Small Needs to Fill At the Winter Meetings

While the rest of the baseball world heads to the winter meetings and focuses on C.J. Wilson, Jose Reyes, and Prince Fielder, everyone expects that the Dodgers are finished. Foolishly or not, they’ve spent their money on Juan Rivera, Mark Ellis, Matt Treanor, Adam Kennedy, and Chris Capuano, and with the payroll all but exhausted and Hiroki Kuroda looking elsewhere, public opinion is largely that Ned Colletti shouldn’t even spend his time going to Dallas because the Dodgers are done.

Still, it is the winter meetings, which means that rumors always fly – remember, last year I did basically a four-day live blog as the Dodgers were connected to tons of rumors and came away with Vicente Padilla and Tony Gwynn – and they do still have a few needs. Barring a completely unexpected trade, here’s the three items to keep an eye out for.

5th starter. With Capuano in the mix, the first four starters are set, and at the moment, Nathan Eovaldi is the 5th starter. Eovaldi showed promise in a few starts with the big club last year, but didn’t prove to me that he’s ready for a full-time gig without more seasoning. To be honest, I’m guessing that Colletti feels the same. Remember 2010, when the season started with a questionable fifth starter in Charlie Haeger behind a relatively solid front four? Haeger flamed out early and Vicente Padilla got hurt, and that’s how you ended up with 33 starts from John Ely, Carlos Monasterios, and Ramon Ortiz. Colletti recognized that misstep and attempted to overcompensate in 2011 by having six starters, bringing back Padilla and adding Jon Garland. It didn’t work out, since each got hurt (as did Rubby De La Rosa), but the intent was good, and I’m guessing that Colletti won’t want to start 2012 counting on the uncertain Eovaldi without much behind him. But who? Buster Olney suggests that Aaron Harang could still be in play, though I find it hard to see him fitting into the Dodger salary structure after declining his $5m mutual option with the Padres. This is where I’m thinking we’ll see the bulk of the rumors this week.

Backup infielder. Despite importing Kennedy, Colletti doesn’t appear to be satisfied with Justin Sellers to join him on the bench, as Tony Jackson notes:

Colletti also wants another utility player; veterans Jerry Hairston and Jack Wilson are high on the list, as is incumbent Aaron Miles.

Kennedy seems to satisfy the “veteran lefty who can’t hit or play shortstop” role that Miles had, so I doubt he’d really be in play. You never got to see the infield post I had ready to go just before Kennedy was signed, but you probably don’t need to in order to guess that I think Wilson is a completely useless piece. Hairston is more attractive than I’d initially thought, though that just might price him out of the Dodgers’ budget.

One final thing on Kennedy, and I swear I’ll drop it for a while after this: a quick timeline of his last two years.

Feb. 5, 2010: Coming off a decent 2009 with Oakland, signs a $1.25m guaranteed contract for 2010 with Washington.

2010: Hits just .249/.327/.327 for Washington, one of the worst years of his career.

Nov. 3, 2010: Nationals decline Kennedy’s $2m 2011 option.

Jan. 10, 2011: Mariners sign Kennedy to a minor-league deal with an invite to spring training; he makes the roster when the Mariners decide Dustin Ackley needs more seasoning.

Jan 27, 2011: Arrested in Newport Beach for suspicion of DUI.

2011: Hits .234/.277/.355 for Seattle, a wOBA 25 points lower than his underwhelming 2010.

Nov. 30, 2011: After not being able to find a guaranteed contract in 2011 and having a horrible season… receives a guaranteed deal from the Dodgers.

Nothing wrong with that scenario, right?

Veteran reliever. Colletti’s mentioned he’d like to add a veteran reliever, though as the Jackson piece notes, it’s not a top priority. While this immediately rings Matt Guerrier warning bells for most of us, I’m guessing it probably shouldn’t. There’s just not payroll for that kind of expenditure (one small benefit of the ownership mess, I suppose), and while my position against large contract for fungible bullpen arms is well-known, that doesn’t mean the bullpen has to be 100% young, homegrown players. If a well-traveled arm comes in on a low or non-guaranteed contract, that’s fine. This is probably the area least likely to get touched this week.

With Kennedy added, the 40-man roster is full, though that’s not really an issue. Trent Oeltjen, Jamie Hoffmann, and Ramon Troncoso could all be easily dropped, and Hong-Chih Kuo is an all-but-certain non-tender next week, with Dana Eveland likely to get non-tendered as well.

Dodgers Come to Terms With Adam Kennedy


As we learned yesterday, the Dodgers were close to an agreement with Adam Kennedy, and now we know the details: once he passes his physical, he’ll be signed to a one-year deal worth $800k.

Frankly, I was terrified that he’d be getting a guaranteed contract into the millions, so this is a bit more palatable, given that 800k is barely above the veteran minimum. That means it’s a relatively low-cost investment that hardly ranks above a non-roster invite, and one that should hopefully make it easy to part ways with him if and when he proves to be cooked - though it still doesn’t answer the question of why he rates a guaranteed contract in the first place. You’d think that a decent-glove, dead-fish-bat utility infielder could be had for nothing more than a plane ticket to camp – see Aaron Miles, 2011 – but then again, creamy veteran goodness like this isn’t easy to find. (Disclaimer: it is extremely easy to find.)

As the wonderfully-named “The Dude Abides” noted in the comments yesterday, if you’re going to get a lefty-swinging infield bat who can sort of play a few positions, Wilson Betemit would have been a far better choice. No, he’s not Kennedy’s equal with the glove, but the Mark Ellis / Juan Uribe infield is full of solid defenders who may not be able to hit. Add Betemit for his offense, carry Justin Sellers for his defense, and call it a day.

Anyway, once this is finalized, it all but finishes off the offseason shopping on offense, leaving us with a presumed Opening Day crew of…

C A.J. Ellis
C Matt Treanor
1B James Loney
2B Mark Ellis
SS Dee Gordon
3B Juan Uribe
IF Adam Kennedy
IF Justin Sellers*
LF Juan Rivera
CF Matt Kemp
RF Andre Ethier
OF Jerry Sands*
OF Tony Gwynn**

Sellers & Sands are marked because they’re young players who aren’t totally guaranteed to break camp with the club, and Gwynn hasn’t officially been tendered a contract yet, though most assume it’s a given that he will be.

Report: Dodgers Close to Signing Adam Kennedy For Some Reason

In my drafts folder right now, there’s about 1200 words of a 75% written post that was going to go up tomorrow, discussing how the Dodger offensive roster is largely set except for a backup infielder, either to supplant Justin Sellers or to join him. According to Tony Jackson, it looks like I might not have the luxury of finishing that post:

The Los Angeles Dodgers are close to an agreement with free-agent infielder Adam Kennedy, according to multiple sources. Length and terms of the deal weren’t immediately available.

Kennedy, who can play first, second and third, satisfies the Dodgers’ need for a utility infielder and leaves just one major item on their offseason shopping list, that being a starting pitcher to replace Hiroki Kuroda.

Kennedy’s been on four squads in the last five years and five in the last six, mainly earning notice due to Seattle’s shocking willingness to let him hit 3rd or 4th (33 starts in those two spots in 2011) and his arrest for drunk driving shortly after signing. Still, that hasn’t stopped the Dodgers from apparently trying to bringing him in to fill the Aaron Miles Memorial “I’m Short, I’m White, I’m Gritty, and Darn It, People Like Me!” spot on the roster which is apparently mandated in the new CBA. He was once a plus-fielding second baseman with a bit of pop for some very good mid-decade Angels teams, though he’s now become a defensively average-at-best utility man with a bat that totally bottomed out in 2011, putting up a wOBA that ranked as his second-worst thanks to career-worst BB/9 and K/9 rates. Of the 203 players who got at least 400 plate appearances last season, only six had lower marks than Kennedy.

At 36, off years of mediocrity save for a surprisingly okay 2009, it’s unlikely he’s suddenly going to turn that around; if you’re going to add a player who can’t hit, he might as well be able to play shortstop, which Kennedy cannot, disappointing on a team with Gordon’s frailty and a second baseman who can’t slide over as Jamey Carroll once did. I also like this note from Jackson’s piece, pointing out one of Kennedy’s many shortcomings:

Kennedy, who will turn 36 in January, also gives the Dodgers a left-handed bat off the bench, although he has a career .223 average as a pinch hitter.

Is he better than Sellers? He might not be better than Peter Sellers, and Peter Sellers died 30 years ago. Kennedy is maybe worth a non-roster invite, maybe. But he’s a veteran, so on this squad, that’ll get him locked up to a guaranteed deal. Hey, maybe even multiple years! I suppose if I had to sum this move up in three words, it’d have to be “Colletti gonna Colletti”.

Just One More Month Until Pitchers & Catchers Report

Yesterday, I wrote the following regarding the Dodgers signing a free-agent pitcher:

In fact – and there’s going to be a full post on this in the next day or two – I strongly prefer Jon Garland to Pineiro anyway.

The idea behind this was going to be basically that even though Pineiro had a fantastic 2009, he’s also coming off three horrible years in the four previous seasons and is going to be far more expensive. Can he survive away from Dave Duncan? Was his 2009 simply a contract push? Who knows? Garland’s never going to be as good as Pineiro was last year, but he was better in most of the years before that, he’s cheaper, and he’s nothing if not consistent – he gives you the same 200 league-average innings every year. Since neither is going to be an ace and the season is largely going to hinge on the progress made by Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley, why not just save some money and sign the more reliable guy to give you some stability as a 4th starter?

Yep, that’s the post I was going to write, much more than a paragraph’s worth. And then Eric Seidman of Baseball Prospectus had to go and completely steal my thunder this morning by saying basically the exact same thing, just better than I would have, so if you’re a subscriber, check it out.

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Get ready to start hearing stories like this non-stop if Kershaw takes off like we expect him to:

Clayton Kershaw is coming off a strong season for the Los Angeles Dodgers, his second in the big leagues. He posted a 2.79 ERA and fanned 185 batters in just 171 innings of work. If the lefty takes another step forward in 2010, GM Ned Colletti may soon find himself in a similar situation that Seattle was with Felix Hernandez this winter, before signing the right-hander to a five-year contract.

Kershaw will not be eligible for arbitration until after next season, but that may be when the club starts to think about locking him up for more than one year to achieve some cost certainty and avoid a situation much like the one San Francisco is in with Tim Lincecum.

Hernandez got his deal after four years of service, so in that light the Dodgers have two seasons to go, but it might be smart accounting to do what the Red Sox did with Jon Lester — 5 years, $30 million after his second year of service, which is where Kershaw will stand a year from now.

You can see how Boston is saving money by doing so, too. For Lester’s contract to be worth more than Hernandez’s, he’d have to have an average annual salary of more $20 million in 2014 and 2015. In other words, it’s costing Boston about $48 million less for Lester over the same period of time.

Moral of the story: The Dodgers might be wisest not to wait.

As always, the divorce case looms over everything. But if Kershaw does take that next step in 2010, I think Dodger fans would do somersaults if he’d be willing to settle for $30m over 5 years. Remember, that’s not anywhere near what he would get on the open market, but this would of course be buying out his slave and arbitration years.

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Oh, look. A seemingly harmless story on Fox Sports. Let’s click it, shall we?

Kennedy down to three teams — 12:04 p.m.

The representative for free agent Adam Kennedy said he remains in talks with three teams about the infielder.

Two clubs are interested in Kennedy as their everyday second baseman, Paul Cohen said. Another has interest in Kennedy as a super-utility player.

“We have narrowed it down to three teams,” Cohen said.

Cohen wouldn’t address specific clubs, but the Cubs and Nationals are known to be looking for a second baseman.

Whenever a free agent second baseman is mentioned, you immediately think of the Dodgers (ESPN’s already tossed LA into this mix). But what’s important here is how the agent described the interest – two teams interested in Kennedy “as their everyday second baseman.” I’m not sold on Blake DeWitt yet, but we have to be hoping that the Dodgers aren’t one of those teams, right?

Actually, Kennedy’s not as bad as all that. Or at least he wasn’t in 2009, because after two horrific seasons in St. Louis (.572 and .692 OPS’s) that nearly ended his career, he parlayed a NRI from Tampa Bay into a .289/.348/.410 line with 11 homers playing 2B and 3B in Oakland. As a lefty batter, he’s almost useless against fellow lefties, but then again Blake DeWitt – also a lefty – has a reverse split, so you could theoretically see a platoon happening here.

On the other hand, the problem with Jamey Carroll is that he can’t play shortstop, and neither can Kennedy. So that probably rules that out. Still, it didn’t stop me from getting a chill down my spine when I saw that two unnamed teams are pursuing him to be a starter.

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Finally, via Diamond Leung, Troy from West Virginia has some strong thoughts on the Russ Ortiz signing (along with a wicked beard). Hey, I can’t say I disagree with him; Ortiz is abysmal and has been completely cooked for years. Troy is probably on his way to jail, and if the things in that article are true, then his future is well deserved. Still, when a man has that much facing him and he’s still bothered by a minor-league invite to Russ Ortiz… well, it probably means you shouldn’t have signed Russ Ortiz.

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