A.J. Ellis Walks Off In Most A.J. Ellis Way Possible

…is it really only May 18? Because, I am honestly not sure how many of these games I can take this season.

Where do you even start with this one? Adam KennedyAdam Kennedy! – had a four-hit night. James Loney had three. Of the 16 times the starting lineup made it on base tonight, a full 13 came from the 5-8 group of Kennedy, Loney, A.J. Ellis, & Tony Gwynn. On the mound, Ted Lilly isn’t charged with a single earned run despite allowing a mammoth Matt Holliday blast which still probably hasn’t landed. (That’s a story unto itself, but suffice to say, remember this, fans of ERA).

Oh, but there’s more. Josh Lindblom & Kenley Jansen combined to get the final six outs via strikeout – with Lindblom especially impressing by striking out Rafael Furcal, Holliday, and David Freese around a single and a walk – except that in the process, Jansen allowed pinch-hitter Lance Berkman to tie the game with a solo home run, which is almost certainly going to re-ignite the closer argument none of us want to have. (Jansen got the win though. Wins are great.)

And then there’s A.J. Ellis. Good lord, there’s always A.J Ellis. In the ninth against Fernando Salas, the Dodgers put men on the corners after an Elian Herrera walk and Kennedy’s fourth (!) hit of the night. Andre Ethier struck out, and the Cardinals chose to put Loney on intentionally to face Ellis, who had already driven in Loney with a single earlier in the game. They chose… let’s say, poorly. Not against Ellis, not this year, not when he’s on his way to Kansas City. Ellis watched ball four go by, and the Dodgers, improbably, incredibly, unbelievably, take the first game of a big series against St. Louis.

The Dodgers may not have escaped with merely a victory, however. In the top of the seventh, Shane Robinson bounced into a fielder’s choice at short, which¬†Dee Gordon flipped to Mark Ellis in hopes of turning a double play. Tyler Greene, running from first, took out Ellis with a hard (but clean) slide, flipping Ellis and looking for all the world like his left knee had buckled. Ellis shook it off and stayed in to finish the inning and line to first in the bottom of the frame, but was replaced by Justin Sellers in the field for the eighth. Any speculation on Ellis’ status is premature, but it should be noted that with all of the other injuries, the only healthy infielder on the 40-man roster is Ivan De Jesus, who the club seems determined not to play.

Clayton Kershaw takes the hill tomorrow against Jake Westbrook, and at this point absolutely nothing would surprise me. Well, other than¬†Gordon showing signs of life, that is, now that his 0-5 put him down exactly to the Mendoza line. A conversation for another time, though, because tonight belongs to Adam Kennedy and A.J. Ellis. I’ll take “things I never, ever, ever expected to write ever” for $600, Alex.

This Might Be The Best Thing Javy Guerra and James Loney Do All Year

Very few people believe that Javy Guerra is really going to hold off Kenley Jansen and hang on to the closer’s job all season long, and as we discussed earlier today, expectations for James Loney are all over the map. By July, he could either be in the All-Star Game or in the minors, and neither one would surprise me in the least.

Yet absolutely none of that matters today, because we’ve been lucky enough to receive this gift from the lords of high comedy: Guerra & Loney photobombing celebrities and randoms at the Eastbound & Down premiere party. What’s that, you say? Loney popping up behind random girls doesn’t do anything for you? How about Guerra photobombing Marilyn Manson, of all people – twice?

Frankly, if the shot of Guerra leaning around the pole (#2 in the set) hasn’t become a widely-known Photoshopped meme by morning, we’ve all failed.

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Attempting To Look On the Bright Side With James Loney

One of my favorite television moments from when I was a teenager was when Norm MacDonald returned to host Saturday Night Live in late 1999, less than two years after he’d been fired from the show. Norm dedicated his monologue to trying to figure out how he’d managed to go from unemployed to headlining the show in such a short period of time, finally coming to this pointed realization:

So I wondered, how did I go in a year and half from being not funny enough to be even allowed in the building, to being so funny that I’m now hosting the show? How did I suddenly get so goddamn funny? It was inexplicable to me, because, a year and a half, let’s face it, is not enough time for a dude to learn how to be funny! Then it occurred to me… I haven’t gotten funnier. The show… has gotten really bad! So, yeah, I’m funny compared to, you know, well, you’ll see later. Okay, so let’s recap. The bad news is: I’m still not funny. The good news is: the show blows!

I’m an admitted Norm fanboy, so I’ve had that speech bouncing around my head (particularly the “bad news, good news” line) for years. I bring it up today because I started thinking about what to expect from James Loney this year – trust me, there’s a connection that will make sense in a second – and that’s exactly the line I started thinking about.

You see, the National League in 2012 has all of a sudden found itself in a severe drought when it comes to non-Joey Votto options at first base, traditionally one of the most productive offensive players in the lineup if you’re doing it right. (Which means that other than one good year from Nomar Garciaparra in 2006, the Dodgers haven’t been “doing it right” since… what, a few good years from Eric Karros in the 90s? Steve Garvey before that?) Albert Pujols is off from St. Louis to Anaheim, and Prince Fielder joined him in the American League with Detroit. The other notable masher at the position, Ryan Howard, is probably going to miss several months recovering from his Achilles injury – even before that he wasn’t as valuable as most believe anyway – and it’s anyone’s guess as to what his NL East colleagues in Ike Davis and Adam LaRoche can do after missing most of 2011 with serious injuries. A league that once had Pujols, Fielder, Howard, Adrian Gonzalez, and Adam Dunn & Derrek Lee when they were still productive now has only Votto and a whole lot of question marks.

This is a league where if the season began today, the collection of starting first basemen might very well include Bryan LaHair, Mat Gamel, Ty Wigginton (or Jim Thome!), Jesus Guzman, Aubrey Huff, Carlos Lee, and Garrett Jones. (“I’ll take ‘guys who aren’t Lyle Overbay‘ for $200, Alex.”) I know that won’t be precisely the list – hey, maybe Brandon Belt or Yonder Alonso can beat out the incumbents this time around – but it’s not far off, and it’s hardly intimidating. Even the teams with first basemen coming off productive years have to worry about advancing age – I’m on your lawn, Todd Helton & Lance Berkman – or sophomore slumps from solid-but-hardly-elite youngsters like Freddie Freeman & Paul Goldschmidt.

Look at it this way: the average line from all NL first basemen last season was .270/.350/.450 (.801), narrowly beating out right field for the top offensive position in the league. Now take out 692 plate appearances of .981 performance from Fielder and replace them with Gamel, who is just a year younger but has still managed just a .684 OPS in parts of four seasons with the Brewers as he’s been unable to prove he’s more than a Quad-A player. Take out Pujols and replace him with Berkman, who actually outperformed Pujols last season as Albert dealt with a wrist injury but who few expect to repeat his 2011 at age 36. (Bill James predicts him at .894 next year, slightly less than what Pujols was able to do.) Take out some portion of Howard’s .835 as he recovers, and the 606 plate appearances of .819 that Carlos Pena left behind in Chicago. Take out the excellent .336/.401/.601 in 354 plate appearances that Mike Morse had as a first baseman in Washington as he moves to left field, numbers which LaRoche can’t match, and depreciate some of the .850 over 491 plate appearances that absolutely no one expects the soon-to-be 39-year-old Helton to repeat. (I’ll acknowledge that if healthy, Davis should improve the Mets’ 2011 performance at the position.)

Taking all that into consideration, it’s not all that hard to think that the OPS production by NL first basemen in 2011 (and I shouldn’t have to note that I know OPS isn’t the best metric, but for a high-level look like this, it’s fine) is going to sink south of .800, a number that it barely topped last year with Pujols and Fielder. If everything really goes wrong – if Helton and Berkman really fall apart, or if Davis can’t make it back from injury, or if the Giants refuse to get over Huff, or if the new Marlins park is as pitcher-friendly as we’ve heard and that impacts Gaby Sanchez, etc. – it could be considerably lower than that.

And then there’s Loney, looking up at the group with his .288/.339/.416 (.755) line from 2011. He’s been the definition of mediocrity in his four years as a starter, with the only change being that in 2011 he decided being decent-but-no-better for the entire season was boring, and that it’d be far more fun to be gawd-awful for two months and then be red-hot for two months, with his final line coming in at basically the exact same place it always had. The problem was never that Loney was a terrible player (other than the first six weeks of 2011, of course), because there’s value in a slick defensive player who can hit 10-12 homers and bat in the .280s, but that the bar at first base was set so high that by comparison he looked terrible.

Now, it seems, the bar might not be quite so high to be a decent first baseman in the National League, without even considering that Loney owns one of the better gloves in the circuit. If he repeats his 2011 exactly, his total package could make him average or just-below as far as NL first basemen go. If he’s anything like he was over the last two months of 2011, he’s one of the three best in the league. (And of course, if he’s anything like he was in April and May, he’s on the street by June.)

Is James Loney really any better than he’s been before? Unless you really, really believe in the way he ended 2011, probably not, and believe me, I’m not thrilled about the fact he’s making $6.375m this year. But when you compare him to, well, you’ll see, maybe it’s not so bad. So, to recap… the bad news is, Loney likely isn’t suddenly a top first baseman. The good news is, well, just about no one else has one either.

The Dodgers Were In On Prince Fielder, and The Last Time We’ll Be Writing About Him For a While

I was really looking forward to not having to discuss Prince Fielder anymore, but how can I ignore a bombshell like the one Jon Heyman just dropped on us?

Although they managed to stay under the radar all the while, the Los Angeles Dodgers pushed hard for weeks to try to sign Prince Fielder and thought for a while they might have a legitimate shot at their own secret signing. The Dodgers were a surprise entrant in the sweepstakes, making a major push to sign the star slugger with an offer that guaranteed him seven years but provided a sweet four-year opt-out. And for a couple weeks, they looked like a real possibility for Prince.

The Dodgers surely gave a spirited effort to secure Fielder, even flying to meet with him at an undisclosed neutral location a few weeks ago, but somehow managed to keep the entire undertaking under wraps, save for a few internet rumblings from fans speculating that they may have been a mystery team in the mix.

Heyman goes on to state that the Dodger offer was nowhere near the massive nine-year, $214m commitment Fielder just procured from Detroit, figures I wanted no part of. Rather, the supposed Dodger offer would have been “in the low $160m” range, with the first three years coming in at $26m apiece ($78m total), after which Fielder would have been able to opt out, then four years in the low twenties range, totaling about $85-90m and bringing the deal into the $160m range. About a month ago, I heard from a source who claimed that Ned Colletti had offered Fielder a 3/$80m deal, and while I couldn’t confirm it enough to run with it, that it pretty close to the first half of this supposed offer.

If that’s in any way true, well, I like that idea a lot. Sure, paying Fielder $26m a year is somewhat outrageous, but that’s only over his age 28-30 seasons, after which he’s either someone else’s problem or taking a pay cut. That’s also, of course, almost certainly why a deal like this had almost no chance of happening, considering how much more he eventually ended up getting from Detroit; the Dodgers were likely extending themselves just to get that far, hoping that the market would never materialize and Fielder would have no choice but to land with them. (There’s a conversation happening on Twitter right now about whether Victor Martinez‘ injury cost the Dodgers Fielder, since they may not have been in on Prince until they were short a bat; it makes sense, though I’m not sure if I fully buy that simply due to how much they did end up giving to Fielder.)

But that’s all behind us now, because Fielder is a Tiger now, and we won’t be seeing him in Dodger blue until he’s inevitably signed to a back-loaded contract in 2022. If anything, we can be impressed with the Dodger front office for not allowing anything more than unsourced speculation to leak during this process. Of course, the best part of Heyman’s story has nothing to do with Fielder, and the emphasis on this is mine:

The Dodgers tendered their longtime first baseman James Loney a contract and expect him to be their first baseman. They are not unhappy with him at all but merely saw Fielder as a rare opportunity to land one of the game’s best hitters.

Wonderful.

James Loney Avoids the Most Depressing Arbitration Case in History

Earlier today on Twitter, I joked that if the Dodgers and Clayton Kershaw couldn’t come to some sort of an agreement before reaching the arbitration table, I’d love to have the chance to sit in on that hearing. What could the Dodgers possibly say to argue Kershaw’s case? “Uh, if he was so good, how come Juan Uribe was so bad?” What I didn’t say at the time was that the inverse of that situation – James Loney‘s arbitration hearing – would have been equally as hilarious, just in a completely different way. Can you imagine Loney’s representatives trying to come up with ways to bolster his case, particularly since his usual crutch of “RBI guy” didn’t even really happen in 2011?

Unfortunately for purveyors of high comedy, we won’t get a chance to envision that, since Loney has avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year deal worth $6.375m. If that sounds like a lot for a player of Loney’s talents, well, just remember that the arbitration process isn’t exactly the free market. And if he’s anything like the Loney we saw over the last two months of 2011, he’ll actually be underpaid. (When he’s not that Loney, of course, feel free to commence moaning.)

Updating the numbers from earlier today, the Dodgers now have about $79m committed to 16 players under contract for 2012, plus the approximately $5m or so that will be spent on minimum salary pre-arbitration types like Dee Gordon, Kenley Jansen, and A.J. Ellis. The only outstanding arbitration case, Kershaw, still looms…