doing so Plaschke is trying to load the '07 dodger team onto a cart and haul them away like the undertaker from this movie. Fortunately or unfortunately for the team and its fans the question of whether or not the dodgers are out of playoff contention is not so black and white. Fortunately because the team is not necessarily toast for a few reasons like the parity in the NL west and that the recent poor offensive production most likely won't continue. It's unfortunate for us fans and the front office because there is no one clear course of strategy for the team to follow, which is frustrating to fans and the front office alike...kind of like baseball purgatory.

Here is where I think Plaschke oversimplifies the situation unnecessarily. The dodgers don't have to give up. This isn't an either or situation for the dodger ball club. They can do both, and have been doing both for a while now. It is the same route that has been followed since the McCourts purchased the team. The only difference is that almost all of the first wave of young talent is or is capable of playing at the MLB level and now the second wave of talent is knocking on the door. Back in 2004 the talent in the dodger farm system was still a couple of years away from being ready to play at the MLB level (first good draft was '02) and there were still a few bad contracts that needed to come off the books to give the blue more budget flexibility. So Plaschke is about three to five years too late declaring that the dodgers need to rebuild. They rebuilt already, while competing and now they are just picking out window treatments and appliances to fill out the last few holes on the field (third base, second base, and starting pitching).

The Dodgers are in the unique position of being a big market club that can spend over 100 million dollars a year while also having a very stocked farm system. They can rebuild from within and compete at the same time. All they have to do (easier said than done) is not trade away the wrong prospects, trade away the right prospects since you can't keep them all, and plug in major league club holes with players signed to short commitments enabling the younger players that work out to supplant the veteran signed at that position without the front office holding the bag on the vet's contract. Competing while building from within seemed to work out in '06. It hasn't work flawlessly (Loney not supplanting Nomar right away, benching of Ethier, and not enough playing time for Kemp instead of Gonzo) but for the most part young players were supplanting the placeholders and the dodgers of '06 have only 3 more wins at this time than the current team does. So while this is a major valley the dodgers are currently in, it could still turn around.

Things that could help turn things around is returning the younger players to lower leverage situations if they are slumping while also challenging young players to see if they can produce after being put into higher pressure situations. This happened to Russ Martin. The kid was in the three hole and he tired as the season wore on. Little has since shifted him lower in the order hoping he can get hot again. Little then challenged Loney in the three hole to see what happens. He's also plugged Kemp into the cleanup spot. The win loss results haven't been favorable but this is what a manager needs to be doing with a team like this if the cylinders aren't firing for the offense. This isn't giving up. This is attempting to evaluate and challenge young players whose abilities aren't fully known in order to help your club win ball games.

This went on in 2006 with Billingsley, Broxton, Ethier, Kemp, Loney, and Martin and had nothing to do with giving up on the season. Some had to go back down. Loney became the victim of a guy that happens to be the face of the franchise with an awesome commercial and therefore had to prove himself a lot more to get Nomar nudged over to third base.

Fresh arms could greatly increase the dodgers chance to turn things around. The pitching is thin. Wolf went down. Schmidt went down. Kuo went down. Those three guys represent a lot of higher quality innings over the Houlton, Stults, Hendrickson, and Tomko innings the team has been getting lately. Sucky thing is there aren't really any great arms available in trade and the arms in the dodgers organization either aren't ready for prime time (Kershaw), are injured (Elbert), or aren't starters (Meloan). Dodgers are pretty naked right now on the pitching front with none of the arms that were counted on with any return date this year. Good thing is that a lot of other teams are similarly situated, so no need to call it quits.

What do the dodgers gain by declaring themselves dead? They gain evaluation of their prospects at the MLB level and hope somebody really, really shines. They also put a lot of highly motivated, fresh, young guys out on the field hoping to win a major league job.

What do they lose by declaring themselves dead? They lose most of the competitiveness and enthusiasm of their veteran players. Vets aren't our future but they are still our present in some part. Players from opposing teams that may have been considering the dodgers may think a little differently after playing them and seeing a bunch of defeated guys having no fun. Same could be true with acquiring guys in trade who have no-trade clauses. A clubhouse meltdown would be more likely to occur with some players perhaps alienating themselves from the team and the bad press resulting from it might also scare off free agents in the offseason. With Hillenbrand in blue, a meltdown may just be one benching away. The worst I think is perhaps getting that 'rebuilding' label associated with the team which definitely scares off marquee free agents and some of the more complimentary free agents. Conceding a season affects the mood of the entire organization negatively from top to bottom. It's a significant step that shouldn't be taken until mathematically necessary.

So besides the fact the Dodgers are in the middle of a pretty bad losing streak I see not much difference between the '06 and '07 dodgers as far as their ability to make the playoffs. I see a three win differential. The dodgers will start winning again, the big question is will it be too late when they do.

If it ends up being too late, at least they went down trying. That's all a fan can ask for.