The MSTI 17-Step 2009 Plan

Let’s starting putting 2008 behind us and get onto 2009, and as if you didn’t already know, this is going to be one active offseason for LA. We can only say for sure that we know who three starting pitchers (Billingsley, Kershaw, Kuroda) and four batters (Loney, Martin, Kemp, and Ethier) are going to be – and even that’s subject to an unforeseen trade - so there’s a lot of work to be done.

According to the most excellent Cot’s Baseball Contracts (where I’m getting all of this payroll info from), the Dodgers payroll on Opening Day 2008 was $118.5 million, plus about $7.5 million for ex-Dodgers, making a total of roughly $126m. Coming off the books is about $54 million in Furcal, Lowe, Kent, Nomar, Penny, Saito, Beimel, and assorted lesser veterans.

So by my count, the Dodgers have about $72m committed to next year, although that’s likely go up a bit with some arbitration raises to guys like Martin, Proctor, Ethier, and Broxton. It’s always hard to tell exactly how that’s going to go, so let’s ballpark it at $80m. And yeah, the fact that $42.1m of it is going to Andruw Jones, Juan Pierre, and Jason Schmidt absolutely kills me. So were I to live out every fan’s dream and be a GM, here’s how I’d go about it. Let me just say, I know the numbers aren’t going to be perfect here – for example the $80m figure is my best estimate based on the figures I could find, and that sounds about right. I’m sure it’s off a few million either way, but it’s close enough for these purposes. I haven’t seen anything that says what the Dodgers are expecting their 2009 payroll to be, so I’m going to assume it’ll be about the same, but with room for a slight bump based on all the extra income the postseason and Manny-mania brought in – so let’s say up from $126m to $135m. For new contracts, I’m going to go with reasonable estimates. There’s an excellent chance that what happens in reality won’t really be near these, but since I’m not in the negotiating room, it’s the best I can do. I’m also trying to backload a little bit because after 2009, Jones and Schmidt’s awful deals are both off the books and that frees up huge amounts of cash.

One last disclaimer! This is what I would try to do, not what I think they will do. Basically, I’m going to try to figure out the best use of approximately $135 million, with $80m already committed and $55m free. Remember, with all of the other holes opening up (especially in the infield) that means you’re only going to be able to sign Manny or an ace starting pitcher, not both, unless you really want to see an infield next year of Loney/Abreu/Hu/DeWitt.

1. Re-sign Manny Ramirez to a 3 year, $70 million contract ($19m/$25.5m/$25.5m)
How can you possibly let him go after what he did this year? You’ve never seen a Dodger hitter like this, simply because there’s never been one. Besides, he brought in millions himself just in merchandise sales and all the postseason home games that never would have happened if he wasn’t around. We all know that McCourt values PR above all else, and the fans would kill him if he allowed Manny to walk. That said, I wouldn’t make sure to win at all costs; if some team decides to come along and blow up the market with a 4 or 5 year, $100+ million deal, then have a nice life, Manny (don’t give me the 6 year BS that Scott Boras is selling. There’s no prayer that happens). But I really don’t see that happening, because if you look at the big three teams, it’s possible that none will be in on the bidding. Clearly Boston won’t be there, and the Mets and Yankees might each be more interested in pitching. Not to mention – and yes, I know, money trumps all – there’s still the possibility that Manny decides he really would rather stay in a warm-weather, soft-media, heavily-Latino town where he’s already a god rather than going back East to the media fishbowl. 3 for $70m still represents a nice raise on the 2 for $40m team options that he wanted to be free of, so evil incarnate Scott Boras can still call this a “win”.
$80m + $19m =$99m

2. Re-sign Rafael Furcal to a 3 year, $45 million contract ($11m/$17m/$17m)
Yeah, this is a pretty dangerous one. The thought of giving Furcal all that money and having him get hurt yet again makes the heart skip a little. However, I think this could work. Furcal’s probably not going to get the long-term, huge money deal he wanted after missing most of this season, but this still represents a nice raise on the deal he’s just finished. It’s still possible that he could get a longer deal on the market since he did seem to prove his health in the playoffs, but back problems do tend to scare away suitors – and you’d like to hold out some naive hope that he feels some loyalty to the Dodgers for all the time he missed. From the Dodgers point of view, it’s not that hard to see how different the team was when he was in the lineup as opposed to injured. Remember Angel Berroa? Nomar? Yeah, I try to forget those days too. And if not Furcal, who? Chin-Lung Hu certainly didn’t prove he’s got the bat to take over, and the shortstop market is completely barren. Either way, all indications are that both sides want to make this work. Jon Heyman at SI.com suggests the Dodgers are likely to try to re-sign him, but he doesn’t say for what terms.
$99m + $11m = $110m

3a. Offer Casey Blake arbitration and cross your fingers that he declines. If he does…
I do NOT want to see Blake back as the starting 3B in 2009, but I would like to at least collect a draft pick for having to spend Carlos Santana and Jon Meloan. Blake will turn 36 next season and was on a pretty solid decline before being traded. And for all the talk about how he was “just as important as Manny”, let it be shown that his stats all dropped markedly once he arrived in LA, ending up with only a 97 OPS+.  He still has pop and can play multiple positions, so he’ll get a job somewhere – likely back in Cleveland. Let’s hope he does.
$110m + $0 (add 1 draft pick)

3b. …trade Scott Elbert, Greg Miller, Chin-Lung Hu, and Delwyn Young to Seattle for Adrian Beltre.
I can already feel how unpopular this one’s going to be. “But Scott Elbert’s just 22 and a talented lefty! You can’t trade guys like that!” I know, I know. Well, look. The Dodgers are clearly in “win now” mode after this year’s successes and the Mariners badly need to rebuild a moribund farm system, especially after last year’s brutal Erik Bedard deal. The Dodgers farm system isn’t as strong as it once was, due to the graduation of all our former prospects into vital parts of the team that aren’t getting moved, and do you want to trade Andrew Lambo or James McDonald? Me neither. So here the M’s get an excellent young pitching prospect in Elbert, a chance to take a flyer on a former top prospect in Miller – exactly what lousy teams ought to be doing – a good infield prospect in Hu (who I just blocked by re-signing Furcal, and anyway Ivan DeJesus, Jr. is nearly ready), and unfortunately, one of my favorite players in Delwyn Young, who’s just never going to get a shot with his hometown team and really ought to be a DH in the AL anyway – plus dumping Beltre’s salary and getting rid of a veteran who’s not interested in sticking around a rebuilding team. The Dodgers get back their old third baseman who’s been horribly underrated in Seattle – sure, he never matched his obscene 2004, but he’s still one of (if not the) best defensive 3B in baseball who’s still hit 25+ homers in each of his last three seasons. Yes, he does have a no-trade clause to eight teams including LA, but Beltre said in an interview that he would “be more than happy to come back to LA.”
$110m + $12m = $122m

4. Trade Juan Pierre and cash to either Cincinnati or the Chicago White Sox for either a mediocre prospect or a bench piece/bullpen arm.
Kudos to Pierre for not whining in September and October for not complaining when he was banished to the bench during the playoff run, but I can’t imagine that he’d be willing to go into 2009 as a bench player – and with Manny back, that’s exactly what he’d be. He’s already making noise about wanting to be moved if that’s the case, and with 3 years and about $28.5 million left on his deal, the contract is no longer an unmovable albatross (aka, “The Andruw Jones Special”). No, you can’t expect to get a whole bunch in return for him, but you’ll still be able to find a taker. The most likely landing spots? The White Sox, who have a question mark in center field and have made it clear they’d like some speed, would be one. Also, Cincinnati, which has holes in the outfield after dealing Adam Dunn and Ken Griffey, Jr., and who is managed by Dusty Baker – who not only had Pierre with the Cubs, but gave the excerable Corey Patterson (.238 OBP!) 155 plate appearances in the leadoff spot this year. Pierre’s a Hall of Famer compared to that! I wouldn’t mind taking Jeff Keppinger in return from the Reds; his stats were depressed this year because he returned too soon from injury, but he showed a decent bat in 2007 and I love guys who can play a lot of positions (everywhere but catcher and CF in his career). For the sake of our accounting, let’s say the Dodgers make the deal for Keppinger and have to kick in $3 million/year.
$122m – $6m = $116m

5. Offer Derek Lowe arbitration, but don’t re-sign him.
Everyone acts as though it’s a foregone conclusion that Lowe’s gone, and sadly, it probably is. He recently told Ken Rosenthal that he wants to go back to the east coast, and he told the Boston Globe‘s Nick Cafardo that Boston is very high on his list.  Don’t let this make you think that I don’t want Lowe back, because I very badly do, and if he’s willing to sign for something like 3/$45m, then I’d definitely do that. I just think he’s going to be an incredibly attractive alternative to Sabathia for some team that’s willing to give him something like 4/$75m, and I just can’t see fitting that into this budget.
$116m + $0 (add two draft picks)

6. Re-sign Nomar Garciaparra to a 1 year, $4 million contract.
Surprised? I bet you are. Me too! Hear me out on this one. After yet another injury-filled season, no one’s going to give Nomar a starting job. How could they? I can’t see that if the Dodgers made an offer, Nomar would be willing to leave his hometown (where’s he still immensely popular, no matter how he plays) with a young family in order to squeeze a few more dollars out elsewhere. Nomar can still hit lefties (.339/.424/.643 this year) and offers excellent positional flexibility, in addition to his PR value. For a small deal like this, it’s worth the risk, and anyway it’s not the end of the world if he spends a majority of the time on the DL.
$116m + $4m = $120m

7. Pick up Brad Penny’s option.
Speaking of surprises… yeah, I did say on September 26 to let him go, in the wake of his leaving the team after being placed on the DL. That was said a bit emotionally, and he did later return to the club during the playoffs. Let me first say, if it turns out that he’s more seriously injured than we know and he does need surgery, then forget it, buy him out. I’m going on the assumption that he’s not that seriously hurt, because as I detailed after his last appearance, dudes with bum shoulders don’t hit 96 on the gun. Nearly all of his problems seemed to be easily chalked up to rust, and I wouldn’t at all be surprised to find out for sure that placing him on the DL was simply because they needed the roster spot and didn’t think Penny would have a chance to pitch enough to work his way back into shape during a playoff push. So why am I picking this up? Two reasons, the first of which being, he was excellent as a Dodger before 2008. His ERA+ was better than league average in every year since he arrived in LA, and 2007 was fantastic at 16-4 with a 159 ERA+. I have a hard time believing that he’s just “lost it” – again, barring a more serious injury we don’t know about. The second reason is, it’s cheap. Since the $8.75m option has a $2m buyout, we’re only talking about $6.75m here. Do you really think you could go out and find a pitcher with his track record for one year, $6.75m? Of course not. This is exactly the kind of gamble a large-market team like the Dodgers should be taking.
$120m + $8.75m = $128.75m

8. Re-sign Greg Maddux to a 1 year, $5 million contract.
There’s been conflicting rumors about whether Maddux wants to return or not, but what is known is that he’d almost certainly only consider San Diego or Los Angeles. This would be taking just half of what he got in 2007, but when you’re narrowing your choices down like that, you don’t have a whole lot of leverage – and Maddux has never seemed like the type to only play for the cash. So what can you expect from him? While his ERA was a lousy 5.09 in LA last year, his WHIP was actually lower than it’s been since 2004. He might not be more than a five-inning pitcher, but if he can give you 30 starts of five league average innings, that’s worthwhile for a 5th starter – and to be honest, I’d give him $5 million just to talk to Kershaw, Billingsley, and McDonald all season long.
$128.75m + $5m = $133.75m

9. Re-sign Joe Beimel to a 2 year, $7 million contract.
Man, guessing what kind of contracts relievers will get is impossible. On one hand, Beimel made $1.925m in 2008, so this is a nice raise, but then you’ve also got insane deals like Scott Linebrink’s 4 year, $19m pact. So I might be way off on this one, but it seems like a fair deal on both sides. Beimel gets his first big deal, and the Dodgers get to retain one of the more reliable relievers in the National League over the last three years. Plus, Beimel seems to be pretty comfortable as a Dodger, and is more popular with the fanbase than any middle reliever really ought to be.
$133.75m + $3.5m = $137.25m

10. Sign Will Ohman to a 2 year, $5 million contract.
Ohman’s a 31-year old lefty reliever and Pepperdine alum who’s made it into at least 56 games in each of the last four seasons with the Cubs and Braves, with ERA+ marks of 151, 112, 94, and 112. Plus, he’s absolutely murder on lefties (.571 OPS against in 2008), which makes him unlike Beimel (who’s actually harder on righties) and Kuo (who kills everyone, but isn’t really a situational kind of guy). He just came off a 2 year, $2.5 million deal, so this doubles his salary.
$137.25m + $2.5m = $139.75m

11. Give Blake DeWitt first crack at the second base job.
In 112 at-bats after returning from the minors, DeWitt put up a .284/.402/.443 line with 4 homers, plus showed surprisingly good defense at second base. No one expects him to OBP over .400 over a full season, but that’s certainly a respectable line you can live with, especially when you consider he’d almost certainly be the 8th hitter in the lineup. If he can’t handle it, you’ve got some options behind him in Keppinger, Abreu, and DeJesus, Jr.

12. Re-sign Danny Ardoin to be the backup catcher. Or don’t. I don’t care.
Really, backup catcher doesn’t matter too much to a team like the Dodgers. Sure, it’d be great if we could go find a better backup that might nudge Torre into sitting Martin a little more, but the state of catching is so lousy right now that plenty of teams can’t even find a decent hitting starter, much less a backup. Like most journeymen backstops, Ardoin can’t hit but he’s a pretty decent receiver (unlike the 2008 debacle of Gary Bennett). So retain Ardoin, promote A.J. Ellis, anyone who’ll do the job for the minimum is fine by me.

13. Let Jason Repko and Xavier Paul fight it out for the 5th outfielder spot.
Yeah, this presupposes that Andruw Jones is going to be the 4th outfielder, which is a little messy – I just don’t see any way that he’s not on the roster other than flat out DFA’ing him, which won’t happen since that’ll leave McCourt on the hook for the rest of his deal. These guys each fit exactly what you want out of a 5th outfielder, which is strong defense, good speed, at least a decent bat – and cheap. There’s a case to be made for either one, and it’s not important to pick between the two here. Let spring training sort that out.

14. Goodbye, useless veterans.
Pablo Ozuna, Angel Berroa, Mark Sweeney, Tanyon Sturtze, Jason Johnson, and Gary Bennett, you don’t have to go home – but you can’t stay here.

15. Say goodbye to Takashi Saito.
This is a really, really tough thing to do. But he’s going to be 39 by the time next season starts, and he already missed a good chunk of this year with an elbow injury that more often than not requires surgery to fix. Plus, last offseason he said he considered not coming back for 2008 in order to spend more time with his family in Japan. Now if he’s willing to come back on another 1 year, $2 million contract, then I’m more than happy to do so. I just think the combination of his age + his questionable elbow + distance from home means that we’ve seen the last of Saito in blue. It won’t be a fun day when that happens.

16. Let Chan Ho Park walk.
He earlier said he’d leave LA to be a starter, here a scout says he’ll be a 2009 starter for someone, and he was terrible down the stretch (ERA of 6.00 in August, 6.52 in September). Hey, if he wants to come back to LA as a reliever for say, $1m, fine, but otherwise let’s just appreciate how well this $500k flyer worked out in 2008 and move on.

17. Start signing some of the young arbitration-eligible guys to long-term deals.
By now, you really ought to have a good idea of who’s going to be useful major leaguers. You can’t be going year to year on arbitration with all these guys, because you’re going to get killed. That’s the beauty of the long-term deal for young players. They get their first big payday sooner, and don’t have to worry about getting injured before making enough money to be set for life, and if the player performs to expectations, it saves the club money in the long run, plus gives them cost certainty for future planning rather than deal with the fluctuations of arbitration. So what’s the wait? I think we’ve all seen enough of guys like Martin, Billingsley, Kemp, etc. to know that we’d like to see them around for a while. In Colletti’s defense, he did approach Martin about this last season and was rebuffed, but we need to see a few of these guys locked up this offseason.

So after all of that, this is the team you’re looking at…

1. Furcal SS
2. Martin C
3. Manny LF
4. Ethier RF
5. Beltre 3B
6. Kemp CF
7. Loney 1B
8. DeWitt 2B
Bench: Nomar, IF  Keppinger, IF  Jones, CF  Repko/Paul, OF  Ardoin, C
Others: Abreu & DeJesus Jr. in AAA to take Nomar’s spot upon his first migraine

This team is similar to the lineup that terrorized the league after Manny was acquired, but it has the potential to be even better. Beltre is an upgrade on Blake, Furcal is a huge upgrade on Berroa, and you expect further improvement from the young guys. The bench has nice flexibility (especially in the infield), and with Repko/Paul each having strong arms, either would be a big upgrade on Pierre for Manny’s defensive replacement.

1. Billingsley RH
2. Kuroda RH
3. Kershaw LH
4/5. Penny/Maddux/McDonald/Schmidt RH & Stults LH

I know there’s going to be a lot of complaints that there’s no big-ticket free agent starter here to replace Lowe, but if you want to pay Manny there’s only so much you can fit into the budget. Sure, there’s a few question marks here, but there’s also a lot of depth. Here alone we’ve got 8 starting options, and that’s not even counting the inevitable non-roster veteran who shows up to become the 2009 recipent of the Scott Erickson/Aaron Sele/Chan Ho Park Memorial “I’m not dead yet!” award. Billingsley is a young ace, Kuroda was surprisingly effective, I’m really excited to see what Kershaw and McDonald can do over a full season, and if Penny’s not hurt and can return to a semblance of his former self, that’s a pretty dangerous rotation.

Broxton, RH
Beimel, LH
Kuo, LH
Ohman, LH
Wade, RH
Troncoso, RH
Proctor, RH

I can already hear the complaints about entrusting the closer’s role to Broxton, but I think that’s a pretty big overreaction. Let’s not forget that he was just 24 this year and was often dominating. We may have been spoiled a little by Eric Gagne and Saito this decade, but you ask opposing batters if they’re intimidated by Broxton throwing 99 MPH fastballs at their heads, and I think you know what the answer’s going to be. The pen has a nice lefty/righty mix, plus you figure one of the backend starters finds their way here as well.

So there you have it. We’ve spent $139.75 million, give or take, and also collected three extra draft picks. That payroll did end up a little higher than I intended it to be, and we didn’t even go get an ace starter. It’s unbelievable how much the bad contracts to Jones, Pierre, and Schmidt are just killing this team. Now go ahead, tear me apart. But don’t tell me that you wouldn’t rather see this crew out there than the real team that might feature Jason Varitek, eleven starts of Ben Sheets for $16 million/year, and Casey Blake.

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

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