FanPost

Was Colletti really that terrible with the Dodgers outfield?

After looking back at Depo in 2004, I figured that there was enough to be said about Colletti that it would be too long to say in a comment.  I think we have to understand what Colletti was thinking and how that led him to make the decisions he did.  It's one thing to say he made terrible decisions now, but remember, at the time they were made, many of his decisions seemed reasonable, though many more were also terrible.

Going into 2006, the Dodgers were supposed to have as everyday outfielders Jose Cruz Jr, Kenny Lofton and JD Drew.  Ricky Ledee, who Depo signed as a 5th outfielder and pinch hitter, remained and the out of options Cody Ross got the call to be the 4th outfielder.  Andre Ethier would begin the year in AAA, Matt Kemp in AA.  Jayson Werth would spend the entirety of 2006 out with an injury.

Lofton got hurt pretty quick, so Jason Repko got the call.  Repko had a great April, hitting .328/.414/.574 for the month.  Once Lofton got back, though, something had to give, and especially once Jeff Kent was hit on the wrist by a pitch and a backup 2b was needed, that forced Cody Ross out.  While Ross just had a great game where he hit 2 home runs, he hadn't demonstrated a lot more major league success, and there's only so much stock you should put in one good game, especially when the first homer was hit off Oliver Perez.  While Ricky Ledee could have been dropped, he was your lefty bat of the bench (the bat flip was in 2007, and sadly never repeated), and the guy who shows up on the 2005 team's baseball-reference page as the primary left fielder.  So Ross goes.

Repko would be optioned eventually, and Andre Ethier would be called up to play left field in the wake of the deteriorating play of Jose Cruz Jr.  Cruz made almost $3m in 2006, coming off of a season where he played for 3 teams but still put up an .837 OPS and 18 hr.  A 30-30 player 5 years earlier with a career .795 OPS up to that point, Cruz was not expected to fall off a cliff at age 32, or at least he was expected to rebound sometime later in the season.  But he continued to suck, while Ethier played very well until he hit a wall in September and was benched for the hot hand of Marlon "Merlin" Anderson.  Cruz and Ledee would be released or claimed much, much later in the season.

Matt Kemp, dubbed "the Bison" after Don Sutton remarked that he looked like a buffalo stealing second (or because he's built tougher than a robot made of nails), went on a tear and hit 7 home runs in the first two weeks of June.  From June 15 on, Matt Kemp hit a Michael Jordan-like .202/.233/.275 with 5 walks to 42 strikeouts for the rest of the season, though he was mentored by proven veteran leader and baserunning master Jeff Kent.

Going into 2007, the plan was JD Drew, Andre Ethier, and some stop-gap solution until Kemp was ready.  Then Drew exercised his option, and Colletti was shocked that Drew didn't do what he said to the media he would do.  The Dodgers needed two outfielders, though Jayson Werth was not selected to be one of them, or given a chance to be one of them.  Werth had just missed all of 2006 with injury, and in 2005 hit an uninspiring .234/.338/.374.  Desperate for outfield help, including an outfielder who could play center field, Colletti opted for Juan Pierre.  Other marquee names on the outfield market were Alfonso Soriano (8 yrs, $121m), Carlos Lee (6 yrs, $100m), Gary Matthews Jr (5 yrs, $50m), and Dave Roberts (3 yrs, $14m).  To fill that third spot, the winner was Luis Gonzalez, who is probably best known for being an ass.  During the course of the year, Matt Kemp played well while Loney hit a wall, and then finally took over first base.

Going into 2008, Colletti was beginning to see that Pierre would not be a viable centerfielder for very long since he had a noodle arm.  The obvious answer was to stick Matt Kemp in center field, move Pierre to left, keep Ethier in right and prove that you know Joe Torre isn't a good manager, but that he (along with a gigantic contract) can draw A-Rod to LA.  And you're wrong.  First of all, we know now (and suspected then) that McCourt wasn't going to shell out for A-Rod, even if he would draw more fans and make the team successful.  Secondly, other than that, the free agent market wasn't great for hitters, but Colletti had to make a splash after a losing season, thus the signing of Andruw Jones.  It was a lot of money, but it was only for 2 years.  Jones turned out to be horrible, Kemp eventually took over centerfield after splitting some time with Ethier, and then came the trade that nobody saw coming.  Manny.  Ramirez.  Manny was on fire and helped to carry the team to the division title.

Unable to see any way the Dodgers could do well (and sell tickets) without Manny, Colletti almost had to re-sign him, but it was becoming obvious that the Dodgers didn't have any money to spend.  Manny and Casey Blake were acquired without the Dodgers taking on salary in 2008.  So in the offseason before 2009, Manny was signed to a contract deferring money over three years after he had left the team.  This compounded with the restructuring of Andruw Jones' contract that led to his release - he would be paid until 2014, giving the team more short term flexibility while sacrificing payroll from 2011-2013, when the core of the team would be reaching free agency.  

Meanwhile, Jayson Werth is just hitting free agency this offseason, and Cody Ross has one more year before he hits the market.  While they would have been good to have in 2007, who knows what Werth, Ross, Ethier would have done in the outfield.  What if Werth goes down and Ross toes the Mendoza line?  Or if they do well, what becomes of Matt Kemp?  And is it too much pressure on the sophomore Ethier to be the 3 hitter already?  Would this have prevented Manny to LA (or for that matter, the 2 year deal after 2008), and would that have been a good thing?  

My inclinations are to say that even with Werth, Ross and Ethier, you need to sign someone else to be a starter for a year, so you need Alou, Catalanotto or even Gonzalez in 2007, assuming that Kemp will play over Ross once he gets it together and proves he's better at the major league level.  Get an outfield with some depth, then keep flexibility for trading for third base or the rotation later in the season.  But what would you have said 4 years ago?  Truth be told, I was really excited when the Giants were about to sign Pierre and pissed that Colletti swooped in and signed him for an extra year, but then again, I thought Carlos Lee and Alfonso Soriano were reasonable signings back then. 

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