What the Dodgers should have done:
The Dodgers signed five players to large contracts for the 2007 season. Including signing bonuses, Nomar will be getting about $9 million to play first, Juan Pierre will be getting $7.5 to play center, Luis Gonzalez will be getting $7.35 million to play left, Randy Wolf will be getting $8 million to fill out the rotation, and Jason Schmidt will be getting about $16 million to be the ace. That’s around $48 million committed to the 2007 season for five new players.
If you’re going to spend that kind of money, don’t you think you should try to maximize your production? Why pay two outfielders and a first baseman $22 million when you have three capable guys ready to step in for close to the league minimum? With JD Drew opting out of his contract, you might need to add one new bat, but James Loney, Matt Kemp, and Andre Ethier will give you solid production at those positions and allow you to spend your money elsewhere. In all honesty, with the talent the Dodgers have waiting in the wings, Drew’s decision might have been a blessing in disguise.
The Dodgers are shaping up to look like this: Nomar at first, Jeff Kent at second, Rafael Furcal at short, Wilson Betemit at third, Russ Martin at catcher, Gonzalez in left, Pierre in center, and Ethier in right. The rotation looks to be Schmidt, Derek Lowe, Brad Penny, Chad Billingsley, and Wolf, with a solid bullpen headed by Takashi Saito and Jonathan Broxton.
But what could it have been? Let’s start at the beginning and give the Dodgers their $46 million back. Let’s put Loney at first and Kemp in center. Let’s stick with Hong-Chih Kuo as the fifth starter instead of spending $8 million on Wolf. Now we’re looking to fill two spots, one in the outfield and one in the rotation.
Instead of spending $90 million on five seasons of Pierre and three seasons of Schmidt, let’s sign Barry Zito for five years and $90 million. This might even be a little high of an estimate. But we’re paying $18 million and change for Zito and Kemp in 2007 instead of $23.5 million for Schmidt and Pierre. Considering we already have a leadoff hitter in Furcal, wouldn’t this make more sense for our ballclub?
Let’s stick with Gonzalez in left field, even though we might have been able to sign one of the big fish (Alfonso Soriano or Carlos Lee). If we wanted, we could throw $4 million a year at David Dellucci or $5 million a year at Frank Catalanotto. But one year of Gonzo at $7 million is serviceable.
Now, our team looks like this: Loney, Kent, Furcal, Betemit, Martin, Gonzalez, Kemp, and Ethier. Is that so much worse that the lineup listed above? Our rotation is now Zito, Lowe, Penny, Billingsley, and Kuo. Looks pretty good to me. We’ve committed less that $100 million instead of $125 million, we’ve saved $22 million in 2007, and we’ve given our young stars a chance to start and prove they’re not just potential.
If one or two of the kids can’t put it together by midseason, we can always trade for a hitter with an inflated contract, because we’ve saved enough money to take on that kind of contract. For example, we could take on Pat Burrell (owed $27 million over two years) or Geoff Jenkins ($7.5 million for one year or $16 million for two years). Or we could plug the hole with Jacque Jones ($9 million over two years). We could trade one of our pitching prospects for Rocco Baldelli ($26 million over five years). We could pick up Richie Sexson ($28 million over two years) or another first baseman and put Loney in the outfield.
In all of those examples, we’d still spend less than $48 million this year. We’d have an ace with a lot fewer miles on his arm (Schmidt has been in the majors 10 years compared to Zito’s five). Our team would be just as capable at making a run at winning the division in 2007 while being much better off in the coming years.