Sports Beat - April 21, 2013

With nearly three weeks of the season gone by, I'm convinced that the Dodgers should trade manager Don Mattingly to the Angels for manager Mike Scioscia.

The Angels are off to another slow start, and Halos fans are restless, fearing the team will miss the playoffs for a fourth straight season. Many feel that Scioscia has worn out his welcome in Anaheim, and the Angels need a new voice in the clubhouse. However, Scioscia is one of baseball's highest paid managers and he's signed through 2018. Arte Moreno would love to get out of the contract.

Scioscia would be welcomed with open arms in LA, where Dodger fans are still upset that Kevin Malone effectively pushed him out of the organization 14 years ago. Some say that Malone should have hired Scioscia over Davey Johnson in 1999, but I actually supported Scioscia for the managerial role in 1998 when Fox executives Chase Carey and Peter Chernin fired Bill Russell. Instead they hired Glenn Hoffman, along with Tommy Lasorda as GM.

Scioscia would bring instant credibility to the locker room of a veteran Dodger team. His aggressive approach would work well in the National League, and it might help jumpstart a slumping offense. A switch to the Dodgers would also reduce Scioscia's ridiculous 70-mile daily commute from Westlake Village to Anaheim. And I can't imagine the new Dodger ownership shying away from the $35 million or so he's owed through 2018.

don-mattingly-winter-lao.jpgMattingly is in the final year of his contract, so Angels GM Jerry DiPoto could evaluate him in 2013, and then decide if they should keep him or hire someone else. But I think Mattingly would work out well in Anaheim. He's much more of a player's manager, and his loose clubhouse would be a refreshing change for an Angels team that is worn out by Scioscia's hard-nosed personality. He played his entire career in the American League, and his style is a better fit over there.

Manager trades are rare, but they are allowed under MLB rules. Several times a manager has been traded for a player or for cash, most recently in 2002 when the Oakland A's sent Art Howe to the New York Mets. In 1960, the Indians and Tigers swapped managers Joe Gordon and Jimmy Dykes, the only time that managers have actually been traded for each other.


* * * *

Both the Dodgers and Angels are off to disappointing starts despite their high payrolls. It's still early in the season, and I suspect both teams will finish with a higher winning percentage than what they have now. But I hope that LA fans are finally dispelling the notion that payroll equals wins.

Most historical studies show that an MLB player reaches his peak performance between the ages of 27 and 32. However, I think the game has changed in recent years, and I'd argue that players are now at their best between ages 25 and 30. Because MLB teams control players for the first six seasons of their career, most free agents are either on the downside of their peak, or past their prime.

As a result, the most successful MLB teams are those that can build and develop their own young talent. Signing free agents, or trading for expensive veterans is a useful strategy only when a team has a hole that needs to be filled immediately.

The Dodgers do seem to get this, which is why they brought in Gerry Hunsicker as a senior advisor, along with several other well-respected individuals with backgrounds in scouting and player development. CEO Stan Kasten has that experience with the Braves too. But I still don't know why Ned Colletti has never been held accountable for the collapse of the team's farm system.

In the meantime, the Angels fired their scouting director Eddie Bane in 2010, but entering the 2013 season, Baseball America ranks their farm system as last in MLB.

With a lack of quality young players and poor organizational depth, both the Dodgers and Angels face obstacles to making the playoffs, despite acquiring some of the biggest names and most expensive players available in recent years.


* * * *

I'm sick of hearing the Lakers brass complain about injuries that have derailed their season, acting as if "bad luck" has hit the team this year. As former Dodgers GM Branch Rickey once said: "Luck is the residue of design."

When you design your team around really old players then you're going to suffer injuries. Is it any shock that a 39-year old starting point guard would miss over 30 games due to injury? Should they be surprised that it took him nearly two months to recover from an injury that was supposed to only keep him out for a week?

Did they think that a 34-year old starting shooting guard, playing nearly 48 minutes a game in his 17th NBA season, wouldn't have some body part eventually give out? Didn't they realize it was a risk to have Dwight Howard play so soon after back surgery, and that rushing him could lead to other injuries? Sure, Steve Blake missed time with an abdominal injury, but he's 33 years old. That's not young for an NBA point guard. And in his 11th year at age 32, Pau Gasol has plenty of mileage on his feet as well.

If the Lakers had gone through this season without any major injuries, then that would been due to miraculous luck. Instead, they suffered from their design.


* * * *

It looks like the Lakers are committed to keeping Mike D'Antoni for next season after Mitch Kupchak offered supportive words earlier this week. I'm not really sure if D'Antoni should be given "credit" for recognizing what NBA fans knew several months before he did - that his style of play wasn't going to work with this team.

But, sure, after acting clueless nearly all season, D'Antoni can get some kudos for being "flexible" and not having his old slow team play fast anymore. Keeping him does make sense from the standpoint that the Lakers don't want to pay three coaching staffs at the same time, and you could argue that if they're going to hire D'Antoni in the first place, then he at least deserves a training camp.

But let's dispel the notion that the Lakers had a "choice" between Phil Jackson and Mike D'Antoni back in November. If the Lakers didn't want to hire Jackson, then there were plenty of other good coaches available that would have been a better fit for the team.

They could have hired Jackson disciple Kurt Rambis, who knows the organization well and deserves a better opportunity than the terrible one he had in Minnesota. Nate McMillan is a great defensive-minded coach whose approach could have worked well in LA. The Lakers also could have tried to coax Jerry Sloan out of a retirement. He's a coach who can work with veterans and specializes in the pick-and-roll. Mike Dunleavy might have also worked out at the time.

It might seem a little silly to be arguing about all of this now, but much of LA is still conducting the D'Antoni vs. Phil debate. In reality, it should never have been viewed as a choice of one or the other, when there were plenty of other options available.

Photo of Don Mattingly at Dodger Stadium: LA Observed



More by Phil Wallace:
USC fires Lane Kiffin
Hollywood Park back in the picture
HBO's Real Sports highlights Chivas USA's troubles
Don't get too excited about the Lakers' cap space
How Jim Buss ruined the Lakers
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