I am convinced that the Dodgers are the most misunderstood team in Major League Baseball. As it stands now, the Dodgers have the best record in baseball and an 8-game division lead, yet no one in the media can seem to tell you why.
This has become obvious as we approach the trade deadline, when all the local writers have stopped covering the Lakers, and they begin to notice the team up the 110 is really good. I like to call this baseball's silly season... a time when most members of the sports media prove they have little understanding of baseball's finances or economic structure.
These days, I read and hear media types say the Dodgers should trade their "prospects" to get Roy Halladay, because they just can't survive without him. The "prospects" I've heard suggested include Chad Billingsley, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Russell Martin, Jonathan Broxton, James Loney, Clayton Kershaw, and several other good young Dodgers.
When is the media going to wake up and realize that these guys aren't prospects anymore? These guys are legitimate Major Leaguers, and they are a big reason why the Dodgers have the best record in baseball and are on course to make the playoffs for the third time in four years. Billingsley, Broxton, and Martin have all made All-Star teams, and Matt Kemp came very close this year. And I'm not talking about the Pacific Coast League All-Star Game... I'm talking about the Major League All-Star Game.
Most of these guys aren't "kids" anymore. They're mostly in their mid-20s, and just entering the prime of their careers. Ethier is already 27, Martin is 26, Broxton and Loney are 25, and Billingsley and Kemp are 24. Most teams would kill to have major leaguers at this age who have already proven themselves.
In today's Los Angeles Times, Bill Shaikin writes: "We say (the Dodgers) ought to swallow hard and consider trading Billingsley to the Toronto Blue Jays if needed to get the Halladay deal done."
First off, I'm not sure who "we" is? But secondly... trade Billinglsey? Are you nuts? Again, Chad Billingsley is already an All-Star. And in his 4th year of playing in the majors, he has never finished a season with an ERA over 4. Chad Billingsley is a big reason why the Dodgers have been successful this year, and his talent and proven track record indicate he'll have a successful future with the team as well.
Is Roy Halladay a better pitcher than Chad Billingsley? Yes. But the Dodgers need Billingsley (and his $435,000 salary this year) to grow as an organization, and giving him up for a one-and-a-half year rental of Roy Halladay is not smart management. To his credit, I don't think Dodgers GM Ned Colletti has even considered doing this deal.
Jon Weisman (who was a guest on my KSCR radio show yesterday) has an excellent blog post on the LA Times site, discussing some of the unwarranted bias against Billingsley.
It seems like every time I listen to local sports radio honks (and there aren't too many local guys left), I have to listen to an absurd discussion about how the Dodgers should consider trading Clayton Kershaw for Roy Halladay. I'm sure the Blue Jays would do that in a second. But Kershaw is only 21 years old and he already has a 2.95 ERA with an 8-5 record and one of the sickest curveballs I've ever seen. He has 110 strikeouts in 112.2 innings, and it seems very realistic that he'll become an ace pitcher sooner rather than later.
Yet, a few nights ago I was in my car listening to JT the Brick and Tomm Looney on 570 AM, and one of them said that "the Dodgers better trade Clayton Kershaw for Roy Halladay," effectively saying that the team needs to "show it wants to win." I think the Dodgers have already made their commitment to winning quite clear by investing heavily in scouting and a player development system that has produced numerous great young major leaguers who have helped lead the team to the best record in baseball.
Clayton Kershaw is exactly the type of player that championship organizations develop, because they can keep him for a long time, have considerable control over his salary, and have him grow with the franchise. In this economy, at a time when mutli-million dollar free agent pitcher acquisitions fail more often than they succeed, Clayton Kershaw is as valuable to the Dodgers as anyone in the organization. Again, to his credit, I don't think Colletti will give up Kershaw either.
I usually listen to JT and Looney for about 15 minutes before I change the channel in frustration. That silly comment wasn't quite enough to get my hand touch the dial. Then I heard one of them bash the Red Sox for not trying hard enough and say "The Red Sox should give up all of Pawtucket to get Roy Halladay."
The idea of challenging the Red Sox to get Roy Halladay is so idiotic that it barely merits a rebuttal. Yes, I'm sure the Red Sox would love to trade for Halladay. But why would the Blue Jays give Halladay to a team in the division, and effectively strengthen a squad that has helped keep Toronto out of the playoffs for the better part of this decade? It might very well take "all of Pawtucket" to get Halladay to Boston. But it's young players who came from Pawtucket that played a major role in the Red Sox winning the World Series in 2007... guys like Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jon Lester, Jonathan Papelbon, etc.
The JT and Looney program is a pretty poor excuse for a radio show. Both guys seem consumed with anger, and they spout off of comments that are laced with factual errors and logical fallacies. Yet both pretend like they know everything. Saying a point really loudly does not make it true. And if you're someone who is paid a salary to follow and comment on sports, then passionately advocating the Dodgers to trade Clayton Kershaw means you're doing a bad job. 570 AM would be better off syndicating Tony Bruno's show at night. While he doesn't know everything, at least he admits what he does not know, and unlike JT and Looney, he's actually funny.
So the other day I'm listening to 710 AM, and I hear Andrew Siciliano ask several times: "If Clayton Kershaw is untouchable, then who is touchable?" Siciliano genuinely didn't know, and his partner Mychal Thompson couldn't answer the question, probably because the only thoughts in head were "Kobe, Kobe, Kobe, Kobe, Kobe..."
Now, I normally like Andrew Siciliano. He does a terrific job hosting the Red Zone Channel on Sundays for DirecTV. And when he fills in for Jim Rome or when he did his old show for Fox Sports Radio, he usually constructs well-thought arguments that I respect, even if I disagree with them. I was pleased to learn recently that he would have a regular local show on KSPN 710 (even though it is with Thompson).
But I think Siciliano asked the question because he doesn't really know who is good in the Dodgers farm system. In fact, I don't think anyone in the LA media really knows which Dodger prospects are good, and who the team could legitimately give up for Roy Halladay.
Again, this baffles me. It would seem to me that if your profession is to cover the Los Angeles sports world on a daily basis, then you should have at least a passing knowledge of the Dodgers top prospects. I don't expect local media types to be watching games in Albuquerque and Chattanooga. But I do expect smarter suggestions than Clayton Kershaw for Roy Halladay.
From a baseball standpoint, I do think that some package involving 2 or 3 of a group that includes James McDonald, Ethan Martin, Andrew Lambo, Ivan Dejesus, and Devaris Gordon would make some sense. My guess is that the Blue Jays would want at least one pitcher in any deal for Halladay. While Martin has a high ceiling, McDonald is a Major Leaguer already, and I think he can be a good rotation starter as soon as next season.
According to reports I've read, the Dodgers do not want to trade Gordon, and some baseball people I've spoken with say the Dodgers should be very hesitant about dealing Lambo. But Gordon and Lambo are the names that sports media types should be arguing about, not Clayton Kershaw.
Personally, I would be open to giving up as many as three of the guys I mentioned above, even Gordon and Lambo for Halladay. I understand that the Dodgers farm system isn't as strong as it was a few years ago, and further depleting it is risky, but this is a good year to double down on their playoff prospects. I actually do agree that the Dodger rotation could use a boost, although I also feel their current rotation is good enough to give them a legitimate chance.
There isn't a team in baseball right now, Yankees and Red Sox included, that feels comfortable with their playoff rotation. Last year, the Phillies won the World Series with Brett Myers, Joe Blanton, and Jamie Moyer starting in games that Cole Hamels didn't, and Hamels has really struggled this year. ESPN's Jayson Stark does a great job of debunking commonly held myths about acquiring a pitcher before the trade deadline.
Still, it would be foolish to think that acquiring Halladay wouldn't make the Dodgers a much better team come October, so beyond the right prospects, the question comes down to finances. As someone who has worked in sports, I'm more than sensitive about a team's financial situation. On the radio I've heard people say things like: "Frank McCourt should just spend the money."
Imagine if you were running a business, and you had people calling into radio shows and writing columns in the newspaper, angrily saying that you should just spend $15 million more, and not care about any losses. Well, that's roughly what running a baseball team is like. Bill Shaikin's column notes that the Dodgers will see a drop in revenue this year, largely due to the economy. Trading for Roy Halladay probably won't "pay for itself" in terms of attendance or concessions revenue. If the Dodgers make a deep playoff run, then they would see a stream of postseason revenue from home games played. But I don't know the team's exact financial situation, so it would be inappropriate for me to say whether or not paying Roy Halladay $20.5 million over two years would make fiscal sense. I can sympathize that it's infuriating for a fan to hear that a team might not be able to afford a good player, but in this economy, when credit is tight, it's hard for anyone to say that a team "should just lose money."
I can, however, discuss some of the comments mentioned in Shaikin's column, about how acquiring Halladay would be a wash because Jason Schmidt comes off the books next year. While it's true that losing Schmidt will result in some savings, the Dodgers will also have to pay more money to Manny Ramirez (who is expected to exercise his player option), Rafael Furcal, Hiroki Kuroda and Casey Blake simply because their salaries escalate per their contracts. Also, the aforementioned young players will see a rise in their salaries as they advance into the arbitration stage of their contracts. They won't be too expensive, but it could be a few extra million for each of them. Additionally, the Dodgers will be pressured to re-sign Orlando Hudson, who is actually getting a large chunk of the money saved on Manny's suspension through incentives he seems likely to meet. There could be additional pressure to re-sign Randy Wolf, or at least another starting pitcher. And don't forget that Andruw Jones (yes, him) will get $6 million from the Dodgers next year in deferred compensation. So, my point is that it's not fair to say that losing Schmidt and acquiring Halladay works out to a wash on the balance sheet because of other factors involved.
When the Dodgers started the season with the best record in baseball, it was easy for the media to say that were only winning because of Manny Ramirez. When they emerged from Ramirez's suspension maintaining a hefty lead on baseball's best record, the local media seemed confused. Some claimed it was because of the heroic play of Juan Pierre, ignoring the fact that after a well-timed hot start, he hit a pedestrian .264 in June.
But I've heard few people say the Dodgers were playing well because they have a large number of talented and exciting baseball players. Kemp, Ethier, Loney, Billingsley, Martin, Broxton, Kershaw, and others are all fun to watch, and it's been a treat to see them develop into great professionals over the years.
In an era in which sports writers bemoan free agency and business trumping the romantic traditional aspects of the game, I am baffled as to why the local sports media hasn't been more interested in a large group of homegrown stars that have helped lead the Dodgers to the best record in baseball. Why does the media want to break up the duo of Billingsley and Kershaw, which is the best 1-2 punch the Dodgers have developed from within their own system in a long time? Isn't the idea of having these two pitchers lead the Dodger pitching staff for years ahead appealing?
Something about this group simply hasn't won over the local media, but they're the envy of most teams in baseball. Trading them would be a mistake.