Well, That Didn’t Take Long

You’d think after a long season (two weeks longer than usual) management, writers, and fans would want to take a bit of a breather. Maybe not that long, not with the offseason looming, but you’d think more than say, 30 hours after the final pitch, right? Hell no! Let’s jump on board the rumor train, and yeah, I got a lot of these links from MLBtraderumors

* Hey, let’s trade for Jake Peavy!
Uh, let’s put this under “wildly unlikely”. Hey, don’t get me wrong, Peavy’s one of the five best starting pitchers in the game, and putting him at the top of the Dodgers rotation would be marvelous. But there’s a lot of problems with this. First of all, the only reason that the Dodgers are involved in these rumors is that Peavy named them as one of the few teams he’d waive his no-trade clause for, which doesn’t automatically mean there’s interest on the other side. More importantly, the return to the Padres would be immense. Think about the kind of names being tossed around last offseason for Johan Santana and Erik Bedard, and then double it. Unlike those guys, Peavy is signed to a relatively reasonable deal that keeps him under team control until 2013 – plus the Padres would certainly ask for more from LA than anyone else if they’re going to have to face him a couple of times a year in the division until then. Just look at this quote from that ESPN article:

San Diego, too, is said to be willing to deal with the rival Dodgers, who could conceivably have some excellent young players to dangle, like outfielder Matt Kemp and pitchers Clayton Kershaw and James McDonald.

That’s not necessarily what the deal would be, but you’d better believe it’d take at least one of those guys, if not two. The article states that the Padres are “seeking at least two young pitchers in return, along with someone who can become the team’s everyday center fielder sometime in the immediate to near future.” You really think that Scott Elbert, Ramon Troncoso, and Xavier Paul are going to get that done? No thanks. I really can’t see this deal going down, and if it does, any joy I’d get over adding Peavy is likely to be overwhelmed by what was going back to San Diego.

* Manny wants a lot of money!
Shocker. Talk about an unbelievably hard contract to nail down. We’ve got the Sabernomics blog saying Manny should get 6 years, $128 million. In the article linked above, Bill Shaikin says that Manny “has suggested that he might seek a contract of five or six years, and isn’t interested in a pay cut from his current $20 million a year”, while in the same article former Dodgers GM Fred Claire “said the Dodgers should offer Ramirez $20 million per year for three years.” I tend to think that Claire is the closest of the three, but he undershoots it. I really can’t see any team giving Manny five or six years – not with his character issues, not with his declining defense, not with his age, and not with one of the top big market teams (Boston) obviously not in play. I do agree that Manny won’t take a paycut from the $20m/year options he had, so my best guess? 3 years, $70 million, perhaps with an option on the 4th year.

* Why does everyone think pitching is this team’s problem?
I’ve said this on many occasions, so I won’t want to repeat myself. But here we have Joe Torre saying that pitching is a top priority this offseason, and Dylan Hernandez saying “the Dodgers will be forced to target a top-of-the-rotation arm if they can’t re-sign Lowe.” I’m not saying I wouldn’t like a top pitcher, who wouldn’t? It’s just that the free agent arms like CC Sabathia are going to be insanely expensive – and how many times did we show this year that the pitching was fine and the offense was holding it back?

* Juan Pierre wants out!
Well, of course he does, and I can’t even come down hard on him for it. We might not think he’s any good, and we certainly don’t want him being a starting Dodgers outfielder, but I can’t blame a guy for wanting to be somewhere where he’ll get a chance to play. I no longer think he’ll be impossible to move, because there’s now only 3 years and $28 million left on his deal. It’s reasonable for some team that needs speed and ignores OBP, especially considering LA will have to eat a little of it. But there really can’t be any movement on this until the Manny saga is dealt with. Knowing whether you have three starting OF (no, Andruw Jones doesn’t count) makes a big impact on how badly you need to get rid of JP. Top destinations: White Sox and Reds.

* Andruw Jones wants out?!
From the same article as the Pierre one above…

Teammates say Jones wants no part of a return to Los Angeles, where he was a target of angry fans for his poor performance.

Guess what, Andruw? We all want you out too. But what you’re forgetting is that you were so bad this year that it’s not even a case of “he’s owed how much?” – it’s a case of “should I even waste a roster spot?” I mean, you’re owed $18.1 million (update: according to Jay Jaffe in today’s Baseball Prospectus article, it’s actually $22.1m because it was backloaded. Great.) in 2009. Let’s just say that Frank McCourt would be willing to pick up $13 million of that to trade you (which, and this should go without saying, he would never ever do). After hitting .158 with 3 homers, you really think some team is going to spend $5.1 million on you when they could get any minor leaguer to far surpass that output for a tenth of the price? The Dodgers aren’t going to cut Jones, and it’s just not going to be possible to trade him. He’ll be back, unfortunately, in 2009.

* Greg Maddux, Padres player-coach?
This article says that San Diego has talked to Maddux about such a role, but Kevin Towers thinks Maddux will retire. Personally, if he’s willing, I’d rather see the Dodgers do this, especially with young guys like McDonald, Kershaw, and Billingsley around. He’s worth the money to just talk to them all season.

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

Sun Is Shining In The Sky…

…there ain’t a cloud in sight.
It’s stopped raining,
Everybody’s out and playing

That’s right: Mike Scioscia’s tragic illness – the only Dodgers blog where you can get musical references as varied as the Sex Pistols to House of Pain and now to Electric Light Orchestra. If I may continue…

Hey there, Mr. Blue
you did it right
But soon comes Mr. Night
Creepin’ over
Now his hand is on your shoulder

Now, I look at Mr. Blue and I see a team that’s gone 15-3 over its last 18 games to put a complete stranglehold on the NL West, moving from 4.5 games out to 3.5 up with just 9 games to play. Mr. Blue, you did it right! But soon comes Mr. Night.

There’s a lot of things that can still go wrong for the Dodgers
They lead the National League West by 31/2 games, but like in 1982, nothing is secure.

Couldn’t help yourself, could you, Bill Plaschke? Is it that you just can’t stand the thought of success because it’s so much harder to write articles praising people than bashing them? Believe me – I know it is, but when the team is winning, I’m more than happy to write positive articles. Is it because you’ve so relentlessly bashed everything and anything Dodger-related that if they were to succeed in the face of your protests, it would sort of make it look like… you have no idea what you’re talking about?

No. It couldn’t be that.

Anyway, after quickly recapping how the 1982 Dodgers blew a 3 game lead with 10 to play to Joe Torre’s Atlanta Braves, Plaschke moves on to the meat, listing nine things that still could go wrong. I love articles in a list format, it makes things so easy on me.

Cory Wade’s arm: After retiring 24 consecutive hitters, he looked tired Thursday, allowing hits to three consecutive Pirates in nearly blowing the game.

Wade has become Joe Torre’s new Jeff Nelson, an important middle reliever who will be constantly used down the stretch, a kid who “wows” but also makes you wonder.

How many innings has he pitched this late in a season before?

Answer: None.

It’s nice to get a “fail” right off the bat. First of all, Wade didn’t retire 24 consecutive batters, because there were walks involved. He didn’t allow a hit to 24 consecutive batters, which is a small yet important difference. Secondly, Wade hadn’t allowed a hit to 24 consecutive batters! This kid has been absolutely a revelation this year, posting a 2.32 ERA in a season in which no one expected anything from him other than perhaps a September cup of coffee. We’re going to kill him over one lousy inning? The best part is, I know what you’re saying – “But MSTI, you’ve been railing for weeks about Kershaw going over his innings limit, why doesn’t that apply to Wade?” Part of that is because Cory Wade is 25 and nowhere near as valuable or inexperienced as 20-year-old Clayton Kershaw, but it’s mostly because Wade has pitched fewer innings this season (81.2 combined) than he has in any season since his first year of pro ball in 2004 (99, 133, 92.1, 47, going back from 2007). That’s a good reason too.

Answer: Wade still has plenty of innings left on his arm. Knock it off.

Chad Billingsley’s legs: He has now pitched 45 2/3 innings more than he has ever pitched in a season, every throw placing him on new ground, and how long can he stand?

In his last two starts, he has given up eight runs in 10 2/3 innings.

If that happens in his next two starts, it will be the Dodgers who stumble.

On its face, this is a fair point, because as we’ve already said both he and Kershaw are into new terrority – and I suggested earlier this month that Billingsley get to skip a start or two, which hasn’t happened. But it’s somewhat disingenous to say that “in his last two starts, he has given up eight runs in 10 2/3 innings”, like he’s falling apart. The first of those starts was in Colorado, in which he gave up only 2 runs over 6 innings while getting the victory. You have a problem with that? I sure don’t. Sure, he was lousy in Pittsburgh the other day. It was also the first time in over two months (since July 8th) that he’d given up more than 3 earned runs in a start. I hardly think it’s time to panic.

Derek Lowe’s mortality: As I understand it, that is the only thing keeping him from starting and pitching in each of the last nine games, right?

Darn.

Wait, what? On the list of “things that could still go wrong” Derek Lowe being human is one of them? Setting aside for the moment whether being human is wrong (though, this could explain so much about Plaschke) wasn’t that already settled about 36 years ago? I think this is supposed to be some sort of weird compliment meaning that he wishes Lowe could go every night… but what an odd way to put it.

Matt Kemp’s mind: He has had a terrific summer as a good clubhouse citizen and emerging player.

But he still blunders on the bases — his attempt to steal third with two out in the eighth inning and the score tied Thursday was a doozy.

And the more he struggles on the base paths, it seems the more he struggles at the plate. He has not hit a home run in nearly three weeks, with only two doubles and two runs batted in during that time.

It doesn’t help that he is only four strikeouts shy of the Los Angeles record of 149 set by Billy Grabarkewitz 28 years ago.

A strikeout record is considered so psychologically damaging, some front offices bench players who are close to breaking one.

Um, the Dodgers can’t afford to bench Matt Kemp.

Or putting it another way… Matt Kemp’s hitting .311/.380/.356 over the last two weeks, and even better than that over the last week. Sure looks like he’s heating up to me. So yes, you’ve hit the world’s largest nail on the head – the Dodgers can’t bench Matt Kemp. Congratulations.

Greg Maddux’s umpire: He has two more starts and, let’s face it, he survives only if the plate umpire allows him to survive.

He needs a generous strike zone. But, with the exception of the late Eric Gregg, umpires in big games generally have tight strike zones.

That is only one reason Maddux is a losing postseason pitcher, and an unreliable one in September.

I love how Maddux gets the tag “is a losing postseason pitcher” because his record is a ghastly… 10-11. As if we don’t know how absolutely meaningless wins and losses are for pitchers. It takes all of 10 seconds of research to see that two of those losses came in the 1997 NLCS, where Maddux was absolutely horrible in giving up 2 runs in 13 innings. Or in the 2003 NLDS, where he gave up 2 runs over 6 innings. He sucks!

Also, Greg Maddux career in September (and regular season October games)? 61-48, 3.38 ERA. How unreliable!

Manny Ramirez’s concentration: You never know. You just never know.

Ramirez’s focus can be surreal or spotty, sometimes during the same at-bat, and often during important times of the season.

This is a guy who once batted .412 in the World Series for the Boston Red Sox . . . and also hit .056 in a division series for the Cleveland Indians.

Last month he went nine games without a homer, and the Dodgers won only one of those games.

Currently, he hasn’t hit a homer in a week.

Bench Manny! He’s only hitting .367/.441/.467 over the last week! Boooo! Because somehow, Manny’s only value comes from hitting homers. Not from all the singles and doubles he gets, not from all the times he’s walked, and not from all the value the guys hitting in front of him get in terms of pitches to hit. Manny is Dave Kingman. If he doesn’t homer, he’s useless. Got it.

And not to completely discount his antics in Boston, but the man is playing for a new contract. You don’t think that he’s a little motivated to win a World Series in LA and totally maximize his value?

Russell Martin’s throws: Players are increasingly running on a catcher who seems increasingly arm weary.

Martin has caught more games than anyone in baseball — 143 — and it shows.

He has thrown out only 22% of potential base-stealers, ranking 11th among 14 major league catchers with at least 100 games. This is compounded by some of the slow deliveries of the pitchers, particularly Jonathan Broxton.

With nothing to lose, the San Diego Padres and Giants will be running.

Obviously, running Martin into the ground has been one of our long-running complaints about the season, so I can’t argue this one. Unfortunately, it’s getting to the point where it’s almost too late to do anything about it. But as even Plaschke notes, caught-stealing numbers are almost entirely based on the pitcher, rather than the catcher.

The bench’s splinters: Nobody in the National League is more harmless off the bench in the late innings than the Dodgers.

They are last in the league with only one pinch-hit homer and 16 pinch-hit RBIs.

And if they tell you that this defense-oriented group will be bolstered soon by the veteran bats of Jeff Kent and Nomar Garciaparra, not so fast.

In the last four years in this unfamiliar situation, the two veterans have combined to go five for 26 as pinch-hitters with three RBIs and no extra-base hits.

This is almost entirely the fault of Mark Sweeney though, right? He’s sucked up 73 of those pinch-hitting at-bats. Take him out of the mix, and the batting average leaps 35 points. Besides, I’m not willing to say that having guys like Kent, Nomar, and Pierre off the bench can’t be useful. That’s a pretty good mix of power, defensive flexibility, and speed right there. Either way, if the race is coming down to the bench we’ve got bigger problems.

Those cheating Giants: They stole the signals that led to the 1951 Shot Heard ‘Round the World.

They drowned the base paths that rendered Maury Wills unable to run to a championship.

When they host the Dodgers on the season’s final weekend, if a championship is still at stake, strange things will happen.

Now batting, Barry Bonds.

There’s only one thing to be worried about regarding the Giants, and that’s Tim Lincecum, who the Dodgers might only catch once. You know what will make this point completely moot? Having the NL West clinched before the final series in San Francisco even goes off.

Thanks for being the poo in the fountain, Bill! Just can’t ever enjoy the ride, can you? Although if you see a slightly overweight gray-bearded man rushing the field to take out Manny’s knees with a bat, you’ll know who it is.

* As you’ve probably heard already, the Dodgers have announced that their triple-A affiliate will be moving from Las Vegas, NV to Albuquerque, NM starting in 2009 – restoring an affiliation that had run from 1972-2000.

We here at MSTI are probably more excited about this than just about anyone, because if you’re unaware, the team name “Isotopes” is taken directly from the Simpsons episode “Hungry Hungry Homer”. Clearly, anything that serves to further strengthen the Dodgers/Simpsons relationship is fine by us. Now we just need the official team mascot to be Dancin’ Homer, Ned Colletti to start scouring the American League, the National League and the Negro Leagues for good players – living players! – and for the stadium to start pouring Duff Beer. Duff Beer! Can’t get enough of that wonderful Duff.

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

That May Be the Best Pitched Game You’ll Ever See

You almost have to feel bad for both Greg Maddux and Aaron Cook, who were both just unbelievable today. What else could you ask of Maddux? He breezed through seven innings on just 68 pitches, a number which we’ve all seen other pitchers accumulate in just two innings, and allowed just two base runners. Of course, Cook was just as good, going eight scoreless innings. All this in Coors Field, which makes me wonder what would have happened if these two had matched up in Petco today. Would 14-inning dueling perfect games be out of the question?

I’m not all that worried about the loss, because it’s still a series win, and that’s all you can ever expect. What does worry me a little is Hong-Chih Kuo. We all know his gruesome history of arm injuries, and even now he just had to take an entire week off (plus a cortisone shot in his elbow), and after his first batter Joe Torre rushes to the mound to inquire about his health (seen at right). Kuo waves him off, but then proceeds to give up 4 hits and blows the game. It can’t be overstated how much he’s meant to the pen this season… so let’s hope this is just rust, and not anything more serious.

On to Pittsburgh, hopefully aided by the return of Andre Ethier.

* Casey Blake left today’s game with, according to Diamond Leung, “minor back stiffness.” I’m not sure if this is something that’s just popped up, but with how poorly he’s performed lately it wouldn’t surprise me if this has been bothering him for some time. Looking at his stats coming into today, Blake’s been very all-or-nothing. Over the last month, his power numbers have been fine (5 homers and a .432 SLG), but he’s only hitting .227 and getting on base at a .313 clip. It’s been worse even more recently, as he’s only been able to get 3 hits in the entire last week. He has hit 9 homers since joining the Dodgers, which is nice, but his OPS+ is now at 101 in LA - making him just about league-average. Of course, since Blake DeWitt had fallen off a cliff and Andy LaRoche never really got going, league-average was an upgrade.

* Speaking of third base… as a general rule, I’ve tried to refrain from worrying about 2009 while the Dodgers are still very much alive in 2008. This is why I haven’t really touched on the “Will Manny stay?” questions or “Will Sabathia come to LA?” rumors that are out and about. But this is a new one: via MLBtraderumors, we have Bill Shaikin wondering whether the Dodgers might be interested in re-acquiring Adrian Beltre from Seattle in the offseason. We’ll get into this and other rumors in a much more indepth fashion after the season ends, but for now I’ll say this: I wouldn’t mind seeing Beltre return, but I doubt that it’ll happen. For all the heat Beltre has recieved for being unable to match his monster 2004 season since going to Seattle, he’s still been a very effective third baseman. Still one of the best defenders in the game, he’s now completing his third straight year of 25+ homers with an above average OPS+, and that’s with an injured wrist that just required surgery. Would I be willing to pay the $12 million for 2009 remaining on his contract to see if a return to the LA area would be bring back his 2004 form? Probably – but when Beltre’s name popped up in rumors (mostly to Minnesota) this July, all the whispers said that Seattle was looking for frontline young prospects in return, partially to mend the wounds they caused themselves in the brutal Erik Bedard deal. That’s not a price I’m willing to pay for one year of Beltre. So I don’t expect to see it.

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

On the Other Hand, Going to Vegas Can’t Be a Punishment

Yesterday, Vin detailed the then-pending trade for Greg Maddux, and while I was very happy to hear that Maddux was coming back, today I’d hoped to discuss the players sent back to San Diego to see if the deal was worth it.

Except that the return going south is, according to Tony Jackson and other sources, “two minor league players to be named later or cash considerations.” So it’s a little difficult to analyze a trade in which you have no idea what’s going the other way. We’ll get to that when the information comes out, but in the meantime, a roster move had to be made to get Maddux onto both the 25 and 40-man rosters.

According to the press release the Dodgers just sent out, injured reliever Scott Proctor was shifted from the 15-day DL to the 60-day DL, and lefty Eric Stults was sent back down to AAA Las Vegas. Proctor’s been on the DL since June 22 and is only 3 days short of actually having been gone 60 days, so that’s a no-brainer. But as for the other move, well, I hesitate to make too big a deal of who’s the last man on the staff. In the long run, it’s probably not that big of a deal, especially when Stults is almost certain to return when rosters expand on September 1.

That said, I have to ask: why was Stults sent down rather than Tanyon Sturtze? Neither had gotten into a game since they were recalled on the same day last week – Sturtze, in fact, still hasn’t pitched in the bigs since 2006. Stults has been outperforming Sturtze in the minors this season, but that’s almost irrelevant since Stults has had major league success this season – have we already forgotten his completely dominating complete game shutout of the White Sox earlier this year? In 6 starts, he had a 3.18 ERA, which is good for a 139 ERA+.

Not only that, now that Kershaw and Maddux are both in the rotation and both unlikely to go deep into games (for different reasons), the club could certainly use an effective multi-inning guy like Stults, rather than a busted veteran who hasn’t pitched in the bigs in over 2 years (and hasn’t pitched effectively in the bigs in 7 years!)

Again, this isn’t really something to get all that worked up about, but it is definitely a questionable decision worth discussing. I’m pretty sure we’ll revisit this when (not “if”) Torre puts him into a high-pressure situation and Sturtze completely blows it. Right?

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

Back To School: The Professor Returns…

According to reports out of the L.A. Times, and through Tony Jackson, the Dodgers have acquired Greg Maddux.  According to Jackson, though, the deal isn’t quite done yet and it is in the process of clearing the final hurdles and the like.

Who the Dodgers have given in return to San Diego isn’t known yet, so that definitely plays a HUGE part on our feelings towards the deal itself.  The good news to that, though, is that it isn’t like the Padres have any leverage, here.  Maddux has repeatedly said that if he were to get traded, he would pretty much only waive his no-trade clause to the Dodgers, as he wants to stay on the west coast near his home in Dana Point.  But, still, we don’t know who is going back and, until we do, let us analyze how Maddux helps the team itself because, even if Ned overpaid, it doesn’t necessarily mean Maddux won’t help out the club this year.  In other words, take the Casey Blake deal: while we hate that we gave up too much to Cleveland, that doesn’t mean that Blake hasn’t helped us this year.  So, back to this deal:

Now, you remember Greg Maddux… the Mad Dog.  The Professor.  The guy who somehow found his mojo again for us in late 2006 and went 6-3, with a 3.30 ERA, 136 ERA+, and a 1.08 WHIP and propelling us to a playoff berth (I’ll ignore his game 3 start in the NLDS, though…).  In fact, his start two years ago against SF where he went 8 IP, while throwing 68 pitches is probably the best start I’ve seen at Dodger Stadium in a long, long time.  Masterpiece.

However, Maddux is now 42 and isn’t necessarily in his prime anymore.  In fact, even in the spacious confines of Petco Park, he has been rather average.  This year, Maddux has an ERA of 3.99, an FIP also at 3.99, a 98 ERA+, and a 1.22 WHIP and most of his peripheral stats have remained consistent.  But even with these average stats, he has managed to turn it on this August, a month historically his best, by putting up a 1.89 ERA, and 0.74 WHIP in three starts.  Also, from 2005-2007, he has also turned it on in the second half, going from a first half ERA of 4.48 to a second half ERA of 3.87.  One of the concerns that I have had this year is that his home/away splits have been rather, alarming?  At Petco Park this season, he has an ERA of 2.62 with an away ERA of 5.75.  The good news is that, despite those away numbers, he has always been good at Dodger Stadium, even in recent times.  This year, he had a very good outing against the Dodgers at the Ravine, throwing 5 IP of 2 hit ball in April and from 2005-2007, he has put up a 2.68 ERA at Dodger Stadium in 8 starts.  He has also done well against most other division rivals.  He has complete ownage of the Giants, and over the same 3 year span, Maddux has a 3.15 ERA in the three games started there, as well as a 6 and 7 IP outing over there this year, where he only give up 1 run in each start.

The downside?  Well, he sucks against Arizona… anywhere.  His ERA at Chase Field from 2005-2007 is 6.40 and he’s doing about the same against them, this year.  But, overall, I can’t really complain about this move.  With Brad Penny likely not being able to be effective this year, the Dodgers did need an average starter to fill that spot and, for some strange reason, I do tend to trust even a 42 year old Greg Maddux over Jason johnson.  Also, if the Dodgers do make the playoffs, I do have concerns with a Billingsley/Lowe/Kuroda rotation, especially with some of the inconsistencies of Kuroda.  Of course, the other aspect of this deal is Clayton Kershaw: if the Dodgers make the playoffs, chances are Kershaw doesn’t make the roster.  I mean, it IS possible, but not likely.  Not due to any performance related issues, mind you, but, rather, he is still all but 20 years old and he is gradually nearing the maximum amount of innings he should be throwing this year.   By putting Kershaw either in the bullpen by September or off the potential playoff roster, Maddux can be a capable replacement.  While I’m not thrilled with his numbers against Arizona, I do think that Maddux will come back and prove to be a decent starter from here on out, especially as he tends to get better in the second half and is now back in a pennant race.  Perhaps he won’t have quite the effect he had in 2006, but as long as he can provide an average of 5-6 IP every night, maybe giving up 2-3 ER, I’ll take it.

And, of course, you can’t forget about the whole mentoring effect, where, surprisingly, he seemed to have the biggest effect on Derek Lowe in 2006, but, oh, how I’d love to see The Professor and Clayton Kershaw talking pitching between now and the end of the season… but until then…

Welcome Aboard, Professor!

- Vin vinscully-face.jpg