Monday Roundup: The Law Firm of Miles, Wade, Loney & Gould

I was a little off the grid this weekend thanks to a wedding and other family commitments, and there’s so much going on right now that I could probably write six different posts about it. In the interest of expediency, let’s try to hit as much as of it as I can right here.

******

ESPN’s Molly Knight brings us news that’s relevant to the only thing more important than winning baseball games: being rid of Frank McCourt. But this isn’t the usual business about Frank’s court fight with Jamie, or even about his fight with Bud Selig and MLB. This story has a quite unexpected hero: Manny Ramirez.

We’ve long known that the Dodgers owe Manny a nice chunk of deferred salary both this year and in years to come, but what’s noteworthy here is the amount and the timing: the Dodgers owe Manny a full payment of $8.33m by June 30.

Here’s how Knight lays out the June responsibilities:

$9ish million for June 15, $9ish for June 30, $8.33 for Manny.

Remember, every two weeks we’ve been wondering if McCourt would make payroll. He had to borrow from sponsors to meet the May 30 payroll, and while he’s reportedly ready to make the June 15 bill, that’s yet to be confirmed. Manny’s bill is essentially a third payroll responsibility for June, and it’s anyone’s guess where McCourt thinks he’s going to come up with that kind of money.

Imagine if, after all of the garbage spewed at Manny (much of it deserved, but certainly not all) by the media and some fans, that he was the one who finally sank Frank McCourt? I’d start measuring him for a statue, if that’s the case.

******

The Rays have released ex-Dodger Cory Wade from their AAA affiliate in Durham, NC. (They also added ex-Dodger Lance Cormier to Durham, which, ha.) Wade was released not because of his performance, which has been excellent in Durham, but because of a logjam in the Tampa bullpen – and because Wade had a June 15th opt-out.

You probably remember that Wade was a surprisingly effective reliever for the 2008 Dodgers, before spending most of the next two years being injured and ineffective. (You can probably search the archives here and find reference to me pinning that blame on his overuse by Joe Torre in 2008.) After shoulder surgery last season, he was quietly signed to a minor-league deal by Tampa this winter… and he’s been very good. In 36.2 AAA innings, he’s allowed just five earned runs with a 34/6 K/BB, and Rays fans aren’t happy that he was let go.

Wade is a 28-year-old relief pitcher and while he’s no longer a “prospect”, he looked like a player that could help in the Rays’ bullpen this season. After having shoulder surgery last season, Wade was doing very well in Triple-A this year, striking out 8.4 batters per nine, while walking a miniscule 1.5 batters per nine. He’d allowed four homeruns over his 36 innings pitched, but still, he had a 1.23 ERA and 3.34 FIP — he was darn good. Not only that, but Wade had frequently worked two innings at a time, making him a prime candidate to serve as a long man for the Rays.

I’m beginning to wonder what sort of compromising pictures Andy Sonnanstine must have in his possession in order to stick on the roster instead of Wade. Sonnanstine is getting lit up every time he takes the mound, posting a 6.06 ERA and 7.52 FIP, and he simply doesn’t look like a major-league caliber pitcher anymore.

Why, Friedman, why? Do you enjoy subjecting your fans to the horrors of watching Sonny pitch? Are you afraid of those pictures from the playoff celebration last year getting out? Because man, I would have liked to see Cory Wade get a shot.

Other than Sonnanstine, the Rays bullpen has been effective, so the fact that he couldn’t get a shot isn’t a black mark against Wade. (As for Sonnanstine, Tampa has been overly devoted to him for some time, and Rays fans and bloggers have been bemoaning his roster spot for months.)

So getting to the obvious question – why shouldn’t the Dodgers go and try to give him a shot? I’m sure that he won’t be unemployed for long, so I’m sure he’ll end up in the big leagues soon for someone, and why not the Dodgers? It’s not like it’d be hard to make room in the bullpen. Matt Guerrier and Blake Hawksworth aren’t going anywhere, but Ramon Troncoso, Josh Lindblom, Scott Elbert and Javy Guerra all have minor-league options, and Elbert & Troncoso just got lit up in Colorado. There’s also Mike MacDougal, who would have to be DFA’d, but who has done nothing to live up to his shiny 2.01 ERA.

(Update: Wade signed with the Yankees. Of course he did. Oh well.)

******

James Loney‘s grand slam over the weekend in Colorado was his second career salami, with the previous one… also coming in Colorado. This isn’t the first time I’ve noted his brutal home/road splits (or the second… or the third…), but the success he’s found in Denver is particularly noteworthy.

I Split PA R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
LAD-Dodger Stad 1316 119 313 55 6 20 171 112 167 .265 .327 .372 .699
COL-Coors Fld 178 26 53 12 1 8 49 14 18 .325 .376 .558 .935
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/13/2011.

I’ll be the first to tell you hitting is about more than just home runs, but of all the numbers there, that’s what stands out to me the most. Loney has more than seven times as many plate appearances in Dodger Stadium than he does in Coors Field… and just barely more than twice as many homers. Dating back to last season, three of Loney’s last five homers have come in Colorado, and even one of the others, against Jason Hammel on May 30, came against the Rockies, though at home. (The fifth came against Florida’s Javier Vazquez, possibly the worst starting pitcher in baseball right now.) When Loney gets non-tendered, as we all believe he will, just wait for the Rockies to snap him up. It’s not a perfect fit, since Todd Helton is also a lefty and having a great season, but Helton’s going to be 38 next year – and the Rockies have found a way to squeeze lefty first baseman Jason Giambi onto the roster this year anyway. I look forward to the day when Loney is both not a Dodger and tormenting us from afar.

******

In the comments yesterday, I made an off-hand remark that Aaron Miles has the emptiest .300 average in team history, and it’s true. He never walks, and he hits for no power whatsoever. That’s why his OPS is a subpar .658. I didn’t say that meaning to bash Miles, but that upset a lot of people who felt I wasn’t giving Miles enough credit. So let me clear that up by saying Miles has been far more than I’d ever expected. His .300 may not be indicative of much by itself, but it’s about 150 points higher than I thought he’d give us. When I give out midseason grades next month, he’s almost certainly going to get a B+ or higher. As a multipositional, switch-hitting backup, he’s been something of a pleasant surprise. You’ll notice that I haven’t been making calls to have him DFA’d or replaced.

The problem here, which is not on Miles, is that he’s not serving as the 5th or 6th infielder. Due to the rash of injuries, he’s been an everyday starter. His 190 PA is fifth most on the team, behind Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Loney, and Jamey Carroll. An empty .300 from a bench player is great, but it’s a problem from a starter. Again, that’s not on Miles; he didn’t create the injury situation, and all he’s done is help fill the holes while playing better than expected. That also doesn’t mean he’s someone we should want to see every night.

Tony Jackson of ESPNLA looked at the infield situation recently, and his takeaway was while Don Mattingly seemingly prefers Juan Uribe and Casey Blake to play every day at 2B and 3B around Loney and Dee Gordon, that Carroll and Miles have outplayed the two enough that they should be playing everyday at 2B and 3B. Jackson’s argument is that Blake & Uribe get preferred treatment because of their salaries, and he’s probably not far off there.

I understand where he’s coming from – after all, I’ve been saying for two years that counting on Blake to be an everyday player this year was a mistake and that the Uribe contract was a terrible idea – but I can’t say I totally agree, and that’s partly because I’m more focused on the future than the present.

Here’s my optimal infield, with the pieces around right now. At first base, Loney and Blake split time. Blake sees all lefties and half of all home starts; Loney gets to bat in all nine positions the next time the Dodgers go to Colorado. At second base, Carroll needs to be the nearly full-time starter if only for his on-base skills, with Miles starting twice a week to get him time and keep Carroll fresh. Gordon is certainly going to play most days at short, though Uribe or Carroll can spot there now and then, and Uribe should play most days at third, with Blake or Miles getting a start or two a week there. I say this because even though I have little faith in Uribe being worth the value of his contract, the fact is that he’s here for 2.5 more years and it’s too soon to give up on that. Besides, he can’t always be this bad. Right?

******

News on two Dodger prospects from Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus:

Garrett Gould, RHP, Dodgers (Low-A Great Lakes)
A second-round pick in 2009, Gould had a so-so 4.09 ERA in the Pioneer League last year. When scouts saw him, all they could really talk about was projection, as while the skinny 6-foot-4 righty oozed it, his right-now stuff left plenty to be desired. That projection is starting to come through; what was once an upper-80s fastball is now in the lower 90s, and he is maintaining his good control and a very good curveball. He’s looking like one of the best arms in the Midwest League after reeling off back-to-back starts without allowing an earned run. Consistency is a word rarely used in Low-A, but with a 1.55 ERA in 12 starts, in which he has never allowed more than two earned runs, Gould has been just that and maturing.

Trayvon Robinson, OF, Dodgers (Triple-A Albuquerque)
Over the past six weeks, we learned that hitting in Chavez Ravine is very different from hitting in Albuquerque. Just ask Jerry Sands. Still, is it time for Robinson to get the next chance? With a home run on Friday, a double and two walks on Saturday, and five hits on Sunday, he’s now batting .299/.357/.543 in 58 games, and while he might not have Sands’ pure bat, he his speed and ability to play all three outfield slots offers more lineup flexibility. Robinson still struggles against lefties (which is all Sands could hit), so there would be a different dynamic in play, but when Tony Gwynn Jr. is on pace for nearly 300 plate appearances, there has to be a better way.

Gould is someone we’ve never heard all that much about, obscured as he’s been by the Zach Lee / Chris Withrow / Allen Webster types, so it’s good to see some positive news there. We’ve heard plenty about Robinson and I’ve contemplated making a “when will he arrive?” post for a few weeks now. If the Dodgers have surprised at all this year, it’s in that they’ve promoted prospects like Jerry Sands, Rubby De La Rosa, and Dee Gordon far sooner than we’d expected. Robinson’s probably not completely ready yet – a 67/19 K/BB mark at AAA isn’t something I’m dying to add to the lineup – but as Goldstein notes, the production is there and Gwynn (and Trent Oeltjen, and Marcus Thames) are clearly not the answer in left. I’ll say Robinson doesn’t get the call in June, but I could see it any time after Independence Day.

All Hail Aaron Miles & Jamey Carroll

Hey, I have to reach for positives somewhere, right? The Dodgers had just six hits today, and five came from Aaron Miles (three) and Jamey Carroll (two). The duo also combined for the only Dodger run, with Miles singling in Carroll after the latter had doubled to lead off the third inning. Credit where credit is due: Miles has five multihit games in his last ten, and while he’s not drawing any walks or hitting for any power, his recent production is still about 10,000% more than we’d ever expected from him.

Of course, when you’re rolling out a lineup that features Dioner Navarro 6th (3 K!) and Juan Castro 7th, you’ve basically conceded the game anyway. As we’d worried all season, once Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier stopped being world-beaters, this team was going to be in massive trouble, and they’ve each been in mini-slumps, with today’s combined 0-7 dropping both of their May OPS lines down near .700. Factor in Ted Lilly‘s continued issues with keeping the ball in the park, and this was a game that was over pretty much right after it began, save for a brief spurt of life in the 9th that came up short.

The Dodgers have scored just seven runs in their last three games, and five or more just twice over their last sixteen. It might not get much easier this week, with Shaun Marcum, Randy Wolf, Madison Bumgarner, Gavin Floyd, and Mark Buehrle among the scheduled opposing pitchers.

******

Let’s not overlook two brief bullpen positives from today’s game: Scott Elbert, making his season debut, struck out all three Diamondbacks he saw in the 8th inning. Javy Guerra, making his major league debut, followed by striking out one in a scoreless 9th inning. Elbert will have to prove it over much more than just one inning after how inconsistent he’s been over the last three seasons, but this is definitely a step in the right direction, and a glimpse into just how much talent he has if he can figure out how to harness it.

Sad Juan Uribe is Sad

This is too good not to share – thanks to the magic of Twitter, I present to you my new favorite Tumblr, “Emo Juan Uribe“.  A few choice selections:

Thank you, Internet. Thank you.

******

In about an hour (3pm PT) over at Dodger Divorce, Josh Fisher and Molly Knight will be chatting as Frank McCourt appears live on 710, including taking phone calls from fans. Join them in the chat, but mostly be sure to call McCourt and try to ensure he doesn’t get all softball questions.

******

Swapping out old, injured outfielders: the Dodgers today placed Marcus Thames on the DL with a right quad strain and recalled Jay Gibbons from ABQ. Thames has been dealing with that issue for a while now and has just six hits this season. Clearly, if he’s not hitting, he has zero value, so this makes sense.

******

Just a quick thought, as I attempt to avoid the work piling up on my desk. Today, the Tampa Bay rays DFA’d infielder Felipe Lopez to make room for Evan Longoria‘s return from the disabled list. You may remember Lopez as “the guy I wanted the Dodgers to sign in the offseason of 2009-10 instead of Jamey Carroll.” I freely admit that was a mistake on my part, though in my defense, Lopez was a switch hitter over six years younger, who was coming off an excellent 2009 of .310/.383/.427 split between Arizona and Milwaukee.

Clearly, I’ll eat crow on that one, and Lopez has had a tough two years since, putting up just a .649 OPS and getting DFA’d by St. Louis last year for reportedly being late to a game. That said, Lopez is 31 and was once a quality player, hitting 23 homers with an .818 OPS in 2005 along with that 2009, and overall has contributed 7.3 WAR in 11 seasons. He got off to a good start this year – even hitting cleanup several times for Tampa – while Longoria was out. Meanwhile, Aaron Miles is 34, has just a .602 OPS this year (less than what Lopez had in the tougher AL East), and has contributed 0.2 WAR in 9 seasons.

Lopez isn’t great, but he once was good, and he’s younger than Miles. Worth a shot?

Dodgers 7, Cubs 3, Miles 3

Coming into the series, the Dodgers had scored 68 runs in 20 games. In three games in Chicago? 27 runs, or nearly a third of their season total to that point. It sure helps when you can get off to a first inning like this against Carlos Zambrano:


Yes, that’s Aaron Miles getting things started with a triple, two of the three hits he had today after I dedicated an entire post to pointing out how much he sucks this morning. I take back nothing I said – come on, even after today’s game, he’s still only at .255/.271/.319 – but I’ll admit that the hits weren’t cheap and that, if only for today, he contributed. The Dodger television broadcast actually shed some light on my question of why Don Mattingly likes Miles hitting first with Jamey Carroll 8th; it’s because he likes having a stronger batter hitting 8th, so that the #8 guy is less likely to make the third out and ruin the next inning by having the pitcher leading off. In theory, that makes sense, but that’s not a situation that comes up all that often, while needing to have men on base for the middle of your order is something that happens daily. Right?

Hiroki Kuroda survived a tough first inning of his own by striking out seven over 6.2 innings, without issuing a walk. That’s the thirteenth time he’s pitched that long without issuing a free pass in his three-plus years as a Dodger. Oddly, he struck out the first five Cubs he retired, though it took nine Cubs to get that far as he allowed two singles and a double, along with a Carroll error, in the first. Mike MacDougal, Blake Hawksworth, and Jonathan Broxton followed with 2.1 scoreless innings, allowing just a hit (by Hawksworth) and a walk (by Broxton).

Also of note, Jerry Sands had a nice game, getting on base twice with a walk and an RBI double, and nailing Aramis Ramirez rounding second with a nice throw from left field. While it’s good to see him contributing, that’s not what interests me most right now. Yes, his .154/.233/.269 line is underwhelming at best, but the more important number is 25. That’s the amount of pitches Sands saw today, tied with Cubs catcher Geovany Soto for the most on both teams.

That’s significant because as Twitter pal EephusBlue pointed out to me early in the game, it seems like Sands has done a great job of showing patience at the plate, and forcing more pitches out of each at-bat. I looked it up, and it’s true. Entering the day, the MLB leader in pitches per plate appearance, among those with enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title, is Daric Barton of Oakland, who sees 4.83 pitches per appearance. (Juan Uribe somehow sees negative two pitches each time he comes up. I’m not sure how he does it either.) Sands, after today’s game and if he had enough PA to qualify, would be at 4.44 – second in all of baseball. While the results haven’t been there yet, the approach absolutely is, and it’s why he deserves more than 34 PA to prove himself in the bigs. We’d heard plenty about Sands’ advanced approach when he was first called up, and so far, that looks to be accurate. Very impressive from a young player.

******

Hey, I don’t want to pile on James Loney any more than I really need to, especially after taking two of three and because he’s been a big target a lot lately. So consider this more an issue with Steve Lyons, who raved about Loney on the air today. Loney went 1-5, but that could have very easily been 0-5 because his one hit was a broken bat duck that barely eluded the shortstop and went to left field. 90% of the time, that’s a play which goes basically unnoticed other than that it saves Loney from an oh-fer. Fortunately for Loney, Kemp was already on second base after a double and with two outs, was running on the play and scored easily. So basically, four things had to happen for Loney to come away with an RBI there. 1, his weak hit had to land in just the right spot. 2, there had to be a runner in scoring position. 3, that runner had to have been fast (Rod Barajas, for example, surely doesn’t move like Kemp). And 4, there had to have been two outs, or else Kemp isn’t running on contact and may stop at third.

Now since all four of those conditions were met, Loney gets credited with an RBI; it was his second of the day, because his groundout with Sands on second and Kemp on third in the first – the only one of the first six batters to fail to reach – got him an RBI as well. Now, my disdain for the RBI stat is well-known, and indeed Loney is the only Dodger who got two, despite at least four other batters (if not more) contributing more.

Yet Lyons, after the RBI single, goes on and on and on about Loney’s advanced hitting style, particularly how he goes the other way, simply because he’s “driving in runs”. Lyons even went so far as to point out to parents that they should have their children imitate Loney’s approach, which I suppose makes sense if you really want your child to rock a line of .167/.191/.211, as Loney has. (Lyons had a career line of .252/.301/.340, so maybe there’s something to that.)

As for Loney, well, it was pointed out to me several times today that Trayvon Robinson hit his 4th homer today to extend his hitting streak to 11; he was at .353/.431/.627 entering the day, numbers which are sure to go up when today’s game is over. I’m already hearing people wondering when Robinson gets his chance, pushing Sands to first, and while I think it’s too soon for that (particularly while Sands is hitting .154), Loney needs to start hearing the footsteps.

******

Dioner Navarro, currently on a rehab stint while rehabbing his pulled oblique, could be back as soon as tomorrow, reports Ken Gurnick. I think I’ve been pretty clear that I prefer A.J. Ellis to Navarro, but Ellis has options and the Dodgers don’t have a ton of catching depth, so I suppose it is what it is.

So What Does Aaron Miles Have on Don Mattingly?

A quick thought for you on this holiday morning, and while it’s not one that’s particularly new – we’ve been complaining about this both here on the blog and on Twitter for some time now – it is one that gets more relevant as the days go on.

What, exactly, is Don Mattingly’s fascination with Aaron Miles, who is atop the lineup yet again for today’s game in Chicago? That’s the third time in the last seven games that Miles is leading off, and it will be his tenth start of the year. Miles, as just about everyone on the planet could have predicted, has been awful, hitting .214/.233/.278 for a 31 OPS+.

The issue here is that there’s two issues here, because ignoring the batting order for a moment, there is no godly reason to have Miles in the lineup at all. Yes, I understand that Rafael Furcal is on the disabled list and that Juan Uribe has missed a few days with a tight left thigh, thus requiring more time from the backups than we’d like. But why Miles, who is atrocious with no prayer of improvement, over Ivan DeJesus, who I’m not even a huge fan of but who satisfies the simple requirement of “not being Aaron Miles”? As Jon Weisman writes at Dodger Thoughts today, DeJesus has received just five plate appearances without a start since getting called up on April 12, while Miles has seen six starts in that time. Is DeJesus any sort of guarantee to perform? Of course not. But it wasn’t that long ago that he was a highly thought of prospect, and there’s at least potential for a spark there. You can’t say that about Miles.

Even beyond the impact it has on the field, the decision to continually play Miles over DeJesus goes directly against what Mattingly said on April 6, when DeJesus was initially sent down to make room for Casey Blake:

“He had a great spring. But the way we’re set up, his at-bats are not enough to dwarf his development,” manager Don Mattingly said of the decision to send De Jesus down. “I’m sure he’s disappointed — and I know he wants to be in the big leagues — but his best interest is for him to still be playing every day.”

“We know he’s going to handle the bat,” manager Don Mattingly said of De Jesus after announcing he’d been optioned. “Defensively, he just needs to keep working and keep putting polish on his game at second base. I look at Ivan as a kid that can play every day, and the way we’re set up, he’s not going to get the at-bats that’s really fair to him or to his development, or what we’re trying to do. To sit here and get two at-bats a week is not going to do him any good, and it’s not going to do us any good. He’s young, he can play. To me he’s an everyday guy.”

Yet that’s exactly what they’re doing, by sitting him in favor of an option that’s in no way obviously better. This is exactly the issue that worried me just after DeJesus was called up to fill Furcal’s spot:

I know I haven’t exactly been the biggest supporter of Ivan DeJesus, but can we please get him more time at second base instead of Aaron Miles? Maybe DeJesus is a big league player, and maybe he’s not, but at least there’s hope there. Miles (0-2 tonight, hitting .214) is just execrable, and that’s not likely to change. DeJesus at least got his first big league hit tonight, and there’s no reason to not be playing him.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what we’re seeing. Yet compounding the playing time issue is that Mattingly insists on batting him leadoff, an insult aggravated more by the fact that the superior Jamey Carroll and his .372 OBP (working towards his fourth straight year of .355 or better) continues to hit 8th. Because when you want guys on base for Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp to drive in, why wouldn’t you put your worst hitter (okay, James Loney is still challenging for that crown) ahead of them?

Back when the Dodgers signed Miles in February, I noted that among players who have received as many plate appearances as he’s had since 2003, only three players in baseball have generated less value for their teams. In another two weeks or so he’ll have enough PA to knock Juan Encarnacion off the list and become the third least valuable player in that time. Ladies and gentlemen, your leadoff hitter.

We knew signing Miles was a terrible idea when it happened, and what we’ve seen of him so far hasn’t done anything to change that impression. So please, Don, spare us from having to see him play so much – and if you absolutely can’t resist that temptation, then at least hit him as low in the lineup as you can.

******

It’s still incredibly unlikely that this happens and even if it did, it would take months, years or more. Still, I wrote about a scenario in which Brewers owner and LA native Mark Attanasio could end up with control of the Dodgers the other day, and today I see this tidbit in Buster Olney’s piece:

Heard this: In the highest offices of a handful of other teams, the heavy speculation is that Brewers owner Mark Attanasio would be the most likely candidate to move from one team to the Dodgers — if Major League Baseball fends off the expected legal challenges of Frank McCourt, and if MLB decides to have an established owner take over the Dodgers — and if Attanasio actually were to take the opportunity, if presented. But it will take months for all of this to play out.

Don’t hold your breath, or get your hopes up. Just be happy that there’s people in the know who think that there’s even a sliver of a chance there.