Ethier and Kemp Are The Dodgers
It's an uncertain time for Dodger fans. To put things lightly, there are some questions about the ownership. It is not clear who will maintain control of the club. It is not clear what the payroll of the club will be. Despite falling two years a row to the Phillies in the NLCS, the reality is the Dodgers are blossoming into a very good baseball team. I am going on the record in saying I don't want the progression to end. We have miles left in our legs.
There will be a lot of changes in the front office. That seems inevitable. Nothing should change on the field. In fact, I think whoever is making the decisions can do a couple things to create a beautiful stability. I know we can afford these moves. I don't think we can afford to not make them.
Under Ned Colletti (and Paul DePodesta before him), the Dodgers have maintained they would rely on their young core of home grown talent to mature. The past half decade has been about finding veterans to help ease the youngsters into everyday big leaguers. After back-to-back trips to the NLCS, it's safe to say the youngsters have the goods.
And frankly, they haven't peaked yet.
Many baseball prognosticators claim the peak performance ages for major league ballplayers is somewhere between 26-33. Those are the years where the numbers swell, the All-Star games are played, the championships are won. Most of the young Dodger elite are reaching the beginning of that age range. It is pretty clear to see where things stand with them.
Chad Billingsley, Russell Martin and Jonathan Broxton have already been All-Stars (no matter what you think of them). Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier will be next year. Clayton Kershaw, the youngest of the lot, seems on an accelerated path to becoming an ace. Like Sandy Koufax (the Dodger lefty legend he is likened to), he's starting his career off with erratic stuff that often proves to be electric. James Loney has been, if nothing else, a very solid first baseman with the bat and with the leather.
It would seem the Dodgers best chance of winning a World Series would be to ensure the team keeps these pieces together by following a simple mathematical formula: Keep the older youngsters in blue while the younger youngsters reach their prime.
Kershaw is under control through 2014. Billingsley and Russell Martin are not safe enough bets to commit long term dollars to. Billingsley because he is a pitcher and quite inconsistant and Martin because of his falling numbers and incredible amount of innings behind the plate. James Loney is under control through 2013 and sadly just pedestrian enough to prevent an urgent need to extend him. Broxton is a closer and most of the time, that means a short shelf life. Especially when you put 300 pounds of weight on your landing knee with each 100 mph fastball.
There are two Dodgers that the front office needs to secure. I hope they understand how badly they need to secure them. They need to be secured like unaccounted-for plutonium.
The Dodgers need to offer long term extensions to Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp. They need to lock them up and tell Dodger Nation that no matter what happens in the front office, you can count on seeing Dre and Matty in the outfield and in the middle of the batting order. They need to get the David Wright treatment. They need the Ryan Braun treatment.
We have Andre for two more seasons. We have Matt for three. Tick-tock-tick-tock.
Watching the World Series, all I could see was Andre wearing pinstripes. It scares me. It should scare you. He is the exact kind of guy New York would love. He's a good looking guy who bats lefty and plays defense. He could hit 40 home runs a year with the short porch in right at Coors Field East. How much would the Bronx Bombers pay for a clutch hitting, slick fielding, handsome right fielder? My guess? The same amount they paid for their clutch hitting, slick fielding, handsome first baseman, shortstop and third basemen.
Can't you see Matt Kemp in a Cubs jersey? Can't you see him pumping up the wind swept crowd sitting in Wrigleyville on a perfect Saturday day game? I can. It's not hard to imagine at all. Matt Kemp is twenty-five years old and still improving. He is the crown jewel of an organization.
The whole league is waiting for us to mess up.
The front office needs to act soon. The only way to get premium players at reasonable discounts is to financially secure them for life before they hit the open market. We are dangerously close to losin Ethier. If he survives this season healthy with strong numbers, he will be looking to free agency.
The Dodgers know in arbitration that Ethier will be awarded a salary in the seven million dollar range. I say offer him seven years at eight million dollars. See if he can walk away from 56 million in guaranteed money. Then, at 34 years old, he can leave for the AL and DH for whoever he wants. With a tough economy, make a young guy with a family walk away from that kind of money.
For Matt Kemp, sell the farm. He is the one position player on the team that could be a Hall of Famer. He will win Gold Gloves (maybe this year). He will win batting titles. This guys will go 30/30. He probably will go 40/40. He will be in Jumpman commercials. He will be drinking Gatorade and brushing his shoulders off with thousands of flash bulbs behind him. I can picture him and Kobe shooting hoops in the offseason at UCLA comparing championship rings. Ethier deserves to be a Dodger for the bulk of his career. Matt Kemp simply needs to.
They are as low risk as is possible in a risky business. They are outfielders. To a certain extent, anything can happen, but this isn't signing a lefty pitcher who throws 107 mph and a slider that tears ligaments. These guys shag balls and hit home runs. If Kemp stays wild in center, we'll move him to left. Look at Torii Hunter. That's Matt's hero. He's still terrific after all these years.
I am twenty-seven years old. I can see it so clearly. I'll be taking my future kids to Chavez Ravine and teaching them everything. There will be a lot of differences by then, but the Dodgers can eliminate two of them. They can tell me who will be in center and who will be in left.
I remember not long ago when it was a yearly struggle to find a power bat through free agency. The front office must remember that now. Baseball is about winning, but it is about consistency. It's about the routine of the batters at the plate. It's about spitting and adjusting your cup. It's about playing with the rosin bag. It's about repetition.
You can't guarantee a World Series by making a trade or a big signing. If you could, the Yankees would win every single year. What you can do is allow the fans to fall in love with the players on their team.
Dre and Matty deserve our love and we deserve the peace of mind to know that times change, but the middle of our batting order won't.