Non-Tender Monday

Tonight at 12am ET / 9pm PT represents the deadline for the Dodgers to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players, and while there’s not quite the “will they or won’t they?” drama that accompanied the Russell Martin decision last year, there’s still some choices to be made. Entering the off-season, the Dodgers had seven eligible players to decide upon…

… but obviously, Kemp’s new mega-deal and Eveland’s trade to Baltimore takes them out of the mix. Let’s look at the other five.

Kershaw. Uh, yeah. Pretty sure the reigning NL Cy Young is going to get tendered, and assuming he doesn’t sign a long-term deal, he’s in line for something like $7-$8m in his first year of arbitration. Yes, of course.

Gwynn. Though this is his second year of eligibility, Gwynn hasn’t actually gone through the arbitration process, since San Diego non-tendered him last December. After signing with the Dodgers for $675,000, he provided the expected mixture of mediocre offense and outstanding defense, in addition to being a useful piece on the bases. Though I think you could probably do a little better with the roster spot, he’s an acceptable backup outfielder, and so the question of whether he gets an offer comes down to numbers, both in terms of money and personnel. Gwynn could get over $1m in arbitration, perhaps more than the Dodgers want to spend, and the addition of Jerry Hairston means that they now have someone who can in theory spell Matt Kemp now and then in center field. In addition, if the Dodgers do plan on adding that additional bat we keep hearing about, there just might not be room for Gwynn on the roster, particularly if the addition is left-handed. Still, the outfield defense is subpar and Hairston isn’t really ideal in center, so Gwynn is valuable enough for his glove alone; I think it’s slightly more likely than not that he is tendered, though this is clearly the toughest call of any today. Probably.

Loney. It’s amazing to think that this is even a consideration after how certain we were for much of 2011 that he was absolutely going to get non-tendered, but Loney’s stellar finish seems to have earned him another chance, at least based on Ned Colletti’s comments of late. Loney’s recent (and increasingly bizarre) run-in with the law on a Los Angeles freeway last month aren’t helping his case, though it doesn’t appear to have hurt his standing with the club, and assuming the Dodgers have no prayer at landing Prince Fielder, there’s few other first base alternatives left anyway. Yes.

Kuo. The inverse of Loney, where a year ago it was difficult to imagine that a non-tender was even a possibility. If an awful 2011 was the only issue, you could perhaps see the club taking a chance, but yet another arm surgery torpedoed any shot that they’d risk the ~$3m he’d get in arbitration. That doesn’t mean we’ve definitely seen the last of him, however, because it’s unlikely any other club gives him a serious offer, and if he returns to baseball, he might not feel comfortable trusting his fragile health to a training staff who doesn’t know him nearly as well as the Dodgers do. No.

Ethier. Despite worrying before the season that he’d be non-tendered if he didn’t perform well and then going out and having an injury-plagued, sub-par season, Ethier’s a lock to receive a tender. He’ll likely receive about $12m in his final season of arbitration, and while that’s a bit pricey for me, I’m relatively optimistic he’ll have a productive season – and if the Dodgers are out of it in July, they can trade him and save about $4m of that. Yes.

Winter Meetings Day Four: Rule 5, MacDougal, & Court Battles (Updated)

Update, 9:39am PT:

After what seems like weeks, we finally have confirmation that the Aaron Harang signing is official. Dylan Hernandez reports that he’ll make $3m in 2012 and $7m in 2013; there’s a $2m buyout of a 2014 vesting option. That’s right: next year, you can look forward to paying Aaron Harang seven million dollars. As Eric Stephen sadly notes, the club is now lined up to pay Harang, Chris Capuano, Ted Lilly, Matt Guerrier, Juan Uribe, Mark Ellis, & Jerry Hairston $47.25 million in 2013. Unbelievable.

Update, 8:50am PT:

We now know the second player coming from Baltimore, outfielder Tyler Henson. He turns 24 in a week and in parts of five seasons on the farm, his line is .263/.322/.387; last year, his first at Triple-A, was less than that, at .247/.313/.321 and three homers in 498 plate appearances. LiK. Martin, he appears to be a toolsy player (was recruited to play football out of college) who has shown little indication of ever translating that to performance. Again, though, it’s Dana Eveland, so this is free talent.

Update, 8:17am PT:

Coming back from Baltimore for Eveland is LHP Jarret Martin and a player to be named later. Martin’s 22, was an 18th-round pick in 2009, and has had a rough go of it in two seasons in the low minors, walking 5.9/9. The results haven’t been there, but the reports are somewhat promising.

John Sickels, Minor League Ball, March 2011:

SLEEPER ALERT!! Martin was selected in the 18th round in 2009, from Bakersfield Junior College. He has a sinking fastball in the low 90s that helped him post a 2.03 GO/AO last year in the Appy League. He also has a promising curveball, and the combination of the two pitches throttled left-handed hitters to a .188 mark for Bluefield. His K/IP and H/IP ratios were quite good, but he also walked too many guys, elevating his ERA. I am intrigued with this one; if Martin can sharpen his command even slightly, he could break out in 2011. Grade C, but a sleeper.
ADDITIONAL COMMENT: Good size and some arm strength here, plus I like the combination of strikeouts and ground balls. As stated, he needs to get the walks down, but any progress in that department could take him a long way. Sources who follow the Orioles closely are quite intrigued with him.

Orioles Nation, October 2010:

Martin, 21, has undoubtedly good stuff, striking out 68 batters in 59.2 innings while holding them to a .204 batting average. He attacks hitters with a low 90′s fastball with some sink and run, which is backed up by two above-average secondaries in a curveball and changeup.

When you look at his stats, the only thing that jumps out in a bad way are the walks. Martin needs to find a more consistent release point in order to throw more strikes. His stuff is so dominating that he was able to find success despite the control problems (6.9 BB/9).

I don’t expect Martin to ever amount to anything, but it hardly matters. A fringy prospect and a player to be named for Dana F’ing Eveland, who was likely to be non-tendered next week anyway? Hell yes, I’ll take that.

Update, 7:51am PT:

Jon Morosi reporting Baltimore has acquired Dana Eveland from the Dodgers. No word yet on what’s coming in return – not much, surely – but the simple entertainment in the fact that the O’s would give up absolutely anything for Eveland is value enough.

Original post:

It’s been a fun week, yet as the Winter Meetings come to an end today, I have to say I’m relieved. Sure, all the rumors make this an incredibly interesting time of year, and I certainly can’t complain about the extra site traffic, yet the entire thing can be exhausting. Still, there’s a few items on the table for today to get us started, and I’ll update as needed.

* In a little less than an hour (10am ET / 7am PT) the Rule 5 draft will begin. The Dodgers aren’t expected to make any selections, though it’ll be interesting to see if they lose anyone, like Cole St. Clair, Kyle Russell, or Gorman Erickson.

* Once again, we don’t have to worry about Logan White leaving for another team; the Astros have hired former Cardinals exec Jeff Luhnow as their new general manager.

* Despite all the fun we had trying to figure out who the bat was that Ned Colletti may have been interested in, Dylan Hernandez reports that the deal is dead. I can’t confirm this, but Tony Jackson was reportedly on ESPN Radio guessing that the target may have been Jed Lowrie or Emilio Bonifacio. I’ve long liked Lowrie, though I’m not sure how yet another infielder would have fit. Doesn’t matter now, I guess.

* Confirming our worst fears, Jackson also reports that the Dodgers are still extremely interested in Mike MacDougal. You all know my feelings on this by now – though if anyone else brings up his shiny 2.05 ERA as an indicator of any skill again I’m going to scream – and I don’t mind him returning… on a minor-league deal. It’s the two-year deal he’ll probably receive that’ll push me over the edge.

* Wow:

Dodgers first baseman James Loney was arrested last month in Los Angeles after crashing his Maserati into three cars and spitting at an officer, but was not charged with a crime, according to a police report obtained by TMZ.com.

A spokesman said the club was aware of the incident and was looking into it. A representative for Loney could not be reached.

Loney, 27, was arrested Nov. 14 after hitting a Toyota, Mercedes and Mini around 6 p.m. PT. When officers arrived on the scene of the accident, according to the report, Loney was handcuffed and taken to a hospital for breathalyzer and blood tests, which were negative for drugs and alcohol.

However, during the tests and according to the report, Loney was uncooperative and became “aggressive,” spitting the mouthpiece at an officer. He was placed in arm and leg restraints and given an injection by hospital staff to calm him. The Los Angeles city attorney will decide if Loney will be charged in the incident.

That certainly doesn’t sound good, though I’m sure there’s a whole lot more to the story. I doubt it’ll change the near-certainty that he gets tendered on Monday.

* Finally, with all of the player movement this week, we’ve really been neglecting the most important story of all, the continued legal battle between Frank McCourt and FOX. Thanks to the tireless reporting of Bill Shaikin, we’ve learned that McCourt must have an agreement to sell the team by April 30 (good news), that he could still retain rights to the parking lots around the stadium (bad news) and that the hearings which continue today in a Delaware courtroom about re-opening TV rights appear to be headed heavily against FOX and for McCourt (worse news). Much more on this as the dust settles.

We Always Knew James Loney Would Be Back in 2012

This is a few days old, but I wasn’t able to get to it until now due to the holiday weekend. GM Ned Colletti spoke to MLB Network Radio’s Mel Antonen on Friday, and Antonen dropped this juicy tidbit via Twitter:

#Dodgers GM Ned Colletti says on MLB Network Radio that James Loney will be at 1B for LA next season. Says 20-25 HRs possible.

Short of actually saying a contract has been offered and signed, this is the clearest confirmation we’ve heard yet that Loney will in fact be tendered a contract for 2012, his final year of team control. That should come as absolutely no surprise to anybody, of course; we’ve known for weeks that the 2012 budget is largely tapped out – Hiroki Kuroda‘s return may depend more on finances than whether he wants to come back or not – and there’s absolutely not room to bring in a Prince Fielder to play first base. (Here’s where we grumble that the combined 2012 outlay to mediocre vets Juan Rivera, Mark Ellis, and Juan Uribe would come close to covering the first year of Fielder, but that’s neither here nor there at this point.)

Technically, it’s not a strict choice of “Fielder or Loney”, because you could argue for bringing in a Carlos Pena or Michael Cuddyer type free agent, or trying to cobble something together between Rivera, Jerry Sands, and/or Scott Van Slyke, but let’s not pretend the Dodgers were ever going to do that – nor, I could argue, should they have. Pena and Cuddyer each come with their own flaws and are each likely to get multiple years at relatively large salaries (guessing 2/$16m for Pena and 3/$33m for Cuddyer); south of that you’re left with unappealing options like Derrek Lee and Lyle Overbay. The internal options haven’t proven they can hit enough to handle an outfield spot, much less the traditionally powerful first base spot.

Of course, Loney hasn’t proven that either, his last two months aside, and that’s why pal Marc Normandin is a bit incredulous about this over at SBN’s Baseball Nation:

Whether Colletti is on target or not with his positive outlook is another matter. We are talking about fewer than 200 plate appearances, after all, and a whole lot can happen in a stretch like that. Plenty of players succeed like mad for short stretches of a month or two, only to never be that productive again. Then again, there are others. Take this .257/.339/.606 September 2009 from a certain Toronto Blue Jay, for one. (Hint: It’s Jose Bautista.) Cases like Bautista, who was a career .386 slugger prior to that month, are a rarity, but with the right changes made to a hitter’s approach, wholesale changes are possible. They are just unlikely, is all.

Loney isn’t about to be confused for Joey Bats anytime soon, but if there is some major change in his swing mechanics that helped him succeed where he previously failed, (and hey, there might be!) then maybe Colletti is on to something. Of course, that “if” is as huge as the difference between Loney and a productive first baseman has been in the past.

I can’t disagree with any of that, and if Loney is as bad as he was to start 2011 – remember, at the time we weren’t looking at him as a guaranteed non-tender as much as we were “is this guy even going to make it through the season?” – or even if he’s generally as mediocre as he’s been over the last three seasons, this is going to be $6m or so that does not help the Dodgers win. But if he’s anything like he was to finish out 2011, then getting production like that on a one-year deal at ~$6m is a steal, a far better value than anything you could pick up on the free agent market.

That “if” is about ten times bigger than Uribe, of course, because I don’t believe that after all this time and all this sustained mediocrity things would have just “clicked”. In Bautista’s case, his success can easily be attributed to a change in his swing mechanics, and while Normandin links to a Chad Moriyama post that says Loney made some changes as well, this is far from the first time we’ve heard that Loney has been tinkering with his swing.

Oh, and ignore Colletti’s comments about “20-25 homers”. They’re completely irrelevant, because of course he’s going to say positive things about the guy he’s about to take a big risk on. If Loney can retain at least some of the progress he showed in August and September of last year and provide a reliable glove at first to track down some of Dee Gordon‘s missles, he might just earn that $6m. If not? Well, other than swapping out Jamey Carroll & friends for the uncertainty of Mark Ellis, we’ve largely seen what this infield can do. Without improvement from Loney, it won’t be pretty.

MSTI’s 2011 in Review: First Base

Man, I barely know where to start with this one…

James Loney (Grade: ¿ or ¡ maybe? Or æ. Ooh, let’s go with þ.)
.288/.339/.416 .755 12hr 1.1 WAR

When I first started putting these 1991 Topps cards together, it was early August, and Loney’s was one of the first ones I did. The original photo was of him with his head down, walking slowly back to the dugout after yet another failed at-bat. He looked sad, which is exactly how he made us feel.

You’ll notice that this image of sadness is no longer included in his card. Now, the picture is of him focusing on another hapless pitcher, helplessly attempting to figure out what he can do to fool the Unstoppable Force That Is James Loney. If you think that sounds weird now, just imagine what the July version of you would have said.

Other than Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw, I’m pretty sure that there was no player discussed on this site in 2011 more than Loney, simply because he was so damn confounding. Since he’s the only first baseman we’re talking about today, we’re going to take a nice leisurely ride through the good, bad, and downright bizarre of Loney’s season. No, really, be warned: I wrote a lot about Loney this season.

Hell, the season hadn’t even started when I first really bagged on him back on March 24:

(*Regarding Loney, I’d like to note here that I’m in an NL-only draft with several of my Baseball Prospectus cohorts, in a league which requires full 40-man rosters. As you can imagine, the pickings in the lower rounds of this draft are beyond slim. We’re in the 35th round, so over 400 players are off the board. Loney remains available.)

At the time, that seemed in no way unreasonable, and things didn’t look any better on April 14, when I noted that he was “sucking in a fashion not generally seen outside of the darkest corners of the internet,” and by April 20 he was getting entire posts dedicated to how awful he was, not only here, but at Baseball Prospectus, where I pointed out that his home/road and lefty/right splits were so severe, his only hope of success might be as a platoon player outside of Dodger Stadium.

That was followed up by “James Loney’s Total Eclipse of the Bat” on May 7:

The list you’re seeing there is of all non-pitchers since the 1947 integration who have had as many plate appearances as Loney did entering tonight, sorted by fewest extra-base hits. Loney had two hits in five plate appearances tonight that aren’t reflected here, but they were each singles, so it doesn’t really change the results.

What’s really enlightening here is to look at the position column, all the way to the right. Almost all of these hitless wonders were middle infielders from decades ago, at a position and time where a lack of power was accepted, with a few catchers thrown in for good measure. Worse, this is a list comprised almost entirely of players who never really had careers to speak of. You haven’t heard of Dwain Anderson, Elio Chacon, or Larry Lintz, right? The only one here who is notable in any way is Al Lopez, a fine catcher who made the Hall of Fame via the Veterans Committee, but whose entry on this list was the final season of his 19-year career, at age 38.

It gets worse. I didn’t include the full list above, but it actually goes out to 55 names, as there are dozens of others tied with Loney at two extra-base hits. You might think that by stretching it out that far, you’d end up with at least a few other first basemen. You’d be wrong. It’s almost entirely comprised of catchers, second basemen and shortstops, with the odd center fielder (like 39-year-old Brett Butler’s 1993, or 22-year-old Juan Pierre‘s 2000). In fact, the only other player on the list who even played a single inning at first base was Mike Fiore in 1970, split between the Red Sox and Royals. Fiore played his final MLB game at 27 two years later, which is exactly the age Loney turned today.

Let’s not stop there, though. We all know that this isn’t just six weeks of underwhelming production, but that he’s coming off a tough second half of 2010, too. From the start of last year’s second half on July 15 through the start of play today, Loney had 405 plate appearances and a line of .213/.274/.305, an OPS of .579. Using the same timeframe of 1947-present, here’s the list of seasons of at least 405 plate appearances by players who saw at least half of their time at first base, sorted by lowest OPS.

James Loney, at that point, was historically awful, and as the season slipped away, most of us wondered how long it was worthwhile to stick with him, particularly as he went nearly six weeks without an extra-base hit. Here’s the thing, though: I feel like a lot of people are under the misconception that Loney was garbage for over four months and then suddenly turned it on in August. That’s not exactly true; while he didn’t become James Loney, Superhero, until late summer, there were already signs in May that he was starting to pick it up:

As I joked on Twitter, James Loney is slowly moving into “not our biggest problem” territory, after reaching base three times today. That doesn’t mean that he’s suddenly become all that good or that I’ve changed my overall opinion on him, but he has doubled in three straight games and hit in 8 of 9 & 15 of 18, raising his line from an unbelievably bad .167/.191/.211 on April 23 to a more realistically poor line of .240/.283/.292 after today. With the rest of the injury and production issues mounting, and Loney still contributing his usual solid defense, he’s no longer the biggest concern.

And again, on May 30:

James Loney hadn’t thrilled the home crowd with a homer since August 31, 2010, when he took Philadelphia’s Kyle Kendrick deep. He’s now done it twice in four days, tonight leading the Dodgers with three hits as they battered Colorado’s Jason Hammel and the reeling Rockies on their way to a 7-1 win. Loney’s certainly playing like a man who wants to keep his job, and a .295/.354/.420 in May is certainly a good start. It’ll take more than that to overcome everything else, but it’s a step in the right direction, and for all the heat he’s taken here and elsewhere over the last year, it’s fantastic to see any bit of a spark from him.

…and again, on June 23:

Since that four-hit game on April 26, Loney has turned his season around, hitting  .331/.388/.432 in 188 plate appearances, good for an .820 OPS with a nice 14/16 K/BB ratio. That OPS still isn’t great – it’d put him at 13th among qualified 1B if he’d had it for the full season - but it’s immensely better than his “among the worst in history” start to the season.

To even be able to say that Loney has value with a straight face, after months of wondering when he’d be benched, is a testament to just how good he’s been lately.

All of which was reflected in his midseason grade in early July:

James Loney (C-) (.268/.311/.342 4hr -0.5 WAR)

I feel weird giving Loney a C-, because his line and a grade in that range suggest that he was his normal mediocre self all season. Far from it; by early May, he was the most hated man in LA since OJ and we were all writing articles about how bad his season was going to be on a historical level. Since then, he’s basically been the best non-Kemp hitter on the team. That doesn’t mean he’s good – hooray, a .751 OPS from a 1B since April 26! – and again, that says a lot about the rest of the players on this team, but nothing tells you more about the plight of the 2011 Dodgers than the fact that their punchless overpaid first baseman is no longer even close to being the biggest issue here.

So to say that Loney finally started showing some life in August isn’t exactly true, as he’d been on a slow incline all season. This would all make for a nice and tight narrative… if not for July. Holy good lord, July:

Split G PA H 2B HR BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
April/March 28 112 22 1 1 5 16 .210 .241 .248 .489
May 28 100 27 5 2 7 5 .293 .350 .413 .763
June 25 97 30 3 1 7 12 .337 .381 .404 .786
July 25 81 13 4 0 5 10 .176 .225 .230 .455
August 27 90 29 6 5 10 12 .367 .433 .633 1.066
Sept/Oct 25 102 32 11 3 8 12 .348 .400 .587 .987
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original TableGenerated 10/1/2011.

July was so bad that it was even worse than his April, and April was putrid. It was so bad that on August 3, all three Dodger beat writers wrote about how bad things were, as he’d been dropped into something of a platoon with Juan Rivera at first base. For my part, my patience had run out:

The total there is good enough for the 10th-worst OPS in MLB, and other than the inexplicable collapse of Adam Dunn, every single one of the guys performing worse than Loney are up the middle players, either 2B, SS, or CF. We could cite any number of stats pointing out his ineptitude – among players with as many PA as Loney has, he’s the 6th worst player by TAv – but in this case it’s not really necessary, because the eye test is clearly good enough.

Getting pinch-hit for in the late innings of a close game or not, it’s clear that Loney’s tenure as a Dodger is coming to an end. To his credit, his quotes in the above stories reflect a player who understands that he hasn’t been performing, and I’d also praise Mattingly for not slavishly continuing to play him every day when the production isn’t there. Loney’s an all-but-guaranteed non-tender following the season, though it should be noted there’s no obvious replacement for him in 2012, either.

And that was the end, it seemed, of James Loney, member of the Los Angeles Dodgers. But beginning with the ridiculous 24-hour span in which he threw a bullpen session in case he was needed to help support an overworked bullpen and then went 4-4 with a homer and a double the next day, Loney became a new man. That was August 21, and it all started happening from there.

August 27:

But back to Loney. I’ve been making jokes about his performance against the Rockies for some time now, chalking most of it up to the Coors Field effect. Clearly, that doesn’t hold water anymore; the last two have come at home. He’s now hit just two homers in the last 362 days that didn’t come against Colorado. The Dodgers finish off the series against the Rockies with Nathan Eovaldi against Jhoulys Chacin tomorrow, before welcoming San Diego into town. Has Loney really turned some kind of corner? Or will he turn back into a pumpkin as soon as Jim Tracy and crew leave town? More importantly, is this going to convince Ned Colletti to tender him a contract after the season? I still think it’s unlikely at the price he’d get in arbitration, but the last week or two has thrown some doubt into the conversation…

August 30:

As hot as Loney as been lately – and make no mistake, he’s been excellent – it’s also been eight games and 35 at-bats. In his previous 37 at-bats, leading back to the beginning of the month, he’d hit .243/.341/.351 with two extra-base hits. In all of July, he hit .176/.225/.230 with four extra-base hits, all doubles. So as much as I’m enjoying the new and improved James Loney, this level of production is going to need to last for at least another week or two (if not the rest of the season) before I’m able to chalk it up to anything more than a very welcome hot streak.

That’s what brings me back to perception. Streaks happen in baseball. Anyone can have one, in either direction. Just as Loney is absolutely not as good as he’s been over the last week, he’s also not really as bad as he showed in April when we were all calling for his head. It won’t take too much more for this hot streak to basically counteract his frigid start; as Jon Weisman rightly mentioned at Dodger Thoughts, since Loney’s low point on April 24, he’s essentially been standard-issue Loney, with an OPS similar to his career marks.

—-

The point is, absent further information or the unlikely probability that Loney hits like this through the end of the season, he’s probably going to be the same James Loney that he’s always been. He’ll end up with 10-12 homers and a line somewhere in the neighborhood of .280/.335/.395, just like every year.  He was never as bad as we poked fun at him for being early in the season when he struggled to get the average above .200, nor is he as good as he’s seemed in the last week. He’s still going to be a likely non-tender following the season, simply because the Dodgers can’t afford to pay ~$6m to a non-star first baseman (though it’s possible they still attempt to bring him back after that for a lesser price.)

The thing is… he kept it up. If his September wasn’t quite as good as his August, it was still excellent with a .987 OPS. The longer his tear went on, the clearer it became that he was going to be sticking around.

September 18:

Back to Loney, with only nine games left, I’ve begun to change my tune. No, I don’t necessarily think he’s “for real”, and there’s still a very good argument to be made that he should be non-tendered, but I think we’ve reached the point where the conversation is mostly going to be for the sake of argument: whether any of us like it or not, he’s going to get tendered a contract for 2012.

That holds true today – I strongly believe Loney gets tendered. And maybe, just maybe, that’s not as bad of an idea as we think it is. If you’re not getting Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder – which, spoiler alert, you’re not – the remaining first base alternatives aren’t all that enticing, particularly if Jerry Sands is filling an outfield spot. If, somehow, he’s figured it out, then one year at ~$6m isn’t that terrible. If he hasn’t? Well, with Dee Gordon and his erratic arm at shortstop, you’re going to need a first baseman who can pick it. Still not necessarily saying I’d do it, but I can understand the reasons why the Dodgers might. Without question, the Loney choice is going to be the highest risk / highest reward issue of the winter.

******

Next! Aaron Miles grits his way to glory! Ivan DeJesus disappoints! Juan Castro can’t be killed! And oh holy good lord, Eugenio Velez! It’s second base!

Dodgers Crush Pirates, Pirates Relegated to AAA

Here’s how ridiculous today’s 15-1 destruction of the hapless Pirates was: James Loney went 5-5 with a double, driving in three… and by the WPA (Win Percentage Added) chart, that career-best hit total was merely the fourth-most valuable Dodger performance of the afternoon. Jerry Sands, who had all but claimed a role on next year’s team with his recent hot streak, cemented his claim with four hits (including a three-run homer) while Matt Kemp, continuing his rampage towards the MVP, finished a triple short of the cycle; Dee Gordon (two singles and a triple) and Juan Rivera (two singles and a double) joined Kemp in having three hits on the day.

It should be noted that the Pirates are absolutely atrocious, since Brad Lincoln‘s four-out effort was the third consecutive time that a Pittsburgh starter failed to make it even three full innings, and they’re 14-33 since the beginning of August. Aside from the litany of helpless pitchers they trotted out – eight, tying the franchise record – Rivera’s double really ought to have been an out, since center fielder Alex Presley and right fielder Xavier Paul (who had two hits on the day, good to see from an old friend) stared at each other as it fell right between them in right center.

Still, Pirate-aided acceleration aside, this was a game worthy of Fan Appreciation Day, and the offensive outburst shouldn’t obscure what was a decent outing by Chad Billingsley. We’ll not go past “decent” because it still took him 98 pitches to get through five innings, but he still struck out five while allowing just four hits and one run, and considering how poor his last few starts have been, that counts as progress. With Billingsley most likely receiving just one more start this season, there’s only so much he can do to turn the tide going into the offseason, and this was a small but positive step.

Back to Loney, with only nine games left, I’ve begun to change my tune. No, I don’t necessarily think he’s “for real”, and there’s still a very good argument to be made that he should be non-tendered, but I think we’ve reached the point where the conversation is mostly going to be for the sake of argument: whether any of us like it or not, he’s going to get tendered a contract for 2012.

With the win, the Dodgers are now back at .500 (76-76) again.  For a team that was once 14 games under in July, it’s a notable achievement.