(sidenote: I currently have the top three most recommended stories on the MVN home page. Thanks to everyone who clicks “recommend” at the bottom! I love that.)
With Manny finally back in the fold, the Dodger lineup is as set as it’s been in years. There’s no platoon situations here, there’s no wondering about which corpsey old outfielder is going to take playing time away from a gifted youngster, there’s no merry-go-round at the infield corners mainly involved with trying to keep Nomar healthy. Really, the only questions still outstanding involving the position players are 1) will Juan Pierre still be here on Opening Day? and 2) who gets the second backup IF slot behind Mark Loretta? (My prediction as of today: “yes” and “Juan Castro”. I know.)
Meanwhile, on the mound, there’s a cast of thousands trying out for the fifth starter role – and it’s quite the entertaining group. Yes, there’s a stats chart down there over to the right, and yes, I know how meaningless spring stats can be, particularly in such small sample sizes. Well, guess what? It’s still there, just because it’s part of the discussion. Assign your own value to them.
The Old & Busted
Jason Schmidt. The clear favorite if only due to his past success and enormous contract, Schmidt has somehow made it this far without having to undergo more surgery. At this point, you’d think he’d be more bionic than “The Six Million Dollar Man”… and about eight times as expensive. Ugh. (Note to self: insert cool 70s “bowaghaghagh” sound effect into video of Schmidt throwing fastballs.)
Anyway, the early reports on Schmidt in side sessions and “B” games had him looking relatively decent, if not a little wild, and reporting soreness, but more along the lines of “I haven’t pitched in two years and I’m an old man” rather than “my arm is held together with duct tape and chewing gum”.
Schmidt finally made his debut in an “A” game on Monday against Texas, and breezed through the first inning, allowing just a single on twelve pitches. The second inning was a little rougher, allowing a three-run homer to Taylor Teagarden, but considering it was his first real outing in twenty-one months, we’ll take it – plus, he did strike out two in that frame.
In addition, Tony Jackson adds that…
Joe Torre admitted after the game that the fifth starter’s job is Schmidt’s to lose, and that if he continues to show that he is healthy and that he can be effective the rest of the spring, he’ll be the guy.
Odds: 2-1, if he’s still in one piece by April.
Shawn Estes. I think ESPN’s Keith Law sums this up well enough:
Guillermo Mota and Shawn Estes: I don’t even see why these guys are in Dodgers camp, let alone on the roster (as Mota is), for a team favored to win its division. James McDonald should be the fifth starter over Estes (sitting around 85 mph Saturday), and guys like Ramon Troncoso and Scott Elbert should be considered for the ‘pen ahead of Mota.
Not that I really have a problem with throwing some non-roster invites to some guys to see what sticks at no risk whatsoever, but I couldn’t agree more. Estes only has 49 innings over the last three seasons, and don’t be fooled by his 15-8 record for the 2004 Rockies; he wasn’t
very good that season (5.84 ERA) and hasn’t been league average since 2001. Hell, even that year he was only league average on the nose (same goes for the year before) and in fact, has only had one season in his entire career in which he’s been above average: his big 19-5 debut for the 1997 Giants.
Plus, so far this spring? 6 earned runs and 10 hits allowed in 5.1 innings, for a 10.13 ERA. Bad spring + lousy history + 85 mph = enjoy that bus ride home, Shawn. Odds: Vegas would be taking this one off the board.
Eric Milton. Like Estes, Milton is a lefty who hasn’t pitched much in the bigs over the last few years and was never all that good when he was healthy. Unlike Estes, Milton’s been pretty decent so far in camp. He followed Schmidt against Texas on Monday, allowing just two hits over three scoreless innings. For the spring, he’s allowed just three runs over 8.2 innings with a nice 7/2 K/BB ratio. I still expect Schmidt to get the role, but if not, might we see Milton stick as a long reliever? Odds: 10-1.
Claudio Vargas. I had a whole section on Claudio Vargas written out, mostly about how unlike Milton, Estes, and Weaver, he was given a major-league contract rather than just a spring training invite. But all that’s out the window after Monday, because Claudio Vargas has committed the unthinkable: he allowed a home run to our favorite fat sack of crap, Andruw Jones. That alone should disqualify him – and if it doesn’t, the three other homers he’s allowed in just 8.1 innings so far ought to. Odds: Andruw Jones’ weight times a hundred-to-1.
Jeff Weaver. Yes, he’s in camp fighting for a bullpen role, officially. He still fits in this section, though, because unlike everyone we’ve discussed so far, he’s actually had success as a Dodger. And yes, that includes Jason Schmidt. Weaver hasn’t pitched much so far, but he’s been relatively effective in starting off with three scoreless innings. I actually hold out a bit more hope for him than I do for some of these other guys, because unlike those who haven’t been good in ten years, Weaver was effective as recently as 2005. Oh, sure – he’s been brutal since, bottoming out with an ERA over 5 in AAA last year, but he at least has a decent reason for his struggles: he’s been lazy:
The Los Angeles Times’ Dylan Hernandez reports Los Angeles Dodgers P Jeff Weaver admitted he didn’t work as hard as he should have after winning the World Series with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2006. ‘Sometimes you start taking things for granted and think that your natural ability is going to make you successful,’ Weaver said. ‘This winter, I worked my tail off.’
Grasping at straws? Sure. The kind of story you hear at this time of the year constantly? Oh, hell yeah. Still, he’s given up just one run in four innings so far. We’ll see if it’s true. Odds: 200,000-1 as fifth starter, 20-1 as reliever.
The New Hotness
James McDonald. I know, Rick Honeycutt all but announced that McDonald would start off in the bullpen, just like Chad Billingsley. It doesn’t change my opinion that he’s the man I’d like to see in the role more than anyone else listed here, so I’m still including him for comparison’s sake. The thing to remember here is that, even though most casual fans have been hearing about Billingsley and Clayton Kershaw about ten times longer than they have McDonald, James is just three months younger than Billingsley and 3.5 years older than Kershaw. The point is, he’s not that young, and we all remember how impressive he was in his stint in the playoffs last year. He’s off to somewhat of a rough spring start, allowing 4 earned runs in 5.2 innings, but that 5/0 K/BB ratio is tasty. I don’t really mind starting off our young pitchers in the bullpen, but I also don’t think that making him the 5th starter is really unfair to his development, either. Odds: 100,000-1, despite probably being the best candidate.
Ramon Troncoso. Troncoso was always the longest of long shots, as he only started 6 of his 156 minor league games (none since his first pro year in 2005), and was basically the last man out of the bullpen in his rookie year in LA last season. However, we did start hearing reports that he was attempting to convert to starting in the winter leagues this year, and looked pretty decent in doing so. There was probably nothing he was going to be able to do to win this job anyway, but he’d have had to really stand out to even give himself a chance – and allowing three earned runs in his first three innings, while striking out just one against three walks isn’t really going to do it. Odds: Even longer than Shawn Estes, and Shawn Estes is horrible.
And Featuring Eric Stults as “Eric Stults”
Eric Stults. We’ve always been big fans of Stults around here – I mean, have we forgotten how thoroughly he dominated the 89-win White Sox in a shutout in June? The fact that he had a 122 ERA+ in his 38 innings last year? The mystery of Stults’ 2008 is one which we’ve yet to explain, because he was very good in four of his five starts before committing the apparently unforgiveable sin of giving up 3 earned runs in 3.2 innings with an 11 run lead in Colorado, after which he was never heard from again. You’d think that at 29, you’d want to see what you can wring out of him. For some reason, the team has never looked upon him as more than a 9th starter, and now that he’s started off his spring by allowing 6 earned runs in 4.1 innings, he doesn’t look to be changing that impression. Odds: 250-1.