Somehow Still a Dodger, Captain Clutch Plays The Hero Again…and Again!

Andre Ethier was not supposed to still be here. Constantly rumored to be part of deals that involved- among others- Mark Teixiera, Manny Ramirez, Miguel Montero, and most recently CJ Wilson, Ethier survived them all. It’s debatable whether he even WANTED to survive those deals, particularly in recent years. But after the Dodgers couldn’t unload his contract for anything close to fair value, they figured it was better to instead trade Matt Kemp. This enraged many fans (hello, everybody!) and surely even the front office would have conceded that of the two franchise cornerstones, Ethier is the one they’d rather part with.

Thank goodness they didn’t. Not only has Ethier had a better season offensively than Kemp, but he’s been a far better fit in the field, as well. Though notably moody at times, Andre Ethier is also willing to play all three outfield positions, something that Matt Kemp is not. With Yasiel Puig manning right field for the foreseeable and Joc Pederson in center, Kemp would have been inserted into left field, a place that he truly hates, for whatever reason. Had Ethier been traded and Kemp stayed put, it’s difficult to imagine how that would have played out this year- let alone the fact that Yasmani Grandal would not be here.

But all this is big picture stuff. On Sunday, the reason(s) for keeping Ethier was far more apparent. After newbie Jim Johnson wrecked other newbie Mat Latos’s chance for a victory by allowing a game-tying home run to the Angels, Ethier picked him up in the bottom of the 8th inning with a dramatic, go-ahead home run to centerfield. The Angels tied up the game in the 9th inning with 2 outs, giving Mike Scioscia’s free-falling club from Orange County a brief feeling of elation- emphasis on brief.

At Dodger Stadium, August 2nd, 2015  was Dre Day.  (Source: Jayne Kamin Oncea, USA Today)

At Dodger Stadium, August 2nd, 2015 was Dre Day. (Source: Jayne Kamin Oncea, USA Today)

In the bottom of the 10th, Ethier came to the plate with Adrian Gonzalez on, and crushed a line-drive, walkoff home run- and into the Angel bullpen, just for effect! It was a dramatic hit from a dramatic player, and reminded Dodger fans of something that they used to see on a regular basis. It was good to see it again.

Never able to figure out lefties, Ethier has not quite been the player that Dodger fans had once hoped for. Nevertheless, the good has far outweighed the bad. In one final twist for the afternoon, Molly Knight notes in her new book “The Best Team Money Can Buy” that Andre Ethier once complained about playing in day games, saying he was a better player at night. (The numbers back this up.) But he isn’t complaining today, nor are Dodger fans. As his teammates congratulated him with a Gatorade bath, the longtime Dodger outfielder never looked happier to still be playing in Los Angeles. For Dodger fans on this Sunday afternoon, the feeling is more than mutual.

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Deadline Post-Mortem: Low risk, Medium Reward For the Dodgers

“You see what you expect to see.” –Professor Dumbledore to Snape

It’s hard not to give in to personal biases.  Ruben Amaro can sign a veteran to a ridiculous contract, and the fans will call him out.  Theo Epstein might do the same thing, and MLB message boards across the nation will light up, trying to interpret its “true meaning”.  But as lauded as the perceived curse-breaking GM in Chicago might be, outside of the man in Oakland, there’s probably not a front office in baseball that operates more like a Rorschach Test than the one in Dodger Stadium.

Though often too clever by half, Andrew Friedman's front office crew did some nice work this week. (source: Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

Though often too clever by half, Andrew Friedman’s front office crew did some nice work this week. (source: Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

I’m as guilty of this as anyone.  After enthusiastically greeting the hiring of the long-on-brains, even-longer-on-money front office last October, I quickly soured on them.  Two massive trades, involving some of the most popular, exciting players on the team, followed by expensive free agent signings of two ex-Oakland starting pitchers that seemed to scream, “You just don’t GET it!” was enough for me to wonder if I could continue rooting for this organization.  Fortunately, the moves turned out to be much better than I thought- though still not nearly as good as OTHERS thought, but I digress- and my enthusiasm ultimately overpowered my cynicism.  But that doesn’t mean I bought in to Andrew Friedman’s program.  Now that the 2015 trade deadline has come and gone, I may at least start to reconsider.

I know that many Dodgers fans had their hearts set on a Hamels, a Price, or a Cueto.  To some extent, so did I.  But the price of those guys, in terms of player personnel, may have been higher than Friedman and Fahran Zaidi were comfortable paying.  (Ironically enough, it looks like Scott Kazmir may have been the one to go after early on, but hindsight is 50/50.)  Instead of going for one great starter that would have potentially made the Dodgers thinner in the future, they opted for two good starters in Mat Latos and Alex Wood, at cost that should have zero impact on the team going forward.  (The budget, of course, is another matter, but this is nothing new these days.)  Also not to be overlooked, the team solidified the bullpen with Jim Johnson and Luis Avilan, and brought over a prospect, Jose Peraza, that may end up being the Dodgers’ second baseman next year, and hopefully beyond.  Personally, I continue to be regretful about the guy who should STILL be the Dodgers’ second baseman- and I say that, fully aware that Howie Kendrick and Enrique Hernandez are having nice seasons- but that’s over now.  What Friedman and company did was the next best thing to make up for it.

Perhaps the most underrated part of this trade is what it says about the front office’s faith in Justin Turner.  In the offseason, the Dodgers paid an enormous amount of money to sign Cuban defector Hector Olivera, an infielder that they didn’t need.  Olivera did well in the minors, but Turner performed even better in the MAJORS.  Even so, for a while it appeared that the Dodgers were determined to put Olivera into the lineup, regardless of what Turner was doing.  The biggest indication seemed to be SNLA announcers referring to him as “the Dodgers’ third baseman of the future”.  (Outside of Vin Scully, it’s pretty clear by now that the rest of the announcers, great as they are, operate within the company lines.)  We often hear about players doing “what’s best for the team.”  By trading away Olivera and giving the nod to Turner, the Dodgers’ President of Baseball Operations did just that, and it shouldn’t go unnoticed.

Though the Dodgers are probably a better team today than they were yesterday, it’s not all rainbows and lollipops.  The amount of money to make this happen was absurd, even though the Dodgers can clearly afford it.  And as usual for Friedman and his crew, the media went overboard in their praise, referring to them (and specifically him) as “brilliant” a few too many times, failing to mention that these moves were needed, in part, because some of their previous ones did not go as planned.  (Full disclosure- Regrettably, I used this term once myself yesterday, mainly out of excitement that the Dodgers received so many potentially contributing Major Leaguers, without giving a single current one back.  But it was as much out of relief than anything else.)  Particularly funny was a local writer, who praised Friedman for getting rid of the “bad debt” of Dee Gordon (among others), then later quoted him on the Dodgers adding Peraza, saying how the team was in need of “foot speed”.  (You don’t say!)  But make no mistake- the Dodgers addressed ALL of their current problems, without creating new ones.  That doesn’t mean it will all work out, as AJ Preller can tell you.  But the reasoning is sound, and while fans may still have to hold their collective breathe on days that Kershaw and Greinke aren’t pitching, at least they may be able to exhale a little bit more quickly.

Get well soon, guys.

Get well soon, guys.

As for the team itself, they are holding onto first place- barely- though not without some serious concerns.  Justin Turner has been placed on the DL for an infection, which will hopefully clear up within the next few days, for his sake and his team’s.  Less threatening in the physical realm but more so on the field, Clayton Kershaw is dealing with a sore hip, but he claims that pitching Saturday afternoon will not be a problem for him.  (Let’s hope that’s true, along with the idea he will be able to say the same thing AFTER the game.)  Dodger fans not enamored with Dee Gordon should at least take interest in the man assigned with the tall task of facing off against Kershaw today, Andrew Heaney, who was flipped for Howie Kendrick hours after being traded for Gordon.  Should be fun!