The Dodgers will be fine in 2001
Many of the media believe the Los Angeles Dodgers will not make the playoffs in 2001. In Tuesday, December 19, 2000 issue of The Los Angeles Times Bill Plaschke predicted doom for the Dodgers in 2001 because they did not sign a free agent catcher to replace Todd Hundley. He also criticized them for trying to improve their starting rotation. He compared Shawn Green to Darryl Strawberry as both are big flops in Los Angeles. Nobody knows what the upcoming season has in store for the Dodgers, but I think they will be better than a .500 team. The Dodgers need encouragement from the media and their fans, not negativity.
The Dodgers have two capable catchers, Chad Kreuter and Paul LoDuca. When they needed to save money, they bypassed signing a free agent catcher. Plaschke felt the Dodgers should sign Charles Johnson. He must have forgotten Johnson was a Dodger in 1998 and did not give the Dodgers what they wanted. As a Dodger, he hit .217 with twelve home runs and 35 RBI. Though he hit .304 and had 31 homers in the American League in 2000, he did not perform that way in the National League, especially as a Dodger. Oh yes, Plaschke will argue that Johnson helps the pitchers. Why did the Dodgers’ ERA rise after Mike Piazza left and Johnson joined the team if Johnson helped so much? Kreuter, 36, might be old for a catcher and has not hit many home runs in his career, but he did perform as a Dodger and helped Chan Ho Park to become a dominating starter. Every catcher is young and inexperienced once. Paul LoDuca needs an opportunity to show what he can do. Being endorsed by Mike Scioscia is good for LoDuca. Neither Kreuter nor LoDuca can hit homers as Hundley did, but they can lead-off and throw out more than 21% of the runners. This is something that the Dodgers need.
After the 2000 season, clearly the Dodgers needed to improve their starting rotation. Last season the Dodgers had three reliable starters. Darren Dreifort, the Dodger third best starter in 2000, was a free agent. Dreifort and his agent Scott Boras demanded a five-year $55 million contract. At first the Dodgers did not want to give him that much but realized other teams, especially the Colorado Rockies, would give him what he asked for or more. Many baseball experts think Dreifort can be an ace of any major league starting rotation. The Dodgers had a good young pitcher named Pedro Martinez in 1993 and traded him. Still Dodger fans are mad about the Martinez trade. The Dodgers could not afford to allow another good young starter like Dreifort to get away.
Though Andy Ashby had a rough 2000 with the Philadelphia Phillies and the Atlanta Braves, Ashby was one of the best starters in the National League in 1998 and 1999. The Dodgers had pitiful fourth and fifth starters whose performances prevented the Dodgers from reaching the playoffs in 2000. Because the Dodgers have limited payroll flexibility, they could not go after Mike Mussina, Mike Hampton, or Denny Neagle. Next to Dreifort, Ashby was the second best in the cheaper group of starters. Ashby’s best year was 1998 when he had Kevin Brown as a teammate, and the Dodgers hope Ashby and Brown will regain their magic that they had in 1998.
Plaschke referred to Shawn Green as though he will be as a big flop as Darryl Strawberry. This is totally unfair to Green. True, Green did not reach lofty expectations in 2000, but he did have a good year. In 2000 Green was the only Dodger to appear in all 162 games, and he batted .269 with 24 home runs, 99 RBI, and 24 stolen bases. In Darryl Strawberry’s first year as a Dodger, 1991, he appeared in 139 games and batted .265 with 25 home runs, 99 RBI, and 10 stolen bases. Mentioning Green in the same sentence with Strawberry is an insult to Green. Before Strawberry became a Dodger, he never had the statistics with the New York Mets that Green had with the Toronto Blue Jays. Strawberry had off the field problems, including alcoholism and abusing his wife, whereas Green has been a hard worker and an upstanding citizen throughout his baseball career. Whereas Strawberry had to make an adjustment between divisions, Green had to adjust to a different league, which he found difficult. Barring serious injury, Green should do much better in 2001 whereas Strawberry’s performance declined every year in Los Angeles. The only things that Shawn Green and Darryl Strawberry have in common are growing up in the Los Angeles area and being left-handed.
The Dodgers will miss the offense from Todd Hundley, but they can win without it. Hundley provided home runs and RBI but had a low on-base percentage. In 2001 the Dodgers must transfer their focus from the home run to base hits. Jim Tracy promises to manage more than Davey Johnson did. Both Chad Kreuter and Paul LoDuca can have a high on-base percentages and advance runners. Mark Grudzielanek should hit at least .270. Eric Karros should regain his power stroke and hit his usual 30 home runs and drive in 100 RBI. Shawn Green should do better after a year adjusting to the National League. The Dodgers want to add Johnny Damon from the Kansas City Royals if they can work out a trade, and Damon can give them a genuine lead-off hitter with speed. If they cannot add Damon, Goodwin provides speed on bases. Adrian Beltre showed maturity in the second half of 2000, and he can provide power and speed. The Dodgers must do the little things to score and stop relying on home runs.
Nobody knows what will happen in the upcoming season. The Dodgers have tried to assemble a winning team while trying to be fiscally responsible. The Dodgers need our support and not criticism until they prove they are a second class team, and I think they will do better than that.