Now That’s A Lineup

87toppsrussellmartin.jpgNot wasting any time with the “let’s give the infield a breather” initiative, are we?

DODGERS

Martin C
Ethier RF
Ramirez LF
Kemp CF
Blake 3B
Belliard 2B
Loretta 1B
Castro SS
Wolf P

This is Martin’s first time batting leadoff since September 21 of last year when… the Dodgers scored 0 runs in an 11 inning 1-0 loss to the Giants. D’oh. Fun fact: the middle infield that day consisted of Blake DeWitt and Angel Berroa. My, how far we’ve come. Actually, hitting Martin leadoff isn’t a terrible idea. Though his power has completely disappeared this year, his .358 OBP is 37 points higher than usual leadoff man Rafael Furcal and is actually better than any Dodger infielder. So even if he’s not hitting for extra bases anymore, perhaps he can at least get on for the big bats 2-5 to move him around. This is, of course, also the Dodger debut of Ronnie Belliard.

On another note, I know I’m a sucker for former Dodgers, but the Pirates DFA’d Jonathan Meloan today, making them the third team he’s been on since leaving the Dodgers in last year’s Casey Blake deal. It wasn’t that long ago that he was a highly-touted reliever in the Dodgers system (don’t forget his ridiculous 2007, in which he struck out 91 in 66.2 IP with a 2.02 ERA between AA and AAA) and he’s only just turned 25. He’s struggled a bit with his control since leaving the Dodgers, but he still looks to have good stuff (striking out 60 in 65 IP this year). If he goes unclaimed and it doesn’t cost a 40-man roster spot, why not bring him back and see if familiar surroundings can reclaim what he had going?

Ned’s Evil Ways…

So, as we delve deeper into the Blake deal, let’s break this down a little bit: 

The Good: Casey Blake isn’t a bad player.  It’s not like we just traded for, say, Angel Berroa (although signing him isn’t much better, but I digress).  So far this season, Blake has put up a line of .289/.365/.465, 119 OPS+, .830 OPS, .283 EqA, with 11 HR’s, which would tie him for the club lead with Matt Kemp and the guy we just benched, Andre Ethier.  His 19.9 VORP also ranks 7th amongst all MLB thirdbaseman, and would rank him 4th on the Dodgers, behind Loney, Kemp, and Martin (Furcal is technically second, but I’m not counting him for obvious reasons).  The chances are, between now and the end of the season, he’ll likely be an upgrade over what the Dodgers have at third base, now.  He also seems to be a little versatile, as he can play the outfield in addition to third base.  Although, certainly, he’ll likely be seeing most of his time at third base.

Now that sounds all nice and peachy, right?  Just traded a couple of kids most haven’t heard of for a guy who would already be one of the better hitters on our team?  Right?  Except this brings us to the bad:

The Bad:  The talent that went to Cleveland was relief pitcher Jonathan Meloan and catching prospect Carlos Santana… no, not that one.

For those who aren’t familiar with either one, let’s change that.

Today’s Prospect gives a nice, succinct summary of Meloan, published in May:

Jonathan Meloan is a fireballing righthander in the Los Angeles Dodger system frequently mentioned by scouts as a future closer. Born in Houston and drafted in the first round of 2005 out of the University of Arizona, he’s quickly become a dominant pitcher, zooming through minor league levels with ease.

While he went 27-2 as a starter in college, Meloan has been used almost exclusively as a reliever since turning professional, and he’s quickly become one of the best relievers in the minor leagues. His strikeout rate has often been in the ‘ludicrous’ category, even exceeding TWO per inning during his stint with Jacksonville.

With a heavy, sinking fastball that he uses at 94-95 and a filthy mid-80′s slider with plus movement, Meloan has all he needs to succeed in the big leagues today. He’s even got the sort of mound presence that coaches love to see in a closer. His change and curve, acceptable big-league pitches, will probably see little use in the late-inning role he’s bound for.

How the Dodgers handle Meloan in the face of young Jonathan Broxton will be an interesting development. If they keep both in the system, whichever one ends up working the 8th inning may be the best setup man in baseball in a few short years.

Meloan was converted into a starter this year and has put up numbers below par, with a 4.97 ERA and a WHIP of 1.70.  Despite his bad numbers, he has put up fine numbers as a reliever.  Having said that, despite the fact that he is a good prospect, it’s at least a little more palatable to trade him alone for Blake.  I could have lived with it.

The biggest problem is, of course, adding Carlos Santana to the deal.

Kensai over at FireNedCollettiNow.com gives a nice report of him, in fact, written just hours before the trade.  Here’s a sampling:

Overview-Looking purely at his 2007 numbers, the only thing that looks worth mentioning about him is his name. However, there were a lot of factors that played into his poor performance last year, and Santana is still a very promising bat that is now playing a premium position at catcher. His position changes have hindered his progression through the minors, but with a fast start this year, he could be back on track to establishing his star.

And he was on a very good track to doing that, this year.  This season, Santana, who is 22 years old, has been hitting the living crap out of the ball, putting up a line of .323/.431/.563 with a .994 OPS and 14 HR’s.  Remember, he’s a catcher… a switch-hitting catcher… and to find a catcher putting up those numbers is mighty impressive and some have argued that he is already, if not close, to becoming the organization’s best hitting prospect.  While Russell Martin is firmly established as the catcher, it’s still not wise to trade someone putting up these numbers for a three month rental of Casey Blake, even if the player could become expandable.  Trade him for Jason Bay, Matt Holliday, etc.?  Great.  Just not Casey Blake.  Selling high is one thing, but you also need to get a good return, as well.

Of course, that’s the problem with Ned: he’s like a drunk guy on eBay.  You know those people… they’ll get absolutely wasted, then go on there, spend, get into ridiculous bidding wars and, even if the product that they win is nice and valuable, they’ll still end up paying more than double its value.  Of course, the problem with Ned is that, even after the bill comes and he realizes how much it’s set him back, he’ll keep trying to justify it and then spend even more to prove a point.

I mean, I can just picture if Ned used eBay:

Ned: Hey, dude, I bought this Japanese import of the “Revolver” LP on eBay, right now.  It’s used, a little worn out, the sound quality isn’t really all that good, but I think that adds character.  I think it’s got some years left on it.

Me: Great!  How much did you pay for it?

Ned: $500!

So, you see, it’s not even always so much the player that Ned gets that drives everyone up the wall. If it were, say, Meloan for Blake, while it wouldn’t be something that would be met with 100% praise, I think many more people could have lived with it.  But, like the drunk eBay guy, or Gladys Knight inside a Las Vegas casino, Ned doesn’t know when to stop and, therefore, rarely gets equal value.

The other problem is that, despite Blake’s .830 OPS this season, he is known for declining in the second half.

Casey Blake’s career splits:

First Half:  .270/.349/.452, .801 OPS

Second Half:  .249/.318/.440, .757 OPS

And yet another problem is that, in case you haven’t noticed, we have a couple of pitchers on our staff who tend to give up groundballs.  And, well, Blake isn’t all that great defensively.

Andrew from the always insightful TrueBlueLA provides us with some information regarding Blake’s defense:

In the context of the entire team, this could be a huge issue. Blake is actually pretty good at stopping balls going down the line. He was +9 on those plays last year and is +2 this year. The problem is balls to his left where he was at -13 last year and -5 this year. This means that any ball that is hit between Blake and Nomar is getting through. When you have Kent on Nomar’s other side any balls hit from Blake’s left to Loney’s range are getting through unless they’re hit directly at someone. This is going to make Derek Lowe, Hiroki Kuroda, Chad Billingsley, and Brad Penny, who all have ground ball to fly ball rates over 1.5, extremely unhappy. Casey Blake gives the Dodgers quite possibly the worst defensive infield in baseball, and that doesn’t seem wise when your four best pitchers are all ground ball pitchers.

Also, this does leave us with the big question: what does this mean for Andy LaRoche?  Well, it depends on what happens between now and the next five days.  If he’s still a Dodger by August 1st, then the chances are that he’ll either go back to Las Vegas (which is possible, given Torre’s mancrush on DeWitt) or stay on as a PH and get the chance to start come 2009.  I could live with that, just as long as he’s not traded.

So, overall?  It’s a bad trade with a lack of foresight.  While having Casey Blake man third base isn’t necessarily a bad thing for 2008, in the sense that he likely won’t be a liability at the plate, Ned once again trades pieces that could very well become valuable chips for the future, either possibly making an impact in a Dodgers uniform or becoming valuable chips to acquire someone of a much higher stature than Casey Blake.  In other words, trades like this are the type of trades that will come back to bite you in the ass in the future.  Finally, how does this really boosts the Dodgers’ chances at the playoffs for this season?  Do we honestly think that Casey Blake is the player that will be the difference maker for a team who is below .500 and ONLY conceivably has a chance at the playoffs because they’re in a horrible division?  And, even if we do make the playoffs, this team, even with Blake, would likely get wiped out in the first round, yet again.  So, what, we gain 1 or 2 wins with Blake?  In some ways, I wish the Diamondbacks would have run away with the division when they had the chance, because it would have maybe shown the front office that we shouldn’t be buying when the team at hand is deeply flawed.  Perhaps Blake will put up superior production to what LaRoche would have, but, again, with Blake’s notable second half drops, would the difference in production have been that much?  Enough to trade two good prospects?  Hell no.  It becomes horrific.

I suppose the one silver lining is that if Blake continues to hit as well as he has this year, he could likely finish as a type A free agent, which enables the Dodgers to collect two first-round picks.

By the way, here’s Ned’s statement after the trade:

“Casey Blake is a gamer,” Dodgers GM Ned Colletti said. “His experience and character will be a plus as we head down the stretch in the final two months of the regular season.”

This quote, in many ways, sums up the Ned Colletti Regime.

- Vin vinscully-face.jpg