Place Your Non-Tender Votes Now

The Dodgers have until 12am EST / 9pm PST tonight to decide whether to tender a 2011 contract to their five arbitration-eligible players – Chad Billingsley, Hong-Chih Kuo, James Loney, Russell Martin, and George Sherrill. For those not familiar, if the player is tendered a contract, then they may not talk to any other team about a contract, and are on the path to an arbitration hearing early next year. The player and the club are free to discuss a contract agreement before that happens, and that’s usually the case – Jonathan Broxton, Andre Ethier, and Matt Kemp are among the notables to agree to contracts before the arbitration hearing arrived in recent years. The level of difficulty here is that the team may not offer a contract that represents more than a 20% cut from the previous season, so you can’t, for example, try to give Sherrill a $500k deal.

If the player is non-tendered, he then becomes a free agent, and able to negotiate with any team. The Dodgers could still talk to any of the players they non-tender and would no longer be bound by the 20% rule, though of course they would no longer have exclusivity in discussions and would be competing with other teams.

With Ryan Theriot mercifully out of the way now that he’s St. Louis’ problem, let’s quickly look at the five remaining cases. You can cast your vote at the bottom.

Chad Billingsley. He’s 26. He bounced back from a rough end to 2009 to have one of the better seasons of his career. Uh, yeah, you better believe he’s getting an offer. I’d rather see him agree to a long-term deal before arbitration, though I have to say he’s second in the pecking order to Clayton Kershaw in my book. He’s likely to make about $5.5m in arbitration if he gets that far.

Hong-Chih Kuo. Only had one of the most dominating seasons in history by a reliever last year, so I’d say he’s getting an offer as well. I’m more hesitant to sign him long-term because of his injury history; the $2.5m or so he’d likely pick up in arbitration seems fair to me.

Russell Martin. Where do you start? We’ve talked about this ad nauseum. He’s not nearly what he was, yet that’s still better than most catchers. He’s coming off a serious injury and stands to get about $6m in arbitration, yet the options to replace him are terrible. I don’t know if there’s a right answer here; I’d probably try to sign him to a two-year deal at less per year than he’d get in arbitration, but there’s probably not enough time left to do that today.

James Loney. He’s sub-par among his first base peers, and as he gets older and his salary increases the promise of his potential gets dimmer, especially when there’s a decent crop of veterans who could be had for one year and offer similar production. I said months ago that I’d like to trade him for pitching and get a better option at 1B; still, I don’t think you’ll see him non-tendered.

George Sherrill. Well, he made $4.5m last year, and I can’t imagine they’ll risk paying him anything like that. Still, he was effective vs. LHP and with his record, he’s got a better chance of a bounce-back year than anyone else, so I’d be interested in bringing him back cheaply.

At the time of this writing, the Dodgers have just about 13 hours to make their choices. Check out the poll below, and let me know – which guys are getting contract offers? You can vote for as many as you like.

(Update: the percentages here are kind of misleading, since it’s trying to make all of the figures add up to 100% on the whole, rather than individually. I tried to turn off the percentages and show hard votes only, but it doesn’t appear to be an option. So ignore the percentages and focus on total votes.)

[polldaddy poll=4184630]

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Unrelated, but fun: we’ve started up the hot stove talk at the Baseball Prospectus Fantasy outlet. My first article of the winter about relief pitchers went up today.

MSTI’s 2010 in Review: Relievers, Part 4

We’re back! Two more relief pitcher reviews to go.

Ramon Troncoso (D)
4.33 ERA, 4.67 FIP, 5.7 K/9, 3.0 BB/9, -0.2 WAR

It’s funny to think about it now, but Troncoso was the absolute savior of the bullpen back in April. With Hong-Chih Kuo on the DL, Ronald Belisario MIA, and George Sherrill falling apart, Troncoso quickly became Joe Torre’s go-to guy to get games to Jonathan Broxton.

Troncoso appeared in 15 of the team’s 22 April games, and was quite effective in holding opponents to a .208/.296/.292 line in the first month. As April bled into May and the appearances mounted, that led to a never-ending line of jokes and concerns that Torre would run him directly into the ground.

April 28 (doubleheader):

In each game, 4 relievers entered after the starting pitcher. In Game 1, following Hiroki Kuroda were Jon Link, Ramon Troncoso, George Sherrill, and Ramon Ortiz. After Charlie Haeger left in Game 2, you saw… Troncoso, Link, Sherrill, and Carlos Monasterios. I’ll forgive the usage of Link, who we all knew was getting sent back down to make room for John Ely today anyway, but Torre’s abuse of Troncoso is bordering on the ridiculous. He’s on pace to get into about 115 games this year, and Dylan Hernandez’ constant usage of the ‘paging Dr. El Attrache’ hashtag on Twitter has gone from “humorous” to “terrifying”.

May 11:

Jonathan Broxton began warming in the 8th inning, with the Dodgers up 4-2. Fine. Yet the Dodgers put up 3 in the top of the 9th after RBI hits by Loney, Blake, and DeWitt, so Broxton sat down. Also fine. Yet with a five-run lead, who comes in? Not George Sherrill, who’s been horrible. Not Carlos Monasterios, who for all his success is still a Rule 5 pick. No, Torre inserts Ramon Troncoso, now on pace for over 90 games this year. I can’t even begin to explain how boned this team is if Troncoso, the most vital non-Broxton reliever, breaks down, so you’d think you’d want to save him for important situations. But wait! This gets better. Troncoso walked Chris Young, and then gave up an RBI single to Rusty Ryal… which gets Torre to warm Broxton up again.

Troncoso, of course, got the final three outs in the next two batters thanks to a strikeout and a game-ending double play. So Torre managed to work out both of his best relievers… in a five-run game. All this, while guys who practically have middle names of “put me in only in five-run games” sat and watched.

May 20:

And then on top of it all, with Jeff Weaver warming and Carlos Monasterios wondering what he’s done to offend Joe Torre to make sure he hasn’t pitched in a week, who comes in? That’s right, Ramon Troncoso, who’s still on pace for 90+ games. The silver lining in Troncoso getting hit hard was that Ortiz got charged with the men he’d left on, but this was Troncoso’s third night in a row, and fourth in five nights. Am I really going to kill him for letting Adrian Gonzalez take him deep? Of course not. I’ll never understand Torre’s bullpen usage, ever.

May 25:

Hey, Joe. Why are you bringing Ramon Troncoso in A) when the team is losing, B) in a tight game when he’s coming off three homers in his last two outings, and C) when he’s on pace for approximately 180 games this season? Sure, Troncoso is claiming that he’s found “a flaw in his delivery”, but is absolutely anyone going to be surprised when he ends up on the disabled list by the end of the week? Anyone?

Troncoso didn’t end up on the DL, but he may as well have. After his nice April, he allowed an OPS of .899 in May and .830 in June. He was so bad that he ended up getting sent down to AAA in early July, and he bounced back and forth several times before returning for good when rosters expanded in September – and he wasn’t much better in ABQ either, with a 5.73 ERA and a 1.545 WHIP.

That said, it’s easy to blame Joe Torre for this. (Fun, too.) But there’s more to it than just Torre’s overuse. I’m actually going to toot my own horn a bit and say that I was worried about Troncoso as far back as last November, in the Maple Street Press Dodgers Annual:

Explain this: Ramon Troncoso’s strikeout rate per nine innings dropped from 9.0 in 2008 to just 6.0 in 2009, and he combined that with a rising walk rate – up from 2.8 to 3.7. Even his reputation for being a groundball machine suffered, with his GB/FB rate dropping from 3.44 to 2.10. One might say that’s a recipe for utter disaster, yet Troncoso’s ERA dropped nearly a run and a half from 4.26 to 2.72. How was that possible?

I went on to explain that it was in large part because Troncoso had been extremely lucky with his flyball rates in 2009, and those peripherals didn’t really support an ERA like that. So when the inevitable regression occurred, I wasn’t all that surprised and took a deeper look into why. It’s kind of a long read, so I won’t copy the entire thing here (though I encourage you to read it), and instead I’ll just show conclusions without the accompanying explanations:

1) His 2.72 ERA in 2009 was wildly misleading.

2) He’s actually been regressing each year, not just this year.

3) His home run luck from last year is evening out.

4) His hot start to 2010 was just a decent start magnified by the disaster around him.

5) A regression in 2010 wasn’t hard to see coming.

6) You can’t completely absolve Joe Torre.

Believe it or not, Troncoso’s 2010 WHIP was lower than his 2009, which should be reason 1,023,876 why ERA for relievers is unreliable. Troncoso is in no way guaranteed a job in 2011, but his history as a Dodger ought to at least get him a long look in spring training next year. 

George Sherrill (F)
6.69 ERA, 5.20 FIP, 6.2 K/9, 5.9 BB/9, -1.0 WAR

I think a lot of people are expecting me to rationalize Sherrill’s terrible year, and claim that it wasn’t that bad at all. I’m not, and it was. It’s just important to realize that there’s a bit more to it than just “holy crap, this guy suddenly became awful.”

Before we even get into how his 2010 unfolded, do remember that expectations for Sherrill were unfairly inflated headed into the season. His shiny 0.65 ERA as a Dodger in 2009 had people thinking he was a stud, and while he was very good, he actually struck out fewer and walked more in LA than he’d done with Baltimore in the tough AL East. (Just another example of why ERA, particularly for relievers, isn’t the best tool to judge a pitcher, friends. Did we really expect that 621 OPS+ from last year was going to stick?) 

So I certainly expected some regression. But this? No, not even I saw this coming. We first started hearing about trouble with Sherrill in the first days of spring training, as he’d reported with sore knees and then took a line drive off his right ankle, though it was reportedly not serious. Sherrill made it through the spring, and made his season debut in the 8th inning of Opening Day in Pittsburgh. How’d that go?

Even more concerning than that mess was the self-immolation of George Sherrill, who was so brilliant for the Dodgers last season. After an entire spring of hearing him claim that his mechanical issues were “no big deal” and that he’d be fine when the season started, he came in and after getting two quick outs, allowed a walk, a double, and a three-run homer to Ryan Doumit. With Hong-Chih Kuo on the DL and Scott Elbert trying to be a starter in ABQ, the Dodgers may be have a serious lefty problem in the pen if Sherrill can’t get straightened out, and quick.

But it didn’t get better. He allowed runs in three of his first five games, including blowing his first save opportunity on April 10 in Florida, and didn’t manage to get through an outing without issuing a walk until his sixth time out. He perked up a bit at the end of April, going eight straight games without allowing a run, but it was still troubling that he’d managed to strike out just two in that time. By the end of the month, he’d walked ten and struck out only five.

May started with back-to-back disasters, and ended when he was placed on the DL with “mid-back tightness”, as the club needed a roster spot for the returning Rafael Furcal. He missed barely the minimum, and returned to allow a run against the Angels on June 11. Few remember it now, since it was Jonathan Broxton who blew up in the 9th and Ramon Troncoso who got the loss in the books, but it was actually Sherrill who gave up the two-run homer to Robinson Cano in the tied 10th inning of the infamous June 27th disaster against the Yankees on Sunday Night Baseball.

Two days later, on June 29, I looked into what had happened to Sherrill, and started off with a shocking realization:

in looking at Sherrill’s game log, one thing jumped out at me so clearly that I can’t possibly bury it any further: George Sherrill hasn’t had a strikeout since May 17. That’s more than six weeks ago, ever since he struck out Houston’s Michael Bourn (who struck out 140 times last year) in the 8th inning of a 6-2 Dodger win in Los Angeles. By (a completely unfair) comparison, Clayton Kershaw has 56 strikeouts since Sherrill’s seen his last one. He’s clearly fooling no one. How can you succeed like that?

Obviously, you can’t. Here’s why:

It’s not that hard to see what’s causing this, either. He’s not throwing as hard (88.3 MPH average on his fastball, lowest of his career). He’s not getting anyone to chase junk out of the zone (swings on just 21.1% of his pitches outside the strike zone, tied for his lowest ever). He’s not avoiding bats on any pitches (85.1% of his pitches are met with contact, and he’s getting just 5.5% swinging strikes, each worst of his career).

So is he hurt? He claims no, despite missing time this season with a bad back. There’s been questions all year about his mechanics, theories that his offseason was too short, and stories about being “cured” by watching Billy Wagner on TV. Obviously, none of it has worked. Maybe it’s all of the above. Or none.

Sherrill then went out and gave up runs in two of his next three outings, and the other shoe dropped over the All-Star Break, as he was put on waivers. That fooled a lot of people into thinking that he was off the roster immediately – since he clearly wasn’t claimed, he never left the team – but the timing made the team’s distaste clear.

His nightmare season continued when he allowed runs in his first two post-break outings, got stuck with the loss when he wasn’t warmed in the bizarre “Mattingly’s two mound visits” game, and finished out July with another blown save in San Diego. Well, okay, that one wasn’t totally his fault, and I apologize for the length on this, but it’s awesome:

First of all, please be sure to note that the two hits Sherrill allowed came on two ground ball singles which found their way through the infield. A few feet in either direction and the plays get made, and no one talks about George Sherrill at all. It’s not like he gave up two liners, hit a guy, and allowed a grand slam, despite what you may read elsewhere.

Here’s the part that makes even less sense: George Sherrill has been atrocious all year. You don’t bring him into the 9th inning of a tie game, but you especially don’t bring him in to face a right handed hitter. I’ve said this so many times in recent weeks that I won’t even bother linking to it, but if there’s one way that Sherrill can help the team, it’s in that he can still be effective against lefties. Cover your eyes before I post these splits:

Sherrill vs RHB, 2010: .436/.515/.745
Sherrill vs LHB, 2010: .190/.314/.333

Yet the first batter in the 9th inning was Scott Hairston, a righty. He got a base hit. Lefty Tony Gwynn Jr. sacrificed him to second, and the Padres – who clearly had read the scouting reports – pinch-hit for Everth Cabrera with righty Oscar Salazar.

Before we go further, I just want to drive this point home:

1) The winning run is on second.
2) George Sherrill cannot get righties out.
3) George Sherrill has already allowed a hit to a righty.
4) A righty is at the plate.

At this point, you’d think – you’d pray – that Torre would have put down his Bigelow green tea and decided to do something to, you know, manage the team to a victory. Like bring in Jonathan Broxton, say.

But no. Sherrill remained in the game. Salazar bounced a grounder up the middle. And the Dodgers are further out of 1st place than they’ve been all season. And you wonder why I don’t want to see them trade for a starter. What we really need to see are losing teams who put their managers on the trade block, because that’s where the Dodgers really need an upgrade.

Sherrill didn’t really perk up much over the remainder of the season (though he did amusingly draw a walk in his first big-league at-bat), but he wasn’t completely useless, as the quote above alludes to. Even in this completely nightmarish season, Sherrill was still pretty effective against lefties, ending the year at .192/.286/.288 against them, which puts his OPS against LHP at almost exactly what Pedro Feliciano of the Mets – well-regarded as a lefty-killer – had. It doesn’t make his unholy lack of success against righties okay, of course, but it’s something.

The Dodgers were almost certainly not going to pick up Sherrill’s 2011 $6.5m option, an absurd amount for a non-elite reliever, even if he’d had a good season. Now? He’s the most obvious non-tender in baseball, and may be looking at minor-league deals at best for next year. 

Travis Schlichting (C+)
3.57 ERA, 3.17 FIP, 5.6 K/9, 4.0 BB/9, 0.2 WAR

Mr. Schlichting managed to run his season in reverse. That is, he was more successful in the majors (1.324 WHIP, 7.9 H/9) than in the minors (1.437 WHIP, 10.5 H/9), despite going back and forth four times.

Schlichting’s season debut was also the highlight of his year, since he pitched four scoreless innings to pick up his first career win in a 1-0, 14-inning affair against Arizona in June. I joked at the time that he probably punched his own ticket back to AAA with the effort, and that’s exactly what happened. He came back up for a quick stint later in June before being sent down again, and by the time he’d pitched 2.1 scoreless innings in Arizona on July 3, he’d run his scoreless inning streak to 10 to start the season.

I, of course, jinxed the hell out of that, and his season went pretty downhill from there. In 12.2 IP over his final 10 games, Schlichting allowed 9 ER while walking more than he struck out. I bet you’ll never figure out how that happened!

Man, I never get tired of hearing that players have hidden injuries, only to see said injury get worse. And by “never get tired”, I of course mean, “hiding an injury just never ends well”. In this case, it’s Travis Schlichting

“I was just trying to fight through it, because my mechanics were bad at the beginning of the year, and I think that’s when it started. I was just forcing it, and it kind of never went away. It wasn’t affecting me in games, so I didn’t want to make a big deal of it.”

Conte was unsurprised to hear the pitcher had a problem that he hadn’t talked about.

“That’s sort of part of the game,” he said. “Our job, of course, is not to let it get that far, so we always appreciate it when a player tells us when he has something going on. But we understand when players don’t.”

Figures. Assuming he’s healthy, Schlichting figures to be in the mix for one of the last bullpen spots with guys like Troncoso and Jon Link. Now will someone please fix his Wikipedia picture already?

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Next! Ronald Belisario‘s mysterious season! Russ Ortiz‘ predictable disaster! And Octavio Dotel‘s unfortunate legacy! It’s relievers, part 5!

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

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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

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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.

Dodgers Slam Phillies; Furcal Heads to DL

Offensive slump be damned, because this one was a much-needed circus: the Dodgers put up 15 runs on 18 hits, and where do I start? Sure, a park where even Ross  Gload can go deep twice on a humid night might take some of the air out of the sails, but at this point, I don’t even care. It’s been so long since the Dodgers had output like this (they hadn’t scored 15 since putting up 17 against the Brewers last August) that any ballpark-aided assistance doesn’t even bother me at this point.

Andre  Ethier led the way by getting on base six times on four hits, a walk, and getting hit. Ethier was just the 11th player to get on base six or more times in 2010, and the first Dodger to do so in a nine-inning game since Shawn  Green‘s famous four-homer outburst in 2002. (Russell  Martin got on bases six times in a 2008 game, but it went 13 innings.)

Even whipping boys Scott  Podsednik and Ryan  Theriot combined to get on base five times, and James  Loney, Casey  Blake, and Matt  Kemp (coming off the bench) all chipped in multiple RBI, with Loney making several nice defensive plays as well.

And then there was Jay  Gibbons, who was really going to lead this post until all of the other shenanigans occurred. After contributing a pinch-hit RBI single in his debut on Sunday, Gibbons was a highlight of the night while contributing three hits and four RBI, including his first MLB home run in over three years. What did he get for his trouble? Being double-switched out in the 6th inning. Ha!

Fun aside, Gibbons is what he is, and that’s not the second coming. Of course not, and he looked bad in striking out against lefty Antonio  Bastardo. He’s clearly a guy who ought to be facing righties nearly exclusively. But by comparison, it took Garret  Anderson 20 at-bats to get his last three Dodger hits, and it had been 60 since his last home run. It’s almost like this was a move that shouldhave happened long ago, right?

And Joe Torre, to his credit, almost managed this one perfectly. Vicente  Padilla threw just 83 pitches, but clearly struggled to get through the 4th and 5th. Ronald  Belisario returned to action, giving up Domonic  Brown‘s first MLB homer in the 6th, and Carlos  Monasterios was allowed just enough rope to hang himself with in 1 2/3 mediocre innings. George  Sherrill was finally used properly, entering to face a lefty the Phillies couldn’t replace with two outs in the 8th, and continued his streak of usefulness by retiring Brian  Schneider.

Sherrill then got his first big-league at-bat, and somehow drew a walk off J.C.Romero. In the bottom of the 9th, Sherrill does what he does – allowed righties Jimmy  Rollins and Raul  Ibanez to reach, while retiring lefties Greg  Dobbs and Gload. (Edit: My mistake, Ibanez bats lefty. Still, the point stands that Sherrill is a LOOGY guy right now, decent against lefties and horrendous against righties.) Now you’d think, with two outs and an eight-run lead, Torre would just leave Sherrill out to get that last out, but no: he had to go get Octavio  Dotel. Still, avoiding Hong-Chih  Kuo and Jonathan  Broxton in a game like this was a must.

******

I had some comments on a recent post trying to use ERA and wins to make an argument, showing that whenever I think explaining why stats like those are useless get repetitive, there’s always people who are new to our world. Tonight’s game offered an excellent education in both. Sherrill did his job in the 8th, coming into a situation with two men on and getting out of the inning. After allowing two singles and getting two outs in the 9th, Dotel allowed a walk and a double, letting both runners score. Those runs are charged towards Sherrill’s ERA, not Dotel’s. What was basically a positive night for Sherrill now looks bad on his line, because ERA – especially for relievers – is generally unreliable.

As for wins, Padilla gets the W for allowing four runs in five innings, hardly his best performance. Yet he didn’t get the win when he threw six scoreless innings on July 18, and he actually got the loss for allowing one earned run over seven innings on July 23. That’s why wins don’t matter for pitchers.

******

Of course, the big news postgame – and as I said on Twitter, we couldn’t have THREE MINUTES to enjoy this romp before this came down? – Dylan Hernandez is reporting that Rafael  Furcal is headed to the DL. Good get on that, because Charlie Steiner on the postgame show still hasn’t mentioned it. No word on who’s coming up… but we all know it’s Juan  Castro, right?

Hernandez adds:

Asked if Hu would be called up, Torre said, “Probably not.” Asked if Castro would be, he said, “I can’t tell you that.”

Hu hasn’t played since June 29, and I believe he’s still on the DL with a hand injury. Hey, if not Castro, the Mets just released Alex  Cora

Update: I just looked it up, and Castro was yanked after one at-bat for the Isotopes tonight. Yeah, no matter what Torre says, Castro’s coming up.

Joe Torre Has Completely Checked Out

Oh, I just can’t wait for the inevitable stories to come out of this one, right? Some of our less-attentive friends are going to be jumping allll over George Sherrill for adding yet another failure to his long litany of them in this disastrous season.

Except: no.

First of all, please be sure to note that the two hits Sherrill allowed came on two ground ball singles which found their way through the infield. A few feet in either direction and the plays get made, and no one talks about George Sherrill at all. It’s not like he gave up two liners, hit a guy, and allowed a grand slam, despite what you may read elsewhere.

But this isn’t about George Sherrill, because if we’re talking about “adding yet another failure to his long litany of them in this disastrous season,” then you know we must be talking about Joe Torre’s bizarre usage of the bullpen. First, he yanks Vicente Padilla after just four innings. Padilla wasn’t on top of his game, having thrown 90 pitches, but he’d allowed two runs and struck out five, so he was hardly getting bombed out there. At the time, there were two men on with one out, but still: it was the fourth inning, and bringing in the long-dead Garret Anderson is hardly a marked improvement over Padilla, is it?

So then you’re forced to try to get five innings out of a struggling bullpen. Fortunately, James McDonald contributed two scoreless innings, and Kenley Jansen and Hong-Chih Kuo each allowed a hit in one inning apiece. All fine.

Except when the Dodgers couldn’t score on Heath Bell in the 9th, they went to the bottom of the frame 2-2, and in trotted Sherrill. This is a massive mistake on two levels, first and foremost being that Jonathan Broxton should have entered in that situation. Broxton didn’t pitch yesterday and had thrown just ten pitches the day before; he was rested and available. Of all the silly things that managers do, this is the one that kills me the most: never bringing in their closer in the 9th inning of a tie game on the road. Does Joe not remember watching last weekend when Jerry Manuel gave a game away by doing the exact same thing – letting Oliver Perez blow a game while Francisco Rodriguez sat and watched?

Apparently not, because that’s what Torre did here; he brought in the Dodgers’ best Ollie Perez impersonator, and watched the Padres take the game while Broxton sat in the bullpen. Oh, he’ll give you some line about wanting to wait for a save situation to use Broxton, but that’s the same garbage we’ve been hearing for years: you can’t get a save if the game is already lost.

Secondly, and here’s the part that makes even less sense, George Sherrill has been atrocious all year. You don’t bring him into the 9th inning of a tie game, but you especially don’t bring him in to face a right handed hitter. I’ve said this so many times in recent weeks that I won’t even bother linking to it, but if there’s one way that Sherrill can help the team, it’s in that he can still be effective against lefties. Cover your eyes before I post these splits:

Sherrill vs RHB, 2010: .436/.515/.745
Sherrill vs LHB, 2010: .190/.314/.333

Yet the first batter in the 9th inning was Scott Hairston, a righty. He got a base hit. Lefty Tony Gwynn Jr. sacrificed him to second, and the Padres – who clearly had read the scouting reports – pinch-hit for Everth Cabrera with righty Oscar Salazar.

Before we go further, I just want to drive this point home:

1) The winning run is on second.
2) George Sherrill cannot get righties out.
3) George Sherrill has already allowed a hit to a righty.
4) A righty is at the plate.

At this point, you’d think – you’d pray – that Torre would have put down his Bigelow green tea and decided to do something to, you know, manage the team to a victory. Like bring in Jonathan Broxton, say.

But no. Sherrill remained in the game. Salazar bounced a grounder up the middle. And the Dodgers are further out of 1st place than they’ve been all season. And you wonder why I don’t want to see them trade for a starter. What we really need to see are losing teams who put their managers on the trade block, because that’s where the Dodgers really need an upgrade.

(I’d be remiss, of course, if I didn’t mention that the offense was pitiful once again. They struck out 13 times and managed only three hits, and even one of those was iffy because one of the various Hairstons completely butchered the Anderson stroke to left field. But at least Scott Podsednik looked gritty in going 0-3 with an error!)