So Much For That Exciting January

Google bringing the Dodger love today

Google bringing the Dodger love today

On the final day of December, I wrote that “the Dodger offseason isn’t close to being over” and that between the needs to unload starting pitching, add a reliever, and fix the bench, we could see five or six more moves still to come. “Stay tuned,” I wrote. “January should be fun.”

Well, January was not fun. It was boring, sometimes excruciatingly so. Here we are one month later, on the final day of the first month of the year, and all that actually came to fruition was the signing of J.P. Howell and the usual slew of non-roster invites. Chris Capuano, Aaron Harang, & Ted Lilly all remain with the team, and there’s still no one to help backup first base or spot for Andre Ethier against lefties.

So what happened? Sure, there were rumors about Scott Rolen, and the team avoided arbitration with A.J. Ellis & Ronald Belisario, and signed some international talent, but to be honest, the sport as a whole felt like it ground to a halt this month. It’s been a very odd winter, given that two of the best free agents available in Michael Bourn & Kyle Lohse are still out there as we move into February — even Prince Fielder had landed with Detroit by this time last year — and the seemingly never-ending Justin Upton saga may have helped to paralyze the market as well.

Upton’s finally gone, so that should help somewhat, as should the simple fact that camps open for pitchers and catchers in less than two weeks — Bourn & Lohse have to come off the board sooner than later. For the Dodgers, I have to admit that I’m somewhat surprised that not a single starting pitcher has been moved, though the more we think about how many different injury concerns and uncertainties the current group brings, perhaps it’s not that shocking.

Still, while depth is a good thing, the Dodgers just can’t make it to Opening Day with this many starting pitchers. My latest best guess is that one gets traded in February, either just before camp or early on, and one pitcher finds a resolution in March. Note that I said “finds a resolution”, and not “gets traded” — maybe that is a trade, but maybe Ted Lilly‘s shoulder doesn’t respond, or Chad Billingsley‘s elbow pops, or Aaron Harang disappears to road trip to Coachella or something.

As it always seems to, the best fit is probably with the Mariners, not only because of compatible needs but because you’d assume the two sides are familiar with each other from whatever Ethier conversations were had. Yesterday at ESPN, I looked at the Dodgers as one of several teams with surpluses that they can deal from, noting that Casper Wells would be a wonderful fit as a platoon outfielder for Ethier; in the Seattle Times today, Geoff Brown has a similar idea:

How to land Capuano? For me, the trade that jumps out would be one that sends Franklin Gutierrez back to a Dodgers club that he began his pro baseball career with. Don’t underestimate that latter factor. The Dodgers saw something they liked in Gutierrez way back when and chances are, that will be remembered by some in the organization.

The Dodgers could use Gutierrez’s versatility as a championship-level fourth outfielder on a projected contending club that has that type of money to throw at a potential non-starting position player. Don’t forget, there is a club option on Gutierrez for 2014 and that carries value for the Dodgers. If Gutierrez rebounds in 2013, then the Dodgers can look to trade Andre Ethier at the deadline to offset big money, then either keep Gutierrez in center and slide Matt Kemp to right — or keep Kemp in center and put Gutierrez in right. Either way, it works. And they could easily renew Gutierrez for 2014. If Guti fizzles out, then it’s a one-year gamble and all it cost you was a pitcher in Capuano that the Dodgers were looking to trade in any event.

When healthy, Gutierrez is a much more established player than Wells, given that he’s an elite defensive center fielder with some pop and speed who also has a big platoon split against lefties (OPS: .835 vs .630, even while playing in SafeCo), and he of course is a former Dodger farmhand who was traded to Cleveland for Milton Bradley in 2004. The problem is that he’s rarely been healthy, hitting just .235/.276/.320 in 532 PA over the last two seasons as he dealt with gastronomical issues and an oblique strain in 2011 and a pectoral strain and then a concussion in 2012. After missing two months with the concussion — sustained when Boston’s Franklin Morales missed Adrian Gonzalez on a pickoff throw and hit Gutierrez in the face — he was able to return in late August and played every day in September, hitting .257/.307/.410 in 27 games before missing the final few days with a groin strain. It’s unknown if his health issues are going to spell an end to his time as an everyday player; with the Dodgers, it wouldn’t really matter given that he’d be a part-time player. Either way, both Wells & Gutierrez are fits and would seem to be ideal targets to spend some of that pitching depth on.

So will February be any better as far as moves go? I have to think it will be. Besides, I have a short vacation planned in the second week of the month, and as long-time readers know, all the fun stuff happens when I’m not here. If you can put odds in Vegas on Capuano or Harang being traded on February 11, bet heavy on it.