Ken Rosenthal Wants the Dodgers to Trade Matt Kemp

…and I bet you came here ready for a classic tirade about how a national reporter just doesn’t understand. It’s not like I haven’t done it before. But in this case, I don’t think Rosenthal is entirely wrong. Wrong about trading Kemp, yes, but his overall point is valid. Read the entire article here, but as I’m short on time we’ll just get to the important points – that Kemp has been a disappointment this year, and that the Dodgers have a ton of young players hitting free agency after 2012, as he states:

Kemp, Billingsley, right fielder Andre Ethier, catcher Russell Martin and first baseman James Loney all are eligible for free agency after the 2012 season.

Long-term, the Dodgers face a different concern — deciding which of their core young players to keep, and which to let go.

While Kemp, Ethier and Co. are under control for two more seasons, the Dodgers actually will want to act before then; their 2012 free agents will be in line for big paydays after next season as they enter their final year of arbitration.

In this sense, Rosenthal’s not wrong. Does anyone really think that Frank McCourt is going to start magically handing out contract extensions? And if he’s forced to sell the club, you’d have to think that the checkbook would hardly be open while the team is in legal limbo either. Someone – perhaps as soon as this offseason, where Martin is a definite non-tender candidate – is going to have to leave.

Now, Rosenthal argues that Kemp should be the one traded because “for all his flaws, would bring a greater return than the others.” Now if that brings a superstar like Cliff Lee – more on that in a second – that’s an argument worth making. Here’s the problem I have, though: Rosenthal’s arguing they should trade Kemp for relative peanuts.

Colletti could dangle Kemp to the Braves, who are deep in young pitching, in need of a right-handed hitting outfielder and in position to exchange a center fielder, Melky Cabrera, who played for Dodgers manager Joe Torre in New York.

Colletti even could make Kemp part of a larger deal with the Mariners in which the Dodgers would get prospects in addition to two or three months of Lee, then combine those prospects with their own to acquire the RoyalsDavid DeJesus or another center fielder.

Really, Melky Cabrera? The same guy who’s rocking a .664 OPS on the Atlanta bench and has never even been a league-average hitter? Unless the “young pitching” he’s talking about is “Jair Jurrgens, Tommy Hanson, and Cyborg Tommy Hanson” then that’s a complete non-starter. The same goes for DeJesus, who is admittedly a nice player (108 career OPS+) having a completely unprecedented career year at age 30. Again, if that doesn’t come with Zack Greinke, I’m not interested.

But it’s the Lee idea that really throws me off, because even ESPN is picking up on the idea. Let’s not fool ourselves: Cliff Lee is awesome. In 86.2 innings this year, he has 76 strikeouts and 4 walks. Four. That’s a 19/1 K/BB ratio. You’re goddamn right I want him on my team, and the thought of a playoff rotation headed up by Cliff Lee, Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, and Hiroki Kuroda is beyond tasty.

But does trading Kemp for Lee really help the team? In the long run, it’s a disaster. Lee’s a free agent after the season, and destined for an enormous payday, which the Dodgers could never match. Meanwhile, Kemp is under contract for two more seasons beyond this one, and with Manny gone after the season, the Dodgers are already going to have trouble filling one outfield hole, much less two.

In the short run.. well, I’m not sure so it helps that much either. Perhaps it’s because I have a ton of faith in Kemp to turn it around, but perhaps it’s because I’m wondering if that means Xavier Paul or Reed Johnson would be your new center fielder. As much as I like Paul, I’ve been saying he should be replacing Garret Anderson – not Kemp. If not them, maybe they’d pick up some short-term fix for the rest of the year, but certainly no one who could have half the potential of Kemp.

Look, I won’t pretend that Kemp hasn’t been a disappointment over the last two months, especially on the basepaths (not just the bonehead plays, but the brutally bad stealing percentage), and his offense has been in decline since April. He’s also 25, on pace for about 27 homers, with a 110 OPS+. As for the defense, we should all know better than to trust defensive metrics over three months. Hell, most statisticians believe that even a full season of defensive stats isn’t enough to evaulate a player, and just in the same way that I never thought Kemp was deserving of the Gold Glove he won last year, I don’t think he’s as bad as the numbers say this year. Besides, I’m not crushed if it turns out he’s not a center fielder. If, in a year or two, Trayvon Robinson or someone similar is the Dodger center fielder with Kemp in right and Ethier in left, that’s an outfield I can live with.

Rosenthal’s right: one of the free agency core has to go, and soon. But not Kemp, not now, and certainly not for a free-agent-to-be, no matter how awesome Lee is.

Totally unrelated but still awesome: reader Dennis writes in to point out that the Dodgers are 13-2 in games in which Garret Anderson doesn’t get to play. Ha!

Oh look, the second awesome weekend series in a row, and the second weekend in a row I’ll be out of town – until the Sunday night game, anyway. It can be argued that the Dodgers have the pitching advantage in two of the three games; not tonight’s Sabathia/Padilla matchup, for sure, but Hiroki Kuroda is certainly outpitching A.J. Burnett as far as Saturday’s starters go, and Clayton Kershaw vs. Andy Pettitte on Sunday night should be a treat.

So Much For a Quiet Rumor Season

Well, here’s something. Ken Rosenthal hits us with:

The Dodgers and Indians are in serious discussions about a blockbuster that would send left-hander Cliff Lee and catcher Victor Martinez to Los Angeles for first baseman James Loney, one of the Dodgers’ young starting pitchers and prospects, according to major-league sources.
Holy hell! Now that’s what I’m talking about. Cliff Lee’s no Roy Halladay, but he is the top-level pitcher the Dodgers could use, and the idea of trading the somewhat-disappointing Loney for Victor Martinez (118 career OPS+) would boost the offense from “bad-ass” to “hell, yeah!!” Plus, both Lee & Martinez are under contract for 2010, so neither would be a “rental”.
But who’d go back to Cleveland? Loney, of course, then someone from a group of “young starting pitchers and prospects”. Okay, fine. So we’re talking guys like Scott Elbert, James McDonald, Josh Lindblom as far as pitchers, I’d think, and then maybe along the lines of Josh Bell, Andrew Lambo, or maybe Blake DeWitt on the offensive side. Depending on how many, that’s steep but fair. How’s a rotation of Lee/Billingsley/Kershaw/Wolf/Kuroda strike you? Because that’s pretty delicious to me.
Sign me up. Wait. What?!
Lee would replace either left-hander Clayton Kershaw or right-hander Chad Billingsley — it is not known which the Dodgers would part with in the package — giving manager Joe Torre the more experienced starter that he covets.
No. No, no, no, no, no. Back this up for a second. There is nothing in baseball more valuable – nothing - than talented young pitching that’s cost controlled for several more seasons. We’ve been pretty consistent about this around here - I’ve been saying that we need to lock up Billingsley for months and that I wouldn’t trade Kershaw for Roy Halladay straight up – and nothing’s changed. If we’re to get another starting pitcher, it needs to be someone to add to these two guys to create an unholy trio, not someone to replace them. 
Look, put aside age, cost, and history for a second and know this fact: Cliff Lee hasn’t been as good as either Chad Billingsley or Clayton Kershaw this season.

Kershaw: 1.260
Billingsley: 1.286
Lee: 1.324

(and that’s even though both Billingsley and Kershaw walk more than they ought to!)
Kershaw: 8.8
Billingsley: 8.5
Lee: 6.4
Opponent’s OPS
Kershaw: .606
Billingsley: .689
Lee: .709
Even better, despite being several years older than either Dodger, Cliff Lee actually has zero innings of playoff experience to boot, something you can’t say about either Kershaw or Billingsley. Don’t get me wrong; I’d love to add Cliff Lee to the rotation. But at the cost of either of those two? You may have not only just weakened your rotation, both for the rest of the season and in the playoffs, you’ve tossed in some other top prospects for the pleasure.
Now I completely understand that rumors are just that – rumors – and always have to be taken with a grain of salt. And I’m happy to hear that Ned Colletti isn’t sitting on the lead and is actively looking for ways to improve, both expected (a top starter) and less so (an upgrade at first base). But to give up either of Billingsley or Kershaw for just about anyone who’s not Albert Pujols is a monumental mistake – and with the Indians already possessing the fruits of last year’s mistake, Carlos Santana, there’s no way I can live with sending them the futures of either of our young pitching duo.
Just say no.

How Not to Negotiate

Tony Jackson, December 6th:

Was just informed of this by my buddy LaVelle Neal of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, who said the Twins have decided to move on to other 3B options. If that’s true, and if it’s also true that Blake’s list had been narrowed to the Twins and Dodgers (and that’s what is being widely reported out there), then that would seem to suggest the Dodgers now have a golden opportunity to re-sign this guy and move Blake DeWitt to 2B. The Twins reportedly offered Blake a two-year, $6 million deal with an option for 2011.

Casey Blake, from all accounts (not just Jackson here, we’ve heard this many places) had only two main suitors: the Twins and Dodgers. Blake wanted a three-year deal, and Minnesota declined. Therefore, the Dodgers have no other competition that we know of for Blake, and while I won’t get into why I don’t want him back in Los Angeles yet again, at least it’d only be for two years. Because since it appears that absolutely no one is willing to go three years on Blake, all the Dodgers should have to do is beat the two year offer by a few dollars. Right? Right?

Tim Brown, Yahoo! Sports, December 8th:

The Los Angeles Dodgers are nearing a contract agreement with third baseman Casey Blake after raising their offer to three years, sources said Monday morning.

The team expected to hear more from Blake’s representative, Jim McDowell, as the meetings went on. Blake batted .271 with 21 home runs and 74 RBIs, splitting season between the Cleveland Indians and the Dodgers. Blake rejected an offer from the Minnesota Twins a few days ago because they wouldn’t agree to a third year.

(bashes self in head)

Why. Why? Why does this always have to happen to us? Forget for a moment that I don’t even like Blake, because this could happen with any player, no matter how much we like or dislike him. Bidding against yourself never works, because there’s only two options here (assuming this is how it goes down): either that Colletti’s getting played, or that he really really wants to see Casey Blake in 2011. Much as I don’t really want to see Blake return, you could make the case that there’s not a lot of other options out there for 2009. I wouldn’t agree, but you could make the case, and since you’re not getting him for one year, you live with him for 2010 as well. But 2011, too? When he’ll be 38? Why?! There’s just no good reason for this. If he turned down two years and $12 million from Minnesota, we should be offering him two years and $12.1 million, because it sounds like no one’s going higher – and that’s if, you know, you really want to give Casey Blake 12 million dollars. 

Of course, this is hardly a done deal, so we’ll see how the details work out if it actually goes down. Not off to a good start here, though.  

As for the rest of the winter meetings… well, what makes it so fun is also what makes it so awful: the ludicrous number of unsubstantiated rumors flying around. I’m not going to touch on all of them here (although I do like that apparently CC Sabathia told Colletti that he “wants to be a Dodger“), but I think I’ll go with my favorite one of the day. 

ken_rosenthal.jpgAlternate title for this section: Ken Rosenthal is the worst national baseball writer alive.

Point: Ken Rosenthal, FOXsports

12:49 p.m. — Dodgers, Yanks talk trade

As the Dodgers try to resolve their infield, they are again talking to the Yankees about a trade for second baseman Robinson Cano. The teams have resumed their discussions about Cano at the winter meetings, according to one source.

The Dodgers also are interested in Yankees center fielder Melky Cabrera, and the Yankees likely would want outfielder Matt Kemp and pitching in return.

No, I’m not even going to do what you think. You don’t need me to say that the idea of trading Matt Kemp and pitching for a 5th outfielder and a decent second baseman is a terrible idea. You know why? Because even other writers are saying it.

Counterpoint: Ken Gurnick, 

Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti knocked down a report that he is “again talking” to the Yankees about acquiring second baseman Robinson Cano, with the Yankees interested in Matt Kemp and pitching.

“It’d be nice to talk first,” Colletti said.

Ken Gurnick completely refutes Ken Rosenthal. Well, okay, that might not mean much; Gurnick’s a Dodger writer. I’m sure if we hear from a Yankee writer….

Counterpoint: Peter Abraham,

Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti just said, literally two minutes ago, that has not had any talks with the Yankees since July.

So those rumors about talks involving Robinson Cano and Matt Kemp are false.

Oh, Kenny. It’s just not looking too good for you, is it?

Alright, What the Hell is Going On Here?

Tony Jackson, LA Daily news, July 7th:

the Daily News learned that sometime in the days leading up to that deal, Dodgers owner Frank McCourt nixed a trade that would have brought Sabathia to Los Angeles, along with Indians third baseman Casey Blake and utility man Jamey Carroll.

McCourt’s reason was financial, according to multiple industry sources. But that is a charge McCourt flatly denied.

Tony Jackson, LA Daily News blog, July 8th:

I was told this morning, by a source completely separate from the ones from which I got the earlier story, that Matt Kemp WAS involved in the aborted trade for Sabathia, Blake and Carroll, and that either Jon Meloan or James McDonald also was involved. 

Dylan Hernandez, LA Times, July 8th:

McCourt said a trade with the Indians was a real possibility at one point. “I think the deal as it started out had a potential to be a deal that wouldn’t have compromised the goals of this organization,” he said. “I think the deal, as it evolved, got to the point where it became unacceptable to the organization.”

The talks are believed to have started out with the Dodgers offering two players, one of them being third baseman Andy LaRoche, for Sabathia, but came to include several other players on both sides. Sabathia will be a free agent at the end of the season.

Ken Rosenthal,, July 9th:

The Dodgers not only could have had Sabathia, but also Indians third baseman Casey Blake and infielder Jamey Carroll without giving up any of their top young major leaguers, according to major-league sources.

The Indians would have received a package that included the following types of players, if not the exact names: Third baseman Andy LaRoche, right-hander Cory Wade, Class AA right-hander James McDonald and Class A catcher Carlos Santana.

Will Carroll, Baseball Prospectus, July 9th:

The Dodgers continue to confuse everyone. “Some want to buy, some sell,” I’m told. One faction of the front office wants to deal for a shortstop and is focused on Jack Wilson or David Eckstein, while another (which appears to hold sway with the McCourts for now) want to see if Nomar Garciaparra can hold the position down. Teams simply don’t want to deal with the Dodgers because of the confusion over who has final authority. One front-office source told me that the Dodgers have made deals, only to have ownership pull out at least twice.

So let’s recap: Matt Kemp WAS in the deal. Matt Kemp WASN’T in the deal. The Dodgers could have acquired Sabathia, Blake, and Carroll without including Kemp, Billingsley, Kershaw, Martin, Loney, or Ethier. (!!!!!!!!) Or just LaRoche and someone else for Sabathia. And that Colletti had a deal done, except that McCourt put the kibosh on it. Twice. Or he didn’t. But if he did, it was because of money. Or it wasn’t. Ned Colletti’s in charge. Or McCourt’s pulling the strings. Or, says another source of Rosenthal’s,

Others believe that assistant general manager Logan White exerts an inordinate amount of influence, discouraging trades of players that he once selected as the team’s scouting director.

This is getting completely out of hand, and it’s hardly the first time around here, is it? It’s getting to the point where it doesn’t even matter if you side with McCourt, Colletti, or even White (MSTI chooses White!) on decision-making, you just want to know that someone is actually in charge over there. I mean, look at what Carroll says: “Teams simply don’t want to deal with the Dodgers because of the confusion over who has the final authority.” How is that even possible? Is McCourt meddling too much? Is Colletti not assertive enough? This is the kind of internal politics that I really hate discussing – partially because you’ll never get a straight answer from anyone, but mostly because it distracts from where the focus really ought to be: on the field. You know what? That proposed deal for Sabathia/Blake/Carroll? I probably make that deal. I hate to give up LaRoche, but the thought of getting those players without giving up Kemp is mind-blowing. If the Dodgers aren’t going to be able to improve their chances at the playoffs because of some internal “whose is bigger” contest (sorry, Kim!), then that’s an insult to the fan base. Guess what, guys? Get it together. NO ONE CARES ABOUT YOUR PERSONAL ISSUES. GET THE JOB DONE, OR GET OUT OF THE WAY.

- Mike Scioscia’s tragic illness msti-face.jpg

Clayton Kershaw Doesn’t Know How to Win

I’m completely kidding, of course. But thanks to the bullpen blowing his lead tonight – and yes, Brian Falkenborg, even though two of those three runs got charged to Kershaw, it was you who gave up that three run bomb – Kershaw has now gone almost 11 months since his last professional win, on August 20, 2007, for AA Jacksonville. I know, I know; wins are a terrible way to evaluate a pitcher, and for much of that time his pitch count has been so regulated that he’s been unable to go the five innings required to get the victory. Throw in the fact that the Dodgers simply cannot score, and there’s plenty of extenuating circumstances. I get it. But still… it’s been nearly a year since the kid’s last victory.

It’s with this in mind that I say I hope that Kershaw is sent down once Brad Penny and Hiroki Kuroda return to the rotation. No, it’s not that he’s been all that bad. He’s been almost exactly what we thought he’d be – very inconsistent with flashes of greatness. For a 20 year old kid coming straight out of AA, the fact that he’s been almost exactly league average (4.42 ERA vs. the 4.38 average NL ERA) is actually very impressive, as are the 33 K’s in 38.2 innings. Kershaw has come up in a situation where most pitchers would embarrass themselves, and he’s shown beyond a shadow of a doubt that he’s got the talent to dominate once he harnesses his control and learns to be a pitcher.

But the fact is very simple: is he one of the five best starting pitchers the Dodgers have right now? I’d say no. Chad Billingsley is already one of the top young pitchers in the NL, and after a rough stretch Derek Lowe has been excellent (3.21 ERA over the last month). Penny and Kuroda are obviously guaranteed slots once they return, and you’ve still got both Chan Ho Park and Eric Stults for the 5th spot, each of whom have been surprisingly effective.

This is why I didn’t want Kershaw to be called up in the first place – not because I thought he’d be overmatched, but because I simply didn’t see the need to rush him. Perhaps if he’d been called up when Penny and Kuroda went down within days of each other, I would have felt differently, but the fact is that the Dodgers already have too many good starting pitchers for too few slots, and it’s certainly not as though Kershaw has nothing left to master. Send the kid down for the next two months while he feels good about proving that he can hang with the big guys. Let him work on his weaknesses, especially his command and ability to work deeper into ballgames. Give him another start or two in September once the rosters expand, and hope that he’s learned enough to be counted on for 2009 out of the gate.

In other much more disappointing news, Dodger announcer Charley Steiner reported during tonight’s broadcast that Rafael Furcal was returning to Los Angeles for another exam after waking up in Las Vegas with back pain after his very first rehab game last night. Considering that Furcal was expected to rejoin the Dodgers as soon as this weekend vs. San Francisco, it’s becoming more and more clear that we simply cannot count on him at all. Even if he’s able to make it back to the big club at some point, it’s entirely too much of a risk to assume that he won’t get hurt again. And since this team absolutely positively cannot continue to go with Angel Berroa at shortstop, it’s really time to start looking into acquiring a shortstop. As bad as we all knew Berroa would be, he’s actually been worse. A line of .183/.246/.217 is an absolute joke, and he’s been so bad that he’s been benched for Luis Maza the last two nights in search of “offense”, even though Maza’s only putting up a 54 OPS+ himself. Although I know it sounds like I’m just tooting my own horn here, it’s not as though we didn’t all know this is what was going to happen from the moment Ned Colletti acquired him. 

I looked into what we could do at shortstop recently, and it’s time to really amp this up. Contrary to what I wrote yesterday (that Nomar was useless since he wouldn’t beat Furcal back), it now seems that we’re really going to see Nomar as the starting SS on this team, and that’s pretty much unacceptable too. Ned, forget about C.C. Sabathia. Find this team a competent shortstop. Do it now. We’re begging you, here.

Finally – and I know this is starting to drag on, but hey, what fun would writing a blog while drinking be otherwise? - old pal Ken Rosenthal checks in with a new rumor, this time that the Dodgers are interested in Toronto DH/1B Matt Stairs. I know what you’re thinking; “MSTI thinks Rosenthal is a joker, and he especially couldn’t handle Colletti acquiring yet another old veteran part.” Well think again, because I actually don’t hate this idea, presuming that it lives under the following conditions:

1. That it means the end of the Mark Sweeney era
2. That it wouldn’t require sending much of value back to Toronto

Yes, Stairs is old. But unlike Sweeney, he can hit. The last time he didn’t get double-digit homers in a season was 1995, and he only got 88 at-bats that year. Just a year ago he put up 21 homers and a 138 OPS+. This year he hasn’t been as good, but still slightly better than average for an AL player and his 8 HRs would instantly make him tied for the club lead. Plus, he can fill in at 1B and the OF corners. I’m not saying I’m dying for this to happen, but if the above two conditions are met (and really, I can’t imagine that Sweeney would stick if Stairs came, they’re the exact same player, except that Stairs isn’t dead), I could live with it.

- Mike Scioscia’s tragic illness msti-face.jpg