The Dodger front office is at again, testing the outer limits of just how much Los Angeles baseball fans love their favorite team’s uniforms. Now with more members of the 2008 Phillies on the roster than Dodgers from that same era, it’s forgivable to wonder whether Andrew Friedman is engaging in some sort of “revenge trading”- not for the Dodgers sake, but his Tampa Bay Rays, who were beaten by that same Phillies team in the World Series. (And lest ye forget, Jimmy Rollins held the fort down last year, while Corey Seager searched for someone to sublet his apartment in Oklahoma.) At the end of the previous century, George Steinbrenner employed a similar tactic with the crosstown rival Mets, allowing Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden and others to wear the Yankee pinstripes during their championship run. Heck, he even hired Tim McCarver for a while! (It’s little known to most people outside of the New York area, but McCarver was a Met announcer in the 1980’s, prior to being poached by Big Stein.)
Truth be told, though, this is unlikely to be an important motive, if any motive, for Friedman to make these moves. Sure, even a “stats guy” like Friedman is bound to give in to human emotions once in a while, and it surely still hurts when he thinks about how close his team came to winning that year. (Who knows? Maybe Brad Pitt would have played him in the movies!) Nevertheless, the fact is, this team has made tons of trade during his tenure, and a few of them were bound to be with the Phillies. Each one has also proved to be somewhat justifiable- Jimmy Rollins was a defensive upgrade over Hanley Ramirez- not to mention one in the clubhouse- Joe Blanton has been a very good setup man in the bullpen, and Chase Utley has been the kind of player that you’ll someday get to say, “They don’t make guys like that anymore.” So, maybe Carlos Ruiz can add something to this team as well.
At the same time, though, this is not just an ordinary trade of past-their-prime backup catchers. AJ Ellis, a man who owes his entire existence to his great-grandmother literally missing the boat (and what a boat it was!), worked exceptionally hard to improbably become the longest tenured player in the Dodger organization. By all accounts, he is one of the smartest men in baseball, and has been integral to the Dodgers success, since finally nailing down a permanent spot on the big league club’s roster in 2011. Additionally, he is Clayton Kershaw’s best friend on the team, and well liked by all. While Friedman’s previous trades of fan favorites worked out much better than most of us expected, this one carries the additional baggage that AJ Ellis was a team favorite. If keeping an easily-identifiable core group together for fans isn’t important to the numbers-minded executives running the Dodgers’ front office- and clearly, it isn’t- how about the risk of rupturing team chemistry?
In fairness to Friedman, the Dodgers’ winning percentage has been good during his tenure so far, in spite of an almost unfathomable amount of injuries. (Seriously, how has this team managed to get into first place, using bullpen-by-committee?!) And given that a few of his most controversial moves have actually worked out- let’s face it, the Matt Kemp trade is increasingly looking like an outright victory for the Dodgers- there’s only so much outrage one can muster, before seeing the results of these transactions. But none of this means that the criticism shouldn’t be taken seriously, either. Also, while it’s dangerous to be sentimental in the age of free agency, so much roster turnover for the Dodgers really does make it feel like we’re rooting for a fantasy baseball team- someone else’s fantasy baseball team! Either that, or a roster from a Phillies’ Old Timers game, in the not-too-distance future.
A couple of more Phillie-related notes- first, it’s incredible to think that for the second time in as many years, the trade of an iconic Phillie almost led to the Dodgers’ being no hit by the Giants. Whether a curse, a coincidence, or just letdown from losing AJ Ellis is anyone’s guess. Regardless, it’s something that you can expect to happen, about as much as you can expect to be struck by lightning twice. (Also of karmic note is that Ross Stripling was on the losing end for the Dodgers. You might recall that earlier this year against the Giants, Stripling almost made some very unlikely history of his own.) And finally, Adrian Gonzalez can sleep well for the remainder of the season, knowing Ryan Howard’s arrival to Chavez Ravine will probably have to wait until 2017, out of respect to Vin Scully. Sure, Friedman just defied Clayton Kershaw’s wishes, but good luck pulling that stunt on Mr. Scully, whom the Dodgers just renamed their MAILING ADDRESS to!