How to Improve the Offense: Trade a Good Young Hitter!

Brilliant. Why didn’t I think of that?

I wasn’t planning on putting up another post so soon after praising Martin (sidenote: Vote Martin ’08!), but this article just came out about two hours ago, and I can’t help but take a look at it here. It’s FOXsports.com’s Ken Rosenthal with more crazy trade rumors! I’m often torn between wanting to strangle him for some of the things he says, and wanting to send him a basket of candy for giving me gifts like this to write about.

What do you have for us today, Ken?

Make outfielder Matt Kemp available, and the Dodgers’ trade options quickly would multiply. Make Kemp available, and the team could put together a package for virtually any hitter on the trade market — the Pirates’ Jason Bay, maybe the Tigers’ Magglio Ordonez, maybe even the Rockies’ Matt Holliday.
 
To this point, the Dodgers have resisted moving Kemp or any of their other top young players, but their stance might be changing. “If we get to the point where we can definitively improve ourselves, we’ll do it,” general manager Ned Colletti told the Los Angeles Times.

This is already getting out of hand. No one denies the Dodgers could use some help on offense – that much is obvious. But trading Matt Kemp is in no way the answer. Remember back on April 6, when I posted a Baseball Prospectus article that showed that Kemp was off to a historic start for someone his age? Sure, he hasn’t necessarily kept up that pace, and we’d all hoped the power would have come along by now. But as someone who’s not even 24 for three more months, he’s still leading the team in slugging percentage (excepting Furcal, who hasn’t played enough to qualify.) Not to mention the fact that he’s shown a strong arm in both CF and RF, and much improved instincts in the outfield. No question that he’s got room to improve at the plate, but he’s not the problem here.

Also, I’m not sure how Colletti stating the obvious (if we can make ourselves better, we will) proves that “their stance is changing” on anything.

Kemp, batting .299-.346-.446 at age 23, possesses the tools to become a major star. A rival executive describes him as an “awfully, awfully intriguing talent,” one who only figures to get better. Questions persist about Kemp’s makeup and ability to make adjustments, but those are not unusual criticisms of a young player.

He certainly does possess the tools to become a major star, and is already proving so at the major league level. And while I’ve long though any issues about his makeup were overblown by the media, the end of this paragraph is dead on – he’s a young player. In the outfield, he’s already shown that experience has helped him immensely; why should we think the same won’t happen at the plate?

A trade of Kemp is not the Dodgers’ only alternative — the team also could pursue a less dramatic possibility, trading either first baseman James Loney or right fielder Andre Ethier to add more of a veteran presence to a lineup that ranks 11th in the National League in runs per game.

This is a little more reasonable. I don’t really want to see Loney moved after we waited so long to get him, but he’s been pretty underwhelming so far this year (97 OPS+). As for Ethier, he’s been a good, solid player who I think we’d all like to see manning the outfield for the next several years, but there’s no question he doesn’t have the ceiling that Kemp does.

The eventual returns of shortstop Rafael Furcal and even center fielder Andruw Jones should help the offense, but Furcal is expected to be out three more weeks, with the oft-injured Nomar Garciaparra replacing him at short. If the Dodgers ever get healthy — if — the addition of a proven slugger could be the difference in their quest to overtake the Diamondbacks in the NL West.

Well, Furcal, sure. But Jones? Really? Is anyone out there saying, “damn! if only we had Jones back, we’d be fine.” Anyone? Hey, I’m hoping that his time off and healthy knee will help him more than anyone, but what happens if/when he comes back and is still his same ineffective self?

Rosenthal then goes on to suggest deals for Adam Dunn, Magglio Ordonez, Matt Holliday, and Jason Bay. To which I say:

Dunn. I wouldn’t mind taking him for the next few months until he goes free agent, but not at the expense of Kemp.  
Ordonez. Magglio’s 34, missed two years to an experimental overseas knee surgery, and after getting $15m this year is in line for $18m next year and $33m more over 2010-11 with easily reached incentives. Uh, pass?
Holliday. Besides being a Boras client who’s free agent at the end of the year and being a divisional rival, he’s a massive Coors Field creation. Career home OPS, 1.088. Career road OPS, .780. Pass.
Bay. The only really interesting name on the list. Though he does turn 30 in September, he’s relatively cheap ($5.75m this year, $7.5m next year) and is absolutely killing the ball. I’d love to have him on the team. That said, I still wouldn’t move Kemp for him. But I would be willing to send Ethier and some other parts to Pittsburgh.

If the Dodgers are patient, Kemp might prove more productive than Bay, Ordonez or even Holliday. But this is a team that has won only one postseason game in the past 20 years. Colletti needs to win. Manager Joe Torre wants to win. And Matt Kemp is one powerful chip.

And herein lies the problem. One huge reason that the team hasn’t won in 20 years is that when the Dodgers have come up with talented young players, all too often they’ve been dealt off too soon (Pedro Martinez, Mike Piazza, etc.) So far, Colletti’s done an admirable job of not selling off our talented young players, but it’s the line “Colletti needs to win” that really gets me. The reason he needs to win is not because the young players haven’t performed to expectations (though that may be true, in some cases). The reason Colletti is feeling the pressure is because of all of the high-priced veterans he’s signed that haven’t lived up to their billing – i.e., Jones, Jason Schmidt, Nomar Garciaparra, Juan Pierre, etc. To further blow the future of this team because his mistakes have him on the hot seat could set this team back years.

One more Dodger-related note from Rosenthal:

The Dodgers, before obtaining shortstop Angel Berroa, attempted to acquire White Sox infielder Juan Uribe in a deal for Esteban Loaiza, major-league sources say. The Dodgers offered to split the difference between Loaiza’s contract and Uribe’s, but the White Sox balked and signed Loaiza for the pro-rated minimum after the Dodgers released him — a move that also enabled them to retain Uribe as a trade chip.

I’m torn about this idea. On one hand, Uribe is awful – after putting up a pretty good 111 OPS+ with 23 HR in 2004, his numbers have cratered straight downhill every year since. On the other hand, even while awful he still gets double digit HR every year, and even more importantly his acquisition might have forestalled that of Angel Berroa’s.

Speaking of Nomar and the infield situation, this line from Tony Jackson blew me away and is really what I’d intended to write about today:

Nomar Garciaparra, meanwhile, is expected to start a rehab assignment possibly by the end of this week, and he is expected to play exclusively SS on that assignment — which means he’ll probably be the Dodgers’ everyday SS, the position where he became a star in the late 1990s, when he returns. Torre said Nomar won’t need the full 20 days.

As someone who lived in Boston 4 years ago when the “Nomar as SS” idea really started to flame out, this blows my mind. Hey, remember last year when he had to stay at 1B, keeping Loney in AAA, because he was “too fragile” to play 3B? SS ought to be a trip. I can’t even blame Torre for putting this out there, because really, what else is he going to do? With Furcal’s return constantly up in the air, Angel Berroa clearly not the answer, and Nomar unlikely to be a permanent solution, we’re really going to need to look for yet another shortstop. I’m definitely going to be looking around the SS market to see who we can come up. Like, tomorrow.

 - Mike Scioscia’s tragic illness msti-face.jpg

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