Opinion of Kingman's Performance

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Yasiel Puig : This Year Will Be Crucial

There's no doubt that 2016 is a "make or break" year for Yasiel Puig.  The player that I named the second coming of Roberto Clemente when he broke in has not produced as expected.  Virtually everyone agrees that it is his lack of maturity that has hindered his progress.  The questions being posed by many are:  Has he finally understood this?  Has he adjusted his attitude to have that break out season that so many of us expected out of him?

Reports are that Puig has taken to an intense workout regimen and has lost weight.  Reporting to the Dodgers strength and conditioning staff, Andrew Friedman claimed that things were going as planned back in November.  Historically, Puig has always reported to Camelback Ranch overweight, weighing as much as 251 pounds after his rookie season and first full off-season of indulging in the U.S. culture.

This has been an off-season of drama surrounding Yasiel, (specifically a night club altercation and reports of teammates wanting him traded),  and it is comforting to see that Puig has made positive strides towards improving in 2016.  Now recent reports of Puig reaching out to Maury Wills for base running assistance is reported.

Let me return to the Clemente comparison.

Roberto broke in the big leagues in 1955, literally stolen by Branch Rickey from the Dodger organization in a rule-5 theft.  What resulted were a number of lackluster seasons initially, and cultural challenges for the young Puerto Rican, who struggled with the language and biases of the era.

In Puig's case there are some similarities, but he certainly didn't have it as difficult, being embraced by the fans and showered with millions of dollars.  He didn't face nearly the same cultural struggles as Clemente who broke in during the era of challenges faced by many on civil rights issues.  In Puig's case, his challenges had to do with the absence of contact with his family (at first), and the massive changes regarding living conditions, temptations and an adjustments to capitalistic culture that he had never experienced.  Many fans simply don't understand those challenges that Cuban players experience when arriving in the United States and for that reason, I always thought that Puig got unfair treatment by many writers that should have understood his plight.

Both Clemente and Puig had their initial successes and struggles in the show.

Clemente was immediately recognized as a five tool potential star, but he had his struggles at the plate hitting .255 his rookie year with an abysmal .284 OBP.  Signs of brilliance were there and a significant improvement to a.311 avg. in his sophomore season, but he regressed the following year (1957) as he suffered with injuries and got the reputation that followed him his whole career that he was a hypochondriac and "soft" when it came to playing through injuries.   Clemente really didn't establish himself as a perennial all star player until in his 6th year in the big leagues at age 25.  That year he started in the All Star game and finished in contention for the MVP on a World Series Championship ball club.

Puig, now 25 years of age, is entering his 4th season in the big leagues.  He has had his flashes of brilliance, with stretches of greatness accompanied by mental blunders and maturity issues that exposed his weaknesses on the field.  Often making aggressive mistakes, Puig hasn't grown and matured as expected, still making the same mistakes that he made during his rookie year on the base paths, defensively and at the plate.  Adjustments need to be made, specifically:
  • discipline to nutrition and fitness 
  • maturity and composure on the field 
  • willingness to listen and adhere to coaches and veteran teammates that reach out to help him
  • patience and willingness to allow injuries to heal

I don't know if my criticism is being unfair to this extraordinary talent, as no player has faced this type of scrutiny on the Dodgers in recent memory.  But Puig is so gifted with five tool talent, fans of the game are awed by his potential.  If he could ever put it together, he could really be an MVP player for years to come.

Clemente got it by 1960, and he never let up after that.  Twelve All Star appearances, Twelve gold glove awards, 1 MVP award, 2 World Championships, 4 batting titles, 1 World Series MVP award and the inevitable Hall of Fame induction after his tragic death on New Years Eve, 1972.  Is this the year that Puig is able to turn the corner and become the Hall of Fame type of player that so many of us saw when he arrived on the scene?  Losing weight and arriving to camp in shape will be a true positive sign, and carrying around about 25 lbs. less should make a difference on those questionable hamstrings that have curtailed his career recently.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The "Untouchable" Prospect that Few Talk About

So there's a young southpaw from Mexico that scouts project to have at minimum, number two starter stuff.  But he's not the guy.

There's that shortstop with a pedigree from North Carolina that has hit at every level, including the majors in his September call up.  It's not him eiher.

Jose DeLeon? Brett Holmes? Ross Stripling? Cody Bellinger? Jharel Cotton? Alex Verdugo?

All highly touted and I'd hate to lose any of them.  But none are the the player I identify either.

If there are position areas where the Dodgers seemed to have weak spots after the 2014 season, they were probably identified as catcher and second base.  In one full swoop, the Dodgers filled both those holes with the acquisition of that rare commodity, a Catcher/second baseman by the name of Austin Barnes

Barnes isn't expected to be on the big club to start the season, but it isn't because he's not ready.  To the contrary.  There are some in the organization that believe he should be the starting catcher right now.

As his name is tossed around in trade rumors, I can't help but cringe.  This is a team leader and the type of player you can build a franchise around in my opinion.  Don't believe it?  Well look at the numbers.  Coming into his own at age 25, Barnes was a middle infielder at Arizona State that the Marlins immediately converted to catcher because of his athleticism and basbeall IQ.

A lifetime .300 hitter with the overly impressive .390 OBP over four minor league seasons. That isn't a small sample size.  Barnes has 2,190 plate appearances during that time.  He works counts, gets on base, all the while with OPS in the mid .800's.  He can drive in runs, hit the clutch homer and steal the occasional bag, along with steady defense where scouts rave about his soft hands, strong arm and game calling skills.  Add to that the fact that he has thrown out an impressive 30% of runners attempting to steal on him.  Barnes is the real deal, but the one thing that isn't shown in his stats is that "leadership" intangible factor.

"The one that stood out to me the most was Barnes.  I like him.  He looked like a real good ballplayer.  I think we'll seem him playing real good in the big leagues someday."
Carl Crawford after spending July at AAA Oklahoma City during a rehab stint.

"He gets to know all his pitchers.  He really goes out of his way to find out what type pitcher you are."
Pitcher Mike Bolsinger on his Triple A catcher

Barnes, the nephew of former Oakland Athletic Mike Gallego, has that other intangible factor that few have noticed:  He's a winner at all levels in the minors.  Leading his teams in Greensboro, Jupiter, Jacksonville and Oklahoma City all to winning records and two division championships. This is the type of player that the Dodgers need during the upcoming years when the youngsters develop.

A cerebral player.  A guy that puts in his work and studies the game.  A leader by example.  You don't trade someone like this away, especially when AJ Ellis is on the verge of retirement and Yasmani Grandal is a huge question mark after his injury plagued second half. 

Austin Barnes is the Dodgers catcher of the future, and he shouldn't put his fielder's glove away either, because if the injury bug hits, we just may see him at 2nd or 3rd base if needed.  Maybe as soon as 2016.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Guest Post at ThinkBlueLA.com

This morning I provide a guest post over at Thinkbluela.com.

Take a look at my position regarding the D-Backs signing of Zack Greinke to a record-setting contract.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Right Now is NOT the Time to Trade Puig

I think its fair to say that Yasiel Puig is lacking in common sense.  He is his own worse enemy and his off-field exploits over the past three years are too numerous to accept.  I'll be the first to stand up and say I like the man.  I want him to succeed.  I believe he's misunderstood and a lot of that misunderstanding is based on cultural misconceptions, BUT...
(photo by USATSI)

The man has been warned numbers of times.  He has been told to toe the line and he makes the same mistakes over and over.  I've seen the other bloggers and their name calling.  "Knucklehead," "Idiot," "Clueless," "Immature," and worse.  A lot of those names are justified.  Here is my advise to the troubled Dodger outfielder.

"Yasiel, alejate de las discotecas, y la bebida..."

Puig needs to steer clear of bars and clubs.  Additionally, he needs to be kept from getting behind the wheels of automobiles.  Now he may need to be told to stay away from his own family members.  All seem to be a rather toxic situations for him.  Get him to lock himself on his compound with his personal trainer and get in shape both physically and mentally.  If he doesn't, his career will flounder and eventually fizzle out.

The truth of the mater is Puig is seriously blowing it and his hopes of landing future earnings in the hundreds of millions of dollars are getting slimmer as time passes.

With that said, Yasiel Puig's value as a player has reached all time lows, which is the precise reason that the Dodgers should NOT trade him.  It's not like the Raiders are in MLB.  But I guarantee you this, if a team could have him for next to nothing, there are a number of them out there that will probably attempt to strike a deal with the Dodgers.

Puig would comes to them super cheap.  Five tool players with a ceiling in the stratosphere are not easy to find. Players of that ilk making 7 million/year are just not out there too often.  Remember, he's still not 25 years old until next month.  It would be borderline stupid to deal him now.

Puig could be a bust and never surpass his amazing rookie season.   In that scenario, the Dodgers lose out on the $23 million he is owed over the next three years.  Either that or the marginal player they could get in return for him if he was traded tomorrow.  Neither is that great a loss.  The Dodgers spend much more that $23 million on scrubs, scrapped and injured players year in and year out.

On the other hand, Puig could also turn things around, work hard and be an MVP candidate for years to come.  The risk/reward needs to be fully evaluated when considering losing Puig now.  Do the Dodgers want to be looking back ten years from now saying "what if" we hadn't traded Puig, the former WS MVP and 7 time all-star?  All of which is possible.  I sure would hate to be thinking of Puig as we currently remember Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez today.

At age 25, it is silly to even consider the fact that this grown man still is in need of a mentor on the team that serves as his babysitter, something that Juan Uribe did fairly well.  The man needs to grow up, and maybe a dose of humble pie will do that.  Is that a minor league designation?  I surely doubt it, but this will be the first true challenge of the new manager, Dave Roberts, a man that everyone lauds for his in-person skills with players.  

Meanwhile Yasiel Puig needs to remain a Dodger.  He needs to arrive at Spring training svelte and in the best shape of his life.  He needs to buckle things up.  Stop partying and get serious about his career.  If he doesn't, his days as a Dodger are done, and he'll become that "what if" story that will be talked about for years on end.


Saturday, October 31, 2015

Thoughts on the Off-Season Moves that Must Be Made

With the season over and the World Series four games in, the pain of post-season elimination is slowly wearing off and thoughts of a 2016 season are already on the forefront.  Don Mattingly is a Marlin and the rumor mill is grinding about his replacement.

It is this writer's opinion the Gabe Kapler will be that man.  First, because he is an Andrew Friedman hire and he immediately impacted the organization.  Second, because the Dodgers are set to announce that Rick Honeycutt is returning as pitching coach, and what manager in his right mind would not want to take a new job without a say in who his pitching coach was, unless he was already a part of an organization and he agreed to it beforehand?
Gabe Kapler, In contention for the Dodger Manager position (photo by Jon Soo Hoo/LA Dodgers, from 2011 Spring Training)

So there are a number of questions that will be posed once the World Series ends. I'll address them as they come to mind:

1) Zack Greinke.  We all know he will opt out and declare for free agency.  Do the Dodgers resign him?  Are they willing to pay him up to age 38 to the tune of $25 million+ per year?  That's what it is going to take to keep the man.  It's a lot of money...but losing Greike would be a disaster, especially if he ends up a Giant.  Pay him and pray the elbow holds up.  I can't believe I'm saying that , but a season without Greinke could be a disaster.  Signing a Free Agent such as David Price to replace him makes no sense, as the Dodger rotation would consist of only lefties.

2) Brett Anderson.  A qualifying offer is rather lofty.  About $15.8 million.  Frankly I don't think he's worth it, and I think with his injury history, he'll probably accept it.  With Hyun Jin Ryu returning and Zack Lee in the wings, I simply do think that sort of money should be offered to Anderson.  Crazy, I know.  I recommend spending $150 million on Greike and then pass on Anderson becasue of the cost of the contract, but it's more about there being better options out there for less money that fill the #4 slot in the rotation.

3) Howie Kendrick.  He was solid and extremely valuable, but he's 32 and it makes no sense to sign this guy for years when the club has cheaper and younger options that also play second base in Peraza and Kike Hernandez.  If it could be done for one year it would be great, but Kendrick has this one last chance to sign a big contract for several years.  He's probably wearing another uniform for the next three years.

4) Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley.  Both gone.  They'll have problems finding a taker or two unless they're willing to accept bench roles and substantial pay cuts.

5) Andre Ethier.  The current dean of the Dodgers, coming off a solid year.  There's some trade value here, but the club will have to eat much of his contract.  It'll be interesting to see if there is an attempt to move him.  I say it's time.

6) Carl Crawford.  What a waste of money he is.  His regression and injury prone capacity are a true burden.  If he's moved, the Dodgers must take on all the contract.  He's a defensive liability and was so overmatched against the power pitchers in the NLDS, I'm wondering if he's done as a player.

7) Joc Pederson.  This young man and his free swinging ways at the plate were a disaster for the last 2/3 of the season.  He's in serious need of a hitting coach that reaches him, otherwise I see him possibly with an Oklahoma City future next season.  That's harsh, especially with his stellar defense and propensity to walk, but Pederson was a mess at the plate by season's end.  He needs shorten up his swing and stop going for the fences.  He must adjust his approach according to pitch counts.  The kid swings out of his shoes at all times and it's just stupid.  With Mattingly and McGwire there, I just can't believe they couldn't talk sense into the kid.

8) Adrian Gonzalez.  His poor second half concerns me.  Is this the beginning of a significant decline for AGon?    I sure hope not, because there's a lot of money left to be paid on that contract.  Gonzalez was killed by the extreme shifts this year and his failure to adjust cost him heavily.  While there's still value here, it may be time to move him.  Certainly it'll be an unpopular move but wouldn't it be best to get some value in return while you still can?

9) Yasiel Puig.  A misunderstood and mismanaged talent.  Maturity issues?  Sure.  But there is too much talent in this player to give up on him.  Roberto Clemente was a mess at age 24 too.  They have to give Yasiel the edict to report to Spring Training 20 lbs. lighter and in the best shape of his career.  Get him someone in the dugout that he can relate to and who will reach him.  Juan Uribe's departure hurt Puig's development because Papi could talk sense into this young man.  He's relatively cheap still.  He is capable of .290BA/25HR/.900 OPS production with gold glove defense.  You don't trade that away after an injury plagued season.  If Puig is traded, mark my words, we'll see him win an MVP in another uniform.  There's that much talent in this kid.

10) Manager. (Yes, I know, it was addressed already).  HIRE GABE KAPLER, with Roenicke as his bench coach.  Let Kapler work his magic.  He's the type of person that could dominate as a field general for 20 years.  He has reached minor leaguers such as Schebler and Seager.  This guy is the future of baseball.  He understands the game as it should be, honing in on modern metrics.  He's an intellectual, a nutritionist, slight eccentric and a SoCal guy.  He'll thrive in this position.  I'm excited at the thought that this man could be managing the club.  He has so much potential.  This move could be a true franchise changer, I truly believe it.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Game Five Tidbits...It's a One Game Season!

Justin Turner's knee, Yasmani Grandal's left shoulder, Howie Kendrick and Yasiel Puig's tender hamstrings, Adrian Gonzalez's neck.  It's that time of year where they're all ailing, and also when they need to suck things up and play through the pain.  Champions play through pain.  Watch as one or two from that group turn out to be significant contributors in game five of the NLDS.
(photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
The Dodgers are nine victories away from that ultimate goal, but one loss ends the season.

So as we prepare to watch the series deciding game five on Thursday night.  Aside from the injuries, there are a few things to consider:

  • Jacob deGrom is going to be tough, but the Dodgers know his repertoire and should have a game plan in place that works the counts deep and gets him tired in the early innings.  
  • Any faltering by DeGrom will probably result in a relief appearance by fire throwing Noah Syndergaard. 
  • The Chase Utley suspension headlines sure went away quickly.  Did the appeal process take place in NYC, or did they simply decide to table the matter until next season?  Perhaps MLB thought better of it and decided on the latter.
  • How many times have we seen a Dodger club falter after a terrible call, such as the David Wright foul tip strike three that was called a ball? (8th inning of game 4).  The fact that the Dodgers were able to record the third out and overcome that obstacle was huge and something that championship teams are able to overcome.
  • Speaking of that Wright at-bat.  Where was Don Mattingly?  I'm sure he was barking from the dugout, but didn't that warrant an "in-your-face dirt kicking tirade?"
  • One of the best reasons that the Dodgers need to get to the NLCS is that the next series won't be broadcast by TBS.  I can live with Ripkin, but Darling's homerism is getting to be unbearable.
  • It's fair to say that Clayton Kershaw has exorcised the post season demons that have affected him over his career.  A 2.63 ERA over 14 innings of work with 19 K's is dominance that we are accustomed to seeing from the best pitcher in the game.  Watch for that dominance to continue if the Dodgers are fortunate enough to make it to the NLCS against the Cubs.
  • Many consider Justin Turner to be the series offensive MVP, and that may be accurate, but Kiki Hernandez is definitely the most inspirational.
  • Hopefully Zack Greinke is able to live with AJ Ellis behind the plate in game 5.   We all know how fond he is of Grandal's pitch framing abilities.  Watch as Ellis extends his post season hitting streak.
  • Mets hitters that you don't allow to beat you: Yoenis Cespedes, Curtis Granderson.  There really isn't anyone else in the New York lineup that the Dodgers really need to fear.  I'm not saying there aren't other quality hitters in that lineup, only that those two are the guys that seem to be doing the most damage.
Prediction:  Dodgers take game five with a 4-1 victory.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Slide Heard Round the World

(photo by USAToday Sports/Jayne Kamin-Oncea)

With once full swoosh and clunk Chase Utley has forever marked himself in baseball lore as a hero and villian all in one.  It all depends on which coast you live.  That decisive take out slide may be talked about for decades.  The question that remains is:  Was it enough to turn the Dodgers fortunes around?

Ruben Tejada is out for the remainder of the year with a broken fibula.  The Dodgers have life again as they travel to NYC with a series split, and they have a renewed energy and life that had not been seen in the first 15 innings of the NLDS.

As Chase Utley was crucified on the TBS post game show for his "dirty" play, I seemed to think back to 2013 as the major Dodger offensive threat had been neutralized by a 95+ mph fastball to the ribs. What goes around seems to eventually come around.  Baseball is a game where things eventually even themselves out and as New Yorkers complain about being treated "unfairly" it reminds me of 1973 when a Dodger team finished second in the NL West with 95 wins and was forced to watch an 83 win Met team play in the post season.

Things aren't always fair folks, and Utley's slide, (which was late by all means), was done within the current rules of the game.  Tejada turned his back in the play, assuming that he could perform a pirouette throw to first to turn a game saving twin killing.  As a middle infielder, you never turn your back on a player barreling down on you to break up a double play.  I'm not saying the man deserved to be injured, but his actions placed him in a vulnerable spot.

Chase Utley did his job, and for that he will be remembered forever in Dodger history.  How much so only time will tell, but if the Dodgers win it all, the "slide heard round he world"will be talked about for decades.