SAN DIEGO -- One of the reasons the Los Angeles Dodgers hired this new group of well-educated, secretive men to overhaul their baseball operations department -- from its philosophies to the players it pays -- is because these guys don’t care if they just traded your favorite player.
That may sound harsh, but it’s a harsh job, with a lot of teams trying to do it better than you. Fighting to keep a major league roster from getting so recognizable it petrifies is what Andrew Friedman, Farhan Zaidi and Josh Byrnes do best. It's why they're here and Ned Colletti is not.
Zaidi learned the trade under Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane, who traumatizes his core fans every two or three years by trading their favorite players, then gets a new group of nobodies back into the playoff hunt. Hate the Josh Donaldson and Brandon Moss moves? Get back to me in nine months.
When everyone thought he wouldn’t do it, Friedman traded David Price, a great pitcher and an engaging personality, an enthusiastic Twitter user. Friedman often sent players packing just when Tampa Bay’s fan base, what there is of it, had grown most attached to them.
So, if you’re still feeling the loss of Matt Kemp, a polarizing figure but also an iconic player in this chapter of Dodgers history, get used to these feelings.
What the Dodgers did in a frenetic, all-night highjacking of the winter meetings, wired delicately between three interconnected trades and a signing, speaks to the direction of this franchise. It won’t be the last time we see such purges.
The Dodgers hired a front office that values flexibility over stability, cost efficiency over luxury shopping and innovation over tradition. They’re also talented enough to pull off multi-player, three-team deals that tend to be as sturdy as a house of cards and can come tumbling down when the phone rings.
“I don’t think we ever walked in and said the team needed a major overhaul. It was just about getting to that balance of personality, prospect depth, restoring some positional weaknesses,” Byrnes said. “They were just a couple changes that made sense to us, but certainly not reinvention.”
If it’s not reinvention, it’s certainly reimagination. By trading away Kemp, Dan Haren, Dee Gordon and a couple of other pieces, and bringing in Yasmani Grandal, Jimmy Rollins, Howie Kendrick, Brandon McCarthy, a useful reliever in Chris Hatcher and a few prospects, the Dodgers changed what you’ll see on the field next season.
They’ll be less powerful, but far more nimble in the field. They have a chance to pitch even better, though expecting Clayton Kershaw to repeat what he just did seems a bit much.
Byrnes said the idea was to hold onto treasured prospects Corey Seager, Julio Urias and Joc Pederson, improve team chemistry, add to the prospect depth -- perhaps to use in future trades -- and maintain the core strengths of the roster.
Judge for yourself whether they’ve done all that. Kemp can make them look less smart by hitting like he did after mid-July last season. He can make them look like geniuses by hitting like he did the previous two years and playing the outfield like he has for a while now, not particularly well.
But what this really was about was restoring functionality, to the roster and to the atmosphere around the team. That last part is so nefarious as to invite ridicule. The players don’t have to hold hands and engage in group therapy before every game. They also probably shouldn’t curse loudly, throw equipment and demean a teammate when they’re told to get ready to play another position, as Kemp did -- according to team sources -- when the Dodgers decided he could no longer play center field and moved him to left.
There was tension between Kemp and manager Don Mattingly and his coaches all season after that. When Kemp started hitting well, his mood improved, but the Dodgers' clubhouse surely will be a quieter, more integrated place with Hanley Ramirez in Boston and Kemp in San Diego.
Besides personalities, the mix the Dodgers tried just didn’t work. They won 94 games, but the power display in the regular season largely dried up in the postseason. The Dodgers struck out 36 times in 155 at-bats against the St. Louis Cardinals. With run-scoring down in baseball, teams value contact. Grandal, Rollins and Kendrick are grinder types. They get on base and swing and miss in moderation.
The Dodgers have already spent most of the $74 million they save by moving Kemp -- on McCarthy, on Kendrick and on Rollins -- but they still might be willing to lay down one more good-sized contract to land a starting pitcher. If the James Shields bidding doesn’t get out of hand, he’s a good guess. They have more minor league depth to possibly land Cole Hamels.
It’s all good business principles. It just may not be all that warm and fuzzy and it may not play well on a day when one of the team’s most popular players just got shipped to a division rival.