The local media has sounded the doom and gloom alarm over the Dodgers and Angels after a two-day stretch that saw both teams lose established players. If you listen to local sports talk radio then you might think that both teams are sure to miss the playoffs. Even today's LA Times story has snarky undertones, claiming both teams are playing "little ball."
I'm going to try and add some perspective to the events of the past two days. First, let's start with the Dodgers trade of Juan Pierre to the White Sox. In case anyone forgot, Juan Pierre is a lousy baseball player. He hits for zero power, has no plate discipline, and his defense is shockingly awful for a speed guy because of his weak arm and poor judgment on fly balls. His style has earned him the nickname "Slappy McPopup" by Dodger fans, and his 5-year $45 million contract is generally regarded as the worst deal of the Ned Colletti era. (Yes, it's worse than Andruw Jones and Jason Schmidt, because Jones was only for 2 years, Schmidt netted some insurance money, and the rival Giants almost signed Pierre instead.)
Now some people claim that Pierre filled in admirably for Manny Ramirez when he was suspended, and that's true. But as Jon Weisman points out, Pierre has never had as good of a season as Ramirez had in his disappointing 2009. The truth is that Pierre simply got off to an exceptionally hot start last year. By June he had already cooled down, and he hit only .264 after the All-Star Break with a putrid .191 batting average in September. Any MLB player who has been in the game as long as Pierre is bound to have a hot stretch at one point in their career; just ask Gary Matthews, Jr.
While Pierre is not a bad option to have as a fourth outfielder, no team should be paying $9 million a year for a backup. Even though the Dodgers will only save $8 million on the trade, that's money which can be used for something else, whether it be player development, draft pick bonuses, re-signing their good young players, or any other necessary investments. Even if it all goes to divorce lawyers, I'd rather that come from Juan Pierre's salary than from a player who is actually good. Jason Repko basically has Pierre's skill set, while Xavier Paul has some upside.
While I'm nervous about the ramifications of the McCourt divorce, I still believe the Dodgers have the best team in the NL West. The Giants have two great starting pitchers, but they really don't have anything offensively. The Rockies are talented, but they're also wildly unpredictable. The Diamondbacks prospects have fallen flat for the most part, and their organization may enter a transition phase soon. The Padres are clearly in rebuilding mode. I'd feel better about the Dodgers if Charlie Haeger wasn't tentatively slated for the rotation, but I also know that Colletti's work is not done this offseason, and he'll be sure to accumulate more starting pitching options.
As for the Angels, losing John Lackey is significant. While the Angels have gone through considerable stretches without Lackey for the past two seasons, the fact remains that he was the Halos' most consistent starting pitcher. That's something of a concern, especially since the Angels' pitching was a liability in the playoffs.
Still, a 5-year $85 million contract for Lackey is expensive, and it's perfectly understandable that the Angels would feel uneasy about giving him that kind of money. The Angels seemed to recognize that Lackey would go for more than they could afford, and traded for Scott Kazmir late last season. Kazmir has a world of talent, but it remains to be seen if he'll be consistent enough to fill Lackey's shoes.
On the other hand, Jered Weaver and Joe Saunders have pretty good arms, so the Angels really need just one more good starting pitcher to feel more confident about 2010. Perhaps the good Ervin Santana will make an appearance next season. If not, they might need to seek help from outside the organization. Either way, I think the Angels should be more concerned about their bullpen, which is hurting with the sudden collapses of Scot Shields and Jose Arredondo.
I know Angels fans are also upset about losing Chone Figgins, and he's certainly a good ballplayer. But at 4 years and $36 million I think the Seattle Mariners are overpaying for an over-30 player who no longer can take on the super utility role that once defined his career. As a third baseman, Figgins is slightly ill-cast since that's a position from which most teams would like to generate some power.
Many pundits are already proclaiming the Mariners are the team to beat in the AL West, especially since they just acquired Cliff Lee. But those pundits are overrating two moves in December and not looking at all the rosters. The Mariners have plenty of serious questions in their lineup outside of Ichiro Suzuki and Figgins, and their rotation might only be two deep. There's also uncertainty in their bullpen.
The Angels still have the best team in their division, but I can't understand that Halos fans are tired of just getting to the playoffs. Unfortunately for them, I don't believe the signing of Hideki Matsui helps much. Matsui has some power, but being a DH-only weakens them defensively as it decreases flexibility and forces Bob Abreu to play the field most days. Additionally, Matsui won't have the luxury of a short porch in right field, like he had at Yankee Stadium.
If Matsui can stay healthy, then he will certainly put up respectable numbers and help the Angels offensively. And you could argue that at $6.5 million he's something of a bargain. But his health makes him a bit of a risk, and he doesn't fit the lineup as well now that there's a question at third base. Unfortunately, Brandon Wood hasn't instilled too much confidence in fans yet.