Sell, Buy, or Other? Two Weeks Until the Deadline


As we head into the second half of the season, the Dodgers stand at 41-51, 11.5 games behind San Francisco in the NL West and 13 games behind Atlanta for the wild card. Their run differential of -33 is the sixth-worst in baseball, with the pitching slightly above average (13th in runs allowed) and the offense near the bottom (26th in runs scored). With the on-field product underwhelming and the off-field battle raging, the chances of them even getting back to .500, much less back into the race, appear slim, and that could potentially set us up for a dreary death march for the rest of the season.

All that being said, there have been some signs of life lately. Entering the All-Star break, the Dodgers had completed their first sweep of the season and are currently riding a season-best four-game winning streak. The starting pitching has generally been good, the patchwork bullpen has largely held together, and the offense… well, Matt Kemp is pretty awesome.

Still, the date to keep in mind here isn’t September 28, the end of the season. It’s July 31, 16 days from today. Depending on what happens in the next two-plus weeks, the Dodgers could go one of three ways. (Sidenote: I’ve seen people reporting what Ned Colletti says in the papers and on the radio about his plans, and I keep having to remind people that it’s irrelevant. Of course he’s going to say they’re still in it. What good does it do him to to say, “nah, we’re F’d”? Worry more about his actions than his comments, for now.)

They become buyers.
AKA, “the absolutely terrifying option.” Let’s say the recent hot streak holds. Maybe Rod Barajas returns (more on him below) to have one of his patented “I’ll be awesome for eight days before being horrible for eight weeks” tears. Maybe newcomer Juan Rivera is so happy to be back in Southern California (and, for that matter, America) that he destroys baseballs with glee. With five of the next six series against NL West opponents, now is the time to make up some ground, and even gaining 2-3 games in that time could convince Colletti that the team is finally getting healthy and coming around. That’s just on-the-field motivation; it’s not hard to think that Colletti and Frank McCourt see the very uncertain future that they may not be around for and want to go “all-in”, no matter what.

Of course, this scares the hell out of us, and rightfully so. With 92 games in the books and 70 left, the Dodgers would need to go 49-21 to win 90 games this year. That’s a .700 winning percentage, which no team in baseball is even close to (the Phillies are nearest at .626), and even then 90 wins is hardly a playoff guarantee. This team is not making the playoffs in 2011; Baseball Prospectus currently gives them an 0.8% chance of making it, and even that feels generous.

Yet you can see it, can’t you? Trayvon Robinson, gone for a 30+ middle reliever. Allen Webster, shipped out for a veteran bench bat. Reports are that Colletti has about $2m to play with at the deadline, and since that’s not enough for anyone worthwhile, any trades for veterans would mean needing to send quality prospects to cover the cost.

Remember how horrified we were last July by the trades that brought in Scott Podsednik, Octavio Dotel, Ryan Theriot, and Ted Lilly? That team, while still unlikely to make the playoffs, had a much better shot than this one. Buying this year could be even more disastrous than you think.

They become sellers.
This is the outcome that an overwhelming majority of us would like to see, and for good reason: why try to reinforce a team that has almost no shot of winning this year by trading prospects for short-term veterans? Might as well take advantage of the veterans you have now to try and build for the future.

But there are problems with this approach too, namely, “who do you trade?” Obviously, Kemp, Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley are off-limits. You can make a good case to trade Andre Ethier, but that seems unlikely at best. Otherwise, injury (Casey Blake [who would have made a very nice corner bench piece for a contender], Rafael Furcal, Jon Garland) and total lack of value (Tony Gwynn, Dioner Navarro, Mike MacDougal) make this a team full of guys who aren’t worth a lot on the market – unless you’re still holding on to the dim hope that you can really sucker someone into giving up anything for Barajas or Aaron Miles.

Really, that leaves you with just Hiroki Kuroda and Jamey Carroll as trade bait with any sort of value. We’ve heard rumors of teams being interested in each, with the most recent being Detroit sniffing around Kuroda. Yet while either one could be a valuable piece for a contender needing to fill a hole or two, neither should be expected to bring back a large return. Kuroda is 36 with a full no-trade clause and a few million left on his deal. He’ll likely need to be compensated to waive his no-trade, in addition to the remaining salary, and while he’s a solid starter, he’s certainly not this year’s Cliff Lee or CC Sabathia. Carroll is 37, and his OBP and versatility would be an excellent fit for any club, though that’s not enough to trade a top prospect for.

All of which raises the question: if the likelihood of getting talent in return is small, should the Dodgers bother selling just to save money? In years past, that may have made sense; if you can save a few million at the deadline, then in theory that money can be saved for other uses, perhaps the offseason free agent market. But this year? Lord knows where that money would go. I’m more than okay with trading Kuroda to get prospects, yet I would not be happy doing it merely to hang on to dollars that will just end up in the pockets of bankruptcy lawyers.

And that’s all without even touching on whether you can trust Colletti to make the right deals at this time of the year.

They stand pat.
This is the most boring option, and it might also be the correct one. If they accept that buying isn’t the right way to go, and there’s no worthwhile deals worth selling for, doing nothing is an acceptable option. It at least allows you to pay lip service to the idea that you haven’t raised the white flag on the season. That won’t thrill the Plaschke types, but who cares about that. If you’re not getting a decent player in return, there’s value in retaining Kuroda if only to maintain rotation depth and maximize your chance of getting him back on another one-year deal for 2012.

Basically, it comes down to this: you do nothing, this team probably goes something like 72-90. I’d rather that than trading away prospects to go 77-85, and I’d also rather that than saving more money for McCourt while going 67-95.

Man, none of those are good options. Is it football season yet? What? Oh, right.

******

As expected, A.J. Ellis was sent back to AAA to make room for Barajas. That the most valuable of the three Dodger catchers is gone is annoying, but in no way a surprise. It’s not just that Ellis is the only one who can get on base; just look at Chad Billingsley’s game logs and see if you can spot the one thing that changed between his early June slump and his recent excellence. If there’s news here, it’s in how Don Mattingly sees the playing time split between Barajas and Dioner Navarro:

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said he envisions splitting the catching duties more equally now between Barajas and Dioner Navarro than he did before Barajas got hurt, when Barajas got the bulk of the starts. Barajas is 35 and might benefit from more frequent rest, and Navarro has gone a respectable 4-for-15 at the plate so far in July. He is hitting .183 for the season.

Hooray! More Navarro!

******

More good info from Christopher Jackson of the Albuquerque Baseball Examiner: Ian Snell, who ended his short retirement to sign with the Isotopes back in May, has been placed on the suspended list, though the reasons why are unclear. That further weakens the rotation depth, though he wasn’t coming to the bigs any time soon: his AAA stats (11.05 ERA, 11 HR and 17 BB in 22 IP) are mindblowingly atrocious.

******

There’s not enough information to add it yet, but Bill Shaikin’s latest points to another impending addition to the McCourt sin list:

Frank McCourt (pictured above) wants the Bankruptcy Court to approve a loan in which the Dodgers owner has “a substantial personal financial stake,” attorneys for Major League Baseball wrote in a court filing late Thursday.

The league has offered its own loan to finance the Dodgers through the bankruptcy process. By approving the loan arranged by McCourt, the league argues, the Dodgers would be subject to “almost $15 million more in financing costs” while the Dodgers owner “personally benefitted” from the deal. The amount by which the league alleges McCourt would benefit is redacted from the filing.

“Clearly, Mr. McCourt has not allowed these bankruptcy cases to change the practice of using the [Dodgers] as his personal piggy bank,” the filing read.

The language immediately preceding that sentence alluded to another action by McCourt “at the very same time” he was negotiating the loan in question. The language describing that action also is redacted.

The filing also blacks out the exact amount the league claims McCourt has taken “in direct and indirect payments to him, his family, and affiliated entities from the Dodgers.” That amount is close to $200 million, according to a person familiar with the matter but not authorized to discuss it publicly. The league also said McCourt had failed to disclose or seek approval of several financial transactions, as required by league rules.

Okay, go: what did McCourt do that has been redacted from public knowledge? I’ll say he tried to get a loan from an illegal South American cockfighting ring.

Army of Oh-Fers & Curse of 9th Inning Doom Dodgers to Defeat

Rafael Furcal, 0-4 (with four left on base). Jamey Carroll, 0-4. James Loney, 0-3 with a walk. Jay Gibbons, 0-3 with a walk. Jerry Sands, 0-4 with three strikeouts. Other than Matt Kemp, who had a double and a homer among his three hits, the rest of the team went 3-29 (two of which came from Dioner Navarro) against something called an “Aneury Rodriguez” (a Rule 5 pick, like Carlos Monasterios was last year) and three Houston relievers. Once again, anemic Dodger offense wasted what was a generally solid pitching effort.

That it was even tied at one headed into the 9th was in large part due to Ted Lilly, who’s had his share of detractors around here. When the homer-prone Lilly allowed a leadoff dinger (on the first pitch, no less) to Michael Bourn, who has just two since the start of 2010 and 11 in parts of six MLB seasons, you’d have been well within your rights to cringe and wonder how bad this was going to get. (I know I did.) But to his credit, Lilly tossed six shutout innings afterwards, despite striking out only two, and Mike MacDougal & Javy Guerra each followed with scoreless frames.

Now I know Matt Guerrier picked up the loss here, as he gave up a double to Brett Wallace and a single to J.R. Towles to blow the game in the 9th. But for once, I don’t want to bag on Guerrier, who has really been the least of the concern in the beleaguered bullpen (ridiculous contract aside). It’s hardly his fault that the team couldn’t score more than one run, and that’s where the bulk of the blame lies here. Again.

However, the fact that yet another 9th-inning situation ended up sideways – even though this wasn’t a save situation – just goes to show how poorly the 9th has gone for the Dodgers this year. Check out their splits by innings, and keep in mind that this doesn’t even include today’s failure.

Split IP ERA PA R H 2B HR SO/BB BA OBP SLG OPS BAbip
1st inning 50.0 2.16 196 13 35 11 2 4.33 .194 .241 .300 .541 .232
2nd inning 50.0 4.86 210 28 51 14 7 3.00 .273 .320 .460 .780 .310
3rd inning 50.0 3.42 216 19 46 10 2 2.18 .254 .343 .354 .696 .328
4th inning 50.0 4.32 218 28 56 8 6 2.22 .289 .349 .423 .772 .333
5th inning 50.0 3.42 200 19 40 6 6 3.31 .217 .271 .359 .630 .250
6th inning 50.0 4.68 220 27 51 8 9 2.14 .263 .338 .454 .792 .300
7th inning 50.0 2.34 209 15 48 7 7 2.60 .249 .303 .404 .707 .279
8th inning 50.0 3.96 217 24 43 11 2 1.47 .239 .351 .344 .695 .306
9th inning 37.1 9.64 194 42 61 12 6 1.75 .359 .430 .547 .977 .423
Ext inning 7.0 1.29 27 1 5 0 0 2.50 .200 .259 .200 .459 .250
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/25/2011.

Does anything, which I may or may not have highlighted in bold red text, stand out to you there? Save situation or not, close game or a blowout, the Dodgers have seen the 9th inning become their teamwide house of horrors all season. Remember, that’s not including today, so the real number might be up around .990 or so. I don’t have the individual breakdowns handy so it’s hard to pinpoint the exact culprits, but let’s be honest about this: it’s been a team effort. I’m sure Jonathan Broxton leads that list, but he is by no means alone on it. Despite relatively good bullpen work over the last two weeks, this is a team that has just been unable to handle their 9th inning issues.

Combine that with a team that has sporadic – at best – offensive spurts, and that’s how you end up losing two of three to the worst team in the National League. With the day off tomorrow, I’m sure it’s going to be an uncomfortably long wait until they get a chance to try and set things right on Friday against the Marlins. The good news is, they might have Casey Blake back for that game. The bad news is, they’re seven games under .500 with the third worst run differential in baseball… and Casey Blake, of all people, could be seen as a monumental upgrade.

******

Via Baseball America‘s Matt Eddy, Ian Snell has ended his short retirement and has joined the Isotopes down in AAA. Snell struggled in the spring for St. Louis and walked away rather than report to the minors. Still just 29, Snell had his moments in Pittsburgh, making 95 starts between 2006-2008 with FIP scores between 4.01-4.58, peaking at 3.5 WAR in 2007. He got off to what looked like a terrible start in 2009 (2-8, 5.36), but was right in line with his previous work (4.61 FIP), before being sent to AAA Indianapolis to dominate (47/13 K/BB, 4 earned runs in 37.1 innings). He was then shipped off to Seattle as part of the Jack Wilson/Jeff Clement deal, where he was generally awful for parts of two seasons before being allowed to leave after 2010.

Still, this is the kind of zero-risk signing I like. Snell’s not 37 and15 years past a prime he never had (yes, I’m talking about, Juan Castro), he’s 29 and not that far away from having been a useful major league starter. For AAA depth, and to serve as something like the 8th starter for the Dodgers (still behind John Ely), that’s a move totally worth making.