Should the Dodgers Trade For a Lefty Bat?

Brian Giles is gone. Doug Mientkiewicz may not be able to play the field, and is hardly a power bat anyway. Garret Anderson is nearly 38, on a three-year decline, and hasn’t looked fantastic so far in camp. Xavier Paul has the tools and the defensive chops, but the club doesn’t seem to be seriously considering him. And despite rumors that the club would go without a lefty on the bench, that seems completely improbable.

So who is going to be the left-handed bat off the bench? While I agree that it’s still highly, highly likely that either Anderson or Mientkiewicz ends up with the job, I’d propose that going with subpar options simply because they’re the best you’ve got isn’t a good enough answer. If the team won’t go with Paul for whatever reason, then perhaps the answer is on another team that’s facing a roster crunch of its own.

As Tony Jackson reports, the Dodgers may have put Eric Stults, Jason Repko, and Chin-Lung Hu on the trading block. Each has their own reasons for possibly not making the roster, and none would bring back a huge return – but they may be enough to get an extra bat for the bench.

So what kind of player are we looking for? Lefty, obviously. Cheap, for sure. More likely a veteran who can handle coming off the bench than a young player, since playing time would be limited. Preferably with some power, and who can at least handle a first baseman’s mitt or corner outfielder’s glove without completely embarrassing himself. He’ll need to be in a situation elsewhere where he may be expendable, and while it doesn’t have to be a team that needs Stults, Repko, or Hu, it would certainly be a lot easier if they did.

After a quick look around MLB spring rosters, here’s some options. Be warned: they’re not all good options. They’re listed alphabetically.

Frank Catalanotto. The Cat turns 36 in April, so time isn’t on his side. Still, he’s only once in his career ever had an OPS+ under 95 and he’s had OBP of .342 and .346 in the last two years. Plus, he’s seen time at 1B, 2B, LF & RF in recent years. He’s not really a great option, I’ll grant. Then again, neither are Anderson and Mientkiewicz, and they can’t really play the field.

Willie Harris. Talk about a guy who’s turned his career around. After the 2006 season, Harris was 28 years old and had played parts of six seasons in the bigs, with a putrid line of .238/.306/.294. Yet after a 2007 stop in Atlanta, Harris became one of the only players to go to Washington and love it, since he’s put up a 101 OPS+ in two years as a Nat while seeing time at 2B, 3B, LF, and CF. He may not have the power you’d ideally like, but between the positional flexibility and the decent on-base ability, he’s a player wasted on a loser who could really help a contender. I’d definitely prefer him to Anderson, and you’d think the Nats would love any one of the numerous 5th starter candidates the Dodgers won’t be able to keep.

Eric Hinske. Hinske’s exactly the type of player the Dodgers could use. Not only is he a lefty, but he can play both infield and both outfield corners, which is perfect. Plus, he’s been a solid hitter off the bench for most of his career. Unfortunately, the Braves have two very fragile starters in the infield in Chipper Jones and Troy Glaus, so it’s unlikely they’d want to move Hinske unless they were blown away. Too bad; he’s a perfect fit.

Micah Hoffpauir. Hoffpauir’s an interesting case. Though he’s just turned 30, he has only 337 almost league-average (96 OPS+) MLB at-bats. Yet in the minors, he’s been a monster, putting up OPS of .917 and 1.145 in AAA in 2007 and 2008, including mashing 25 homers and 100 RBI in just 71 AAA games in 2008. He’s never really gotten a chance with the Cubs, partially because he’s a terrible fielder, and partially because he’s been stuck behind Derrek Lee and Alfonso Soriano. He’s not really a serious candidate here, because the team would never give the job to someone so inexperienced at the big league level, but that power sure is tempting, especially from a lefty 1B/OF. Still, if minor league power interested the Dodgers, they could have just kept Mitch Jones.

Mark Kotsay. Like Anderson, Kotsay isn’t, you know, good. That said, over the last two years, Kotsay has a .727 OPS, while Anderson has a .733, so he’s basically the same. While Anderson’s an outfielder in the same way that Manny is an outfielder, Kotsay’s a plus glove at 1B, and though he’s no longer the top center fielder that he once was, he’s playable in the outfield. With the White Sox loading up on every lousy Dodger outfielder of the last few years, Kotsay may be the last man to miss the roster. He’s probably not any better – if even as good as - Anderson (though he is crushing the ball in camp with a .944 OPS), but if you’ve got two evenly mediocre hitters, I’d certainly rather the one who can help you more in the field.

Laynce Nix. Nix is a plus outfielder at all three spots with some nice power – 15 homers in 337 at-bats for the Reds in 2009. Unbelievably, he’s not a creation of Great American Ball Park, since he hit 10 homers (.531 SLG) away from Cincinnati as opposed to just 5 (.428) at home last year. The Reds have a serious outfield jam, since CF and RF are committed to Drew Stubbs and Jay Bruce while LF is up for grabs amongst about a dozen contenders, including Nix, Jonny Gomes, Chris Dickerson, Wladimir Balentien, and what the hell, let’s throw Eric Davis in there as well. Unless Aroldis Chapman breaks camp with the team, the Reds could have an all-righty starting rotation, which could make for a nice fit for Eric Stults. A power lefty who’s a plus glove? I’ll take that over Anderson nine days a week. Remember, while Reed Johnson is going to spot for Manny on defense, it’s not like Andre Ethier’s a Gold Glover out there either.

Delwyn Young. Nah, just kidding. Still, would be nice to have a left-handed bat who’s torn up AAA in camp right now…

As I said, not a ton of great options, and perhaps none that really stand out over Xavier Paul (other than Nix, who I was surprised to find that I really liked). Really, the point here is that since neither Anderson or Mientkiewicz are going to help you in the field (either in quality or flexibility) and neither are likely to be huge pluses at the plate, you might as well try to improve where you can.

Update: Figures, I post this and then Anderson gets 3 hits today. Still, that doesn’t change my opinion. There’s better options out there than him.

Garret Anderson Chooses an Appropriate Number

Despite the fact that Andre Ethier apparently offered to give up his #16 jersey, Garret Anderson decided to go with number that suits him best: #00. The double-zero is appropriate because that’s exactly the amount of contribution I expect the Dodgers to receive from him.

That said, we’ve learned a bit about the competition for the last spot off the bench in the day or so since Anderson signed. Brian Giles’ knee is apparently responding so poorly that the expectation is that he’ll call it quits in the next week or so, according to Tony Jackson. Jackson also reveals this interesting note about Doug Mientkiewicz:

After dislocating his shoulder last season, Mientkiewicz said he no longer can make the throw across the diamond from third base, meaning he will be limited to playing first from now on.

That, at least to me, is new information. I hadn’t heard anything that suggested Eyechart’s injury was still affecting him that severely. Since this bench spot is apparently ticketed for someone who only fits the qualifications of “old and left-handed”, whether or not Eyechart can play anywhere other than 1B might not be a big deal. Still, one of the few reasons I liked him was because he did bring some nice versatility, and that appears to be gone.

So on that level, the signing of Anderson makes a little bit more sense, since Mientkiewicz isn’t what we thought and Giles may not even be in the competition. Yet what this also does is shine a light on the fact that the way the bench competition was structured this offseason was done so oddly that the team is now in a situation where Anderson may actually be the best option, just because they’re desperate for a lefty bench bat.

Simply put, it didn’t have to be this way. You could have been looking for the best bench option, rather than the best lefty bench option, and quite easily. They could have signed a lefty 4th outfielder (like the names I suggested, such as Randy Winn or Gabe Gross) rather than righty Reed Johnson, and it’s not even that I have a problem with Johnson, it’s just that it was an odd choice from the beginning to add another righty bat since it’s not like Johnson was a “must-have” addition. Or (and yes, I promised I’d stop harping on this) they could have added a lefty-hitting infielder like Felipe Lopez rather than Jamey Carroll. If either of those things happen, the Dodgers aren’t so desperate for a lefty bat that they’re going to choose between the old (Anderson), the old & infirm (Giles), and the old, infirm, & hard-to-spell (Mientkiewicz).

Of course, the correct option is right under our noses. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a lefty bat who’s likely to be as productive as any of these three, and not only won’t kill you in the outfield but has a strong arm and would be a great defensive caddy for Manny? Sounds like Xavier Paul to me, and as Jon astutely notes, the Dodgers have not had a good history with 35+ reserves. Let’s hope we don’t have to add another name to that list.

Is Reed Johnson Your New Backup Outfielder?

Lots of activity on the rumor front today regarding free agent outfielder, Reed Johnson, with Ken Rosenthal first tweeting that the Dodgers are “close” and then adding that the deal may actually be already done. We’ve been talking a lot about backup outfielders around here lately, and you may have noticed that Johnson’s name didn’t come up in my post about available players earlier this week. That’d be because Johnson is a righty hitter, which goes against everything we’d been hearing that the Dodgers were looking for a lefty bat. That could have big repercussions on the rest of the roster, but more on that in a second.

Johnson is a 33-year-old native of Riverside who’s spent the last seven seasons in the bigs with the Blue Jays (five) and the Cubs (two). He’s got a reputation as having some speed, though he’s stolen just 35 bases in his career. Johnson had a career year as Toronto’s everyday left fielder in 2006 (.319/.390/.479) followed by a brutal year in 2007 (.236/.305/.320),  which led to his release by Toronto and two average-ish years in Chicago as a 4th outfielder (mainly in center) and defensive replacement.

For his career, Johnson has a .282/.344/.411 line, for a 95 OPS+. Despite being a guy with a reputation as a quality defender, UZR has him as below average in both center and right, though above average in left.

I’m somewhat unimpressed with Johnson on the whole, especially coming off a broken foot which ruined his 2009. That said, the Dodger outfield has two big needs. First, they need someone who can be a plus defender in left to spot for Manny, which Johnson clearly can. Second, though few people want to admit it, they need someone who can replace Andre Ethier against lefties, because Ethier is useless against fellow southpaws. Johnson fits that role perfectly – for this career, he’s lousy against righties (.707 OPS), but is just fine against lefties (.841 OPS). That split was even more pronounced in 2009. If you’ve got lefty-killers Manny and Kemp, and replace Ethier with Johnson, that’s an outfield lefties should be terrified of.

So assuming that the money isn’t big and the term is just one year, I’m okay with this idea. Sure, I’d like to see Xavier Paul just like the rest of you, but I understand that he might need playing time in the minors more than anything after how much time he missed in 2009 due to injuries.

The real question is, what does this do to the rest of the bench? Sure, it’s possible that a 5th outfielder like Paul or Jason Repko could be kept, but with Jamey Carroll and Casey Blake each having past outfield experience in a pinch, I find that unlikely. In particular for Repko, this seems to be a death blow, since Johnson does everything Repko does, and does it a little better. No, the real impact of Reed Johnson (should this signing actually occur, of course), is probably going to be felt by Blake DeWitt and Doug Mientkiewicz.

Going with Johnson rather than a lefty bat means the Dodger bench is likely to be extremely righty-heavy, as Johnson, Brad Ausmus, Carroll, and Ronnie Belliard all bat from that side. Assuming that Paul is unlikely to break camp with the team, the Dodgers will need at least one lefty bat, but much of this depends on DeWitt. If he breaks camp as the starting second baseman, then Mientkiewicz would seem to have the edge on the fifth and final bench role – however, that would then mean that the Dodgers are comfortable with Carroll and/or DeWitt as the backup shortstops. If DeWitt doesn’t win the job, he’s likely to go back to AAA rather than ride the bench. That would allow the Dodgers room to carry both Mientkiewicz and a backup shortstop like Nick Green or Chin-Lung Hu, but it would also sentence them to a Belliard/Carroll situation at second base.

Either way, it should be interesting to see how the bench shakes out. And due to his outstanding splits against lefties to spell Ethier, I’d be fine with seeing Johnson added to it.

MSTI’s 2009 in Review: First Base

85toppsjamesloneyJames Loney (C)
(.281/.357/.399 13hr 90rbi)

Check this out. In 2008, Loney had 651 plate appearances. In 2009? 651. In 2008, he had 13 homers, 90 RBI, and 7 steals. In 2009? Exactly the same. Not only did the mainline numbers on the back of his baseball card (you know, if anyone still collected baseball cards) describe what’s becoming an exactly average James Loney season, he ended up with a 100 OPS+, making him a league-average hitter. So what we have here is pretty much exactly what we said about him last year; he’s not been bad (ludicrous home/road splits aside), but nor has he been all that spectacular. He’s been average, hence the average grade.

Of course, having a first baseman who hits for a 100 OPS+ isn’t exactly a good thing, because first basemen are expected to provide big offense. In a league with mashers like Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, Ryan Howard, Adrian Gonzalez, Todd Helton, etc., being “average” for the league actually means you’re one of the lesser lights at that position. The numbers bear that out; his .756 OPS was 13th of 14 qualified NL 1B, ahead of only Mets injury replacement Daniel Murphy. In VORP, he was the 25th best 1B in all of baseball. Clearly the bar is set pretty high here, but merely being “okay” puts the Dodgers behind the curve at the position as compared to nearly every other team.

So it’s no surprise that his name has come up in possible trade rumors to get more power at first base, occasionally for guys like San Diego’s Gonzalez. Still, there is some reason for optimism here. Starting in mid-August (possibly after Bob Schaefer made him stop wearing his mouthguard) Loney ended the year on a scorching hot streak, hitting .317/.391/.455 in September before hitting .353 with 2 homers in the NLCS – which, by the way, continues his history of being outstanding in October. In 70 PA across 5 playoff series, his line is .349/.414/.540.  That’s performance you can live with.

But it’s more than just his playoff history that gives me hope. When I noted that his stats in 2009 looked almost identical to 2008, I purposely didn’t mention one aspect that changed immensely, and that’s his K/BB ratio. In 2008, he struck out 85 times and drew 45 walks, which in an era where some guys strike out 200+ times is actually pretty good. This year? He actually drew more walks than K’s, 70 to 68. Considering that he’s still just going to be 25 when Opening Day 2010 rolls around, what that says to me is we have a young player who’s still improving his command of the strike zone. I’ll admit that the fact that his SLG dropped 35 points from ’08 to ’09 is worrisome, but when you have a guy with his pedigree who’s showing such improvement in pitch recognition – and is still so young – I think he really could be in line for a huge breakout next year, especially with how hot he ended the year.

That’s a great sign, because while I think the Dodgers will poke around to find a power upgrade at 1B, between the tight payroll situation and bigger holes at 2B and the rotation, I don’t really see much of a chance for them to acquire a superstar first baseman. Loney probably gets one more chance to prove that he’s still got more to offer, and the stars are aligned for him to take that step forward.

85toppsdougmientkiewiczDoug Mientkiewicz (inc.)
(.333/.400/.389 0hr 3rbi)

Joe Torre favorite and noted Twitter enthusiast ”Eyechart” Mientkiewicz didn’t really get much of a chance to contribute this year, getting just 20 plate appearances before and after missing five months after destroying his shoulder in mid-April. So, that puts him at somewhere around “37th most important Dodger of 2009″.

Which is about right, and that’s fine. Mientkiewicz is a nice player, but just not for this team. As I said when Delwyn Young was traded:

No, the mistake here is in allowing a talented young player to be pushed off the roster for the sake of keeping superfluous older veterans. Do we really think that Juan Castro and Doug Mientkiewicz are going to help this team more than Delwyn Young? And the thing is, I actually like Doug Mientkiewicz, but the fact is that he’s completely unneccessary on this team. It’s not just the two strikeouts in his three hitless at-bats, it’s the fact that he’s a good-fielding first baseman – something this team already has. It’s not even that important to have him around as a backup in case James Loney goes down, because you could simply move Casey Blake across the diamond and install Blake DeWitt at third base.

It’s been six months since I said that, and I basically feel the exact same way right now – except now he’s going to be 36 and coming off a lost year. Since Torre likes him so much it wouldn’t completely surprise me to see him get at least a token invite to spring training, but hopefully not much more.

85toppsjimthomeJim Thome (inc.)
(.235/.235/.235 0hr 3rbi)

Yeah, I know. Thome didn’t actually play any first base. But I have to stick him somewhere, right? And it’s appropriate that the picture I have of him on the card is “bench”, because that’s exactly where he spent most of his time in Los Angeles. That said, when the Dodgers went out to get Thome, you could probably say that I approved…

Survey says… Giving up zero talent and (presumably) paying less than $2m for a massive improvement to your bench headed into the playoffs? Oh, you better believe that’s a win.

Of course, it didn’t really work out, as Thome – hobbled by a sore foot – managed just 4 singles in 17 regular season pinch-hitting tries, and then just 1-5 in the postseason. But that’s okay. A big situation never really presented itself to him (he’d surely have been the DH if the team had advanced to the World Series), and I give the Dodgers a lot of credit for taking the chance and making the outlay.

As for Thome? Back to the AL next year, no doubt. I guess we won’t be seeing him enter the Hall of Fame with an LA cap, will we?

Next up: Orlando Hudson! Ronnie Belliard! Saying so long to Tony Abreu! It’s second base!

MSTI’s First Half Review: Offense

With the first “half” in the books after 88 games of the best record in the majors, it’s time to revive an MSTI tradition and do a quick first half review. Today we run through the offense, Tuesday it’s pitching, and Wednesday it’s the coaching and overall review.

Just like last year…

First, some quick ground rules. Completely unscientific and arbitrary, this is how we’ve seen the results of the season. One important distinction, is that the letter grade is based upon what we reasonably could have expected of the player entering the year, not comparing him to other MLB players at his position.

That last part’s important, because otherwise no one who’s not Albert Pujols would be getting an A. Anything less than 50 at-bats get you an “incomplete”.

Catcher
Russell Martin (.258/.373/.314 2hr 27rbi) (F…. ML)
Holy hell. Where do you even start here? It’s inconcievable to me that in last year’s first half review, Martin got an A+ and the high praise of “Without question, the best offensive player so far.” Turtle nose-dived through the rest of 2008, and fell so far this year that by mid-June, I was openly wondering how long we could stick with him. Seriously, how lousy has he been? This is what I wrote last month:

OPS!
Martin is at: .625
Which puts him: 160th in MLB (of 172 qualifiers)
Behind the likes of: Howie Kendrick (just demoted to AAA), Jhonny Peralta (just benched), and magical pixie elf David Eckstein (is David Eckstein). 
And that means… what’s worse, that he’s hitting worse than guys who are losing their jobs, or that he’s less potent than David Eckstein? The truly scary part here is that his .347 OBP is still pretty respectable thanks to the walks he draws, which means that when you look at just his slugging percentage…

Granted, Martin’s been much better over the last month (.308/.438/.397), but it’s taken just that to get him to 17th in catching VORP. Is that enough to kick him up from an F? No, it just kicks him up to an F, rather than the jokey non-letter grade he might have otherwise received.

Brad Ausmus (.286/.355/.375 1hr 5rbi) (B)
Well, he’s not Gary Bennett or Danny Ardoin, so that’s something. I didn’t really like the idea of giving a million dollars to the geriatric Ausmus, and he’s been predictably punchless, with just three extra base hits. That’d all be a recipe for a solid “C”, as in, “exactly what I’d thought he’d be”, but he may have actually turned Guillermo Mota around, so that’s worth a kick in the grading pants.

And hey, if Bill Shaikin gets his way, he’ll be the starting catcher!

A.J. Ellis (.000/.000/.000 0hr 0rbi) (inc.)
Three games, four at-bats. I’m sure there was a reason I decided to grade every player, but talk about being the definition of “incomplete”. But hey, at least his AAA OPS has dropped 162 points from last year’s impressive figure!

First Base

loneyfielding.jpgJames Loney
(.281/.350/.402 7hr 54 rbi) (C-)
Loney continues on his “not bad, but not all that great, either” streak of last year. It’s odd when you think about it, because a .281 BA is acceptable, and a .350 OBP is fine. But they’re not enough to overcome the .402 SLG – especially when you consider how stacked 1B is otherwise. Quick, off the top of your head – how far down the list of 1B do you have to go before you get to Loney? In a league that has guys like Pujols, Gonzalez, Howard, Fielder, Votto and Berkman right at the top, it’s not hard to see that Loney’s below-average. The stats back it up; he’s 11th of 13 NL 1B in OPS, and 14th in VORP. Even worse, this is the third year in a row his stats have declined. Sure, his glove has been great, and he’s never been killing the team at any point… but first base is hardly a highlight of the Dodgers right now.

Second Base
Orlando Hudson (.283/.353/.426 7hr 48rbi) (B)
Okay, I’m not above admitting I may have been wrong, and when I was so fervently against giving up a first-round pick to sign Hudson this offseason, that may have not been a high point on this blog. In my defense, there were still huge questions about his health (remember when we were reading that he couldn’t even bend his left wrist back?) and no one could have predicted the hot start he’d get off to. Plus, while his defense may not be what it was at his peak, compared to what we’d seen from Jeff Kent in years past, it’s like upgrading from Jessica Lange to Jessica Alba.

So why just the B grade? Because while Hudson may have made an enormous first impression (come on, a cycle in your first home game for your new team? Who does that?) I think it may have obscured just how horrible he’s been over the second half of the first half. (Shut up, that’s a thing.)

Apr. 6 – May 13: 35 games, .348/.429/.539
May 14 – Jul. 10: 49 games, .237/.300/.320

For some reason baseball-reference hasn’t updated to include yesterday’s games yet, so I am missing his 2-homer outburst in that latter section, but still: the difference is glaring. You’d like to think that was the start of something, because at some point he’s going to need to turn this around, or all of the good feelings of April are going to dissipate.

Third Base
Casey Blake (.285/.364/.486 12hr 55rbi) (B+)
Say this for Casey Blake, the man knows that timing is everything. On May 6, the day before Manny was suspended, Blake was hitting just .225/.324/.427. In the 46 games Blake played during Manny’s absence, Blake really stepped up, putting up a .319/.371/.530 line, with 6 homers. As the 11th most valuable 3B in MLB by VORP, the Most Interesting Man in the World has been more than serviceable at the hot corner.

Fortunately for Blake, we’re just grading the first half, because he’s notorious for running out of steam down the stretch – losing 50 points of OPS in the second half over his career. At least he’s still got that beard!

Shortstop

furcalrunning.jpgRafael Furcal (.256/.331/.350 4hr 21rbi) (D)
Well, the good news is he hasn’t had to hit the DL with any back problems, so that’s nice. Look, I never expected him to repeat last year’s ridiculous hot start, but I think we were all hoping for a little more than this, right? He’s just 12th in the NL in VORP, which is bad enough in a 16 team league – until you realize that Juan Castro is 11th, and that’s just downright depressing. Furcal’s OPS of .681 would be the worst of any season of his career, if it holds.

Now, the good news is that he finally seems to be turning the corner, hitting .417/.488/.556 in July. Whatever it is, he’d better keep it up – you just can’t have a guy who struggled as hard as he did hitting leadoff for a playoff team. Not exactly what we expected when we all celebrated his signing in December, is it?

Oddly enough, he’s split his year pretty equally between hitting first and hitting second, and while he was dreadful batting second behind Juan Pierre (.548 OPS), he’s been pretty effective as the leadoff man (.719 OPS). I have no idea why that would be, but with Manny’s return, Pierre is of course nailed to the bench, so Furcal should get plenty more leadoff at-bats.

Infield
Mark Loretta (.245/.344/.292 0hr 16rbi) (D)
You know, when Loretta signed, I was totally in favor of it - a quality veteran, crushes lefties, can play all over the infield? Considering the deal was only for $1.4m over one year, it was perfect. But here’s the funny thing; I never really noticed it until just now, but Loretta hasn’t even been all that great. If it holds, his 73 OPS+ would be the worst he’s had since his second year, back in 1996. Actually, part of the problem may lie with Joe Torre, because while Loretta’s still doing pretty well against lefties (.792 OPS), he’s been terrible against righties (.600 OPS). I know the D seems harsh, but remember our grading scale – he’s not been as good as we’d hoped, so that counts as below average.

Juan Castro (.352/.397/.437 1hr 9rbi) (A….re you kidding me?!)
Where’s the outcry for drug testing of Juan Castro? We’ve got a guy with a career OBP of .271 who has never put up an OPS+ of more than 79 in his entire life. Now, at 37, he’s putting up Manny numbers? Don’t get me wrong, I dig it, and I know it’s a small sample size of 70 at-bats; I just can’t concieve of a reality in which Juan Castro may possibly be a better shortstop than Rafael Furcal – and that’s without even considering that Castro is absolutely the better defender.

What a world we live in. You better believe that’s an A.

Blake DeWitt (.174/.240/.304 1hr 1rbi) (inc.)
Talk about a guy who’s seen his fortunes change from last year; here’s part of what I had to say about him in 2008′s mid-year review:

Just like Kent, this is a tough grade to assign. I know it seems like a long time ago now, but do you remember how desperate this team was at the hot corner at the end of March? Nomar was hurt, LaRoche was hurt, Abreu was hurt, and the trade options were either unavailable or unappealing. So we turn over the job to the guy who was guaranteed to put up Hu-like offensive numbers. Except that.. he was good. Really good, slugging .517 in May. He was a lock for Rookie of the Year and surprise of the year. Go Blake!

Of course, he couldn’t keep it up, got sent down, replaced by Casey Blake at 3B, and then resurfaced as the 2B in the playoffs, before getting replaced there by Orlando Hudson. So far in 2009, he’s spent more time traveling between LA and Albuquerque than he’s actually spent playing in either place.

My prediction? He gets traded before the month is out as part of a deal for a pitcher.

Doug Mientiewicz (.400/.400/.600 0hr 2rbi) (inc.)
If Eyechart was getting a grade, it’d probably be a 5.8 for the swan dive into second base that caused him to get injured in the first place. More importantly, it gives him plenty of time to be the most active athlete on Twitter I’ve ever seen. He had to fly through Detroit to get to Miami from Milwaukee yesterday!

Mitch Jones (.308/.400/.385 0hr 0rbi) (inc.)
If you remember Mitch Jones’ sad, sad song, then the fact that he even got a big league at-bat should be considered a huge victory. In fact, he got thirteen of them – eleven as PH or DH – and actually put up some production in that short time, before he was DFA’d to make room for Manny. See? If Manny doesn’t get himself suspended, Mitch Jones might still be waiting for that first at-bat. Last I heard, Jones cleared waivers and reported back to Albuquerque, so we might yet get to see him again.

Left Field
Manny Ramirez (.355/.487/.669 9hr 29rbi) (D… cup)
Without question, the most difficult grade to assign by far. I mean, when Manny’s played, he’s been all you could have asked for, and more. Just look at those numbers; if he had enough at-bats to qualify, that SLG would be second only to alien cyborg Albert Pujols. He’s 5th among NL LF in VORP, which is nice enough until you remember that VORP isn’t a rate, it’s a counting stat, which means that he’s been done that even despite missing half the season. 

Of course, you can’t ignore the fact that the fifty games he missed were, you know, entirely his own fault. (Though, I haven’t ruled out the idea that Bill Plaschke planted the test results, worried that he might have nothing to complain about all season otherwise.) So yeah, huge demerits for that, and that’s how a guy who’s continued to terrorize NL pitching ends up with a D for dumbass. 

Juan Pierre (.328/.387/.417 0hr 25rbi 23sb) (A)
I was so tempted to give Pierre a lousy grade, just to be contrary to all of the writers who act as though his three week hot streak overrides two and a half years of overpaid futility. Remember, just because Pierre was great right after Manny was lost in May, you can’t forget that he was completely horrible in June – worse than usual.

But then I realized something important; the three great weeks Pierre gave us is about four more good weeks than I ever could have reasonably expected from him. So, screw it! Give the man an A.

Center Field
Matt Kemp (.320/.384/.495 11hr 50rbi) (HOF. I mean, A+)
Well, I did call him the best center fielder in baseball just a few days ago, so there’s that. What more can you say? He’s striking out less, he’s walking and hitting more, and his defense and baserunning have improved markedly. Plus, he’s shown the rare ability that few players have to completely take over a game – and yes, I am talking about the “extra-inning grand slam/over-the-shoulder basket catch” in Milwaukee from the other day.

I’m sure there’s a reason that he’s still hitting 8th and not forming an absolutely brutal middle of the order combo with Manny, right? Right?!

Right Field

ethierrunning.jpgAndre Ethier
(.250/.338/.475 18rbi 56rbi) (B-)
If Ethier knows anything, it’s a fantastic sense of drama. The man loves his walk-off homers, and of his 18 homers, 11 have come in just 5 games. The only thing is, his season has been unbelievably up-and-down.

April: .976 OPS
May: .601 OPS
June: .952 OPS
July: .612 OPS

So how do you grade that? The unexpected power barrage (10th in the NL, but it’s almost not fair that there’s four Phillies ahead of him, playing in that park) has been a very pleasant surprise, and it’s likely that he’s going to be the first 30-homer Dodger since Adrian Beltre in 2004. And as you can see by his monthly breakdown, there’s been stretches where he’s absolutely carried this team. Unfortunately, there’s also been just as many times where he’s completely buried the offense, and if you don’t know which Andre you’re going to get, that could be a serious problem come playoff time.

Still, it’s hard to give a bad grade to a guy who’s finally put some power into the offense – and, really, is there anything more fun than walkoff wins?

Outfield
Jamie Hoffmann (.182/.167/.409 1hr 7rbi) (inc.)
Xavier Paul (.214/.313/.500 1hr 1rbi) (inc.)
I’m grouping these two guys together, because the Dodgers have used their backup outfielders so rarely this year there’s not all that much to differentiate them. These two combined for just 36 plate appearances, and save for one start and two at-bats by Mitch Jones in right field, that represents the sum of the backup outfield work in LA this year. As for their play, each had their moments, putting up their first major league homers and displaying excellent arms in the outfield. Paul is still on the disabled list thanks to the crazy staph infection he suffered in May in Florida, and when he’s ready, he’ll join Hoffmann down in Albuquerque.

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Don’t forget to come back tomorrow, when Vin checks in with the pitching grades. Remember the simpler times of yore, when I could just bash Brian Falkenborg all day?