THE BIG HIT | Dodgers Win the Offseason

by Ken Napzok

Have you ever heard that ole’ proverb about the two bulls standing on a hill? You know the one. The two bulls are staring down into a pretty green pasture full of beautiful cows. So, like, the young bull says to the old bull… what does he say… oh yeah… I want to run down this hill and f**k one of them cows. 

Wait… is that right? Does the bull cuss? That seems aggressive. Anyway… he definitely wants to get down that hill to chat up one of those cows. 

Then the old bull says, “Hey, man, first off, let’s treat those cows with some respect. Tone it down, testosterone. But, second, learn from me, kid. I’m going to walk down that hill and f**k ALL of them cows.” 

I think that was it. Man, bulls seem to be really aggressive. Are we sure that’s the bull proverb from the Bible? Bottom line is this… the Dodgers won the off-season. 

With just about one week to go before pitchers and catchers arrive to thaw out from the winter winds, the Dodgers made the much-anticipated trade for Mookie Betts. (So close, Padres!) By now, you’ve heard the details but to recap Betts and veteran David Price (plus a whole lotta cash) are going from the Boston Red Sox to the Dodgers while Kenta Maeda goes from the Dodgers to the Twins and the Twins sent prospect Brusdar Graterol to the Dodgers so they could send him and young stud Alex Verdugo to the Red Sox. 

Grab your partners, and dosey do…

Be excited, Dodger fans. You’ve earned it. After an off-season in which the Dodgers seemed to stand pat or come up short in the free agent market, lost a great starting pitcher to Toronto, and then watching as their 2017 and 2018 World Series losses seemed to be rather… shall we agree on…. unfair, the club made THE move of this winter of sign stealing discontent. They have added one of the game’s brightest stars for at least one season and, not for nothing, picked up the big-ticket contract of David Price. 

It doesn’t take a baseball genius to figure out that this is good. Very good. 

Verdugo is a potentially great player, but the Dodgers did this without giving up ANY of their batch of up and coming prime time players. 

Even with trading Joc Pederson and his 30-home run bat (Good job, Angels!), the Dodgers line-up will be playground wiffle ball-level great. Dave Robert’s questionable pitching decisions might not matter when you’re scoring eight runs a game. Then throw in Price to the backend of the rotation — and the backend of the rotation now has a Cy Young Award on its resume. 

All the trash can banging in the world might not be able to stop them. 

Yeah, don’t count your wins before they hatch, but this is one of those deals that has shifted a whole bunch of power. The Dodgers kept promising to walk down that hill… and they did. 

The Red Sox, though, are tripping down the hill, climbing back up it, and then rolling down it again with the grace of Homer Simpson falling off a cliff in a gurney. If Dodger fans should be very, very happy… Red Sox should not be. Definitely, definitely not be. 

They may have broken the curse in 2004, but there is a good chance someone put some new pins in a Babe Ruth voodoo doll somewhere because things are looking downright accursed right now. 

You can’t blame shiney new general manager Chaim Bloom. He inherited payroll tax problems, misdirection at the top, and a manager that was behind some Ocean 11 level trickery in the video room. His job now becomes to rebuild on the fly in a city now very much accustomed to winning. But this deal WILL help that. It’s not sexy or easy to swallow right now, especially for a team without a manager a week before spring training, but two or three seasons from now the club could be on the right track. 

Of course, by then, the Yankees and Dodgers may have traded a few titles. 

Though, you know, we still have to play the games… and the Twins have another new arm for an improved rotation with a thunderous line-up. Hey… wait… what if this deal actually gives the Twins a World Se—

Ah, never mind… that’s for another day. 

For now, all hail the Dodgers — the winners of a wild, painful, and historic off-season.

Curtis Granderson

Outfielder Curtis Granderson hung up his spikes last week after fifteen full seasons in the big leagues. He finished with 344 home runs, 937 RBI, 1800 hits flat, and 95 triples — 23 of which came in one glorious 2007 season. He also led baseball in smiles, good vibes, and community leadership time and time again. It’s worth our time this busy off-season to stop and tip our cap to Curtis Granderson. 

In a world — even one beyond baseball — that often seems to reward flash over substance, ego over confidence, apathy over empathy, Curtis Granderson was a consistent example of just simply being good. He touched Major League dirt in sixteen seasons and remained a productive bat to the very end. Yet more importantly he worked hard to make the most of himself off the field. He was a four-time recipient of the Marvin Miller Man of the Year award and the 2016 Roberto Clemente Award honoree. Those accomplishments can’t be measured by STATcast, but they should carry a lot of weight to all of us. 

Curtis Granderson is one of those modern players that creates interesting conversations about what those stats really mean nowadays. At this point in time it would seem to be a safe bet to assume that he won’t ever receive the votes needed to be enshrined into Cooperstown. He never seemed to reach that upper echelon of players. However, his stats did. 

One of the more direct comparisons going around last week was with Robin Yount. Yount is a Hall of Famer without a doubt — particularly if you grew up in the 1980s watching him win two MVP awards as he chipped away at 3,000 career hits. (Yount’s mustache was also Hall of Fame worthy.) But outside of that hit total, Yount’s stat line falls short of some key stats when standing up against Granderson. Yeah, on one hand, that just means we’re in a different era, it’s always hard to compare across baseball’s past. But, on the other hand, perhaps players like Granderson should be appreciated just a little more while they’re smiling their way to long careers. 

Regardless, here’s to a great career, Curtis. Glad you did it your way. 

Dusty 

Do you know that older gentleman waiting ahead of you in line at the grocery store? The one paying with a check and wearing an “Old Guys Rule” t-shirt over some cargo shorts? Yeah, I know you’re looking at his knee-high socks and sandals combination, but don’t worry about that right now, concentrate on his face. You see how he’s smiling? Big, proud grin. He should be… last week Dusty Baker was named the manager of the Astros.

Old guys will rule again.

At least in Houston.

The Houston Astros have to start righting the ship and taking those first key steps forward. This kind of managerial hiring is definitely part of those steps. And it’s a good step. Cautious, but good. 

A lot has been — and will be — made about the hiring of the 70-year-old Baker being a signpost of Houston going in an extreme opposite direction. Baker is not one of those new age managers. He has a toothpick in his mouth, not a collection of SABRmetrics stats and the defensive shifts to combat them. He’s old school — that no-nonsense style of baseball mind that would rather look a player up and down to measure their worth as opposed to a computer algorithm.

Yeah, yeah… but let’s not stop at some surface-level talking points. Baker isn’t being wheeled out of the old folk’s home. Age is different now. Didn’t you watch the halftime show at the Large Scale Football Contest To Determine That League’s Championship Team?

Baker wasn’t gone from the game for seven seasons like Jim Leyland was when he joined the Tigers in 2006 (and took them to World Series) or even long gone like Joe Gibbs was when he returned to the NFL to not take Washington back to the Final Game of The Professional Football Season. (I can do this all night long) Dusty Baker’s Nationals won 97 games in 2017. He knows what Exit Velocity is. 

And, yeah, for what’s worth… It’s a good idea for the Astros to bring in a sense of calm and trust their ballclub to a guy that’s been through a lot in baseball. Unlike the Mets’ great choice to bring in the young and very modern Luis Rojas, Baker joins a team that was in the very center of all the trashcan banging action. They DID need to make a statement. Dusty Baker is that statement.

Dusty Baker is a player’s manager, but not like that cool math teacher on the one hour TV drama that “gets” his students yet fails to draw a clear line between educator and student. He’s in control. He’s also been there. In the game and in life. What he says carries weight and he’ll demand the respect of a roster under siege, hold them to the flames when needed, and then race out into the figurative field of battle with them. 

Not many fans are going to be rooting for the Astros this season. Even some of their fans won’t be. But Dusty will be. And that’s what the players need and for now… an old guy — at least for one season — will rule again from the dugout. 

Real Fantasy Tips

Now is the time, friends and fantasy baseball owners. The baseball magazines are out on the newsstands for all the old folks in your roto league that still like to draft with pencils and graph papers and all of our minds are turning to our rosters and potential rosters. And now we shall introduce a new segment in which we here will provide you with the fantasy baseball tips that you ACTUALLY need. 

First up: Sleepers!

Yes, the first thing you need to do as you race toward your draft day is to make a list full to the brim of your sleeper picks. These are the players that you KNOW will be the biggest difference-makers for your team at the cheapest price because only YOU know of them. 

As you write down their names or type them into a Google Doc titled “How I win the league, part 2” you should absolutely salivate over these players. Some are fringe prospects on the verge of success. Some are players on new teams with great chances to emerge to the forefront of their new club’s lineup. Seven of them are middle relief pitchers with great fastballs that you absolutely believe without a shadow of doubt will be closing out games by mid-May. 

Write these names down and then next to them scribble down the numbers you’ll think you’ll end up paying in FAAB when you sneak them in at the draft. 

“Lance… McCullers… pitcher… Astros… $5… at most.” 

Yeah, you’ve got it. You’re going to swing in and steal McCullers while everyone is still fighting over Aaron Judge and Mike Trout. Then at $3 (the price you know you’ll actually get him at.) you’ll win the league when he notches 15 wins with a sub-1.10 WHIP. 

Do it. Write them down. I’ll wait. 

Ok. Great list. 


Now here’s the real advice… rip it up. Every owner in your league has the same list, they always have, and your only hope in getting any of these players at low, low prices is due to a clerical error, a leftover Christmas miracle, or turns out the player got injured that morning while you picked up donuts for the draft and only you missed that update on Rotoworld. 

This has always been the case. Always. Like me, some of you have been in the same leagues for decades, and while, yes, there was that one season a team drafted Albert Pujols for $3 before he stepped foot on a Major League field or you and your friends still reminisce how you got 17 wins out of Andy Ashby in 1998 while everyone was battling over Randy Johnson, it’s important to remember that THOSE were the exceptions. 

Get your bargains. Don’t sleep on the second or third-tier players. But do not — under any circumstances — go into your draft holding too tightly onto your precious list of sleepers. 

Also, the bid on McCullers is up to $22, get in there… 

This week in baseball history…

… Hack Wilson signed a new contract with the Cubs worth $35,000. An at-bat’s worth of pay for most big stars today, but a high priced deal then. It was February 5th, 1931 and Wilson was coming off a legendary season that still stands strong today. That was the year in which the 5’6” bowling ball of a slugger set a record of 190 (then updated to 191) RBI in one campaign. It still stands today.

Wilson’s RBI record is perhaps the most breakable of the unbreakable records yet year after year it stands just as strong as Dimaggio’s 56 game streak or Bond’s 73. Growing up I was mesmerized by the famous image of Wilson taking a mighty swing, face grimacing and eyes just about closed. 

Who was this power pack of a man who drove in 53 runs in one month alone in 1930? He was in the Hall of Fame, but he seemed to come and go so fast and along the way had a season in which he averaged almost two runs batted in per game. Of all the myths surrounding the game, he was one of my favorites.

It was only later that I learned more about him and his somewhat hard and falling comet of a life. Born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome that contributed to his unique body shape, (He had an 18-inch neck, weighed in at 195 pounds, yet wore 5 ½ sized shoes.) Wilson’s mother died when he was seven and he escaped a lifetime of hammering away in a factory at 16 thanks to his ability to crush a baseball. Alcoholism was unfortunately in his blood thanks to his parents and it plagued him his entire life.

Wilson, though, enjoyed living — to an infamous level. He was actually arrested in a speakeasy during the 1926 season as he tried to escape out of a back window, making him a poster child for baseball superstardom in the Roaring ‘20s. He was also cantankerous at best, violent at his worst. All of this contributed to one of the sharpest falls from graces in baseball history. 

He was just 30 when he tore up the National League in 1930 and though that age felt different back then, he should have had a few more years in him. Instead, he showed up to spring training in 1931 having the RBI record on his resume, a new contract fueling his pocketbook, and twenty extra pounds on his frame. He was benched by May. 

In 1932, Wilson was traded to the Cardinals and then almost immediately flipped to the Brooklyn Dodgers. His 1932 season wasn’t bad. (141 OPS+, 23 home runs, and 123 RBI) But by the end of the 1934 season, Hack Wilson was out of the game. He died at age 48 in 1948 after living out his days in Virginia and Baltimore, Maryland as a laborer. Baseball could no longer save him. 

Hack Wilson’s 191 RBI still stands today as an impressive mark of run production but also serves as a reminder to the harsher conditions of the player’s lives in those early days and a lesson in keeping those demons at bay. 


Walk Off Quote

“I don’t want to be buried in a Red Sox casket”-  Theo Epstein, former Red Sox general manager. 

***

Ken Napzok had zero RBI in his final Little League season, but he is the author of Why We Love Star Wars and host of The Napzok Files podcast feed. 

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