Those Matt Kemp Rumors Aren’t Going Away

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So the Mariners maybe want Matt Kempif rumors are to be believed. Or the Red Sox. Or the Rangers. Or maybe none of this is news at all because we heard about this nearly a month ago, if not longer, and will continue to do so until someone is moved. But until then, every time a local columnist tweets something completely unsourced about a potential move, it will send Dodger fans into a fury, torn between “cool, I wonder what we can get?” and “noooo, not my Kemp!”

For the record, I don’t want to trade Kemp, because when he’s healthy, he’s arguably a top five player in the game. Those aren’t all that easy to find, obviously. But you always listen, no matter who it’s about, because you never know when it’s Detroit calling to ask if you’d like Doug Fister in exchange for three misshapen pennies. If a team comes up with the right deal for Kemp, then you trade him. Simple as that, as long as the value is right. I happen to believe that such a trade is difficult if not impossible to find, unless the Mariners whiff on Robinson Cano and David Price and decide that they absolutely positively have to do something, even when something is the kind of thing that makes Seattle fans lose sleep at night.

So maybe Kemp does get moved, and maybe the Dodgers don’t want to pay Clayton Kershaw until they know what they’ll be spending on the outfield, and maybe we’re all speculating with only the tiniest clue of what’s really going on internally. I still happen to believe that Andre Ethier is the more likely outfielder to get moved, if only because his lower cost makes it easier for the Dodgers to eat enough to get other teams in the game, and it’s not all that hard to see fits with the Mets, Pirates, Royals, Red Sox, Rangers, Tigers, etc. 

But let’s do the blogging blog bloggy thing and spitball something that will never actually happen and isn’t real, but is fun to consider anyway: the Padres.

Hear me out on this one. No, the Padres don’t need more outfielders, not after adding Seth Smith to Will Venable and Chris Denorfia and Carlos Quentin and Cameron Maybin and Reymond Fuentes, and they especially don’t want guys as expensive as this. But what they do have is the thing that no one else on this list does, and that’s a third baseman who would be a great fit for the Dodgers in Chase Headley.

Well, so what, right? The teams rarely trade with one another. But that’s why the gods created three-ways — shush, children — so think about this. Let’s say the Dodgers eat a considerable amount of Ethier’s deal, making him a 4/40 player or something similar, and can move him for two good (but not elite) prospects. Maybe that’s Rafael Montero and Jacob deGrom from the Mets, or Allen Webster (hi!) and Mookie Betts from the Red Sox, or more likely none of those guys, because I’m just throwing darts at the wall here.

Sure, the Dodgers could just keep those guys and add them to the farm system. But maybe they could also take them and combine them with some non-Joc Pederson Dodger prospects like Chris Reed and Onelki Garcia to give the Padres a nice four-player package in return. Or if San Diego insists on Zach Lee, well, that’s fine, but maybe then you ask for them to toss in a Nick Vincent or someone for the bullpen too.

Likely? No, of course not. But it’s the week leading up to the winter meetings. Nothing is likely, and everything is.

2013 Dodgers in Review #19: CF Andre Ethier

90topps_andreethier.272/.360/.423 553pa 12hr .340 wOBA 2.9 fWAR B

2013 in brief: Turned a disappointing start into a surprisingly important role in center field.

2014 status: Under contract for $15.5m, but who’s ready for another winter of trade rumors?

Previous: 2007 | 2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012

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Seven years of reviewing Andre Ethier. Seven years of reviewing Andre Ethier. Seven years of reviewing Andre Ethier. Seven years of revie—

Sorry about that. Hey, another year of trying to figure out if we love or hate Andre Ethier! It never seems to be simple with him, does it? After another winter of trade rumors — and I do believe he was closer to getting sent to Seattle than anyone realizes — we kicked off Ethier in 2013 by touching on the fact that he can’t hit lefties for approximately the one millionth time, all the while hoping that he’d make his new 5/$85m extension look at least reasonable.

Unfortunately, that didn’t get off to a great start. Playing right field every day in the pre-Yasiel Puig era, Ethier hit only .244/.333/.400 in April, then .250/.347/.357 in May… when he wasn’t being benched by Don Mattingly, who said “he wanted to field a team that would compete the best.” Yikes.

Two weeks later, he’d been pushed to center with Puig up and Matt Kemp hurt, and we reached the one-year anniversary of that contract extension. Needless to say, we weren’t thrilled:

Over the last 365 days since signing that deal, Ethier is hitting .263/.340/.401 with 15 homers in 603 plate appearances, giving him only a .322 wOBA. Unlike Matt Kemp, who also has had a pretty lousy calendar year, Ethier doesn’t have a particularly serious injury to point to as a reason. He’s just been, well… mediocre.

(snip) We don’t have the usual Ethier though, do we? While there’s some amount of bad batted ball luck at play, since his peripherals aren’t all that far off his career norms, the last few years really do look like the work of a man who has seen his peak and is on the other side of it as he enters his 30s. Throw in his questionable defense, total inability to hit lefty pitching, reports that he’s not exactly the most popular guy in the clubhouse, and the Mattingly benching, and you’re left with someone who isn’t exactly at the peak of his trade value.

With Puig excelling and the season spiraling, the drumbeats grew to trade Ethier when Kemp & Carl Crawford got healthy. On July 1, I refuted that, saying that his low value wouldn’t make for a great trade, and since no one could stay healthy, it’s not like there wouldn’t be playing time. That ended up being more true than we ever could have thought, but it didn’t help that Ethier still wasn’t hitting. In June, his line was .261/.313/.359; by the All-Star Break, he’d hit only five homers.

But then a funny thing happened… Ethier started being useful. He kicked off the second half with a ninth-inning tiebreaking dinger off of Rafael Soriano, then went crazy bananas in a three-game sweep of Toronto, reaching base nine times including six extra-base hits. (And, lest you’ve forgotten, that ball to Colby Rasmus that illustrated everything about the magic that was the fiery-hot July Dodgers.) On July 31 against the Yankees, he scored the winning run after inexplicably stealing second base in the ninth.

Ethier hit .312/.389/.462 in July, and that wasn’t even the best part. Pushed into service in center, we were merely hoping he wouldn’t be “cover-your-eyes” bad out there. And I won’t say he was good, because he wasn’t. But in 645.1 innings, he was at -3 Defensive Runs Saved, and -4.7 UZR/150. The usual “small defensive sample size caveats” do apply, but those numbers put him at “slightly below average,” and that agrees with my personal perception. For most, “slightly below average” is a bummer. For Ethier in center field, that’s a huge achievement. If he wasn’t able to handle it, the options were… well, we’ll get to that, won’t we?

If he was good in July, he was even better in August: .318/.426/.506, and while we were cognizant that it was likely a hot streak that couldn’t go on indefinitely, it was good to even see that kind of life left in him. As he continued playing well in the first two weeks of September – .216/.341/.514, and no, batting average is not the important number there — we started to fantasize about what a hot Ethier, a healthy Kemp & Crawford, and an explosive Puig could do in the playoffs.

But… oh, of course. Of course it was Coors Field. Of. Course.

Apparently, the power of Coors Field knows no bounds, because it can still take down Dodger outfielders long after they’ve left the state. After Andre Ethier left last night’s loss to the Giants with a sore ankle after hitting a double in the eighth, we learned how he’d originally injured it:

“Ethier said he believes he twisted the ankle swinging at an inside pitch in Colorado, apparently on Sept. 3, as he was out of the lineup Sept. 4 against left-hander Jorge De La Rosa but had one at-bat after being inserted into the game in the seventh inning.

He started the next five games, sat out Wednesday night’s game against Arizona when the ankle tightened and returned to the lineup Thursday night.”

Of course he did. From hell’s heart, Coors Field stabs at thee. Lord, I hate that place. The Dodgers don’t make their first trip there in 2014 until June… let’s see if we can avoid any Colorado-related injuries before then, okay?

That was on September 13, and other than a test pinch-hitting appearance in San Diego on September 22, that was the last we’d see of Ethier in the regular season, giving rise to the unholy possibility of Skip Schumaker needing to be the starting center fielder in the playoffs.

That’s exactly what happened. Ethier made the NLDS as a bench option, going hitless with a walk in four plate appearances as a pinch-hitter. In the NLCS, he tried to make it work, playing 13 innings in Game 1, pinch-hitting in Game 2, then starting Games 3-6, but he was clearly not right; in 22 plate appearances, he had two walks, three singles, and seven whiffs. We’ll always remember Joe Kelly taking out Hanley Ramirez‘ ribs, but a healthy Ethier might have made that series look very different.

So when attempting to grade Ethier’s 2013, it’s not really easy. My expectations weren’t all that high, and a career-worst .423 SLG certainly didn’t help, especially with that awful .317 wOBA in the first half. In the second, however, he was so, so good (.381 wOBA) before getting hurt, and as noted, the fact that he was a capable center field option proved just endlessly important.

None of this, of course, helps me figure out what he’ll be in 2014. It’s probably even money that he won’t even be a Dodger by then, really, because he certainly seems to be the most likely outfielder moved, if any even are. Still, I’m left with slightly more hope than I had at this time last year.

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Next! Okay, now we’ll get to Matt Kemp, promise!

The Dodgers Will Trade An Outfielder, Unless They Don’t

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I have to be honest, I’m not particularly interested in writing about trading one of the Dodger outfielders. We all know the score by now, don’t we? The team has four highly-paid outfielders, which is one too many even if you don’t consider Joc Pederson, except that all four can stay healthy at the same time precisely never. Trade one of them and risk having not enough healthy outfielders and more days where guys like Skip Schumaker & Jerry Hairston are starting; don’t trade one of them, and risk having an expensive, unhappy veteran on the bench.

That being said, it’s going to be a topic of conversation all winter long, so we can’t avoid it. Ken Rosenthal kicks it off today:

That possibility, in fact, already is in the works; the Dodgers, according to major-league sources, are listening on Matt KempAndre Ethier and Carl Crawford, telling prospective suitors, “If you’re interested in one of them, make us an offer.”

This is presented as news, but it’s not, really. “Team willing to not hang up on someone proposing a trade” isn’t really earth-shattering, and you should always really listen on every player, even if you have no real intention of moving them.

And that’s sort of the problem here. Even if you do want to trade one of them — and by “them” I mean Ethier, Kemp, and Crawford, because Yasiel Puig isn’t going anywhere —  their contracts and injury histories make it difficult to expect a solid return. Or as a “rival exec” replied to Rosenthal when asked which one was the most desirable, “none”.

Which is totally fair. I don’t need to remind you how painful Kemp’s 2013 was, nor of the $128m still due him. Crawford’s season was better than we had any right to expect considering just how uncertain he was after two awful years in Boston and Tommy John surgery; he’s also no longer a star, going to turn 33 next year, with $81.5m still coming, and missed time with hamstring injuries. And while Ethier certainly made himself a lot more valuable in the second half after making his extension look so, so bad one year in, he’s still an obviously flawed player who cannot hit lefties, will soon be 32, and has potentially $86.5m remaining if his reasonably attainable 2018 player option vests.

In the right deal, I’d move any of the three — yes, even Kemp, because while the fan in me wants him to be a Dodger forever, the objective observer in me understands that a trade can’t ever be off the table. And all have some amount of value, especially if the Dodgers eat a good deal of the contract, and Ethier seems to be the one most likely to move. (Mets fans and writers are already hypothesizing about it, actually, but Daniel Murphy isn’t that interesting and it’s certainly not like David Wright is coming back, so prepare yourself for mid-level minor leaguers.)

The problem is that for me, “the right deal” includes getting something useful back. It can’t just be a salary dump, especially in Kemp’s case, because I still believe he can be a high-quality player when healthy. But with so much money still due all three of these questionable players, it’s easy for another team to say “screw it, I’ll just get into the Carlos Beltran or Curtis Granderson” sweepstakes, for less risk and without sending back talent. That’s what makes finding “the right deal” difficult or potentially impossible. And that’s what’s going to make a winter of rumors around these three such a long, complicated one, because believe me, we haven’t heard the last of this.

Coors Field Will Haunt You From Beyond the Grave

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(That picture isn’t from Colorado, but I love it and have wanted to use it for a while.)

It’s a well-known — I don’t know, I was going to say “meme,” but can that even be accurate when it’s basically true? — fact over the last year or two that Coors Field is the worst ballpark in baseball history, and I say that with no trace of hyperbole whatsoever. Sure, there’s the majestic views of the beautiful Rocky Mountains, but there’s also the endless 14-13 games and the walls that seem to enjoy killing star Dodger outfielders, to the point that it’s basically ruined Matt Kemp‘s career. (Yasiel Puig hurt himself there in July as well, don’t forget — and have we already forgotten Kelly Wunsch twisting his ankle on his final warm-up pitch before entering a game in 2005 and then never appearing in the bigs again?)

Now, you might be wondering why I’m bothering to bring this up, since the Dodgers are safely back home after leaving Colorado last week and won’t be visiting there again in 2013. Apparently, the power of Coors Field knows no bounds, because it can still take down Dodger outfielders long after they’ve left the state. After Andre Ethier left last night’s loss to the Giants with a sore ankle after hitting a double in the eighth, we learned how he’d originally injured it:

Ethier said he believes he twisted the ankle swinging at an inside pitch in Colorado, apparently on Sept. 3, as he was out of the lineup Sept. 4 against left-hander Jorge De La Rosa but had one at-bat after being inserted into the game in the seventh inning.

He started the next five games, sat out Wednesday night’s game against Arizona when the ankle tightened and returned to the lineup Thursday night.

Of course he did. From hell’s heart, Coors Field stabs at thee. Lord, I hate that place. The Dodgers don’t make their first trip there in 2014 until June… let’s see if we can avoid any Colorado-related injuries before then, okay?

Dodgers 3, Yankees 2: That’s a Walkoff

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There are approximately 11,862,298 different ways a baseball team can win a game. That includes blown calls, acts from above, and animals on the field. Pretty much zero of those ways involve Juan Uribe hitting one of the longest homers you’ll see in Dodger Stadium and Andre Ethier setting up the winning run with a stolen base that had absolutely no business being attempted, much less completed.

That’s baseball, sometimes, except that the “sometimes” seems to be happening just about every single night. Usually, that’s what makes baseball so great, but right now, it’s what’s making this team something unbelievably special.

Actually, after Uribe’s second-inning blast gave the Dodgers a 2-1 lead, we weren’t really sure how this was going to end, because it was a pretty quietly well-played game after that. Zack Greinke made one mistake to Lyle Overbay that ended up in the seats for the first run, then allowed the tying run in the fourth on an Overbay groundout, but was otherwise effective over seven innings. Ronald Belisario & Kenley Jansen — about whom enough simply cannot be said right now — pitched in two more scoreless frames to get it into the ninth.

Despite the fact that Andy Pettitte never really looked all that great — especially in the first inning, when Yasiel Puig came about three inches from parking one over the center field wall — and allowed every Dodger in the lineup other than Carl Crawford to get at least a hit, he managed to minimize the damage through seven innings of his own. So let’s skip ahead to the ninth, where a sellout crowd saw A.J. Ellis ground out and Ethier poke a hit to left. I’ll be honest at this point — even before the inning started, I was hoping against hope that Uribe (due up third in the inning) would get a chance to come up to be the hero. Well, he got that chance, and he was well aware of it. Too aware of it, really, because he was coming out of shoes on every swing, even losing his grip on the bat at one point.

Sadly for those of us hoping for Uribe’s tale of redemption to come full circle, Shawn Kelley struck him out, and up stepped Mark Ellis. For reasons I still don’t quite understand — perhaps a missed hit-and-run? — Ethier ran on the second pitch, a called ball, and really didn’t beat the throw. But the ball slipped out of Robinson Cano‘s glove on the tag, putting Ethier in scoring position for Ellis to drive a full-count ball into the left field gap.

Ethier came around, and we have a stolen base, a Uribe blast, and some quality pitching to thank. Now 27-6 in their last 33 and 10-1 since the All-Star break, the Dodgers have a comfortable 3.5 game lead in the West.

I keep saying this can’t last. For every rational reason in the world, it can’t last. It shouldn’t last. But it keeps lasting. And while I may not be able to explain, I sure am enjoying it.