Dodgers Appoint Aaron Miles Team Trustee

…or something like that. Bill Shaikin, once again coming up with the scoop, breaks the news today that Bud Selig has appointed J. Thomas Schieffer to be the trustee of the Dodgers while the McCourt mess shakes out.

I don’t know who Tom Schieffer is, and neither, most likely, do you. But according to his Wikipedia entry, he’s done a lot of living in his 63 years. After getting his masters degree in International Relations in 1972, he was elected a state senator at just 24 years of age. He then left public office, got his law degree, and become a corporate oil lawyer, then partnered with George W. Bush and others to purchase the Texas Rangers in 1989. Schieffer was apparently the driving force behind the push to build the new ballpark there, which he did on time and within budget, and served as President of the team from 1991-99. After that, he served as ambassador to Australia and then Japan until 2009, before briefly running for Governor of Texas (as a Democrat, surprisingly) in 2010. Oh, and he wrestled a bear.

I’ve seen people complaining that it’s not Joe Torre or Kim Ng, but neither of them were appropriate for the job. Torre’s a baseball man, while this is a role that requires business acumen, and as great as Ng is, she’s probably too junior for this. (Not to mention how awkward it’d be to make Ned Colletti report to her). Schieffer seems like a decent enough choice, as a man with a wealth of experience both within and outside baseball. Remember, Schieffer is not the decision-maker; he’s there for oversight, making sure that the club doesn’t do anything financially that MLB would deem out of line. He has veto power over any expenses over $5,000.

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Well, Ivan DeJesus is in the lineup tonight, alright, but not how we’d hoped. He’s not in there in place of Aaron Miles, but in place of Casey Blake, as Juan Uribe is still unable to play. Still, it’s a chance, and he’d to well to take advantage of it if we want to see him get at least a share of the time with Miles at some point.

The lineup is: Miles 3B, Carroll SS, Ethier RF, Kemp CF, Sands LF, Loney 1B, Barajas C, DeJesus 2B, Garland P. Yes, that makes an infield of Loney / DeJesus / Carroll / Miles, potentially the least dangerous in the history of baseball.

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Ken Gurnick reports that Dioner Navarro has rejoined the club. There’s been no corresponding roster move, but we all know it’s A.J. Ellis headed back to AAA. (Update: Ellis has been sent down.) Speaking of injured Dodgers, I believe that Jay Gibbons‘ rehab stint ends tomorrow. At that point, he’d either need to be activated or DFA’d. Though I find it hard to believe anyone would claim him if he were DFA’d, my guess is they’ll be able to restart his rehab clock because of his continuing vision problems.

On Chad Billingsley’s New Contract (And Notes)

Fun fact: over two years ago, on January 26, 2009, I wrote about Zack Greinke‘s extension with the Royals and wondered how this might impact Chad Billingsley. (This was before Greinke’s ridiculous Cy Young 2009 and Billingsley’s second half collapse that year, remember.) At the time, this is what I proposed Billingsley could end up with:

I mean, there’s no longer any remaining question about whether we want him around, right? So why not buy out his three arbitration years and the first year of free agency with a 4 year, $36 million deal?

And what did Billingsley end up with yesterday?

Source: Billingsley’s three-year deal with the #Dodgers worth $35-36 million, including buyout of option for fourth year.

Okay, that was pretty close; if you include the $6.275m he’s making this year, it’s essentially a four year deal worth approximately $42m. I say “pretty close”, because at the time, it would be buying out all arb years with just one free agent year, while this deal is of course buying out more higher-priced free agent years. (I’ll ask you to kindly ignore that I also said at the time that Billingsley was definitely superior to Greinke, and allow me to pretend that I’m some sort of soothsayer over here.)

In all seriousness, however, I’m very satisfied with this deal, and I think it’s fair for both sides. Billingley’s always been somewhat underrated in my book; of the 87 pitchers who have thrown at least 400 innings since 2008, his FIP of 3.42 is tied for 14th with Ubaldo Jimenez. That’s better than names like Johan Santana, Jered Weaver, Roy Oswalt, Francisco Liriano, and Matt Cain. Is that an ace? I’ll save that discussion for another day, but if you wanted to say that more than half the teams in baseball don’t have a pitcher as good as he is, you could certainly make the argument. (Kershaw, of course, is 12th on that list, with the best still expected from him.) This also provides the team with some cost certainty, thus avoiding not only the question of what kind of arbitration deal he might be in line for next year, but what might happen when he hit the open market the year after.

Eric Stephen at TrueBlueLA and Jon Weisman at Dodger Thoughts are both also happy with the deal, comparing it to deals for Ricky Nolasco and Justin Verlander, respectively, and even better, Dave Cameron at FanGraphs thinks the Dodgers made out very well. It’s a long read, so I won’t paste it all, but here’s the fun takeaway:

Perhaps most interesting, however, is the extension that Wandy Rodriguez signed with the Astros just a few months ago. Rodriguez was in his final year of arbitration, so he was at the point where Billingsley would have been at the end of the 2011 season – when his new deal actually kicks in. Rodriguez signed a 3 year, $34 million extension with the Astros covering the same years that Billingsley just gave up to get some security. His career numbers – 985 innings, 62 wins, and a 4.18 ERA.

If, this year, Billingsley threw 160 innings, posted a 7.43 ERA, and won just three games, he would end the year with those same career numbers. If Wandy Rodriguez’s deal set the market for what the final year of arbitration and first two years of free agency are worth, Billingsley essentially locked in a price that would be fair (based on career numbers) if he was the worst pitcher in baseball this year.

Perhaps he really wanted to stay in Los Angeles, and he had motivations beyond simply squeezing the Dodgers for every last penny he could get. Whatever the reasoning, though, it seems pretty clear that Billingsley left a lot of money on the table with this deal.

Barring trades, you can now expect to see Billingsley alongside Clayton Kershaw for at least the next four seasons. That’s a beautiful thing, and for the more optimistic among us, it means it’s no longer totally unreasonable to think that we can dream about a front three of Kershaw, Billingsley, and Zach Lee one day. I’m very pleased with this deal from the team’s perspective, and even if Billingsley did leave some money on the table, well, he also just made about $35 million, so fair deal for both sides. Good job, Ned.

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One update to my prospective 25-man roster: Jay Gibbons is likely to start the season on the disabled list due to his continuing vision problems. From a pure baseball perspective, this doesn’t bother me all that much; after all, I did argue just last week that he wasn’t worth a roster spot, and this does almost guarantee that Xavier Paul makes the club. Still, after all Gibbons has been through (some of it self-inflicted, to be sure), it’s tough to see his triumphant comeback story derailed by something as unexpected as this. This is actually a better scenario than an outright DFA, though, because not only does his $650k salary become guaranteed, he’ll be eligible for a rehab stint in the minors when he’s able, and assuming that takes a few weeks, we should have a lot more clarity on the roster situation at that point.

We don’t yet know who will get the extra spot, and you could argue that any of 4-5 names are in the mix. My strong preference has to be towards A.J. Ellis, however, because all indications are that Hector Gimenez is an emergency catcher at best.

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Over at Baseball Prospectus, Ben Lindbergh has put together a list of positions where contending teams have decided to go with decidedly unpalatable options – guys like Jeff Mathis and Yuniesky Betancourt. It shouldn’t come as any surprise that the Dodger left field mess made the list.  

LF: Tony Gwynn Jr., Dodgers (.233 TAv, -0.6 WARP)

The Dodgers’ stillborn left-field timeshare really deserves a group mention here, but while Los Angeles may have chosen to stick a fork in the position, at least its other two tines—Jay Gibbons and Marcus Thames—project to earn positive value. Gwynn can’t hit, so he has to be truly extraordinary in the field to merit a roster spot, which FRAA doesn’t think he succeeded in doing last season. With Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier holding down center and right, respectively, Gwynn doesn’t figure to play much at the outfield’s more demanding positions, but he’ll likely be the starting left fielder for as long as Jay Gibbons can’t see. Since even a sighted Jay Gibbons doesn’t present much of an obstacle, Gwynn stands to see significant time. Unless he rediscovers the competent stroke he exhibited in 2009 or turns in another defensive performance FRAA can be proud of, that’s not good news for the Dodgers, who might soon find themselves missing the “Mannywood” sign.

While I attempted to look at the positives for Gwynn recently, I did so with a fair bit of wishcasting and plenty of “if’s”. If he can overcome a horrendous 2010. If he can hit at even a mildly acceptable a level. With Gibbons out, Gwynn will get the bulk of LF duties to prove himself, and I hope for everyone’s sake that he can do it, but it’s not hard to see where the doubt comes from.

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Yes, Jonathan Broxton “blew a save” last night, and while I can’t believe we’re even discussing a blown save in an exhibition game, I’ll point out that Ivan DeJesus botched what would have been a game-ending double play, remind you that the winning run scored on a sacrifice fly, and let Jon Weisman’s words describe exactly how I feel:

I’m seriously considering complete abstention from debating the merits of Jonathan Broxton for the time being. The season hasn’t even started, and already the fur is flying about his value. No, he didn’t do his job. Neither did De Jesus, Jansen or Lilly, but no one will question their manhood. I’m willing to admit I’m concerned about whether Broxton’s all the way back from his late 2010 troubles, but I just don’t know if I can spend yet another year arguing about the man’s courage, spine or gumption. It’s completely subjective, and people are just going to believe what they want to believe.

I agree 100% with Jon on this; for whatever reason, the opinion of many towards Broxton is so skewed that if he struck out 99 of 100, they’d be asking what happened with the last guy. Still, I’m not sure I have the strength to do what Jon’s contemplating, and that’s avoiding the topic entirely once the season starts. I’ve been one of Broxton’s staunchest defenders, and even I’ve admitted that his rope is short if he doesn’t get off to a good start. All I ask is that we be fair about it, and realize that minor league second basemen booting ground balls have a pretty big impact on getting outs as well.

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Selected thoughts from scouts on the Dodgers, courtesy of Tom Krasovic of the San Diego Union-Tribune:

“I think they’re going to be offensively challenged, and defensively challenged. The other day, (shortstop Rafael) Furcal was 4.9 running down the line, third baseman bobbles the ball and he’s still out in plenty of time. Saw (Matt) Kemp misplay two balls in the same game recently. He looks terrible in center field. Kenley Jansen is pretty damn impressive.”

“I like Xavier Paul more than the Dodgers do and would keep him over (Jay) Gibbons or (Tony) Gwynn Jr. Paul needs a change of scenery. His bat is OK. He has a good swing and can run the ball down. Hector Gimenez is a just a good-looking hitter. I’d take him as a backup. Ivan DeJesus, he’s stayed inside the ball well. Sands, I like his bat. He has a really nice swing. He looks OK in left field.”

“I think Rubby De La Rosa can pitch there right now and he’d be fine. He was up to 97 and good angle to plate, good feel for changeup, and I think the breaking ball will come. I think this guy’s a starter, and I don’t think he’s far away.”

“I think they’re going to be battling it out for third place with the Padres, and the Padres know how to play better.”

“They could be a disaster with all of the ifs.”

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New ESPN SweetSpot blogger David Schoenfield has been putting together preseason All-Star teams for each division, and today he touches on the NL West. Of the eleven spots, four are Giants, and three each are from the Rockies and Diamondbacks. The Padres don’t merit a mention, and only Kershaw (as lefty starter) makes the list from the Dodgers.

Is Jay Gibbons The Best Use of a Roster Spot?


Me, yesterday:

Of the nine left fielders from last year, only Jay Gibbons seems certain to see time there again this year, and even still I’ve been spending half the spring wondering if he’s going to lose his roster spot.

Let’s make it more than half the spring now, because the more his spring struggles continue while others make their case, the more I wonder how much we should be looking to use that roster spot somewhere else. Gibbons entered today hitting .114/.162/.114, and an after an 0-3 with 2 K, that’s down to .105/.150/.105, by my rough calculations (MLB.com spring stats haven’t included today’s games yet, hence the estimating). The usual caveats about the importance of spring stats apply, of course, but someone with Gibbons’ history of missed time and winter ball struggles can’t really afford to have such a poor camp. (And by “poor camp”, I mean that over 200 MLB players have as many PA as he does, and every last one has more than the four total bases he’s picked up. Four!)

That’s on top of the fact that Gibbons hasn’t really been a quality big league player in about five years and had just a .313 OBP in what was seen as a “big splash” late last season, and you start to wonder how much of his seemingly guaranteed roster spot is due to his status as a hometown feel-good story.

Worse for Gibbons, the players behind him are making their case. I mentioned how well Tony Gwynn has played this spring a few days ago, and Xavier Paul has shaken off a slow start to become one of the hotter hitters in camp of late, including making a nice diving catch in today’s game. Then there’s camp sensation Hector Gimenez, who despite an oh-fer today, threw out a runner at the plate in his first left field appearance. Paul and Gimenez, as you surely remember, are each out of options.

Gwynn, Paul, and Gimenez all hit from the left side (Gimenez being a switch-hitter). Gwynn & Paul are both far superior defensive outfielders and baserunners to Gibbons, and while Gimenez probably isn’t, he offers the flexibility of being able to catch and play 1B. Besides, James Loney hits lefty as well, making Gibbons less necessary at first base and somewhat of an awkward fit for this roster as constructed.

So I have to ask: isn’t it time we seriously consider an Opening Day roster that doesn’t include Jay Gibbons? Gibbons hasn’t done much to earn it, and while I’m not going to pretend that I really care about Gimenez enough to say that you can’t chance losing him to keep Gibbons, I do feel that way about Paul.

Besides, that wouldn’t have to be the end of Gibbons; I hope it’s not, really, because I do like him. But hitting the way he is, I’d be surprised if anyone else wanted to give him a major league job, and he’d almost certainly end up back in Albuquerque. So let him try to rake down there for a few weeks, change “JaMarcus Gwybbons, Jr.” to, I don’t know, “Marcony X. Paul, Jr.”, and if Gibbons is hitting well in AAA in May, see how the rest of the roster has shaken out by that point.

Better that, than losing Paul for a player who’s not demonstrably better, right?

How Many Dodger Left Fielders Will We See This Year?

In 2010, the Dodgers ran out nine different left fielders, humorously picking up more errors than assists, on top of some generally lousy offiense:

  Age G GS Inn Ch PO A E Fld%
Manny Ramirez 38 46 46 359.2 73 68 2 3 .959
Scott Podsednik 34 37 30 272.1 62 61 0 1 .984
Reed Johnson 33 62 24 264.2 65 65 0 0 1.000
Garret Anderson 38 27 20 189.0 30 27 1 2 .933
Xavier Paul 25 23 19 169.2 33 29 3 1 .970
Jay Gibbons 33 15 13 106.0 25 23 1 1 .960
Jamey Carroll 36 5 5 38.0 13 13 0 0 1.000
Trent Oeltjen 27 4 2 21.2 1 1 0 0 1.000
Russ Mitchell 25 3 3 20.2 2 2 0 0 1.000
League Average                 .985
Team Total   162 162 1441.2 304 289 7 8 .974
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/21/2011.
 

The top four on that list – Manny, Podsednik, Johnson & Anderson – have all moved on. Beyond that, Xavier Paul may be lost on waivers should he not make the Opening Day roster, Jamey Carroll ideally shouldn’t be seeing any time in left field, Trent Oeltjen is a minor-league lifer with no guarantees, and Russ Mitchell looks less like a major leaguer the more we see of him (not to mention he’s more of an infielder, anyway). Of the nine left fielders from last year, only Jay Gibbons seems certain to see time there again this year, and even still I’ve been spending half the spring wondering if he’s going to lose his roster spot.

But that hasn’t stopped me from wondering – might the Dodgers actually top last year’s left fielder count?

Let’s assume for the moment that Gibbons, Tony Gwynn, and Marcus Thames are all but certain to see some time in left. With the extra spots opened up by the injuries to Jon Garland and Vicente Padilla, I think Paul probably does spend the first week or two with the big club, though I’d be shocked if he survives through April. Also on the out-of-options train is Hector Gimenez, who’s doing everything possible to make the club, and who we learned today is supposedly going to see some left field time of his own this week.

Let’s say that both Paul & Gimenez make the roster and make token appearances in LF, even if both are gone by May. That’ll be five possibles, but it won’t stop there. We all think Jerry Sands makes his debut this season, and that might extend to Trayvon Robinson as well. For veteran stopgaps in Albuquerque, there’s Oeltjen and Jamie Hoffmann, and possibly utility guy Eugenio Velez. Then there’s the non-zero possibility that infielders Carroll and Blake make cameos, and you could possibly see Andre Ethier shifted over should Gwynn actually grab the CF job and slide Matt Kemp to RF. That’s without even considering what happens if JaMarcus Gwybbons, Jr. fails completely before Sands is ready and the club is forced to go out and acquire someone new.

Despite losing the top four left fielders (in terms of playing time) from 2010, it’s not hard to see them trotting out double digits at the position this year. If so, then the real question is, can they break the all-time team record? That’s 15, set in 1985 and tied in 1987 (according to the wonderful Sam Miller of the Orange County Register). If there’s a bright side, the 1985 team won 95 games and went to the NLCS. (Of course, they also had Pedro Guerrero, a .320/.422/.577 beast at age 29, playing more LF than anyone else. Somehow I doubt that kind of production is getting replicated this year.)

How Many Problems Can Tony Gwynn Solve?


All winter, we’ve been wondering exactly how the outfield quagmire would play out, beyond just in terms of playing time. We’ve wondered if Marcus Thames‘ defense would make us fondly remember the days of Manny Ramirez, and we’ve wondered if Tony Gwynn would hit enough to carry his glove. We’ve wondered if Jay Gibbons could do anything at all, and we’ve wondered if Xavier Paul really had any prayer of making the team, though accepted that he probably didn’t. We’ve wondered how atrocious Andre Ethier would be against lefty pitching, and we’ve wondered if putting Gibbons or Thames in left alongside Matt Kemp and Ethier might make the pitching staff revolt as ball after ball fell in for hits. Stepping beyond the outfield for a second, we’ve wondered not only who would hit second in the orderCasey Blake‘s Bunting Extravaganza hardly thrills – but who might lead off if and when Rafael Furcal is unavailable.

As spring training goes on and the season looms, it’s becoming more and more clear that the best possible scenario to fill all of those answers – and more – is Tony Gwynn claiming a starting job, and that might be exactly what’s happening.

When Gwynn was signed back in December, I’ll admit that I wasn’t fully on board, openly questioning if he was really better than Paul. It’s not hard to see why – Gwynn hit just .204/.304/.287 for the Padres in 2010. As I said when I wrote about him on Baseball Prospectus earlier this week, usually “a .591 OPS in your age-27 season would earn you a one-way ticket to the finest buses in the Pacific Coast League.” But there’s some reason for hope, because Gwynn did put up a .350 OBP in 2009, and his 2010 was marred by a wrist injury and the news that his father was battling cancer. Despite the poor stat line, he did both increase his ISO and decrease his K/BB from 2009 (which he’d in turn increased from 2008). So while expectations must be kept low, you could at least see how he could bounce back from “unbelievably horrendous” to “merely mediocre” at the plate. Remember, you’re never expecting power from him, just hoping for on-base percentage.

So far, we’ve seen Gwynn taking advantage of his opportunity, hitting .344 with an OBP of nearly .400 in spring, and a perfect 6-6 in steals. Meanwhile, Paul hasn’t distinguished himself by leading the club in strikeouts, and Gibbons has had a totally nightmarish camp. He’s missed time due to the flu and with vision issues, and collected just his third hit (all singles) today, though he hopes his new contact lenses put the eye problems behind him. Gibbons’ spring has been so lousy that it’s not even a given that he’ll make the team at this point, if you read Don Mattingly’s quote at the end of the Ken Gurnick article:

“I’d like to see him healthy,” manager Don Mattingly said when asked if Gibbons was a “lock” to make the club as a platoon left fielder. “If the vision thing isn’t right and you can’t swing a bat, you know the plan going in, but you want to see him with clear vision. If you can’t see, you can’t hit. I’m telling you that right now.”

We’ll get back to Gibbons and his place in a second, but let’s say for the moment that Gwynn’s winning the job and ends up with the majority of the playing time as the third outfielder, providing decent OBP and excellent fielding. Think about how many of the previously-mentioned issues that solves:

1) He massively improves the outfield defense. Gwynn’s one of the best outfielders in the game, while we all know about the issues of Kemp and Ethier. Regardless of whether that would push them to the corners while Gwynn plays in center – which would probably be for the best, though Mattingly seems to be against it – having a plus defender like Gwynn rather than the subpar (at best!) Gibbons and Thames is a huge improvement.

2) He fits the batting order. This only works if he’s actually getting on base at a good clip, of course, but rather than Blake, I’d much rather have a guy with good speed and better contact skills – a full 10% fewer whiffs than Blake last year. That’d probably push Blake down to 6 or 7, which is where he really belongs anyway. If Gibbons gets the majority of the time, then Blake stays at #2, which is less than ideal.

3) He improves the bench. As pessimistic as I’ve been about Gibbons and Thames, they could potentially make a pretty decent lefty/righty duo off the bench with some power. They’re better bench options than Gwynn because you generally prefer power off the bench later in the game, and that again allows you more time in the field with Gwynn than with those two.

4) He gets Ethier out against lefties. You’re going to have to bear with me on this one for a second. For much of the offseason, I’d been saying that the Dodgers needed to sign not one but two righty outfielders, since neither Gibbons or Ethier are productive against them. (Ethier, in particular, has been declining terribly every year against LHP.) The obvious problem here is that Gwynn isn’t great against lefties either, but that’s a flaw in the construction of the roster. Barring the increasingly unlikely option of Casey Blake playing LF, you’re going to have to start at least one lefty outfielder all the time anyway. So if none of your options can hit them, and you’re playing Thames at the further expense of the defense, you’d rather Gwynn’s plus defense rather than Ethier’s mediocre defense. I know it seems odd to say you’d ever want to play Gwynn rather than Ethier, but you need to avoid the scenario of a Thames / Kemp / Ethier outfield whenever possible.

It says a lot about the construction of this team that I just wrote about 900 words on why Tony Gwynn may be the best choice they’ve got, but it just might be true. The way things are currently configured, nothing could work out better for this team than for Gwynn to keep up his hot spring and grab the job. Besides, it’s only until Jerry Sands is ready in the second half, anyway, right? (By the way, he, along with Justin Sellers, were sent to minor league camp today. No surprise there.)

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When Jon Link got shipped back to minor league camp the other day, I was surprised to see that the team had apparently fully committed to using him as a starter. As Christopher Jackson of the Albuquerque Examiner reports, Link doesn’t seem to be fully on board with the idea either:

“The only thing I enjoy about starting is getting to hit,” said Link, who only started once in 45 appearances with the Isotopes last season (3-2, 3.71 ERA, four saves). “That’s the one thing I enjoy. I don’t have the patience to start. (But) I’ll do whatever the club needs me to do, I’ll make the best of it, make the best I can.”

Link said starting takes an entirely different kind of mentality than the one he has had throughout his career.

“I don’t like waiting five days to pitch again, especially if you have a bad start and you have to sit on it,” Link said. “If you have a good start you obviously want to keep things rolling, so you’re really anxious to get into a game.

I’m open to the idea, but Link seems like an odd choice for the conversion. He’s never started before, and the team is pretty deep in starting candidates. What’s more likely, that you’ll need to get to your 11th starting option (which Link would be), or that you’ll need him to pick up a few bullpen innings this year? Especially if he’s not into it.

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Hey, Hector Gimenez hit another homer today! That can’t hurt his chances. Jonathan Broxton struck out two in a scoreless inning. But why didn’t he strike out five??!

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One year ago yesterday, we were discussing who would be the 5th starter. Names in the mix? Eric Stults, James McDonald, Carlos Monasterios, Charlie Haeger, and the Two Ortizii of the Apocalypse. My, how far we’ve come.