Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Be Unhappy With Vicente Padilla

Though I was relatively upbeat about the Dodgers signing Vicente Padilla yesterday, I’ve seen a decent amount of negativity about it from Dodger fans around the internet, many upset with Ned Colletti’s comment that the team probably can’t afford another starting pitcher now. I don’t believe the Dodgers need another starter; Padilla’s a fine #4 and guys like James McDonald, Eric Stults, Scott Elbert, and Charlie Haeger are more than qualified to fight it out for #5, just like every other team does with that spot.

Still, the questions about Padilla persist. Let’s take a look at what some of the reaction has been to the signing.

But he’s not an ace!

No, no he’s not. You also don’t get aces for 1 year and $5m, and that’s not what he’s supposed to be. As we’ve been through here ad nauseum, the Dodgers were never going to get an ace. There’s just not that many available and for various reasons (not all involving money) Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee weren’t options. As we should all know by now, 2010 depends in large part on Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley. If they take that next step, the Dodgers have a shot. If they don’t, then they’re in trouble. That was going to be the case regardless of who was signed to fill out the rotation.

But he’s not Ben Sheets, and signing Padilla means we can’t afford Sheets now!

True, he’s not Ben Sheets. And I won’t lie and pretend that I wouldn’t have liked to have seen Sheets in Blue. But I’m sure you’ve seen the rumors regarding Sheets’ asking price, right? He’s supposedly looking for around $10m plus a player option. So that right there probably puts the Dodgers out of the conversation entirely, Padilla or not. It’s also a lot to pay for a guy who didn’t even pitch in 2009 and has been injured with a variety of different ailments almost constantly since 2004. If he’s healthy, Sheets is probably worth the money for a team that can afford it. The Dodgers can’t afford the money or the risk, and Padilla’s signing isn’t the reason.

But we overpaid for a guy who got cut last year! He’s not worth it!

Isn’t he? $5m may sound like a lot, but for what starting pitching is going for these days – remember, Randy Wolf just picked up six times that – $5m really isn’t a whole lot. Yes, he got cut by the Rangers last year, but that was seemingly more for his off-field misdeeds than performance issues. We all saw how talented he can be in the playoffs for the Dodgers when he’s got his head on straight. Save for a lousy 2007 season in Texas, this is a guy who’s been hovering around league-average nearly every year for a decade. Just look at his “average” season – 29 starts, 183 innings, 100 ERA+. That’s a great 4th starter, and that alone is worth $5m. Then take into account that he’s spent almost his entire career pitching in two of the toughest places to pitch in baseball, Philadelphia and Texas. So yeah, I think he’s worth it.

But the Angels just got Joel Pineiro!

I’ve seen some complaints that this happened the day after the Angels signed Joel Pineiro to a 2 year, $16m contract, and how this supposedly means that the Dodgers are being reactionary and getting an inferior pitcher compared to the Rally Monkeys. And sure, Pineiro had a very nice 2009. I just think people are completely overlooking the risk inherent in a guy who was absolutely horrible in 3 of the previous 4 years (3 years with 5+ ERA), and who is now leaving Dave Duncan to come to a talented division in the tougher league.

Padilla was markedly better between 2004-08 (4.80 ERA isn’t great, but it’s a hell of a lot better than 5.34 ERA). Even in Pineiro’s breakout 2009, he tailed off at the end of the year, putting up a 4.64 ERA once the calendar turned to August. Then, he gave up 7 hits and 4 runs in only 4 innings in his NLDS start while Padilla threw 7 scoreless in the same game. That’s worth an extra year and 3 times the money?

But he’s a psychopath!

Well, yeah. We’ve all heard the stories about head-hunting, run-ins with teammates, and accidental shootings. This is all true and worth being worried about. That said, this is why you sign guys to one-year contracts. Ideally, the motivation for the next contract is enough to keep him in line, and if it’s not, then the few million dollars he cost is hardly going to send your season down the toilet.

I’ve also seen in some places that the fact that he got swine flu last year is held against him too, but that seems like a stretch. Millions of people came down with that, including – possibly – me. Am I a pyschopath too? Wait, don’t answer that.  

So now what? Are we done?!

Well, the front four in the rotation is pretty set with Kershaw, Billingsley, Hiroki Kuroda, and Padilla. There’s no shortage of talent to battle for the 5th spot, and whomever loses either bolsters the bullpen or awaits their chance in AAA. (I think Eric Stults probably has the initial advantage, if only because he’s out of options and the Dodgers didn’t refuse to sell him to Japan just to lose him for nothing).

You can say, “but Kershaw’s young! Billingsley was lousy late last year! Kuroda’s old and hurt!” and you’d be right. Just remember, no matter who the Dodgers signed to their rotation, none of those three guys were getting bumped. The season depends on their performances, and that’s been the reality for some time.

Just One More Month Until Pitchers & Catchers Report

Yesterday, I wrote the following regarding the Dodgers signing a free-agent pitcher:

In fact – and there’s going to be a full post on this in the next day or two – I strongly prefer Jon Garland to Pineiro anyway.

The idea behind this was going to be basically that even though Pineiro had a fantastic 2009, he’s also coming off three horrible years in the four previous seasons and is going to be far more expensive. Can he survive away from Dave Duncan? Was his 2009 simply a contract push? Who knows? Garland’s never going to be as good as Pineiro was last year, but he was better in most of the years before that, he’s cheaper, and he’s nothing if not consistent – he gives you the same 200 league-average innings every year. Since neither is going to be an ace and the season is largely going to hinge on the progress made by Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley, why not just save some money and sign the more reliable guy to give you some stability as a 4th starter?

Yep, that’s the post I was going to write, much more than a paragraph’s worth. And then Eric Seidman of Baseball Prospectus had to go and completely steal my thunder this morning by saying basically the exact same thing, just better than I would have, so if you’re a subscriber, check it out.

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Get ready to start hearing stories like this non-stop if Kershaw takes off like we expect him to:

Clayton Kershaw is coming off a strong season for the Los Angeles Dodgers, his second in the big leagues. He posted a 2.79 ERA and fanned 185 batters in just 171 innings of work. If the lefty takes another step forward in 2010, GM Ned Colletti may soon find himself in a similar situation that Seattle was with Felix Hernandez this winter, before signing the right-hander to a five-year contract.

Kershaw will not be eligible for arbitration until after next season, but that may be when the club starts to think about locking him up for more than one year to achieve some cost certainty and avoid a situation much like the one San Francisco is in with Tim Lincecum.

Hernandez got his deal after four years of service, so in that light the Dodgers have two seasons to go, but it might be smart accounting to do what the Red Sox did with Jon Lester — 5 years, $30 million after his second year of service, which is where Kershaw will stand a year from now.

You can see how Boston is saving money by doing so, too. For Lester’s contract to be worth more than Hernandez’s, he’d have to have an average annual salary of more $20 million in 2014 and 2015. In other words, it’s costing Boston about $48 million less for Lester over the same period of time.

Moral of the story: The Dodgers might be wisest not to wait.

As always, the divorce case looms over everything. But if Kershaw does take that next step in 2010, I think Dodger fans would do somersaults if he’d be willing to settle for $30m over 5 years. Remember, that’s not anywhere near what he would get on the open market, but this would of course be buying out his slave and arbitration years.

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Oh, look. A seemingly harmless story on Fox Sports. Let’s click it, shall we?

Kennedy down to three teams — 12:04 p.m.

The representative for free agent Adam Kennedy said he remains in talks with three teams about the infielder.

Two clubs are interested in Kennedy as their everyday second baseman, Paul Cohen said. Another has interest in Kennedy as a super-utility player.

“We have narrowed it down to three teams,” Cohen said.

Cohen wouldn’t address specific clubs, but the Cubs and Nationals are known to be looking for a second baseman.

Whenever a free agent second baseman is mentioned, you immediately think of the Dodgers (ESPN’s already tossed LA into this mix). But what’s important here is how the agent described the interest – two teams interested in Kennedy “as their everyday second baseman.” I’m not sold on Blake DeWitt yet, but we have to be hoping that the Dodgers aren’t one of those teams, right?

Actually, Kennedy’s not as bad as all that. Or at least he wasn’t in 2009, because after two horrific seasons in St. Louis (.572 and .692 OPS’s) that nearly ended his career, he parlayed a NRI from Tampa Bay into a .289/.348/.410 line with 11 homers playing 2B and 3B in Oakland. As a lefty batter, he’s almost useless against fellow lefties, but then again Blake DeWitt – also a lefty – has a reverse split, so you could theoretically see a platoon happening here.

On the other hand, the problem with Jamey Carroll is that he can’t play shortstop, and neither can Kennedy. So that probably rules that out. Still, it didn’t stop me from getting a chill down my spine when I saw that two unnamed teams are pursuing him to be a starter.

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Finally, via Diamond Leung, Troy from West Virginia has some strong thoughts on the Russ Ortiz signing (along with a wicked beard). Hey, I can’t say I disagree with him; Ortiz is abysmal and has been completely cooked for years. Troy is probably on his way to jail, and if the things in that article are true, then his future is well deserved. Still, when a man has that much facing him and he’s still bothered by a minor-league invite to Russ Ortiz… well, it probably means you shouldn’t have signed Russ Ortiz.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=suLNESmFphs]

NLDS Game 3: Let’s Finish This Off Tonight, Shall We?

I still haven’t gotten over how Game 2 ended, and it’s been nearly two days. Even moreso, I still can’t comprehend the fact that this series – which, even though we laughed at the pundits predicting a Cardinal sweep, we knew would be a difficult battle – could be wrapped up today.

I’m incredibly interested to see how Cardinal fans recieve Matt Holliday tonight. My prediction? He gets the largest ovation in the house. That’s partly because St. Louis baseball fans have such a great reputation of being welcoming, but also partly because I’m sure they don’t want to lose him for the rest of the series – and kill any chance they may have had of re-signing him this offseason. It should be noted, though, that while we’ll all remember Holliday’s gaffe for years, it’s hard to put the blame entirely on him. As Cardinals blog Viva el Birdos notes:

That said, his error Thursday meant that, rather than having a 100% chance of winning the game, we “only” had an 86.7% chance of winning the game. Many have pointed out the obvious – that if Holliday catches the ball, we win the game. Well, if Ryan Franklin gets either of the next 2 hitters out – Casey Blake and Ron Belliard, btw (not exactly A-Rod and Teixeira!) – we win the game also. And if he gets only 1 out of the next 4 hitters out – Blake, Belliard, Russell Martin and the always potent Mark Loretta – we go to extra innings and still have a chance. Ryan Franklin’s transgressions were much greater than Holliday’s.

That’s not how it’s going to look in the history books, but it’s 100% true. Speaking of closers, anyone still complaining about Jonathan Broxton, by the way? I thought not. Even the LA Times is doing favorable stories about him now, which they should have been doing all along.

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Tonight, we’re looking at Vicente Padilla against Joel Pineiro, and I have to admit I have absolutely no idea what to expect from either one. If “Adam Wainwright vs. Clayton Kershaw” was a hot matchup between two young stud pitchers, “two guys who got unceremoniously dumped by AL teams in recent years” isn’t quite the same thing.

Pineiro was another one of Cardinal pitching guru Dave Duncan’s famed reclamation projects, and won 15 games with a 119 ERA+ this year. But there’s a lot more to it than that, because A) his worth two months of the year were August and September, as he had a 4.64 ERA in those two months, alternating good starts (3 times allowing just 1 run) with bad (allowing 7 ER twice and 4 ER three times). And B), Pineiro’s been rocked by the important cogs in the Dodger lineup. If there’s ever a time for Manny to bust out of his slump, facing a guy who he’s hit 4 homers and put up a crazy .424/.500/.788 line in 38 plate appearances would be a hell of a start. Casey Blake’s been great as well (1.226 OPS in 22 PA), well everyone else has had relatively small sample sizes, except for Jim Thome, who’s unlikely to face Pineiro anyway.

padilla.jpgOn the other side, Vicente Padilla is making his playoff debut. He was great for the Dodgers down the stretch, and absolutely dominating (10 K in 5 IP) against Colorado on the last day of the season, pitching himself into this start. What’s really interesting, though, is Padilla’s history against the Cardinals. He’s faced just eight of them, and we can eliminate four of those based on being backups or pitchers (Joe Thurston, John Smoltz, Jason LaRue, and Troy Glaus). Against the remaining four?

Mark DeRosa – .523 OPS in 24 PA
Albert Pujols – 1.000 OPS in 9 PA
Matt Holliday – .542 OPS in 8 PA
Julio Lugo – .583 in 10 PA

Other than DeRosa, those are all pretty small samples, but three of the four have performed poorly and Joe Torre seems determined – rightly, I’d say – to not let Pujols even have a chance to hit. So Padilla will be facing 7 guys who’ve either never seen him at all or very few times, 1 guy who he owns (DeRosa), and the pitcher. How many times have we seen the Dodgers get dominated by guys they’ve never seen before just because of unfamiliarity? No one’s ever questioned Padilla’s stuff, so that combination could lead to great things tonight.

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While I of course want to see the Dodgers take the sweep tonight for obvious reasons, I will put out there that there is one nice silver lining if they lose, and that’s that Chad Billingsley would get to pitch in Game 4 tomorrow. With Hiroki Kuroda’s availability for the rest of the playoffs still in doubt, Billingsley would presumably be lined up to be the Game 4 starter in the NLCS, scheduled for Monday, October 19.

Billingsley hasn’t pitched since facing the Padres on September 29, so if he doesn’t get to start tomorrow and then is asked to go in Game 4 of the next round, he’ll have had 19 days between outings. I don’t mind getting a young guy extra rest, but nearly three weeks between starts is a really tough request, not to mention one who’s had the issues that he had late in the season.

Letting him make a start tomorrow is not worth wanting to see this series extended, because if they lose tonight and he’s not sharp tomorrow we could easily be looking at a do-or-die Game 5 with a motivated-for-revenge Chris Carpenter on the mound, and no one wants that. It’s just a small positive that could come out of losing today’s game.

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As you’ve probably heard, Tony Abreu was officially traded to Arizona to complete the Jon Garland trade. I hated the trade when it happened, saying:

Look, if it’s Abreu, I’m going to be really unhappy. He’s a 24-year-old with a .991 OPS in AAA this year, and looks to finally have put his career back on track after two years of injuries. With Orlando Hudson headed back into free agency this offseason, I was strongly in favor of letting him walk and giving Abreu a crack at the second base job. Now – again, if it’s him – the Dodgers have just handed a division rival an excellent prospect for 5 mediocre starts of Jon Garland?  

Survey says… We’ll of course have more to say on this once we know who the player is going back to Arizona. Right now, the feeling is more “worried” with a good chance of “horrified“. 

So what did we get out of Garland? 36.1 IP over 6 starts. Five of those were decent before he imploded in his last one, but I haven’t changed my mind on this. The Dodgers will likely have a huge hole at 2B this offseason (I can’t see either Orlando Hudson or Ronnie Belliard being the Opening Day guy next year) and they handed a talented young player to a divison rival for 36.1 solid innings that had almost no bearing on the pennant race or, so far, the playoffs. Great deal, that.