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The Inverse of Awesome

First off, a warning: this post will be about baseball. Secondly, it will not just be about baseball, it will lean fairly heavily on the nerdy parts of baseball — like OPS and VORP and trade deadlines — and not the fun parts, like hot dogs and beer and A-Rod having blue lips and serially vomiting Phils fans. So if this is the sort of thing that you normally avoid, and come here to avoid, you might want to go check out Reddit for awhile, and then come back when the page is full of cheese sculptures and Welcome Back Kotter pastiches.

We’re talking about the Dodgers, a team that is in the blood like Hep-C is in Pamela Anderson. No matter how stupid they are, and they own a whole lot of stupid over the years, they will always be The One, betrothed to the heart, which gladly, almost gleefully, even, expects to be tortured and neglected and ultimately abandoned. This is the deal. This has always been the deal.

Ned Colletti and Joe Torre are making this simple equation way more difficult this season. We’re barely gonna touch on Joe. He’s old and will die soon, in a baseball sense, and we will be rid of him, and then won’t have to think about his almost-comical mishandling of his pitching staff, the way he overvalues veteran presence in his middle infield, the sense that he doesn’t understand the job of a leadoff hitter, the mental and physical tormenting of Jonathan Broxton to the point where the latter is basically on his way out of the league before he ever really got in it, and a myriad of other delights. Gonna ignore that for now, because he’s still better than Grady Little.

It’s Ned I wish to talk about today. This is Ned Colletti. Ned is a Professional Baseball GM. Despite his ruggedly mustachioed appearance, he’s certainly no Ron Swanson .

Ned, you had a dead-to-the-neck-up team mired in third and fourth place most of the year, a team that somehow hovered several games over .500 mainly on the strength of an uncanny and inexplicable ability to beat teams in its own division (until recently, because flukes always even out, but don’t tell Ned: he’s sleeping.) You had a lot of injuries, including about 17 trips to the DL for an aging and rapidly tailspinning Manny Ramirez, a very thin crop of prospects in the farm system, regressive years from Matt Kemp and Russell Martin, a great year by Andre Ethier interrupted by a broken finger which probably got rushed back to work too soon, a schizophrenic but serviceable pitching corps (headed by the emerging dominance of Clayton Kershaw and the rebirth of Chad Billingsley, which we’ll get to later), and a profound inability to beat the American League clubs, which is sadly not unusual for LA’s NL entry in recent years. Basically a squad with “86-76” written all over it. Which is fine. I would have taken that and watched the Padres or whoever get smashed by the Braves in the NLDS. Whatever.

But then the trade deadline approached. And as everybody who watches ESPN knows, baseball GMs get paid handsomely for their ability to overreact to pennant races and trade deadlines. Ned did well on both counts. And also on the all-important count of making me say WHAT THE FUCK? really loudly and often.

Ned-Scratching Moment #1: he sent catcher Lucas May and pitcher Elisaul Pimente to Kansas City for washed-up retread outfielder Scott Podsednik, who’s so good at baseball that the White Sox didn’t want him twice. May was hitting .296 at triple-A Albuquerque with 11 home runs and 45 RBI, but as smart baseball men like to point out, he’s mostly an “offensive catcher.” You know, like Mike Piazza, so fuck that.

“Catching is tough,” Ned said as way of explanation. Again: not Ron Swanson.

Podsednik, btw, was mainly acquired because Manny’s nominal replacement, Xavier Paul, was kind of crappy, which he was (he also rocked a chinstrap beard, which nobody likes), and the only other option in the system was: nothing. So fair enough. We have the awesome Scott Podsednik! Who can steal bases and stuff. And hit leadoff. And it only cost the next Mike Piazza to get him! (The Dodgers are good at burning catching prospects for two months of futility: two years ago they sent Carlos Santana — not the guitarist but the next Victor Martinez — to the Indians for Casey Blake, who continues to torment Dodger fans every time he suits up.)

Ned-Scratching Moment #2: Ned wasn’t done yet, though. He promised fans a frontline pitcher, so that Torre wouldn’t have to give every fifth start to Ad Hoc Bullpen Collective Led By Carlos Monasterios, and he did it, bringing home Ted Lilly, who they originally traded to the Montreal Expos in the year 1779 for the bones of Wilton Guerrero and 17 Copper Shillings. And Ryan Theriot. For Blake Dewitt and minor league pitchers Brett Wallach and Kyle Smit. Wallach was supposedly good, don’t know much about Smit.

Lilly we can argue over, but he’s no Cliff Lee, and just telling me “the Indians no way would have given up Lee for Dewitt, May, Pimente, Wallach and Smit” will only lead to tears and/or slap fighting between us, so let’s just not go there. (Because the Rangers got him for the following. Study carefully: 1B Justin Smoak, RHP Blake Beavan, RHP Josh Lueke, and INF Matt Lawson. Read that again and compare with what the Dodgers could have offered.) Anyway, the point is that Lilly was sort of a consolation prize. At least they didn’t overpay for Oswalt, like the Phillies.

Dewitt wasn’t a rookie (he came up in 2008), but he might as well have been, considering how little the club used him last year in deference to Orlando Hudson and Ronnie Belliard and Casey Blake for that matter, who usurped Dewitt’s natural position, 3B. But this is what you get when you swap Dewitt for Theriot, who’s five years older, far more expensive, and two years closer to being arbitration eligible:

Dewitt
PA 292 H 69 2B 15 HR 1 AVG .270 OBP .352 SLG .371

Theriot
PA 412 H 110 2B 10 HR 1 AVG .284 OBP .320 SLG .327

Hey, I have this half-eaten cheese sandwich in my backpack, I discovered. It’s ok, nothing great. Do you want to trade it for that moldy 3/4-eaten Whopper I see poking out of your lunchsack? Neat!

Ted Lilly is a good pitcher. His ERA+ and WHIP this year are basically the same as Roy Oswalt’s. He’s a fine No. 2 starter on a staff fronted by Kershaw, and he provides extra insurance in the event that the Alien Currently Inhabiting Chad Billingsley decides to leave for a holiday vacation in Uranus.

He’s also making $10 million this year and is a free agent next year, which means the cash-poor Dodgers aren’t going to bid for him beyond the end of this season, which means he’s a Dodger for the next two months and only the next two months. Which means they gave away five years of Blake Dewitt, essentially, for two months of Ted Lilly, and two years of Ryan Theriot, the latter of which, as we’ve already observed, is a net subtraction, not an addition.

That’s it. Oh wait, I forgot the part where they also traded the bad James McDonald and the tainted Andrew Lambo for the corpse of Octavio Dotel, who will at least help buttress the aching arms of the Dodgers’ pen against the tireless plotting and scheming of Joe Torre. This is probably the only bonafide win move of the bunch, even though it involves a corpse.

Weirdly enough, most of the professionally paid baseball press out there seems to think the Dodgers made out like bandits. As Chad Moriyama at Memories of Kevin Malone correctly points out, the common thread of these reactions is that none of them address the Dodgers situation past the immediate future, or the task currently at hand, which is catching the Permanently Alien-Inhabited Padres and the finally not-bad-at-baseball Giants, and both those teams are now suddenly way up above the Dodgers and looking down at LA from an increasingly large hole.

There are still two months to go in this season, but does anyone really think, even if they somehow get past the Padres and Giants, or just the Giants and latch onto a wild card entry into the playoffs, that this is the team that’s getting past the playoff hump that they couldn’t get over the last two years with vastly better-rounded squads?

And if you do think this, give me some of what you’ve been drinking, because I want to taste the rainbow.

And even if you can take your mind that far, which seems really unreasonable to me, sort of like thinking about unicorns gang-raping a leprechaun, you eventually need to think about 2011, and there you will find a 3/5th empty starting rotation, a 1/3rd empty outfield, and Ryan Theriot and the broken bones of Jon Broxton. And no farm system to think of, because Ned Colletti is a Professional Baseball GM, and Professional Baseball GMs: make deadline deals. Thanks Ned.

For his next trick, he’ll sit inside a massive block of ice holding his breath until that ice fucking melts.

Remember, though, all of this decline was probably set in motion the moment somebody let that Jonas kid sing the anthem at Chavez…

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