Monday, January 16, 2012

Why is Ned Colletti in a rush to sign mediocre free agents?

Since Ned Colletti was named Dodgers' general manager in late 2005, he's always been in a rush to sign free agents. One has to wonder why that is. It has cost the Dodgers a lot and is just a bad practice in general.

Here are all Colletti's major signings in November and December:

December 2005
Bill Mueller
Nomar Garciaparra
Rafael Furcal
Kenny Lofton
Brett Tomko

November 2006
Garciaparra (re-signed)
Juan Pierre
Randy Wolf

December 2006
Luis Gonzalez
Jason Schmidt

December 2007
Andruw Jones
Hiroki Kuroda

December 2008
Casey Blake (re-signed)
Furcal (re-signed)

December 2009
Jamey Carroll

November 2010
Kuroda (re-signed)
Jon Garland
Juan Uribe

December 2010
Rod Barajas
Vicente Padilla
Matt Guerrier

November 2011
Juan Rivera
Mark Ellis

December 2011
Chris Capuano
Jerry Hairston
Aaron Harang

Some of these signings were good: Furcal (both times), Garciaparra (first time), Lofton, Wolf (both times) and Kuroda (both times).

However, most of these signings were made in haste, either costing the Dodgers money by not playing the market and not playing young players or losing out to superior players. And the Dodgers haven't signed any elite players in this time period.

Colletti's refusal to trust -- or even give a legitimate chance to -- young players was apparent in 2007 and even today. In November 2006, he re-signed Garciaparra to a 2-year, $18 million contract without blinking. James Loney was fully ready to take over.

Pierre, being pursued by only the Giants in November 2006, was signed before the market could even play out. The Giants had reportedly offered him a contract in the neighborhood of $30 million over three years. Colletti, for some reason, felt compelled to give Pierre five guaranteed years and $14 million more.

Was Kenny Lofton's 2006 performance (.301/.360/.403) not good enough? It was better than anything Pierre did in his time as a Dodger, except when he was (rightfully so) a part-time player for the team in 2008. Yet, Colletti didn't even give re-signing Lofton a second thought. Curious, as Lofton was approaching age 40 and seemed to be right up Colletti's alley. I guess Pierre was more the player he was looking for. It's one of the only times Colletti has chosen a younger player instead of an older player.

With Torii Hunter, Andruw Jones, Aaron Rowand and Ichiro Suzuki all 2008 free agents (at the time of Pierre's deal -- Suzuki signed an extension with the Mariners later that season), Colletti couldn't possibly have waited for a better player? I know he eventually signed Jones (who busted) and Rowand got a ridiculous contract, but it's the principle of the matter.

The same thing happened when he signed Luis Gonzalez for the 2007 season. Ethier was ready to take over in left field, putting up a .308/.365/.477 as a rookie in 441 plate appearances. Instead, he and Kemp were forced to split time with the likes of Gonzalez and Pierre. The Dodgers won 82 games in 2007 and probably wouldn't have been much worse off getting Ethier and Kemp 500 at-bats.

I was actually on board with the Schmidt and Jones signings, so I can't be too upset about those.

However, jumping at the bit to re-sign Blake after his less-than half-season with the Dodgers was inexcusable. The Dodgers had Blake DeWitt, who, in hindsight, wasn't the greatest option, capable of playing third base until someone better came along.

The fact that he gave Blake three guaranteed years when the only team seriously in on him was the Minnesota Twins is a classic example of the market playing Colletti. It should be the other way around. Blake had a fine 2009 season, but was not great and riddled with injuries after that, which isn't exactly abnormal for a 36-year-old player.

A good -- or even somewhat competent GM -- would play the market and not get taken in by past success, irrational mistrust of young players and minimal postseason success.

Which leads us to one Juan Uribe. He was signed on Nov. 30, 2011 when there was absolutely no reason to sign a guy like that to a contract like that (3 years, $21 million). Once again, the Giants and Colletti were in competition for a bad baseball player, and the Dodgers, unfortunately, won again.

Colletti was also in such a rush to sign Guerrier that he inexplicably gave him a 3-year contract.

If that wasn't bad enough, the 2011 off-season might take the cake. We know the Dodgers weren't going to be in on Albert Pujols, but why was Colletti's priority to sign replacement-level players (Rivera, Ellis, Capuano, Harang) and guys who deserve minor-league deals only (Kennedy, Matt Treanor) over guys like Kuroda and Prince Fielder?

No one knows for sure, but Colletti's refusal to trust young players could be an explanation.

Rivera was signed when Jerry Sands is perfectly capable of taking the reins. Ellis was signed in lieu of using a combination of Ivan DeJesus and Justin Sellers. Capuano and Harang are expected to replace Kuroda's production, which likely won't happen. Those guys are decent options at the back of the rotation, but the money they're earning $6 million (total) this season -- $6 million that could have been used to re-sign Kuroda and go with a rookie (Nathan Eovaldi) or a non-roster invitee (a player who always seems to find his way onto the Dodgers).

The Dodgers have needed a real bat for years (not Jones, not J.D. Drew, etc.). Prince Fielder is available and the Dodgers don't even think twice about pursuing him. I know the ownership situation is a mess, but every guaranteed contract this off-season (save Rivera and MacDougal's) has an uneven split between 2012 and 2013.

The Dodgers have spent $18.75 million this off-season on nine players, none of whom couldn't have been replaced by minor-league talent or non-roster invitees (I'm OK with the Gwynn signing, though).

The Dodgers could have signed both Kuroda and Fielder (with deferred money, of course) and have been a better team. Instead, Fielder is still a free agent, Kuroda signed with the Yankees and the Dodgers are not any better right now (arguably worse) than they were at the end of the 2011 season.

It's easy to rip Colletti and call him a double agent (working for the Giants). We all know he isn't, but some of the moves really make you wonder. Then again, he "crafted" his trade under Brian Sabean, the undisputed king of signing over-the-hill free agents and not trusting young players.

Colletti's job hasn't been easy the last couple of years, but the misallocation of resources has never been more apparent. I mean, the Dodgers are still paying for the likes of Manny Ramirez and Jones, Kuroda's signing bonus ($1.5 million this January and $2.5 million next January) and just got done paying off deferred money and signing bonuses from Pierre's and Furcal's contracts. That, and striking out on free agents, has kept the Dodgers from being serious championship contenders.

The 2008 and 2009 squads had the talent to make it as far as the National League Championship Series. Running into a hot Phillies' team both years didn't help, but having the ability to add a key piece (Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, etc.) would have gone a long way to bringing a championship back to Los Angeles.


  1. My guess is because the team is for sale and they want to have all the pieces of the puzzle in place as soon as possible, with no big long term deals to players other than the "brand" players already in the organization like Kemp and possibly Kershaw.

  2. I've heard that theory. I don't agree with it, but it could have been the thought process. It still doesn't excuse the questionable transactions, though.