Let’s Enjoy The Two Years We Had With Jamey Carroll

After a day full of hilarious “Jamey Carroll is close to signing with someone but no one knows who, so it could be the Blue Jays, Braves, Blackhawks, Knicks, or Real Madrid” rumors, we’ve finally learned the truth: he’s headed to the Twins on a two-year deal worth $7m, likely to be their everyday shortstop. After the far inferior Willie Bloomquist picked up $3.85m from Arizona (and turned down a reported $4.6m from the Giants), there was no question that Carroll was going to get in the $7-8m range, so good on him for picking up a nice payday.

Let’s also take this time to be very, very happy that the Dodgers had Carroll for the last two years, and not the next two. For $3.85m – and I’ll admit I wasn’t too certain about guaranteeing that second year at the time – Carroll provided the Dodgers with 924 plate appearances of a .368 OBP, good for a 99 OPS+. Considering his positional flexibility and life-saving (and unexpected) ability to step in at shortstop when Rafael Furcal kept breaking down, he earned his salary and then some in value gained by the Dodgers. For all the negativity we send towards Ned Colletti, this ended up being a superb signing on his part, so let’s not hold back the rare credit he deserves.

As for the Twins? Well, look, I get that this is where the market is going, but while Carroll as a utility guy and backup shortstop option as needed is fantastic, Carroll as your top choice for shortstop – while doubling his salary entering his age-38 season – is somewhat terrifying. In the last fifty years, exactly five shortstops have played enough to qualify for a batting title at 38 or older. Two of those – Luis Aparicio & Ozzie Smith – are Hall of Famers, and the other three – Barry Larkin, Maury Wills, and Omar Vizquel – have varying cases for consideration. Somehow, I’m not betting on Carroll to break that trend, though best of luck to him in trying. For once, I’m glad that it seems the Dodgers got in and got out at the right time.

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Speaking of the crazy offseason that we’ve been discussing here for a few days, the Phillies had agreed to a 4/$44m contract with Ryan Madson, which most people found laughable. The deal fell through for reasons we still don’t understand. So what do the Phillies do? They turn around and sign Jonathan Papelbon for 4/$50m, plus an easily attained vesting option that could push the total value over $60m – plus it’ll likely cost them a draft pick that Madson wouldn’t have. It’s not like Ruben Amaro hasn’t made crazy signings before, but maybe we shouldn’t be too upset that Colletti might not have the financial power right now that we might have otherwise liked.

The MSTI 15-Step Plan for 2012

It’s time for another edition of the yearly plan, in which I put on my GM hat and try to piece together a competitive 2012 club using realistic payroll and player restrictions. Before we start, I have to be honest: this was so much harder to do than it’s ever been. In previous years, I’ve looked forward to putting on the GM hat and thinking up interesting and realistic ideas to improve the next year’s team, but doing it this time was a struggle. Though the uncertain budget thanks to the McCourt mess is part of it, an even bigger problem is that there’s just not much out there. The free agent list is sparse, and while there’s values to be had in the trade market, the Dodgers have little of interest that they can move without opening up a new hole.

I thought about all kinds of possibilities. Perhaps the #5 starter hole could be filled by buying low (extremely low) on previously-successful veterans who have fallen out of favor and would be heavily subsidized, like Derek Lowe or John Lackey (before it was announced he’d miss 2012). Maybe there was some way to get the Red Sox to give up Jed Lowrie or Will Middlebrooks to help stabilize second or third base. Perhaps a package including Chad Billingsley could be sent to Kansas City for Alex Gordon, though the Royals are unlikely to be interested in such a deal and that would just open up another rotation hole anyway. Maybe 2005 Jeff Kent could rise from the dead and return to the Dodgers, because the second base market is a total mess. Is it worth believing that Aaron Hill or Kelly Johnson can come back from down years to reclaim past glory at the keystone? Or maybe you could go cheap elsewhere and pray that Aramis Ramirez, nearing his mid-30s, is worth the ~$40m he’s likely to get to play third base?

In the end, little of it made sense, at least in any way that would be realistic for the other team, because I like to think this blog isn’t the home of “I’ll trade you Mike MacDougal for Ian Kinsler!” type solutions. The Dodgers are boxed in by criminal ownership, too much dead money owed to long-departed players, ballooning payments to poor investments like Juan Uribe & Matt Guerrier, and outside alternatives that are less than ideal. Perhaps Ned Colletti wasn’t that far off when he suggested that he was generally okay with the current roster, because he had done this work already and knew that there was unlikely to be much movement.

Then again, perhaps he’s just not being creative.

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The first question, of course, is how much do the Dodgers have to spend on payroll in 2012? It’s a question that’s almost impossible to answer right now, a problem Colletti has as much admitted to. In 2011, they spent about $98m on players, plus about $17m in “dead” money, for a total of ~$115m. Without revealing how much, this Tony Jackson interview with Ned Colletti claims that “all indications are it will be higher than the roughly $98 million it was this year.” Let’s guess that means an extra $5m, so that’ll put us to a $120m cap including the dead money. I’ve seen the arguments that the longer the ownership dispute drags on, the more likely it is that the payroll decreases by tens of millions of dollars, but I’m not buying it; it’s in no one’s best interest for the value of the Dodgers to go down any further than it already has, and MLB has been consistent about claiming it will be “business as usual” for the Dodgers this winter – whatever that means.

Of course, that doesn’t really mean there’s $120m available to spend. The Dodgers still have about $21m in deferred money committed to the dearly departed, including Manny Ramirez ($8m), Juan Pierre ($3m), Andruw Jones ($3.375m), Rafael Furcal ($3m), and Hiroki Kuroda ($2m), and also including the already-exercised buyouts of Casey Blake ($1.25m) and Jon Garland ($1.5m). So that $120m figure is already down to $99m.
Dead money: $120m – $21m = $99m

Then there’s the money already committed to members of the 2012 club, and here’s where the back-loaded contracts of Juan Uribe ($8m) & Matt Guerrier ($4.75m) really come back to bite us in the ass, making them look even more brutal than the day they were signed. While Ted Lilly at least finished 2011 strong, his salary increases from $7.5m to $12m in 2012, a whole more than I really want to pay him. That, plus the $9m owed to Chad Billingsley, eats up $33.7m of the $99m, leaving us with $65.3m to play with.
Committed money: $99m – $33.7m = $65.3m

But we’re not done yet, because several key members of the core are without contracts yet under team control in 2012. It’s sometimes difficult to guess what will come out of arbitration hearings, so for now we’ll go with Eric Stephen of TrueBlueLA‘s guesses that Clayton Kershaw will get $8m, Andre Ethier will get $12m, and Matt Kemp will get $13m. (The TBLA payroll sheet is an invaluable resource not just for this piece, but all year long.) I hate the idea of giving Ethier that much, but now, when his value is at a low, is no time to trade him. We’ll see about changing those numbers later, and there are definitely other arbitration decisions to be made, but the $33m we just said goodbye to means that with just seven spots on the roster set, we’ve already got $87.7m spoken for, leaving $32.3m to fill out 18 other spots. See how quickly $100m can go?
Arbitration money: $65.3m – $33m = $32.3m

Finally, let’s dedicate about $3m in minimum salary contracts to team-controlled 0-3 players who are almost certain to be on the roster next year – A.J. Ellis, Dee Gordon, Jerry Sands, Javy Guerra, Kenley Jansen, Josh Lindblom, Blake Hawksworth and Scott Elbert. Now we have fifteen spots at a cost of $90.9m, leaving us with $29.3m.
Controlled money: $32.3m – $3m = $29.3m

$29.3m, ten holes. What do you do? Here’s one man’s blueprint…

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1) Sign OF Matt Kemp to a long-term deal.

This should be obvious and in no way arguable. It’s the absolute #1 priority of the winter, no matter what else happens. You can argue how much and over how many years – that’s a conversation for another time - but don’t forget that he’s still under team control for 2012, so the Dodgers retain some leverage. We’ll assume that whatever deal he gets is somewhat backloaded and settle on $12m for next year, more than he made in 2011 but less than he’d probably get in arbitration, which should be fine considering he’ll have the security of a long-term deal.
$29.3m +$1m = $30.3m (since I already accounted for him as $13m above)

2) Sign 1B Prince Fielder to a six-year, $140m deal.

I went back and forth on this one – a lot. I even wrote about the likelihood of Fielder or Albert Pujols arriving a few weeks ago and concluded that it was neither likely or advisable, simply because I don’t like the idea of tying up so much money into one player, especially when that’s going to need to happen for Kemp and Kershaw as well. Even just theoretically talking about it makes me a bit uncomfortable, because it’s so risky. If you want to make the argument that this money is best spent elsewhere, I’m more than open to it.

In the end, I settled on going for it in this exercise because the other options were simply so unattractive. Believe me, I had a whole lot of iterations of this article where I was trying to believe in James Loney and then working on other ways to upgrade. Since it’s hard to see any way to improve at 2B or 3B, your hopes for the infield were to either have to count on Loney to repeat the last six weeks of his season after four years of mediocrity, or overpay for a veteran like Derrek Lee or Lyle Overbay who is unlikely to be much better. There’s a big argument to be made that one year of Loney at $6m is a steal if he hits like he did to finish the season; there’s an even bigger argument to be made that if he doesn’t, you’re once again saddled with an infield that has almost no power whatsoever. If you’re going to try to contend in 2012, and I would argue that having Kemp & Kershaw means you are, then you need to make a move – in addition to the desperately needed positive PR that such a signing would bring.

Besides, it’s the perfect time to go after a Fielder because the traditional big spenders likely won’t be around to drive up the price. The Yankees and Red Sox are each heavily invested at first base and have bigger needs, especially in pitching. The Phillies are about to start a (hilarious) $125m extension with Ryan Howard; even though he’s hurt, their replacement there would be short-term, and the Cardinals will likely just retain Pujols. The Angels probably won’t jump in considering they already have both Mark Trumbo and Kendrys Morales on hand; the Rangers could be a fit but probably need to focus on pitching. You could definitely see the Cubs being interested, though it’s hard to know what their winter of transition will bring; the Braves definitely need a bat but seem happy with Freddie Freeman at first base. The best possibilities are probably Washington and Baltimore, but the Nats already have Michael Morse and Adam LaRoche under contract for first base and have been burned by the first year of Jayson Werth‘s massive deal; the O’s don’t even have a GM yet and probably have bigger concerns than first base. That’s not to say that Prince won’t get paid, because he will, just that it’s not likely to be the $200m+ figure I’ve seen thrown around.

In addition, Fielder’s relative youth (he’ll still be just 27 on Opening Day of 2012) means that the back-end of a six-year deal would be his age 32-33 seasons, not 35-36. That’s still young enough that you’ll be purchasing most of his prime, not most of his decline, and that’s a big deal considering the concerns about his body type. While I’m admittedly loathe to give up first round picks for free agents, Fielder at least has the potential to be the kind of franchise changer that could make it worth it (and yes, I’m looking at you, Orlando Hudson). Whether the 6/$140m is close or not – I really just made it up without an overwhelming amount of research, so it could be something like 7/$160m instead - it’ll clearly be backloaded, so we’ll start with $13.5m in 2012 as we wait a year or two for other obligations and the ownership crisis to clear. While there’s certainly a very good argument to be made that adding another huge long-term contract to a team that will need to pay Kemp and Kershaw is dangerous, there’s a lot of money coming off the books after 2013, when Lilly, Uribe, and Guerrier (combining to make about ~$25m that year) all figure to be gone, in addition to being free of further payments to Manny. That’s on top of the money you get back assuming that Ethier is no longer with the team after 2012.
$30.3m - $13.5m = $16.8m

3) Trade RP Javy Guerra, SP Chris Withrow, and 2B Ivan DeJesus to Florida for LF/1B Logan Morrison.

This is another one I went back and forth on a lot, initially considering Morrison for first base rather than left field. Then, after getting Fielder, I figured, what the hell – why not try for both? Morrison’s spat with Marlins management is well-known, leading to a brief demotion this summer, and with reports that ownership is ready to take more control over player decisions, it’s not hard to see them wanting to be rid of the outspoken Twitter hero as soon as they can. That makes him an appealing buy-low target, since as he enters his age-24 season, he’s coming off a 2010 in which he had a .390 OBP and a 2011 in which he hit 23 homers. (The obvious comeback there is, “well, he hasn’t done both at the same time, since he hit just 2 homers in 2010 and had a .330 OBP in 2011.” Both true, however his age and his minor league track record suggest otherwise, especially considering that much of his power loss in 2010 can be put on a broken wrist, an injury notorious for sapping power for at least a year, and his 2011 BABIP was quite low before ending the year with a fantastic September.)

Of course, “buy low” does not mean “trade garbage or expensive contracts to Florida”, because he’s low-priced and productive, and so that’s why I’m taking the possibly unpopular route of trading last season’s surprise rookie closer, Guerra. It’s not that I don’t like Guerra, because he was an out of nowhere success story, but if you’re making a trade, you need to deal from depth – and nowhere do the Dodgers have more depth than in young, righty relievers. Besides, Guerra’s high on my list for regression in 2012; his .261 BABIP was on the low side this year, his 4.07 xFIP was a lot less impressive than his 2.31 ERA, and his minor league history doesn’t shout superstar. That’s not to say that he can’t succeed or that I’m desperate to be rid of him, because that’s not true – just that saves are almost always overrated in the marketplace and it might be the best use of Guerra’s value to trade him at the peak of his perceived attractiveness, especially when the Dodgers have Kenley Jansen able to step in and several other young relievers ready to come up.

On the Florida side, they have a big hole in the bullpen thanks to the identity fraud scandal of Leo Nunez (or Juan Carlos Oviedo, Armen Tanzarian, Theodore Donald Karabotsos, or whatever he’s calling himself these days), and the Fish have never been big players in the market, so five more cost-controlled years of Guerra should be appealing. They also get a lottery ticket in Withrow, showing signs of life with 9.1 K/9 in AA last year, though still struggling with his control, and DeJesus, who seems to have little future in Los Angeles but shouldn’t be written off completely since he’s still only 24 and shows good on-base skills in the minors. (As always, the prospects could be replaced by anyone of similar value – it doesn’t have to be exactly these guys – but you get the idea. If they prefer Brian Cavazos-Galvez or Ethan Martin or Kyle Russell or someone instead, fine.)
$16.8m – $0m = $16.8m (Morrison would take Guerra’s 0-3 slot for a similar salary)

4) Don’t try to trade Andre Ethier – at least not now.

Believe me, there’s plenty of good reasons to move Ethier. He’s a bit overrated. He’s cranky. He’s coming off surgery. He can’t hit lefties. He’s not a great defender. When he’s a free agent after 2012, he’s a lower priority than Kemp and Kershaw, and not someone I want to sign to an expensive long-term deal as he enters his decline phase. I totally agree with all of this. However, now’s not the right time to do it. For all of those reasons plus the ~$12m cost for one year before losing him to free agency, I really don’t think the return is out there that we’d want. Even if teams would take the one year of Ethier for that price with all of the issues, it’s unlikely that anyone would give a top prospect in return.

Besides, I expect big things from Ethier in 2012. He’ll be healthy for the first time in a while, and headed into a contract year he should be especially motivated – and Ethier is exactly the type of “chip on my shoulder” player who really responds to that sort of thing. If he’s playing well and the Dodgers are out of it in July, you might be able to get a good prospect in return then (like the Mets getting Zack Wheeler for Carlos Beltran). If the Dodgers are still in it, you ride it out, try to win, and then collect two draft picks when he leaves.
$16.8m – $0m = $16.8m

5) Sign 3B/UT Wilson Betemit to a one-year, $1.5m deal.

Unfortunately, Uribe is going to be the starting third baseman in 2012. There’s just no way around it. Even if we didn’t have Fielder eating up a huge part of the hypothetical payroll, third base is just a black hole on the market, unless you want to overpay Ramirez or risk a ton of prospects on David Wright. Since Uribe’s going to get paid, he’s going to be the man, but you also can’t risk not having an alternative in case he repeats his 2011.

That’s a tough spot to fill. No one who thinks he’s a full-time starter is going to come to LA for a small contract and the possibility of riding the bench, but most of the available bench types are like Aaron Miles, stopgaps who provide little value. That brings us to Betemit, who I advocated acquiring in the 2011 plan. All he ended up doing was hit .285/.343/.452 for Kansas City and Detroit, albeit with subpar defense. But that’s kind of a perfect fit, isn’t it? Uribe may or may not be able to hit, but even in his lost 2011 he was a solid defender, and Betemit provides the yin to that yang. Besides, the switch-hitting Betemit has a massive platoon split (vs RHP, .865 OPS in 2011, .817 career; vs LHP, .607 OPS in 2011, .684 career) which makes him an intriguing bench piece and/or part-time replacement for Uribe. In emergencies, he can play first and second as well, nice flexibility even if it’s hopefully not needed. Betemit made $1m last year, so let’s give him a slight raise. (An alternative here is Eric Chavez, who I liked last season, if he chooses to play in 2012.)
$16.8m – $1.5m = $15.3m

6) Bring back C Rod Barajas on a one-year, $1.5m deal.

Let’s start with this: you absolutely cannot enter the season with A.J. Ellis & Tim Federowicz as your backstop duo, no matter what Ned Colletti says. Federowicz isn’t ready now (if he will be at all) and needs to play regularly at AAA. Even if you’re a bigger fan of him than I am, you still can’t get by with only two catchers who have combined for less than a full season of MLB play.

Now, I thought about Ramon Hernandez here, though I eventually decided against him because he’s a Type A free agent and may get a two-year deal. I thought about Ryan Doumit to add some switch-hitting pop, but was turned off by his atrocious defense and possible salary demands since he made over $6m last year. In the end, there’s no available difference maker who is really likely to matter, so even though I don’t really want to, we’ll take advantage of Barajas’ stated preference to remain a Dodger and let him do so at a discounted rate. It’s not sexy, and he’s not all that good, but he’s at least got power and the state of catching is so poor that a Barajas/Ellis duo could actually be slightly above average. On this team, Ellis starts 4-5 days a week, not Barajas.
$15.3m – $1.5m = $13.8m

7) Bring back 2B Jamey Carroll for two years and $4m.

This actually scares the hell out of me, and I don’t really like doing it, much as I like Carroll. He’s got absolutely zero power and he’ll be 38 in February; to be honest, I hate everything about this. That said, the second base market is absolutely god awful. My version of the Dodgers can neither afford nor count on Hill or Johnson, and Carroll at least offers on-base skills and decent enough defense. Along with Sellers, he’s also a fallback position in case Gordon flails or is injured; I don’t want to give Carroll two years, yet that’s probably what the market will demand. Ideally, he could get through one more year as a solid OBP guy, and then a better 2B option emerges for 2013, allowing Carroll to spend the second year as the utility guy he really ought to be.
$13.8m – $2m = $11.8m

8) Hedge your bets with Jerry Sands.

You’ve probably noticed that I’ve acquired a first baseman and a left fielder, which doesn’t leave a spot for Sands, who finished 2011 so well. In reality, when the Dodgers don’t get a player at either position, I’m more than fine with Sands getting first crack at left field. That said, he’s not enough of a slam-dunk prospect that you simply hand him the job with no backup plan better than a Tony Gwynn, so in this scenario he’ll be able to get playing time in both outfield corners, since Morrison and Ethier are both lefties (even moreso if Morrison is needed to fill in at first base from time to time), and as the main bat off the bench. If he continues to prove himself worthy, you let him step in for Ethier in right field when Andre is traded in July or moves on after 2012. Or, if that makes you uncomfortable, you let him play every day in AAA until injuries pile up.
$11.8m – $0m = $11.8m

9) Round out the bench with minimum-salary deals for IF Justin Sellers and OF Jamie Hoffmann.

Here’s where the big deal for Fielder bites you a little bit, because you no longer have the flexibility to carry much more than minimum salary types on the bottom of the roster. I would really have liked to have gone out and found some intriguing buy-low types like David DeJesus here; unfortunately, it’s just not feasible now. I’ve been pessimistic of Sellers’ ability to hit at the big league level, but he has a solid glove at both middle infield positions, and entering his age-26 season, he’s not enough of a prospect to worry about needing to play every day. Hoffmann is someone I’d like to do better than, yet he’ll be useful because this roster would desperately need a plus defender, and I’d prefer Hoffmann over Gwynn because he hits righty, which is preferable when you’ve got two starting lefty corner outfielders.
$11.8m – $0.8m = $11m

10) Bring back SP Hiroki Kuroda for one year and $9m ($2m deferred).

This is a bit risky, because Kuroda will be 37 years old in February and was slowed by neck pain for the last few weeks of the season. But he’s also coming off the best year of his career, and the Dodgers have a special gift here in that he’s almost certain to favor them over any other team (assuming he chooses to come back, of course). There’s also no one on the market likely to give the type of production we’ve seen from Kuroda for just a one-year deal, either, so if he’s willing to return, we should be happy to have him for one more season.
$11m – $7m = $4m

11) Sign SP Erik Bedard to a one-year, $2m deal, with the opportunity to add a good deal of incentives.

Bedard is almost never healthy for a full season (missed 2010, hasn’t thrown more than 129 innings since 2007), yet is almost always effective when he is. We saw that again this year, where he missed 45 days with two separate injuries (both to his knee, rather than his arm) but put up a 3.62 ERA that was matched by the advanced stats and a 125/48 K/BB for Seattle and Boston, making $1m while doing so.

As he reaches his age-33 season, and with his history, it’s unlikely that anyone is offering him big guaranteed money this winter, so he could be available for a low base price plus incentives. (It’s also possible that I’m completely low-balling this.)

If we accept the fact that he absolutely will miss some time and don’t get disappointent when it happens, I’d rather spend $2m guaranteed to get ~15 good starts from him and ~10 starts from fill-ins rather than ~30 mediocre starts from the 6th-8th starters.
$4m – $2m = $2m

12) Sign SP Rich Harden to a one-year, $1m deal.

I can hear the hesitation now. “Harden is constantly hurt, to the point where a proposed deal that would have sent him to Boston this summer fell apart over concerns about his medicals. He threw just 174.2 innings over the last two seasons combined, and his ERAs the last two years have been 5.58 and 5.12. Why in the hell would you want him?”

Well, I always like a lottery ticket, and as Harden enters his age-30 season, he seems like a perfect candidate to fill the relief ace/spot starter role that Vicente Padilla was supposed to have in 2011. Despite Harden’s ugly ERA last year, his xFIP was merely 3.68, with a 91/31 K/BB in 82.2 innings. His home run rate is admittedly troubling, but hey, we’re talking about a guy on a $1m deal here. If Bedard & Harden can combine for 25-30 decent starts for $3m plus incentives at the back of your rotation, that’s value even if they combine for 100 days on the disabled list. And if they both blow up? Well, at least you took the chance on talent over assured mediocrity, and it’s only $3m.
$2m – $1m = $1m

13) Buy a coach-class ticket to non-tender city for Loney and Hong-Chih Kuo.

Loney made this a pretty tough call with his hot end to 2011, and let me say that in the real world, the one in which the Dodgers aren’t really going to get Prince Fielder, I think he’s going to be tendered a contract to give him one more chance to prove his worth. Though I’d be positive that he’d succeed if he landed somewhere else, there’s no room for a $6m pinch-hitter on this club. (Obviously, trading him would be preferable to non-tendering, though I’m not sure any other club is taking that $6m gamble either.)

Kuo is the longest-tenured Dodger and I’d hate to see him go, but his 2011 struggles, long injury history, and yet another elbow surgery last week mean that risking a raise on his $2.73m salary in arbitration is foolish. If he does want to play and doesn’t want to risk turning his arm over to a new training staff who doesn’t know him well, he might be willing to come back on a reduced contract; you could argue that he should get Harden’s $1m allotted above, or you might even get lucky and get him back on a non-guaranteed deal.

14) Say goodbye to 2011 free agents Juan Rivera, Casey Blake, Tony Gwynn, Jay GibbonsAaron Miles, Eugenio Velez, Jon GarlandDana Eveland, Vicente Padilla, Mike MacDougal, and Jonathan Broxton.

Let’s caveat that by saying that if you can get any of these guys back (except Velez, who should be extradited from the country) on a minor-league deal to fight for a job in camp, then by all means do so – particularly Padilla, who has always been surprisingly effective as a Dodger when healthy. I’m guessing that’s unlikely to happen for most of them, who will merit at least a small major-league deal. In reality, I expect that Rivera, MacDougal, and Miles will all return, but there’s just no room for them on my hypothetical team.

15) Turn Pedro Baez into a pitcher. Come on already.

Yeah, I said this last season too, arguing that Baez’ rocket arm wasn’t going to be enough to get him to the bigs as a third baseman, especially considering that despite being old for the competition in the offensively-oriented California League, he managed just a .306 OBP and six homers in 2010. So what did he do this year to follow it up? He played in just 32 AA games, hitting .210/.278/.381, and missed the entire season after May with an injury. (Which, to be honest, I have not been able to identify.) I’m not saying it’s any sort of guarantee that such a conversion works out like it did for Jansen, but it basically is a guarantee that Baez never becomes a big leaguer as a third baseman. It’s worth a shot for both sides.

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So what does this leave us with? A lineup that could look like this…

2B Carroll-R
LF Morrison-L
CF Kemp-R
1B Fielder-L
RF Ethier-L
3B Uribe-R
C Ellis-R
SS Gordon-S

BN: Barajas-R, Betemit-S, Sellers-R, Sands-R, Hoffmann-R

Though I know the real team would never actually let Carroll lead off and put Gordon 8th, that’s where I’m putting them due to their respective OBP skills. It’s amazing how much Fielder and Morrison lengthen that lineup, isn’t it, and how much better does that look than last year when we were forced to depend on Uribe, Dioner Navarro, Casey Blake, Marcus Thames, and Jay Gibbons? While the bench is less than sexy, that’s what you have to live with if you dedicate so much payroll to one or two expensive players. However, Sellers and Hoffmann are each excellent defenders, and could really come in handy replacing Gordon/Carroll and Morrison/Ethier for defensive purposes in the late innings. Betemit & Barajas would provide offense, if used correctly, and protection. At AAA, you’d still likely have Federowicz, Russ MitchellTrent Oeltjen, Alex Castellanos, Scott Van Slyke and whatever NRIs you pick up (Andy LaRoche, anyone?) along with others for depth.

Then your pitching staff would look like this…

1) Kershaw
2) Kuroda
3) Billingsley
4) Lilly
5) Bedard

CL Jansen
R Lindblom
R Guerrier
R Hawksworth
R Harden
L Elbert
NRI / Kuo / Padilla / Troncoso

I’d be a whole lot more comfortable with another ace in that rotation, but I guess that’s what happens when you give $33m to Ted Lilly. If and when Bedard breaks down, you could either move up Harden or bring up Nathan Eovaldi, John Ely, or your yearly veteran non-roster guy like Dana Eveland – if not Eveland himself. (I kind of like Dontrelle Willis as an NRI; look past his W/L record for Cincinnati and he actually had a decent year.) Later in the year, a younger starter like Allen Webster could be a factor, or even Rubby De La Rosa depending on the progress of his recovery. The bullpen could look forward to possibilities like Shawn Tolleson, Cole St. Clair, Steve Ames, and whatever random veteran NRI shows up in camp.

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So that’s it. I’ve been staring at this for weeks and I’m still not sure I’m happy with it. Is it foolish to think that signing Fielder is even possible? Perhaps. Am I unintentionally low-balling what Bedard or Betemit might actually get, because I don’t want to give them more? Maybe so, and I didn’t get Kershaw signed long-term (though I suppose you could also do that and structure it so that it doesn’t affect 2012 that much). Either way, this is a team that could be built, in theory, for something close to what the Dodgers can spend, and it’d likely be a lot more competitive and interesting than what they have now. Compare this to some of the fantastic plans you all thought up over the weekend, and then let’s not try to be too disappointed when the big moves in reality are to bring back Rivera and sign Yuniesky Betancourt.

MSTI’s 2011 in Review: Shortstop

2011 should be remembered as a year of transition in the world of Dodger shortstops, since we said goodbye to one of the best shortstops in Dodger history and hello to a hopeful future star, with a healthy dose of solid fill-in work from Jamey Carroll. Also, Justin Sellers! Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, though: the Dodgers had an infield position that ranked in the lower third of baseball by OPS, this time coming in 21st at .697. Funny how it’s hard to score runs when your infield is consistently below average, isn’t it?

Dee Gordon (B+)
.304/.325/.362 .686 0hr 24sb 0.5 WAR

Let’s simply start with this, illustrating the differences between Dee Gordon‘s two stints (the latter interrupted by injury) in the bigs:

Split PA R H 2B SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1st Half 85 11 19 2 9 2 16 .232 .250 .280 .530
2nd Half 148 23 49 7 15 5 11 .345 .367 .408 .776

Well, then. But does anyone remember just how far away we thought he was at the beginning of the season? Remember, when Rafael Furcal first injured himself in April, people started pounding the drum for Gordon, and I wasn’t exactly on board at the time:

It’s not going to be Dee Gordon. Sure, it’d be fun, it’d be exciting – and it’d also be a terrible idea. Gordon is absolutely not ready right now, and I’m of the opinion that I’m not sure he’s even going to be ready for next year. It’s not good for him, and it’s not good for the team. It shouldn’t happen, and it won’t.

He wasn’t, but that only lasted until early June when Gordon, surprisingly, got the call:

All of this takes us to Gordon, and I must admit that I am torn. He’s the most exciting player the Dodgers have in their system, and a roster spot used on him rather than Castro pushes the team light-years ahead as far as watchability and interest. Yet, the speed of his promotion is difficult to wrap my head around. Many observers, myself included, expected him to start 2011 in AA, and were somewhat surprised that he was pushed to ABQ to start the year. In an offense-heavy environment, he has a good-but-not-stellar line of .315/.361/.370. (Lest you think I’m being too harsh, remember that this is the team on which career nothing JD Closser is hitting .298/.389/.529.) Not a single reputable analyst expected him here this quickly, and when I interviewed Christopher Jackson, who covers the ‘topes daily, he joked that if Gordon were put in the majors right now, he’d break Jose Offerman‘s errors record. As we’ve all heard so many times, Gordon, who didn’t play baseball seriously until high school, is an extremely raw prospect, and not the type likely to be rushed.

At the time, we were pretty sure what we’d get from Gordon, and that was uncertain offense, no power or plate discipline, inconsistent defense… and mind-blowing, game-changing speed. In no way was that initial expectation wrong, because even though he hit just .232/.250/.280 in 22 games before being sent back down for Furcal in early July, and had games like this

Gordon was speeding around the bases for a triple, beating a perfect throw home on a sacrifice fly, effortlessly making outstanding defensive plays… and booting a relatively simple grounder to start the 7th inning, an inning in which the Reds scored four to put the game away. That came after a play in the second inning in which Gordon mistimed his approach to the bag on a sure double play ball, and only got one out; with the runner safe on second, the Reds ended up getting their first run of the game later in the inning.

…he also left us with a season’s worth of highlights in his few weeks up with the big club. On June 14, he put on such a show in one game against Cincinnati that I’m sure I crashed all of your browsers with the amount of animated GIFs I put together. It’s worth clicking through to see all of them, but I can’t not show my favorite here, a bunt in which he blew down the line to first so quickly several readers refused to believe I hadn’t manipulated it:


When he was sent back down, I was okay with that, yet optimistic about what we’d seen:

The Dodgers haven’t made it official yet, but we all know that Gordon is getting sent down later today to make room for Rafael Furcal, and that’s fine by me. Gordon has been basically exactly what we figured he’d be – overmatched offensively, inconsistent defensively, and occasionally completely breathtaking on both sides of the ball. For a player who was never supposed to be up this early, he showed the talent was real, even if he has much to work on. I look at his first taste as a success, and hopefully he can take that back to the minors with a better idea of what it takes to be a big league ballplayer.

That’s basically what happened, though not without some hiccups. Gordon returned on July 31 once Furcal was traded to St. Louis, and made it only a week before seeming to seriously injure his shoulder on a botched rundown play in Arizona. He missed just one full game before re-injuring himself on August 9 against Philadelphia, first in attempting to avoid a Ryan Howard tag and then on a swing; he was placed on the disabled list the next day and missed about three weeks, time which probably saved Eugenio Velez from a DFA.

Though the repeated injuries raised concerns about his durability, the best was yet to come. When he returned on September 1, he had two hits, then three the next day, a double in his only plate appearance the following day, and then three more the next day. After an 0-5 on September 6, he picked up seven more hits over his next two games, on his way to a .372/.398/.451 September (buoyed by an unsustainable .404 BABIP) that pushed his season average over .300.

It was a smashingly successful end to his season, though it wasn’t all gravy; in addition to the defensive lapses, of the 325 MLB players who had as many plate appearances as Gordon, only three drew fewer walks than his seven. This is a large part of why I’m not sure I see him as a leadoff hitter despite his speed, though as I noted in September, I didn’t mind getting him as many plate appearances as possible in a lost season. Let’s hope that next season he can be moved lower in the order, though that’s probably not all that realistic.

Still, considering that we were positive that he was rushed and that even seeing him next year wasn’t a given? Yeah, I’d say that ended up going pretty well.

Jamey Carroll (B+)
.290/.359/.347 .706 0hr 1.8 WAR

Pretty much all of our Carroll-related discussion over the winter was pointing out that he was one of the few Dodgers who could be relied upon to get on base, particularly important after adding low-OBP players like Juan Uribe and Rod Barajas. That ended up working out exactly as we’d hoped – Carroll finished third on the team in OBP, behind Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier – but one thing we weren’t quite sure of was what Carroll’s role would be, since the arrival of Uribe to play second base seemed to relegate Carroll to a bench role.

That question lasted for all of about two weeks, until Rafael Furcal injured himself yet again, pushing Carroll into service as the everyday shortstop on April 11. Between then and Furcal’s return in late May, Carroll hit a typical .303/.357/.359, nearly mirroring his season total, and with the rest of the offense stagnant in the early going, I started including him in the “big three” along with Kemp and Ethier (though a brutal error in Florida on April 25 only served to increase the growing furor around Jonathan Broxton).

When Furcal returned, Carroll returned to his bench role, seeing plenty of playing time at both middle infield positions. As you can see by his midseason review in July, we were more than pleased with his contribution:

Last season, Carroll had a .718 OPS and was largely hailed as the team MVP for stepping in to cover for Rafael Furcal at shortstop for nearly the entire season. For a 36-year-old career backup who had played in more than 113 games just once, it was quite the impressive feat. More impressive? The fact that he’s exceeding that this year, currently with a .734 OPS. In a lower run scoring environment, that’s good for a 111 OPS+. Once again, the team has been crushed by injuries. Once again, Jamey Carroll has risen to the occasion and more. I’m not sure what the future holds for Carroll in Los Angeles – this is the last year of his contract, and unsurprisingly teams are showing trade interest – but he has consistently outperformed expectations. I’ll miss him when he’s gone.

Carroll fell off in the second half – that .734 pre-break OPS was not quite matched by a .662 post-break mark – and since Dee Gordon got the call when Furcal was injured again and then traded, the main interest in Carroll the rest of the way is just when exactly we’d be saying goodbye to him, since several teams were showing strong interest in him at the deadline. At the time, I argued that it was best to trade him, and when it didn’t happen, I didn’t seem to be the only one who was disappointed, according to this story from ESPN/LA’s Tony Jackson:

An hour or so later, when it had become clear to everyone that Carroll wasn’t going anywhere, he was inserted into the game, replacing the still-hitless Eugenio Velez, who probably was in the starting lineup only because the Dodgers were discussing a trade with some team that was interested in Carroll — there is strong evidence that team was the Atlanta Braves. But that trade never came together before the 1 p.m. PT deadline for players who had waiver claims on them, and there is no doubt Carroll was one of those players.

Later, in the clubhouse, Carroll had a look on his face like that of someone who had just been told he had won the lottery, then told that it was a mistake. But then, that’s kind of the way the soft-spoken, ever-stoic Carroll looks all the time.

“Am I still a Dodger?” he asked as two reporters approached him at his locker.

Told that he was, Carroll wasn’t about to publicly admit to being disappointed by that fact.

So what next? Carroll far outperformed the modest two-year contract that we weren’t so sure about when he received it in the 2009-10 offseason, and I need not remind you that second base and OBP are still giant holes for this club. But though I was certainly proven wrong about giving a multi-year deal to a 36-year-old, I’m not sure I can feel any better about it for a guy who is going to turn 38 in February (and yes, there will be enough teams interested that he should be able to pull another two-year deal if he wants). Regardless of what happens, Carroll has been an unbelievably valuable Dodger, and as tough as the last two seasons have been, I can’t imagine how much worse it might have been had he not been available to step in as needed. Wait, yes I can; we saw it in 2008 when we had to live with Angel Berroa and even the corpse of Nomar Garciaparra to step in at shortstop when Furcal was out. If this is it for Carroll as a Dodger, he will certainly be missed. Best of luck, Akbar.

Rafael Furcal (D-)
.197/.272/.248 .520 1hr -0.5 WAR

Furcal’s recap probably reads a lot like that of Casey Blake‘s, in that he was a popular and long-tenured Dodger who had little chance of staying healthy all year, didn’t, and contributed little in the time he was available.

Sidelined for much of the season by two serious injuries – 37 games in April and May with a fractured left thumb on a head-first slide and 26 games in June and July with a strained left oblique – Furcal played just 37 games as a Dodger. It probably says a lot about his Dodger tenure that 37 games isn’t even the fewest he played in a season, as he got into just 36 games during his 2008 season which was ravaged by back trouble. In between, he never really got going, with the fourth-worst wOBA of any shortstop with as many plate appearances as he had – and two of the guys below him lost their jobs. When he was traded to St. Louis at the end of July, it seemed like less of a trade worth analyzing and more of a foregone conclusion at the end of a nice Dodger career. (Though it was lost somewhat in the Trayvon Robinson excitement, outfielder Alex Castellanos hit .322/.406/.603 after joining AA Chattanooga in return for Furcal, raising hopes that he might be slightly more than the fifth outfielder which he’d been profiled as.)

Despite the injury-filled and unproductive end to his time as a Dodger, Furcal leaves as the best shortstop in Los Angeles Dodger history and arguably the best in team history alongside Pee Wee Reese. I’ve seen some suggest that perhaps he could come back to Los Angeles to play second base, but I think it’s more likely that some team that misses out on Jose Reyes or Jimmy Rollins will buy an ill-advised lottery ticket for multiple years to try and fill their own shortstop hole.

Justin Sellers (C-)
.203/.283/.301 .583 1hr 0.6 WAR

And the curse of first impressions strikes again: Justin Sellers comes up, hits a three-run homer in front of his hometown crowd in his third career game, and all of a sudden my Twitter feed is lighting up with people suggesting that Dee Gordon be traded so that Sellers can be the everyday shortstop going forward. Of course, after that… well,  you can see his line above, right?

But let’s first go back to spring training, when I actually was intrigued by having him on the club:

Sellers is someone who I’ve never talked about much around here, and I’ve been meaning to for a while. Despite looking like he’s about 14, his 2010 AAA stats were impressive: .285/.371/.497, with 14 homers. Don’t put too much stock into that, however; while I can’t say for sure because the great minorleaguesplits.com is no longer around, the power displayed is almost certainly a result of the Albuquerque environment, since he had just 17 homers in five previous seasons.

Still, there’s reason to like him. Most of the reports I’ve been able to dig up claim he’s an above-average glove, possibly making him the best defensive choice of these four, and he’s shown improvement in mastering the strike zone. In two seasons as a Dodger minor leaguer, he’s put up OBP of .371 and .360, thanks to a very good K/BB ratio of 115/99. In January, Baseball America gave him the title of “Best Strike Zone Discipline” in the Dodger system, and you don’t need me to remind you how starved this team is for that right now. Though it’s early, he’s off to a good start in the spring, having walked three times without a whiff. Unlike DeJesus, he did attend the winter development camp.

If there’s a knock against him, it’s that he’s been exclusively a middle infielder, though with Jamey Carroll and Juan Uribe both able to handle third base, that wouldn’t seem to be an issue. He’s not a highly touted prospect, clearly, so at 25 and on his third pro organization, I wouldn’t be all that worried about having him riding the major league bench as opposed to playing every day in AAA.

Sellers lost that competition and headed back to AAA, where he put up a superficially impressive .304/.400/.537 line with 14 homers, numbers that seemed nice, but which didn’t stand up when looked into further, as I did when he was recalled to replace Furcal on August 12:

I assume that by now I don’t need to tell you not to trust Albuquerque numbers, but don’t trust Albuquerque numbers. Never has that been more true than with Sellers, who should probably buy a home in ABQ (.387/.460/.737 with 11 homers) and never be allowed to put on the Isotopes’ road grays (.218/.338/.331). So you can imagine what that’ll look like in the big leagues.

And, well, that’s exactly what happened, isn’t it? I know I’m usually the guy saying “don’t judge a rookie by his first brief look,” but don’t forget that this is a 25-year-old rookie without much of a non-altitude-inflated minor-league track record while bouncing among three organizations. That’s not to say that Sellers has no future whatsoever, of course; as a plus glove who can play three positions for the minimum salary, he could be a reasonably useful bench piece for a few seasons. It’s just not someone I choose to think of as a possible starting solution, despite the gaping hole at second base.

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Next! Jerry Sands makes his mark! The flaming catastrophe that was JaMarcus Gwybbons, Jr.! And Jamie Hoffmann and Xavier Paul exist, briefly! It’s left field!

Rod Barajas Is Going to Be a Dodger in 2012


You can mark that down right now, as we enjoy today’s 4-2 win over San Diego, which represents the eighth victory in nine games and finishes off the first winning month of the season at 16-11. As much as we might like to think that A.J. Ellis and Tim Federowicz might start next season as the backstop duo, it’s not likely to happen, nor should it: Federowicz has just 111 games of experience above A-ball. So while the out-of-options Ellis seems almost certain to be on the roster, the Dodgers are going to need another guy to pair with him. As Rod Barajas finishes off a smoking August (.357/.403/.750 with ten extra-base hits, including six homers) it seems more and more likely it’s going to be him, particularly with his professed love of playing in his hometown.

While we make fun of Barajas and his .293 OBP, I’m not entirely convinced that’s an awful thing. Don’t get me wrong; Barajas isn’t a great player, and I would love to have a better option than him. Just keep in mind how atrocious the state of the game is as far as offense from catchers is right now, because even lousy Rod Barajas is worth 1.2 WAR (in a rare situation where both WAR systems agree). The Dodgers have a .690 OPS from their catchers, which is pretty bad… except that 13 teams are even worse, and that’s even including the healthy dose of Dioner Navarro the Dodgers just suffered through. Sad as it sounds, a combination of Barajas and Ellis could possibly be average to slightly-above both at the plate and behind it.

That says a lot about the catching situation in the bigs, I think, but unless any of the guys on the 2012 free agent list thrill you (I joked recently that 41-year-olds Ivan Rodriguez and Jason Varitek are exactly the type of guys Ned Colletti would go after), it might be the best we can hope for.

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Eugenio Velez went hitless in two more at-bats; there is no reason for him to ever play again, ever. I’m serious about that, especially since Dee Gordon is back soon and rosters will be expanding. That said, thanks to Chad Moriyama and his smartly-named new site ChadMoriyama.com, we do have footage of the one thing Velez did hit today:

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MLB.com’s Mark Bowman reports that the Braves were the team who won the claim on Jamey Carroll, but the Dodgers said “they will not trade him”. It’s hard to know what, if anything, was discussed as the return from Atlanta (not much, most likely), but this does seem short-sighted. I like Carroll as much as anyone, yet having him around for another month isn’t going to add much. Ideally, he’d have been moved for whatever return was available, with the middle infield being handled exclusively by youngsters Gordon, Justin Sellers, and Ivan DeJesus, and third base dealt with from a grab-bag of whomever can walk among Aaron Miles, Casey Blake, and Juan Uribe. (Russ Mitchell can fetch coffee, I guess.) Again, it’s not that they were going to get a top prospect or anything in return for Carroll, it’s just that something would seemingly have been better than nothing.

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To the surprise of absolutely no one with a pulse, Dana Eveland will be recalled to start for the Dodgers on Thursday in Pittsburgh. Eveland appeared in three games for the Pirates last season, allowing 20 baserunners in 9.2 innings, though he was named a PCL All-Star this season for the Isotopes. DeJesus is also expected to join the team for the game, with further call-ups happening in the days ahead. (Update: now it sounds like it might be Mitchell instead.)

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As we’ve done here, ESPN looks at Clayton Kershaw against Roy Halladay for the NL Cy Young, and essentially declares it a dead heat:

Glancing at the remaining schedules, each pitcher appears to be in line for five more starts (although, with rotation shuffling and double-headers, it’s impossible to know for sure). Kershaw may have an easier go of things. Assuming regular rest, three of his remaining starts will come against the two worst offenses in the league by runs per game, the Giants and Padres. Entering play Tuesday, Kershaw’s probable remaining opponents had hit a collective .242/.307/.372 (.679 OPS). Meanwhile, Halladay’s likely slate sits at .261/.326/.400 (.726 OPS). It includes the Mets, Brewers, and Cardinals, all well above-average offenses. Don’t be surprised if Kershaw emerges from the 2011 season with his first piece of hardware. Either way, the NL Cy Young vote figures to be hotly debated and narrowly decided.

James Loney’s Obsession With the Rockies

James Loney has seven homers this season. Anything stand out to you on the list below?

2011 HRs Date Pitcher RBI BOP WPA Play Description
1 2011-04-06 @ COL Jason Hammel 1 5 0.091 Home Run (Fly Ball to Deep RF)
2 2011-05-27 FLA Javier Vazquez 1 6 0.122 Home Run (Fly Ball to Deep RF Line)
3 2011-05-30 COL Jason Hammel 2 6 0.043 Home Run (Fly Ball to Deep RF); Ethier Scores
4 2011-06-12 @ COL Ubaldo Jimenez 4 5 0.329 Home Run (Fly Ball to Deep RF); Carroll, Miles, Kemp, Loney Score
5 2011-08-07 @ ARI Ian Kennedy 1 6 0.116 Home Run (Fly Ball to Deep CF-RF)
6 2011-08-21 @ COL Kevin Millwood 1 6 0.118 Home Run (Fly Ball to Deep RF)
7 2011-08-26 COL Matt Reynolds 2 2 0.078 Home Run (Fly Ball to Deep CF-RF); Sellers Scores
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/27/2011.

Five of the seven have come against the Rockies. That’s 71.4% of his 2011 dingers, despite the fact that only 12.9% of his 2011 plate appearances have come against Colorado. But it gets better; his final homer in 2010, the only one he hit from September 1 on… came in Colorado on September 28 against last night’s starter, Esmil Rogers, so six of Loney’s last eight dingers (you know, the eight whole homers he’s hit in nearly the last calendar year) have come against Colorado.

If you’re Colorado, how are you not making a low-risk play for Loney this winter, even with the presence of Todd Helton? Not only to get Loney hitting in Coors Field every day, but to stop having to see him in the opposing lineup.

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More confirmation of why Dioner Navarro got cut, from Tony Jackson:

Dioner Navarro’s ouster from the Los Angeles Dodgers earlier this week was hastened by a failure to devote the requisite time to game preparation that is expected of a catcher, multiple sources said before Friday night’s game against the Colorado Rockies. Navarro was designated for assignment on Tuesday, giving the Dodgers 10 days from that point to trade him, release him or outright him to the minors after he clears waivers.

Good riddance. For a guy who wasn’t performing at the plate, was having defensive issues, and had a history of locker room issues (quitting on Tampa Bay last year), the lack of effort is shocking. Fortunately, he’ll be someone else’s problem now.

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Steve Dilbeck of the LA Times wants the Dodgers to trade Jamey Carroll:

Work the deal. Get what you can, even if it’s precious little.

Carroll deserves the opportunity to play for a contender, to make a real postseason contribution. At his age, he may not get another chance. The Milwaukee Brewers had reportedly talked to the Dodgers about Carroll prior to the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline.

I agreed with this at the July 31 deadline. Carroll was a potentially valuable piece to a contender, and could have brought back a decent return. But now, I’m not even sure it’s worth it, since the Dodgers would only be able to talk to the team that claims him, preventing any sort of bidding war. (Such as it were.) It’d be nice for Carroll, I suppose, and I agree that he’s not a part of the team future. But I also understand the thought that with Juan Uribe out, Dee Gordon not back, and Casey Blake unreliable, you want to make sure you have more than just Aaron Miles and Justin Sellers to finish out the season. (Eugenio Velez doesn’t count. Eugenio Velez never counts.)

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Russ Mitchell, catcher? Don Mattingly noted that the team will try him behind the plate during winter ball in an effort to increase his versatility. Mitchell’s probably never going to hit enough to be an everyday player, so if he can make this stick, all the better for him. (It’s here where I’ll try to forget Ned Colletti’s claims that “catchers can’t be made”, at the time of the Trayvon Robinson deal.) Usually conversions like this happen in the low minors, though; I can’t think of another recent example where this kind of move has been tried (successfully) for a player who Mitchell’s age who has already seen big league time.