We all know that no one can predict the future, at least not with any degree of certainty. But being able to collect and evaluate available data and then making an intelligent, informed and educated guess (i.e. a hypothesis) is what separates a good scientist from a brilliant scientist. The same can be said for general managers in professional baseball, although their intelligent, informed and educated guesses are based more on speculation and stats (i.e. Sabermetrics) than actual hypothesis.
In the 130-year history of the Dodgers, the franchise has had some outstanding general managers and, of course, some not so good. Among the very best were Hall of Famers Larry MacPhail and Branch Rickey, and Al Campanis and Dan Evans. Some might even argue that current Dodger GM Ned Colletti is doing a pretty good job – something that couldn’t be said of him prior to May 1, 2012.
But even the most brilliant scientists are not always 100% correct with every hypothesis, nor are even the best general managers always 100% correct in their assessment of baseball talent; in fact, many times they aren’t even close.
Without question, the acquisitions that the Dodgers have made over the past year are due entirely to the extremely deep pockets of the Guggenheim Baseball Management group. They have allowed Colletti to rise from the ashes of the McCourt era like a phoenix and surround himself with some of the most brilliant player development and scouting minds in the business. As a result, Colletti’s speculations have transcended into huge expectations of Mark Walter, Stan Kasten, Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Peter Guber, Bobby Patton and Todd Boehly – the aforementioned GBM group. And make no mistake about it, should Colletti’s acquisitions and Don Mattingly’s management of them fall short of GBM’s expectations, one or both of their jobs will be on the line.
One of Colletti’s biggest signings was that of 22-year-old Cuban outfielder Yasiel Puig. Talk about speculation, Puig was basically signed sight unseen having been banned from playing for unsuccessfully attempting to defect a year earlier. He eventually managed to defect and was quickly signed by Colletti once he made it to the U.S. for seven years and $42 million. He was also immediately placed on the Dodgers 40-man roster as a completely untested prospect.
Although Puig was a bit rough around the edges from having not played baseball for over a year, he soon found his stride again in the Dodgers Rookie League and in the California League (Advance Single-A). He was invited to his first major league spring training camp this spring and quickly became the buzz of camp.
In his 17 spring training appearances thus far, Puig is batting .412 (14 for 34) with 8 runs, 3 doubles, one home run and 6 RBIs. He has a .400 OBP and a .588 SLG for a phenomenal .988 OPS. In most cases, numbers like these, even for a 22-year-old untested prospect, would probably land him on just about any teams opening day roster – except the Dodgers’. Why? Because another of Colletti’s speculation signings is blocking Puig’s path to the majors – Carl Crawford, who was acquired as part of the Dodgers blockbuster trade with the Red Sox in order to get their real target, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez.
Crawford is certainly no slouch; in fact, as former MLB manager Kevin Kennedy said immediately following the trade: “Carl Crawford isn’t just a good signing, he is a great signing.” The only drawback is that Crawford underwent Tommy John surgery on his throwing arm only days before the blockbuster trade, thus he is still recovering from his surgery and played in his first spring training game (a minor league game) on Thursday morning.
Yesterday’s blog post entitled Raw is Good created an interesting debate regarding what might happen when Puig is deemed 100% MLB ready? In other words, who stays and who goes?
It’s a pretty safe bet that Matt Kemp isn’t going anywhere anytime soon as he enters the second year of his six-year/$180 million contract (through 2019). Face it – he is the franchise player… for now. But with a guy like Puig, who very well may be in the same category as Mike Trout and Bryce Harper and who is under contract for seven years (through 2018); and with what he has shown in his first-ever major league spring training camp, it is hard to imagine (impossible, in fact) to think that the Dodgers would even entertain a passing thought of trading a guy who, quite frankly, might be even better than Matt Kemp.
This, of course, raises that speculation thing: Will Puig replace 31-year-old Carl Crawford (under contract through 2017) or 30-year-old Andre Ethier (under contract through 2017 with an option for 2018)?
When you look closely at both Ethier’s and Crawford’s career stats, you will see that they are actually quite similar. Granted Ethier has a better 162 Game Average (which is not always a great stat to rely on) in home runs, RBIs and OBP, Crawford tops him in batting average (only slightly), runs, hits, doubles, triples (by a lot), and stolen bases (WAY more). On the other side of the ball Ethier has a career .986 FPCT in his 7 big league seasons and has earned one Gold Glove and two All-Star Game appearances, compared to Crawford’s career .990 FPCT in 11 big league seasons earning four Gold Gloves and four All-Star Game appearance, including the 2009 ASG MVP. Crawford also owns four AL Stolen Base titles.
There is yet another issue with this whole outfield speculation thing (well two, actually) – what do the Dodgers do with 26-year-old Alex Castellanos, who currently leads the Dodgers with three home runs this spring, and even more so with 20-year-old Joc Pederson, who is among the top ranked outfield prospects in the entire country? My opinion (for what it’s worth) is that Castellanos will remain as the Dodgers 4th outfielder and Pederson will become a blue chip trading piece.
With Thursday’s announcement by Mattingly that Yasiel Puig will begin the 2013 season in the minor leagues, it appears that either Jerry Hairston Jr., Skip Schumaker or Castellanos (or a platoon of all three) will be joining Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier as the Dodgers opening day and every day left fielder until Carl Crawford is healthy enough to join the team – this in spite of the fact that Yasiel Puig is hitting better than all of these guys.
So that’s the easy decision for Ned Colletti and Don Mattingly.
The real dilemma comes on opening day 2014 when Puig will undoubtedly be MLB ready and a decision will have to be made on who stays and who goes.