Casey Blake Brings the Beard to the Mountains

I’d be lying if I said I very badly wanted Casey Blake back with the Dodgers, considering that he’s spent the last two years being underwhelming and injured since his solid 2009 campaign. That said, now that we’re learning he’s signed with Colorado for one year and $2m, I can’t help but thinking the Rockies are getting a pretty good deal. With the top four players on the third base depth chart moving on from 2011 – that’d be Ty Wigginton, Ian Stewart, Jose Lopez, and Kevin Kouzmanoff – the Rockies needed someone to help Jordan Pacheco keep the seat warm for hotshot prospect Nolan Arenado, at least assuming they weren’t really going to play Michael Cuddyer there. (Though who knows, maybe they’ll still sign up for that particular brand of hilarity.)

Blake’s not an everyday starter any longer, though he does love playing at Coors (career line of .311/.368/.631 in 113 PAs) and could make for a decent enough bench piece, especially considering Colorado is full of lefties at the four corners, like Todd Helton, Jason Giambi, Carlos Gonzalez, and Seth Smith. (At which point he’ll be traded back to Cleveland for Carlos Santana. That’s how this works, right?)

And if not? If he gets hurt, or is just plain awful? Well, it’s a $2m commitment, which is to say, not really much of a commitment at all. Considering some of the contracts the Dodgers have handed out this winter, it’s hard to argue this from Colorado’s end.

So long, Casey, and best of luck… right up until you inevitably crush a game-winning homer off Mike MacDougal. It’ll happen. Mark it.

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Of course, two minutes after I published this post, far more important news comes out. Might we finally see Ronald Belisario again?

Reliever Ronald Belisario, who missed last season because he was unable to gain entry into the United States, has been granted a visa and is expected to be in camp for the start of spring training, according to his agent.

“He should be ready to go,” said Rick Oliver, who represents Belisario.

I’ll believe it when I see it, but if true, it could be an enormous boost to the bullpen.

Dodgers Add John Grabow

‘Tis the week before Christmas, and the Dodgers are done with their holiday shopping, setting us up for two long, cold, quiet months before spring training starts. You know what that means? It means that the club signing another in a long line of veteran non-roster types is worthy of its own post. Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors has the news…

Dodgers signed John Grabow to a minor league deal, I have confirmed. More on MLBTR in a bit.

Grabow, 33 last month – that’s right, he’d qualify for the over-the-hill gang we talked about on Saturday – is a veteran of parts of nine seasons with the Pirates and Cubs, and was part of the 2009 Tom Gorzelanny trade that also included recent Dodger minor-league signing Jose Ascanio. You can check his stat line to get the story, that he was once an effective (if wild) lefty specialist who actually managed to get a 2/$7.5m contract from the Cubs before providing little value thanks to knee and shoulder injuries, and he’s coming off the lowest average fastball velocity of his career. As you can imagine, giving that kind of money to a decent-but-not-elite reliever was laughable even before he started to decline:

Once again, we’re witness to the power of ERA as a negotiating tool. Over the last two seasons, Grabow’s thrown nearly 150 innings and posted an ERA of 3.09, giving the impression that he’s a high quality LH reliever. Yet again, ERA misleads.

Grabow’s FIP the last two years? 4.37, thanks to an atrociously high walk total. The entirety of his low ERA over the last two years is driven by an 82 percent rate of stranding runners, which is just not sustainable. He’s succeeded by putting men on base and then wiggling out of jams, but that’s not the same thing as pitching well.

Reportedly, the Dodgers showed interest in acquiring him back in 2009 – fortunately for us all, it didn’t happen, because I’m assuming that Dee Gordon probably would have been the price – but ultimately, he’s a perfectly acceptable minor-league invite type to compete for a spot in the bullpen as a second lefty to go with Scott Elbert, assuming Hong-Chih Kuo doesn’t return.

This is all well and good. It’s also not all that interesting, since this type of signing happens a dozen times a year. However, I did find two fun facts about Grabow, unless you also want to include the disturbing item that every time I say his name, it reminds me of “Jason Grabowski“, and that’s just unacceptable.

First, this entry from Wikipedia, which as we all know is a completely unimpeachable source of facts.

Grabow grew up a Giants and Dodgers fan, playing first base and emulating Will Clark.

Not cool. Second, his list of comparables from Baseball Reference is a who’s-who of mediocre lefties that may have briefly entered your consciousness, only to drift away, presumably never to be thought of again. Aaron Fultz! Joe Beimel! Jamie Walker! Trever Miller! Scott Sauerbeck! Ron Mahay!

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Update: I briefly considered adding a “hey, at least it wasn’t the Dodgers who laughably gave Jason Kubel 2/$15m like the Diamondbacks did” joke, and decided against it. Turns out, that might have hit closer to home than I thought; according to KTAR’s John Gambadoro, Kubel “considered the Yankees and Dodgers before deciding on Arizona”. (h/t to Eric Stephen for the link.) How is it a bankrupt team is in on every mid-level free agent again?

Sure Is Nice of ESPN Chicago to Let Scott Boras Write Their Articles

Over the last 12 hours or so, I’ve been getting a bunch of questions from people via Twitter and email about the surprising last sentence in this Bruce Levine ESPN report claiming the Cubs have interest in Prince Fielder:

The Seattle Mariners and Los Angeles Dodgers are reportedly the main suitors for Fielder at this point, with the Cubs still in the running.

Uh… huh. That sort of comes out of nowhere, right, especially when it comes from a Chicago radio host – granted, the same one who was the first on Aramis Ramirez signing in Milwaukee – and buried in a throwaway line in a story that’s mainly about the Cubs? Sure, that may have been an outside possibility before the Dodgers dropped nearly $17m in 2012 salary on the collection of busted veterans we’ve discussed so many times, not to mention the ~$13m that Juan Uribe & Matt Guerrier will collect, plus the ~$6m James Loney will get in arbitration. Now? Please, and even if it was possible, I feel like that’s something we just might have heard about.

If anything, it seems clear that the market for Fielder isn’t developing like he and Scott Boras had hoped. Big spenders like the Red Sox, Yankees, and Phillies are all set at first base, while the financial difficulties of the Dodgers and Mets are well-known. Clearly, the Angels are no longer in need of a first baseman, while the Cardinals seem content with using Lance Berkman and/or Matt Adams to replace Albert Pujols, and there’s conflicting reports on whether the Cubs are even interested.

All of which leaves Fielder without a ton of great options. Seattle’s desperate for offense, but moving to a bad team in a huge park without any other offensive support outside of Dustin Ackley doesn’t seem appealing; Washington can’t get anyone to take their money and Texas & Miami reportedly don’t plan to bid. So yeah, it behooves Boras to start coming up with his famous “mystery team” just to try to goose the market, and no, despite what appears in the unsourced rumors, let’s not pretend that the Dodgers really have a prayer in this.

For the record, I do think that Fielder probably does see Los Angeles as a good fit, because it just makes so much sense. Go to Hollywood, play with your good friends Matt Kemp & Tony Gwynn – not to mention former teammates Jerry Hairston & Chris Capuano – and help rescue a floundering franchise that might be just one big bat away from making some noise? I get it – I do. I just think we all know that there’s no way the money is still there after the underwhelming shopping spree the Dodgers have already went on – so let’s not get our hopes up, okay?

(That said… it’s 22 degrees out where I am, so let’s spitball a completely ludicrous thought experiment. Loney would have just about no value on the trade market, but tendering him isn’t exactly the end of the story. There is a little-known and rarely-used option for a team to walk away from an arbitration decision before Opening Day, with the club owing the player just 30 or 45 days of pro-rated salary depending on when in the spring it happens. It gets sticky, because it has to be based on performance & not economics, and the last time I can remember it happening, the union filed a grievance against the Padres when they whacked Todd Walker in 2007. That makes for the one time ever where spring training stats actually mean something, and is probably even less likely than the idea that Frank McCourt could try to hang onto the team, though if a portly first baseman should happen to land in the Dodgers’ laps on a massively-backloaded deal, that is one option to get rid of Loney despite the tender. Again though, that’s thinking out loud – Fielder’s not coming.)

The 2012 Dodgers Want You To Stay Off Their Lawns, You Damn Kids

Earlier this month, I noted how troubling it was that just about all of the Dodger shopping spree so far this winter has focused on older players on the backside of their careers:

Worse, the age trend here is terrifying. Adam Kennedy is 36 in January. Matt Treanor is 36 in March. Jerry Hairston turns 36 in May, which is also when Aaron Harang is 34. Mark Ellis is 35 in June. Juan Rivera will be 34 in July. Chris Capuano is 34 in August. That’s seven signings (assuming Harang arrives), and not a single one younger than Capuano.

Add them to Ted Lilly (36 in two weeks) & Matt Guerrier (34 in August) and the 2012 Dodgers will start off with nine players who are 33 or older by June 30, which is when Baseball Reference marks as the cut-off for determining a player’s age during a season. Assume that Mike MacDougal returns (35 in March) and that would make it ten, a full 40% of the active roster, and it would be eleven if not for the fact that Juan Uribe (33 on July 22) misses the deadline by just three weeks.

So that got me thinking – how might this compare to previous Dodger squads in terms of going to battle with players coming dangerously near their expiration date? As it turns out, we don’t have to go too far, since the club record for a season with most players 33 or older on June 30 came all the way back in… 2010, with 19 graybeards ranging from Garret Anderson to Jeff Weaver. Unsurprisingly, three of the top four Dodger clubs on this ranking, and four of the top six, have come under the leadership of Ned Colletti; all of the top eight have come since the turn of the century. That 2010 club actually had the fourth-highest amount of 33+ players of all time, though I think topping the memorably aged 2005 Yankees’ count of 25 such players is probably just a bit out of reach.

Ten isn’t nineteen, but remember that no team – and particularly one depending on so many older players – gets through the year with the same 25 players. When injuries strike, it’s almost certain that a few of your standard Triple-A non-roster types like Josh Bard (34 in March), Alberto Castillo (37 in July), and others we don’t know about yet pick up at least a few token appearances during the season. Beyond that, it’s still not out of the question that they will end up signing someone like Hideki Matsui (38 in June) and push Jerry Sands to the minors – plus whatever other questionable acquisitions pop up during the season.

Can they get nine more 33+ players into games over the season to tie the 2010 “record”? I think they can, especially if someone says Juan Castro‘s name three times in a row so he can make his yearly appearance. It’s okay, though; of the ten plus Uribe I listed at the start of the piece, all but Rivera, Treanor, Kennedy and (for the moment, at least) MacDougal are under contract for 2013 as well. So look for this piece next December, except then we can bump up the limit to 34 years of age – that record is only 15, set back in 2007. Fun times ahead!

Latest Rumor du Jour: Coco Crisp?

Now it seems the Dodgers are interested in Coco Crisp and… well, look. I like Coco Crisp. Quite a bit, actually. Despite a down 2011, he’s a plus outfielder, a switch-hitter, an excellent base-stealer, a Los Angeles native, and owner of the best hair the Dodgers have seen since Eric Karros hung up the mullet. Stick him in left, let Jerry Sands get plenty of plate appearances between left, right, and first, and have Juan Rivera as a nice bench bat who can also assist Sands in getting James Loney & Andre Ethier out against lefties, and now we’re talking.

It’s just, what are we really doing here? This is a team that arguably already had a starting outfield in Sands, Matt Kemp, and Ethier, and since then they’ve signed three additional outfield options in Rivera, Tony Gwynn, and Jerry Hairston. This is a team that’s been crying poor every step of the way, yet Crisp made $5.75m last year and hasn’t made less than $5m since 2007. He’s put up $5.5 fWAR over the last two seasons, and while I’m certainly not suggesting that someone’s signing him to the 2/$25m contract that number might indicate, 2/$12m is hardly unreasonable. Yet who among us thinks the Dodgers still have that type of money, unless we’re talking about a 0.5/11.5 backloading? Besides, if they do still have that sort of cash, then it just goes back to the question of “why in the hell are you signing all of these bit players when you could have gone for the superstar you clearly need?”

Plus, with the roster set as tightly as it is, a Crisp signing can only mean that Sands starts the year in Triple-A. That in itself isn’t the end of the world, except that bringing back Gwynn seems a little redundant if you’re going to add Crisp. If Crisp isn’t quite the defender Gwynn is, he’s not all that far off – and still far better than any other outfielder on the roster – and he’s a far better hitter, a better base-runner, and can hit from both sides of the plate.

That’s not to say they shouldn’t express interest in Crisp, because I think he can help them win (and I have to admit, the thought of Crisp, Kemp, and Dee Gordon all galloping around the bases is tempting). It’s just that once again, we’re looking at the roster as constructed, and wondering just what the plan is this winter.