I write this post hoping I’m wrong. I can’t think of a time that I wanted to be more wrong.
I entered 2013 with an extremely positive outlook on the season. The new ownership group came in and spent record amounts of money on player payroll. They brought Sandy Koufax back. They renovated the clubhouse and made Dodger Stadium the place where all the top tier players should want to play. Almost everything looked bright, even though they started the year with Hanley Ramirez on the D.L.
So, now as the Dodger season starts off with a collective sputter, their performance makes me wonder if this is what should be expected from the team this year. What if this is what the 2013 Dodgers are, a team that meanders around the break-even mark? I think it’s fair to say that most of us had much higher expectations for this team with a $220 million payroll. Perhaps those expectations were completely off the mark.
Are the Dodgers of today a team that is accurately reflected by their current sub .500 record? It has been argued in some quarters that they are under-performing, but perhaps they aren’t. I think I was dead wrong with my pre-season prognostications which had the Dodgers winning 95 games. The Dodgers are not the strong team I thought they were. I hope I’m very wrong, but judging from their performances last September and thus far this April, I’m seeing trends that are not promising at all.
Here’s my piece-by-piece breakdown of some of the Dodgers problems with the bat. What I say below about each player might be construed as being somewhat exaggerated, but I don’t think so. There is at least a smidgen of truth in each statement on each player. There are some problems folks, and I hope to the heavens that some of these guys prove me wrong.
Luis Cruz – He may simply be the player that his lifetime stats say he is – a lifetime .240 hitter that has an OBP that mirrors his BA; a first ball swinger that doesn’t work counts; a fine defensive player on balls he reaches, but one that has limited defensive range. Maybe it is accurate to say that Cruz at best is a major league utility infielder and most likely a AAAA player that should be languishing in the PCL.
A.J. Ellis – A.J. might have reached his peak as a player last year. Here we have a guy that toiled for nearly a decade in the minors and worked his tail off to get where he is. He never was given a shot at making the big club until last year. He works counts, he fouls off a lot of pitches, he gets his share of walks and his OBP is real good. But a .250 hitter may be what he is. His defense has its ups and downs and how many times are balls in the dirt going to get away from him? The catching position may be a real concern for years to come as Ellis is already 32 years old.
Andre Ethier - Ethier’s power numbers have declined in the last few years and his numbers against left-handed pitching are suspect with a .240 lifetime BA. He just might be an aging highly paid platoon player, and a temperamental one at that. I think his best days are behind him and he probably should be traded now before the entire league sours on him and he loses his trade value.
Mark Ellis - He’s a veteran whose best days are behind him. At 35 years old he should probably be a utility guy at this point in his career. Every team needs an Ellis, but plugging him in the #2 slot in the batting order and giving him 650 plate appearances per year is a lot of outs to give away. He’s best slated in the #8 slot, but there’s a lot of Dodger players that fit the #8 role now.
Matt Kemp - He might be accurately described now as a former superstar who can’t return to glory due to a catastrophic shoulder injury that sapped the power out of his game. He’s a player that’s giving it his all but his failures have caused him to revert to bad habits of his early playing days in an effort to find himself. I hope I’m wrong on Matt. I think he’ll be okay, but it might take a month or two for him to get straightened out.
Juan Uribe - A lost player in the final year of his career who now struggles to bat .200.
Jerry Hairston Jr. - A player that is a year from retirement and a shadow of his former self, which never was much more than a utility player.
Skip Schumaker - He’s a journeyman player that St. Louis allowed to walk as he didn’t meet the needs of their roster anymore. A player on the downside of his career that can’t be counted on as a regular contributor to the team. He should be valuable off the bench, but he has even struggled in that role.
Ramon Hernandez - A backup catcher who was on his way out of baseball, only to be given a last chance to hang on for one more year. His advancing age and declining skills probably should be in retirement mode.
Justin Sellers - A no hit/mediocre fielding shortstop that is a AAAA player who should be in Albuquerque. His work ethic is impressive, but as a Major Leaguer, he’s suspect at best.
Nick Punto - Another journeyman player that can play a lot of positions, but a starter with a future he is not. Expect .250 from him and a solid bench guy. Put him in the lineup everyday and you’re hurting.
That’s eleven players; eleven bats on this team that are suspect. This ball club is not as good as we thought and try as they may, Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez aren’t enough to carry them. The return of Hanley Ramirez to the lineup should help, but he’ll have his struggles too as he works himself back into playing shape after being out for two months.
The person that should be worried is Don Mattingly who is playing out the season without a contract for next year. He’ll be the scapegoat no doubt, and that’s too bad as he is a true gentleman and a good baseball man.
Look for Davey Lopes or Tim Wallach to take over the helm by mid season and possibly Mike Scioscia to be Dodger manager by 2014 when the Angels fail to make it to the post season and the Halos send him walking. Baseball fans from both teams may find 2013 to be a year to be forgotten.