So Long, Eric Stults

Eric Stults was scratched from today’s start, and with good reason: he’s reportedly been shipped off to a yet-to-be-named Japanese team (update: the Hiroshima Carp, apparently. Go Carp!). We’ve been hearing “Stults to Japan” rumors since early in the offseason, so this isn’t a total surprise. While the club hasn’t officially announced that Japan is indeed his destination, Tony Jackson proves exactly why we still do need beat writers around the team every day:

But a few minutes before leaving the clubhouse, Stults had a long conversation in the clubhouse with three other pitchers, Josh Towers, Charlie Haeger and Justin Miller. At one point, the four pitchers could clearly be overheard talking about sushi. And just before leaving the clubhouse, Stults had a brief exchange with Kenji Nimura, a Dodgers employee who serves as an interpreter for both Japanese- and Spanish-speaking players.

So it’s not much of a stretch to think that Japan is in Stults’ future. Besides, with Charlie Haeger looking like he’s got the #5 spot sewed up, the out-of-options Stults was going to have to end up elsewhere, so all the better for him.

But is this really worth it?

I don’t want to put too much praise onto a soft-tossing 30-year-old with 8 career MLB wins, an 88 ERA+, and who just lost out to a knuckleballer for the last rotation spot. He’s not that good. I get it, and you have to reserve some judgement until you see just how much in yen is coming back to the Dodgers.

But nor is Eric Stults worthless. Let’s not forget the 4-hit shutout of the White Sox in 2008 and the shutout of the Giants in 2009, which are more shutouts than Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley combined can boast. He’s entirely useful, yet the Dodgers – Joe Torre in particular – never seemed to have any faith in him whatsoever. Remember, last year he was 4-1 with a 3.58 ERA after 6 starts. That would be one outstanding outing (the shutout of SF), four acceptable outings (going at least 5 IP with 3 or fewer ER), and one lousy appearance. From a fifth starter, that’s pretty goddamn good. Yet he received just four starts the rest of the year (granted, partly due to his thumb injury), even while the Dodgers desperately tried to fill out their rotation.

He got the same treatment in 2008. Stults made 7 starts and gave up more than 3 earned runs exactly once. Yet after a somewhat rough outing in a July blowout win over Colorado (even then, only 3 runs allowed in 3.2 IP), he was yanked and didn’t see the bigs again until the last week of the season. He’s not an All-Star, and he’ll never be. But we’ve said this more times than I can link to over the course of this blog – as a 5th starter, a guy who can keep you in the game and occasionally come up with a gem, he’s just fine.

Which brings us back to the question of, why? I prefer Haeger to Stults in the rotation, so I’m not crushed he didn’t win the #5 job. But as far as I can see, there’s no compelling reason to make this move right now. Stults may not have a ton of bullpen experience, but with Hong-Chih Kuo on the DL and Ronald Belisario on the restricted list, you can shoehorn Stults onto the roster for at least a few weeks – especially on a team that may have just one lefty reliever and has a starting rotation notorious for not going deep into games.

And who knows what could happen in that time? Kuo’s arm could give out entirely. Vicente Padilla could fight a cop. Bill Plaschke could hit Chad Billingsley with his car. If you can’t be bothered to give Doug Mientkiewicz his release for three more days because you’re terrified that Garret Anderson may wake up with a bad case of osteoporosis, then you should want to hold on to Stults for as long as you can. No, as far as I can see there’s three possibilities for this move being made now, and I don’t like any of them.

1) To keep some of the retreads. I’ll give Jeff Weaver a pass because he was pretty solid as a Dodger last season. Unfortunately, Russ and Ramon Ortiz do not fall under that umbrella, because as we’ve said many times – they’ve been absolutely horrible pitchers for many years. Ramon is actually likely to make the club as a reliever, and it’s not that I have a problem with that, but there’s probably room to keep both Ramon and Stults, at least at first. If Stults got dumped in order to keep more than just Ramon – like Russ, or Justin Miller, or Luis Ayala, then that makes no sense at all.

2) To keep Nick Green. We’ve seen a few times in the last few days that the club may start with 11 pitchers in order to keep an extra reserve, and that reserve would probably be Green as a backup shortstop. Who would you rather – the pitcher who has two shutouts under his belt, or the backup infielder who can’t hit or field, and isn’t better than minor leaguers you currently have? Sticking Stults in the bullpen for a few weeks at the expense of not keeping Green (who’d likely just report to Albuquerque anyway) is a risk absolutely worth taking.

3) To help Eric Stults. This is a nice gesture, if it’s the case - allow him to get over to his new home as soon as possible. Unfortunately, the Dodgers are in the business of winning baseball games, not helping people, and if any pitcher goes down in the next few weeks this is going to be quite regrettable.

Sayonara, Eric. You were sorely underappreciated in Blue.

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