What a difference a week makes. Last week, I was heavily critical of the Dodgers on this site. Since then, they've won 6 of 7, including 4 in a row, and they just swept the Diamondbacks in Arizona to get back to .500. In the meantime, the Angels are now the local team in the worst shape, as the Halos have fallen to 15-21.
While the Dodgers are 5 games out of first place and the Angels are 5.5 back, the Dodgers are in a much better position. I really don't believe San Diego has enough offensive talent to stay atop the division whereas Texas has a legitimately strong team.
Let's start with the Dodgers first though. I've been extremely critical of the media for doing a lousy job of reporting on the Dodgers the past few years. Given that, I should acknowledge some of my own mistakes in my article last week.
First off, it has been widely reported that Frank McCourt's two oldest sons are on the team payroll at a combined $600,000. I repeated that report, but it turns out to be untrue. The sons are actually employees of McCourt Group, which is Frank's real estate company, and they have done work for the company.
Secondly, I wrote that the Dodgers traded Carlos Santana to the Indians in 2008 in exchange for not picking up the $2 million left on Casey Blake's contract. I've now learned that might not actually be the case, and Jon Weisman noted that in an ESPN Los Angeles post back in February. I've learned it's possible that the Dodgers included Jon Meloan in the deal instead of paying $2 million and the Indians always insisted on including Santana in the trade. Meloan was once a touted prospect, but his career fizzled quickly. He's bounced around several different organizations and is now rehabbing from Tommy John Surgery with the A's.
Third, while the Dodgers have spent less in the draft than all MLB teams in recent years, the Phillies have actually spent the second-least. I was fairly harsh on the Dodgers draft spending, but it's true that draft signing bonuses don't have a ton of correlation with farm system ranking. The Phillies had a great system over the past few years and they used their prospects to help themselves considerably at the Major League level through trades.
The fact is, when the Dodgers draft in the 20s every year and refuse to pay over-slot money, they naturally won't spend as much in the draft. That being said, I'd love to see the Dodgers pay over-slot money a bit more. I completely understand and respect their decision not to. It's easy to blame it on Frank McCourt being cheap, but having worked for a team, I'll just say there's a compelling reason to abide by the guidelines set forth from the commissioner's office. But we're seeing more teams ignore those guidelines (notably the Yankees and Red Sox), and we might be getting to a point where going over-slot is necessary to stay competitive. In reality, baseball needs some serious draft reform, and I hope that will be addressed in the next collective bargaining agreement. Nonetheless, the Dodgers did actually go over-slot in the draft last year in giving high school pitcher Garrett Gould $900,000 out of the second round, so they might be joining the trend.
I should also note that I learned recently that the Dodgers did not cut their player development or scouting budgets. I wrote last week that I was unsure about their spending in this area.
None of this makes up for the poor drafts the Dodgers had in about a 3-year stretch. Nor does it make up for the lack of player development success since DeJon Watson took over as player development director. But it's only fair to point out, since the team does have perfectly respectable draft and sign philosophy.
In the meantime the Dodgers have benefitted recently from two quality pitching performances from John Ely. Having come over in the Juan Pierre trade, Ely is exactly the type of player who can prove extremely valuable to the Dodgers -- young and inexpensive with upside. With the Dodgers looking at trading for a pitcher that might have a high price tag, Ely's low price tag will be important to their roster management if he keeps pitching well. (Although, you could argue that since the Dodgers are still paying some of Pierre's salary, that Ely does come at a high price)
So what's wrong with the Angels? Well, like the Dodgers, the problem is defense. The Angels currently rank last in the AL in Ultimate Zone Rating and have struggled at several positions. It's often been said that a team's defense can best be measured by their strength up the middle. At second base, the Angels have Howie Kendrick, who has the lowest UZR among AL players at his position. Erick Aybar is second from the bottom in UZR among MLB shortstops. Torii Hunter is not nearly the centerfielder he once was, and he's only in the middle of the pack.
In the offseason, the Angels re-signed Bob Abreu and then added Hideki Matsui as their DH. I thought that was a puzzling move at the time, considering Abreu's and Hunter's declining defensive skills. They would have been better off going for a speedy centerfielder, moving Hunter to one of the corner outfield spots, and then using Abreu as the DH. Now, Abreu is second-lowest rated RF in the AL, and the aging Matsui is only hitting .226 as the DH.
The Angels also have serious problems in the bullpen. Their closer Brian Fuentes has an ERA over 7, as do Scot Shields and Brian Stokes. Outside of Fernando Rodney and possibly Kevin Jepsen, everyone in the Angels bullpen has been a borderline disaster.
The rotation isn't a whole lot better this year. Losing John Lackey hurt, but the Angels should still have enough talent in their rotation to compete. Unfortunately for them, Ervin Santana, Joel Pineiro, and Joe Saunders have all been inconsistent, and I warned Angels fans about Scott Kazmir's problems last year. Jered Weaver has been the rotation's only saving grace.
While the Dodgers have the talent to win their division, I think this lousy start will do the Angels in. Their streak of AL West dominance may very well have come to an end, now that Texas has a deeper and more balanced team. The Dodgers will also have a shot at the Wild Card if they're short in the NL West, whereas the AL Wild Card winner will likely finish with a better record than the AL West winner.