There’s a Lot of Good Info Here That No One’s Going to See Because It’s a Holiday Weekend

After ten days or so in which it became really, really difficult to write this blog every day due to the overwhelming depression at watching the Dodgers flail around on the field… there is a lot going on today. So let’s get to it.

Don’t forget, tonight’s game is a nationally-televised affair on ESPN.

* Manny Ramirez is a beast. No better way to help your team out of an eight-game losing streak than putting two balls out of the yard yourself. Over the last week, Manny is hitting an even .500 (15-30) with 7 extra base hits, including three homers. But Bill Shaikin still isn’t happy. After his article a few days ago that seemed to imply that Juan Pierre should be back in the starting lineup (and kudos to Torre for saying that wasn’t going to happen), Shaikin goes back to Boston to dredge up bad feelings about Manny’s unhappy divorce with the Red Sox. Didn’t we get enough of these stories when the trade happened? And aren’t there more important things to be focusing on right now like, oh, I don’t know, a huge series against the division leaders?

* Is anyone still saying Chad Billingsley isn’t an ace? After blowing it on Friday, this was a game the Dodgers absolutely had to have. Billingsley simply out-dueled Dan Haren, giving up just 2 runs in 7 innings. Fortunately Manny and the bats showed up, because lately 2 runs over 7 innings has still been good for a loss. Let’s not forget to mention Hong-Chih Kuo, as well, who blew away the D-Backs to the tune of 5 strikeouts in 6 batters. The man has simply been dominating all year long, and he really helped keep the rest of the bullpen fresh for tonight’s rubber game.

* Enjoy being the 4th starter in Kansas City, Chan Ho. Chan Ho Park tells Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times that he’d prefer to be a starter next year than a reliever and would leave LA if that were the only way he could start – although he does add that he would relieve in Los Angeles next year, saying “I’m willing to sacrifice for this team.” Is there a team out there desperate enough to sign him to be a part of their rotation? Before this year, he hadn’t even been league-average (and I’m being charitiable by not saying “dreadfully horrible”) since 2001, which not so coincidentally is the last season he was with the Dodgers. Hey, Chan Ho? You’ve had 11 seasons in which you’ve gotten into more than 10 games. In 6 of those, your ERA+ has been over 100, and all 6 have been with the Dodgers. Why leave just to be a starter?

* Get ready to see the dugout get crowded. Tony Jackson has the likely callups once rosters expand. No real surprises here, but we’ll get into this further once they actually happen.

The list of players the Dodgers plan to activate or call up from the minors on Monday just keeps getting longer. It now includes Jones, Scott Proctor, Chin-lung Hu, A.J. Ellis, Delwyn Young, James McDonald, Eric Stults and Clayton Kershaw. There could be others.

* Neither Danys Baez nor Lance Carter have thrown a pitch this season anywhere. Want a real depressing read? ESPN.com’s Buster Olney has the story of Edwin Jackson and how he’s blossomed into an effective starter for Tampa Bay this season. So, you’re saying it’s a bad idea to give up on a 22-year old with talent? The hell you say! Here’s the takehome quote that will make you want to claw your eyes out:

Now Jackson and the Rays have been rewarded, with a solid starter who will likely be a weapon in the postseason.

On the list of comparables on Jackson’s baseball-reference.com page, by the way? Roy Halladay. Fantastic.

* Fun from Gotham! Over at MLBtraderumors, they’re already talking about the Yankees’ offseason plans. Why do we care? Because one of the articles linked to is that of Joel Sherman’s from the New York Post – and you might be interested in this paragraph:

ROBINSON CANO - If he is the second baseman next year, fine, he still has the capability to be both a batting champ and Gold Glove. But the Yanks should investigate his market in the way Tampa did in turning a high-end young hitter (Delmon Young) into a young front-of-the-rotation starter (Matt Garza) last offseason. Cano for Zach Greinke, Chad Billingsley or Matt Cain anyone?

Before you freak out, remember, this is just a reporter speculating, and there’s nothing from either side to back this idea up. But let’s just bite this one in the ass right here and say, there is absolutely no way on earth that Chad Billingsley ought to be dealt for anyone who’s not Albert Pujols. Don’t get me wrong, the Dodgers are going to have a gaping hole at 2B this offseason and I would love to fill it with Robinson Cano, as I said the last time his name came up around here. But absolutely not for a 23-year-old who’s already among the best pitchers in baseball. If not for his rough start to the year (thanks, crazy rain delay decisions!), his ERA would be under 3.00, which would be absolutely fantastic. So, Joel? Yeah, thanks but… well, get a clue.

* And the most horrifying thing for last… I had every intention of making fun of Arizona for this story from Ken Rosenthal:

The Diamondbacks are the favorites to acquire Blue Jays shortstop David Eckstein, forcing the Angels to consider other options, major-league sources say.

Eckstein, 33, is almost certain to be traded before the deadline for setting postseason rosters at midnight Sunday. While talks are fluid, the Jays currently are more inclined to trade with the D-backs, sources say.

Trust me, it was going to be good. There were going to plenty of references to “magical pixie” David Eckstein, and I was certainly going to reference this post we made a few months ago on him, where I said, amongst other things,

For a GM who loves veterans like Colletti does, you don’t think he’d love to add his “grittiness” or “hustle” or whatever euphemism you want to use for “short, modestly talented white guy”? Of course he would.

Yeah, it was going to be good. Arizona adding David Eckstein – there’s your answer! Except that then I saw this from Baseball Prospectus

The Red Sox, Dodgers, and Rays also reportedly have interest in Eckstein.

Sweet Jesus. The end times may truly be upon us.

(Update: The D-Backs have indeed acquired Eckstein today. Crisis averted. I now expect to see him hit 9 home runs in 9 at-bats against LA the rest of the year.)

- Mike Scioscia’s tragic illness msti-face.jpg

I Know it’s the 4th of July…

…you’ll be busy. You’ll have a family barbeque to get to, a local fireworks celebration – whatever it is you do to enjoy a national holiday. Really, if you’re actually reading this post right now, I’m a little disappointed in you. But I implore you, make some time in your day to catch the Dodger game (1pm PST). Because as you should already know, both Nomar Garciaparra and Andruw Jones have sped up their rehab in order to be available today. Tell me you’re not interested in seeing Nomar playing shortstop for the first time since 2005! Especially now that it’s been another year and nine more injuries since “he’s too fragile to play third base” was offered as a reason that he couldn’t be shifted across the infield from first base to make room for James Loney. And you know you want to see if Jones is going to offer any glimpse of the player he once was, especially since his rehab was originally supposed to end a full two weeks from now on July 18th. I know it’s only 3 minor league games, but he did go 4-8 with a homer and a stolen base in Vegas – and zero strikeouts. Is it possible that the knee really was the source of his problems? I guess we’ll have to see. But if he can come back and be even half of his former self, that would still help this power-starved team and be a massive improvement on the guy who was approximately 1/100000th of his old self earlier this year.

Of course, bringing both of these guys back will require some roster moves, especially for Nomar because, having been placed on the 60 day DL, he’s no longer on the 40-man roster. Ken Gurnick of Dodgers.com says:

The Dodgers will need to make two roster moves to make room for the veterans. Newly arrived outfielder Jason Repko is one likely candidate. The other could come from a group of bench players, including Angel Berroa, Andy LaRoche and Mark Sweeney.

Repko, fine. Yeah, it’s only been seven at-bats, but the four K’s and zero hits haven’t exactly made much of an impression. Get an OF back in Jones, send one down in Repko. But here’s the thing, Ken. There’s a bunch of guys that could get the axe for Nomar. Angel Berroa’s got an OPS+ of 27, to the surprise of absolutely no one except Ned Colletti. With Nomar around, Berroa and Luis Maza seem a little redundant – and Maza’s OPS+ is 44, which is still bad, but at least he can play second as well. Mark Sweeney may be the most useless player the Dodgers have ever had, and yes, I do remember Jason Grabowski. He’s hitting .094, for chrissakes. There’s even a case to be made for sending down Blake DeWitt, now that he’s down to hitting .169 over the last month. The point is, there’s a lot of filler on the roster right now. However, in no way should Andy LaRoche be considered among them. I know, he’s not really lit the league on fire yet. But unlike Berroa, Maza, and Sweeney, he’s actually got a future. 30 big league at-bats is hardly enough to decide what it is. If Andy LaRoche is the one sent down for Nomar… well, that might be the end of this blog entirely, because I don’t know if I could ever rationally write about this team again.

On to trade rumor news, because that’s always a topic I find endlessly fascinating. First, the shortstop problem. We’ve discussed the possibility of David Eckstein before, and although I wasn’t really for it, I understood why he might be in the conversation. Well, hopefully this juxtaposition from the Toronto Sun can put an end to that right here and now:

It’s no surprise that the Blue Jays are shopping right-hander A.J. Burnett.

But what they’re looking for in return certainly is.

The Jays are looking to obtain a shortstop in talks with other teams.

Wait, the Jays have two shortstops, Eckstein and John McDonald. Why would they want another?

“They’re offering Burnett to any team that needs pitching,” said an American League general manager. “They’ve told us they’re not happy with either David Eckstein or John McDonald.”

McDonald signed a two-year contract for $3.8 million last fall and before spring training the Jays signed Eckstein to a one-year deal worth $4.5 million. Eckstein has had problems in the field while McDonald is hitting .163 in 29 games.

Manager Cito Gaston has given as much playing time at short to Marco Scutaro, who was signed as an utility infielder.

Fantastic. The Jays are in last place and even they can’t stomach Eckstein. I especially like the “has had problems in the field” part of this. I know the Dodgers are desperate at SS… but not that desperate, right?

Finally, C.C. Sabathia, also known as “an expensive starting pitcher the Dodgers simply do not need, yet the media seems to insist that they do”. I can’t find the video, unfortunately, but my eyes nearly fell out of my head watching Tim Kurkjian on ESPN last night saying that the Dodgers “desperately need a starting pitcher”. Yes, the fact that the Dodgers have the #1 pitching staff in the NL (by ERA), a bonafide young ace in Chad Billingsley, and a lousy offense shouts “more pitching!” Well, Ken Rosenthal is reporting the Brewers are jumping into this with both feet, saying:

The Brewers’ offer for Sabathia includes Class AA left fielder Matt LaPorta, according to sources with two other clubs that are interested in acquiring the pitcher.

Class AA shortstop Alcides Escobar also may be in the Brewers’ proposed deal, one of the sources says.

To put this into Dodgers terms, consider sending Matt Kemp and Chin-Lung Hu – plus likely more since LaPorta is considered an even better hitting prospect than Kemp. How many times can I say “pass”?

Have a happy holiday, folks.

- Mike Scioscia’s tragic illness msti-face.jpg

Time to Spin the Shortstop Roulette Wheel Again…

The question here, I think, is not: “do we still have a shot this year?” – even though I think that’s a pretty fair conversation to have. With this team only being 4.5 games out of first place despite just about everything that could possibly go wrong having gone wrong (seriously, just look at the list of DL’d players on the roster on the right sidebar), I can’t imagine Ned Colletti’s going to do anything but be a buyer in the upcoming weeks. And while we all hold our breath that this doesn’t include anything silly like “Matt Kemp for Matt Holliday” or “top young players for an expensive starting pitcher we really don’t need“, there is one position that clearly needs an upgrade: shortstop, because Angel Berroa just isn’t going to cut it, and I particularly like how Baseball Prospectus’ Jay Jaffe put it:

Ned Colletti doused the problem in gasoline by trading for 2003 AL Rookie of the Year Berroa, who in the four years since winning that award hit .255/.292/.364 while fielding at a clip 55 runs below average. The Dodgers have been held to one run or less in four of his first eight starts, and are averaging 3.2 runs per game with him in the lineup.

Now, as you may remember, I was strongly against the Berroa deal when it first happened, and his .194/.286/.226 (in an admittedly small sample size of 31 at-bats) hasn’t swayed my opinion. But okay, I figured. We’d only have to put up with him for a week or two before we all got the hilarious enjoyment of seeing Nomar trying to play short again, and then hopefully quickly after that Rafael Furcal would return. Except that Nomar woke up feeling sore after his very first rehab game the other day, and is once again on hold – and really, should we ever be counting on him for anything, in any situation, ever? And as for Furcal…

Rafael Furcal (60 DXL/$4.6 million)
Whatever’s going on with Furcal’s back, it’s not getting better. The Dodgers don’t think they’ll have Furcal back in action until the All-Star break, and it doesn’t sound as if they’re sure about even that. ESPN is reporting that Furcal has a bulging disk, though earlier reports, including examinations from back specialists, never mentioned this condition. The complicating factor has always been Furcal’s shoulder, but if there is a bulging or herniated disk at the heart of this, and since this has been such a slow-healing and complex issue, then surgery would become a consideration. None of my sources have indicated this is the case, so I’m not ready to latch on to the idea that the problem is disk-related. In the meantime, Furcal continues to have treatment, with the goal of getting him back in the lineup around the All-Star break, a goal that seems very aggressive given the current pace.

Great. The All-Star break is nearly a month away, and even that’s not a given. Even if he does make it back, there’s no guarantee that he won’t suffer a flareup. As far as I’m concerned, if making the playoffs right now is a longshot, playing Angel Berroa every day is going to make them an impossibility. So who’s around that we could target at SS? There’s no need to get an All-Star caliber player, not that guys like that are available anyway. What we need is a veteran guy who can come in and just be league-average on offense and defense, because just that is lightyears ahead of what we’re looking at now. Hopefully, it’d be someone who’s only signed through the end of the year and wouldn’t require an A-level prospect to get, but we’ll see how possible that’s going to be. Also, of course, it can’t be a guy who’s a starter on a contender, since they’re unlikely to want to move him. I took a look around the majors, and here’s what I’ve come up with, in no particular order:

Christian Guzman, Nationals
Profile: Is there a more confounding player in baseball? He put up an excellent season in Minnesota in 2001 at 23 (110 OPS+), then spent the next three seasons being the model of consistent mediocrity (OPS+ of 79, 77, and 78 ) before somehow conning the Nats into giving him a 4-year, $16.8 million deal in 2005. In Washington, he’s been: historically awful (53 OPS+ in 2005), missed an entire season to injury (2006), excellent in limited play (124 OPS+ in 2007), and good so far this year as a starter (107 OPS+ in 2008).
Pros: Besides the fact that he’s played well since missing 2006, a big benefit here is that he’s cheap, only being owed the remainder of his $4.2 million this year before he goes free agent.
Cons: He’s been so up and down in his career it’s hard to ever know what you’re going to get from him. Also, he’s exclusively played shortstop, so he might not be of much use as a utility guy if Furcal ever comes back.

Jeff Keppinger, Reds
Profile: Bounced around from the Pirates to the Mets to the Royals before getting any real MLB time in 2007 with the Reds. He sure can hit, with OPS+ scores of 123 and 112 in Cincinnati the last two years, and he seems to be a good fielder, with only 2 errors in 85 career games at SS. He hasn’t played since May 13th after fracturing his left kneecap against the Marlins, but according to yesterday’s Cincinnati Enquirer, he’s hitting .429 on his minor league rehab stint - though it appears he still needs to work the stamina in his legs.
Pros: Can definitely hit, seems to be at the very least a league average-fielder, and is versatile: in parts of 4 MLB seasons, he’s seen time everywhere except for catcher and center field, making him a great guy to have around after Furcal’s return. He’s also cheap, making the minimum thanks to only having just north of a year’s worth of service time.
Cons: He’s a cheap, low-service time, versatile, productive player. Although it seems like he’s never really been valued by the Reds (Alex Gonzalez was going to be their starting SS this year before he got injured too), what would it take to acquire him? Also, how much longer will he need to rehab before being ready to handle short every day?

Jack Wilson, Pirates
Profile: I’d always had a pretty good perception of Jack Wilson until I looked at his stats and realized that he’s really two different players – one being the guy who put up OPS+ of 104 and 105 in 2004 and 2007; the other being the guy who’s put up 4 seasons of OPS+ in the 70s (2003, 2005, 2006, 2008). Dodger fans, say what you will about Ned Colletti, but be happy you never had to deal with former Pirates GM Dave Littlefield, who for some reason awarded Wilson with a 3 year, $20.2 million deal for ’07-’09 after his lousy 2005 and ’06 seasons.
Pros: Although he’s shown absolutely no power this year (just 3 extra base hits in 90 at-bats, which is keeping that OPS down greatly), a .289 BA/.330 OBP is something you can live with from a last-ditch shortstop. Also, as he’s expensive (see cons below), perhaps taking his contract off the Pirates’ hands would mean either that it won’t take much of a prospect to get him or that he could be part of a larger deal for someone like Jason Bay?
Cons: He’s signed for $7.25 million next year, plus a $0.6 million buyout of an $8.4 million team option for 2010. Despite being a local boy, he’s never hit well in Dodger Stadium: .228/.297/.261 career. Also, he’s had lingering leg issues all season.

David Eckstein, Blue Jays
Profile: I hate myself for even bringing him up. But the Blue Jays are in dead last in the AL East and just fired their manager, so they’re clearly going nowhere fast. For a GM who loves veterans like Colletti does, you don’t think he’d love to add his “grittiness” or “hustle” or whatever euphemism you want to use for “short, modestly talented white guy”? Of course he would.
Pros: Let’s see… “pros”. Well… he’s cheap? Only signed for 2008 at $4.5 million, and no commitments afterwards. Actually, he’s not as terrible as I would have thought; while he has zero power, the .361 OBP he has so far this year is pretty good.
Cons: The ramifications of Juan Pierre and David Eckstein hitting 1-2 in a lineup may end the free world as we know it.

So what do you think? I really like Jeff Keppinger, but his return from the knee injury may present a problem. Christian Guzman scares the hell out of me, but he has been productive this year. At least we can all agree on one thing: it can’t be Angel Berroa.

- Mike Scioscia’s tragic illness msti-face.jpg