Disastrous Defense Dooms Dodgers to Defeat

The ump is trying to tell Hairston where first base is.

I’m trying to figure out which asking price increased more today in Dodger Stadium. Was it the cost of a starting pitcher, since Chad Billingsley‘s elbow concerns suddenly put additional pressure on a rotation which was already looking for an improvement? Or was it the cost of Chase Headley, who homered for the second time in two days while Jerry Hairston was throwing the ball over the park at third?

I feel a little bad putting too much blame on Hairston here, because he contributed two hits and actually made several absolutely fantastic plays to get to hard-hit balls at third before making his two throwing errors. (A problem he was hardly alone on, since Juan Uribe & Mark Ellis each had throwing miscues of their own, plus an error on a grounder to Jamey Wright, plus one from Josh Lindblom which didn’t go in the books an error since the runner didn’t advance. The five errors was the team’s most since 1995.) Yet since he’d already told Don Mattingly earlier this season that he didn’t feel comfortable at the hot corner, it’s difficult to look at a third base future that has an inconsistent Hairston and the dreadful duo of Uribe & Adam Kennedy and think that Ned Colletti isn’t trying to lay down in the parking lot right now to prevent the San Diego bus from leaving.

The defensive problems made an unfortunate loser of Chris Capuano, who pitched well in Billingsley’s stead. Well, not only the defensive problems; if you’re really going to put up just two runs over six against against Jason Marquis, who wasn’t even good when he was good, then you’re not going to win a lot of games. Really, you can blame everyone other than Hairston & Andre Ethier for that, since the rest of the club went 3-26 against Marquis & friends. Oh, and Josh Lindblom gave up yet another homer, so there’s that.

Again, I’m really not sure that this team, as constructed, should be going all-in for this season. But I am sure that the front office doesn’t feel that way, so expect moves to come. Lots of them, and soon. Oh, and Roy Halladay & Cliff Lee are coming in the next three days. Good times!

Jerry Hairston Does It All

So, anything stand out here?

Jerry Hairston had himself something of a day, driving in five of the first six Dodger runs and scoring the other. The five runs batted in were not only a career high, they were the most by any Dodger since Matt Kemp also drove in five last July against Arizona. Hairston may have been the hero, but he was hardly alone; every Dodger other than the still struggling Andre Ethier had at least one hit, with Dee Gordon, Elian Herrera, A.J. Ellis, & Tony Gwynn each contributing two singles apiece. Basically, all those hits that didn’t drop for the Dodgers last night against Kevin Millwood and friends were all being saved up for tonight.

Of course, to single out Hairston and the offense is almost to neglect Clayton Kershaw, who bounced back from a few less-than-vintage outings to thoroughly confuse the hapless Mariners, striking out 12 over seven innings. Kershaw’s night was somewhat spoiled by a three-run homer from Miguel Olivo in the sixth, but I’m pretty sure we’d all take one bad pitch against 12 strikeouts every single time. By the way, Todd Coffey finished up with a scoreless ninth, and I know how much everyone likes to hate him, but it’s worth noting that he’s made it through eight of his last nine outings without allowing an earned run. I’ve talked here about how unfair first impressions can be when it comes to baseball stats many times, and that’s really killed Coffey this season; giving up four earned runs while getting just three outs in his first three outings (on an injured knee, no less) means that it’ll take him all season to get that ERA down to a reasonable level – even if it doesn’t truly reflect who he is right now.

If anything, I hope Dodger fans noticed the great all-around effort; between the Saturday afternoon road game against a lousy interleague foe, the ridiculous FOX blackout rules which meant few people outside of Los Angeles (or Seattle) could watch, the Kings in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals, and Game 7 of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals between the Heat & Celtics, I’m gathering this may not have been the highest-rated Dodger game of all time.

Dodgers Facing Roster Choices as Injured Players Return

At some point before Clayton Kershaw throws the first pitch of tonight’s game against the Astros at Dodger Stadium, the Dodgers are expected to activate Jerry Hairston off the disabled list, since the veteran has reported no trouble with his sore hamstring in two rehab games for Albuquerque. On Sunday & Monday, Matt Kemp & Juan Rivera are expected to begin rehab stints of their own for the Isotopes, with Kemp scheduled to return to the Dodgers on Tuesday against Milwaukee and Rivera, healing far ahead of schedule, potentially returning later in the week. In addition, while we haven’t heard any news about a possible rehab stint for Juan Uribe, the news on his injured wrist is positive, as he’s been cleared to resume baseball activities and is eligible to return on Tuesday as well.

All of a sudden, the walking wounded are beginning to heal, and the Dodgers are going to have some roster decisions to make. If it was as simple as sending down those who were recalled to take the four spots in the first place, then the Dodgers would be bidding farewell to Justin Sellers (for Hairston), Jerry Sands (for Kemp), Elian Herrera (for Uribe), and Scott Van Slyke (for Rivera).

Of course, rarely is it ever that simple, for much has changed since they left, particularly in the middle infield. Mark Ellis is now lost until July due to his leg surgery, Dee Gordon probably would have been back in the minors by now if the injury situation hadn’t destroyed all roster flexibility, and Sellers may have his own injury concerns after being scratched from Wednesday’s lineup with leg numbness. That means the club that these veterans are returning to has no obvious second baseman, a shortstop who may not be up to the task, and could be without the main backup at both positions.

But let’s start with the obvious moves first. When Kemp & Rivera are both back, Van Slyke & Sands are each going back down. Van Slyke’s pinch-hit homer aside, neither has done a whole lot in limited time and neither is served better by riding the bench in the bigs than playing every day in the minors. I’m hardly Rivera’s biggest fan, but he’ll provide the righty alternative at first base that James Loney sorely needs and fit in with Bobby Abreu & Tony Gwynn into a left-field trio that could actually be productive if used properly.

For Hairston, well, you’ve got some infield decisions to make, and that depends in large part on Sellers. If Sellers goes to the disabled list, then he’s an easy swap for Hairston, though that comes with the downside of having to rely on Gordon (who may not be ready) and Hairston (who looked awful there in camp) at shortstop. That’d leave you with some combination of Hairston & Adam Kennedy at third and Ivan De Jesus & Herrera at second, with some mixing between the two groups. When Uribe returns, De Jesus would almost certainly be farmed out, since Herrera has played surprisingly well in his short time with the team.

If Sellers can avoid the DL, De Jesus would go down today for Hairston, probably leaving Herrera as the primary second baseman. When Uribe returns, you could send down Herrera (if you need to keep Sellers for shortstop or if he can’t keep up his hot start), or even Gordon, if he’s still struggling.

Honestly, I’d really like to see what happens if De Jesus would ever be given a real shot at every day play, and the absence of Ellis would seem to be a prime opportunity for that. But there seems to be almost no route for that to happen, not with the presence of at least five others who can spot at second and the organization’s complete reluctance to play him, calling him up only after squeezing the non-roster Herrera onto the 40-man.

Much depends on Sellers’ health, Gordon’s play, and whether this club can actually get through a full week without having to deal with another injury. But there’s always a bright side: the more healthy players you have, the less chance of having to see Aaron Miles again.

Dodgers Hamstrung By Cubs As Injury & Bullpen Concerns Mount

On a gray, rainy day in Chicago that saw the start of today’s series finale delayed by nearly three hours due to inclement weather, the Dodgers might just have been better off not playing at all. Matt Kemp was scratched prior to the game with a sore left hamstring; not only was it the first time all season in which Kemp was absent from the lineup, it also really illustrated just how thin this lineup is without him, as Tony Gwynn was inserted hitting 8th and everyone else pushed up a spot.

Unfortunately, it quickly got worse. Jerry Hairston, one of the hottest Dodgers and just yesterday the subject of a Steve Dilbeck Los Angeles Times piece questioning the validity of sending him back to the bench if and when Juan Uribe is healthy, successfully beat out an infield hit to second but – wait for it – strained his left hamstring in the process. He was replaced by Adam Kennedy, and all of a sudden the Dodgers have a problem: with Uribe still bothered by his wrist and unable to hit more than once or twice a game, Justin Sellers shipped out for Bobby Abreu, and Hairston now limping, the Dodgers have just four healthy infielders. And of those four, two aren’t hitting at all and one is Adam Kennedy.

Ned Colletti joined the radio broadcast to say that Sellers was prepared to get on a plane to LAX without even getting into a game for Albuquerque pending an update on Hairston’s condition, but frankly I’m surprised he wasn’t at the airport the second Hairston pulled up lame. Whether or not Hairston requires a DL stint, you have to think that he’s going to need at least a day or two off (and likely much more), and we’re long past the time where messing around with trying to get Uribe healthy is worthwhile. Uribe doesn’t add much even when he can play, and all he’s doing now is eating up a roster spot. Sellers needs to be back up tomorrow, with either Hairston or Uribe disabled.

And if both infielders need to hit the DL? Well, options are limited. The only other two infielders on the 40-man roster are Alex Castellanos & Ivan De Jesus, but there’s injury considerations there as well. Castellanos is on the minor league DL with – stop me if you’ve heard this before – a strained hamstring, and DeJesus is just four games into his season after an oblique strain in spring training set him down for over a month. Beyond them, the Dodgers do have an open spot on the 40-man, but camp favorite Josh Fields has your typical brutal ABQ split, with Jeff Baisley not far behind.

If it seems that I’ve spent all this time talking about rosterbation instead of the game, well, I have, it just seems like much more of a big-picture concern. Aaron Harang pitched six reasonably effective innings and even drove in the first run of the game on a fielder’s choice; Juan Rivera finished off the Dodger scoring with his second home run of the year in the third, one of his three hits on the day. But the Kemp-less lineup stagnated after that, with just three singles in the ensuing seven innings.

Josh Lindblom & Kenley Jansen each pitched scoreless frames, allowing Javy Guerra to take a 3-2 lead into the ninth… and, well, look. I’m not going to rehash his inning. He’s clearly not getting the job done, and I’ll have more on that topic tomorrow. There’s just no reason to keep him in the ninth any longer; I’d argue, as I have for some time, that he was massively overrated after 2011 and that it was folly for anyone to view him as an elite reliever anyway. Jamey Wright got through the 10th unscathed before a nightmarish 11th that included him hitting pinch-hitting pitcher Jeff Samardzija and walking David DeJesus to force in the winning run. That said, I’m hardly going to get on Wright for that, because it’s no secret that he’s old & mediocre; it never should have come to him in the first place.

We’re not likely to hear about any potential roster or closer moves until tomorrow, but it’ll be a big day nonetheless as the Dodgers return home to face the Giants in the first home game of the Guggenheim era. Let’s see those stands packed, people.

The Dodgers May Need to Rework That Bench Group

Similar to the pitching staff, we’ve long known the identity of the bench to start the season, save for a tepid battle for the final spot. Matt Treanor will be the backup catcher, Adam Kennedy will see time at three of the four infield positions, Tony Gwynn is your main backup outfielder, and Jerry Hairston will play all over. That last spot is probably going to go to Jerry Sands, but there’s some possibility that he’ll start the year in the minors with Justin Sellers, Josh Fields, or someone else sneaking in the door. (It won’t, we can all agree, be a 13th pitcher.)

We haven’t exactly been thrilled with that prospect so far, because despite Gwynn’s excellent glove and Hairston’s positional flexibility, it’s a bench that offers little in the way of offensive punch – especially if Sands doesn’t make the club. Remember how the game always seemed to find Dioner Navarro in the bottom of the 9th last year? If you thought that was fun, just wait until we’re watching Treanor & Kennedy meekly ending games in big spots.

Lackluster though that may seem, it’s how the roster has been set up, so we haven’t really spent a whole lot of time discussing it, other than whether Sands would really hold on to that final spot. Steve Dilbeck writes today that Sands hasn’t been impressive so far, and while it’s early, it’s true. But whether or not Sands should make the team or not isn’t the most immediate issue; it’s the apparent lack of depth the Dodgers are facing at shortstop.

You see, Hairston made two errors playing shortstop today, as the Dodgers fell to Colorado 6-2. Now, I hardly need to remind you of the usual caveats about how one game – or even one week – in spring training usually doesn’t mean that much, and that’s still true. But with Juan Uribe expected to play third base exclusively, that leaves only Hairston, a soon-to-be 36-year-old who played in exactly one game at shortstop last year, for depth. While Dee Gordon (who made an error of his own today) is expected to play every day, questions about his durability remain, so it’s pretty easy to make the case that Sellers should make the club and Sands should head to ABQ, especially with the possibility that Scott Van Slyke & Alex Castellanos could be shifting around down there, as Christopher Jackson writes today.

Maybe it really is that simple, to keep Sellers & let Sands mash for a while in Triple-A. It probably will be. But that doesn’t mean it should be, because that would create something of a ripple effect. If you keep Sellers, he immediately becomes your top backup at shortstop and a more than capable defender behind Mark Ellis at second. Hairston becomes your primary backup at third base behind Uribe, where he played nearly everyday for Milwaukee last year, is a third option at second base, and can help Gwynn spot for Juan Rivera and Andre Ethier in the corners.

Considering that Rivera can shift to first on the few days that James Loney will get off, your defensive flexibility is pretty much spoken for, and the last spot should really be about offense. Maybe that’s Sands. Maybe that’s Fields, who has been impressive early in camp, and at least has a history of crushing Triple-A pitching aside from the 23 homers he put up for the White Sox in 2007. But really, it makes me wonder yet again, what exactly is Adam Kennedy‘s role here? It’s not for his bat, as I detailed in this ridiculous timeline that I’m all too eager to break out yet again:

Feb. 5, 2010: Coming off a decent 2009 with Oakland, signs a $1.25m guaranteed contract for 2010 with Washington.

2010: Hits just .249/.327/.327 for Washington, one of the worst years of his career.

Nov. 3, 2010: Nationals decline Kennedy’s $2m 2011 option.

Jan. 10, 2011: Mariners sign Kennedy to a minor-league deal with an invite to spring training; he makes the roster when the Mariners decide Dustin Ackley needs more seasoning.

Jan 27, 2011: Arrested in Newport Beach for suspicion of DUI.

2011: Hits .234/.277/.355 for Seattle, a wOBA 25 points lower than his underwhelming 2010.

Nov. 30, 2011: After not being able to find a guaranteed contract in 2011 and having a horrible season… receives a guaranteed deal from the Dodgers.

It’s not for his glove, because as outlined in the scenario above, second and third base would be more than covered without him. I imagine the argument would be “because he’s lefty”, but who cares what side a guy swings from when he can’t hit at all? I’d much rather take my chances with Fields (or Sands, or Trent Oeltjen, or whomever) along with Sellers while simultaneously improving the defensive depth and offensive potential. Now I know that Kennedy has a guaranteed contract, so this scenario is never going to happen. Still, what’s more important – the $850k already wasted on him, or building the best bench you can?

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Ownership update, from Mike Ozanian of Forbes: Alan Casden is out, and Magic Johnson’s group has the current high bid at $1.6b. While that’s the highest bid thus far, it’s not that simple for two reasons. First, Steven Cohen’s bid, while only $1.4b, apparently has the highest percentage of straight cash involved, and the bidders have until Friday to rework their bids and submit final numbers. Expect the numbers to increase; sadly, all of the bids include provisions to lease the parking lots from Frank McCourt.

By the way: I’m not at all convinced this is going to go as smoothly as we hope. From Bill Shaikin’s piece on Casden:

McCourt has told people familiar with the sale process that he might introduce new bidders in the coming week. MLB has completed an expedited investigation of the current bidders and would probably ask the mediator to reject any new bidders at this late date, the people said.

McCourt has the ability to appeal any perceived wrongdoing on MLB’s part to a court-appointed mediator. Since when he has passed up the opportunity to litigate?

Update: Per Shaikin, MLB has also cut the Gold/Disney group and the Barrack/Hindery group. That makes your final four bidders Magic/Kasten, Cohen, Kroenke… and the Heisley/Ressler group, which I suppose we’re going to have to start paying more attention to.

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Big week for Dodger literature, it seems. A few days ago we learned about a new Dodger coffee table book, “Dodgers: From Coast to Coast”, and now Paul Haddad is publishing “A Fan’s History of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Glory Years (1977-1981)”. The book contains transcripts of classic calls from Vin Scully, Jerry Doggett, and Ross Porter – sounds like it’s worth checking out.