Improving the 2014 Dodgers: The Bench

puntol_sanfran_2013-05-04Finishing off the look at 2014 areas of need, followingh second basethird base, starting pitcher, and the bullpen

The Incumbents: Nick Punto, Jerry Hairston, Skip Schumaker, & Michael Young (mercifully!) are all free agents, so expect a lot of turnover here. I could see Punto returning, but Hairston & Young each seemed cooked, and Schumaker’s utility to pair with Mark Ellis at second base may no longer matter with Alexander Guerrero in town. Scott Van Slyke probably deserves a shot as a righty 1B/OF bench bat, but the team certainly didn’t act as though they wanted him around late in the season, and he does have an option remaining. A big part of this, of course, depends on what happens with the outfield logjam; If no one is traded, the bench could contain an Andre Ethier or Carl Crawford or Matt Kemp every day.

This group had versatility in 2013, but was a terribly punchless bench otherwise. The team can and should do better, with the understanding that the backup catcher (likely Tim Federowicz again) stands apart.

Organizational Options: All the names you’ve come to know and love, mostly. If he’s not traded first, Dee Gordon will spend another year in Albuquerque, waiting for injuries. Justin Sellers & Elian Herrera are still bouncing around, if they somehow manage to hang on to their 40-man roster spots, and newcomer Mike Baxter might be in the mix, as might Chili Buss. Joc Pederson may push his way up at some point, but is far more likely to be playing every day in Triple-A (or in some other team’s organization) than riding the big league bench.

Trade Options: As you’ll see below, scarce. The Cardinals have probably had enough of Pete Kozma & Daniel Descalso at this point, though I think we’ve been down the “mediocre scrappy ex-Cardinal” route already. Jeff Keppinger can handle a few spots, is surprisingly expensive ($4.5m), and was so terrible that the White Sox would likely be happy to move him, and you can always dig up guys like Adam Rosales, Cody Ransom, or Maicer Izturis. Mike Aviles may be useful, though Cleveland probably wants to hang on to him, and Kevin Frandsen & Emilio Bonifacio are mildly intriguing though probably not worth the effort.

Free Agent Options: This gets tough because anyone good is going to want to be a starter… and anyone who signs as a bench player probably isn’t that good. Care to gamble on Mark Reynolds, Eric Chavez, or Kevin Youkilis? Ramon Santiago or Kelly Johnson? Does whatever deity you believe in hate you so much as to force Willie Bloomquist on to you? Or worse, Yuniesky Betancourt, who lurks quietly, just waiting to haunt your dreams?

I’ve always liked Rajai Davis, and if we learned anything this year, it’s that the Dodgers need someone on the bench who can handle center. He can, and he’s stolen 216 bases over the last five seasons, but that’s exactly what might make him hold out for a starting job. Chris Young and David Murphy are also interesting, though coming off of miserable seasons. Either way, guys like these aren’t likely to come to a team that doesn’t have much outfield space to offer, and that’s disappointing, because the only interesting options are in the outfield.

What the Dodgers absolutely need if Punto doesn’t come back — and maybe even if he does — is another middle infield option, since Guerrero is unproven and Hanley Ramirez is always hurt. Santiago or Alexi Casilla or Brendan Ryan might be the best options there, though none offer anything with the bat. While not a middle infielder, Mike Morse may be available, if you believe his terrible year was more due to his wrist injury than anything else.

The Verdict? If we know anything about Ned Colletti, it’s that he’ll inevitably staff his bench with at least one “gritty, good clubhouse guy” that will infuriate us all. But why go shopping for one when Michael Young is so close? You know it, I know it, and it’s not going to be fun.

Improving the 2014 Dodgers: The Bullpen

bullpen_belisario_rodriguezI’m sad the Dodgers didn’t make it into the World Series, and then I look at what happened last night in Game 3, and I can sort of see the silver lining. The stress levels there just have to be off the charts, and while I can feel for Boston fans who think they got robbed, I can’t really see an argument that says the umpires didn’t make the right call. If there’s a problem, it’s in the rule as written, but it was called correctly. Now let’s talk about it for the next 40 years.

Back to the Dodgers, continuing the look at 2014 areas of need, which we started with second base, third base, and starting pitcher, and will conclude with the bench…

The Incumbents: Kenley Jansen (arbitration-eligible) is among the best relievers in baseball. Paco Rodriguez (team control) showed more than enough this season to earn a chance to prove his late-season slump was just that, Chris Withrow (team control) looks like he might have a future, and the consistently inconsistent Ronald Belisario (arbitration-eligible) still looks good enough at times to suffer his down periods.

At the moment, those are the four most likely members of the 2014 Dodger bullpen. Brandon League probably is there as well — no, he’s not getting cut — though you could easily see the team swallowing a substantial portion of the $17.5m (!) still due him as part of a larger trade this winter just to reclaim the roster spot. J.P. Howell, Brian Wilson, & Carlos Marmol are all free agents; I imagine the team will show varying degrees of interest in all three. Scott Elbert was hurt all year and will miss a large chunk of 2014 after undergoing Tommy John surgery, and may just be non-tendered first. Speaking of injuries, could Chad Billingsley or Josh Beckett find themselves here?

Organizational Options: A few. To the surprise of absolutely no one, Javy Guerra couldn’t sustain his brief 2011 run as the closer, and he appeared in only nine games this year while spending most of his time with Albuquerque. He enters 2014 without any minor league options remaining and may be on his way out the door. Shawn Tolleson has always been a favorite of mine, but he missed basically the entire year with back and hip injuries, and might need to spend time in the minors before returning. That might also apply to Jose Dominguez, who showed promise before missing a shockingly long time with a quad injury, and Onelki Garcia, who likely needs more seasoning after only 65.1 professional innings. Deeper in the system, Yimi Garcia had an 85/14 K/BB for Double-A Chattanooga.

Trade Options: This is always tough, because teams who have good relievers don’t want to move them, and the ones that do get moved are either untrustworthy or way overpriced. Looking at last winter, only a few trades were made involving relievers, and they were either bad situations (Heath Bell getting out of Miami) or part of larger deals (Tony Sipp being included in the Shin-Soo Choo / Trevor Bauer deal, or Mark Melancon and Joel Hanrahan being traded along with others for one another). Other than maybe trying to revive interest in the increasingly expensive Luke Hochevar, I wouldn’t expect much here.

Free Agent Options: Wilson might be the most attractive name out there, but occasional closers Joaquin Benoit & Grant Balfour should generate some interest, if you can get past the fact that they’re both 36. Anyone want a return engagement with Kevin Gregg, or to see what Fernando Rodney‘s age-37 season is like, or Joe Nathan‘s age-39 year, or to see if Edward Mujica becomes the umpteenth pitcher to find the fountain of youth in St. Louis and the immediately lose it upon leaving? Francisco Rodriguez is out there and somehow only 32, which is shocking to me. Really, all of these guys are a crapshoot. Can you fix Joba Chamberlain? Can you trust Jesse Crain, who is excellent when healthy but also rarely healthy? Do you like Nick Masset or Joe Smith or Matt Albers?

With Elbert injured, Rodriguez somewhat of a question mark, and Howell not guaranteed to return, the Dodgers will absolutely need to find a lefty reliever. That might just be bringing Howell back, which I think we’d all be okay with, but there’s at least a few southpaws who might be interesting. Oliver Perez went from Mets disaster to quietly effective Seattle reliever and will only be 32 next year, while Boone Logan managed to miss some bats for the Yankees. Or, if Ned Colletti needs to satiate that ex-Giant itch, Javier Lopez is an option.

The Verdict? One would hope that the lesson has been learned here about spending heavily on expensive relief pitching, and the team has enough in-house options to form the core of a pretty good bullpen. I think the team will try to retain Wilson, but that he’ll move on for a closer’s role (Detroit seems like a pretty good option to overpay him) and that they’ll being back Howell on a deal that most of us will cringe at. Or at least, that’s what I’m hoping for, because the idea of some of those aging closers coming to challenge Jansen is terrifying to me.

Improving the 2014 Dodgers: Starting Pitching

billingsley_insandiego_2013-04-10

 Hey, remember that guy?

The third in a five-part look at 2014 areas of need, which we started with second base and third base and will conclude with the bullpen and bench…

The Incumbents: Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, & Hyun-jin Ryu are obviously all going to be back, and make for a pretty nice trio. Chad Billingsley (Tommy John surgery) should be ready relatively early in the season, but can’t really be counted on. Josh Beckett (thoracic outlet syndrome) is also on the road back, but he’ll be 34 and his last four seasons have been terrible (2010), surprisingly good (2011), mediocre (2012), and terrible/injured (2013). You wonder if either or both end up working out of the bullpen. Free agent Ricky Nolasco was a nice addition after coming over from Miami in July, and would probably love to return. Chris Capuano will be a free agent when the team declines his 2014 option, and late season addition Edinson Volquez is a free agent as well.

Organizational Options: Matt Magill & Stephen Fife each saw time in the bigs in 2013, and provide good depth to have on hand even if none of us wants to see them any more than absolutely necessary. Zach Lee is probably just about ready for a shot in 2014, Chris Reed may not be far behind, though I still believe his future is in the bullpen, and Ross Stripling could be a possibility later in the year.

I think we learned this year that there’s no such thing as too much pitching, so the play here is probably to add at least one more starter, then let Beckett / Billingsley / Fife / Magill / Lee variously fill out the fifth spot as needed.

Trade Options: Will we ever stop hearing about Cliff Lee trade rumors? Probably not, especially when the Phillies look to be on the downturn. Yovani Gallardo could likely be had, but his declining velocity is a concern, and while I’ve long liked Brett Anderson, rumored to be on the block, he’s just constantly injured. I imagine the Brewers would be thrilled to move Kyle Lohse, also, but no thanks.

The big name out there is David Price, of course, and the Dodgers will likely be connected to him all winter. I can’t argue that the idea of adding Price to Kershaw, Greinke, & Ryu is just beyond absurd, but if the Rays were able to pry Wil Myers and more away from Kansas City for a lesser pitcher in James Shields, I can’t imagine what they get for Price — probably more than the Dodgers have to offer, unless you really want to give up Corey Seager, Joc Pederson, Zach Lee, and Julio Urias, and even then maybe that’s not enough. In a similar vein, might the Tigers make Max Scherzer available? He’s headed into his final year before free agency and will likely have a Cy Young in his pocket. The price will be massive, of course, but worth considering.

Free Agent Options: Nolasco, of course, and we’re familiar with him at this point. There’s no shortage of names here, really. Matt Garza is probably the biggest, and wouldn’t require draft pick compensation since he was traded to Texas (where he was disappointing) during the season. Hiroki Kuroda is coming off yet another very good season as he starts his usual dance of “Yankees or California or Japan,” and assuming New York extends him a qualifying offer, I again have no interest in losing a first-round pick for him at age 39. There’s an interesting group of formerly-great starters who could probably be gambled upon for short-term deals, like Josh Johnson, Dan Haren, Johan Santana, or Roy Halladay. (I’m convinced the latter two are cooked, though.)

There’s more. Ubaldo Jimenez shook off a few down years to have a very good season for Cleveland, and might be in line for something like 4/$50m; Ervin Santana also turned his career around in Kansas City and should be an interesting case. Bartolo Colon will be 41 and is just about impossible to predict, but you can’t deny his success in Oakland; Similarly, I have absolutely no idea what to think about Scott Kazmir. And there’s tons of back-end guys like Scott Feldman, Bruce Chen, Bronson ArroyoJason Hammel, Phil Hughes, Paul Maholm, Mike Pelfrey, & Jason Vargas. Finally, we talked about Japanese import Masahiro Tanaka yesterday, who should be on the Dodger radar.

The Verdict? The more I think about Tanaka, the more I like him, and I hope the Dodgers get him. But the more I think about him, I think the Yankees just have to come away with him, because they have a mess of a rotation and dollars to spend, even as they try to stick under $189m. Since the posting fee won’t count towards that, it makes all the sense in the world for them to go all-out. If they do, I think we’ll hear the Dodgers be connected in trade rumors for Price, but won’t see anything come of it, and then probably surprise us all by signing both Nolasco and someone like Garza or Haren. It won’t matter, though; We’ll still see Fife by May 15. We always will.

Resetting the 40-Man Roster

celebration_2013-07-30As we look ahead to 2014, the first step is taking stock of the roster. The 40-man roster is currently full, but it’s really 45 when you include injured 60-day disabled list players. Here’s how this all breaks down:

Under contract (11): Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez, Carl Crawford, Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig, Andre Ethier, Hyun-jin Ryu, Zack GreinkeJosh BeckettChad Billingsley, Brandon League

Combined, these 11 guys account for about $166m for 2014. Billingsley, of course, is unlikely to be ready for Opening Day, while Beckett’s health (and effectiveness) is anyone’s guess until we get a look at him. We’ll be hearing rumors about trading one of the outfielders (and League, possibly) all winter long.

Arbitration-eligible (8): Clayton Kershaw, A.J. Ellis, Ronald Belisario, Kenley Jansen, Scott Elbert, Mike BaxterPeter MoylanDrew Butera

Signing Kershaw is obviously a huge priority for the winter, as he has one more year of arbitration remaining before free agency. I did see the report that indicated the Dodgers offered him $300m, but that doesn’t pass the sniff test for me — it’s insane for the team to have offered that, it’s more insane for him to have declined. I think it’ll get done for something like 8/$220m.

Elbert, who missed the season and had Tommy John surgery in June, is a potential non-tender candidate. (As are Butera & Moylan, and maybe even Baxter too.) The fact that Jansen is on this list for the first time shows what a ludicrous value he is, and how you never, ever, need to overspend on a “veteran closer”. (I should admit that I’m not 100% certain on Moylan’s status. If my math is right, he falls just barely a few days service time short of free agency.)

Under team control (14): Tim Federowicz, Dee Gordon, Elian Herrera, Justin Sellers, Scott Van Slyke, Chili Buss, Javy Guerra, Matt Magill, Paco Rodriguez, Chris Withrow, Stephen Fife, Onelki Garcia, Jose Dominguez, Shawn Tolleson

These are the younger players with less than three years of service time, who can simply be renewed for the minimum. Sellers & Herrera are easily DFA’d should roster space become an issue.

Soon-to-be free agents (10): Juan Uribe, Nick Punto, Jerry Hairston, Michael Young, Skip Schumaker, Ricky Nolasco, Edinson Volquez, Brian Wilson, J.P. Howell, Carlos Marmol

At 9am ET on the first day following the World Series — that’s November 1 if it goes a full seven games — these 10 Dodgers become free agents. Other than Marmol, Nolasco, & Young, who were traded for during the season, the Dodgers have the right to offer any of their free agents a qualifying offer, which would be $14.1m for one year. That seems exceptionally unlikely for any of them. It’s likely that two or three of these guys return, but the majority won’t.

Option decisions (2): Chris CapuanoMark Ellis

Capuano has a $1m buyout of an $8m 2014 option that will all but certainly be declined, though it’s possible he returns at a lesser salary in a swingman role. Ellis has a $5.75m option that, despite his shortcomings, isn’t entirely unreasonable. If the Dodgers can lock down Alexander Guerrero, Ellis is likely gone, but that’s not certain yet.

Assuming both options are declined, the Dodgers will have 33 spots on the 40-man. If you figure they retain two or three of their free agents, add two or three prospects to protect them from the Rule V draft, and add a few new players, they’ll need to clear some room. Guys like Sellers and Herrera might be best served to not get comfortable this winter, though I feel like I’ve been saying that about Sellers for three years now.