Dodgers Finally Say Goodbye to Chin-Lung Hu

Finally, some news to break the holiday doldrums. According to the official Dodgers Twitter feed, Chin-lung Hu has been traded to the Mets for minor league lefty Michael Antonini.

This comes as no surprise, of course. Hu is out of options and had done little to force his way into a big-league roster spot, though it must be noted that the Dodgers often let useless veterans get chances before him. Between the need to open up a 40-man roster spot and the very small likelihood that Hu was making the big club, he was almost certainly going to be moved before the season started.

That being the case, you wouldn’t expect to get back much of a prospect, and Antonini, an 18th-round pick in 2007, isn’t great. He wasn’t even mentioned in Baseball Prospectus’ look at the Mets top 20 prospects last week, and while the Dodger tweet mentioned his “4.04 career ERA”, much of that was accumulated at the lower levels. In two brief tastes of AAA the last two seasons, he’s been lit up, allowing a 1.556 WHIP and 12.4 hits/9. I can’t find much scouting info on him, but considering he’s a lefty with good control (7.0 K/9, 2.1 BB/9 over his career), I’m guessing that means he’s a soft-tosser. Albuquerque will love him, and he’s basically a non-entity.

Still, as far as mediocre non-prospects go, you may prefer the lefty starter with good control over the slick-fielding shortstop who can’t hit, if you have a preference at all. Really, this is a low-impact trade, as trades come. The only worry here is that with Hu gone, and assuming that Ivan DeJesus does not make the team out of camp, is this another step in the direction of wasting a roster spot (not to mention oxygen) on one of the worst players in big league history, Juan Castro?

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Totally unrelated,  but the Brewers signed former Dodger Takashi Saito to a one-year deal for a base salary under $2m today. Saito will be 41 soon, and his arm is held together with jelly beans and masking tape. He also had a lower WHIP and more than double the K/9 rate that Matt Guerrier did last year. So tell me this, would you rather have given Saito ~$2m for 2011, or Guerrier $12m for 2011-13?  Especially when ESPN’s Buster Olney spends half his column today talking about how three-year deals for relievers, especially non-elite ones, almost never work out?

Is The Fascination With Juan Castro Going to Cost the Dodgers Chin-Lung Hu?

As you’ve probably heard, the Dodgers signed infielder Juan Castro to a minor-league contract with an invitation to spring training. Normally, this would be no big deal – like every team, the Dodgers hand out more than a dozen non-roster invites to veterans each year – but the association between Castro and the Dodgers has never been normal. This will be his 4th stint with the team since he originally arrived in 1991, and he’s managed to be on the team in each of the last two seasons despite signing a minor-league deal in 2009 and being cut by the Phillies in 2010. For whatever reason, the Dodgers have an infatuation with Castro that defies reason.

I say it defies reason because Castro may be the least valuable players in baseball. Now, I’m hardly breaking any major news by saying that he can’t hit, because everyone knows he can’t hit. He’s never come within sniffing distance of even a league-average OPS+ of 100, and he’s never actually even hit 90, and that’s what happens when you’ve never had a season where your OPS has topped .678. So Juan Castro is not a major-league quality hitter. We all knew that.

But what I was very surprised to find out is that Castro is one of the worst hitters in the entire history of baseball.

No, really.

Castro has somehow accumulated 2,834 plate appearances over his 16 big league seasons. 1,664 other players since 1901 can say they’ve had as many or more, lead of course by Babe Ruth’s superlative 206 OPS+. Castro, on the other hand, checks in with the 4th-lowest OPS+ of all time. Of all time!

Rk Player OPS+ PA From To Age G H BA OBP SLG OPS
1 Bill Bergen 21 3228 1901 1911 23-33 947 516 .170 .194 .201 .395
2 Hal Lanier 49 3940 1964 1973 21-30 1196 843 .228 .255 .275 .529
3 Tommy Thevenow 51 4484 1924 1938 20-34 1229 1030 .247 .285 .294 .579
4 Juan Castro 55 2834 1995 2010 23-38 1096 597 .228 .268 .327 .595
5 Bobby Wine 55 3467 1960 1972 21-33 1164 682 .215 .264 .286 .550
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 12/12/2010.

This isn’t the first time we’ve talked about Bill Bergen, since he came up with Garret Anderson was making his assault on the worst offensive season in Dodger history last year. He’s still thought of as one of the better defensive catchers in history, but was of course abysmal at the plate in a career that ended before World War I. Lanier and Thevenow were middle infielders playing in eras that valued fielding from the shortstop position and thought of any offense as just a bonus.

And then there’s Castro. I think it goes without saying that with offensive performance so bad, there’s no amount of superior glovework that can make that okay. Still, if your fielding is that good, you can almost see how – in the right situation – a manager might make space at the back of the roster. I guess.

But that’s the problem here. Castro, 39 in June, is no longer the plus fielder he once was. Going by UZR/150, he’s far below average at 3B (-15.8), and while his career mark is still plus at SS (7.3), he’s living on his past since he’s not even come in as average there since 2007.

Which brings us back to Chin-lung Hu. He’s never managed to repeat his 2007 success, when he had an OPS of .871 between AA and AAA and looked to join the wave of top Dodger prospects headed to the big leagues. He flopped miserably in a 2008 trial with the big club, and he’s received just 31 MLB PA over the last two seasons.  Despite that, his glove has consistently been looked upon as excellent – certainly above-average for a big league shortstop. At the plate, he’s not hopeless – he just finished his 3rd full season at AAA, and he’s improved in each year leading up to a .317/.339/.438 showing this year – but I don’t think any of us look at him as more than a starter on a second-division club or a backup on a better team.

While that’s hardly not what we expected from Hu back in 2007, it’s also not without value. That’s a plus glove, with the chance to be a bit below league-average at the plate, and the hope for more since he still doesn’t even turn 27 until February. But for the second year in a row – surely you remember the Dodgers choosing Nick Green over him last year, right? – rather than giving Hu a spot as a backup, they’ve brought in a clearly inferior veteran who offers no value to fight for the spot instead. While that was merely annoying last year, since Hu was headed back to ABQ and we all knew Green wouldn’t last, this year has the potential to be much more dangerous, since Hu is now out of options and must be kept or lost.

Sure, it’s possible none of this comes to pass. Perhaps they do sign Bill Hall (more on him in a second) to plug the LF hole and decide his infield experience means that they don’t need another dedicated backup infielder alongside Jamey Carroll. Perhaps Ivan DeJesus, coming off a solid AFL stint, impresses in spring to the point where he claims the 2B job and Juan Uribe is pushed to 3B, with Casey Blake rounding out the bench. But the Dodgers didn’t sign Castro to be veteran depth at AAA; that never seems to happen with him (he’s played just 45 minor league games since 2001), and an Isotopes squad that may have DeJesus, Dee Gordon, and Justin Sellers up the middle next year doesn’t really have a need.

So tell me, would you prefer a plus glove with a mediocre bat who’s about to be 27? Or a mediocre glove with historically bad offense who’s about to be 39? Seems like a no-brainer to me, especially because some other team will claim Hu on waivers, but it’s hard to not see how this is going to turn out based on past history. Besides, Hu’s already lost this battle once before, because you may remember that Castro spent the entire 2009 season with the Dodgers, while Hu & Blake DeWitt languished in AAA, and out-of-options Delwyn Young was traded to Pittsburgh.

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According to Tony Jackson, the candidates for the left field opening are down to four, two of whom are Hall and (sigh) Scott Podsednik. My guess is that Austin Kearns is one of the other two, as we heard rumors about that during the winter meetings, and I’d like to think that Lastings Milledge is the other, though that’s based on nothing but my own speculation. Perhaps Ryan Ludwick, who’s another name we’ve heard, but he doesn’t seem like a great fit because he has a definite reverse split – that is, despite being righty, he’s always been better against them than lefties. Doesn’t fit on this team.

I was asked on Twitter how I’d rank those four options if I had the choice:

Milledge, Hall, Kearns, not having a LF, folding the team, Podsednik

Yep.

MSTI’s 2010 in Review: Shortstop

Rafael Furcal (B)
.300/.366/.460 .826 8hr 3.4 WAR

I have to be honest, when I first looked back on Furcal’s season, all I could think of at first was, “oh, shocker, he hurt his back again.” And that’s true; he’s proven he simply cannot be counted upon to stay healthy.

However, that’s shortchanging him a bit, because when he was able to stay on the field, he put together one of the finest seasons of his career. Really, you can break his season down into three two-month slices.

In April and May, Furcal started just 24 games, missing most of May with a strained hamstring. His .308/.359/.402 (.761) was quite good even then, yet it hardly compared to his June and July (and two games in August). Furcal played his way onto the All-Star team by destroying opposing pitching with a .320/.391/.540 (.931) line, and all eight of his homers, though he did miss a week while mourning the passing of his father. He was so good, in fact, that in July I ran the numbers and said he was the best shortstop in Los Angeles Dodger history, slathering him with praise:

Last night, Furcal chipped in three more hits, including the go-ahead home run, saving the Dodgers from blowing yet another outstanding Clayton Kershaw start. I mean, choose whatever metrics you want; they’re all ridiculous. He’s got four homers in the last eight games, a stretch in which his OPS is 1.325. Over his last 31 starts (which span more than a month because of the time missed tending to his father) he’s only hitting an absurd .382/.422/.625. Here’s my favorite stat, though: in those 31 starts, he’s gone hitless just 7 times, but he’s had multiple hit games 17 times. Even his defense, which is hard to quantify but especially so over less than half a season, seems to have new energy; I noted on Twitter recently that I think I’ve seen him make more phenomenal plays this year than I have in the previous four years combined.

So it should come as no surprise that all of the leading stats paint him as the most valuable shortstop in baseball. FanGraphs shows him leading MLB SS in WAR, at 3.2 (and no complaining that Troy Tulowitzki has missed time, because with Furcal’s DL stint he’s actually still seven games behind Tulo), while Baseball Prospectus has him destroying the field in MLVr (Marginal Lineup Value rate, which I used instead of VORP because his missed time hurts him there). His position as top dog at his position this year is nearly indisputable.

Of course, it was too good to be true, because his August and September were disastrous, which you could of course say about any number of Dodgers. He played just two games in August before his back sent him to the DL again; when he returned in September he was hardly the same, hitting .237/.310/.329 (.639).

I’ve seen some calls to move him this offseason, but he’s making $12m next year, so that’s just not an option. All you can do is pray that he’s somewhat healthy, but not too healthy; his 2012 $12m club option becomes guaranteed with 600 PA  next year.

Jamey Carroll (A)
.291/.379/.339 .718 0hr 2.7 WAR

Carroll’s been proclaimed the unofficial 2010 MVP of the Dodgers by a variety of outlets and experts, and while you can argue that, it says a lot about this year’s edition of the club that a 36-year-old backup infielder who didn’t hit even one homer would even be in the conversation.

That’s not a slight against Carroll, of course, who had what was essentially a career year while getting far more playing time at shortstop in the wake of Furcal’s injury than ever anticipated. When he was signed, I didn’t mind him as a backup infielder, though at the time I wasn’t thrilled with the second guaranteed year. I felt that Felipe Lopez was a better fit (remember, Lopez was coming off of a great 2009), especially when Lopez signed for barely a third of what Carroll got, which made the Carroll deal look so bad that it made its way onto MLBtraderumors’ list of “worst offseason deals”.

Still, that’s more a concern about management than it is about Carroll himself – he far outplayed any expectations we may have had of him. In fact by August I was wondering why Carroll wasn’t hitting higher in the lineup to take advantage of his high OBP:

I’ve said this before, and I’ll keep saying it: there is no rational reason that Ryan Theriot should be hitting higher in the lineup than Jamey Carroll. Carroll gets on base more often, and even hits for a bit more power. I said it before last night’s game, and look what happened: Carroll got on twice, Theriot just once. There’s no question that this offense needs a shake-up; isn’t this an easy and obvious way to do it?

That never really happened, of course, but the unexpected ability of Carroll to get on base and adequately play shortstop (that’s “adequate” in the sense that he caught what was hit to him, despite showing very little range) helped the Dodgers avoid a “2008 Angel Berroa” level disaster at the position. Really, Carroll will be a good barometer of how successful the 2011 Dodgers are. If he’s a nice bench piece, that’s good news. If he’s getting serious playing time again, then things haven’t really gone in the right direction.

Chin-lung Hu (inc.)
.130/.160/.174 .334 0hr -0.2 WAR

Hu made his yearly cameo for the 4th season in a row, but it’s kind of an understatement to say that his career has largely stalled out. At 26, he had just 25 plate appearances in the bigs, less than he had in 2007 or 2008.

Really, it was that 2008 season that seemingly sealed his fate, because coming off a big season in the minors in 2007 (.325/.364/.507) he flopped badly in his big chance to replace the injured Furcal in 2008 (.181/.252/.233 in 121 PA).

Still, even if he was never going to be as good as that 2007 promised he could be, I think he’s still been slightly underrated, in the sense that he at least deserves chances ahead of retreads like Nick Green. There’s never been any question about his glove, and he’d had a pretty decent line of .317/.339/.438 in 223 AAA plate appearances this season, before undergoing surgery on an injured left thumb. He can still be a starter on a second-division club, or a backup on a better one, but since he’s out of options that chance will likely come with another organization next season.

Juan Castro (inc.)
.000/.250/.000 .250 0hr 0.0 WAR

Castro played just one game in his third (and pray to whatever deity you choose that it’s also his final) stint with the Dodgers, so what am I really going to say about him? Really, the highlight of my coverage of Castro this season was while he was still playing with the Phillies, as I was praising Furcal in July. I noted that Furcal’s 2010 was the best season a Dodger shortstop had ever had to that point, and presented a list of the top ten entries. Right after the list, I said…

(Dead last? Juan Castro‘s atrociously amazing .199/.245/.255 campaign in 1998.)

Yeah, that sounds about right. In parts of seven seasons with the Dodgers (1995-99, 2009, 2010), Castro put up a total line of .205/.258/.271. That’s a 43 OPS+. Good lord.

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Next! Casey Blake turns into a pumpkin! Russ Mitchell tries to make his mark! It’s third base!

The MSTI 2011 Plan, Part 2: Pitching

Lots of good comments on the Offense post yesterday – thanks. Of course, you can’t have a team without a pitching staff, and today we try to do some reconstructive surgery on the arms. I’ll be honest up front and say that it’s not going to be pretty. Filling three rotation spots isn’t easy even when you do have a ton of free cash, and the available starters are less than awe-inspiring. Other than Cliff Lee, the jewel of the market who’s never coming to the Dodgers, the best free agent starter is… Carl Pavano? Jorge de la Rosa? Ted Lilly, maybe? It’s not a great group, and the always-large demand plus that lack of supply means that some team is going to get silly and give those guys 3-4 years at big dollars. This is the one time that the payroll restrictions are actually a good thing, because Ned Colletti likely won’t have the chance to go out and be the one to make that mistake.

That said, you still have to put together a staff, and here’s one man’s crack at it.

1) Sign Clayton Kershaw to a 5 year, $30m contract…

…if you can even still get him that cheaply. I’d go into this in greater detail, except I already did just that in August. Basically, based on recent deals signed by comparable pitchers like Ricky Romero, Yovani Gallardo, and Jon Lester, this is about the going rate for a quality young starter with a pre-arbitration year left.

Sure, you could wait another year. You could enjoy the fact that he’s making just $500k or so in 2011, but that’s only going to cost you more down the road. He’s increased his WAR in each of his three years in the bigs, at the same time as he’s decreased his WHIP and K/BB. What happens when next year is the year he truly blows up? The cost is going to get astronomical. Better to do it now.

Fortunately, deals like these are rarely paid out evenly over the length of the contract, so we don’t have to worry about fitting in $6m into the 2011 budget. Doubling his 2011 salary ought to be enough to start, and the dollars increase over the remainder.

This is probably my highest priority of any move this entire winter.
$72.5m + $1m = $73.5m

2) Offer Ted Lilly arbitration, expecting he’ll decline.

As detailed here, I think it’s more likely that Lilly would decline rather than accept. If he does accept, you can make it work, of course. For this exercise, we’re assuming he signs a Randy Wolf-like three-year deal elsewhere.
$73.5m+ $0m = $73.5m (plus two draft picks)

3) Don’t offer Hiroki Kuroda arbitration, fearing he’ll accept.

As detailed here. I love Kuroda, and he could command a big free-agent contract, but the danger that he’ll want to commit to only one more year of American baseball and end up with a $16m+ arbitration judgement is far too risky, especially for an older pitcher with an injury history.
$73.5m+ $0m = $73.5m

4) Deal with the arbitration cases of Chad Billingsley and Hong-Chih Kuo.

Guessing arbitration prizes can be notoriously difficult, so I’ll go with Eric Stephen’s predictions on the TBLA payroll sheet for Chad Billingsley & Hong-Chih Kuo, which are $5.5m and $2.5m, respectively. I’d just as soon sign Billingsley to a long-term deal as well, but it’s probably pushing our luck to think that even Kershaw would get signed this winter, much less both.

As for the others… say “smell you later” for the moment to George Sherrill , Jeff Weaver and Vicente Padilla.
$73.5m + $8m = $81.5m

5) Trade James Loney to the Cubs for Tom Gorzelanny.

Loney’s an interesting case, because I think he’s one of those guys where there’s a massive divide between what regular fans and media types think of him as opposed to the impression the hardcore stat types have. We of course know that Loney’s a decent enough MLB hitter, yet subpar among his first base peers, especially in a league stacked with Albert Pujols, Joey Votto, Ryan Howard, Prince Fielder, Adrian Gonzalez, Aubrey Huff, and Adam Dunn (and that’s only the NL!). Sure, the RBI totals are somewhat shiny, but he finished 19th among 24 qualified MLB 1B in WAR. That was fine when he was an 0-3 player making $500k; it’s becoming a lot less fine as he ascends the arbitration scale without making a lot of progress on the field.

That doesn’t mean he’s without value, of course. I think a lot of other people see a guy who’s only 26, has a sweet swing and a smooth glove, and nearly drove in 90 runs for the third year in a row. It’s not enough to get you an ace starter, but it should be enough to get you a decent enough pitcher – and it just so happens the Dodgers have rotation holes to fill.

Meanwhile, the Cubs need a first baseman with Derrek Lee in Atlanta and Xavier Nady headed to free agency. Though it didn’t work that way in 2010, Loney’s always been more successful away from Dodger Stadium – more than 140 points of OPS better, in fact, with a career line of .309/.362/.495. That’s a lot more like it, and I worried back in the 2010 Maple Street Press Annual that he might need a change of scenery. The Cubs have most of their rotation set with Carlos Zambrano, Carlos Silva, Randy Wells, and Ryan Dempster, and could probably manage to fill the #5 spot elsewhere in order to take a chance on Loney.

As for Gorzelanny, he’s a 28-year-old lefty who’s been a bit up-and-down, but has FIP of 3.91 and 3.92 the last two years, good for 2.1 WAR this year (you can safely ignore the 5.55 ERA from 2009). Joe Pawlikowski of FanGraphs was pretty high on Gorzelanny back in July:

In fact, Gorzelanny has enough going for him that he can be expected to continue pitching well. I’m not even sure exactly why Pittsburgh, a team desperate for pitching, traded him in the first place. He was quite excellent in the high minors prior to his full-time MLB promotion, and even when the Pirates demoted him in 2008 and 2009 he pitched very well in the minors.

Like Perez, Gorzelanny’s resurgence could be a temporary thing. His control still isn’t where it needs to be, and that will be an important component of his game going forward. Yet Gorzelanny’s peripherals, both in the minors and the majors, make him look like a better case for permanent recovery. The Cubs, to their benefit, have three more years of team control, so they’ll get a long look at what Gorzelanny can do in the long run. Considering the state of the Pirates’ pitching, I’m sure Hungtington would love to get backsies on this one.

Gorzelanny’s probably not much more than a 4th starter, but he’s also going to make just about $1m next year in his first year of arbitration. Besides, Loney would probably make between $4-5m in arbitration, so moving that means you’re only paying an extra $3m or so for Dunn, assuming you backload his contract a bit.

I also considered trying to move Loney to Tampa for Matt Garza here, but the Rays are in serious cost-cutting mode and don’t seem like the type to pay $4-5m to a player like Loney who doesn’t get much love from the statistical community.

(Note: I’ve had this part written for nearly three weeks. I only just now realized that a few people in the TBLA comments suggested this deal as well on Friday, and then more than one person did so in my own comments yesterday. Great minds, right?)
$81.5m + $1m = $82.5m

6) Sign Vicente Padilla to a one year, $4m deal.

What a bizarre year for Padilla. After coming off the offseason shooting incident, he got a totally unexpected Opening Day start, which he turned into an underwhelming April and then nearly two months on the DL with a forearm injury. Yet when he came back, he was sublime, going eight consecutive starts without allowing more than two earned runs – before missing the last month with a bulging disc in his neck.

Padilla made $5.025m in 2010, and his summer stretch had him positioned for a possible multi-year deal. But the multiple injuries and his well-documented personal issues combine to make that unlikely, and he seems to have found a home in LA. You’re taking a risk on his health, but when he is healthy he’s quite good – and that’s worth the $4m to me.

Besides, I want another season of Vin Scully saying “soap bubble”.
$82.5m + $4m = $86.5m

7) Don’t rely on John Ely to be your 5th starter.

I was one of the few who supported Ely even after his season headed south, because the bar for 5th starters is so low. He had a FIP of 4.38; from a 5th starter, that’s fine with me.

The problem here is that teams almost never use only five starters, due to injury and poor performance. The Dodgers this year used ten starters, from Clayton Kershaw‘s 32 to James McDonald‘s 1. If Ely is your 6th or 7th best option, then you can still be reasonably confident that he’ll get a few shots to prove himself next year, but you won’t be totally dependent on “good Ely” to appear instead of “bad Ely”. If you do rely on him to win the 5th spot, then as soon as someone gets injured or faltered, you’re already relying on someone who’s worse than Ely. And that’s not a good situation to be in.

Of course, if Ely’s not rounding out the rotation, someone else needs to, and we’re going to handle that when we…
$86.5m + $0 = $86.5m

8) Trade Chin-lung Hu to Atlanta for Kenshin Kawakami.

In a vacuum, I’d prefer Hu to Kawakami. However, Hu’s out of options headed into 2011, and there’s no room for him on my Opening Day roster, so I need to turn him into something, and Kawakami’s my ultimate buy-low idea this winter. Just look at his stat line for the last two seasons..

2009: 6.04 K/9, 3.28 BB/9, 4.21 FIP, 4.61 xFIP
2010: 6.08 K/9, 3.30 BB/9, 4.35 FIP, 4.56 xFIP

Two basically identical seasons, right? Sure, except that in 2009 he was 7-12 with a 3.86 ERA, getting him at least a mention in NL ROY articles… and in 2010 he was 1-10 with a 5.15 ERA, getting him banished to the bench as insurance, as he pitched only 3 times after June and badly damaging his relationship with the team. He was more hittable than in 2009 for sure, but this definitely looks like another case of far too much stock being put in a pitcher’s W-L record and ERA (in addition to the Braves having plenty of quality starting options). It seems impossible that he’ll be back in Atlanta, and the Braves could use another shortstop option with Yunel Escobar in Toronto and Alex Gonzalez headed to free agency, even if Hu isn’t the starter – and his slick-fielding may appeal to a team that just saw their defense implode in the NLDS.

As for Kawakami, I’m not pretending he’s anywhere near as good as Hiroki Kuroda, because he’s not. I just can’t help pointing out that they each spent their final season in Japan in the Central League, and Kawakami (2008: 1.06 WHIP, 8.59 K/9, 1.92 BB/9) outpitched Kuroda (2007: 1.21 WHIP, 6.16 K/9, 2.10 BB/9).

It clearly hasn’t worked out as well in America for Kawakami, but it seems like a gamble worth taking. Kawakami is due $6.67m in the final year of a three-year deal. We’re going to say that the Braves will eat much of it in order to save $2m and get Hu in exchange for a pitcher they have no use for.

If it works out, great, you get a decent 5th starter. If not, all it cost you was $2m and a backup infielder who wasn’t going to make the roster anyway.
$86.5m + $2m = $88.5m

_____________________________________

Now that the starting rotation is set, it’s time to look at the bullpen. I’m sure a lot of people would love to keep Kuo and Kenley Jansen and blow up the rest, but it’s just not realistic, either from a financial or a talent standpoint. In the same way that it was hard to imagine that Jonathan Broxton and Ronald Belisario and Ramon Troncoso and George Sherrill would all have blown up together in 2010, it’s hard to imagine that not a single one is going to recapture that 2009 magic in 2011.

That’s not to say that we need to bring back the exact same crew, of course, but spending big money on relievers isn’t an option with the Dodger payroll, nor is it a good idea even if you did have that money. Big dollar investments in non-closer relievers rarely ever work out, as the Boston Herald does a good job of displaying here.

Kuo and Jansen ($88.5m + $0.4m = $88.9m) are no-brainers, and in this age of the seven-man bullpen, we have five more spots to fill. Here’s how we’re going to do it.

9) One of five: Give Jonathan Broxton a chance to rebound.

Broxton’s second-half nosedive really killed my plans, because I wanted to trade him. I wouldn’t want to pay any closer $7m, and that money can be put to better use elsewhere. If Broxton had just made it through another three months performing like he had for the previous three years, he could have been a great trade chip to bring back a bat or a starting pitcher.

Of course, his implosion changes all that, and as I detailed last month, I don’t see much of a trade market for him. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t do a deal if the right offer were made, just that I wouldn’t give him away for nothing. Don Mattingly claims that Broxton goes into 2011 as his closer, which I don’t totally agree with, but that’s obviously the best possible outcome. If he can come back from whatever took him down, then you get back a top closer, take pressure off Kuo and Jansen, and have a great piece to trade in July if the Dodgers are out of it. Really, I just want to extract the most value from Broxton, whether that’s on-the-field performance or return via trade, and moving him now isn’t the way to do that.

Besides, all the people you hear saying he’s “mentally weak” were saying the same thing about Chad Billingsley last winter, and you saw how well that worked out. If Broxton’s late-season disaster proved anything, it’s that the 9th inning wasn’t the source of his problems. Whether it was bad mechanics, overuse by Joe Torre (don’t forget that he was asked to throw 99 pitches in five days, and that’s where his troubles began), or an unknown injury (Josh Suchon on DodgerTalk claimed he saw Broxton’s ankle heavily taped after a late-season game), there’s a lot of viable reasons for his downfall. The hope is that a winter of rest can help him come back and regain that value, and giving him that chance – even if he’s not the closer initially – is the right move.
$88.9m + $7m = $95.9m

10) Two of five: Sign Justin Duchsherer to a one year, $1m deal.

Sure, he’s pitched in just five MLB games over the last two seasons due to injury, but what fun would this be without a lottery ticket? Unlike other “pie in the sky” guys like Brandon Webb, Ben Sheets, and Rich Harden, Duchscherer likely won’t require a big base salary, as he made just $1.75m with Oakland in 2010.

Duchscherer missed most of the last two years with injuries to each hip, but he’s proven that he can be effective if healthy. It’s of course the “if healthy” part which is a problem, and here’s how we make that work. Unless he comes into camp and blows everyone away, you make him your 6th-starter/bullpen ace. Before Oakland converted him into a starter in 2008, he was a bullpen weapon, appearing in 53, 65, and 53 games in 2004-06. We’ll do that again here, leaving the option of him being a spot starter available – basically, it’s the Jeff Weaver role.

The idea here is that if you can get 25 or so basically-average starts combined from Kawakami and Duchscherer, along with some bullpen value out of JD, that’s a great return on $3m.
$95.9m + $1m = $96.9m

11) Three of five: Accept that Ronald Belisario is going to have a spot next year.

I don’t want to gloss over Belisario’s extreme unreliability, but assuming nothing else happens, he’s basically assured of a spot. Why? Because his value is low enough that it’s not worth trading him, but since he’s out of options, you can’t send him to the minors and you’re not just going to cut him loose for nothing.

It’s also worth nothing that his 2010 wasn’t just a giant pile of suck, as many would have you believe. After his late arrival to camp, Belisario was reasonably decent through July: .608 OPS, only 2 HR allowed in 35 games. Then he disappeared for a month, and in August and September he fell apart: .856 OPS against, 4 HR allowed in 24 games (though to be fair, he gave up 9 ER in his first three games back and was much better after that).

We still don’t really know what happened to cause his month away from the team, but it’s not hard to infer that it was some sort of personal problem which took his focus away from baseball. That, plus the two long absences, could easily have thrown his timing and conditioning off. If he’s able to avoid such issues in 2011 – which, I admit, is far from certain – he’s my best choice for a rebound.

This assumes he can make it to camp on time, of course. Third time’s the charm?
$96.9m + $0.4m = $97.3m

12) Four of five: One spot goes to one of the up-and-down righty relievers we saw this year.

That’d be Ramon Troncoso, Jon Link, and Travis Schlichting. Hell, even toss Josh Lindblom in there. I imagine all four will see time in LA in 2011, and the first three have all had their moments. Whichever one breaks camp with the team is largely irrelevant, but you know at least one will. For the moment, I’ll say… Link.
$97.3m + $0.4m = $97.7m

13) Five of five: Insert veteran non-roster invite here.

It happens every year, so while I’d love to go out and sign Koji Uehara, Joaquin Benoit, Hisanori Takahashi or someone similar, we all know that this is going to be filled by your obligatory Jeff Weaver or Chan Ho Park-type. Perhaps literally Jeff Weaver or Chan Ho Park, which is fine, just as long as it’s no one named Ortiz.

I’ll actually propose something pretty unpopular, and that’s to bring George Sherrill back for the minimum after he gets non-tendered. I know the fans would revolt if that happened, and Sherrill might not want to come back himself, but it’s worth noting that even in his horrendous 2010, he was still dominant against left-handers: .192/.286/.288. It’s going to be hard to find anyone else who can do that, and Sherrill at least comes with the slight chance that he finds the performance he brought with him to LA. You really think Weaver or Park has that upside?
$97.7m + $0.8m = $98.5m

14) Just turn Pedro Baez into a pitcher already.

This doesn’t really impact the 2011 team, and I realize that every light-hitting, strong-armed minor league hitter isn’t going to be the next Kenley Jansen. I also realize that Baez has absolutely no hope of making the big leagues as a third baseman. He’ll be 23 next spring, yet had just a .306 OBP and 6 HR despite playing against kids 3-4 years younger in the Inland Empire launching pad. The one thing he does have going for him is a rocket for an arm. Why not take that 0% chance of him being a 3B and turn it into a 5% chance he makes it as a reliever? I’d be shocked if DeJon Watson hasn’t already begun those conversations already.
$98.5m + $0 = $98.5m

_____________________________________

Here’s your 2011 pitching staff:

SP L Clayton Kershaw
SP R Chad Billingsley
SP R Vicente Padilla
SP L Tom Gorzelanny
SP R Kenshin Kawakami

RP R Justin Duchscherer
RP R Jon Link
RP L George Sherrill / NRI
RP R Ronald Belisario
RP L Hong-Chih Kuo
RP R Kenley Jansen
RP R Jonathan Broxton

Then you have John Ely, Carlos Monasterios, Travis Schlichting, Ramon Troncoso, Josh Lindblom, Brent Leach, and a cast of thousands in reserve behind them.

Unlike the offense, where I think I was able to clearly improve it, I guess I can’t say the same about the pitching – though I do think it has more depth. It’s just important to remember that having Kuroda and Lilly in your rotation was never more than a short-term solution, because having them both for next year is totally unrealistic – unless your offense was full of rookies making the minimum. So while this rotation may not seem as good as the one that ended 2010 (and I don’t argue otherwise), you’re not working from that rotation. You’re working from one that has only Kershaw and Billingsley right now.

What you hope for here is that Kershaw continues his ascent, giving you a solid 1-2 with Billingsley. You pray that Broxton figures it out and that Kuo holds together for one more season, and you realize that what your team looks like in April is never what it looks like in July. If the team is in contention, adding a 3rd top pitcher could really do wonders.

Either way, I was able to do all of this for about $98.5m and cashing in Scott Elbert, Xavier Paul, James Loney, Russell Martin, and Chin-lung Hu, while adding two draft picks for Lilly. I won’t say this team is suddenly a World Series contender, but I do think the offense and pitching I’ve presented the last two days are definitely superior to the team we saw fall apart in 2010.

Rafael Furcal Heads to the Bereavement List

Per Dodger Thoughts, Rafael Furcal has been placed on the bereavement list to tend to an ill family member in the Dominican Republic. Obviously, some things are more important than baseball, so Furcal has to do what he has to do. But man, is the timing brutal, because Furcal has been on fire – hitting .309/.356./545 with 2 homers in June, plus several sparkling plays in the field. It’s not exactly what you need when you’re headed into Boston with a patchwork rotation lined up, and it also means Blake DeWitt is leading off today. Still, it’s only for a few days, so hopefully all works out as well as possible for Furcal and his family.

That’s not really what interests me here, though: it’s that Chin-Lung Hu was recalled rather than Nick Green, who’d made it through waivers (shocker!) when he was DFA’d and has since returned to Albuquerque. Obviously, this is a good thing, because Hu’s a solid fielder, and Green’s all but worthless.

However, we’ve been here before, when Furcal went on the DL with his strained hamstring, and remember that was wasn’t supposed to be out nearly as long as he was, and it was Green who came up. This was Torre’s rationale at the time…

“He just brings more experience,” Manager Joe Torre said. “Probably a little more of a utility guy right now.

“My plan is still Carroll at shortstop. We’re freer to play Greenie at third and second, as opposed to Hu, who really would be in the middle only. Plus the fact that Hu should probably play every day.”

It’s not like Furcal’s replacement figures to see much playing time.

If Furcal was expected to be down longer, the Dodgers might have called Hu up. Torre said they never seriously considered Gordon, who is at double-A Chattanooga and is now considered a brighter prospect than Hu.

“And we’re talking probably about a week, so it’s probably in the best interest of the young kid not to disrupt him,” Torre said.

So what’s different now? Now it’s okay to disrupt Hu? It can’t just be that Green had an opt-out clause previously, because it’s already been proven that no one wants him. Clearly, I’m not complaining – Hu is better – it’s just an interesting piece of decision-making, is all.

Update: Okay, I guess it’s because Green opted out of his contract and is a free agent. I’d seen that he went 0-4 on Monday, so this must have just happened in the last day or two. What an amazingly poor choice on his part. Hooray!!