A year ago, I wrote about the Los Angeles Dodgers offseason wish list. As we prepare to roll out this year’s Wish List series for all 30 teams, I happened to re-read what I wrote last year. There are a few lessons that I think are worth learning, applicable not just to the Dodgers but to teams and fans in general.
1) There’s more than one way to skin a cat
I’ve never understood that saying — I mean, why would you want to skin a cat? — but if it’s good enough for Mark Twain, it’s good enough for me. Anyway, my top item on the Dodgers offseason wish list was to add “at least one front-line starting pitcher.” My basic point was: re-sign Zack Greinke, and then also sign David Price or Jordan Zimmermann or Johnny Cueto.
Instead, the Dodgers refused to outbid the Arizona Diamondbacks for Greinke’s services and never showed any serious interest in Price, Zimmermann, or Cueto. Instead, they signed Kenta Maeda out of Japan and watched Brett Anderson accept their qualifying offer, something no one had ever done before last offseason. Eh, Greinke and Price, Maeda and Anderson, it’s basically sixes, right?
As it turned out, the Dodgers starting pitching had more upheaval than anyone could have guessed, and they had a long stretch of the season wherein none of their starters could pitch even six innings per start. The team set a record for appearances and innings pitched by the bullpen, and nine starting pitchers spent time on the disabled list (Clayton Kershaw, Scott Kazmir, Alex Wood, Bud Norris, Brandon McCarthy, Anderson, Rich Hill, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and Frankie Montas).
It’s not the most efficient way to skin a cat. If someone walked in and saw you doing it that way, they’d say, “Hey, let me show you a better way to skin that cat.” Like, even if they had never skinned a cat before, just intuitively they would think of ten better ways to do it. But at the end of the day, the Dodgers won the National League West for the fourth year in a row and all wore their cat-skin caps to the celebration party (I assume).
2) Sometimes the answer is right in front of you
When discussing the longterm solution at second base for the Dodgers, I listed three possibilities: Kiké Hernandez, Jose Peraza, and Howie Kendrick. Those were three reasonable options — all three had played some second base for the Dodgers the previous year, and all three had their pros and cons, which I addressed. Even though Kendrick was a free agent, I thought he might either accept the qualifying offer or re-sign with the Dodgers to play second base.
Somehow, I failed to mention the possibility that the Dodgers other free-agent second baseman — Chase Utley — might re-sign with the team and start 118 games at second base, including 112 in the leadoff spot in the lineup. Utley was not great — his 95 OPS+ was just below average, and his 2.0 WAR puts him right on the bubble between starter and bench player — but he was solid, he was healthy, and he was a mentor to the rest of the team, especially rookie shortstop Corey Seager. I didn’t see that coming, but it worked out great.
3) Relief pitchers are a fickle thing
Kenley Jansen was predictably outstanding in 2016. Everything else in the Dodgers bullpen was unexpected. I suspect that theme is true throughout most of the league.
4) A broken clock is right twice a day
I suggested that the Dodgers should eat the rest of Carl Crawford‘s contract and let him walk, and they did. I recommended that they hire a good manager, and they did. I demanded that they resolve the television crisis that was threatening to prevent 70 percent of Angelenos from watching Vin Scully’s final season, and … well, I was right, even if it didn’t happen.
5) It’s good that smarter people than me make the decisions
I was a proponent of a Dodgers outfield of Yasiel Puig, Joc Pederson, and Jason Heyward. Now, I don’t think the Dodgers didn’t sign Heyward because they expected him to be the absolutely dreadful hitter he was this year, but whatever the reasons, they dodged a bullet that I would have jumped in front of.
Some parts of fandom are easy, like telling teams how to spend money when it has no effect on us. The players I wanted the Dodgers to sign would have added about $100 million to their already-the-highest-in-MLB payroll, and with the exception of Cueto, they probably wouldn’t have improved the team much. In fact, Heyward’s health and contract would have kept him on the field when his performance didn’t justify it, and we might never have seen the contributions we saw from Andrew Toles and Trayce Thompson and people like that.
So as we look forward to the 2017 season, we will continue to guess and speculate and postulate as to what our favorite team will and should do. But let’s keep in the back of our minds that we are likely to be embarrassingly wrong and when we look back a year from now we’ll wonder what in the world we were talking about.
Hooray for sports!