Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Joe Hollywood

It looks like Joe Torre is in as the new manager of the L.A. Dodgers. My initial reaction: poor fit. Much as I love Torre, his weakest two points as a manager are figuring out the bullpen and working with young talent.

First, the bullpen. Since the dual threat of Mike Stanton and Jeff Nelson left, the Yankees have had only had one middle reliever/set-up man who could be relied on for the 8th inning with any regularity: Tom Gordon, circa 2004-midway through 2005. What did Torre do with Gordon? Effectively destroyed Flash's arm, pitching him in 80 games in 2004, then 79 in 2005, for a total of 170.2 IP in those two seasons. Aside from that 1.5-year period, Torre hasn't had or developed a shutdown, eighth inning reliever - unless you count 2006 Scott Proctor, another guy with a dead arm due to overuse by Torre. Torre has a reputation for riding a guy on a hot streak in the bullpen, which is an issue especially when you don't have a particularly deep relief corps.

This poor usage becomes key when considering the case of the Dodgers. Currently, the Dodgers have a superstar level closer, one who, believe it or not, has been better than a certain other closer over the past two seasons. The difference was especially evident last season, when Takashi Saito put up a 327 ERA+ and Rivera posted a 142. The problem is, Saito will be 38 this season. 24-year-old phenom Jonathan Broxton (who saved one of my fantasy teams with great WHIP, ERA and K/BB stats) is the closer of the future out in L.A. Torre coming in could be bad news for Broxton, who can ask Proctor about it. As poorly used as Gordon was, check out Proctor's IP stats: He went from 44.2 in 2005 to 102.1 in 2006. There's a reason Proctor looked washed up at the beginning of the season: He had a 131% IP workload increase from 2005 to 2006! What makes matters worse for Broxton is that the Dodgers have few other effective 8th inning options. They've got Joe Beimel, who's decent. Problem is, Beimel is the only effective lefty in the Dodgers' pen, so Torre will need to pick his spots on when to use him. After Beimel, the next options are 38-year-old Rudy Seanez and ... wait for it ... Scott Proctor! The universe must hate Proctor. Anywho, the long and short of it is that Torre will be tempted to overuse Broxton the way he did Gordon and Proctor, since he will have few other good options.

The next problem might be an even bigger one: youth vs. experience. Torre will have to decide if he wants to give some of the Dodgers promising young talents like Tony Abreu, Matt Kemp and Andy LaRoche more at bats this season in the hope of developing them into a strong corps alongside James Loney, Andre Ethier and Russell Martin. His other option is to stick with proven but declining regulars Nomar Garciaparra, Juan Pierre and Jeff Kent. From a long-term perspective, the answer is clear: Give the kids some burn with the hope that they develop quickly to help you in the short-term, but with an eye on having at least six of your starting eight position players in 2009 in their early to mid 20s. If everything goes well, the Dodgers, who already shed the large Luis Gonzalez contract, could try to move those three during the season while they hopefully still have some value. In other words, in the space of a little more than 9 months, the Dodgers could have a spectacularly strong, youthful core and shed a large amount of payroll in the process, especially in the case of Pierre, who is owed $28.5 million from 2009 to 2011.

A lot of this will fall on Torre: If he doesn't develop the young guns, the Dodgers might have to resign Garciaparra and possibly Kent as well for 2009 if LaRoche and Abreu aren't ready. Problem is, Torre might not want to wait on the younger players. The Dodgers contended all year before falling out of the race in the last couple of weeks. If Torre thinks he could have pushed that team to the playoffs, Abreu, LaRoche and Kemp could sit on the bench while Torre wastes a season of their development. In all of his years as the manager of the Yankees, Torre never had to deal with a youth movement of any kind, and so only really developed four position players in his time as the skipper: Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Alfonso Soriano and Melky Cabrera.

All in all, this relationship could be pretty ugly. The combination of young talent and a manager with a penchant for playing veterans could be a recipe for a disappointing couple of years in L.A.

Thanks for being patient. Enjoy Joe.

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