The Los Angeles Dodgers have not had a good spring. Pitchers have been hurt. Pitchers have been ineffective. Yasmani Grandal can't stop hurting. Andre Ethier broke his leg. Someone crashed a moving vehicle into the back of Clayton Kershaw's moving vehicle. The only reason the Camelback Ranch facilities haven't been overrun by a river of scorpions is because the scorpions are waiting for a signal from the Scorpion King. Which will come. Soon.
This is an unfortuitous turn of events for a Dodgers team that had a little PR work to do before the spring even started. The TV situation is still a mess, and while you and the rest of the baseball nerds know who Scott Kazmir and Kenta Maeda are, all the typical fan knows is that Zack Greinke isn't there. That's a heckuva security blanket to lose. Even if most of us know better than to read too much into spring training, there probably isn't a team that could have created more goodwill with a strong March than the Dodgers. They would have liked to use the spring to say ...
We know the other two teams in the division spent a combined half-billion dollars, but look at us roll. We're still the champs until further notice.
Instead, they're down to their sixth or seventh or eighth starter in the rotation, which is good because their ninth, 10th, and 11th starters have been struggling in the Cactus League. That means this is a great opportunity to remind us of a couple important truths. One of them is universal. One of them is specific just to the 2016 Dodgers, and it's the one they should really care about.
Truth No. 1: Spring training is horrible and we are mindless primates for looking forward to it
This is a general truth, usually applicable to every team, but always to one team in particular every spring. Sometimes, teams and their fans have to wait until May or June to realize that the season isn't going to follow the template they sketched out in December. And sometimes March pantses the team at the bus stop in front of the whole school, and they have to improvise and play it cool.
Think of how much effort you spend getting excited for pitchers and catchers.
Pitchers and catchers in 33 days!
There are new players, old players, young players and they're all going to be available to confirm all of the daydreams you had in the winter.
Pitchers and catchers in 32 days!
And then the pitchers and catchers show up, jog a little, say some hellos, pose for a landscape-oriented picture that gets tweeted out sideways, and practice covering first base. This happens for about a week, and you remember just how unexciting spring training is.
Except, that's as good as it gets. The real spring combines the meaningless of our unexciting daily lives with the potential for absolute calamity. Rymer Liriano wasn't expecting to be on a new team, but he was in Brewers camp, somehow, where he would get a solid chance to make the team. Then he took a fastball to the face, and everything he was hoping for over the previous days, weeks and months changed instantly.
Andre Ethier doesn't have a decade left in the game, and he knows it. But he also knows he's playing at a high level right now, and he's ready to keep it going. He's sure he can keep it going. He's been doubted before and proved himself and, whoops, one foul ball and one broken leg and see you in a few months.
Scott Kazmir was an afterthought on the Sugar Land Skeeters, and he clawed his way back, inch by inch, to be the free agent prize years later for a division-winning team. He gets to his new team, filled with butterflies and optimism, and he finds out that the airline lost his fastball.
And so on. This isn't a Dodger-specific problem. It's a spring problem. The Dodgers are just the best example right now of spring being the worst.
Truth No. 2: The Dodgers are pretty prepared for this
We're used to the idea of the Dodgers as a financial behemoth, rushing in to give Yasiel Puig $40 million more than anyone expects him to get, or elbowing the rest of baseball out of the way to sign Zack Greinke away from their cross-region rivals. We're used to them using their checkbook as a blunt object because that's what the richest teams do. It's what they have always done, since the days of Catfish Hunter and Reggie Jackson on the Yankees.
These Dodgers are different, at least in a subtle way. Sure, you can see evidence of their league-leading payroll all over the roster (keeping Kershaw like the Rays wouldn't have been able to, getting Adrian Gonzalez in the first place), but they don't have the shiny, premium free agent from this offseason that the Giants and Diamondbacks nabbed. They spent the offseason accumulating and retaining depth, using their money whenever possible.
And it's depth they've needed, at least with the rotation. But think about what it took to build this depth in the first place. The Dodgers had to be a team that thought, "We don't know if we'll have a spot for Brett Anderson after the winter ... but we'd better pay him $15.7 million, just in case." The important part of that story isn't that Anderson has rotten luck with injuries, so the Dodgers should have known he was a risk. It's that the Dodgers knew that he was a risk and still retained his services for more free agent dollars than the Pirates spend in the typical offseason.
The Dodgers' money also allowed them to take Carl Crawford off the hands of the Red Sox, as if he was the sleepover in the haunted mansion that allowed them to collect their weird uncle's inheritance of Adrian Gonzalez. Now they'll use Crawford in a platoon with Scott Van Slyke, and that's really not too far off from the production that Ethier would have provided in the first place.
Alex Wood is in the rotation, and it's odd that we should be surprised by that. He would have been in the long-term plans of a lot of teams if they had acquired them last July, but the Dodgers were just planning to use him as depth. They got him in a roundabout way by spending $40 million on an older Cuban star, Hector Olivera, even after it was clear that his injuries might cost him his entire 2015 season. They used the presence of Olivera in a trade to build even more depth.
The Dodgers used money to gamble on Brandon McCarthy, and while it's easy to consider that as a mark against them right now, there's a great chance that he'll be around when the team needs to tap into that depth later this season. In the interim, they signed Maeda to a sweet deal, and he's one of the few Dodgers pitchers who looks outstanding in Arizona. Because the Dodgers had money to root around for pitchers, they didn't worry so much about what to do with Mike Bolsinger, who would have been the low-cost option that would have allowed most teams to spend their meager budget on something else.
And, of course, there's the ridiculous farm system, which took a lot more than money to put together. But because the Dodgers knew they could supplement their roster at any time by taking on unwanted contracts or bullying their way through the free agent market, they got to hang on to their super-duper prospects and avoid a panic trade. The Diamondbacks got Zack Greinke, but they wish they could say the same thing about keeping their best prospects when it came to also acquiring Shelby Miller. They just felt they had no other choice but to swap them out.
This isn't to grumble and say the Dodgers bought a deep team. This is to remind you that the Dodgers have a deep team, and that if there's any roster in baseball that could withstand this kind of spring misery, it's this one. We're used to financial bullies making the big, expensive move, but we're less used to the financial bullies slowly using their money over time to construct a roster, concrete block by concrete block, that a spring hurricane can't easily topple.
Even though spring is the worst and we're apes who can't figure that out, don't forget just what the Dodgers have built. It's a deep team, maybe the deepest, and it makes it too easy to pay far too much attention to whatever problems they're having this month.
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