The middle of May sure is an early time to start calling a baseball season a lost cause. That said, the Dodgers did just get swept at home in a four game series by the Cincinnati Reds, who came to town with a Major League-worst 10-27 record. At the time this article was written, the Dodgers’ 16-24 record is “good” for fourth-worst in the National League, and has them eight games behind the NL West-leading Arizona Diamondbacks. Sure, the Dodgers could, in theory, go 80-42 over their remaining 122 games and charge into the postseason… but the odds of that happening are only slightly better than me winning the Powerball.
A lot of reasons, otherwise known as excuses, can be given for the Dodgers’ atrocious start, mere months after finishing just one win shy of a World Series championship. The injuries surely have been crippling. Corey Seager is gone for the year with Tommy John surgery, Justin Turner is only now ready to begin his season after a broken wrist in Spring Training. 60% of the projected starting rotation, including ace Clayton Kershaw, is either on the disabled list or has otherwise uncertain injury status.
Dave Roberts has been…to put it kindly, unreliable. From frequently pulling starters, when they seemingly have plenty in the tank, and leaving winnable games in the hands of an appallingly bad bullpen, to over-managing and leaving the team without any bench players should a pinch hitter be needed, it’s been a mess. We’re not at the stage where serious conversations can be had about firing him, but it’s worth noting that his contract isn’t guaranteed beyond this season, and it’s a stretch to say he’s doing a job that merits any extension.
The front office’s gamble of reducing payroll to get beneath the luxury tax threshold while still fielding a team that could get back to the World Series has blown up in their faces spectacularly. While they certainly can’t be to blame for a drastic downturn in performance so far this season from players who experienced breakout years in 2017, they are, at the end of the day, responsible for a roster composition that results in players like Max Muncy and Kyle Farmer logging significant playing time.
On the positive side, out of storm clouds, silver linings can be found. While a phoenix-like ascension from the ashes is prohibitively unlikely, there are opportunities to take positive things from this year, even if the team doesn’t approach sneaking back into contention. They are:
Leave Ross Stripling in the starting rotation the remainder of the season.
This may happen as a result of necessity anyway, but the team should publicly give him that vote of confidence. Sure, anyone who puts up consistent performances like poor Dylan Bundy’s (who recovered nicely in his next start, it’s worth pointing out) against the Royals last week should worry about their job security. But short of that, what do they have to lose? Stripling has been good in whatever role they’ve asked him to fill. It’s time to see what they really have in him. Maybe he is just a long reliever and occasional set up man, but just maybe he can turn into something far more valuable – a consistent middle of the rotation starter who keeps his team in virtually every game.
Play Kikè Hernandez Virtually Every Day
Regardless of opposing pitcher handedness. He says he’s an everyday player. Okay, Kikè, let’s see it. In the past, expanded exposure to right handed pitchers has torpedoed him, but so far in 2018, he has homers off of Stephen Strasburg and Brad Boxberger, not exactly slouches. What’s the worst that happens? A better question yet, how does the team benefit from NOT doing it? It’s not like playing Logan Forsythe or Chase Utley every day is the answer. And when those guys do get a start, Hernandez has the defensive versatility to play the outfield. There’s very little downside, and the potential for a lot to be gained by doing this.
Ok fine, not everyone. But there’s little reason to keep guys like Daniel Hudson and Pedro Baez employed in the bullpen at this point. These guys are who they are, and that’s eminently replaceable. Sure, they’re probably good enough to be on a big league roster somewhere, but at the moment they’re just keeping the team from getting a prolonged look at younger, potentially better arms. Currently in AAA Oklahoma City, you have Brock Stewart, Josh Sborz, Ariel Hernandez and Manny Banuelos, among others. They each have their perceived warts, but are any of them really a step down from what’s currently in the pen, even if they turn into complete dumpster fires? You can look even deeper into AA Tulsa’s roster and see names like Henry Owens, a former Red Sox top prospect, Yadier Alvarez, a prospect of our own whose star has fallen a little, and Dennis Santana. Sure, the idea of starting the service clock on a guy like Santana isn’t ideal, but not wanting to be in a position to have to pay a guy more for good performance one year sooner than you have to is a pretty flaccid excuse for a team that prints money, especially when you write checks to guys like Baez and Hudson every two weeks.
Move on From Joc Pederson and Play Alex Verdugo
Supposedly, Verdugo does everything but slug better than Joc. It’s never easy to cut ties with a guy with an intoxicating reserve of power in his bat, especially one with postseason home runs against the likes of Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander on his resume. But how many more years can the team justify keeping a guy on the roster for an entire year because he tends to have a couple of good weeks in the playoffs, especially when the playoffs are a pipe dream? They’d be best served to move Pederson now, when he has some value, rather than non-tendering him in the Winter. As an added bonus, they get to see what they have in Verdugo. A couple of brief cups of coffee so far haven’t been overly promising but it wouldn’t be fair to judge a prospect on an aggregate sum of about a month in the big leagues. Play him 100 games. Good or bad, now you know.
Let it Leak You’ll be Selling at the Deadline.
You don’t have to drop any specific names, in fact, I don’t plan to do that until another column later this week. But put the word out there that you know where you’re at this season, and are accepting calls. Virtually any and everyone who doesn’t figure prominently into next year’s plans should be available for the right price, and even some who are a part of the 2019 plans. Worst case, nobody wants your guys and you’re right where you started. Best case, some prospect you bag turns into the next…who knows, Michael Brantley?
Can you think of a way to salvage some positives from 2018 that I haven’t mentioned here? Let us know on Twitter @thestainsports and @DodgersNation. Thank you for reading.
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