MSTI’s 2011 in Review: Shortstop

2011 should be remembered as a year of transition in the world of Dodger shortstops, since we said goodbye to one of the best shortstops in Dodger history and hello to a hopeful future star, with a healthy dose of solid fill-in work from Jamey Carroll. Also, Justin Sellers! Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, though: the Dodgers had an infield position that ranked in the lower third of baseball by OPS, this time coming in 21st at .697. Funny how it’s hard to score runs when your infield is consistently below average, isn’t it?

Dee Gordon (B+)
.304/.325/.362 .686 0hr 24sb 0.5 WAR

Let’s simply start with this, illustrating the differences between Dee Gordon‘s two stints (the latter interrupted by injury) in the bigs:

Split PA R H 2B SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1st Half 85 11 19 2 9 2 16 .232 .250 .280 .530
2nd Half 148 23 49 7 15 5 11 .345 .367 .408 .776

Well, then. But does anyone remember just how far away we thought he was at the beginning of the season? Remember, when Rafael Furcal first injured himself in April, people started pounding the drum for Gordon, and I wasn’t exactly on board at the time:

It’s not going to be Dee Gordon. Sure, it’d be fun, it’d be exciting – and it’d also be a terrible idea. Gordon is absolutely not ready right now, and I’m of the opinion that I’m not sure he’s even going to be ready for next year. It’s not good for him, and it’s not good for the team. It shouldn’t happen, and it won’t.

He wasn’t, but that only lasted until early June when Gordon, surprisingly, got the call:

All of this takes us to Gordon, and I must admit that I am torn. He’s the most exciting player the Dodgers have in their system, and a roster spot used on him rather than Castro pushes the team light-years ahead as far as watchability and interest. Yet, the speed of his promotion is difficult to wrap my head around. Many observers, myself included, expected him to start 2011 in AA, and were somewhat surprised that he was pushed to ABQ to start the year. In an offense-heavy environment, he has a good-but-not-stellar line of .315/.361/.370. (Lest you think I’m being too harsh, remember that this is the team on which career nothing JD Closser is hitting .298/.389/.529.) Not a single reputable analyst expected him here this quickly, and when I interviewed Christopher Jackson, who covers the ‘topes daily, he joked that if Gordon were put in the majors right now, he’d break Jose Offerman‘s errors record. As we’ve all heard so many times, Gordon, who didn’t play baseball seriously until high school, is an extremely raw prospect, and not the type likely to be rushed.

At the time, we were pretty sure what we’d get from Gordon, and that was uncertain offense, no power or plate discipline, inconsistent defense… and mind-blowing, game-changing speed. In no way was that initial expectation wrong, because even though he hit just .232/.250/.280 in 22 games before being sent back down for Furcal in early July, and had games like this

Gordon was speeding around the bases for a triple, beating a perfect throw home on a sacrifice fly, effortlessly making outstanding defensive plays… and booting a relatively simple grounder to start the 7th inning, an inning in which the Reds scored four to put the game away. That came after a play in the second inning in which Gordon mistimed his approach to the bag on a sure double play ball, and only got one out; with the runner safe on second, the Reds ended up getting their first run of the game later in the inning.

…he also left us with a season’s worth of highlights in his few weeks up with the big club. On June 14, he put on such a show in one game against Cincinnati that I’m sure I crashed all of your browsers with the amount of animated GIFs I put together. It’s worth clicking through to see all of them, but I can’t not show my favorite here, a bunt in which he blew down the line to first so quickly several readers refused to believe I hadn’t manipulated it:


When he was sent back down, I was okay with that, yet optimistic about what we’d seen:

The Dodgers haven’t made it official yet, but we all know that Gordon is getting sent down later today to make room for Rafael Furcal, and that’s fine by me. Gordon has been basically exactly what we figured he’d be – overmatched offensively, inconsistent defensively, and occasionally completely breathtaking on both sides of the ball. For a player who was never supposed to be up this early, he showed the talent was real, even if he has much to work on. I look at his first taste as a success, and hopefully he can take that back to the minors with a better idea of what it takes to be a big league ballplayer.

That’s basically what happened, though not without some hiccups. Gordon returned on July 31 once Furcal was traded to St. Louis, and made it only a week before seeming to seriously injure his shoulder on a botched rundown play in Arizona. He missed just one full game before re-injuring himself on August 9 against Philadelphia, first in attempting to avoid a Ryan Howard tag and then on a swing; he was placed on the disabled list the next day and missed about three weeks, time which probably saved Eugenio Velez from a DFA.

Though the repeated injuries raised concerns about his durability, the best was yet to come. When he returned on September 1, he had two hits, then three the next day, a double in his only plate appearance the following day, and then three more the next day. After an 0-5 on September 6, he picked up seven more hits over his next two games, on his way to a .372/.398/.451 September (buoyed by an unsustainable .404 BABIP) that pushed his season average over .300.

It was a smashingly successful end to his season, though it wasn’t all gravy; in addition to the defensive lapses, of the 325 MLB players who had as many plate appearances as Gordon, only three drew fewer walks than his seven. This is a large part of why I’m not sure I see him as a leadoff hitter despite his speed, though as I noted in September, I didn’t mind getting him as many plate appearances as possible in a lost season. Let’s hope that next season he can be moved lower in the order, though that’s probably not all that realistic.

Still, considering that we were positive that he was rushed and that even seeing him next year wasn’t a given? Yeah, I’d say that ended up going pretty well.

Jamey Carroll (B+)
.290/.359/.347 .706 0hr 1.8 WAR

Pretty much all of our Carroll-related discussion over the winter was pointing out that he was one of the few Dodgers who could be relied upon to get on base, particularly important after adding low-OBP players like Juan Uribe and Rod Barajas. That ended up working out exactly as we’d hoped – Carroll finished third on the team in OBP, behind Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier – but one thing we weren’t quite sure of was what Carroll’s role would be, since the arrival of Uribe to play second base seemed to relegate Carroll to a bench role.

That question lasted for all of about two weeks, until Rafael Furcal injured himself yet again, pushing Carroll into service as the everyday shortstop on April 11. Between then and Furcal’s return in late May, Carroll hit a typical .303/.357/.359, nearly mirroring his season total, and with the rest of the offense stagnant in the early going, I started including him in the “big three” along with Kemp and Ethier (though a brutal error in Florida on April 25 only served to increase the growing furor around Jonathan Broxton).

When Furcal returned, Carroll returned to his bench role, seeing plenty of playing time at both middle infield positions. As you can see by his midseason review in July, we were more than pleased with his contribution:

Last season, Carroll had a .718 OPS and was largely hailed as the team MVP for stepping in to cover for Rafael Furcal at shortstop for nearly the entire season. For a 36-year-old career backup who had played in more than 113 games just once, it was quite the impressive feat. More impressive? The fact that he’s exceeding that this year, currently with a .734 OPS. In a lower run scoring environment, that’s good for a 111 OPS+. Once again, the team has been crushed by injuries. Once again, Jamey Carroll has risen to the occasion and more. I’m not sure what the future holds for Carroll in Los Angeles – this is the last year of his contract, and unsurprisingly teams are showing trade interest – but he has consistently outperformed expectations. I’ll miss him when he’s gone.

Carroll fell off in the second half – that .734 pre-break OPS was not quite matched by a .662 post-break mark – and since Dee Gordon got the call when Furcal was injured again and then traded, the main interest in Carroll the rest of the way is just when exactly we’d be saying goodbye to him, since several teams were showing strong interest in him at the deadline. At the time, I argued that it was best to trade him, and when it didn’t happen, I didn’t seem to be the only one who was disappointed, according to this story from ESPN/LA’s Tony Jackson:

An hour or so later, when it had become clear to everyone that Carroll wasn’t going anywhere, he was inserted into the game, replacing the still-hitless Eugenio Velez, who probably was in the starting lineup only because the Dodgers were discussing a trade with some team that was interested in Carroll — there is strong evidence that team was the Atlanta Braves. But that trade never came together before the 1 p.m. PT deadline for players who had waiver claims on them, and there is no doubt Carroll was one of those players.

Later, in the clubhouse, Carroll had a look on his face like that of someone who had just been told he had won the lottery, then told that it was a mistake. But then, that’s kind of the way the soft-spoken, ever-stoic Carroll looks all the time.

“Am I still a Dodger?” he asked as two reporters approached him at his locker.

Told that he was, Carroll wasn’t about to publicly admit to being disappointed by that fact.

So what next? Carroll far outperformed the modest two-year contract that we weren’t so sure about when he received it in the 2009-10 offseason, and I need not remind you that second base and OBP are still giant holes for this club. But though I was certainly proven wrong about giving a multi-year deal to a 36-year-old, I’m not sure I can feel any better about it for a guy who is going to turn 38 in February (and yes, there will be enough teams interested that he should be able to pull another two-year deal if he wants). Regardless of what happens, Carroll has been an unbelievably valuable Dodger, and as tough as the last two seasons have been, I can’t imagine how much worse it might have been had he not been available to step in as needed. Wait, yes I can; we saw it in 2008 when we had to live with Angel Berroa and even the corpse of Nomar Garciaparra to step in at shortstop when Furcal was out. If this is it for Carroll as a Dodger, he will certainly be missed. Best of luck, Akbar.

Rafael Furcal (D-)
.197/.272/.248 .520 1hr -0.5 WAR

Furcal’s recap probably reads a lot like that of Casey Blake‘s, in that he was a popular and long-tenured Dodger who had little chance of staying healthy all year, didn’t, and contributed little in the time he was available.

Sidelined for much of the season by two serious injuries – 37 games in April and May with a fractured left thumb on a head-first slide and 26 games in June and July with a strained left oblique – Furcal played just 37 games as a Dodger. It probably says a lot about his Dodger tenure that 37 games isn’t even the fewest he played in a season, as he got into just 36 games during his 2008 season which was ravaged by back trouble. In between, he never really got going, with the fourth-worst wOBA of any shortstop with as many plate appearances as he had – and two of the guys below him lost their jobs. When he was traded to St. Louis at the end of July, it seemed like less of a trade worth analyzing and more of a foregone conclusion at the end of a nice Dodger career. (Though it was lost somewhat in the Trayvon Robinson excitement, outfielder Alex Castellanos hit .322/.406/.603 after joining AA Chattanooga in return for Furcal, raising hopes that he might be slightly more than the fifth outfielder which he’d been profiled as.)

Despite the injury-filled and unproductive end to his time as a Dodger, Furcal leaves as the best shortstop in Los Angeles Dodger history and arguably the best in team history alongside Pee Wee Reese. I’ve seen some suggest that perhaps he could come back to Los Angeles to play second base, but I think it’s more likely that some team that misses out on Jose Reyes or Jimmy Rollins will buy an ill-advised lottery ticket for multiple years to try and fill their own shortstop hole.

Justin Sellers (C-)
.203/.283/.301 .583 1hr 0.6 WAR

And the curse of first impressions strikes again: Justin Sellers comes up, hits a three-run homer in front of his hometown crowd in his third career game, and all of a sudden my Twitter feed is lighting up with people suggesting that Dee Gordon be traded so that Sellers can be the everyday shortstop going forward. Of course, after that… well,  you can see his line above, right?

But let’s first go back to spring training, when I actually was intrigued by having him on the club:

Sellers is someone who I’ve never talked about much around here, and I’ve been meaning to for a while. Despite looking like he’s about 14, his 2010 AAA stats were impressive: .285/.371/.497, with 14 homers. Don’t put too much stock into that, however; while I can’t say for sure because the great minorleaguesplits.com is no longer around, the power displayed is almost certainly a result of the Albuquerque environment, since he had just 17 homers in five previous seasons.

Still, there’s reason to like him. Most of the reports I’ve been able to dig up claim he’s an above-average glove, possibly making him the best defensive choice of these four, and he’s shown improvement in mastering the strike zone. In two seasons as a Dodger minor leaguer, he’s put up OBP of .371 and .360, thanks to a very good K/BB ratio of 115/99. In January, Baseball America gave him the title of “Best Strike Zone Discipline” in the Dodger system, and you don’t need me to remind you how starved this team is for that right now. Though it’s early, he’s off to a good start in the spring, having walked three times without a whiff. Unlike DeJesus, he did attend the winter development camp.

If there’s a knock against him, it’s that he’s been exclusively a middle infielder, though with Jamey Carroll and Juan Uribe both able to handle third base, that wouldn’t seem to be an issue. He’s not a highly touted prospect, clearly, so at 25 and on his third pro organization, I wouldn’t be all that worried about having him riding the major league bench as opposed to playing every day in AAA.

Sellers lost that competition and headed back to AAA, where he put up a superficially impressive .304/.400/.537 line with 14 homers, numbers that seemed nice, but which didn’t stand up when looked into further, as I did when he was recalled to replace Furcal on August 12:

I assume that by now I don’t need to tell you not to trust Albuquerque numbers, but don’t trust Albuquerque numbers. Never has that been more true than with Sellers, who should probably buy a home in ABQ (.387/.460/.737 with 11 homers) and never be allowed to put on the Isotopes’ road grays (.218/.338/.331). So you can imagine what that’ll look like in the big leagues.

And, well, that’s exactly what happened, isn’t it? I know I’m usually the guy saying “don’t judge a rookie by his first brief look,” but don’t forget that this is a 25-year-old rookie without much of a non-altitude-inflated minor-league track record while bouncing among three organizations. That’s not to say that Sellers has no future whatsoever, of course; as a plus glove who can play three positions for the minimum salary, he could be a reasonably useful bench piece for a few seasons. It’s just not someone I choose to think of as a possible starting solution, despite the gaping hole at second base.

******

Next! Jerry Sands makes his mark! The flaming catastrophe that was JaMarcus Gwybbons, Jr.! And Jamie Hoffmann and Xavier Paul exist, briefly! It’s left field!

Kuroda & His Mustache Fall to Nationals, 7-2


Through the first 109 starts of Hiroki Kuroda‘s career in America, he’d never once allowed three homers in a game. This afternoon in Washington, it took the Nationals all of 21 pitches in the first inning to take Kuroda deep three times, as Ian Desmond, my boy Michael Morse, and Jayson Werth each gave Labor Day souvenirs to fans in left field. (Morse added a second blast in the sixth inning, and while it was tough to see Kuroda get hit so hard, I can’t pretend that watching one of my non-Dodger favorites produce wasn’t enjoyable.) Despite the dingers, Kuroda still struck out nine – tied for second-most in his career, behind only a 2008 shutout in which he whiffed twelve on the day the Dodgers acquired Angel Berroa – without walking any, and settled down to retire 14 of 16 between Werth’s homer in the first and Morse’s in the sixth.

Of course, the Dodger offense didn’t do much to support Kuroda, getting back to their usual pattern after scoring 32 runs in his previous four starts. After taking a 1-0 lead in the top of the first on back-to-back doubles by Jamey Carroll and Matt Kemp, the Dodgers managed just five scattered singles against Washington starter John Lannan and several relievers until A.J. Ellis and Justin Sellers also had back-to-back doubles for the second run. The 7-2 final, oddly, was identical to the score of the July 22 game which had also featured Kuroda against Lannan. That game was also the last time the Dodgers had lost by more than three runs, as pointed out by KABC’s Joe Block.

On the plus side, since James Loney stepped aside in favor of Russ Mitchell until entering as a pinch-hitter and going 1-2, we didn’t have to suffer him bunting ahead of Kemp. So that’s something. Speaking of Mitchell, I don’t mind getting him a start every now and then, but I’m not sure what the point is of putting him at first base, regardless of trying to get Loney out against a lefty. With Casey Blake & Juan Uribe each out for the season, the Dodgers’ third base depth is thin; while Aaron Miles has been okay at second, he’s ill-equipped to handle third, since he doesn’t have a strong arm and has made errors there in each of the last two days. If Mitchell is going to start, it should be at third, though if anything, I’d be interested to see how Sellers can handle the position in anticipation of his future career as a utility man.

******

Dee Gordon went 0-5 with three strikeouts today, marking the first time in the five games since his return that he hasn’t had at least one hit. He hit leadoff, as he has done in each of his last ten starts (dating back before his shoulder injury), and since his OBP is now at only .276, I’ve already seen some question whether Mattingly is too blinded by his speed and not cognizant enough of on-base skills at the top of the lineup. It’s a very fair point, because OBP is king at the top, and Carroll – hell, even Ellis, now hitting .281/.410/.391 after a 2-4 today – would seem to be better equipped to get on base in front of Kemp and others. In this case, however, I’m not sure I agree. Remember, the goal in September for this club should not be so much to win games as it should be to gain information on players going forward, and in Gordon’s situation, you want him to get as many plate appearances as possible. It’s the same reason why watching him make errors on balls that Sellers or Carroll may have had doesn’t bother me that much. If hitting him leadoff for the rest of the year slightly hurts the team’s run expectancy but gets him another 10-15 plate appearances, that’s a trade I’m more than okay making. We can revisit the ideal batting order next year; for now, let Gordon see as many pitches as he can.

Rafael Furcal Is An Endless Source of Blog Content (Updated)

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Rafael Furcal is hurt. I know! Who’d have thought? This time it’s his left thumb, which he broke on a slide into third base in the fifth inning. Remember, kids: never slide head first.

Though the immediate postgame stories were about Furcal’s mention that he might retire, that seems almost certainly a statement made out of immediate frustration, and it’s hardly like rehabbing a broken thumb is as arduous as coming back from a blown-out knee or any of the various back troubles he’s had over the years. He’ll be out for four to six weeks, maybe a bit more with a rehab stint, and we’ll see him again sometime before Memorial Day. If there’s a slim silver lining to this, it’s that he almost certainly won’t reach the 600 plate appearances it would take to get his 2012 option to vest. I don’t say that because I don’t like Furcal or am dying to see him gone, but because whenever you can get out of paying an aging, injury-prone player a guaranteed $12m, you do it.

That’s a worry for the offseason, though, because of course far more urgent is how the Dodgers are going to handle this absence, and let me stop you right there: it’s not going to be Dee Gordon. Sure, it’d be fun, it’d be exciting – and it’d also be a terrible idea. Gordon is absolutely not ready right now, and I’m of the opinion that I’m not sure he’s even going to be ready for next year. It’s not good for him, and it’s not good for the team. It shouldn’t happen, and it won’t.

Without Furcal, the Dodgers are really left with four questions: how to replace him at shortstop, who gets his roster spot, how does that impact the bench, and what will this do to the batting order? Let’s tackle them one at a time, and hope this doesn’t get as ugly as the 2008 hellscape of the punchless Chin-lung Hu, the decrepit Angel Berroa, and the corpse of Nomar Garciaparra filling in for Furcal.

Who plays shortstop? Most reports indicate that Jamey Carroll will get the bulk of the time at shortstop in Furcal’s absence, a task he handled admirably last season. That’s okay, I suppose, though I do wonder if Juan Uribe might not be the better choice there. Uribe unquestionably has the stronger arm, and has a 3.4 UZR/150 in over 900 games at the position, while Carroll is at -0.4 in 163 games. Conversely, Carroll has nearly twice as much second base experience as Uribe.

Who fills the roster spot? Assuming Gordon isn’t happening, the obvious 40-man roster choice would be Ivan DeJesus, Jr., though I’m not so sure that’ll happen. It’s not because of DeJesus’ unimpressive stint to start the season, because that was just a few games by a guy seeing his first big league action. It’s because if Carroll is indeed the shortstop, he’s still a 37-year-old career utility guy who can’t be expected to play every day. DeJesus is no longer seen as a shortstop; he may be able to fill in at third base in a pinch, but is basically limited to second base. If the Dodgers don’t want to push Uribe off of second to short a few times a week, the new infielder will need to be able to handle shortstop, particularly because Aaron Miles shouldn’t be playing there either. Besides, if they want DeJesus to play every day, that opportunity still wouldn’t be there for him in LA even with Furcal gone.

That leaves you with two non-roster options: Justin Sellers & Juan Castro. Sellers was someone I liked in the spring due to reports that he has a plus glove and good on-base skills, though he didn’t totally impress in camp. He’s not seen as an everyday major leaguer, so having him be a utilty man wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. Castro, well, you know all about him already. He’s completely and totally useless. Of course it’ll be Castro. (Update: we have our answer, it is DeJesus. See below.)

What does this do to the bench? Here’s where the impact could really be felt. Having Carroll play more is a bit of an injury risk, but it’s overall a good thing to get him in the lineup more. But without him on the bench? That’s a killer, because now you’re looking at a likely backup infield situation of Aaron Miles and Juan Castro (or one of the younger guys). That makes it harder to get Casey Blake the rest he needs without thowing away the day’s game, and since Blake is already banged-up just a week into the season, that kind of rest is vital. I can’t wait for the first day where we see Miles & Castro starting together, right?

How does this change the batting order? Without Furcal at the top, my best guess is that you see a lot more of Tony Gwynn, Jr., leading off. It is, to say the least, an imperfect solution, though I will admit that Don Mattingly doesn’t have a lot of better options. My hope is that he at least keeps Carroll at #2, perhaps even leading off when Gwynn is out, and doesn’t continually bury him at #8, giving more at-bats to the useless Miles & Castro. We’ll have to see how that plays out, though. Tony Jackson suggests that Matt Kemp should lead off, which would be interesting and a way to get him more at-bats, though I wouldn’t do it because I don’t want to see Kemp coming up with the bases empty 90% of the time because Rod Barajas and the pitcher didn’t get on in front of him. Jackson noted later in the story that Mattingly wouldn’t entertain the idea, which is good.

We’ll find out the answer to at least the second question later today, when Furcal is placed on the disabled list and a corresponding move is made. (If it’s not DeJesus, remember, someone will need to be DFA’d. With Jamie Hoffmann up and Jay Gibbons almost ready to return, Xavier Paul should be on notice. So it could be not only that we have to suffer through Castro again, but that we have to lose Paul or someone else to do it.)

As for the rest? We’ll have to see. It’ll be one of Don Mattingly’s first big tests.

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Update: Tim Brown of Yahoo reports that it will indeed be DeJesus coming up to fill the spot. Not Castro, hooray! He also passes on this horrifying news…

Ivan DeJesus Jr will be in uni for Dodgers tonight, in place of Furcal. LA checked on Eckstein in spring, told it would cost $2 mil. Passed.

Not sure what’s more disturbing – that the Dodgers actually had interest in David Eckstein, or that he chose to not sign with anyone rather than play for less than $2m?

Update 2: MLBtraderumors is reporting that the Dodgers are considering using DeJesus at 2B, which would then push Uribe to 3B. I like the idea if DeJesus can handle it. Uribe’s strong arm would be an asset at 3B, and that would then supplement the bench by pushing Casey Blake to the LHP masher role he really ought to be. Could he be part of the solution to the fact that neither James Loney or Andre Ethier can hit lefties?

MSTI’s 2010 in Review: Management

With the players in the books, we turn to management today. Though I’m going to reference some moves from previous years, the grade is based only on putting together the 2010 club, so only moves made from the last pitch of 2009 until the end of the 2010 season are considered.

Ned Colletti (D-)

Ned Colletti got off to a pretty atrocious start as Dodger general manager after arriving in the winter of 2005-06. He signed Juan Pierre, Jason Schmidt, and Andruw Jones to disastrous big-money deals. He gave nearly $10m to broken-down Bill Mueller, who played all of 32 games for the Dodgers. He traded top prospect Carlos Santana to Cleveland for far less than his value, and he made more than one terrible trade with Tampa, ultimately losing Edwin Jackson for veterans and spare parts. Those are only the marquee mistakes, since there’s plenty of arguments to be made that several good young role players were lost in the name of keeping useless veterans like Ricky Ledee and Jose Cruz, Jr. Besides, he signed Angel Berroa. Twice!

Fairly or unfairly, even the successes that did happen weren’t seen as being fully credited to him. No one on the planet saw Andre Ethier turning into what he has, signing Hiroki Kuroda was in large part due to Logan White (who at one point said he’d “stake his reputation on him”), and the Manny Ramirez deal basically fell into his lap. Though much was made of the team going to the playoffs three times in four years, the 2006 club was largely Paul DePodesta’s doing, and the 2008 and 2009 teams were built on the back of White’s farm system. It’s no secret that I, and many like me, have not been the biggest fan of Ned Colletti.

However, after the 2008 season ended, I felt his performance began to improve. Though I didn’t like giving three years to Casey Blake, it wasn’t fatal (Blake was very good in 2009), and he did a masterful job in waiting out Scott Boras in the Manny negotiations (and although there’s an argument to be made that the deal wasn’t worth it, don’t forget what Boras originally wanted, and that this was pre-suspension, much-loved Manny). He was able to land Randy Wolf and Orlando Hudson when they signed below-market one-year deals, and picking up Vicente Padilla off the scrap heap late in the 2009 season worked out wonderfully. Santana aside, all of the prospects we’d grown attached to – Matt Kemp, Chad Billingsley, Clayton Kershaw, etc. – were still in the organization, and we can’t possibly know what the real impact of the McCourt divorce was on his decision-making, which is largely why I’m giving him a pass here on the foolish decisions to not offer arbitration to Wolf or Hudson after 2009.

Though I still wouldn’t consider myself a fan of Colletti, my opinion of him had definitely improved heading into the 2010 season. Sorry to say, nearly all of that goodwill has now been washed away after a series of disastrous moves.

Let’s be fair here and start with the one really good offseason move, trading Pierre to Chicago for John Ely and Jon Link. At the time, I said:

Indeed, because despite how much some of us may have wanted to get Ned Colletti’s promised “back of the rotation” starter, this deal is not about the players who the Dodgers get. This deal would be a win even if no one came back.

Think about the gift the White Sox have bestowed upon the Dodgers, even without the players. They’ve basically paid LA $8m to have less controversy and better defense off the bench. Who cares if the pitchers coming back are even breathing?

Of course, Ely and Link both look to be useful, so that’s a nice win for Colletti, even if it is rectifying a huge mistake of his own making. Signing Jamey Carroll also worked out a lot better than most of us expected, as well. Otherwise? Yikes.

The problems began in the spring, where not one but two horrible retread Ortizes made the roster. Then Eric Stults, hardly a star but certainly usable for a team with rotation questions, was sold off to Japan without much of a reason. And despite several rounds of begging on my part, Garret Anderson was signed and made the team.

At the end of April, with the Dodgers struggling on all fronts, Colletti chose to call out Matt Kemp for his baserunning and defense. The issue here is not that Colletti was wrong, but that his timing was absurd. The Dodgers of late April had huge problems with pitching and fielding, while the offense was doing fine. Kemp had an OPS of .934 at that point; he managed just .730 for the rest of the season as controversy swirled. That’s more on Kemp than Colletti, of course, but the comments certainly didn’t help. As I said at the time, there were about three dozen reasons bigger than Kemp why the team was flailing.

In May, Xavier Paul and Ely were sent down in order to keep the atrocious Anderson and Ramon Ortiz, which would be bad enough, except the kicker was the comments made by Paul:

“I don’t fit here right now, that’s it,” Paul said after being consoled by teammates Casey Blake and Matt Kemp. “Right now, I just don’t cut it here.”

Paul said he was told by general manager Ned Colletti to work on his mental approach to the game “and being a big leaguer.”

In addition, when Rafael Furcal was hurt that month, Nick Green was chosen to replace him rather than Chin-lung Hu. In the space of a week, three young players were passed over for three useless veterans.

Then July hit, and things really got ugly with three ill-conceived deadline deals. Octavio Dotel pitched just 18.2 IP for the Dodgers before being dumped on Colorado. Ryan Theriot was horrendous, with a .606 OPS, and Scott Podsednik managed just a .313 OBP before being injured. Only Ted Lilly provided any value at all, but as I said more than once before the deadline, the starting pitching wasn’t the problem – the offense was. Even with Lilly making a good impression, adding Theriot and Podsednik sunk the offense even further, and we all saw how well that ended. These were trades that never should have been made.

That’s just talking about who came to LA, without even considering the prospects that left town. Though giving up Andrew Lambo and James McDonald for Dotel was a crime in itself, what really bothered me is that for the seven prospects the team gave up, they got one good pitcher and a pile of crap. If you were going to trade all that, shouldn’t you have received more? This bothered me at the time

In the last few days, the Dodgers have traded James McDonald, Blake DeWitt, Andrew Lambo, Lucas May, Kyle Smit, Elisaul Pimentel, and Brett Wallach.

They’ve acquired Ted Lilly, Ryan Theriot, Scott Podsednik, and Octavio Dotel – basically, a decent but not vital starter, a lousy middle infielder, a mediocre outfielder, and a decent veteran reliever, and all over 30.

Now, most of the baseball community has spent an enormous amount of time lately laughing at the Diamondbacks and Astros for the seemingly meager hauls they pulled in for Dan Haren and Roy Oswalt. You’re telling me that some combination of the players the Dodgers just traded couldn’t have pulled in one of those guys? Alternatively, is there really anyone who wouldn’t have preferred Haren or Oswalt rather than the collection of mediocre, over-30 veterans they just pulled in?

Yet despite all the moves, the offense – the biggest problem – didn’t get improved, and arguably was made worse. That’s supposed to help propel the team to October how, exactly? Really, what a terrible day all around.

…and I don’t feel much differently about it now. It soon became clear the new acquisitions weren’t going to get the team to the playoffs, and other than Lilly were proving to actively hurt that goal. This led to Manny being claimed off of waivers by Chicago, a move I promoted. However, when you’re letting your most talented hitter walk for nothing, that seems like a pretty big sign that this is not your year and it’s time to move on.

If you decide that it’s time to pack it up, and to move Manny, it shouldn’t stop there. Ted Lilly should go. Hiroki Kuroda. Octavio Dotel. Casey Blake, if you can get anyone to pick up his contract for next year. Really, anyone who’s not signed for 2011 or doesn’t have a good chance of returning should be moved. I’m probably not speaking for the majority here, but if the team doesn’t make the playoffs then it makes no difference at all to me whether they finish 4 games out or 10.

Manny did get claimed, and the next day I begged Colletti to swallow his pride and start selling in August for what he could get:

Hiroki Kuroda, perhaps at the peak of his value after last night’s gem, was claimed on waivers by the Padres, who could badly use a veteran starter.

Ted Lilly, who’s been brilliant since coming to the Dodgers except for his last start, was claimed on waivers by the Yankees, who have serious depth issues in the rotation.

Yet the Dodgers, in their infinite wisdom, decided to trade neither one, meaning they’re doing exactly what I begged them not to last week: they’re doing this half-assed. They have a 4.1% chance of making the playoffs, and they just dumped their best hitter on the White Sox, yet they’re acting like they’re primed for a playoff push.

Of course, none of that happened. Yes, they did re-sign Lilly and Kuroda, but if they wanted to play in LA so badly that could have still happened this winter.

All  in all, not a great season for the general manager, and it doesn’t engender a lot of confidence going forward. Hey, I’m not perfect either. Not every move I liked has worked out, and you’re always going to come up with some stinkers, no matter what you do. There’s just a big difference between well-intentioned moves that don’t pay off, and moves that were a terrible idea from the moment they were conceived. I’d like to see the Dodgers get a few less of the latter.

Joe Torre (D-)

So much has been said about Torre already that I’m going to take the easy way out and reiterate what I said about him when he officially stepped down:

As for Torre not returning, you know me well enough by now to know that I’m thrilled by this news, because Torre’s time in LA had clearly passed. Honestly, I could go for weeks about the issues I’ve had with his management – you know, things like incorrectly playing the matchups, generally overworking the bullpen, bringing in George Sherrill against a righty in the 9th inning of a tie game, letting Jonathan Broxton throw 95 pitches in five days (which he still hasn’t recovered from), sitting Matt Kemp in favor of Juan Pierre, continuous usage of clearly busted veterans like Garret Anderson & Mark Sweeney, running Russell Martin into the ground (in addition to his ridiculous “third base days off“), batting Juan Pierre leadoff every goddamn daytempting the fates of both Chad Billingsley and Hiroki Kuroda by using them before and after long rain delays, and finally, the most ridiculous quote anyone’s ever given:

“I tried to reason who was going to give me the better at-bat – Berroa or Loney,” Torre said.

…which I’m still reeling from, even though it was two years ago. I’ve barely scratched the surface there, but I’m not going to go any further. Partially, that’s because I don’t have the time to clear my schedule for two solid weeks to dig up every stupid thing he’s done, but mostly because the last three years of this blog provide a pretty solid record of it.

Besides, it’s unfair to not at least recognize his accomplishments, and the team did make it to the NLCS twice in his three years. While I haven’t always agreed with the way he ran the clubhouse, the off-field drama this team has had to deal with since arrival – the divorce and Manny’s suspension, just to name two - could have easily led to a complete collapse under a lesser manager. It hasn’t been smooth, but Torre mostly avoided that, and he deserves credit for it.

Mostly, I’m just glad he’s moving on. Torre may have been the right fit for the 2008 and 2009 teams, talented outfits that were trying to heal from the “veterans-vs-kids” split of the Grady Little years. Clearly, he’s not the right fit for the 2010 club, and I can’t see his “old-school” style working as this team moves forward.

That about sums it up.

******

That’s it for the 2010 season in review pieces; thanks for sticking through me despite how depressing most of them ended up being. Unless anything happens on the player front, we’ll be back on Monday as the Hot Stove really gets going. Enjoy the weekend.

MSTI’s 2010 in Review: Shortstop

Rafael Furcal (B)
.300/.366/.460 .826 8hr 3.4 WAR

I have to be honest, when I first looked back on Furcal’s season, all I could think of at first was, “oh, shocker, he hurt his back again.” And that’s true; he’s proven he simply cannot be counted upon to stay healthy.

However, that’s shortchanging him a bit, because when he was able to stay on the field, he put together one of the finest seasons of his career. Really, you can break his season down into three two-month slices.

In April and May, Furcal started just 24 games, missing most of May with a strained hamstring. His .308/.359/.402 (.761) was quite good even then, yet it hardly compared to his June and July (and two games in August). Furcal played his way onto the All-Star team by destroying opposing pitching with a .320/.391/.540 (.931) line, and all eight of his homers, though he did miss a week while mourning the passing of his father. He was so good, in fact, that in July I ran the numbers and said he was the best shortstop in Los Angeles Dodger history, slathering him with praise:

Last night, Furcal chipped in three more hits, including the go-ahead home run, saving the Dodgers from blowing yet another outstanding Clayton Kershaw start. I mean, choose whatever metrics you want; they’re all ridiculous. He’s got four homers in the last eight games, a stretch in which his OPS is 1.325. Over his last 31 starts (which span more than a month because of the time missed tending to his father) he’s only hitting an absurd .382/.422/.625. Here’s my favorite stat, though: in those 31 starts, he’s gone hitless just 7 times, but he’s had multiple hit games 17 times. Even his defense, which is hard to quantify but especially so over less than half a season, seems to have new energy; I noted on Twitter recently that I think I’ve seen him make more phenomenal plays this year than I have in the previous four years combined.

So it should come as no surprise that all of the leading stats paint him as the most valuable shortstop in baseball. FanGraphs shows him leading MLB SS in WAR, at 3.2 (and no complaining that Troy Tulowitzki has missed time, because with Furcal’s DL stint he’s actually still seven games behind Tulo), while Baseball Prospectus has him destroying the field in MLVr (Marginal Lineup Value rate, which I used instead of VORP because his missed time hurts him there). His position as top dog at his position this year is nearly indisputable.

Of course, it was too good to be true, because his August and September were disastrous, which you could of course say about any number of Dodgers. He played just two games in August before his back sent him to the DL again; when he returned in September he was hardly the same, hitting .237/.310/.329 (.639).

I’ve seen some calls to move him this offseason, but he’s making $12m next year, so that’s just not an option. All you can do is pray that he’s somewhat healthy, but not too healthy; his 2012 $12m club option becomes guaranteed with 600 PA  next year.

Jamey Carroll (A)
.291/.379/.339 .718 0hr 2.7 WAR

Carroll’s been proclaimed the unofficial 2010 MVP of the Dodgers by a variety of outlets and experts, and while you can argue that, it says a lot about this year’s edition of the club that a 36-year-old backup infielder who didn’t hit even one homer would even be in the conversation.

That’s not a slight against Carroll, of course, who had what was essentially a career year while getting far more playing time at shortstop in the wake of Furcal’s injury than ever anticipated. When he was signed, I didn’t mind him as a backup infielder, though at the time I wasn’t thrilled with the second guaranteed year. I felt that Felipe Lopez was a better fit (remember, Lopez was coming off of a great 2009), especially when Lopez signed for barely a third of what Carroll got, which made the Carroll deal look so bad that it made its way onto MLBtraderumors’ list of “worst offseason deals”.

Still, that’s more a concern about management than it is about Carroll himself – he far outplayed any expectations we may have had of him. In fact by August I was wondering why Carroll wasn’t hitting higher in the lineup to take advantage of his high OBP:

I’ve said this before, and I’ll keep saying it: there is no rational reason that Ryan Theriot should be hitting higher in the lineup than Jamey Carroll. Carroll gets on base more often, and even hits for a bit more power. I said it before last night’s game, and look what happened: Carroll got on twice, Theriot just once. There’s no question that this offense needs a shake-up; isn’t this an easy and obvious way to do it?

That never really happened, of course, but the unexpected ability of Carroll to get on base and adequately play shortstop (that’s “adequate” in the sense that he caught what was hit to him, despite showing very little range) helped the Dodgers avoid a “2008 Angel Berroa” level disaster at the position. Really, Carroll will be a good barometer of how successful the 2011 Dodgers are. If he’s a nice bench piece, that’s good news. If he’s getting serious playing time again, then things haven’t really gone in the right direction.

Chin-lung Hu (inc.)
.130/.160/.174 .334 0hr -0.2 WAR

Hu made his yearly cameo for the 4th season in a row, but it’s kind of an understatement to say that his career has largely stalled out. At 26, he had just 25 plate appearances in the bigs, less than he had in 2007 or 2008.

Really, it was that 2008 season that seemingly sealed his fate, because coming off a big season in the minors in 2007 (.325/.364/.507) he flopped badly in his big chance to replace the injured Furcal in 2008 (.181/.252/.233 in 121 PA).

Still, even if he was never going to be as good as that 2007 promised he could be, I think he’s still been slightly underrated, in the sense that he at least deserves chances ahead of retreads like Nick Green. There’s never been any question about his glove, and he’d had a pretty decent line of .317/.339/.438 in 223 AAA plate appearances this season, before undergoing surgery on an injured left thumb. He can still be a starter on a second-division club, or a backup on a better one, but since he’s out of options that chance will likely come with another organization next season.

Juan Castro (inc.)
.000/.250/.000 .250 0hr 0.0 WAR

Castro played just one game in his third (and pray to whatever deity you choose that it’s also his final) stint with the Dodgers, so what am I really going to say about him? Really, the highlight of my coverage of Castro this season was while he was still playing with the Phillies, as I was praising Furcal in July. I noted that Furcal’s 2010 was the best season a Dodger shortstop had ever had to that point, and presented a list of the top ten entries. Right after the list, I said…

(Dead last? Juan Castro‘s atrociously amazing .199/.245/.255 campaign in 1998.)

Yeah, that sounds about right. In parts of seven seasons with the Dodgers (1995-99, 2009, 2010), Castro put up a total line of .205/.258/.271. That’s a 43 OPS+. Good lord.

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Next! Casey Blake turns into a pumpkin! Russ Mitchell tries to make his mark! It’s third base!