Playing for the future
Dodgers pay price for keeping prospects at deadline
Posted: Friday August 17, 2007 11:12AM; Updated: Friday August 17, 2007 12:23PM
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LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers, a team many have viewed as the most talented in a tight National League West, lost their way in a hurry. They stopped hitting in the clutch. Their first 89 at-bats with runners in scoring position in August resulted in 84 outs, something their general manager, Ned Colletti, called "mathematically impossible."
A lot of weird things were happening en route to a 2-13 stretch that dropped them from first place to fourth faster than you say Nomar Garciaparra. On Tuesday, Mark Sweeney, a heady player by nature and recent pickup, was embarrassingly doubled off first base on a foul popout to Astros' catcher Brad Ausmus to end a 7-4 loss and prevent powerful Matt Kemp from coming up as the potential tying run. Sweeney apparently managed to lose track of the ball and the outs simultaneously.
All the Dodgers would like to forget the horrid two-week stretch. A shoulder injury to left-hander Randy Wolf, who they hope can return in September, and a nagging hip injury to righty Derek Lowe, didn't help. But the main problem is a surprising lack of hitting. Hard as it is to believe, the Dodgers were on the cusp of playing their way out of baseball's tightest division before two consecutive victories over Houston steadied them and kept them within 6 1/2 games of red-hot Arizona, the surprise first-place team.
If the Dodgers don't make it back -- and it's still too early to count them out, now -- questions will linger about whether they were overprotective of their impressive stash of top prospects at last month's trade deadline. The scuttlebutt around the game is that involved-owner Frank McCourt -- who's been conspicuously absent in a box often occupied by only a glum Tommy Lasorda and another less-known underling or two this week -- made all their many top prospects off-limits, or close to that. Word going around is there was a split within the hierarchy about how protective to be with their prospects, as well.
But Colletti, who made several daring moves last July to help the Dodgers tie for the top spot and win a playoff berth, insisted in an interview with SI.com that the organizational decisionmakers were all "on the same page" regarding their reluctance to trade their very top young players and prospects for veteran help. No one wanted to hinder their future for the present.
Word is the Rangers sought smooth young first baseman James Loney plus at least superb pitching prospect Clayton Kershaw, whom the Dodgers declared untouchable, for Mark Teixeira. L.A. preferred to include some next-tier prospects with Loney. For Teixeira and reliever Joaquin Benoit, the Rangers also wanted young outfielder Andre Ethier. The Dodgers found the prices too high for A's pitcher Joe Blanton, White Sox pitcher Jon Garland and outfielder Jermaine Dye, as well. While Colletti wouldn't address specific requests, he said they "weren't about to tear apart their roster," suggesting other teams were targeting young players already on their 25-man squad.
Some other Dodgers people believe they were handicapped by extra high demands that reflected their impressive collection of young prospects and players, who include Kemp -- who some view as a Dave Winfield-type -- Ethier, pitcher Chad Billlingsley, minor-league third baseman Andy LaRoche and minor-league pitcher Jon Meloan. The Dodgers' suspicion is trade partners felt more comfortable getting another organization's top prospect even if, in the Dodgers' estimation, their fifth- or sixth-best prospect may have been just as good. Colletti said they never received an offer that made them even "waver," showing how steadfast they were in their resolve to keep top young talent.
Last July, Colletti was able to grab Greg Maddux, Julio Lugo and others with deals for prospects, but so far this summer they've only made smaller deals, adding reliever Scott Proctor and infielder Shea Hillenbrand as well as Sweeney. Still, it's hard to second guess them for playing it cautious with top young players such as Kemp, Ethier, Loney and Kershaw, who some view as one of the two or three best pitching prospects in the minors. "They absolutely did the right thing," one competing GM said.
The Dodgers' talent is also such that anyone could still see them getting back into a very quirky NL West race. And yet, if they don't make it back, like many others, they still might be asking themselves whether their decision to protect their future cost them the present.