2009: Game 1 of 162

No, I’m not going to get into the habit of starting daily game threads. Dodger Thoughts and SonsOfSteveGarvey each have that market cornered, and they do a great job of it. But today’s a special day, because after the longest offseason in years both literally (thanks, WBC) and figuratively (anyone miss listening to Boras and McCourt snipe at each other every day?) the season is finally here. It’s like Christmas combined with your birthday, combined into a burrito that’s stuffed with lobster and drenched in secret sauce. BASEBALL, aka “the only think that makes your miserable life worth getting out of bed for in the morning,” is finally, mercifully back.

Even better, while you know we’d still be watching this team even if they lost 91 games and played Mike Edwards and Jason Phillips every day (god, how long ago does 2005 seem now? Hell, even the 2006 Opening Day lineup included Jason Repko, Sandy Alomar Jr., Jose Cruz Jr., Bill Mueller and Olmedo Saenz), this crew actually looks to be good. So good, in fact, that Baseball Prospectus has the Blue ranked as the 4th best team in MLB to start the season, outranking both of last year’s pennant winners and the Cubs:

#4: Los Angeles Dodgers (92-70, 819 RS, 711 RA)
I’m no Casey Blake fan, but if he’s the worst hitter you’ve got, then you’re on to something. The Dodgers’ signings of Orlando Hudson and Manny Ramirez upgraded them from a fringe contender to one of the best teams in baseball in the waning days of the offseason. The decision to use James McDonald in the rotation will be worth a few wins as well, and while the back of the rotation is still a weakness, there’s enough bullpen here–Cory Wade and Hung-Chih Kuo could own the seventh and eighth innings–to make up for it.

Oh, sure – there’s questions. What happens with the back end of the rotation? Will Joe Torre drive Russell Martin into the ground again? Will Manny hit .750, or merely just .600? How screwed is this team if Chad Billingsley gets hurt? No team, including the three ranked above LA (Red Sox/Yankees/Mets, natch) doesn’t have similar questions.

So let’s get this thing started. We finally have news on the roster questions, as Doug Mientkiewicz, Will Ohman, and Ronald Belisario have officially been added to the roster, while Claudio Vargas is added to the 60-day DL and Greg Miller has been released. It’s a sad day for Miller, who was the Clayton Kershaw of 2003, but according to Tony Jackson, there’s still hope he’ll return on a minor league deal. I sure hope so!

Hiroki Kuroda. Jake Peavy. Game on.

It’s the Best Time of the Year

(But first, a very spicy golf clap to our friends at Chipotle’s Sons of Steve Garvey for an entire day of excellence. It’s one thing to play an April Fools gag, but talk about dedication to a bit – we’re now at 8 posts and counting today of tenuous burrito-related Dodger connections. Well done, hijos.)

It’s that time of the year again, friends – roster cut-down week. There’s a ton of things I love about baseball, but for some reason I’ve always been fascinated by how teams compose their rosters. Should you keep 12 pitchers? (no.) Should you keep 3 catchers? (rarely.) Should you keep Juan Pierre? (never.)

This year’s even better for such discussion, because despite having the most solid starting lineup the club’s had in years, there’s a ton of upheaval on the bottom of the roster. Or as Tony Jackson notes, in regards to Danny Ardoin being cut:

What this does is clear a 40-man spot, and the Dodgers are going to need to clear at least four of them if Jeff Weaver, Juan Castro and Doug Mientkiewicz all make the team because Will Ohman still needs one, too. If Eric Milton makes the club, they’ll need to clear a fifth spot, so it’s going to be an interesting few days between now and Sunday.

So let’s figure this out, shall we? With Ardoin gone, the 40-man roster now stands at 39.

Total locks, offense (11): Martin, Ausmus, Loney, Hudson, Furcal, Blake, Loretta, Manny, Kemp, Ethier, Pierre

Total locks, pitching (9): Billingsley, Kuroda, Kershaw, Wolf, McDonald, Kuo, Wade, Mota, Broxton

Almost certainly headed to DL (2): D. Young, Schmidt

That’s 20 Opening Day locks, and we all know this team is carrying 12 pitchers. So let’s go from there for the remaining 2 batters and 3 bullpen arms…

#21. Obligatory veteran ex-Yankee bench player… I’ve been resigned to the fact that Doug Mientkiewicz is making the team for a while now, and I’ve seen nothing lately to think otherwise. Eyechart’s actually had a pretty solid spring (.275/.348/.650, with another homer today), and Torre sees him as a good clubhouse guy, so he’s all but in. Yeah, I think he’s redundant on this team, but as a decent hitter with a good glove, he’s got his uses. 40-man move: you should buy Danny Ardoin dinner, Dougie.

weaver2006.jpg#22. Obligatory veteran ex-Yankee bullpen arm…
Welcome back to Los Angeles, Jeff Weaver! Just like Eyechart, Weaver’s had an okay spring and it now seems like a given that he’s making the team. Is it too early to call up the engravers to start on the 2009 Chan Ho Park Award? 40-man move: Claudio Vargas has had a bad spring (8.22 ERA), unexplained elbow pain, and is only signed for the minimum of $400,000. DFA’d!

#23. Because if Rafael Furcal’s sitting once a week, the shortstop is going to be… big competition for this spot. Should it be Chin-Lung Hu, who’s just as good of a defender as Furcal and who Torre just called “the star of the spring”? How about Blake DeWitt, who after hitting a double and a homer on Tuesday is slugging over .400 while getting good reviews of his time at shortstop? Or Juan Castro, who inexplicably is crushing the ball at an over .600 clip despite a career of horrible hitting? Well, it really shouldn’t be Castro, because he’s clearly the worst hitter of the three, the spring aside, and he’s not a better fielder than Hu. It especially shouldn’t be Castro because he’s not on the 40-man, and it especially shouldn’t be Juan Castro because he’s Juan Castro. Granted, the club does have some worries about hurting the development of the young guys if they don’t get to play every day, and that’s fair. But you know what? Orlando Hudson’s coming off a major wrist injury, Rafael Furcal’s coming off a major back injury, and since only four outfielders are coming north, Casey Blake might be the 5th outfielder. Sounds like plenty of playing time for Blake DeWitt to me! And Hu’s still just a short plane ride away in Albuquerque. 40-man move: none, because DeWitt’s already on. Please don’t take Castro!

#24. Lefty pitcher who should enjoy 2 weeks of big league service time until Will Ohman comes up on April 14… Well, it’s sure as hell not going to be Eric Milton, not after he added 8 runs in 2 1/3 innings to the 10.07 ERA he brought into today’s game. Remember when he was the leader for the 5th starter role? Dodged that bullet, didn’t we? I refuse to accept the idea of Shawn Estes making this team after his horrendous spring, so let’s give the 32-year-old minor league lifer Brian Mazone a quick taste of the good life in appreciation of his solid spring (1 ER in 8 IP). 40-man move: perhaps Schmidt to the 60-day DL? That might seem a bit harsh, but I don’t see any other obvious cuts on the roster, and since the 5th starter role doesn’t come up that often in April (just 4 times, I believe) and you’d think McDonald gets a few cracks, maybe this makes the most sense – and stops Schmidt from trying to rush himself.  

#25. The 12th pitcher, AKA, “why are we taking 12 pitchers?” You know, I’m looking at this list of names, and not one of them seem more enticing to me than including Xavier Paul in the outfield for an extra kick of defense. But, since we all know that’s not happening, who are the options here? Estes and Milton? Hell, no. Josh Lindblom’s been great, but all reports have him starting back in the minors. Dodgers.com seems to think that Tanyon Sturtze and Ronald Belisario still have a prayer, but A) no. B) it’d require another 40-man spot and C) NO. So let’s not overthink things. We have a guy on the 40-man roster, who was decent in MLB last year, had a good winter, and an okay spring. Ramon Troncoso, you can come on back to LA – but make sure you don’t sign a long-term lease.