Winning the Offseason: Or How the Dodgers Kicked the Padres A**

by M.C. Antil on February 19, 2015

Pitchers and CatchersIt’s Day One. Pitchers and catchers have reported. And throughout the land people like yours truly are celebrating one of the most eagerly anticipated days of the year. With the opening of camps in many otherwise sleepy little communities across Florida and Arizona, not only can we once again see the light at the end of winter’s long, dark and brutally cold tunnel, but baseball games, broadcasts and box scores are, at long last and in the name of sanity, just around the corner.

So, as we put yet another off-season to rest, let me offer two quick thoughts.

One: when did it become so critical that a team “win the offseason?” Or, for that matter, when did such a bizarre concept even come to be, much less become daily fodder for so many otherwise capable and insightful baseball reporters?

And two (and more importantly): contrary to popular belief, the San Diego Padres did not win this off-season, as many would have you believe.

Win the offseasonFar from it.

The Padres, in fact, got their butt kicked by their division rivals, the Los Angeles Dodgers. Because, at least as this observer sees it, this offseason the Dodgers – while still maintaining a clear regular season superiority over the rest of the NL West – took a giant step in the direction of world domination (OK, maybe regular season domination).

The Padres, meanwhile, apparently (and maybe unwittingly) rolled up their sleeves, opened up their checkbook, and took an active role in helping their dreaded rivals do it.

PrellerBut before we get too deeply into that, understand, while the Pads brought on A.J. Preller as general manager, and Preller (an apparently bright and aggressive young baseball mind) was part of the team that helped Texas go to back-to-back World Series, the Dodgers somehow managed to land both Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi.

Freidman, of course, was most recently the architect of the financially challenged Tampa Bay Rays, a franchise that for the past half dozen or so years was somehow able to go toe-to-toe with the big boys, the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, along with their respective deep war chests and embarrassment of TV revenue, and not so much as bat an eyelash.

And Zaidi, the MIT-educated economist (with a Berkley PhD in his back pocket, to boot), was Billy Beane’s secret weapon and right hand man, and the guy who spearheaded the evolution of Moneyball into higher and even more profound levels of statistical-based roster building.

Friedman-ZaidiScore one for the Dodgers and their ridiculously deep pockets (and, frankly, in a big way).

Also, while the Dodgers were making headlines, and noisily off-loading and/or replacing a number of talented but ferociously expensive and/or deeply flawed players, such as Hanley Ramirez, Dee Gordon and Matt Kemp, the Padres seemed almost intent on building one of the insanely bad defenses in the game (an odd strategic decision given the dimensions of their park).

And though San Diego added a half-dozen or so big names and one-time All Star hitters capable of setting a fantasy team owner’s heart aflutter with their prowess at the plate, they now feature a defensive liability at five of the eight positions on the field, including their entire outfield and three of the critical four spots up the middle (with only shortstop expected to be manned by a fielder rated at least above average).

Kemp defenseWhat’s more, while the Padres added a number of all-or-nothing, future DH-types and assumed hundreds of millions in salary liability, the Dodgers cleared the biggest piece in their outfield logjam by trading brittle slugger and onetime perennial MVP candidate, Kemp, while ridding themselves of at least 75 million of the dollars owed him – and did so for what could prove to be a key piece of their future.

Add to that the fact Los Angeles was also able to bring in a solid, dependable pro’s pro like Howie Kendrick to man second base, knowing he was on an expiring contract and would serve as a one-year bridge for them (a year during which, by the way, he could audition for a long-term deal), and were able to land a young, athletic and significantly undervalued catcher in Yasmani Grandal (who came in the Kemp deal), and there are no two ways about it; it was a loud, brash, but still sneaky-brilliant off-season for the Dodgers.

Myers defenseAnd that’s not to mention that Friedman and Zaidi were (without apparently anyone noticing) able to pilfer utility man extraordinaire Enrique Hernandez from the Marlins, one of the most intriguing combinations of potent bat and defensive flexibility in all of baseball. (And never underestimate just how important that combination of talents in a single player was to Oakland’s recent and surprising three-year run of regular season success in the AL West.)

Los Angeles got stronger as an organization, and maybe slightly better as a team, while still somehow achieving a level of financial (and defensive) flexibility that will help them for years to come and should frighten every last club in baseball; a flexibility about which even slumbering big-market behemoths like the Yankees (who have remained burdened by the jillions owed creaky, semi-contributors like Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Brian McCann and CC Sabathia), Rangers (who have made deep, scary commitments to ticking time bombs and potential black holes like Elvis Andrus and Prince Fielder), and Phillies (who have…don’t even ask) can at this point only sit back and dream.

UptonSomeone smarter than I said it best in reference to the strategic maneuvering of the L.A.’s new brain trust this offseason: “this is what ‘Moneyball with money’ looks like.”

The Padres meanwhile hitched their wagon (and, in a very real way, their future) to a defense with the potential to be so lumbering, inept, and utterly horrific it will undermine whatever great starting pitching they get and neutralize whatever home park advantage they may hold.

In addition, Preller imported a king’s ransom worth of right hand-heavy bad out-makers and swing-and-miss types; exciting and dangerous but one-dimensional sluggers whose strikeout tendencies and injury histories have almost come to define their overall games.

And to top it all off (and in a way that only time will truly tell), San Diego paid deeply for the privilege of doing it.

Padres presserI’m not saying that the Dodgers secured a World Championship this offseason. Bud Selig and his expanded playoff format have pretty much ensured that, with all the short series standing between the close of the regular season and the final out of the World Series, MLB’s best team each year is more likely not to win. But they did one thing with only a few apparently noticing; they virtually ensured themselves an annual playoff spot for the near and distant future and became what amounts to the baseball equivalent of Godzilla in Tokyo.

Don’t kid yourself; Los Angeles helped itself exponentially this offseason. The Dodgers got younger, deeper, more athletic, better defensively, and more flexible – both financially and on the field.

The Padres, meanwhile, got just about the opposite. And because of that they now find themselves — even as they remain drunk with adulation and absolutely chomping at the bit in anticipation of Opening Day — standing at the starting line with something oddly resembling a piano on their back.

Preller 2Win the off-season? Hardly.

It’s just my opinion, of course, but the sense here is while many in the media continue to fawn over the Padres, wax star-struck, and lavish praise indiscriminately, our friends from San Diego may have just made a deal with the devil and, in the process, gotten their ass kicked.

  • joe calabria

    Dodgers a critically flawed collection of stars not a team… paid more per win than any club in history and a manager who can’t manage, but just can’t buy teamwork and those teams who are teams like KC, Gnats, Cards.. will continue to bring home the championships.

  • MainiacBolt

    i thought at first that you were a Dodger Blue through and through but after rereading and more thought I realized that you probably weren’t. You do make it sound like the Padres had a terrible offseason. The Dodgers did well. Hiring Friedman was the best thing they did. Saying that it is a hell of a lot easier to be great when you have as much money as the Dodgers do- think RedSox/Yankees. You can afford to collect players/make mistakes. The Padres have never been able to do this and still can’t with a payroll that dims compared to the Dodgers (Guerrero 4 years 28 million and he may not even play). The excitement created by Preller is unbelievable for Padre fans. The have an offense! Their SP is one of the 5 best in baseball- better than the Dodgers. Their bullpen is even better. Preller was able to do all this without trading any of his top SP or top prospects. The addition of Mauer/Morrow are big. Mauer has a great arm that will translate to a possible future closer. Morrow has the potential to be a excellent SP and he is the Padres possible #5.

    The Padres are getting much more media hype than the Dodgers but that is typical of the media. It’s easy to look at the Padres changes and write about that. Your article takes a different slant but I think you are being critical of Preller’s moves because of the rest of the media’s attention on the Padres. Preller is not done. He will make another trade before the season to bring in a SS or…? I did enjoy your take on things but found it to be too critical of what is happening in San Diego.

  • MC_Antil

    Excellent points by so many of the commenters. I was remiss in not congratulating Preller for not dealing any of his top three prospects, especially Hunter Renfroe. For all the things I feel he didn’t do right (or at least he did rashly), I believe that is one for which he deserves some big-time props.

    Great comment as well on the need to change what had been not a great clubhouse chemistry, the result of, likely, an offense that would have trouble scoring against a AAA staff.

    And the comment about Jesse Hahn is also right on. That was a lot to give up for Norris, a bat-first catcher with a short shelf life.

    But I’ll stick to my guns. I still contend Preller was out-maneuvered by two guys with deep pockets, a long-term plan and a level of statistical analysis that is quickly becoming the industry standard.

    • Steve

      One last point on Preller, he gets a draft pick back on Upton or deadline equivalent to replace some of the talent he dealt and also didnt pick in the first place. Same would apply to Kendrick but if the feeling is mutual have to believe AF gets him extended.

      The interesting thing as Brad Pitt might have said “its a process.” It applies to both teams. It will be fun to watch both teams at the trade deadline. Thanks for letting me post to your blog.

  • none of ur business

    “one dimensional sluggers whose injuries have defined their career.” out of the major bats they got , only matt kemp could be considered injury prone. myers injury last year was a freak accident colliding with desmond jennings, and upton and norris have clean bills of health. and future DH-types” again only kemp could be considered future DH-type. Upton is a 1 year rental, myers is only 24 and norris is 26 and will slide over to 1B when hedges is ready. also your offseason consisted of poaching two of the brightest minds in baseball, adding 36 y/o SS, a 1-year 2B for one of the best SP prospects in MLB, adding a starter for 4yr48mil who is about as injury prone as kemp, a C who hit in the .220s and can’t throw anyone out to save his life (cept maybe billy butler), a 25y/o SP whose thrown less than 20 IP since March 2012, and a 1y SP who hasn’t thrown more than 100 IP in 3-4 years. meanwhile we got a 27yo slugger who hit 29 HR last year and in his contract year, a former consensus #1 prospect who had a freak accident, a OF who hit 25 HR last year and we only have to pay him $15mil a year(on avg), a C who can hit the ball a long ways and has great OBP, versatile backup infielder, a bounce back 3B who might’ve just needed a change of scenery.Oh, and our bullpen, which was the best in the NL last year, only got better with Kelley and Maurer, and our rotation is also strengthened with Shields. And u were trying to fool ur fellow light blue buddies into thinking u had a better offseason than ur homies to the south

    • Jo JoAnne

      You certainly use “we” and “our” a lot.. Are you a member of the Padres organization? Or, are you one of those d-bags that riot and trash a city screaming “we are the champions!!” if a bunch of guys you don’t know and want nothing to do with you win a championship in their sport? I will never understand sports fanatics and how they center their lives around something that they have absolutely nothing to do with. Don’t get me wrong.. I love baseball and grew up watching the Yankees. I read just about every article on baseball that I can find..I have been to 25 different stadiums around the country and well over 250 games in my lifetime.. But, my team is my wife and boy. If he ever wins a championship its still very doubtful I will be screaming we are the champions to anyone that will listen.. Since, that will be his well deserved glory..
      I am not knocking you personally (a fan’s use of we,and our always gets me ranting) and agree with all of your analysis written above with the exception of Kemp (we both know its only a matter of time before he is too injured to play and the Padres will be facing a similar circumstance to the Yankees and A-Rod), I was actually surprised you didn’t mention the fact that Preller managed to make all of those trades while still keeping his best prospects.. Getting other teams to take injured pitchers in trade was a stroke of genius. Unfortunately, I think Trea Turner will come back to haunt them though..

  • steve

    Hanley Ramirez and Matt Kemp were off loaded but they were still productive players who are being replaced by older or unproven players.
    The additions to the pitching staff so far are Beachy, Anderson and McCarthy. No chance they have any issues this year….if any other team then the Dodgers or Yankees committed to the contracts the Dodgers did they would have been laughed out of baseball already.
    Speaking of and even before K Jensen’s injury the thing that cost the Dodgers and Clayton Kershaw specifically was the bullpen. I am still looking for the upgrade in that area…..still looking. Now its likely Andrew was going to fix this at the trade deadline but there were plenty of affordable options for the Dodgers that they passed on.
    Look, the Dodgers didn’t have to do much of anything to win the division no matter who was running or managing the team. But I still see the same flawed Dodger team that ended the season although it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Dodgers bring in a mid season slugger (maybe Justin Upton?) and closer at the trade deadline.
    But I am not drinking any Koolaid on the Dodgers just yet and I don’t see the Dodgers having a great off season. I don’t see a playoff winning team yet. Who is the team leader of the Dodgers?
    Still a lot of issues but still a lot of time to fix them.

    • MC_Antil

      All good points, Steve. But I guess what I’m struck by the most (and it goes to your point about the Dodgers not having to do much), is that while remaining the best team in the division, they shed themselves of one onerous contact (Kemp), resisted the temptation to sign another (Ramirez), jettisoned a low OBP guy who may have been at the peak of his value (Gordon), and kept their powder relatively dry in anticipation of next years uber-class of free agent pitchers.

      What’s more, they added enough arms with enough upside to serve as worthy stop-gaps and back-of-the-rotation pieces to ensure they’ll go through at least this upcoming season with a healthy number of options, given the attrition rate of pitchers.

      Did they overpay for them? Maybe a little. But when you have billions in your revenue stream, why quibble about the difference between $2 and $5 million for an extra arm and some added but important rotation insurance? That’s why what they’re doing is “Moneyball with money.”

      But most of all, I think to have lauded the Padres for all they’ve done at the surface level, without giving the LA brain trust the kudos they deserve for all they did beneath the surface, and all they did to bring into focus the kind of long-range thinking and statistical-based strategic planning that defined MLB’s two most recent mice-that-roared franchises (Oakland and Tampa Bay) is just flat-out bad reporting.

      And as for the bullpen, yes there are holes. But as we both know, there is no more fickle, fungible or frustrating part of any team than its bullpen. Each year a Wade Davis or a Sean Doolittle emerges, just as every year a Casey Janssen gets hurt and a Steve Delabar implodes. To worry before Spring Training even starts is to jump the gun and to overreach. Give Friedman and Zaidi at least two or three more months of watching pitchers throw and of working both the waiver and trade wires. My sense is the Los Angeles bullpen is going to look somewhat different than it looks like as I write this on February 22.

      Thanks for the comment and I appreciate your insights and opinions on the matter.

      • Steve

        Enjoyed the feedback.
        My concern with moving Kemp and Ramirez (don’t disagree with the moves) was they didn’t really bring in another RH bat in case others struggle. So that is a risk.
        Kendrick is a nice get. Rollins can replace some of Ramirez but I doubt all. Can he stay healthy will be the key. He has missed some time.
        As you mentioned the Dodgers can take risks others cant and a lot of people expect big things from B MC and BA.
        The bullpen though is the missing link for this team. Clayton Kershaw needed help in two games he couldn’t get. When even aces go seven innings a knockout bullpen is critical. To be honest, I would have preferred to have gotten Miller or Robertson for the simple fact its the obvious hole. But as you mentioned, its not the bullpen in May that worries you. But still, its the evident blight on this team, the longer it prevails the more it can become a permanent mind set.

    • Jeff

      No team leader? The NL MVP says hi…

      The bullpen didn’t need a facelift, it needed a lobotomy and the Dodgers braintrust took care of that by getting rid of dead weight. This is a bullpen that relied upon the likes of Paul Maholm, Brian Wilson, Chris Perez and Jamey Wright for close to 200 innings last year. This year they won’t. It’s the very definition of addition by subtraction. Not to mention the fact that Nicasio, Hatcher, Liberatore, Peralta, Bolsinger, Paco Rodriguez, and Yimi Garcia are all projected to be better than any of the four “pitchers” mentioned before. Now that isn’t to say that all of them are going to turn into superstars or that they will all even make the opening day roster, but this is exactly why Andrew Friedman had so much success building bullpens in Tampa. He brought in a ton of potential and then let the rest sort itself out.

      • Steve

        Hey Jeff,
        My feeling was that with the revenue stream they have why not bring in Andrew Miller or David Robertson? It would have provided the key setup man the Dodgers lack and of course been a back up to Kenley. AF built bullpens in Tampa with Fernando Rodney. He also brought in Heath Bell. There are still a lot of unproven arms in that bullpen. Peralta is already hurt. But AF will pluck a set up man or closer at the deadline to back up Kenley if needed and possibly more then one arm.
        I don’t think Clayton Kershaw is the team leader. Not really sure who it is. Don’t confuse winning an award with leading in the clubhouse. AG was criticized for his lack of leadership skills in Boston. So if it isn’t these two who is? Rollins/Kendrick? They can help but we can let it unfold.
        The question was who had a better offseason. I would say SD only because I thought their offense was a laughing stock. Now its got potential and more then one guy to carry the pressure and they still have pitching and a bullpen. The one move they made I didn’t like was trading Hahn for a guy in Norris who I think is easily replaceable. But its a lot of moving pieces that may or may not fit. But its a start. SD had to change the atmosphere. It was toxic.

        • Jeff

          You make some good points, Steve. I agree that the Padres were able to bring in some offense which is great, but at what cost? This is a team that is going to have some serious defensive issues and is stil relying on an infield that will likely be one of the least productive in baseball.

          As far as the bullpen is concerned, I think Friedman actually put it best when he said that things look murky now, but by the end of the year youre going to see a few guys who ended up having really productive years that you may not have expected.

          Also, I really don’t know how you can ding the Dodgers for not having a leader in the clubhouse when that is something that they actively pursued this offseason. Rollins, Kendrick, Joel Peralta – all of these guys have reputations as being great in the clubhouse. They also got rid of players who are known clubhouse problems in Hanley Ramirez and Matt Kemp.

          The Dodgers shed contracts, got deeper in almost every position, and gained flexibility. The Padres seemed to do the opposite and are relying heavily on guys that have a ton of question marks (aging injury prone slugger, 33 year old pitcher with a ton of mileage and declining k rate, young slugger who took a big step back last year) and who haven’t done anything to address an infield that is projected to be on eof the very worst in the league.

          • Steve

            You are right, the Padres took some chances but if you wait for the perfect situation well…doing an incremental add was not going to change anything. It might be a mess but it also has possibilities. As usual, we will focus on all the new guys but you have to wonder if the current players will be free of the pressure and out perform (Gyorko and Alonso come to mind). Preller needs to deal Quentin and Maybin but they may not be movable or maybe he can move them during the spring for an infield glove.

            The Dodgers shed contracts (good moves), improved the clubhouse (good moves) and have flexibility. But do they have enought talent on offense? The bullpen is murky. It may be much better then expected. But Detroit has said the same thing for years and its been an Achilles Heel for sometime.

            I do agree the Shields move strikes me as risky. Preller was getting Shields or Hamels. Much like Dayton Moore did when he brought in Shields in KC, he didnt want pitchers with some good stats he wanted someone from a winning culture that thought of himself as the big dog to teach the other pitchers about being winners. Damn the risk/reward or the analytics.

            You could argue keep Hahn and 72.5 million instead of signing Shields. But its a pecking order. Preller wanted his big dog. Now he slots Cashner and Ross behind them. Ian Kennedy will probably be moved or get a QO so not sure how that will play but for now that top four can hunt with anyone. The move to Shields was a move just like NOT bringing back Kemp or Ramirez was a move. Its about changing the culture first and foremost.

            Preller wants them to think about themselves as winners. AF wants to develop chemistry, flexibilty for a team that has already won. Different processes and slightly different timelines.

            But Jeff you are right, AF is doing the right things. He is changing the foundation on a winning team but its like putting down a new floor. AP had to blow up the entire foundation and pour new cement. I guess that is why the story is so interesting because I think his immediate challenge was bigger. Take care.

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