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Paul DePodesta's revenge

mattingly-grim-grab.jpgWhen the Dodgers hired Andrew Friedman before the season, some idiotic pundits criticized the move, comparing him to Paul DePodesta. The pundits didn't realize two important points though. First, DePodesta and Friedman are very different people. If you talk to either of them for five seconds off the record, you'll figure out why.

But second, it's a myth that DePodesta did a bad job with the Dodgers. In DePodesta's first season, the Dodgers won their first postseason game in 16 years. His second season didn't go well, but it was partially because manager Jim Tracy was openly insubordinate. DePodesta fired Tracy and tried to replace him with highly successful farm director Terry Collins. The LA media freaked out about the prospect of Collins managing in the dugout, and Frank McCourt succumbed to Plaschke pressure, firing DePodesta with three years left on his contract. The Dodgers wound up hiring the duo of Ned Colletti and Grady Little.

Ten years later, a Mets team managed by Collins, and largely put together by DePodesta ousted the Dodgers from the playoffs.

While Dodger fans are understandably depressed tonight, there is reason for hope. All four teams remaining in the playoffs - Mets, Cubs, Royals, and Blue Jays - are the product of a plan that took years to develop. The first three teams slowly and painstakingly built up their farm base to create young, athletic, and well-balanced rosters that are just starting to thrive. The Blue Jays went in a slightly different direction, using their great farm system to trade for stars like David Price, Josh Donaldson, and Troy Tulowitzki, but there's some homegrown talent too.

The Dodgers have been trying to accomplish what those four teams have done with the farm system, while simultaneously spending lavishly on their Major League payroll to remain competitive. The result has been a playoff team for three straight years that hasn't quite had all the right pieces to advance to the World Series.

Fortunately, the Dodgers farm system is just starting to produce the major leaguers it's supposed to. And under Friedman's guidance, they are finding good young players in creative and unique ways. Up-and-comers Corey Seager, Joc Pederson, Kike Hernandez, Yasmani Grandal, Alex Wood, Luis Avilan, and Chris Hatcher are already making valuable contributions at the major league level. The Dodgers have more money to spend on international players than any other team. And the farm system has now improved to the point where it's No. 3 in Baseball America.

Just like DePodesta's Mets, the Dodgers now have a clear and coherent plan. They aren't that far away from having the deep and dynamic team they need to field in order to make the World Series. Help is on the way.

In the meantime, here are a few thoughts about the Dodgers as they prepare for next season:


1) Don Mattingly doesn't need to be fired, but he could be

For the most part, I was fine with the way Mattingly managed in the playoffs. His one major mistake came with putting Pedro Baez in relief of Clayton Kershaw in the 7th inning of Game 1. While Kershaw seemed gassed, Baez was about the worst guy to bring in with the bases loaded and two outs.

Even Ron Darling on the broadcast pointed out that first batters hit .320 against Baez. Mattingly should have put in Joel Peralta or Chris Hatcher in that situation. Instead, David Wright smacked a base hit up the middle, and the Dodgers lost Game 1.

Still, Mattingly does a great job of keeping the clubhouse together. He's very receptive to advice from management. And it's hard to fire a manager after three straight playoff appearances.

But if Friedman and co. want to bring in their own guy to execute their vision, then that's perfectly fine. LA fans have never liked Mattingly. And he does seem to need more strategic help than most managers.

There's not an obvious choice available to take over for Mattingly. Dodger fans like Tim Wallach because he used to play for the Blue, and he's a Southern California native. I think Wallach will be a great manager some day for a team. I also know that Friedman has a long relationship with Cubs bench coach Dave Martinez from their days in Tampa Bay. Current exec Gabe Kapler's name comes up for openings periodically, but he might want to stay in the front office.

Other possibilities include Royals bench coach Don Wakamatsu, Giants bench coach Ron Wotus, former Padres manager Bud Black, former Cubs manager Rick Renteria, former Indians and Nationals manager Manny Acta, and Raul Ibanez. Those names won't excite too many people, but it's worth noting that being a major league manager isn't what it used to be. The Dodgers front office will be making many of the decisions, and the manager will be asked to handle the clubhouse while executing on their vision. It's not necessary for that person to have managerial experience in order to succeed.


2) Re-sign Zack Greinke

Greinke is a strong candidate to win the Cy Young Award this year, and he'll opt out of his contract in order to receive another enormous payday. Normally, I'd be strongly opposed to the Dodgers signing a 32-year old pitcher who's lost a bit on his fastball to a nine-figure contract.

But the Dodgers have more money than any other club. They don't have much depth in their rotation, which was painfully obvious in Game 3 of the NLDS. Greinke is one of the most intelligent and cerebral pitchers in the game, and I'm convinced that he'll find a way to remain an elite player for at least three more seasons. I think he can probably be decent for two more after that. If he signs a seven-year deal, then he might be dead weight on the roster for the last two years of his contract.

Unless the Dodgers are suddenly going to find three fantastic young arms, they might as well flout their financial advantage to keep one of the game's best pitchers. In the short-term, he's about as sure of a thing as there is among this offseason's available players.


3) Trade Ethier, not Puig

Andre Ethier had a terrific bounce back season in 2015. His attitude has dramatically improved, and he proved that he can still play every day. That's exactly why Ethier should be traded. He'll be 34 next season, and this is probably the last window that he'll have trade value.

In the meantime, Yasiel Puig's value has never been lower. Amidst criticism that he's a bad clubhouse presence, an injury-stymied Puig slumped to his worst season ever.

But Puig is too talented to give away. His contract is fairly reasonable in today's market. The Dodgers are best off putting Puig on an intense offseason training program, and hoping he comes back in 2016 to realize his other-wordly potential.

By dealing Ethier, they might be able to free up salary to pay Greinke. Or they might get a useful piece in return. Or at the very least, they'll free up a roster spot for someone whose best days are ahead of them.


4) Keep playing the kids

Corey Seager and Joc Pederson got a lot of attention this season, but the Dodgers have more talented young players than one might realize. While some thought the Dee Gordon trade was about Howie Kendrick, it was also about Kike Hernandez, Chris Hatcher, and to a lesser degree, Austin Barnes. And while some thought this year's trade deadline deal was about Mat Latos and Jim Johnson, it was also about Alex Wood and Luis Avilan.

Hernandez should be a regular in the lineup next year, whether it's in the outfield or at second base. While Pederson struggled in the second half, he should improve next year with experience and a strong offseason training program. He still has the talent that made him an All-Star with 20 home runs at the break, he walks a ton, and his defense is phenomenal. The Dodgers should also take a good look at Wood's offseason program because he could be the quality No. 3 starter that the team sorely needs right now.

In the meantime other young players could be coming up to add depth and support to the roster. Zach Lee finished 11-6 with a 2.70 ERA in AAA, and he might finally be ready to take the next step. Julio Urias is moving quickly towards the big leagues. There may be other international help coming in too.


5) Find better rotation and bullpen depth

As many of you know, I have enormous respect for the current Dodgers front office. But they put too much faith in injury-risks Brett Anderson and Brandon McCarthy before the season. Anderson was healthy and had a good year. But let's be honest ... he wasn't that good. I'm not sure if he'd make the postseason rotation for most of the teams that are playing this October. In the meantime, McCarthy got hurt early in the season, and the Dodgers spent much of the season looking for his replacement.

The Dodgers don't have quite enough talent in their high minors to confidently put them in their 2016 rotation. Zach Lee can compete for a spot. Hyun-Jin Ryu might be healthy next season. Mike Bolsinger provided some fun moments last year, and could again. And McCarthy is still under contract for three more years.

But the Dodgers are going to need to be creative in obtaining starting pitchers via free agency or trade, especially if Greinke leaves. David Price, Johnny Cueto, Jordan Zimmerman, Mike Leake, Scott Kazmir, and Jeff Samardzija are all free agents, they'll all make a lot of money, and they all carry some degree of risk. However, I think the Dodgers might be better off completing the same type of creative trade that brought them up-and-comer Alex Wood.

In the meantime, the Dodgers seem to finally be getting the bullpen right with Hatcher and Avilan improving by season's end. Andrew Friedman was a magician in Tampa Bay when it came to putting together a league-leading bullpen on the cheap. He needs to get back some of that magic, because the relief corps was a serious problem for this team for much of the season.


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