As we reach the All Star Break, I wanted to tackle a question that has been bugging me for a while now. How can you fix the Dodgers? Despite this teams position in the divisional race, there are several glaring flaws on the team right now. They can't hit home runs, they don't have a third baseman, and Mark Hendrickson is the fourth starter, amongst other things. Fixing the Dodgers is no easy task, and it's a topic I wanted to devote some time to.
First though, I wanted to stress how important it is to keep Andy LaRoche on the team. With Nomar at third and Tony Abreu hitting for a decent, if empty, average, some might see LaRoche as an expendable player. Someone that can be used to get the Dodgers a rental player to possibly push them over the top. This would be a terrible, terrible mistake.
This paragraph was originally going to be about how a team does not deal its top prospect, ever. As it stands, while it is rare, it's been done a number of times over the last 13 years. Since 1994, a team has dealt its top prospect six times at the deadline, and they've shipped a top 100 prospect away nine times. Here's the complete list:
|Player Received||Players Sent||Rank On Team||Rank In Top 100||Traded By|
|Julio Lugo||Joel Guzman||3||26||Dodgers|
|Freddy Garcia||Jeremy Reed||1||25||White Sox|
|Sidney Ponson||Kurt Ainsworth||3||64||Giants|
|Bartolo Colon||Brandon Phillips||1||20||Expos|
|Scott Rolen||Bud Smith||1||37||Cardinals|
|Matt Mantei||Brad Penny||1||5||Diamondbacks|
|Livan Hernandez||Jason Grilli||1||44||Giants|
|Jeff Shaw||Paul Konerko||1||2||Dodgers|
|Terry Mulholland||Desi Relaford||2||89||Mariners|
A few things jump out at me:
Tommy Lasorda might have somehow been the worst G.M. ever despite being on the job less than six months
Even though dealing a team's top prospect does happen, it is still not a common occurrence. Only nine times in the last 13 years has a team dealt a top 100 prospect, let alone their best young star.
When a team has dealt its top prospect, it's rarely come back to bite them. Other than dealing the fifth best prospect in baseball for an injury prone reliever, and the aforementioned Lasorda incident, none of these teams would say that they regret these deals. Does this mean that there's nothing wrong with dealing a top prospect? Not necessarily. These players could have been dealt because they had flaws that weren't evident to the rest of the baseball community. For example, Bud Smith's strikeout rate went in to the toilet after he graduated from AA, and something happened to Joel Guzman between 2005 and 2006. It's entirely feasible that these players were dealt because they were overvalued by the baseball community.
I guess that begs the question is Andy LaRoche overvalued by the general baseball community? There's tons of reasons to like LaRoche. The swing that produces line drive after line drive, the .292/.372/.513 line over his minor league career, the fact that he's walked more than he's struck out the last two years. There is a very good reason that this guy is rated the number one prospect in a rich system.
Why would you dislike LaRoche? I can think of a couple reasons. First is the grumbling that he has a hole in his swing. Fortunately, I think this is just white noise. If he had a hole in his swing, there's no way that he could keep his strikeout rate as low as he does (once every 6.95 at bats the last two years). The second one is the big one. The labrum tear that LaRoche suffered last June could have permanently damaged his career. The slump that he's been mired in this season might just be a new level of performance. Fortunately, there is evidence that this might not be the career altering injury that some have made it out to be.
First is that after LaRoche was initially diagnosed with the tear last June, he proceeded to put up great numbers in the PCL. In July he hit .333/.398/.484 and in August he hit .280/.375/.524 to end up with a final AAA line of .322/.400/.550 (the great numbers he put up in 27 at bats in June and September account for the boost). Unless the surgery he got in the off season permanently damaged him, and actually reduced his abilities from before he had surgery, LaRoche should be able to bounce back from what he has done this year.
Before the year, LaRoche should have been considered an almost totally untouchable prospect, yet more and more I see various trade proposals from fans offering LaRoche for pennies on the dollar. Don't. Considering Clayton Kershaw is still in the "anything can happen" phase (Greg Miller and Edwin Jackson were putting up similar numbers at higher levels at Kershaw's age), LaRoche is still our top prospect. If he were shipped away, he would be the highest rated prospect moved at the trade deadline since Brad Penny. Trading Andy LaRoche for some kind of temporary fix because of three disappointing months would be a very short sited move that the Dodgers would regret almost immediately.