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Fire Fred Claire

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Since there's not all that much for me to analyze at the beginning of the season, and I hate doing game recaps, I've decided to fill some space on this blog by rerunning some old classics. Our next one comes from December 11th, 1987.

Three years ago it was "anybody but Dave Anderson". After watching Mariano Duncan put up a .244/.293/.340 line in his best year as a Dodger, this switched to "anybody but Mariano Duncan". You'd think I'd learn to stop saying that. As part of a highly complicated trade, the Dodgers have sent Bob Welch and Matt Young to the A's for Alfredo Griffin, Jay Howell, and Jesse Orosco. Yes, the Dodgers traded their best starter for a shortstop with no power and patience and a couple middle relievers. Is it too soon to start

Alfredo Griffin is pretty much the same shortstop you've seen for the last few years. Can't hit, can't walk, doesn't hit for power, and he supposedly plays good defense, but good defensive metrics say otherwise. Three of the last four years, Alfredo Griffin has put up a rate2 under 100. If we're lucky, he might be a three win player, tops. While this doesn't seem horrible, remember how bad a replacement level player is. If a player both hit and fielded at replacement level, they'd have no chance of staying in the bigs. Two to three wins is really where big league players start, so Griffin is at the bottom rung of talent in the majors.

Not much interesting to say about Jay Howell. He's 30 years old, and last year he struck out 6.24 per nine, walked 2.85 per nine and allowed a home run about once per 18 innings. The home run rate bumps him ever so slightly above true middle reliever level, but it doesn't matter. He could be good, he might not be good, and there's about 30 guys in free agency that could do the same thing. Howell actually did have a sudden jump in strikeout rate with the Yankees two years ago, but that's probably just a fluke.

Jesse Orosco is slightly more intriguing. He's a very interesting case, since his peripherals go from being slightly above average to really good once every three years. 1987 was one of the good years, so he had a strike out rate of over nine per nine, walked 3.62 every nine innings, and gave up a home run about once every 15 innings. These were arguably the best stats Orosco ever put up, yet he had the highest ERA of his career. Unfortunately, Orosco is going to make a million dollars next year, making him one of the highest paid relievers in baseball. While you can consider this a buy low, this seems like a salary dump by the Mets, so I can't even give Fred Claire a little credit here.

To get this cavalcade of mediocrity, the Dodgers gave up Bob Welch, one of the best starters in the league. His 60.3 VORP led the Dodgers, and marked him as the eighth most valuable starting pitcher in baseball. Amongst starters he was 17th in strikeout rate and 14th in home run rate. Bob Welch is an elite player who will make less than Jesse Orosco next year.  When you trade an elite player, you need to get an elite player back, or you've lost the trade. None of the players the Dodgers just acquired are anywhere near elite. The Dodgers could have picked up Ron Washington, who despite not being able to hit is still a better hitter than Griffin, and two random relievers, and got the same results for the same salary, while retaining Bob Welch. If I can throw darts at the free agency list and come up with a team that's just as productive, that's a very bad sign.

Who's going to replace Welch in the rotation? Tim Belcher, the man who walked seven per nine in AAA this year? Sure, he kept his walks down in 40 innings with the Dodgers, but right now I've got to trust his three years of wildness against a tiny sample. Tim Leary? Was anyone impressed by his 12 starts this year? He has stats that make him a man destined for middle relief. I guess you go out on the free agent market and grab someone, but whoever you get will be worse than Welch, and more expensive.

Matt Young is no big loss, but he's just as likely to have a good season as Jay Howell, plus he's younger and cheaper. Talent wise, the Dodgers lost nothing, but they do lose some payroll flexibility by dealing Young.

Is Fred Claire blind to the Dodgers offensive holes? I hate to keep repeating myself but the Dodgers finished last in runs scored, on base percentage, and slugging percentage this year. Bob Welch could have brought, at the very least, an actual first baseman to this team. Instead, we get Mariano Duncan redux, and two middle relievers, neither of whom are as good as the guy we traded this April. In essence, our net for Tom Niedenfuer and Welch is John Shelby and Jesse Orosco. Is that really worth it?

To get an idea of how bad the Dodgers are offensively, here's our projected starters for 1988, and how far they are off the average OPS for the position.

C Mike Scioscia (+.018)
1B Franklin Stubbs (-.125)
2B Steve Sax (-.034)
3B Mickey Hatcher (-.021)
SS Alfredo Griffin (-.031)
LF Pedro Guerrero (+.160)
CF John Shelby (-.004)
RF Mike Marshall (-.027)

Pedro Guerrero is the extent of our offense right now. Every other position player the Dodgers have can be improved, yet we moved laterally by picking up Alfredo Griffin. The Dodgers weren't losing games this year due to their defense or their bullpen, it's because they can't hit the ball. How can we give up our best pitcher without making any attempt to address the Dodgers biggest weakness?

Paul Molitor, Kirk Gibson, and, painful as this may be, Jack Clark are still available. If the Dodgers pick up one of these guys, and Guerrero puts up his usual numbers, the Dodgers offense might finish in the top 25 this year. Fred Claire needs to pick up a bat, and probably two more. The Dodgers have an amazing pitching staff, but if they can't score runs, it doesn't mean anything.

While I try to avoid hyperbole, this could be the worst trade the Dodgers have made in the last 10 years. A year after finishing 73-89, the Dodgers needed to make some big changes, but this trade just seems like we should expect more of the same. It's going to be a long, long year.