Let’s Parse Ned Colletti’s Comments on 2012

Ned Colletti gave a lengthy interview to Jim Bowden of ESPN/LA this week, and he was surprisingly candid about his thoughts on the 2012 club, giving thoughtful, honest answers on nearly every area of the roster. Or did he? Remember, it’s not a GM’s job to tell the truth to the media, it’s his job to assemble the best team he can for the best value possible. In many cases, telling the truth actively hurts that goal, and we can’t possibly know just how much of what gets leaked to the media is real and what’s a carefully calculated attempt to manipulate the real or perceived value of a player or interest by a team in that player.

Of course, that’s not going to stop us from trying anyway. So let’s sort through this and introduce the “Ned Colletti Truth-O-Meter”. After starting with positive reviews of Don Mattingly and the coaching staff, Bowden asks about the contract situations of Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw.

2. Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw had MVP/Cy Young Award-type seasons. Do you plan on trying to extend either of their contracts this offseason?

Matt Kemp is a priority, and I plan on getting with his agent, Dave Stewart, and will work diligently in trying to work out a long-term deal with Matt. There is some urgency because he’ll be a free agent at the end of the 2012 season if they don’t sign him long term now. Clayton Kershaw’s situation is not as urgent because he’s only first-time arbitration eligible and won’t be a free agent until after the 2014 season. That doesn’t mean we won’t have conversations and listen, and if we can make a deal that makes sense, we will be open to it — but not with the same urgency as Kemp.

Not too much to argue with here. Obviously signing Kemp is the #1 priority of the entire offseason, bigger than importing any outside talent. And I agree with him that Kemp’s timeline makes him a more important signing than Kershaw, particularly if cashflow issues mean that the Dodgers are only able to sign one of them this winter. However, let’s not totally skim past the “well, Kershaw is only first-time arbitration-eligible” thing. He was so good this year that he’s probably going to increase his salary from ~500,000 to ~$7m, and while $7m is still a steal for a player like that, just think how much it’s going to keep going up in future arbitration hearings. The longer it takes to sign Kershaw, the more it’s going to cost them (since they’ll be buying out free agent years, not team control years).

After a bit of surprisingly honesty regarding Andre Ethier, saying he had a “subpar year” but that Colletti is not looking to trade him, the conversation moves to some of the younger players.

4. From a player personnel perspective, what is the Dodgers biggest need this offseason?

We really need a middle-of-the-lineup impact bat, which would be a very key component to us winning next year. We need to figure out second base. Carroll and Miles are free agents. Right now we have the two young players in Sellers and Ivan DeJesus that we might let compete for that job next year.

I’ve already seen people responding to this comment at face value, wondering about Sellers and DeJesus fighting it out for the second base job. Let’s clarify this right now: there is absolutely no way that’s going to happen. It was just yesterday that we looked at DeJesus’ season and noted that despite all of the infield injuries this year, DeJesus still didn’t get much of a look or a September call-up for the second year in a row. In addition, we’ve heard multiple reports that his attitude isn’t exactly the best. That’s really a guy who’s going to get a shot for the starting gig? Sellers at least spent a decent amount of time in the bigs, but after brutal home/road splits in AAA he hit just .203/.283/.301 with the Dodgers. Future utility guy? Sure, maybe. Big league starter? Uh, no. Either Carroll or Miles return, or someone else gets imported.

We need to figure out left field as well, but we’re leaning towards Jerry Sands, especially after the way he finished this season with us.

There’s probably a little bit of “publicly pumping up a young player who finished the year strong” here, but I’m inclined to believe it’s true. Sands has nothing left to prove in the minors – career line of .286/.376/.576 and 93 homers in parts of four minor league seasons – and after a rough introduction to the bigs (.200/.294/.328 between April-June), he looked like a different player in September (.342/.415/.493, playing every day). For a team that needs to rely on cost-efficient players as much as they can, giving Sands the shot he deserves makes all the sense in the world, and clearly the team thinks highly of him, having promoted him in April, long before any of us thought they might.

Behind the plate, we’ll probably let Tim Federowicz and A.J. Ellis handle the duties. They are both good catch-and-throw receivers. If Federowicz can hit .240 with some power, he can be an everyday catcher. He calls a really good game and has a strong arm. The free agent catching market is very thin, but we’ll look there as well just in case.

My first thought here is, “come on, Rod Barajas is dying to come back, he’s not great but at least he hits homers, and Federowicz is clearly not ready.” But then again, this would hardly be the first time that Colletti valued Federowicz more than anyone else on the planet, right? So it’s feasible, though hopefully unlikely, that Colletti is really considering this plan. If anything, I like to think that it’s a sign to Barajas that “hey, we’d like you back, but if you want to be a Dodger so badly, you best be prepared to take a pretty serious paycut from the $3.25m you got last year.” If not Barajas, perhaps someone else; there’s just not enough depth in the system to go with two catchers who have less than a full big-league season of experience between them, and nothing behind it.

We’ll also have to look at rethinking our bench. Carroll and Miles contributed a significant amount of plate appearances this year, and if we’re not able to re-sign them, it’s an important area that we’ll look at for depth, especially because we have to protect ourselves for potential injuries or younger players that could struggle.

True, with a catch. I assume that Colletti is speaking in terms of “Carroll and Miles could both be gone, as could Tony Gwynn and Juan Rivera, so we might be starting from next-to-zero in the bench department.” I prefer to think that he’s saying, “hey let’s rethink the recent bench philosophy that has left us with an underpowered, underperforming bench, populated by guys like Garret Anderson, Mark Sweeney, and Juan Castro.” At least I hope so; but with so many question marks next year – you can hardly consider either Juan Uribe or Dee Gordon as Cal Ripken-like ironmen – the 2012 bench will absolutely need someone decent to count on.

If Kuroda doesn’t re-sign with us, we’ll need to look for another veteran starter to make up for his innings as well. And finally, although we’re pleased with our deep young bullpen, we’d still be open to signing another veteran reliever, but that would be a low priority based on our other team needs.

No question that without Kuroda, signing an outside starter is an absolute requirement. (Jon Garland or Vicente Padilla again, anybody?) What’s more interesting here is his viewpoint of the bullpen, after we were less than thrilled with the idea a few weeks ago that he might be looking for a veteran arm – since we know that’s rarely the most efficient way to spend money, given how little Matt Guerrier delivered for his millions. Here, it seems clearer that he doesn’t consider it a very high priority, and if anything, we’ve learned that once again, T.J. Simers is never to be trusted. Ever.

5. Is it realistic to think the Dodgers could be players for Albert Pujols and/or Prince Fielder?

As you know Jim, I can’t speak about specific names of players who are not yet free agents because of tampering rules. However, we have a need in the middle of our lineup, and if we could do the right deal with a player in terms of duration and money, we would be willing to do it. We have flexibility if we keep catcher, second base, shortstop and left field as non-arbitration eligible players like we have now, then it is definitely possible that we could afford to spend the money on a significant middle-of-the-order bat.

This is less about “is Colletti being truthful” and more about “are Pujols and Fielder really coming to Los Angeles”, which we’ve been over so many times – it’s not happening, and that’s arguably a good thing; long-term, $100m+ contracts are full of risk. It’s interesting to see Colletti at least raise the possibility of going with so many young players, however, and it’s also interesting that he doesn’t bring up James Loney at all here. I’m not sure it means anything either way, but you’d think when the conversation turns to first base that Loney’s name would at least get a mention. Of course, this goes back to what I said the other day: if not Pujols or Fielder, who qualifies as a “big bat”?

What are your thoughts on the outfield for next year?

The outfield as of now has Andre Ethier in right field, Matt Kemp in center field and Jerry Sands in left field. Tony Gwynn Jr. played great defense for us off the bench, and his offense has improved from the prior year with the Padres. We hope to bring Juan Rivera back because he gives us a right-handed hitter to play against some tough lefties while giving Ethier or Loney a blow. His ability to play both corner outfield spots and first base is really beneficial to our bench.

No surprises here, and while I’m not as big of a fan of Rivera as others, I do agree that having a righty bat who can spot for Ethier and Loney – neither of whom can hit lefties – is a big need. (If not two guys like that, actually.) Gwynn, well, he went from a .304 OBP to a .308 OBP, with a big more power, so I wouldn’t say he was that much of an improvement. Still, his excellent glove and speed make him a decent bench piece. As expected, no discussion of moving Ethier to left field; while I’d like that, it’s not like Sands is miles better and the possible aggravation of asking Ethier to move headed into the last year of his contract, coming off an injury, is probably not worth it.

What are your thoughts on the infield and behind the plate for next year?

Right now, James Loney is our first baseman, and we like the second half that he had. Sellers and DeJesus will platoon or compete at second base. Dee Gordon will be at short with Juan Uribe at third base. We didn’t pick up Blake’s option, and we need Uribe to bounce back next year and stay healthy. He doesn’t have to repeat what he did in 2010, but we do need him to hit 15 home runs and drive in 65-70 runs while playing average defense at third base.

This goes back to the same second base discussion we had above, which just can’t be true. (… I hope. Besides, how are you going to “platoon” two righties with limited experience?) Is it so simple as to say “Loney at first and Uribe at third,” though? Perhaps it is, and perhaps Loney continues his second half and Uribe bounces back to just be generally terrible instead of atrociously godawful. There does need to be more of a backup plan than that, however, because we saw what happened this year with no production from either infield corner for the first few months of the season. I know Uribe gets another shot simply because of his contract; he just can’t be trusted with no safety net.

What are your thoughts on the starting rotation for next year?

We’re pleased with our starting rotation. Clayton Kershaw should win the Cy Young Award. Chad Billingsley, Kuroda and Lilly give us three solid veterans behind him, and Eovaldi really impressed us in September and should be our fifth starter. We also like the depth we have after those five, with Dana Eveland, who was 3-2 for us in September. Rubby De La Rosa should be back in June or July of next year from the Tommy John surgery, and as you know, Jim, he has the potential to develop into a No. 2 starter down the road.

Interesting here how he notes “Billingsley, Kuroda and Lilly give us three solid veterans”, isn’t it? I don’t want to read too much into what was probably not meant to be anything more than a simple answer to an interview question, but it does somewhat sound like he has an inkling that Kuroda will return. That’s also the case because he’s only talking about possible fifth starters, including Nathan Eovaldi and Dana Eveland. Here’s the thing, though: you really can’t count on those two guys to be your fifth starter, because remember that no team ever only uses five starters. If Eveland starts the year in the rotation, that means you’re almost certainly going to have a decent number of starts from guys who are worse than Eveland. As for Eovaldi, I like his future, but let’s not get too carried away with a guy who walked too many and struck out too few in his time in the bigs; his 4.80 xFIP sounds more accurate than his 3.63 ERA. That’s not to bash Eovaldi, who I do like; just that he could clearly use more minor-league seasoning.

What are your thoughts on your bullpen for next year?

I like our bullpen. We developed a lot of good young arms this year. Kenley Jansen, Guerra, Lindblom and Elbert all showed us what they are capable of doing. Guerrier gives us a veteran presence and Kuo should be able to come back next year and even MacDougal did a good job for us.

This one doesn’t even require a Truth-o-Meter image, I just had to chuckle that he said “even MacDougal”, like even he knows that MacDougal isn’t much to talk about. Also, sounds like maybe Hong-Chih Kuo gets tendered?

10. Any closing thoughts on this season and the prospects for next year?

We’re a lot closer to winning than people realize. If we had gotten just the typical offensive contributions this year from James Loney, Andre Ethier and Juan Uribe, who knows how many games we could have won. But injuries and subpar seasons are just part of the game. If we can make a few key moves this offseason and solve some of the question marks on this team that we’ve just been talking about, I really believe this club can finish in first in 2012.

Well, of course the general manager is going to say that the team he assembled isn’t in trouble, so not much to glean here. The funny part about the Loney bit is that overall, you basically did get the typical contribution for him this year. His wOBA of .329 is right in line with the .315, .332, and .332 marks over his last few seasons. It’s just that instead of being mediocre all year long like usual, he was awful to start and fantastic to finish. Overall, he gave you what you usually get, so on the whole he didn’t really help or hurt the team’s record any more than he generally does.

Can this team finish first in 2012? Well, the Diamondbacks did go from further back in 2010 to win the division this year. And with the way the Dodgers ended the season, it certainly puts them in the right direction. On that question, we’ll go with the magic 8 ball respons: reply hazy, check back later.

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  1. [...] MSTI: Mike Petriello parsed through Ned Colletti‘s comments from an interview with Jim Bowden on ESPN. Solid analysis, but the best part by far is the Colletti truth-o-meter. [...]

  2. [...] After nearly a full day at the winter meetings, only┬áMike Napoli, Joakim Soria, James Loney, & Angel Pagan have already found new homes. For the Dodgers, things have been moving just a little more slowly thus far, so let’s take some of Ned Colletti’s media comments this afternoon and try to put a little truth to them: [...]