2012 Dodgers in Review #5a: 1B Carlos Lee

(w/MIA) .243/.328/.325 338pa 4hr 0.0 fWAR A++

2012 in brief: Over-the-hill veteran helped Dodgers avoid the bullet of trading a decent prospect to Houston for him by refusing to accept trade to Los Angeles.

2013 status: Free agent with a boatload of “I really don’t care”.

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That’s right, we’re reviewing a player today who never once suited up for the Dodgers, yet may have had a larger impact on the season than half the guys who did.

As it became clear that continuing on with James Loney was untenable, both the Dodgers and the fans began to look elsewhere for first base options, though with the Adrian Gonzalez trade still months away, the alternatives seemed uninspiring.

By the end of June, the Dodgers had settled on a deal with Houston that would have sent pitching prospect Garrett Gould for Carlos Lee and most or all of the money still due him. As you can imagine, we were less than pleased:

So you want to trade Gould? Fine. In a system deep in good-but-not-great righty starters, it’s the perfect place to deal from depth, and you can lose him without too much trouble. The question would be, is Lee really worth the effort? I mean, sure, he’s better than the execrable Loney, who is just two or three more hitless plate appearances from having his OBP dip below .300. But that’s like saying that Adam Kennedy isn’t your least favorite Dodger because Juan Uribe still exists; it’s not exactly high praise to say you’re better than Loney.

Lee entered play on Saturday hitting .291/.344/.410, which is fine, I suppose. It’s an upgrade, sure, but what’s problematic is that he’s hitting far better in Houston (.286/.362/.459, all five of his homers) than he is on the road (.297/.317/.347, zero homers). I get that Loney is terrible – and he is – but importing a guy without a single homer away from the hitter-friendly Houston park seems like an odd choice to try and fix your power outage. Toss in the fact that he’s a huge defensive downgrade from Loney, important in an infield that has Dee Gordon playing every day, and while Lee might represent something of an upgrade I’m just not sure it’s worth the bother.

Again, I don’t care too much about losing Gould, and we’ll see what, if anything, actually ends up happening. If it does happen, it’s not going to be too difficult to not see Loney’s name in there every night, I’ll admit. (Though I imagine he’d need to be retained for defensive purposes.) It just seems like a deal that would be more about doing something – as I joked on Twitter, “Carlos Lee is a hitter. We need a hitter. Therefore, we need Carlos Lee” – than it is about actually finding a guy who solves the real problem.

Lee kept the Dodgers hanging for days with the baseball version of a pocket veto, never officially invoking his no-trade clause but refusing to waive it, either. Eventually, the Dodgers withdrew the trade offer and on July 4, he was traded to Miami (who were not included on his no-trade list) where he did, well, nothing. A .325 SLG%? Hell, even Loney did better than that when he was still a Dodger. In over 330 plate appearances for the Marlins, as you can see above, Lee was essentially replacement level.

Gould’s not a top prospect (though at least one scout actually prefers him to Zach Lee), but losing him for the mediocre Lee never made sense, and who knows if acquiring him would have then prevented solving the first base problem for years to come with Gonzalez (who I wrote about this morning at FanGraphs). I know not everyone liked the risky Boston trade, and that’s fine, but as I sit here today, I’m much happier having Gonzalez & Gould than an unfillable hole at first base and no Gould. Even for those who argue that they may have made the trade anyway even if they had Lee, giving up Gould for Lee still never made sense, just based on what Lee was likely to do for the rest of the season.

So for you, Carlos, by refusing to accept a bad trade and then making us look great by being terrible in Miami, that’s a well-earned A++. Smell you never.

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Next up! Juan Rivera, #RBImachine!

Dodgers Embarrass Themselves On the Field, But What’s Happening Off It?

I mean, basically. I won’t hide that I’m writing this as the Dodgers are down 9-0 in the eighth inning, and if that’s not exactly how the game ends up, well, who the hell can be bothered to care at this point. Aaron Harang got shelled, R.A. Dickey cruised, and A.J. Ellis & Tony Gwynn are the only Dodgers other than Harang with hits. Shocking, I know.

This team is an absolute disaster right now, basically unwatchable. I get that they’ve lost their two big guns to injury and that’s not to be ignored, but every day it’s harder and harder to look at this club and think that they’re related in any way to the same squad that shockingly busted out to the best record in baseball up until just two weeks ago. That doesn’t mean they’re not interesting though, since the big news of the night is the rumored deal with Houston that started out supposedly involving Zach Lee & Jed Lowrie and now seems to be down to something more like Garrett Gould & Carlos Lee. (Jon Morosi notes that Gould was scratched from his scheduled start tonight just before gametime.)

I don’t like passing judgement on a deal before it’s even done and we know the specifics of exactly who is involved, but since I’ll be out of touch all day tomorrow I figure I’ll get my thoughts down on this proposal while we have the chance. I don’t love Gould, honestly, though the people who keep saying “but he’s 1-6 with a 5.12 ERA!” are misguided; he’s struck out 72 in 72 innings in the hitter-friendly California League, which gives him a 3.51 FIP. Prior to the season Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus ranked Gould as his #6 Dodger prospect, between Chris Reed & Chris Withrow, while Jason Parks of BP actually preferred Gould to Lee last month. (An opinion which I have not been able to find many supporters on, honestly.) Most see Gould as a potential #3 starter, which is valuable but clearly not untouchable.

So you want to trade Gould? Fine. In a system deep in good-but-not-great righty starters, it’s the perfect place to deal from depth, and you can lose him without too much trouble. The question would be, is Lee really worth the effort? I mean, sure, he’s better than the execrable Loney, who is just two or three more hitless plate appearances from having his OBP dip below .300. But that’s like saying that Adam Kennedy isn’t your least favorite Dodger because Juan Uribe still exists; it’s exactly not high praise to say you’re better than Loney.

Lee entered play on Saturday hitting .291/.344/.410, which is fine, I suppose. It’s an upgrade, sure, but what’s problematic is that he’s hitting far better in Houston (.286/.362/.459, all five of his homers) than he is on the road (.297/.317/.347, zero homers). I get that Loney is terrible – and he is – but importing a guy without a single homer away from the hitter-friendly Houston park seems like an odd choice to try and fix your power outage. Toss in the fact that he’s a huge defensive downgrade from Loney, important in an infield that has Dee Gordon playing every day, and while Lee might represent something of an upgrade I’m just not sure it’s worth the bother.

Again, I don’t care too much about losing Gould, and we’ll see what, if anything, actually ends up happening. If it does happen, it’s not going to be too difficult to not see Loney’s name in there every night, I’ll admit. (Though I imagine he’d need to be retained for defensive purposes.) It just seems like a deal that would be more about doing something – as I joked on Twitter, “Carlos Lee is a hitter. We need a hitter. Therefore, we need Carlos Lee” – than it is about actually finding a guy who solves the real problem.

Winter Meetings Day Three: The Search for Offense

For about five minutes last night, the Dodger corner of the internet exploded into panic when Jon Heyman reported that they were about to sign soon-to-be-34-year-old catcher Josh Bard, owner of a .217/.282/.332 cumulative line over the last four years, to a $750k deal. The questions were immediate: another terrible veteran? Another catcher? Was A.J. Ellis about to be traded? Were they really going to try to set the all-time record for backstop futility by pairing Bard with Matt Treanor? Were my jokes about trying to assemble 2006′s best team suddenly not jokes?

And then Dylan Hernandez reported it was to be a minor-league deal, one that’s not even completed yet. So, crisis averted. For now.

Bard-gate aside, there was actually some juicy news coming, as Molly Knight reported the Dodgers might have interest in Chase Headley, and Tony Jackson & Ken Gurnick expanded on Hernandez’s tweet that the Dodgers were persuing offense via trade.

Jackson:

Tamin said two of those were the Dodgers’ hitting against lefties and what Tamin referred to as “ballpark effect.” By that, Tamin explained, he meant the fact the Dodgers play almost 100 games each year in three pitchers’ parks, those being Dodger Stadium, San Diego’s Petco Park and San Francisco’s AT&T Park.

Colletti also said, when asked if the player he is trying to acquire is an everyday player, “He has been.”

That would seem to suggest a veteran in the twilight of his career, a right-handed hitter and a guy who is more of a gap-to-gap, line-drive hitter than a power hitter. Colletti specifically said he wasn’t looking for a flyball hitter. The player likely would be a corner outfielder who could fill in for right fielder Andre Ethier against certain left-handed pitchers.

Okay, so righty outfielder, good against lefties, more of a doubles type than a homer bat, not named “Jerry Sands“. We can do some investigative work on that, right? Let’s fire up the list of outfielders with at least 100 plate appearances against lefties in 2011, an admittedly arbitrary bar. That gets us 93 results, so let’s remove lefties, free agents, players who have never been everyday starters, and the guys who obviously aren’t available – Jose Bautista, Ryan Braun, Justin Upton, etc. Now we’re down to 14, and wouldn’t you know it, the three guys who I had in my head at the start of this exercise are all on the list. We’ll cut out the bottom five, all of whom were terrible against lefties last year (so long, Marlon Byrd!) and that leaves us with 9 names, sorted here by wOBA against LHP in 2011:

Carlos Lee
Jason Bay
Jeff Francoeur
Torii Hunter
Vernon Wells
Ryan Raburn
Alfonso Soriano
Delmon Young
B.J. Upton

A list that mostly comprises over-the-hill, expensive veterans? Well, now I know we’re on the right path. (If you’re wondering who the three I had guessed at were, it was Lee, Bay, and Young.) But we can do better. Eliminate Hunter & Wells, since the two Los Angeles teams haven’t paired up on a trade since 1993, and that gets us down to seven. Francoeur is someone I’ve expressed interest in in the past for exactly this role, though he signed a two-year extension last year and Dayton Moore loves him, so I find that unlikely. I also doubt Raburn, generally a utility player, is the kind of move Colletti is looking to make, and that leaves us with a final five:

Carlos Lee
Jason Bay
Alfonso Soriano
Delmon Young
B.J. Upton

My lord, that list is the most Ned thing that ever Ned’d. Can we go further? Upton’s in his prime and would take a massive haul to acquire, whereas this sounds like more of a complimentary piece. Soriano is a noted flyball type, which doesn’t seem to fit… and that leaves us with Lee, Bay, and Young. (I swear I didn’t rig this to end up with those three.) The obvious issue with Lee & Bay is that they’re both very expensive, since Lee still has $18.5m coming to him in the final year of his contract, while Bay has $16m in each of the next two years, plus a vesting option for 2014 – though each team is awful and should clearly be very motivated to move those salaries. Young is arbitration-eligible and will probably make $6-7m in 2012, though he’s a very un-Ned-like 26. Despite the negative connotations all bring, they all did well against lefties last year, so as long as we’re talking about “platoon player” and not “everyday starter”, there’s some chance of value there. Obviously, this is all far from scientific on my part; I’ve assumed that James Loney is staying put, and that the bat being looked at isn’t an infielder like a Placido Polanco. If Loney is potentially traded or non-tendered, then that opens up discussions to players like Mark Reynolds and others.

Since we’re talking about salaries, now’s an ideal time to bring in Gurnick’s contribution:

Without offering a name, he said one player he is targeting has been a starter at his position and would be “payroll neutral,” indicating that either the player he would send would be of similar salary or the other club would pick up part of the incoming salary. Colletti said he didn’t expect a deal while at the Meetings, which end Thursday.

Now things get interesting, and let me be clear – what follows is rampant speculation on my part, as this entire post has been. The Dodger roster is constructed in such a way that there’s not a whole lot of money that can be moved. None of the recent free agent signings are eligible to be traded before June, and of the players making big money, you’re obviously not moving Matt Kemp or Clayton Kershaw – and I’d argue that the club has no interest in moving Ted Lilly or Andre Ethier, either. That leaves players with very little trade value (Juan Uribe, James Loney, Matt Guerrier)… and Chad Billingsley. As infuriating as he can be sometimes, I’d argue that he’s underrated by Dodger fans, and it’s hard to ignore the fact that Colletti just locked up two more veteran starters through 2013. Just a thought, of course, and you’d have to do better than Lee or Bay or Young to make it worthwhile.

As for Headley, if it’s at all true, I love it. He’s a good defender who is under team control through 2014 and made just $2.3m last year, though he hit only four homers while putting up a .289/.374/.399 line. Of course, he’s one of the players who is greatly affected by Petco, putting up an .864 OPS at road and just a .674 OPS at home. He’s not a superstar, and I don’t know what the Padres would want in return, but remember: all you have to do is pass the “is he better than Juan Uribe” test, and that’s not a high bar to clear. I suppose a dream scenario here would be to package Uribe and a mid-level young pitching prospect to Houston for Lee, thus saving the Astros a few million and opening up a spot for Brett Wallace, and then acquiring Headley to play third. Even that’s not perfect though, because Lee’s money is all due in 2012 while Uribe has two more years, though I’m sure some financial shenanigans could make it work.

Of course, there’s no way any of that is happening. Aren’t the winter meetings fun…ish?