The Danger of Veteran Entitlement
One of the main themes of the 2007 season has been the divergence of opinions on the value of veteran happiness, especially as it pertains to clubhouse chemistry. As we’ve talked about many, many times, we were in favor of putting the best players on the field in an effort to have the 2007 season result in a playoff appearance, while the Mariners were extremely reluctant to make any roster moves that would result in the veterans on the club feeling disrespected.
The Mariners bent over backwards to make sure that Raul Ibanez, Jose Vidro, Richie Sexson, Jeff Weaver, and Horacio Ramirez were given leashes that would cross the Atlantic ocean, despite all having significant struggles for long periods of time that undermined the teams ability to win games.
All the while, the fans were fed a continuous line of defense of this please-the-veterans strategy from most of the local media. They had a track record. They had earned the right to fight out of the slump. The team owed it to the guys who got them in the playoff race in the first place to go the whole season with the same group. You’ve heard all this before.
Well, about 1,000 miles south of Seattle, we’re seeing the danger of an organization enabling their veterans to, essentially, have free reign over the clubhouse culture. The Los Angeles Dodgers have fallen apart in September, and it didn’t take the old players long to start telling the fans why the team wasn’t able to stay in the race:
“I don’t know what it is, especially when you have a lot” of young players, said Kent, whose double Thursday raised his average to .298 to go along with a team-high 20 home runs and 78 runs batted in. “It’s hard to influence a big group. We’ve got some good kids on the team. Don’t get me wrong, please don’t misinterpret my impressions. [But] it’s hard to translate experience.
“I don’t know why they don’t get it.”
Asked what they don’t get, Kent said: “A lot of things. Professionalism. How to manufacture a run. How to keep your emotions in it. There’s just a lot of things that go on with playing 162 games.
“But I think experience can help more than inexperience. And it’s hard to give a young kid experience.”
It’s become increasingly apparent in the last few days that the Dodgers have more problems than their lowly station in the standings, or as Derek Lowe put it, “The tension here is getting to the point where we have two different teams in [the clubhouse].”
Lowe, after spending a good deal of time criticizing his own inconsistent performance this season, added, “The last two or three weeks we haven’t been on the same page as a team, and you can see what happens when that’s not the case.”
The Dodgers’ collapse down the stretch, Lowe said, “wasn’t because of a string of bad luck; it’s just not a lot of people pulling together in here.”
Or, as Lowe put it, “you can’t have young players thinking they are bulletproof. No one should be bulletproof around here, walking around believing they don’t have to listen to anybody.
But “historically teams with a lot of young players don’t win championships right away,” Lowe said. “That’s something everyone around here is going to want to know — are we going to be playing young players so that they can have the time to develop and really be good in two years?
“What about next season? I’m going to be 35 . . . that’s a little unsettling for some guys who are under contract here. Do they already know the team they’re going to field is not going to be competitive next year?”
More than that, Lowe said, when it comes to mixing young players with a new crop of veterans next season, there has to be two-way respect.
“This has to be settled going into spring training,” Lowe said. “If there has to be a knockout, drag-out fight, so be it. But it cannot carry over where we’re having this same conversation. We can’t have the young players believing they are bulletproof.
“We’re also going to have to be very careful as an organization what kind of people are brought in next season,” he said. “If you listen to people here, the vision is to get even younger. You’re going to have to bring in players who are going to be all right with limited playing time.”
“Look at the back of his bubble-gum card, and all those numbers compiled over the years, which tell you how consistent [Kent] has been,” Gonzalez said, “and consistency is what gets you respect in this game.”
The targets of most of this criticism? James Loney and Matt Kemp, both of whom were called in for a closed door meeting with both manager Grady Little and GM Ned Colletti. Earlier in the linked article, they discuss how Kemp showed bad teammate abilities by failing to properly meet Tony Abreu at home plate for a high five after he hit a home run to give the team a 1-0 lead the other day. In their eyes, this was simply more evidence that Kemp and Loney are not doing enough to help the Dodgers win the NL West.
James Loney: .331/.381/.528
Matt Kemp: .333/.367/.515
Loney in September: .395/.441/.721
Kemp in September: .358/.386/.507
James Loney and Matt Kemp have been, without question, the Dodgers two best hitters this year. They have literally carried the Los Angeles offense that was been dragged down by the poor performances of highly paid veterans Juan Pierre, Rafael Furcal, Nomar Garciaparra, and Luis Gonzalez. And yet, when you hear the Dodgers veterans tell the story, the reason this team didn’t make the playoffs is that they had too many young players.
Lowe actually outright states that he’s worried the team is rebuilding by giving so many at-bats to “developing” players such as Loney and Kemp, worried more about the future than winning immediately. Because, clearly, James Loney and Matt Kemp’s presence on the roster is about playing for the future…
Keep in mind that both Loney and Kemp began the year in Las Vegas, having been given no chance to compete for a job in spring training thanks to the offseason acquisitions of veteran players to play the positions they have ended up taking by force after the veterans failed.
The Dodgers, through their heavy pro-veteran entitlement, have enabled bad players to publicly blame good players for the team losing. Think about that – the guys who are actually responsible for the Dodgers struggles are taking aim at the guys who have kept them in the pennant race. And, thanks to the ridiculous gang of writers who cover the Dodgers, the pro-veteran story will be written without challenge, and the 2007 Los Angeles Dodgers will be held up as an example of what can happen when you tinker with team chemistry by promoting kids from the minors in the middle of a playoff race.
Congratulations, Los Angeles – you’ve officially gone from dysfunctional to embarrassing. If you want to unload noted troublemakers Kemp and Loney, there are 29 other franchises who will gladly take those young punks off your hands. Good luck winning with your highly entitled, overpaid, and essentially useless veteran core.
But at least they’ll high five each other at home plate.