History Making Dodgers Couldn’t Score Monday Night as Upgrade Appears Marginal

The Los Angeles Dodgers completed one of the biggest blockbuster baseball trades of the 2012 season. The deal to get four-time-All-Star first baseman, Adrian Gonzales, pitcher Josh Beckett, injured outfielder Carl Crawford, and utility-man Nick Punto in exchange for first baseman James Loney and four prospects, a nine player trade, was in fact the biggest trade in Dodger history; but history couldn’t score Monday night.

At Coors Field, one of baseball’s notorious hitter-friendly park.

Against Jeff Francis, who entered the game with a 5.79 earned-run average.

The Dodgers were blown out by the last-place Colorado Rockies, 10-0, as the Big Four of Matt Kemp, Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez and Andre Ethier were a combined one for 14.

Josh Beckett wasn’t great but also wasn’t awful in his Dodgers debut. Facing a depleted Rockies lineup that counted Carlos Gonzalez as its only recognizable player, Beckett was charged with three runs and seven hits over 52/3 perfectly decent innings.

The Dodgers are 1-2 since their $260-million haul that brought them Gonzalez and Beckett from the Boston Red Sox. The so-called New York Yankees of the West are now 21/2 games back of the first-place San Francisco Giants in their division.

“We didn’t get any big hits today,” Kemp said.

Or many hits at all, for that matter. Their total on this night: four.

But Kemp was referring especially to one at-bat, in the eighth inning, when he came to the plate with one out and men on the corners. With the Dodgers trailing only 3-0 at the time, Kemp grounded into an inning-ending double play.

“We had a situation to do something big and I roll over to the third baseman and hit into a double play,” Kemp said. “You can’t be doing that.”

The Dodgers had only a couple of other chances to score before that.

Kemp doubled in the first inning, which was followed by a line drive to right field from Gonzalez. But the ball was hit directly at Andrew Brown and the inning was over.

The Dodgers had men on second and third with one out in the fifth inning but had Beckett up. Beckett struck out, as did leadoff hitter Shane Victorino.

The crafty Francis pitched five innings for the Rockies, which was followed by a combined four innings of one-hit ball by relievers Josh Roenicke, Rex Brothers and Matt Belisle.

Ramirez was 0 for 4, making him hitless in his last 14 at-bats.

Ramirez, who was acquired from the Miami Marlins last month, hit .330 in his first 23 games with the Dodgers. He is batting .125 over his last eight games.

He blamed the placement of the balls he hit, rather than his swing, for his decrease in production.

“What can I say?” Ramirez said. “I can’t find a hole right now.”

Manager Don Mattingly claimed he was satisfied with his team’s at-bats, as was Gonzalez.

The Dodgers scored only two runs the previous day in a loss to the Marlins.

“We’re putting together good at-bats, it’s just the end result isn’t there,” Gonzalez said. “Guys are seeing six, seven pitches per at-bat, working the count well. But at the end of the day, it’s about getting on base and keeping the line moving.”

The Rockies blew open the game by scoring seven runs in the eighth inning, four of which were charged to closer Kenley Jansen.

“We’re good,” Kemp said. “We have a lot of games left. We have a whole ‘nother month.

“Nobody’s panicking around here. We know what we’re capable of doing. We’re going to get the job done.”

Under a rich new ownership group that includes NBA star Magic Johnson, the Dodgers are behind San Francisco for the NL West lead and in the midst of the wild-card race.

“We understand that you have to spend money to be good in this league,” Johnson said..

Even though the possibility had been hinted at in recent days — and was all but finished by game time Friday night — the acquisition by the Dodgers of the Red Sox first baseman was a stunning development.

The Dodgers picked up salaries totaling more than a quarter of a billion dollars in the deal. Gonzalez is owed $127 million the next six seasons; Beckett $31.5 million; Punto $1.5 million; and Crawford, who had reconstructive elbow surgery on Thursday, $102.5 million the next five seasons.

A Dodgers team that had the best record in baseball early this season but has fallen three games back of the Giants in theNational League West, has now undergone a major makeover with the mid-season additions of Hanley Ramirez, Shane Victorino and Gonzalez.

The Dodgers have dramatically revamped their roster in the last month with trades, acquiring shortstop Hanley Ramirez, outfielder Shane Victorino, starter Joe Blanton and reliever Brandon League and now the three active Red Sox players – Crawford is recovering from surgery – less than a week before the Aug. 31 deadline for players to be eligible for the postseason.

“Just from pure emotion, it’s exciting to see this ownership group pulling off something like this and really making a push to do what they said – which is making this place a winner and making this team the best it can possible be,” Dodgers right fielder Andre Ethier said.

Said team president Stan Kasten: “When we came in, we made it clear that we want to build the Dodgers back to what they once were.”

If the Dodgers made one mistake in this deal, it’s the failure to grasp that Adrian Gonzalez and company essentially provide marginal upgrades at best, especially for the team’s chances of winning a World Series. As the Yankees have learned about the crapshoot nature of baseball’s postseason, it’s basically impossible to build a team so good that you’re guaranteed a World Series trophy. Despite all those luxury tax payments, the Yankees have just one title since 2003. Maybe Gonzalez helps the Dodgers get to the World Series this year, maybe even win it. But this isn’t the Lakers acquiring Dwight Howard. There’s no guarantee Gonzalez even gets the Dodgers a wild-card spot. Stan Kasten and Ned Colletti probably understand that; I have no idea if Magic Johnson does.

As for the future of the Dodgers, ESPN Insider Dan Szymborski explains why the deal could be a long-term disaster for the Dodgers.

Jonah also addresses Gonzalez’s value and why even his current ability must be questioned: He’s certainly a good player, but is he still a superstar slugger? After posting a .940 OPS from 2009 to 2011, it’s at .817 right now, a mark bolstered of late after a slow start. With 16 home runs, he won’t come close to the 40 he hit with the Padres in 2009 and his unintentional walk rate has plummeted from 14.7 percent in 2009 to 5.3 percent this year. Including intentional walks, Gonzalez had the highest walk rate in the majors in 2009, which allowed him to post a .407 OBP; this season he ranks 110th in walk rate and his OBP has dropped to .345. A declining walk rate in a veteran player is often an indicator of declining bat speed; the hitter “cheats” to catch up to fastballs. (It’s also possible that Gonzalez walked a lot in San Diego merely because opponents pitched around him; however, Gonzalez’s percentage of swings at pitches outside the strike zone has increased from 23 percent in ’09 to 37 percent.)

Here’s a comparison that may make you laugh, cry, cringe or chuckle, if only because it gives me an excuse to conjure my old Mariner favorite, Alvin Davis. From 1988 to 1990, Davis posted a 142 OPS+. That made Davis one of the best hitters in baseball over that span — 11th in OPS+ (minimum 1500 plate appearances). Gonzalez is better than Davis — his OPS+ from 2009 to 2011 ranked fourth in baseball. Davis also wasn’t the fielder Gonzalez is, and even slower on the basepaths if you can imagine that. Davis began to lose it in 1990, when his OPS+ fell to 129 at age 29. At age 30, it fell to 76. At age 31, he was finished. I’m not saying Gonzalez is going to be washed up by 2014, but the point is that considering his age and “old player” skill-set, there are some red flags with him.

The way to look at the Dodgers for the remainder of the season is to be cautiously optimistic. While on paper they could get to the World Series, there remain too many variables that would have to go their way. You can take your hats off to a group of owners that appear unafraid to take risks; but see it for what it is a risk.

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