By Don Wanlass
It’s starting to look like the Dodgers plan for 2023 all along was to coast through the season with an eye toward saving money for the pursuit of Shohei Ohtani in the offseason.
That’s the only conclusion I can draw after seeing Dodgers President Andrew Friedman fail to make a major move at the Aug. 1 trade deadline.
Sure the Dodgers made some moves. They brought back utilityman Kike Hernandez and relief pitcher Joe Kelly. They traded for starting pitcher Lance Lynn from the White Sox and shortstop Amed Rosario from the Cleveland GuardianCleveland Guardians without giving up any of their top-valued prospects.
But Friedman failed to pull the trigger on a major move for a starting pitcher. They were outbid by the Angels for Lucas Giolito and by the Astros for Justin Verlander. The Tigers’ Eduardo Rodriguez chose to remain in Detroit, where the Tigers lanquish 7 ½ games behind the Minnesota Twins, than to join the Dodgers, canceling that proposed trade by refusing to waive his no-trade contract and the Dodgers didn’t offer enough to pry Mitch Keller away from the Pirates.
That leaves the Dodgers with a starting rotation of Julio Urias, Tony Gonsolin, Lynn and three rookies: Bobby Miller, Emmet Sheehan and Michael Grove.
Urias and Gonsolin are both in the midst of their worst seasons in the major leagues. Lynn comes from the White Sox, where he posted a 6-9 record with an earned run average well over 6.00 and the major league lead in homers allowed with 28.
He added to that total Aug. 1 in his Dodgers debut, yielding three solo home runs but not much else in the Dodgers 7-3 win over the Oakland A’s.
Clayton Kershaw is expected to rejoin the rotation next week in Arizona, but Kershaw is 35 and coming off a shoulder injury. No one knows how well he will be able to pitch when he returns.
That doesn’t bode well for the postseason where pitching is key.
Friedman, with the blessing of ownership (or maybe a direct order from ownership), chose to get rid of Justin Turner, Trea Turner and Cody Bellinger after last season, replace them with low-priced veterans Jason Heyward and David Peralta and young prospects Miguel Vargas and James Outman, and hoped to get by a generally weak National League West and make it to the playoffs for the 11th season in a row.
So far, it looks like he has won that gamble. But the Dodgers don’t look anything like a World Series contender as of Aug. 2, not with the starting pitching coming off a month where they posted a 6.18 earned run average.
Maybe Lynn will revert to the pitcher he was in 2019 when he won 16 games for the Texas Rangers. Or the guy who won 11 games and posted a 2.69 ERA for the White Sox in 2021.
But Lynn has never been a staff ace, someone who can go out and stop a losing streak or outpitch another team’s ace. He’s a steady, middle-of-the-rotation guy who can eat up innings and keep you in the ballgame most of the time.
The Dodgers had hoped Urias would become the staff ace after posting 37 wins over the last two seasons. But, heading into free agency this offseason, Urias has been average at best with a 7-6 record and a 4.98 ERA.
Kershaw has been the Dodgers best pitcher all season. He is 10-4 with a 2.55 ERA, but he hasn’t pitched in a month and no one can be certain how healthy he will be the rest of the season.
The Dodgers are holding out hopes that Walker Buehler will continue his recovery from Tommy John surgery and return by September, but that is another extremely big if.
At least Friedman appeased the fans by bringing back fan favorites Hernandez and Kelly, who were both part of the 2020 World Series champions. Hernandez has already played five defensive positions and got the key bases-clearing double in the Aug. 1 win over Oakland. Kelly will provide another steady arm at the back of the bullpen.
I’m not sure how Rosario fits in. He’s almost a clone of shortstop Miguel Rojas. Rosario hits better, Rojas is the better fielder. His arrival means we have probably seen the last of Miguel Vargas this season.
Still, the Dodgers have played their way back into the lead of the National League West, currently leading the Giants by 2 ½ games and the Diamondbacks by 4 ½.
A month ago, the bullpen was the team’s major concern, but most of the top arms there have straightened themselves out, despite the poor performance by the starters for most of July. Now it’s the starting rotation that is the team’s main concern.
They have enough hitting to overcome the deficiencies of the pitching staff in the regular season, but the playoffs are a different animal. The Dodgers learned that the hard way last season against the San Diego Padres and in 2021 against the Atlanta Braves.
Friedman now has plenty of money to chase Ohtani in the offseason. If Ohtani signs elsewhere, I hope Friedman has a better Plan B than he had this year.
FAREWELL, PAC 12: At one time, the Pac 12 Conference could hold its own with the Southeast Conference and the Big 10 as one of the strongest overall conferences in college sports. Heck, the conference called itself the Conference of Champions because its member teams were always winning national championships in major and minor college sports.
That is all about to end. The fall began a year ago when USC and UCLA announced they would be leaving the conference for the Big 10 starting in 2024. That put a major crimp in the conference’s negotiations for new television contracts.
The departure of USC and UCLA also meant the conference had lost the Los Angeles television market, something that was essential to the conference’s negotiating power. It left San Francisco, Seattle and Phoenix as the largest television markets in the conference’s footprint and seriously affected the money the conference will receive under the new contracts, if they are ever signed.
Now, Colorado, one of the weakest members of the conference, has announced it is leaving for the Big 12, which will soon be the Big 16. Arizona may be the next to bolt and it might take Arizona State with it.
If those two go, Washington and Oregon might not be very far behind.
That would leave Stanford, California, Utah, Washington State and Oregon State to fend for themselves. Those five might be swallowed up by the Mountain West Conference, or maybe the West Coast Athletic Conference, which at last glance didn’t play football.
It all boils down to money. The demise of the Pac 12 actually began years ago when then-Commissioner Larry Scott butchered the launch of the Pac 12 Network by not aligning it with a major network like ESPN (the Southeastern Conference) or Fox (the Big 10 and Big 12).
Scott’s vision was to create his own network based on the strength of the Pac 12 brand, but then he failed to convince cable providers like Direct TV and Dish to carry the product. That meant that most of the country didn’t see the Pac 12 teams most of the time — even here in Los Angeles — meaning that more and more recruits in football and basketball went to other schools so their friends and relatives could see them play all the time.
New Commissioner George Kliavkoff has had to clean up Scott’s mess and he hasn’t done a very good job of it. He did announce this week that there would be an announcement about new television deals later in the week, after dodging the issue entirely at the recent Pac 12 football media day.
The college sports world is careening toward eventual super conferences that will see the top 50 or 60 schools in three or four conferences. Those schools will all have major television deals and the rest of the schools will be left to pick up the crumbs.
The NCAA, which should have maintained its hold on policing college athletics after losing a Supreme Court ruling 40 years ago that allowed major colleges to negotiate their own television contracts, has become a shadow of its former self.
That has allowed the major conferences and television networks to take over the sports, dividing up the monetary pie as they wish.
USC and UCLA will survive the move to the Big 10. They might even thrive there. But it’s sad to see the rest of the Pac 12 crumble in the ruins left by their departure.
WORLD CUP WOES: Also under the heading of heightened expectations is the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team in the World Cup.
The time difference between here and New Zealand and Australia has made it hard to watch the games live, but the women have not lived up to their billing as the best team in the world. They weren’t even the best team in their group, finishing second in Group E to the Netherlands after going 1-0-2 in group play.
The U.S. faces Sweden Aug. 6 at 2 a.m. our time. It might be the last time to watch the U.S. team play in this year’s World Cup.
Sweden was 3-0 in group play with, outscoring opponents 9-1. The U.S. outscored opponents 4-1.
The U.S. hoped its mixture of veterans and up-and-coming young players would mesh, but it hasn’t happened yet. Maybe the team will rise to the occasion and everything will click. Otherwise, it could be an early, long flight home.