Monday Musings- Moving On From A Player Is Never Easy

Yesterday, I was scrolling through Twitter and noticed something about Justin Turner’s account—his profile picture was of him and his wife, and his headline pic was of them and their foundation. In his bio part, it just says @court_with_a_k and a bride emoji. Nothing about the Dodgers. Nothing about being a World Champion, or even a baseball player. Just links to his wife and his foundation.

Of course, JT does not owe the Dodgers or any of us an explanation in his bio. But it still hurts to see any acknowledgement of the team that he has been with, and meant so much to, over the last six years, absent from mention. Turner will always be a Dodger, regardless of whether he retires or plays several seasons with a different team.

This got me thinking about what former players for the Dodgers hurt the most to see with other teams. On November 23rd, Dennis tweeted that on that day in 1988, then free agent Steve Sax signed a three-year deal to play for the New York Yankees. 12-year-old me was devastated at the time, as he was my first favorite player, and I hated the Yankees. It was always weird to see Orel Hershiser in another team’s uniform, especially when he played for the San Francisco Giants.

I asked Twitter what player it was for them, and got some varied answers.

As we all know, Sandy Koufax retired at the age of 30, and as Chuck says, in his prime, leading the team to World Series wins and throwing no-hitters left and right. And then he had to announce that he was done with baseball, because his arm betrayed him. Koufax will always be one of those players, despite his incredible career, you will still always wonder what might have been.

Steve Garvey played for the Dodgers for 14 years before signing with the San Diego Padres. He was an All-Star for eight of those seasons and played in every single game for five of them. A two-time All-Star MVP, two-time NLCS MVP, and a World Series Champion while with the Dodgers. Justin Turner just passed him for most hits all time in Dodgers postseason history this October. A player like that is definitely tough to see go to another team.

Both Pedro Martinez and Mike Piazza were mentioned a bunch.

Martinez was signed by the Dodgers on June 18, 1988. His older brother Ramón was already in the Dodgers organization. He started in the bullpen but then went on to be a Hall of Fame starter, first for the Montreal Expos where the Dodgers traded him in 1994 for Delino DeShields, and then later helped lead the Boston Red Sox to their first World Championship in 86 years. He won three Cy Young awards over his career, five ERA titles, six WHIP titles and had a lifetime 2.93 ERA. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2015.

Piazza famously was drafted in the 62nd round of the 1988 draft as a favor to Tommy Lasorda, his Godfather. He went on to become a fan favorite. He was NL Rookie of the Year in 1993, and an All-Star each of the six seasons he played in Los Angeles. In 1997, he was the first catcher to record 200 hits in a single season. He and the Dodgers couldn’t come to a long term deal, and in 1998 he was traded to the Florida Marlins, who eight days later traded him to the New York Mets where he finished his Hall of Fame career.

Piazza also had unkind words for Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully, who he erroneously thought blasted him in an interview. Piazza remarked that he would much rather go into the Hall of Fame with a hat with no logo than in a Dodger hat. (I wonder if it bothers him that his Baseball Reference page has his picture in his Dodgers uniform?) Sour grapes for the team that gave him his chance, indeed.

Matt Kemp has so given Dodger fans so many memories. His first time around with the team did not end the way most fans wished that it might have, and his reunion with the team brought many fans joy, especially how he started the 2018 season, making his third All-Star team selection. Kemp is a player that has fans thinking what might have been, had he been less injured and happier in Dodger Blue.

Many other players were mentioned. Adrián Beltré was suggested often. Shawn Green, Paul Lo Duca, AJ Ellis, and Rich Hill all were players that Dodgers fans hated to see leave the team. But the most answered player by far was Yasiel Puig.

Puig started his career with the Dodgers with a bang and it never really stopped until he was traded to the Cincinnati Reds after the 2018 season. From his speeding ticket in AA Nashville to his quick ascension to the bigs and his getting on teammates nerves, Puig did it all. And he did it with great gusto and love of the game, except when he didn’t. A contradiction in giving it all and lolligagging, and sometimes both in the same game. There won’t be too many players with his childlike love of the game and incredible enthusiasm and ways to make the stadium shake with his powerful bat.

It’s a blessing and a curse to be a fan of a team that can trade away or let generational talent walk, because they still have so much of it. It stands to reason that in five years, one or more or Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager and/or Walker Buehler might be playing for another team. But we will always have the incredible moments that they each have given us. Who was your favorite player that didn’t end their career with the Dodgers? Let us know!

Dodgers Prospect Watch: Michael Busch on the Rise

For those who are regular readers of this site, you’ll know that we spend a great deal of time dedicated to the minor league affiliates of the Dodgers, often spotlighting some of the best prospects throughout the entire system.

No question, the 2020 season was a different animal. Without an official minor league season, it’s tough to say how many of these young players will be facing any types of setbacks. The good news, though, is that a small group of prospects who weren’t part of the team’s 40-man roster had the chance to train with some of the older players, thanks to last year’s special 60-man player pool.

23-year-old infield prospect Michael Busch was one of those players.

Having arrived at the alternate training site on July 11, Busch was officially the 58th player added to the pool. However, it didn’t take him long to impress the scouts who were on hand evaluating these prospects.

According to Kyle Glaser at Baseball America, Busch was one of the Top 6 players across the MLB “who got the loudest and most consistent raves” in camp this year.

In January, Jim Callis of MLB.com put together a series of rankings highlighting the game’s best prospects by position. Surprisingly, Busch appeared on the list as the sixth-best second base prospect in all of baseball.

It wasn’t that long ago when the left-handed hitting Busch was selected by the Dodgers as the 31st overall pick in the 2019 draft out of the University of North Carolina.

Billy Gasparino, the Dodgers’ director of player development, called Busch an “elite left-handed hitter,” comparing him to current Los Angeles slugger Max Muncy.

Said Gasparino not long after Busch’s selection, “Michael is a guy who we thought was one of the better bats in the Cape Cod League, both in terms of performance and swing, as well as overall defensive versatility. He’s been a staple in the UNC program. They rave about his makeup and his character, and we’re excited to add him to our organization. We’re going to challenge Michael and start at second base.”

Coincidentally, Busch split time at first base, shortstop and left field at UNC. Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com ranked Busch as having the best overall power grade among all the second base prospects.

After playing a handful of games in the Arizona Rookie League in 2019, the 6-foot, 205-pound Busch arrived at Low-A Great Lakes in time to appear in five games, going 2-for-11 with two RBI and six walks.

His time in 2019 was limited after suffering a hairline fracture in his right hand, but he still participated in the Arizona Fall League, logging five games for the Glendale Desert Dogs while going 3-for-13 with one home run. Perhaps what stood out the most was that he walked nine times in the AFL against just four punchouts, allowing him to score six runs.

According to Mayo, Busch’s “advanced approach at the plate allows him to wait for good pitches to drive.”

MLB Pipeline had this to say about the Minnesota native: “Busch masterfully controls the strike zone, waiting for pitches he can attack and taking walks when pitchers refuse to challenge him. His sweet left-handed swing features plenty of bat speed and his balanced approach allows him to drive the ball to all fields. He should hit for average and power while drawing more than his share of walks, giving him one of the highest offensive ceilings and floors among 2019 draftees.”

Busch hit 33 homers over his final two years at North Carolina.

Indeed, the Dodgers have a handful of players who can handle duties at second base—including Chris Taylor, Gavin Lux, Zach McKinstry and Muncy (to a degree)—but Busch might still be part of the big league discussions at some point next year, especially if Lux continues to struggle at the plate.

MLB Pipeline currently has Busch listed as the fourth-best prospect in the Dodgers’ organization.

Dodgers Have Huge Decision to Make Regarding Left Side of Infield

The Los Angeles Dodgers are the defending World Series champion and boast one of the top-ranked farm systems in the league.

Their mix of established veteran stars and intriguing prospects with the potential to shine sets them up perfectly to continue contending for titles over the nest several seasons.

Championship windows are a perilous thing, though. There are so many variables that occur within a chaotic season, and standing pat with even the most proven roster brings with it risks.

A good front office can balance optimizing winning in the present while still setting themselves up nicely for success down the road.

It’s a difficult task, and different people will have different limits on the extent future assets should be swapped to bolster championship aspirations in the present.

The good news for the Dodgers is that they’re no longer searching for that elusive championship formula after the 2020 season.

They figured out the equation, and it’s a position of luxury to know that the current batch of players throughout this lineup is capable of winning another championship.

It’s no longer a tantalizing hypothetical. The empirical evidence has shown that this roster is superior to the rest of the league—not just on paper, but now in practice.

The question heading forward for this front office is just how much to tinker with this already demonstrated championship blueprint.

There’s a case to be made on both sides. On the one hand, why mess with something that the rest of the league is still frantically trying to figure out how to catch?

There’s a chance that a bold transaction can derail this progress, and maybe it’s better to stick with the status quo when there’s not much indication that as presently constructed, the Dodgers aren’t favorites to repeat as champions in 2021.

On the other hand, it’s not like this past season ever seemed like a foregone conclusion that the Dodgers would end as champions.

They were still taken to seven games in the NLCS, and if Kevin Cash hadn’t pulled Blake Snell early in game 6, there’s a good chance that series would have gone to seven games as well.

Yes, the Dodgers are top-to-bottom the best team in baseball right now, but there might not be that large of a margin for error in the pursuit of a repeat championship.

The Dodgers acquired Mookie Betts last offseason in exchange for prospects, and in hindsight, that move certainly looks like the final piece in solving this championship puzzle.

The Betts experiment has been unequivocally successful thus far, and perhaps adding another veteran star would continue helping this team propel to stratospheric levels.

A key factor to keep in mind is that they were eventually able to sign Betts to that lucrative extension, so this wasn’t a typical case of mortgaging future assets for a one-year rental.

Betts is under contract to be with the Dodgers until 2032, so this wasn’t just a short-term commitment, but a long-term one.

It’s much more comforting for the team to be able to pull the trigger on a deal involving intriguing prospects if they have strong confidence in being able to secure the returning package for the foreseeable future.

There’s a big difference between rolling the dice on a rental player while losing key pieces of the future big league roster and essentially trading long-term potential for long-term proven commodities.

The Betts situation has shown that when it comes to trading multiple prospects for a truly impactful big league star, there’s no question you pull the trigger, especially if you’re confident in the ability to retain that star long-term.

There’s still merits to rolling the dice on the short-term rental, but the Dodgers are in the advantageous position of not needing another piece to put them over the top.

There’s not much of a need for them to go after a short-term rental, because they’re still favorites to repeat as champions as currently constructed.

There’s no need to give up prospects who can help aid in team progression in upcoming seasons for a quick jolt to a lineup not requiring any added jolt.

However, if there’s a star player to be acquired with multiple years remaining on their current contract or a strong sense that the Dodgers front office would be able to come to an agreement later on in the form of a contract extension, they need to make that trade happen.

Prospects present the theoretical possibility of future success. Adding a proven commodity today helps ensure even stronger championship contention today than already exists.

One of the looming variables hanging over any decision the Dodgers make regarding the acquisition of another hitter is the universal DH.

The NL isn’t going to be using one for the 2021 season, but the current CBA expires after that season, and it may be here starting in 2022.

It’s a huge potential development because teams will be prepared to construct a lineup with an extra hitter that normally wouldn’t fit in the starting lineup.

For example, if the Dodgers were to look into acquiring someone like Francisco Lindor from the Cleveland Indians, they wouldn’t have to worry about how to get both him and fellow shortstop Corey Seager into the lineup every game.

There’d be no concern about positional fit or converting someone to a position not natural to them to get that offense into the lineup.

It’d be a remarkably powerful tool for NL front offices to work with. They could shape their rosters and bold acquisitions could happen that normally wouldn’t because of that previous lack of defensive fit.

In the context of all this, the Dodgers have a very important decision to make at third base this offseason that could have powerful ramifications going forward.

Justin Turner is a free agent this offseason, and while he’s been a huge part of the Dodgers’ success these last handful of seasons, he just turned 36.

There’s a chance that the Dodgers would want to go younger at the position, and that’s where some interesting trade options emerge.

Guys like Lindor, Nolan Arenado, and Kris Bryant have been linked to trade discussions this offseason, and the team needs to do their due diligence in exploring all possibilities.

Even if the NL were to not eventually implement the DH, Seager could shift over to third as Turner’s replacement if Lindor joined the Dodgers.

There are some obstacles each of those three trade targets presents that could force the Dodgers into either re-signing Turner or looking internally for his replacement.

Bryant is entering the final season of team control with the Chicago Cubs, so there’s no guarantee that he’d be with the Dodgers for the long term.

Yes, they were able to sign Betts to the extension, but every player is different, and they’d have to gauge his level of interest in a long-term commitment when it would take losing significant prospects to acquire him.

Arenado has a no-trade clause that he would have to waive with the Colorado Rockies, and he also has an opt-out clause that he could initiate next offseason.

Again, the assessed likelihood of player decisions regarding their free agency futures would play a huge role in whether these trades happen.

Regarding Arenado, it’s also unclear whether the Rockies would be willing to trade a transcendent talent like Arenado to a division rival.

The Dodgers have shown in the past that they’re willing to explore options to improve the team without dwelling too much on positional fits.

Last offseason, Turner was still under contract, yet they pursued both Anthony Rendon and Josh Donaldson in free agency.

The DH would make positional clashes like this moot, but even without it, the versatility of this lineup allows for adaptations to be implemented.

Lindor is also set to be a free agent next offseason, so his acquisition could present similar issues that the Bryant and Arenado ones could as well.

If they were to let Turner walk in free agency, there’s also the possibility that they could elevate Edwin Rios to start at third base, who had a 149 OPS+ for them in 83 plate appearances last season.

The Dodgers have a lot of possible routes to explore this offseason, and there’s a strong case to be made for each one being the wisest.

However, the Betts situation shows what type of success can follow if the front office can convince one of these stars to commit to the Dodgers long-term.

If a team has a foreboding sense that they’re about to lose a franchise player for nothing when that guy hits free agency, it forces their hand to make a trade.

At least getting a return of intriguing prospects is better than falling victim to either stubbornness or misplaced assurance in their ability to retain that star player.

If the Dodgers are confident in their ability to sign one of those potential star player trade targets long-term, they need to make the trade happen.

Parting with prospects is difficult, but nobody is regretting the Betts trade while basking in the championship glow of this past October.

Championships today are worth hypothetical success later, and adding either Lindor, Arenado, or Bryant to this current lineup is well worth the risk.

If any of these three shows a willingness to be like Betts and re-sign long term with the Dodgers, it’s even less of a debate. Offer a prospect package to any of these teams that are simply too enticing to give up while that team also grapples with the possibility of losing that player for nothing next offseason.

Sell that star player on the long-term viability and fun of being with this Dodgers organization, and it ensures that an already potent offense remains even more potent going forward.

What Lies Ahead for Keibert Ruiz?

The 2020 season was quite an exciting one for the Los Angeles Dodgers on many levels. Not only did they capture their first title since 1988 with a relatively young player corps, but they also saw the debut of one of their most anticipated prospects, catcher Keibert Ruiz.

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Happy Thanksgiving from Think Blue Planning Committee

2020 has definitely been a year that none of us could have ever anticipated, in so many ways. From the pandemic and all the chaos and loss of normalcy and life, to everything in between.

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Dodgers Reportedly Showing Interest in Brad Hand

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Associated Press photo

If there’s one position the Dodgers are likely to add a player or two during the offseason, it’s almost guaranteed to be a relief pitcher in some shape or form.

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Which Free Agents Are Dodgers Most Likely to Bring Back?

(Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times)

The World Champion Los Angeles Dodgers had many key players show up in big moments during the October playoff run. Seven players of the championship roster are currently free agents. With the off-season hot stove being pretty cold at the moment, there hasn’t been much action.

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Is It Time to Let Edwin Rios Shine?

If there’s one thing Dodger fans know, it’s that Los Angeles will be tied to every big free agent and possible trade candidate out there this winter. Despite having just won the World Series and having one of the top teams again going into the 2021 season, there is always room for improvement.

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A Few Thoughts Surrounding Dodgers’ 2021 ZiPS Projections

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For those fans of the Dodgers who are huge on projections and predictions, you’ll be happy to know that Dan Szymborski—for the ninth year—released his 2021 ZiPS projections last week. While a full outline of the projections can be seen in detail on Fangraphs, I felt it was worth a few minutes to make note of several highlights.

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Phillies Considering Jeff Kingston for GM Role

(USA TODAY Sports photo)

Over the last handful of years, the Los Angeles Dodgers have become arguably the premier franchise in all of baseball. With their level of success, they have become a template for other teams trying to catapult into that same stratosphere of winning.

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