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?