|Friday, January 11
Updated: January 14, 11:45 AM ET
Los Angeles Dodgers
By Gary Huckabay
Special to ESPN.com
2001 in review
What went wrong
In retrospect, the critical decisions were:
2. Giving Paul LoDuca a full-time job. At age 29, LoDuca took advantage of the narrow window of opportunity presented to him, and was probably the best overall catcher in the NL in 2001. LoDuca turned a position that was a question mark for the Dodgers at the start of the season into a bona fide strength. LoDuca filled in at the top and middle of the batting order, hitting for average and power, and striking out a Gwynnesque 30 times over the course of the season.
3. Firing Kevin Malone. Yes, Kevin Malone's penchant for the spotlight and the strong word became tiresome and distracting, but Malone earned his way out of the job. His investment in risky contracts like Dreifort was demonstrably unwise, but even the best GM misses a bet here and there. In Malone's case, his track record was damning, from the large gambles like Dreifort, to the small gambles like Gregg Olson and Jose Nunez, to the inexplicable acquisition of noted OutMeister Marquis Grissom. Most importantly, the once prolific Dodger farm system wasted away under Sheriff Malone's regime, leaving a daunting rebuilding project to his successor, Dan Evans.
Looking ahead to 2002
2. Can Dan Evans rebuild the farm system? Kevin Malone left behind a farm system that has neither acquired nor developed any talent that's likely to help at the major-league level. Only outfielder Chin-Feng Chen looks ready to help any time soon, and Chen's ability to play defense is suspect, to say the least. Beyond that, the Dodgers' minor-league cupboard is bare, which is one reason Evans was brought in. Evans was a key to the renaissance of the White Sox farm system, which has produced quality offensive players and a raft of young power arms. The Dodgers want Evans to bring the same kind of drafting and development system to L.A.
3. Can the Dodger pitching staff carry an offense likely to be among the league's worst? Unfortunately for Dodger fans, there really aren't too many questions about the offense. The Dodgers still have gaping offensive holes all over the field -- especially after trading Gary Sheffield -- and they're just not going to score that many runs. Some of that will be because of their pitcher-friendly home field, but most of it will be because people like Marquis Grissom, Tom Goodwin, Eric Karros, Alex Cora, Cesar Izturis and Mark Grudzielanek just aren't very good hitters. The Dodgers will be leaning heavily on new acquisitions Hideo Nomo and Kazahisu Ishii to be the driving force behind a successful season. If the Dodgers are going to be successful in 2002, they'll need to lead the league in fewest runs allowed.
Can expect to play better
Can expect to play worse
A closer look
Even if Ishii turns out to be a great starting pitcher, the Dodgers are looking at an uphill climb in 2002. This is an old team with a number of players that are stretched beyond roles in which they can expect to help a team. Check out the production from these offensive "contributors" in 2001:
2002 2001 2001 2001 Player Age PAs OPS Road OPS Tom Goodwin 34 309 .622 .642 Marquis Grissom 35 466 .654 .681 Eric Karros 34 482 .691 .659 Alex Cora 27 444 .591 .634 M. Grudzielanek 32 578 .711 .772
That's nearly 2300 plate appearances of offensive "production" that can only be described as dreadful. All of these players are under contract for 2002, most for enough money that they can't really be traded, nor will they feasibly be sat on the bench in favor of better options.
Chan Ho Park has left Chavez Ravine for Arlington, and the Dodgers would be ecstatic if Japanese import Ishii can provide them with a comparable number of quality innings. Park has been criticized for being "mentally fragile" and "not a No. 1 starter", but he threw 234 innings of 3.50 ERA ball for the Dodgers in 2001, and replacing that kind of production is a very difficult task. Finding the innings is hard enough; finding them from a pitcher better than Darren Oliver is even harder, much less one better than league average.
The Dodgers are not going to be a good team in 2002. This is an old team with persistent and serious offensive holes. There is no starting pitcher on the team that can be counted on to be both healthy and productive. The farm system is one of the most poorly stocked in baseball. The team is financially hamstrung by a number of bad players signed to expensive contracts. The Dodgers shouldn't mind paying Shawn Green and Kevin Brown their $15 million each, but paying Marquis Grissom, Tom Goodwin and Eric Karros a combined $15.5 million this season has got to cause serious heartburn in the offices at Fox.
Fortunately for the Dodgers, they don't need to be a particularly good team to compete in the NL West in 2002. The Giants and Diamondbacks aren't exactly loaded with young stars, and both teams are counting on continued outstanding performances from older players to get through the season. There is no dominant team in the NL West, and only the Padres have taken significant steps to improve. The Dodgers will likely be one of the four teams within shouting distance of the top of the division as the season goes on, but they've got a lot of work to do before this club's going to be a consistent winner again.
Gary Huckabay is part of the team of writers at Baseball Prospectus. You can order their 2002 book at baseballprospectus.com.