It Doesn’t Have to Be This Way, You Know

Apparently I’ve just got a thing with veteran lefty outfielders who wear #9, because I’ve done nothing but bash Garret Anderson all season long. It’s nothing personal, of course. He had a long and distinguished career with the Angels, but at some point you just have to admit it’s over. And when you’re featured in a block calling your your stats and praying for your release – seriously, just look at the numbers up there in the upper right – it’s over.

That said, my preferred replacement is Xavier Paul, who’s a far superior baserunner and defender who showed some nice offensive skill in his time in the bigs. While I don’t necessarily agree, there are those who say that he should be playing every day in AAA rather than part-time in MLB. Since I think he’d get plenty of time as Manny’s caddy and since I don’t think the Dodgers are really grooming him to be a starter anyway, it’s not something that concerns me.

Yet, if you do consider that a valid reason to keep Paul down, it’s not a zero-sum game. The choice is not simply between Anderson and Paul; there’s other options here, ones that could help the team immediately. Options like…

Hank Blalock. After not finding a job in the offseason, Blalock signed a minor-league deal with the Rays and has been crushing minor-league pitching: .366/.425/.535. If Blalock isn’t recalled by May 15th, he’s able to opt out and become a free agent, though there’s still a chance Tampa just eats what’s left on the $9m Pat Burrell’s owed this year to go with Blalock. If this sounds familiar to you, it’s because I said the Dodgers should have signed Blalock themselves back on April 2nd:

You can pick up Blalock – who’s still only 29, and whose top comparable at baseball-reference is actually Casey Blake – for absolutely nothing. Blalock’s got a lot working against him, I admit. But if you realize what he can do very well (crush righties), and don’t put him in the situations he’s terrible at (hitting lefties or wearing a glove) more than you absolutely have to, he can be a fantastically undervalued pickup for a team who desperately needs one. If that means having to cut ties with Nick Green, Garret Anderson, or Ronnie Belliard, then so be it.

And all Blalock’s done since then is prove that he can still hit, even surprisingly hitting lefties harder than righties with a crazy .522/.560/.870 line, though of course in a very small sample size of just 23 at-bats. There’s no question that he’s a far superior (and nine years younger!) player than Anderson right now, and he can even spell Casey Blake and James Loney at the corners, sparing you from having to see Ronnie Belliard there. Granted, this would leave you with only four outfielders, but since Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier play basically every day anyway, you could get by with just Reed Johnson. You can always toss Jamey Carroll out there in case of emergency, and Albuquerque’s just a few hours away.

If Blalock would cost more now than he would have six weeks ago, you can just consider that the cost of not making this move when it should have been done in the first place. Besides, no cost is too high to not have to watch Anderson and his osteoporosis out there any more, right? It’s known the Rays are looking for a right-handed reliever… I’m sure the Dodgers have a spare Ortiz to send.

**********

Completely unrelated, but in case you’re hoping the Dodgers are going to go out and acquire a pitcher, just know that these are the types of guys they’re going to be in on:

Tim Redding agreed to a minor league deal with the Yankees, according to Troy Renck of the Denver Post (via Twitter). The Dodgers and multiple Korean teams also expressed interest in Redding, who was released by the Rockies this morning.

That would be the same Tim Redding who was just flat-out release from Colorado’s AAA affiliate after allowing 12.2 hits per 9 innings this year. Of course they were interested.

How About Hank Blalock?

It’s a good thing the Dodgers have one of the most solid starting lineups 1-8 of any team in baseball, because any way you slice it, the Dodger bench is weak. Literally, weak, in the sense that none of them give you much faith they could beat a 7-year-old girl in arm wrestling.

Brad Ausmus hits like, well, a backup catcher. Jamey Carroll’s a decent multi-positional vet, but offers zero power. Reed Johnson’s an okay fourth outfielder, but again, not much power. Nick Green is barely playable. Ronnie Belliard can’t be counted on to repeat his hot Dodger debut, and certainly isn’t much of an asset in the field. Garret Anderson’s a total zero in the field – and even if he wasn’t, he’s 38, coming off three consecutive declining years of OPS, and will be asked to come off the bench for the first time in his career. He’s hardly dependable to be the power bat a contending club needs, and if he isn’t, then you’re looking at a bench that’s entirely right-handed.

Remember, last season, the Dodgers got exactly two homers all year from their main bench foursome of Ausmus, Juan Castro, Mark Loretta, and Juan Pierre. (Yes, I know guys like Blake DeWitt and Jamie Hoffmann chipped in with a dinger here and there, but those were the main four guys all season.) It’s the lack of production like that which forced Ned Colletti to go out and get Jim Thome at the trading deadline. Not that Thome really contributed, but the need was obviously there.

Yet as we go into 2010, the issue has hardly been fixed, for all the reasons laid out above.  So why, as poster DoppleGangBang asked at the BBWC, not consider Hank Blalock, who just found out he’s not going to make the Tampa Bay roster?

“Because he sucks, genius.”

Well, yeah. He sort of does. He’s a terrible fielder, he gets hurt a lot, and his OBP was an awesomely bad .277 last year. But he also hit 25 homers, and he’s a lefty who suffered through some terrible luck (his .249 BABIP was far below his career average, and is likely to rebound). I won’t pretend he doesn’t have flaws – good lord, does he – but I also won’t accept that we’re living in a baseball world where a team that’s desperate for left-handed power can’t bring on a guy who hit 25 dingers last year for just about zero cost.

When I saw how many HR he had last year, my first thought was of course, “but he probably hit 23 in Texas, right?” Surprisingly, no. He hit 12 of the 25 on the road, but overall was a far better player away from Arlington, putting up an OPS of .802 on the road vs. just .674 at home. More importantly, check out his career split against LH/RH pitchers:

Career vs. LHP: .229/.278/.378  .656
Career vs. RHP: .285/.348/.498  .847

The man, clearly cannot hit lefties at all. But so what? You’ve got a nearly 100% right-handed bench for that. If he never once faces a lefty all season, all the better – let him pound on all the righties who would otherwise feast on Carroll, Johnson, or Belliard.

As for his defense, it’s not pretty. He’s a terrible third baseman, and average at best at first. But that’s not why you bring him in, because he’s your 3rd option at best at each of those positions. You bring him in because he can provide lefty power off the bench at a minimum price, which is something you simply do not have right now.

Over at FanGraphs, guys who are way smarter than me see Blalock’s flaws but acknowledge his usefulness, particularly in comparing him to Eric Hinske, a player who was tops on my list of possible lefty acquisitions last week:

*As an aside, Blalock bears resemblance to a certain other left-handed former third baseman. One who I’ve mentioned far too much this week already, but here we go again. Blalock stacks up pretty well to Eric Hinske. Check out how they match up across the WAR components since 2002:

Batting:
Hinske: 15.7
Blalock 14.1

Fielding:
Hinske: -3.4
Blalock: -13.9

Replacement
Hinske: 117.4
Blalock: 128.6

Positional
Hinske: -22.1
Blalock: -7.8

So Hinske played positions of less defensive importance, but played them better. He also played a little less and hit a little better.

You can’t get Eric Hinske right now, yet you can pick up Blalock – who’s still only 29, and whose top comparable at baseball-reference is actually Casey Blake – for absolutely nothing. Blalock’s got a lot working against him, I admit. But if you realize what he can do very well (crush righties), and don’t put him in the situations he’s terrible at (hitting lefties or wearing a glove) more than you absolutely have to, he can be a fantastically undervalued pickup for a team who desperately needs one. If that means having to cut ties with Nick Green, Garret Anderson, or Ronnie Belliard, then so be it.

Winter Meetings: Day 1

Big news! Huge signing! The Dodgers sign a Japanese pitcher! Hiroki Kuroda, come on down… wait.. what?

DODGERS SIGN JAPANESE COLLEGE PITCHER BOOTHE TO MINOR LEAGUE CONTRACT
Right-Hander from Asia University is Team’s First Amateur Signing from Japan
 
 LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles Dodgers announced today that they have signed right-handed pitcher Robert Boothe to a minor league contract. kokugakuin__2.jpg
 
“We feel Robert has a good chance to become an effective Major League pitcher,” said Dodger General Manager Ned Colletti.  “Our scouting department has followed Robert for a couple of years and his signing reaffirms our commitment to reaching out worldwide to find players.  It is difficult to sign amateur players out of Japan and we are excited at this signing’s historical significance.”
 
Boothe, 21, attended Asia University and was sought after by as many as five teams in the recent Japanese Professional Baseball draft.  He was a member of the All-Japan College All-Star Team that played in Holland this summer.

Well, that’s good too, I think. Honestly, I have no idea about this guy. I tried to find some stats on him and couldn’t come up with anything.. but when you Google “Japan” and “booth” you get some.. interesting results. Anyway, thanks to the LA PR department for the release and the picture.

As for rumors from Day 1 of the Winter Meetings! Sounds like we’re out of the Santana sweepstakes (which I’m okay with) and falling behind Anawhatever for Cabrera. Some new ones that have popped up:

 - Intrepid reader Morgan passes along this ESPN article linking the Dodgers to Andruw Jones, even saying we’ve got a 2-year, $32 million offer on the table. Bora$ still thinks he’s getting Jones more than the $90 million Torii Hunter got (which, as far as I’m concerned, is worth its weight in entainment value. Seriously, Angels. Thank you for this. I still haven’t stopped laughing.)  Anyway, the rumor says Colletti’s only interested in doing a short-term deal. Which, I have to say, is a strategy I really like. Giving more money per year, but for fewer years, can be a really effective idea. It worked to get Furcal to LA, and while Schmidt obviously didn’t do much for us last year, most Blue fans loved the signing at the time. So I’m for this deal. If only we’d had this thought with Pierre last year. Or something shorter. Like zero years.

 - Here’s a new one: Hank Blalock? Steve Henson at Yahoo! says the Rangers want to get rid of him. Understandable, because he A) is on a two year, injury-filled downturn, and B) is someone I’ve always suspected of being all about Vitamin S. Speculation, of course. Just saying. Henson says they’ll come to LA, thinking the Dodgers need a 3B. I like to think that Andy LaRoche tearing up the World Cup might help his case a little, but that’s just me.

 - Oh, and the Orioles apparently want four top prospects for Erik Bedard. Let’s file that under “things that just ain’t happening”, along with Jessica Alba rolling up to my apartment in  a Porsche wearing a Dodger jersey and little else.

More tomorrow!

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