Mark Ellis Is Your New Dodger Second Baseman

I almost feel bad writing about this, because there’s absolutely nothing that should take precedence over Matt Kemp coming to terms on a new $160m extension (pending, of course, a physical). Yet the wheels keep turning and I can’t simply ignore the news, because ESPN’s Buster Olney tweets that the Dodgers may have a new second baseman:

Mark Ellis is on the verge of a two-year deal with the Dodgers.

Alright, I guess. We all know the second base market is dire, especially now that Aaron Hill has returned to Arizona, and though Ellis is coming off a brutal .288 OBP and will be 35 this season, he’s long been regarded as a plus defender. I’d love to not give him two years, yet in a world where Willie Bloomquist is getting two-year pacts, you can see how that might be unavoidable. At least I’m sure he’s not getting a ton of money, though. Wait, what

Ellis’s deal with the Dodgers worth a little less than $4.5 million per year, over the two years.

…and there it is. (Ken Rosenthal now confirms the deal, two years, $8.75m.) Mark Ellis is coming off a .288 OBP and is the proud owner of a better wOBA than Jamey Carroll exactly one time going back to 2006, yet he’s going to pull down about a million dollars more per season than the Carroll contract we didn’t even particularly like. Ellis was once a solid player with some pop, hitting double-digit homers each year between 2005-09, but that’s declined precipitously as he’s aged and been injured, averaging 33.5 days on the disabled list over the last four seasons. (h/t to pal Jay Jaffe on that stat.) Ellis is pretty one-dimensional now, since he doesn’t get on base well, doesn’t have a lot of power, and only has real value in his defense. Age and injuries – particularly leg injuries, which is what Ellis has had – can do a lot to diminish an infielder, so if Ellis suffers even a little with the glove, that’s going to make him a trouble spot, quickly. At least he’s not going to cost the Dodgers a draft pick, though the Rockies do pick up one on their end.

As you can imagine, the reaction on Twitter has been negative/sad/hilarious depending on your perspective.

D.J. Short, NBC Hardball Talk

Guys, Ned Colletti has to give Ellis $4.5M/yr. Some knucklehead already set the market for roughly 1 WAR players with the Juan Rivera deal.

Grant Brisbee, McCovey Chronicles:

I think an Uribe/Gordon/Ellis/Loney infield is going to hit just fine. But I’m also a Giants fan, and my perspective is alllll screwed up.

Andrew Grant, Minor League Central

Dodgers to spend almost 10 million in 2011 on Juan Rivera and Mark Ellis 

And so on. The best part is, you know – you just know – that Dee Gordon (.325 OBP) and Ellis (.288 OBP) are going to hit 1-2, because of course they will. I’ll grant that each has a chance to improve on those numbers, yet neither are likely to be above-average at getting on base. And isn’t that what you want, setting up for your new $160m center fielder? Granted, there’s not a lot of better alternatives… it just seems backward, is all.

If there’s positives here… well, as hilariously awful as the starting infield might be at the plate, there’s potential for at least three good gloves, plus the potential for Gordon to improve. It almost makes me wish the Dodgers had been the one to take a $5m gamble on a groundballer like Derek Lowe, but perhaps something similar can still be done. Plus, since Ellis can’t play short and the Dodgers don’t seem to view Uribe in that light, maybe this is the welcome end of Aaron Miles, since Justin Sellers would seem to have the edge in versatility. It’s certainly another black mark against the presumed Dodger career of Ivan DeJesus, anyway.

******

Back to Kemp, let’s not let that great news be overwhelmed so easily by this. When we look back on this day, we’re going to remember the Kemp signing, hopefully the one that put this franchise back on the right footing, and not the signing of yet another questionable Ned Colletti creamy veteran goodness of mediocre vintage, so let’s keep that discussion up in the comments. R.J. Anderson checks in at Baseball Prospectus with a positive review of the move:

Keep in mind that these are the Dodgers. Frank McCourt aside, this should be an organization able to throw around its financial girth more often than an isolated incident here and there. That should ease the qualm most people will have with handing Kemp a giant contract with a year of team control remaining. There is risk involved with any eight-year deal, and Kemp is not the exception. And yet, if Kemp has another big season, or if other teams in the league view him as a potential superstar, then the Dodgers may have saved themselves money by re-signing him now.  Add in the goodwill generated for a franchise that could use some, and the Dodgers are making a worthy enough gamble.

Agreed. By the way, the surest indication that this deal is done? Bill Shaikin, as always:

Scoreboard on youth field where #Dodgers expected to announce Kemp contract: Home 27, Visitor 0.

Report: Dodgers Close to Signing Matt Kemp (Updated)

Update, 11:22am PT: SI’s Jon Heyman reports that the Dodgers and Kemp are in agreement, pending a physical, and that Kemp would recieve a full no-trade clause. (As though the numbers involved here aern’t enough of a no-trade clause on their own. Earlier this morning, I received a press release that Kemp would be joining Frank McCourt to dedicate a new Dodger Dream Field in Compton at 1pm PT today; Steve Dilbeck notes that Kemp was not originally scheduled to attend, but has been added to the event. Sounds like as good a place to announce a contract as any to me, right?)

Tim Brown, hit me with some good news:

Confirming @Ken_Rosenthal get, the Dodgers and Kemp are getting close. 8 years and $160m is about right.

First and foremost, put aside the numbers for a second. Yes. So much yes. If it happens, this would be such a big get for the Dodgers for so many reasons. With all of the McCourt garbage of the last few years, with all of the rumors that the Dodgers would be completely neutralized and unable to act this winter, with all of the worry that Kemp & Andre Ethier and maybe even Clayton Kershaw would be gone before this mess is all sorted out, this one move could be an immense positive to fans and even players who have written this franchise off. It’s a sign that no matter what else happens, Kemp will be here long into the future, and as the ownership situation gets closer to being resolved, it gives us more hope that the Dodgers could once again be open for business. As I’ve been saying for weeks, this is the top priority of the offseason, and if it happens then the winter is a success, no matter how many silly contracts the Dodgers hand out to mediocre veterans.

From a more historic level, this could potentially keep Kemp in Dodger blue until he’s 34. That’s great because you’re buying most of his prime, not most of his decline, but it’s also a phenomenal sign because the Dodgers have done a poor job in recent years of keeping their own young star players. Mike Piazza? Traded to the Marlins. Adrian Beltre? Lost via free agency to Seattle. The club hasn’t had a home-grown player stay with the team for at least ten seasons since Eric Karros & Dave Hansen left after 2002, and neither of those are guys were exactly franchise cornerstones. Kemp could potentially be a Dodger for the first 14 years of his career, becoming the hero of a generation of Dodger fans.

Of course, you can’t completely ignore the numbers, and Aaron Gleeman notes the risk at NBC’s Hardball Talk:

$160 million would be tied for the seventh-largest contract in MLB history, matching Manny Ramirez’s deal with the Red Sox in 2001. Troy Tulowitzki recently agreed to a six-year, $119 million extension with the Rockies that brought Colorado’s total commitment to the shortstop to $157.5 million over 10 seasons, but unlike Kemp he was under team control for several more seasons and not on the verge of cashing in as an in-his-prime a free agent.

Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Joe Mauer, Mark Teixeira, and CC Sabathia are the only players to get a contract surpassing $160 million.

Make no mistake, it’s a ton of money, and with Kershaw about to get expensive, there’s a definite danger in tying up so much money in one player. (I’m also waiting for the “yeah, and it’ll be backloaded to be 1/2/3/4/5/48/48/48 over the life of the contract” jokes, though it would almost certainly have some sort of backloading.) In this case, an overpay is warranted, simply because this club could not withstand the PR hit of losing Kemp for nothing after next season. The Dodgers simply had to do something to win back fans, and while the news that McCourt would sell is welcome, it’s still something that takes place in faraway court rooms for most fans. This would be a real, tangible commitment to putting a winning team on the field. Not that there aren’t concerns; you wonder how long Kemp can really stay in center (though it’s not like having a strong-armed power-hitting right fielder is such a terrible thing), and there are those who have noted that Kemp is only one year off a 2010 that many termed as a disappointment. Like there would be with any large investment, this contract wouldn’t be 100% free of doubt.

On the other hand, is it even really an overpay? Kemp’s an MVP candidate in his age-26 season, and he’s passing up the opportunity to go out on the free market next year and get wined and dined by the Red Sox & Yankees (among others), who would surely be salivating at the prospect of adding a player with his rare blend of speed and power. An average of $20m/year, considering what Prince Fielder & Albert Pujols are likely to get to play a far less important position, could be seen as almost a bargain. (Okay, almost.)

I try to keep things subjective around here, wanting to make decisions more with my head than with my heart. But in this case, they’re one and the same – let’s make this happen, and the dollars be damned. This team needs Matt Kemp, and not just because of what it means on the field.