The veterans on the Dodgers, well at least Jeff Kent, have made some noise of discontent about the way they have been treated and the downfall of the team in the last two months. From the outside looking in this does not sound like "veteran leadership" not that anyone has ever accused Jeff Kent of being a "leader" for any team he has ever played for.
The main problem with the Dodgers come down to about three things: (1) disappointing starting pitching; (2) signing of players who made no real contribution; and (3) the decision to not play the best players on the team consistently.
First of all, as I have noted in the past, the Dodgers had a couple of problems with starting pitching. First of all the injury to Jason Schmidt, while bad in terms of economics, happened so early in the season that he really didn't contribute and his loss should have been fixed. The loss of Randy Wolf, who was pitching well was tough. However, by any standard Billingsley should have been in the rotation from the beginning, not Hendrickson or Tomko. The Dodgers were never able to put together a winning streak longer than five games (and that only twice), mainly because between the fourth and fifth spot in the rotation a loss was almost guaranteed. Those two never were able to both win games in the same rotation cycle at any time this year. Every playoff bound team at some point in the season was (and should be able to) put together a significant winning streak of 8-12 games.
The Dodgers did get David Wells, who has been successful and shown really what "veteran leadership" is about. But seriously I doubt he is back next year when he will be 45 years old. Estaban Loiza in theory is a rotation pitcher, but except for one game he has not been impressive. Unless he is traded, the Dodgers are stuck with his contract next year, so one can wish that after playing and a spring training he can regain his touch (remember he only played the last month or so after being on the DL all season). If Penny can put together an entire season of dominance then he's a Cy Young candidate. Lowe just seems to lose concentration sometimes, but when he's on he is still a top flight starter. Billingsley is shown that he's the real thing (almost against Little's will it seems).
The second problem caused the third. That is, Ned Colletti signed players that were not needed and could only end up causing problems. Nomar is at the end of his career (whether he realizes it or not) and is simply a back up next year, and he needs to be told that so he can either live with it or retire or be traded. He can't play shortstop any more and while he's sort of adequate as a fielder at first and third, he no longer hits anything beyond singles. His high RISP average is misleading, because he would usually hit singles. Of his 122 hits, only 24 are for extra bases (7 home runs and 14 doubles). The late season signing of Shea Hillenbrand (a singular waste of money) was simply pointless. Let Andy LaRoche play and play consistently. But that is the third problem. The acquisition of Mike Sweeny was good, he can still hit off the bench and is still an above average fielding first baseman. He is necessary because Olmedo Saenz's career is clearly over, hitting below .200 all year. But look at what Colletti staffed his team with for the stretch run: Hillenbrand and Sweeny joined Saenz, all of whom can only play third and/or first. At least Ramon Martinez can play all of the infield positions. So Little was stuck with a bench with very little flexibility.
Finally, the signings and trades left Little in a position of making a choice: (1) trying to make everyone happy, or (2) putting the best team he could on the field every night. The "veterans" on the team (as Kent helped expose) apparently didn't make his job easier. There is no doubt that the best team, with the best chance of winning did not include Nomar (at any position) or Gonzalez in left. Gonzalez can still hit a little, but with him in left (and Pierre in center) I wonder how many runs their defense gave up this season as singles became doubles with great regularity and runners who should have stopped at second or third just kept running knowing that neither of them can throw a ball more than about 100 feet (and that with a long slow arch). Had Jason Repko not been hurt, the best outfield Little could have marched out every day would have been Ethier, Repko and Kemp. As a fan I could care less if Gonzalez gets to 3,000 hits in his career, baseball is a team game and teams need to field their best team every day. Nomar has been a great player in the past, but last year was clearly an aberration, his days as a front line starting player are over.
Now, Jeff Kent has sounded off to the media. Well, I'm sorry but this is not how "veteran leadership" leads. I will admit that Kent has at least done his part offensively. He's back next year (unless he is traded) but he now has very limited range at second base and needs to realize that he will be replaced in late innings for defense next year and will get a day or so a week off. And, if his hitting and power decline next year (he has only hit 20 home runs this year so far), he should join Nomar on the bench. Kent at least wants to win a world series more than try to hang around for some personal stats. He's going to the Hall of Fame without doubt, but his demeanor towards younger players has never been useful. I wonder how much he has helped them learn the game (like Abreu) rather than just prodding and sniping.
Ned Colletti, by the philosophy he's used has, I think, discouraged the younger players (who are the future stars for the team and probably in the league). Clearly Loney was hurt by the philosophy, struggling at AAA at the beginning of the season when he was idiotically sent down after Spring Training. LaRoche was never allowed to play every day and grow into the job. Ethier should have had a much cleaner road to the starting line up and I'm sure the signing of Gonzalez did not help his morale at all. Hopefully, if he shows that he is ready in the Spring, Clayton Kershaw won't have to stay in the minors. Jonathan Meloan should also be in the majors next year.
Little should, for the rest of this season, send a message about what the future of the Dodgers actually is and sit the "veterans" who didn't do much to help, and play the team that will be the Dodgers next year so they can see what the reality is and learn to be team players or make plans for relocation or retirement next season.Posted by Narnia3 at September 22, 2007 11:12 AM | TrackBack