Time To Talk About Pitching, I Suppose

With Manny back and the offense cruising once again, it seems everyone’s focusing – and as usual, completely overreacting – on the Dodgers pitching staff. Let’s get to it…

Since when are Jeff Weaver and Eric Milton big deals? So, Weaver was lousy on Saturday. But you know what, he wasn’t even that bad. No, 6 hits and 3 walks in 3.1 innings aren’t exactly what you’re looking for, but even that only allowed two earned runs (Rafael Furcal’s error was a killer), and you expect that from a guy like Weaver. Look, he’s got a 3.47 ERA as a starter this year. Are we really that upset over his performance? Am I really that crushed that Milton, who’s contributed all of five mediocre starts this year, may be headed for season-ending back surgery? Of course not. Most teams patch and fill their 5th starter spot throughout the year, and the Dodgers are no different.

weaversidearm.jpgSo, why is the Los Angeles Times treating this as though it’s a crucial problem, one that could torpedo this magical season? It’s not as though there’s any shortage of other guys to toss a start to; unlike some teams, there’s no dipping into AA to pull some unprepared kid up to make his major league debut. Bring back MSTI favorite Eric Stults, who’s proven more than once that he can be a servicable major league starter. Give James McDonald another shot, or pull Claudio Vargas out of the pen to fill the role he was originally signed for. Hell, sooner or later you’re going to have to see what Jason Schmidt can do, right?

The point is, none of the guys in this conversation are making starts in the playoffs. Whether the names filling out the back end of the rotation are Weaver and Milton or Stults and Schmidt are immaterial  The only starting pitching worries the Dodgers have right now involve just simply getting to October, and while I’m not blind to the idea that you might want to give Clayton Kershaw or Chad Billingsley a breather before then, whether you’re using Mediocre Space Filler X from inside the organization or Mediocre Space Filler Z from outside the organization matters only in the difference between what one costs to acquire. With the chokehold the Dodgers have on the NL West, you can afford to see if Stults can be consistent, or if McDonald can get over his early season woes, or if Schmidt can walk to the mound without getting hit by a car. The best part is, if you try one and it doesn’t work out, you’ve still got 3-4 other options.

While it might not matter all that much who’s the #5 and #6 starters at any given time are, it certainly does matter who the top guys are. Despite what anyone might say, Chad Billingsley is an ace, and while you hate to add any more pressure to a 21-year-old, Clayton Kershaw’s sure pitching like one (currently four more shutout innings on the board as I write this) - plus Randy Wolf’s been better than expected, and Hiroki Kuroda’s working his way back into form. With the 3rd best ERA among starters in all of baseball, adding another starter isn’t a pressing need.

That said, the rumors are swirling about Roy Halladay. I wasn’t even going to discuss it, because the odds of a trade seem so slim that it seemed pointless, but since it’s still in the news I might as well weigh in: there is almost no trade the Dodgers can make for Halladay that I’d be okay with.

halladay.jpgDon’t get me wrong, I like Halladay well enough – he’s been one of the best pitchers in baseball for a long time. Even the fact that he’s 32 doesn’t bother me, as he’s proven his durability for years now (even his injuries have been fluky, like a liner off the leg). It’s not the money (remainder of $14+m this year, and $15+m in 2010) either, because if you get your hands on a guy like that, you know you have to pay him. It’s the fact that what Toronto is looking for in terms of prospects is likely to be crippling – and I can’t even blame the Jays for that.

Look, Toronto has a rare jewel to trade; it’s not often that a pitcher of his caliber comes available, and even less so when you consider that A) he’s not a free agent at the end of the year and B) the rest of the pitching market is so weak (really, Jarrod Washburn?) So they’re going to ask for an absurd amount, and they’re likely to get it.

The problem is, this isn’t the Dodgers system of 2006-07, utterly overflowing with prospects. All of those guys have graduated to become vital members of the team, and most rumors about the Dodgers and Halladay start with Chad Billingsley or Clayton Kershaw, which would be ridiculous. Let me make this utterly clear: I wouldn’t trade either Billingsley or Kershaw for Halladay, straight-up. Not that such a deal wouldn’t help the club for this season, but they’re both so much younger, so much cheaper, and already productive pitchers that it’s insane to even consider such a deal. The same goes for guys like Matt Kemp or Jonathan Broxton, who would certainly interest Toronto.

And then there’s this from the LA Times, where Bill Shaikin argues that Russell Martin and others should be the focus of the deal. Because, trading a guy when his value is lowest totally makes sense. Besides, as bad as Martin’s been, do you really want to see Brad Ausmus out there every day?

If you can build a deal for Halladay around Andrew Lambo, Blake DeWitt, and James McDonald, then yeah, I could be into that. But anyone from the current team? I can’t see that working.