Report: Dodgers Close to Signing Juan Rivera (Updated)

Los Angeles Times:

Juan Rivera and the Dodgers are closing in on a one-year contract that would include a team option for 2013, according to baseball sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the deal hasn’t been finalized. The deal could be completed later this week.

No surprise here – Rivera was roundly hailed as a savior when he replaced Marcus Thames in July, and I’ve never thought that he wouldn’t be back in 2012, though it’s probably not the route I would have taken. The fact that it’s apparently not two guaranteed years is promising, though the value of this contract depends entirely on the dollars and his role. Ideally we’re not talking about more than $2m or so, because he made $5.25m last year and got DFA’d by Toronto, so he deserves a pay cut.

Almost as important – and obviously it’s far too early to know the answer to this – is what his role would be. Remember, for all of the accolades he received for merely being better than Thames (and Jay Gibbons, etc.), he only hit .274/.333/.406 – not bad, but hardly numbers you want from a starting corner outfielder. The idea of “Juan Rivera, starting left fielder” isn’t exactly how I want to get this offseason started. That said, he does still produce against lefties (even though he absolutely cannot hit righties), and there’s definitely a spot on this team for a platoon bat to help spot for Andre Ethier and/or James Loney. Along with being possible insurance for Jerry Sands, you could do worse. I suppose, anyway; Ned Colletti doesn’t exactly have a sterling track record when it comes to repeat engagements  from low-cost mid-season veteran pickups from the year before.

Update: The deal is reportedly for $4m, per Ken Gurnick. I suppose there was no way I wasn’t going to be disappointed by this, but is there really anyone who thinks this deal is going to be worth it? I’d say there’s just about an equal chance that he’s DFA’d by July than there is that he actually earns that money. Oh, and Clayton Kershaw, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier won Gold Gloves, which is such a flawed award that I can’t even bring myself to speak about it. It’s just the height of lunacy that anyone puts any stock into the Gold Glove, though you can all prepare for Steve Lyons to be about 40 times as insufferable next year.

MSTI’s 2011 in Review: Right Field

Andre Ethier (C-)
.292/.368/.421 .789 11hr 1.3 WAR

Andre Ethier started out his season with some completely unnecessary public comments, complaining about his contract status the day before the season started and wondering if he might actually get non-tendered. (Spoiler alert: no.)  He ended his season with another round of public controversy, claiming that the Dodgers were forcing him to play on an injured knee before quickly backpedaling, and then undergoing knee surgery anyway. In between making a fool of himself in the papers, he came within one game of setting a franchise record with a 30-game hitting streak, yet ultimately ended up with a less-than-satisfying season as his power deserted him.

Really, most of the season was a disappointment after his outstanding April, wasn’t it? I say that in something of a positive way; other than his lousy August and September, this is a generally good season from an average outfielder. But we expect so much more from Ethier that just being “generally good” isn’t really good enough.

Split PA H 2B HR BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS BAbip
April/March 121 41 10 3 13 21 .380 .446 .556 1.002 .452
May 102 23 2 2 14 17 .261 .363 .352 .715 .304
June 110 30 8 2 7 24 .300 .345 .440 .785 .368
July 100 23 5 3 9 20 .261 .340 .420 .760 .303
August 99 22 4 1 12 17 .253 .343 .333 .677 .304
Sept/Oct 19 3 1 0 3 4 .188 .316 .250 .566 .250

The hope here is that much of this can be explained by injury, and I’m not just talking about the knee problem that ended his season early. In early May, Ethier missed a game with soreness in his throwing elbow, an issue that appeared to be altering his throwing mechanics even a week later. Two weeks after that, he crashed into the right field wall in Chicago, suffering what was termed at the time “a right elbow contusion, lower right back contusion and sprained left big toe”, costing him much of the next week. But it didn’t completely ruin his game, because going through the archives I can see that even in to June and July I would be continuously pointing out things like “Kemp & Ethier went 6-9, everyone else went 3-32″, performance (along, likely, with the well-publicized hitting streak) that got him added to the All-Star team as a injury replacement for Shane Victorino

Even still, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of his first half:

Andre Ethier (B+) (.311/.383/.463 9hr 1.9 WAR)
Ethier, without question, represented one of the more difficult grades to give out. 30 game hitting streak? Yes, please. .383 OBP? Delicious. While his OPS is nearly 40 points off his 2008 career high, the lower offensive environment this year means that it’s good for a career-best 141 OPS+, so hooray for that. No, he’s not hitting lefties (.242/.282/.368), but he never hits lefties, so that’s not much of a surprise. All in all, it’s been a very solid year from one of the two main offensive threats this club has.

Yet… it feels like something is missing. Prior to his two-homer day yesterday, he’d hit just seven dingers, and his SLG is down for the third year in a row. It’s certainly not enough of a problem to criticize him, hence the good grade, and perhaps yesterday’s outburst was the start of something new. I just can’t help shaking the feeling that is very unpopular among the casual fans who love him so much: Ethier is a very good player, but not a superstar. We’ll need to keep that in mind when his contract is up. I don’t want to get too down on him, though: right now, he’s the second best player on this team, and that in itself is quite valuable.

Yet as the knee began to bother him more, his performance on the field suffered, hitting just .252/.339/.333 after the break, before squawking about it to T.J. Simers and finally going under the knife.  To be honest, this all makes me think he’s going to have a big year in 2012, since he’ll (presumably) be healthy after two years of troublesome-but-not-debilitating injuries and headed into a contract year, he’s likely to have a large chip on his shoulder. You know, larger, than the usual one. But can we please, please get him a righty handcuff? I’ve been beating this drum for years, and it never seems to happen; once again, Ethier’s numbers against righties in 2011 (.321/.410/.468) were far ahead of his stats against lefties (.220/.258/.305), just like they are every year. Ethier won’t like being benched against lefties, but to be honest, I don’t care: playing him against LHP is simply giving away outs.

Juan Rivera (A)
.274/.333/.406 .739 5hr 0.7 WAR

This, I admit, may not be the most flattering photo I’ve used in this series. But Rivera is crushing a dinger in this shot, and I wanted to use at least one guy wearing a Brooklyn throwback.

These days, there’s not a whole lot of moves that come as a complete and total surprise with no rumors preceding it, but the acquisition of Rivera from Toronto certainly falls under that category. At the time, expectations were small, since he wasn’t doing a ton with Toronto before being DFA’d; he was merely expected to be slightly better than Marcus Thames and be a righty partner for James Loney at first base:

First off, let’s not worry too much about the player to be named – Rivera was DFA’d himself on July 3 and would have cleared waivers in another day or so, so it’s not like the Jays had a whole lot of leverage there. On the field, this seems like a tiny upgrade; Rivera wasn’t doing a whole lot for Toronto at .243/.305/.360, but it’s still better than Thames for the Dodgers at .197/.243/.333 – when Thames was even healthy enough to play. Against LHP, Rivera was doing what Thames was supposed to do, hitting .327/.400/.509 in 65 PA. And while Thames is an atrocious fielder, Rivera has been a plus defender at times in the past, even playing 40 games in center field throughout his career (though he hasn’t started there since 2006). That’s probably no longer the case at 33, but at least there’s some positive history there. He’s also got some experience at first base, which is more valuable than you think, because with Casey Blake on the shelf, the Dodgers don’t have a viable righty option to pair with James Loney. Rivera should be expected to now play 1B against most lefties.

In the short term, this deal probably makes the team better than they were this morning. Not by much, perhaps, but that’s good enough.

Well, that was one of the bigger understatements of the year, because Rivera was outstanding after coming to the Dodgers, in large part helping to fuel the second-half turnaround. Well, let’s clarify that: a 105 OPS+ is nice but not stellar, yet his .274/.333/.406 line is outstanding compared to the garbage he was replacing, and coming at essentially zero cost he provided a good deal of value. So good on Ned Colletti for upgrading from Thames, and good on Rivera for showing he still has some life in him.

What’s next, though? I find that people forget that Toronto completely gave up on him halfway through the year, and it’s not like Toronto is run by people who can’t identify value; he also hit just .221/.297/.308 after August 25 and offered little value in the field. Yet the narrative reads that he’s an “RBI machine” and a “savior” of the season, so don’t be at all surprised if he’s back in 2012, even though the track record of return engagements from midseason veteran acquisitions is mixed at best in the Colletti era. For the right price, that could be fine; he’s still effective against lefties, with a large platoon split, and with Ethier and James Loney around being completely unable to hit southpaws there’s definitely a need in Los Angeles for that kind of role. He’ll just need to take quite a paycut from his 2011 salary of $5.25m (I wouldn’t go above $2m at most), accept a one-year deal, and not be looked at as an every day player.

Trent Oeltjen (inc.)
.197/.322/.324 .646 2hr 0.4 WAR

It dawns on me that for the second year in a row, Oeltjen gets a glamour shot rather than an action one. This is not simply because I’m enraptured by his Aussie charm, but because “sitting around rather than playing” is basically the best way to sum up Oeltjen’s 2011, where he was on the team continuously from June 9 through the end of the season but made just about no lasting impact.

Of course, that’s what happenens when you’re given just three starts over the final 69 games of the season, isn’t it? The difference was clear; in 12 starts (not the greatest sample size, I will admit), he hit .256/.380/.462, while in 49 games as a pinch-hitter and defensive replacement, he hit .125/.243/.156. That’s a problem he needs to sort out if he plans on having much of a career, since it’s certainly not like any team is going to just hand him a starting job, though it’s possible there’s a little more there than we’ve seen. Oeltjen still has options remaining and I imagine his 2012 will look much like his 2011, with time spent both at AAA and the bigs, filling out some team’s roster.

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Next! Clayton Kershaw is a god! Jon Garland‘s durability only goes so far! And Nathan Eovaldi arrives ahead of schedule! It’s starting pitchers, part 1!

Kershaw Good But Not Good Enough As Dodger Winning Streak Ends


Clayton Kershaw
stuck out ten Braves today without walking a single batter, the third time in his career he’s struck out double digits without allowing a walk. He allowed just two earned runs over seven innings, not at all helped by Aaron Miles‘ poor throw to second on what might have been an inning-ending double play ball before any runs had scored, and even chipped in two hits of his own at the plate.

By almost anyone’s standards, it was an excellent outing… and yet, it still felt disappointing. That’s how high our expectations are for Kershaw right now, because any time he pitches and the Dodgers don’t come away with a win, it feels wrong, even if it’s not entirely his fault. Through six scoreless, he was nearly untouchable as the Dodgers built a 3-0 lead on Matt Kemp‘s 32nd homer of the year, a three-run job in the third. Unfortunately, that was all they could do against Atlanta rookie Randall Delgado and three relievers, and Kershaw ran into trouble in the seventh, allowing two singles before Miles’ throwing error. A wild pitch and a Brooks Conrad single later, and the game was tied at three.

Blake Hawksworth took the loss by allowing the Braves to walk off in the ninth thanks to a Jose Constanza single, wild pitch, and Martin Prado single. For Hawksworth, that’s the fifth consecutive game in which he’s allowed at least one earned run; in each of the previous three, he let in two. Since the All-Star break, he’s allowed 14 earned runs in 19 innings – I’m not sure what’s going on with him, but he may just be pitching himself into a DFA following the season.

Despite the loss, it’s hard to be too disappointed that the Dodgers only won two of three against the likely NL Wild Card team, seeing their winning streak end at six. They head up to Washington for another day game tomorrow, a series which will see the return of Stephen Strasburg on Tuesday.

******

For the third time in two days, Don Mattingly had James Loney attempt to sacrifice bunt, and it’s absolutely killing me. Did we not learn anything yesterday? It’s bad enough to try to give up Loney, who’s only the hottest hitter in the league right now, but then it also effectively gives up Matt Kemp, because with first base open he’ll inevitably get walked. Just because it worked out in the end yesterday doesn’t make it the right play, and we saw that again in the seventh today. With Kershaw on second and Dee Gordon on first with no outs, Mattingly asked Loney to bunt Gordon over, which probably would have led to the Braves walking Kemp – who had already homered – in favor of the increasingly ice-cold Juan Rivera. The last thing you want to do there is take the bat out of the hands of your two hottest hitters; Loney was unable to get the bunt down and struck out, as did Kemp. The Dodgers came away with nothing, thanks in large part to a call that made absolutely no sense.

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Last year, we had a good time keeping track of Ryan Theriot‘s TOOTBLAN count, i.e., “Thrown Out on the Bases Like a Nincompoop”. I’m starting to wish we’d had a running count of the times Steve Lyons referred to Andre Ethier as a “Gold Glove caliber” outfielder, which is of course laughable. To Ethier’s credit, he made a very nice play in the bottom of the ninth to possibly save the game, though to my eye it took him so long to get to the ball that it probably didn’t need to look as spectacular as it ended up being.

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Unlikely first impression alert: in a continuation of the phenomenon I’ve previously discussed regarding guys like Rod Barajas, Jay Gibbons, and Orlando Hudson, people haven’t really noticed what’s happened to Rivera. Through August 15, he hit .341/.385/.512 with two homers in 91 PA, which is excellent. Including today’s 0-4, he has just 12 hits in his last 71 PA, which, not so much. I’m open to the idea of giving him a shot as a bench piece next season, let’s just cool it on the idea of extending him right now or guaranteeing him any sort of regular job. Toronto’s run by smart people, and he was DFA’d for a reason.

******

Earlier today, I noted that an under-the-radar reason for the Dodger hot streak may have been that Kemp was moved from cleanup to third in the order at precisely the time the streak got going. I neglected to mention that friend of the blog Howard Cole had been calling for the move at the OC Register since at least July. As I mentioned I do think that the run has been a team effort – who knows what might have happened if James Loney hadn’t finally woken up – but getting Kemp more at-bats and Ethier fewer absolutely makes sense.

A.J. Ellis and Friends Bowl Over Cardinals for Sweep


A.J. Ellis
, we’ve been waiting all year; it’s a nice way to welcome you back.

Ellis’ fifth-inning home run was not only the first of his major league career and one of his two-run scoring hits in his first MLB game since July 8, but it also came just 115 miles from his hometown of Cape Girardeu, MO. Over the last 24 hours, Dodger catchers are five for nine with three homers and a double. Dioner who? After not having hit a homer since 2008, Ellis now has three in the last two months, clearly brought about by the fact that he may or may not have been reading our gentle ribbing about his lack of power on the family of Dodger blogs.

Of course, Ellis wasn’t alone in helping the Dodgers destroy the Cardinals 9-4 on their way to their first sweep in St. Louis since 1993. Ellis’ second-inning single merely made him the eighth consecutive Dodger to reach to start the inning against Cardinal lefty Jaime Garcia, which included one of James Loney‘s three hits on the day and Juan Rivera‘s first extra-base hit, a run-scoring double to deep left. Loney’s third multi-hit game in four days gives him 17 total bases in his last 17 at-bats, a fact noted by many, but don’t get too used to it: after a day off Thursday, the Dodgers are back at home on Friday. (To be fair, they do face the Rockies, so maybe it’ll be a wash.)

Rivera followed by hitting a two-run homer in the 6th inning, accounting for the 8th and 9th Dodger runs, and pushing his line with Los Angeles to .322/.367/.496. Since these are the 2011 Dodgers, that merely served to prompt a barrage of “yeah, but how much is Ned Colletti going to toss at him this offseason simply because he’s made a great first impression” jokes, understandable given what we’ve seen in years past with Rod Barajas and others. That’s a discussion for another day; for now, I’m cognizant of Rivera’s somewhat mediocre past (Toronto does not drop value for nothing lightly) while greatly enjoying his upgrade over Marcus Thames, particularly as Andre Ethier struggles mightily.

Eugenio Velez grounded out hitting for Hiroki Kuroda in the eighth to extend his misery to 0-27, but there’s roster moves on the way: Kenley Jansen and Dee Gordon could each be activated by the weekend. (Update: that was quick; right after the game, the Dodgers announced via Twitter that Josh Lindblom had been sent down for Jansen. Your time is still coming, Eugenio.)

It’s Time To Move On From Casey Blake


Hey, I like Casey Blake. Despite the regrettable circumstances of his arrival, his lousy 2010, and the fact that his inability to stay healthy in 2011 was predictable from about a million miles away, Blake’s been a solid enough player and by all accounts an even better person and teammate. All of the nice things you’ve heard about Jim Thome‘s off-the-field demeanor lately? I’ve never met Casey Blake, but every last word I’ve heard about him suggests that they all apply to him as well.

Believe it or not, Blake is, by most measures, one of the three best Dodger third basemen in the last century. Think about that for a second, but it’s true. Among those with as many plate appearances as he has, with at least 50% of them coming at third, Blake has the third highest OPS+. (It was pointed out to me that Jim Gilliam provided plenty of value as a third baseman as well, though he does not appear on this list because less than half his time came at the hot corner.)

Rk Player OPS+ PA From To Age AB H 2B 3B HR OPS
1 Ron Cey 125 6108 1971 1982 23-34 5216 1378 223 18 228 .804
2 Red Smith 110 1667 1911 1914 21-24 1467 409 84 25 14 .743
3 Casey Blake 108 1592 2008 2011 34-37 1393 362 72 9 49 .768
4 Adrian Beltre 108 3818 1998 2004 19-25 3462 949 176 18 147 .794
5 Cookie Lavagetto 104 3241 1937 1947 24-34 2777 763 143 28 35 .756
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 8/22/2011.

Change that to WAR in order to get defense in, and that drops him to fourth, though you could argue that Cookie Lavagetto barely beats him out yet had the benefit of twice as many plate appearances to do it.

Rk Player WAR/pos PA From To Age AB H 2B 3B HR OPS
1 Ron Cey 46.2 6108 1971 1982 23-34 5216 1378 223 18 228 .804
2 Adrian Beltre 22.6 3818 1998 2004 19-25 3462 949 176 18 147 .794
3 Cookie Lavagetto 12.4 3241 1937 1947 24-34 2777 763 143 28 35 .756
4 Casey Blake 10.6 1592 2008 2011 34-37 1393 362 72 9 49 .768
5 Joe Stripp 8.3 2800 1932 1937 29-34 2567 758 129 30 13 .719
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 8/22/2011.

And while I don’t have a table for it, his VORB – that’s Value Over Replacement Beard – is off the charts.

(Here’s where we’ll get the arguments that Blake’s historical ranking somehow justifies the Carlos Santana trade. No, it doesn’t; that trade was good for only two months of Blake’s time, not his full Dodger career, and it’ll never be okay that Cleveland got more from the Dodgers for Blake than they did from Milwaukee for C.C. Sabathia at the same time. Besides, considering that Blake’s 2010-11 span has been awful and he’s still ranking where he does, it should be clear that third base has not exactly been a position with a glorious history for the Dodgers.)

Anyway, the point of all this is not to reflect upon Blake’s position in Dodger history, such as it were, but to suggest that perhaps it’s time to shut it down, for the benefit of all involved. Blake has missed substantial amounts of time this season, from starting the year on the DL with a back injury to missing over a month with a left elbow infection to his current malady, a pinched nerve in his neck. 

As Dylan Hernandez writes, the neck injury has Blake thinking about his long-term health:

Casey Blake hit off a tee Sunday, the start of his latest comeback from a pinched nerve in his neck that has bothered him for a significant part of the season.

But Blake, who has missed the Dodgers’ last four games, is proceeding with caution.

“Obviously, this neck thing is pretty serious,” he said. “I want to be able to move my neck when I’m 50.”

As recently as last month, the 38-year-old third baseman said he wasn’t entertaining the idea of retirement. But he said this weekend that his condition was making him reconsider.

“Sure,” he said. “Obviously, I don’t want to go out like this. Hopefully, with rest in the off-season this thing goes away and I can get ready to play another season. I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.”

He said he is unsure whether he would continue playing if it meant jeopardizing his long-term health.

Blake, who has made three trips to the disabled list and is batting .250 in 58 games, said his goals for the remainder of the season have also changed.

Earlier in the year, he talked about wanting to play well enough to essentially force the Dodgers to exercise the $6-million team option in his contract for next season. He said this week that his priorities have now shifted.

“I’m not even worried about that right now,” Blake said. “The main focus is just getting healthy and doing what’s best for my neck and my future.”

He said doctors have warned him that his condition could worsen if he continues to play.

“The more I play, the more chance I have to really put more pressure on that nerve,” Blake said. “If you put enough pressure on it, you bang it enough, you can cause some damage.”

While you certainly feel for Blake as a player, because no one wants to see their career possibly end like this, you do have to wonder what exactly the point is for the Dodgers. I hardly need to remind you how short the bench has been over the last few days, particularly with Rod Barajas banged up, the bullpen exhausted, and Eugenio Velez continuing to be Eugenio Velez. Remember, James Loney had to throw a bullpen session yesterday and Aaron Miles was prepared to be the backup catcher, simply because there were no appropriate bodies to do the job. Considering that Barajas couldn’t catch and Velez can’t play, the Dodgers have been essentially going with a 22.5-man roster in part because Blake is taking up a roster spot yet can’t contribute.

Even if he can, how does that help the Dodgers? Blake’s clearly not going to be with the team in 2012, so the focus should be on finding out right now if you have anything in the system who can help. (I know, I know - there probably isn’t, but what’s to lose? The team is already in last place.) Disable Blake, and call up Russ Mitchell. DFA Velez, and call up Ivan DeJesus. DFA Dioner Navarro – or donate him to science, I don’t care – and call up A.J. Ellis. Play Justin Sellers every day at short (which, to their credit, they generally are) until Dee Gordon returns.

If Blake’s ready to make a few appearances before the end of the season, that’s fine, because rosters expand a week from Thursday, and since he last played on August 17, he’d be eligible to return the very next day. Letting him take up a roster spot isn’t helping the team now, and it’s not helping him by pushing him to rush back and risk further injury.

It’s time to move on.

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Speaking of minor leaguers we’ll likely see soon, Christopher Jackson’s latest – this time for MiLB.com – is a feature on catcher Tim Federowicz which is a must-click if only for the photo of the mustache that I pray Federowicz brought with him from Boston.

To his credit, Federowicz seems to understand that the trade which brought him to the Dodgers wasn’t necessarily welcomed by a lot of fans:

The stated intent by Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti was to acquire a catching prospect, something Los Angeles lacked in its farm system. Federowicz said he understands the frustration of Dodgers fans.

“Yeah, they gave up Trayvon — he’s a great player and now he’s in the big leagues, doing his thing up there,” Federowicz said. “That’s tough to lose.

“I guess there is a little bit of pressure to show fans what I’ve got. But I think it’ll eventually work out the way the Dodgers want it to.”

My guess is that Fedorowicz is probably not going to be ready to start 2012 in the majors, and since he’s not eligible for the Rule 5 draft, he most likely will not be called up in September, since that would require him to be added to the 40-man roster. But could we see an Ellis/Federowicz tandem by this time next year? It certainly couldn’t be worse than Barajas/Navarro.