The Futility Infielder

A Baseball Journal by Jay Jaffe I'm a baseball fan living in New York City. In between long tirades about the New York Yankees and the national pastime in general, I'm a graphic designer.

Friday, November 02, 2007

 

Torre in Blue, A-Rod Too?

With Joe Torre now officially in as Dodger manager, many have asked me what I think about Torre and Alex Rodriguez vis-à-vis the Dodgers. Here are a few selected snippets and parting thoughts for the week:

On the impact of Torre to the Dodgers: Jon Weisman of Dodger Thoughts put together an in-depth look at Torre's tendencies as Yankee manager, calling upon Bronx Banter's Cliff Corcoran and BP/YES man Steven Goldman, who put together a Bill James-style Manager in a Box feature upon Torre's departure, for some insight. I weighed in via the comments, and Weisman wound up appending what I had to say to the original post:
Having watched Torre at close range for 12 years from my New York vantage, I have fewer reservations regarding his taking over the Dodgers than I think most of you do here. Yes, he has his foibles, but he's also shown himself to be more adaptable than commonly given credit for. He handled the in-season integration of Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera into the lineups pretty well, and particularly this past year, showed that he wasn't afraid to bench expensive, gimpy and ineffective veterans like Johnny Damon and Jason Giambi. Yet he was also able to quell any major clubhouse dissent over those moves, which is pretty impressive.

A few other things to add:

• He's done an outstanding job managing Jorge Posada's heavy workload, keeping him effective all year long - there's virtually no difference between Posada's first- and second-half splits careerwise, and his September numbers have historically been strong. Granted, he won't have the DH to help Russell Martin out in the same way, but Torre was a catcher, and he understood the workload.

• Right now the Dodgers already have a deeper bullpen than the Yankees have had the last few years. In [Jonathan] Broxton, [Scott] Proctor and [Joe] Beimel, the Dodgers have three capable setup men, and that's not to say they won't be even deeper. Torre hasn't had more than one good righty setup at any one time in awhile, and his recent lefty relievers have primarily been LOOGYs or mop-and-bucket guys. Beimel is more of a Mike Stanton type, capable of pitching full innings without [his manager] worrying unduly about platoon matchups.

• Anyone pointing to Torre's lack of success in his pre-NYY days would do well to remind themselves that this Dodger club has far more to work with than some of those teams did, particularly in the rotation.

• Whatever the expectations are in L.A. with the ink still drying on Torre's contract, they're lower and more reasonable than they were in New York. Torre will do a good job of keeping the pressure off his guys by deflecting it towards himself, and this is a guy who can stand more heat than just about any manager I've ever seen. He'll demand accountability for the kind of BS that's gone on around problem children like Jeff Kent over the past few years, and I think he'll find his way through this mix of veterans and youngsters better than Little did last year.
Cliff did a particularly nice job of elaborating on the vets-versus-rookies topic:
Looking at the 2008 Dodgers," Corcoran says, "if the team decides to start the season with [Andre] Ethier and [Matt] Kemp in the outfield corners and [James] Loney and [Andy] LaRoche at the infield corners, Torre will give the youngsters a long rope. A player has to be really bad for a really long time to lose a starting job he's been given by Joe Torre. The challenge for young players, however, is getting that starting job in the first place.

"If Ned Colletti brings in another 'proven veteran' outfielder, or if Nomar [Garciaparra] has a blazing hot spring training and reclaims the third-base job, you're unlikely to see a change in the lineup before June, if at all, no matter how poorly the vets play.

"The one exception there, particularly regarding Nomar, is injury. Torre is not above allowing a young player to Wally Pipp a vet. If the team and the youngster excel while the vet is on the DL, that vet could come back to a spot on the bench, as [Jason] Giambi and Doug Mientkiewicz did this year. Heck, even Johnny Damon lost his center-field job to injury this year, and he didn't spend a day on the DL. Of course it took until June for that to happen."
On the possibility of Rodriguez to the Dodgers: I don't think the Torre hiring increases the likelihood that Rodriguez will sign with LA. For all of Rodriguez's claims that he loved playing for Torre, he had to feel rather betrayed by his manager throwing him to the wolves in that Tom Verducci Sports Illustrated article in Septmeber 2006, and in Torre batting him eighth late in the Division Series against the Tigers.

But that's really only a small part of the issue regarding the A-Rod-to-the-Dodgers scenario. The biggest part is, of course, money. Dodger owner Frank McCourt is notoriously underfinanced, making it unlikely that he could absorb the operating losses stemming from adding A-Rod's $30+ million salary to a payroll that was $108 million on Opening Day last year. Though those annual losses could be countered by an increase in franchise value via increased attendance (even atop a Dodger record 3,857,036 this year), media revenues and other ancillary streams, McCourt's reputation for short-sightedness -- just look at the frenetic way he's handled his GMs and managers since taking the reins in early 2004 -- makes this scenario unlikely.

Furthermore, GM Ned Colletti's relationship with Scott Boras grew rather acrimonious last winter after Boras 1) engineered the opt-out of J.D. Drew; 2) reacted harshly to the team's refusal to pick up Eric Gagne's $12 million option for 2007 after he pitched just 16 games for them in 2005-2006; and 3) steered Greg Maddux away from the Dodgers and to the NL West rival Padres as payback. While Colletti is reportedly on thin ice in LA, the indications are that he's being given the opportunity to turn things around, but I doubt he'll wind up in any situation where he's negotiating with Boras.

Which is a good thing, since I'd have a hard time stomaching going through another go-round with Rodriguez. As much as I admire his talent, I'm tired of the baggage that comes with it, and thoroughly turned off by the way his departure from the Yankees has played out. It all plays into what's been said all along by jealous scribes, that the guy is a head case, insecure and desperate to be liked, putting a counterproductive amount of pressure on himself to succeed, hopelessly out of touch with reality, insulated by Boras and the bubble that only his kind of wealth can produce. Thanks, I'll pass. As fun as it was to watch him here in New York when he was at his best -- and I attended both his three-homer game and the one where he went yard twice in one inning -- and as much as the Dodgers could use his big bat in the middle of the lineup, the circumstances make it very easy for me to wish he'd just take his weak-willed, insecure ass elsewhere.

On Rodriguez's other options: with the report that Boras and Rodriguez were seeking a $350 million package from the Yankees, it seems pretty clear why Boras is trying so desperately to remind the Yanks that they haven't closed the door on the possibility of A-Rod's return: without him, the market lacks momentum, not to mention an obvious leading contender for his services. Giants GM Brian Sabean doesn't sound optimistic about his club's chances. Boston's Leaky Larry Lucchino says Mike Lowell is his top priority (the Yankees are said to be very interested in him as well), which puts A-Rod further down the list; I think he's an impossible sell to their fan base. The Marlins, of all teams, appear interested in the Miami native, but if Rodriguez was worried about the instability atop the Yankees he can't be enamored of the Fish ownership situation and threats to relocate unless they can extort the local taxpayers. The Angels might be interested but find themselves in a similar position to the Dodgers financially; Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times runs the numbers and illustrates how stretched even Arte Moreno's finances would be. The Mets might be capable of making the biggest splash of all, but with David Wright and Jose Reyes locked in on the left side of the infield, somebody would need to switch positions; the Mets have asked Wright to zip it on that score.

But one thing is clear: teams aren't exactly stampeding to get in line to talk to Boras. And every time the agent opens his mouth, he insults someone's intelligence and perhaps further isolates his client.

This is going to remain fun to watch for awhile.

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