That’s Right, Thirteen Pitchers

If you’ve been a reader of this site for any length of time, you’ve likely heard me complain about the recent trend of twelve-man pitching staffs, especially in the National League. For most staffs, the 12th man doesn’t get enough work to justify his position – and it’s that sort of roster composition that gets you in a situation where you’ve only got one backup outfielder. (Whether or not that backup outfielder is both a lousy hitter and a horrifying fielder is another matter entirely.)

Well, guess what! According to DodgerThoughts, a bad situation has gotten worse:

The Dodgers purchased the contract of Jeff Weaver and activated Cory Wade, while optioning Blake DeWitt to the minors. Doug Mientkiewicz was transferred to the 60-day disabled list. That’s right, those of you afraid of burning out the bullpen* — at this moment, the Dodgers have a 13-man pitching staff.

 I haven’t seen this confirmed anywhere else, and Jon didn’t source the report, but he’s reliable so we’ll go with it. This is in addition to Scott Elbert being optioned out after last night’s game, which was expected. Let’s go with this one thing at a time:

weaverphotoshoot.jpgWelcome back, Jeff Weaver! No surprise here, but I’m actually pretty happy to see this. I always liked Weaver when he was here in 2004-05, and while he was probably never as good as I remember him being, there’s something to be said for 444 innings of almost exactly league-average pitching in those years. Considering how bad the 2005 squad was – remember, that squad gave 58 starts to DJ Houlton, Odalis Perez, Scott Erickson, Elmer Dessens, Derek Thompson, and Wilson Valdez - he practically looked like Tim Lincecum, so it’s easy to see where the fond remembrances come from. Weaver’s been pretty effective in AAA so far, holding opponents to a .208 BA while putting up a 12/2 K/BB rate, so he deserves it. He’ll apparently start in the bullpen, but seeing how Eric Stults has been treated in the past every time he has one bad start, I’d say the chances of Weaver taking that Thursday start are approximately 1,000,000%.

Good to see you, Cory Wade! It’s no secret that the Dodgers could use a jolt in the 8th inning, and Wade supposedly has had no issues with his return from shoulder soreness. This isn’t the first time this has happened, though; so maybe let’s hold off on the back-to-back usage of him for a while, okay, Joe?

Tennesseeya later, Scott Elbert! Okay, I kind of want to kick my own ass for that joke. Nothing wrong with this either; Elbert’s got loads of talent, but he needs to pitch more regularly than he was going to in LA. 3 homers and 10 hits allowed in 6.1 innings isn’t getting the job done with the big boys.

Thanks for stopping by, Blake DeWitt! It’s about time! I really haven’t understood what’s going on with DeWitt so far this year. The big concern was that he wouldn’t get enough playing time if he made the club over Juan Castro as the main backup infielder; I argued that he’d be just fine because he could start at second, short, and third. Except that Orlando Hudson (who I thought would get some time off to protect the wrist) hasn’t missed a game yet, so DeWitt was sent down to get playing time. Then when he was brought back up when Eyechart got hurt, he really didn’t get any playing time because Castro was still around. Really, it never made any sense to have brought him back up in the first place.

Welcome to the weakest bench in the league! Your bench currently consists of Brad Ausmus, Mark Loretta, Juan Castro, and Juan Pierre. In a word: yikes. Loretta’s just fine (hitting .444), but otherwise you’ve got three zeroes at the plate and no solid defensive outfielder. I mean, I get that the everyday lineup is more solid than most and doesn’t require a whole lot of replacement but… this is bad. And with the starting pitching, other than Billingsley, not going that deep into games, the need for pinch hitting and double switching is increased. You’d rather have six guys on the bench, but only four? Not good.

Did we really need thirteen pitchers? In a word, no. As the chart Jon put up shows, the bullpen isn’t getting killed. Will Ohman’s thrown 23 pitches in the last week, and he’s been solid. Hong-Chih Kuo’s only thrown 31 pitches in the last week, and while I know he’s been working out his issues, he looked good in a scoreless inning last night. Looking down that list, only Ronald Belisario looks like he might need to be dialed back a bit.

So, what next? Thirteen pitchers isn’t a sustainable roster model; it just can’t be. My money is fully on Eric Stults losing his roster spot in the next few days for a position player. What’s odd, though, is why he’s not losing his spot right now. After starting last night, he’s not going to be available for the next few days anyway, so if he’s the one to go, why not just farm him out right now rather than letting him eat up a roster spot? As for who’s coming up, let’s just hope it’s not DeWitt again – that didn’t make any sense the first time. No, you need an outfielder, one you can use for defense. Which leaves you with two choices: the AAA outfielder who’s doing awesome but who you might not want to sit on the bench in the bigs, Xavier Paul (1.101 OPS), or the one who’s doing lousy but you’re not too worried about hurting his development, Jason Repko (.803 OPS).

Save Delwyn Young!

For a variety of reasons, Delwyn Young (or “Panda” or “Pee Wee”, to some) has always been an unsung hero of this blog. I suppose part of it is that you always have to have a soft spot for a local guy who grew up a Dodger fan, and part of it is that I’ll always love a guy who can bust out a good reference to The Sandlot. However, a big part of it is also that despite putting up huge numbers in the minor leagues, he’s never gotten even a fraction of the hype the rest of the young Dodger contingent has – despite my best efforts. We’ve been talking up Delwyn around here as far back as 2007, and even gave him his own “Free Delwyn Young!” campaign in June 2008, where I pointed out that:

I’m not exactly sure why he’s gotten such short thrift in the “hyping prospects” department. I mean, the kid has hit everywhere he’s played.

Delwyn Young, 6 minor league seasons (5 full seasons)
BA: .303
OBP: .359
SLG: .512
Seasons w/ 10+ HR: 6
Seasons w/ 30+ doubles: 5
Seasons where he broke a 41-year-old PCL record for doubles: 1 (2007)

Look at the line he put up in AAA last year: .337/.384/.571 and a .955 OPS. 54 doubles.

Sure, he was a lousy second baseman turned into a mediocre outfielder, and his MLB OPS+ of 75 in 2008 didn’t do much for him – though I would point out that having a 26 year old player with 39 career at-bats entering the season spend the entire year on the bench as a pinch hitter isn’t exactly doing him any favors.

delwyncelebrates.jpgAnyway, the reason I bring this all up again is because the 2009 Dodgers are going to have a very bizarre outfield configuration. While – as I delved into last week - the starters are amongst the best in the league, Juan Pierre is ill-suited to be a backup outfielder. I’m not going to turn this into yet another diatribe against Pierre, because we’ve covered all that already, but the simple fact is that his throwing arm is one of the worst in baseball. When you have a slugger like Manny who is often going to be lifted in the late innings for defensive purposes, most teams would have a superior defender on hand. Pierre’s simply not that guy.

Unfortunately, Delwyn’s not really that guy either, and having three-fifths of your outfield corps being below-average defenders isn’t exactly the ideal situation. In terms of defense, having Xavier Paul or Jason Repko (each of whom have great speed, strong arms, and can play center) is really the best fit for this particular puzzle.

Of course, this spring Young’s doing what he always does, and that’s flat-out hit. After putting a ball out of the park on Saturday against the Brewers, DY’s line for the spring stands at .321/.387/.526. Paul is also turning heads with his spring performance (.394/.459/.697), while Repko has probably played himself out of any shot with a lousy .182/.182/.280 line.

Young’s out of options, so while Paul can be sent down to AAA Albuquerque, Young cannot without clearing waivers first, which is unlikely. Yet, the need for at least one good defensive bench outfielder may force the club to choose Paul, and while I understand that, the idea of losing a player who’s done nothing but destroy the ball to the waiver wire is a little sickening. So with that I say, Save Delwyn Young! While he’s clearly not preferable to any of the three starters right now, I know I’m not the only Dodger fan who’d love to know what he could do give 500 at-bats.

But you know what? I know I said that this wasn’t going to be about Pierre, but if the fact that his lousy arm in addition to his punchless bat means that this team is cost the services of Delwyn Young by being forced to take Paul for his defense, that’s just yet another strike towards Pierre. That’s right: Juan Pierre – hurting the team even when he’s not playing.

Save Delwyn Young!

All Your Manny Are Belong To Us

I’m tempted to wait until he’s actually in the lineup on April 6th before I post this after yesterday’s false alarm, but all indications are that Manny Ramirez has finally agreed to a two year, $45 million offer, with an opt-out after 2009 and deferred money for both years. AKA, “what was basically offered four months ago”. So let’s take one last post to look at the winners & losers, and then we can finally get on to getting back to baseball – and it’s not as though there aren’t important issues. Can Blake DeWitt stick as a backup infielder? Should we be worried about Orlando Hudson’s sore wrist? What can we expect from James Loney? Who’s going to be the fifth starter? Will Juan Pierre be moved, and if not will he cause a stink? And so on, and so on.

 


mannylooking.jpgWinners

The Dodger Offense. What’s more imposing in left field, Manny Ramirez getting his first shot to spend a full season destroying the National League, or Juan Pierre continuing his five-year decline? I don’t even think I need to break out any stats for this, fancy or not. You’re dropping one of the worst hitters in the game and sliding in one of the ten best right handed hitters who ever lived. I’d say that’s a slight “win” for the team – and that’s not even considering what it does for the other hitters, because despite what Jeff Kent thinks, Manny’s presence completely changes the pitches the hitters around him see. 

Manny. He gets to come back to what was clearly the best fit for him, to a fanbase that already dearly loves him, judging by the amount of fake dreadlocks you saw in the stands last year. Not only that, he’s a first-ballot inner-circle Hall of Famer despite spending most of his time in the tough AL East. Now he gets to come and rock the National League for an entire season? Dear god. 

Scott Boras. Let’s face it, Boras could have gotten Manny a minimum wage job working the drive-thru at a Burger King and he’d still find a way to call this a “win”, but it still is. No, it’s not the four, five, or six-year deal for $100m+ he was originally looking for, but he still somehow took a late 30s player who some saw as damaged goods, in the worst national economy in decades, despite no competition from other teams, and was able to get him $25 million, with an opt-out clause. Say what you want about his tactics or morals, but the man is good at his job. 

Frank McCourt. Well done, Frank. You held fast in the face of Boras’ ludicrous demands, and for that patience you’ve now markedly improved your team – and perhaps more important to you, you’ll be able to sell tons of #99 jerseys and dreadlocks. It’s not an easy thing to say, “I beat Scott Boras”, but you did – you got him to agree to basically the same deal he’d dismissed in November as not being serious. Well done. 

Ned Colletti. I think most of us agree that Ned’s seat is at least somewhat warm if the Dodgers don’t do well this year after the disastrous Andruw Jones, Juan Pierre, and Jason Schmidt deals, so I’d say he’s probably pretty pleased to see this huge improvement to the 2009 club. Not only that, fans would have strung him up if he’d let Adam Dunn and Bobby Abreu pass by on very reasonable deals, only to not get Manny. In the end, his (and McCourt’s) patience looks good.

Fans. I suppose this goes along with the sentiment listed above in the ’offense’ section, but it’s true: as a fan, would you rather be seeing Manny or Pierre all year? I can’t reiterate that enough.

Jason Repko. You’d think that signing another outfielder would doom his already-slim hopes of making the squad, right? Well, maybe it does. But I just can’t shake the feeling that late-inning outfield defense is going to be a problem. While Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp are both adequate, Manny’s clearly no Gold Glover, no matter what he says. Yet while most teams have a plus defender as a backup, the Dodgers have Pierre, whose weak arm is well-known, and likely Delwyn Young, who’s got tons of hitting potential but isn’t much of a fielder himself. When it’s a tight game in the late innings, do we really want to see runners tagging up to score vital runs on flies to Manny, Pierre, or Delwyn in left? And what of the games that Ethier or Kemp sit? Repko’s got his own flaws, but he’s got a good arm and can play all three positions. We might just need that.

Losers

Juan Pierre. Without Manny, he at least had a shot of playing fulltime. Now? He’s either riding the bench behind three guys who really need to be playing every day, or cut loose only to find that there’s not much market for weak-armed outfielders with no power and poor on-base skills. I can’t feel too bad for a man who’s going to pocket over $50 million just for playing baseball, but his already-stalled career just took a big hit. 

Danny Ardoin. No, I don’t have any inside info, but the 40-man roster is full. Who carries five catchers on their 40-man? Clearly, Russell Martin and Brad Ausmus’ roles are secure. I doubt they’d cut Lucas May or A.J. Ellis free for nothing. I liked Ardoin, but finding a quad-A backstop isn’t that hard to do. I’m predicting this costs him a job.

Dodger fans. Sure, it’s all worth adding a hitter like Manny to the lineup, and when he’s pummeling homers in May we won’t care. But there’s only one thing worse than watching millionaires argue with millionaires in the face of a terrible economy… and that’s watching them do it for four months only to end up with nearly the exact same terms that were on the table in November. This whole process was completely brutal for all of us. 

Frank McCourt. For months, public opinion was firmly on the side of Dodger management. They didn’t back down to Boras when he was calling their 2/$45 offer in November “not serious”, they didn’t bid against themselves when it was clear that no other teams were seriously in this running, and they didn’t panic when spring training started without Manny. Yet when, in the last week, Boras agreed to drop down to almost your terms, you started saying things like “I refuse to consider this offer” and raised questions about your financial stability with this increased demand for deferred money. You still won, Mr. McCourt, but your reputation took a big hit in this last week as well.

Scott Boras. Though he’ll never admit it, he did miscalculate on this. In November, the Dodgers offered 2/$45. He wanted 5 or 6 years at $100m+. Not only did he not even get them to meet in the middle, he ended up settling for… 2/$45m. While getting that much annual salary in this economy is still a feat, it’s still far less than he’d originally demanded. Plus - and I didn’t think this was possible - baseball fans might actually hate him even more now.

The rest of the NL West. Did I mention that the Dodgers just replaced Juan Pierre with Manny Ramirez? Sure, there’s still questions about the starting rotation. But you tell me – how’s a lineup that looks to have either James Loney, Casey Blake, or Orlando Hudson hitting 8th look to you? 

 

 

On This, of All Days…

 …let’s be thankful for the anti-capitalistic indentured servitude we still have over our young players.

87toppsrussellmartin.jpgAccording to FanGraphs, Russell Martin was worth $21.5 million in 2008. I won’t get into their fancy description of how they arrived at that figure here, but it’s basically a calculation of  how many “wins” he was worth over a replacement player, and then multiplying that number by how much a win is worth. In Martin’s case, even though he slipped a bit from 2007, the fact that there are so few decent catchers out there mean that the replacement level for catchers is pretty low, so that’s why he’s so high. So how much did the Dodgers just sign Martin for, avoiding an arbitration hearing? Only $3.9 million, since Martin had almost no negotiating leverage at all. I’m just going out on a limb here, but I’m thinking that Turtle would get slightly more than that were he available on the open market. That being the case, how about we get him signed up long-term so that we never have to see what his value on that market would be like?

It’s much the same for Jonathan Broxton, who was worth $11.8 million last year according to FanGraphs. For 2009, he gets $1.825 million plus incentives. Think about that: Broxton is getting far less for 2009 than admitted cheat Guillermo Mota just signed with Los Angeles for. Now, I know the situations aren’t really comparable because Mota has earned free agency and Broxton has not. It’s just an insane situation to think about.

This almost evens out the fact that last year, Andruw Jones provided negative $2.4 million worth of production. That almost seems too generous, but then you have to remember that he missed a good portion of the year.

Speaking of indentured servitude, Tony Jackson points out that Jason Repko has been asking for a trade for two years. It’s hard to think an injury-prone outfielder with a .229 career batting average would really have that much to complain about, but I can’t really argue with Repko; if he’s never really going to get a shot in the crowded Los Angeles outfield situation, why not let him go somewhere else? That’s not the notable portion of the story, though – it’s the fact that Jackson claims that Repko, entering his 11th year in the organization, still has two minor league option years left. I’m pretty sure that Jackson made a mistake there (there’s no way that a player who’s appeared in the bigs in three of the last four years has only used up one option year), but if he’s not wrong, that will mean that Repko will have been tied to the Dodgers for twelve years before gaining his independence.

Jason Repko Lives to See Another Day

As you’ve probably heard, the Dodgers non-tendered five players, making them free agents: Takashi Saito, Angel Berroa, Scott Proctor, Yhency Brazoban, and Mario Alvarez. Forget Alvarez and Brazoban, because Alvarez is a minor leaguer who’s injured (but hey, at least we let him eat up a roster spot while losing Wesley Wright to Houston) and Brazoban is a fat tub of injured goo who’s made it into 11 games over three years. So no big losses there, unless you count the only guy in the room who might have made Andruw Jones feel svelte.

As for Saito, Proctor, and Berroa, this doesn’t necessarily mean the end of them in Dodger blue – but it does mean that any team can now talk to them. For Berroa, that makes complete sense, because after the Dodgers declined his $5.5 million option (!!!) they would have had to offer him at least $3.8m because there’s only so much you can cut a player’s salary in his situation. Considering I don’t think Berroa’s worth $3.80, that’s a pretty easy decision. Proctor, well, you know that Joe Torre will do whatever he can to ensure he’s back. Hell, if Proctor signs with another team, I half expect Torre will quit and try to go get that job.

saito.jpgAnd then there’s Takashi Saito, who by some measures has been the best closer in baseball over the last three years. Just a bizarre situation all around, here. Usually you can look at a baseball or financial decision and draw comparision to similar choices in the past. But can you name any other soon-to-be-39 relievers who don’t have free agency rights who’ve dominated the opposition, yet choose to avoid elbow surgery with experimental injections of blessed pig’s blood? (Okay, it was stem cells.Whatever.) If the Dodgers decided it was time to part ways because of his injury, that’s fine – but they had offered him a contract that was deemed unacceptable by Saito’s agent, which sounds like they’re relatively confident he can pitch next year.

Usually, I’d attack the Dodgers for letting a valuable piece go over a relatively small amount of money, but not this time. Arbitrators like to look at fancy numbers, and Saito certainly has that. It’s not unreasonable to think that he might have received $5 million next year, and that’s too much to gamble on a guy who might never throw another pitch. It used to be that players who were non-tendered weren’t allowed to sign with their old teams before May 1, almost guaranteeing they wouldn’t return. Fortunately that’s no longer the case, so hopefully Saito won’t want to start over somewhere else at this stage in his career and we’ll see him come to an arrangement with the Blue.

But who did get tendered an offer? Jason Repko, of all people. Now I like Jason Repko, I do. It’s just odd to see a team make sure to keep a guy who gets injured at a level that’s Nomar-esque and has a career OPS+ of 76. Actually, Nomar-esque might be insulting to Nomar – Repko missed all of 2007 and has only 148 MLB at-bats in the last three seasons. That said, a .373 OBP in AAA this season is pretty tasty, and with a track record like his he can’t stand to make a lot in arbitration.

On the other hand, teams don’t usually offer arbitration to guys who they plan to keep in the minors all season long, and as we all know the Dodgers have a ton of outfielders, and possibly one more on the way. Maybe our prayers for getting rid of Jones or Pierre really will be answered!