More than a month has passed and Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, who has lost the last two World Series, is trying to get past the agony of defeat to the Red Sox by stressing the future.
On the day we spoke with Roberts he was in Napa Valley, Calif., visiting his vineyard, Red Stitch, which he owns with former major leaguer Rich Aurilia and hedge fund mogul John Micek.
“Not hurting about it, but still disappointed,” Roberts said. “But a lot of my focus now is toward ’19. It was still a tremendous year, but that Red Sox team was one of the best teams in recent history, so obviously there’s only one champion, but any time you lose a World Series there’s a lot of accomplishment but still some disappointment.”
With back-to-back losses in the World Series, we’re sure Roberts has heard the comparisons to coach Marv Levy and the Buffalo Bills, who lost four consecutive Super Bowls. Yet Roberts has managed to keep things in perspective.
“It’s one of those things where you have to be able to bucket not winning the World Series, but not discredit what the organization and what the people in the organization have done to get to that point,” Roberts said. “It’s not easy to win it all. To get there is still a success in its own right. You just have to do what you can to give yourself the opportunity to get there again. That’s our goal.”
It’s tough to think of areas in which the Dodgers need to improve. They have decent starting pitching. They were able to retain Clayton Kershaw, who elected not to opt out of his contract. They will be getting back Corey Seager after he missed most of this past season because of Tommy John surgery and a bad hip. Roberts said Seager will be back at shortstop and should be 100 percent by spring training. The Dodgers do need to revamp their bullpen or at least add another piece or two.
“I don’t know if it’s personnel,” Roberts said. “I just think we have to play better baseball in that series. I think offensively if you look at our club, in both of these series, we just didn’t play well. When you’re facing really good pitching and you’re facing arms out of the pen that you’re not really familiar with, you’ve got to find a way to win the bases and win 90 feet and put runs across. We haven’t done a good job. It’s the biggest stage and looking back we didn’t perform.”
Roberts, who will forever remain a Red Sox hero after stealing a key base in Game 4 of the 2004 American League Championship Series against Mariano Rivera and the Yankees, said that while he does self-evaluate, “I just don’t think in this situation, when you lose, four games to one, how a play here or there is going to impact a series. Honestly, I think the Red Sox were playing well at the right time given the way they went through the postseason. I mean, they beat a really good Houston team and won three games at their place against a really good Houston club. It speaks volumes about the way they were playing. You can beat yourself up as much as you want, but you’ve got to play well to win a World Series, and they just played better.”
When the World Series ended, Roberts said he wanted to make sure to go around and talk to his players.
“It was just letting them know what I told them after we lost Game 7 to Houston [in 2017], that even though we didn’t accomplish our goal, it wasn’t a lost season,” said Roberts. “There are a lot of things we can be proud of. Considering how we started and where we were in September, there’s a lot to be said for the character of the room.
“We did miss Seager, but I thought Manny [Machado] had a good postseason. But the great thing about our guys is that we didn’t make excuses all year.”
Roberts’s contract status has been a source of significant publicity in the Los Angeles area. The Dodgers and Roberts have tried to work out a long-term extension, but the team merely picked up its option for 2019, with the promise that negotiations would continue. Any manager who has led a team to two straight World Series — and lost to two extraordinary teams, the 2017 Astros and 2018 Red Sox — shouldn’t have to worry about his job status. But the Dodgers’ front office has put Roberts in that spot.
“We know it’s going to get done,” Roberts insisted. “There are other things we need to take care of. Right now we’re backfilling our staff. Ultimately, we believe it’s going to happen.”
As for his wine, “we scored a 95 on our ’15 Cab,” said Roberts. Not bad.
Apropos of nothing
1. It’s not every offseason that there’s a decent market for catching, both in free agency and possible trades, but this appears to be one of those times. And it looks as if teams are finding the trade candidates more attractive than the free agents. The Nationals, as expected, added to their catching depth, which already included free agent Kurt Suzuki, who signed a two-year, $10 million deal. The Nationals on Friday acquired Yan Gomes from the Indians after a few attempts to obtain J.T. Realmuto from the Marlins. Realmuto remains the prize, but the Marlins are asking for three top prospects. They aren’t going to get it. In free agency, offensive-minded catchers Yasmani Grandal and Wilson Ramos are available, but Robinson Chirinos is gaining traction in the market because he’s more of an all-around catcher. Teams are asking themselves if they want to devote big dollars to catchers who are below-average defenders. The remaining trade options are Pittsburgh’s Francisco Cervelli and Toronto’s Russell Martin. All of these players will likely be moved.
2. It’s good to hear that there are a handful of managers who have asked their front offices to reinstate a physical advance scouting position. So many teams, including the Red Sox, have gone to video advance scouting, and it obviously worked for the Sox. But the managers feel they’re missing out on intangibles that don’t show up on video. The advance scout normally covers the team next on the schedule and gathers all sorts of information, not only the X’s and O’s but the lowdown on each player from discussions with coaches, media, etc. That information could be anything, including a hidden injury that could affect performance and how a player is pitched. Sometimes reinventing the wheel is good, but sometimes it’s not. We’ll see if organizations listen to their managers.
3. The Red Sox have yet to name a manager for Triple A Pawtucket. It appears the organization wants to promote from within. One name that appears to be prominent in discussions is Billy McMillon, who once managed Double A Portland and has been a roving instructor in the minor league system.
4. The Red Sox lost a valued executive this past week when Allard Baird accepted an executive vice president position with the Mets to head their scouting and player development for new president of baseball operations Brodie Van Wagenen. Baird, a former GM of the Royals, had mostly been Boston’s AL adviser to Dave Dombrowski but had headed international scouting in the past, as well. Baird is well-respected in the game and should do a good job bringing together the scouting and analytical aspects of the Mets organization. Dombrowski didn’t immediately think Baird’s position would be filled, but rather absorbed by others in the organization. Dombrowski’s inner circle now consists of Frank Wren, Tony La Russa, Eddie Romero, Brian O’Halloran, and Zack Scott.
5. The major league joint drug prevention and treatment program report for 2018 indicates there were 101 therapeutic use exemptions for attention deficit disorder (ADD) but only one positive test for amphetamines. This is amazing considering in the old days amphetamines were in a bowl for players as soon as they walked into the clubhouse. It was the performance enhancer of choice back then, and most players partook.
6. Yes, I believe George Steinbrenner should be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the veterans committee. Nobody devoted more resources to his team than Steinbrenner with the Yankees. Nobody. Think whatever you’d like about his bravado, but he truly loved to win.
Updates on nine
1. Nathan Eovaldi, RHP, free agent — A few weeks ago we listed nine teams that have interest in Eovaldi. A factor that makes some of those teams hesitate is the two Tommy John surgeries he’s endured, as well as the extra use in the postseason, which sometimes affects pitchers the following season. Will Eovaldi be immune from this? Eovaldi pitched only 111 innings during the 2018 regular season with Tampa Bay and Boston, but 22⅓ innings for the Red Sox in the postseason. But no one can deny his youth (28), velocity (capable of hitting 101 miles per hour), and the fact that nothing seems to faze him.
2. Corey Kluber, RHP, Indians — Probably the most solid pitcher available, the 32-year-old Kluber is drawing considerable interest as the Indians attempt to make the best possible deal. The two-time Cy Young winner went 20-7 with a 2.89 ERA in 215 innings in 2018, the fifth straight season he’s thrown 200-plus innings in an era where 200 innings is becoming rare. Kluber is scheduled to earn $17 million in 2019, with team options for $17.5 million in 2020 and $18 million in 2021, a bargain for a pitcher of his accomplishments. Kluber, who resides in Winchester in the offseason, has been linked to the Yankees, Dodgers, Phillies, Braves, Athletics, and Giants, and there may be more. Imagine what Kluber could mean to that young Braves staff.
3. Noah Syndergaard, RHP, Mets — With the Mets on the verge of trading for Robinson Cano and closer Edwin Diaz, there’s also talk of them dealing Syndergaard. The moves wouldn’t seem to make sense, would they? On the one hand, it seems like you’re going for it by making the Mariners deal, but then you’d be depleting your impressive starting rotation. “I think the reasoning is you only have so many resources and you should devote most of them to your positional players and then use your farm system to develop your pitching,” said a National League executive. You can bet the Yankees have their eyes on this one and would be willing to deplete some of their strength in the farm system for Syndergaard. Watch out for the Astros and Braves here, as well.
4. Luis Rivera, third base coach, Blue Jays — The Jays did a smart thing and kept Rivera as their third base/infield coach with infield prospects Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, and Cavan Biggio on the way. Rivera is widely considered one of the best infield coaches in the game, as well as a future managerial candidate.
5. Dallas Keuchel, LHP, free agent — Keuchel, according to our executive sources, will be the third-most popular pitcher on the free agent market behind Patrick Corbin and Eovaldi. Keuchel isn’t a flame-thrower, but his stuff still works. Keuchel could be a target of teams such as the Brewers, Reds, Cardinals, and Rangers. The Braves, looking for a veteran leader, also have Keuchel high on their wish list.
6. Yasiel Puig, OF, Dodgers — The Dodgers are forever trying to deal Puig, and they will make more attempts this offseason. Puig seems to be maturing little by little and is less of a firecracker as he gets older. But the stigma attached to him is still there. It would take a team with a strong manager and support system to make it work.
7. Craig Kimbrel, RHP, free agent — ESPN’s Buster Olney tweeted this past week that Kimbrel is seeking a six-year deal. Not sure who would give him that, unless it’s a team such as Atlanta, which is trying to bring back popular players. Closers Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jensen received five-year deals. Kimbrel has also been plagued by poor postseason performances, which likely will knock down his value. No contending team wants a closer who has trouble when it counts the most. Kimbrel did recover, but that image of his 2018 postseason is embedded. The Red Sox would like to re-sign him, but we doubt they’ll offer a six-year deal.
8. Steven Wright, RHP, Red Sox — If the Red Sox lose out on Eovaldi, Wright becomes an even bigger factor next season. He’s recovering from cartilage surgery on his restored right knee. It’s been a tough haul for Wright, but there’s hope now that once he recovers from this surgery he should be good to go for spring training. Wright prefers to start and that could still be in the cards if the Sox lose out on Eovaldi. Otherwise, he could be a valuable piece of the bullpen, as he was in September.
9. Matt Barnes, RHP, Red Sox — As Bill Chuck points out, Barnes has blown five of six save opportunities over the last two seasons, which may be a reason the Red Sox don’t see him as a possible closer. On the other hand, he has been brilliant when coming into the game with men on base, last season allowing just 1 of 14 inherited runners to score, and just 4 of 32 over the last two seasons.
From the Bill Chuck files – “Here’s the Yankees’ pitch on dealing Sonny Gray: As a starter on the road in 2018, the 29-year-old righthander vs. the AL East had a 3.64 ERA, vs. the NL East had a 3.60 ERA, vs. the AL West had a 3.00 ERA, and vs. the AL Central had a 2.45 ERA. Overall, in 12 road starts, Gray had a 3.38 ERA.” . . . Also, “Nelson Cruz still has the bat speed to succeed. In 2018, on pitches 88-97 miles per hour, Cruz hit 21 of his 37 homers. And while he didn’t homer on pitches 97-100 m.p.h., he did hit .350, going 7 for 20 and striking out just six times in 24 plate appearances. Conversely, in 122 at-bats this season on pitches 94-plus m.p.h., Paul Goldschmidt hit .254 (.762 OPS) with five homers and 13 RBIs. In 127 at-bats in 2017 on pitches 94-plus m.p.h., Goldschmidt hit .315 (1.091 OPS) with 10 homers and 34 RBIs.” . . . Happy birthday, Mark Kotsay (43).
Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.