The True Cost of Brandon League

league_sad_2013-05-31I have other pictures of League I could use. But this one is just so perfect all the time.

Brandon League, once again, was atrocious last night, nearly costing the Dodgers the game. While I’ll give Don Mattingly some small amount of understanding simply due to the fact that Kenley Jansen had pitched three days in a row and wasn’t available, League never should have been in the game in that situation. Fortunately, Paco Rodriguez was able to step in and avoid what would have been a gut-punch loss, and I hope we’ll see more of that to come.

Now, we’ve been over League and his problems so many times that I don’t really care to do so again here, though I will note that there has to be something seriously wrong, simply because I can’t accept that he’s suddenly this bad. (Not that I expected him to be good, mind you. But this is something else.)

No, what concerns me today is what this is going to mean for this roster. With League completely off the rails, Ronald Belisario reliably unreliable, and Jansen, Rodriguez, & J.P. Howell really the only three relievers who give you any sense of comfort, Ned Colletti is going to feel the need to do something. And it’s that something that terrifies me, especially in the relief market.

Maybe that will be going after one of the two recently-deposed veteran closers in Carlos Marmol & Jose Valverde, each DFA’d for severe cases of “awful,” or being the team to give Brian Wilson a shot. Or overpaying for Jonathan Papelbon if the Phillies decide to sell — and let’s be honest, we all know Michael Young is coming in that deal too. Or trading for yet another overrated Seattle closer in Tom Wilhelmsen, or going after Jose Veras, who I’m sure most of you haven’t heard of despite being in his eighth season (for six teams!), simply because he’s the closer by default in Houston and now has “saves”.

Or, most hilariously, trading for Kevin Gregg. That’s an irony so delicious — trading talent for a guy three months after you cut him in spring training — that it almost seems like there’s no way it doesn’t happen. I wish I knew how to figure out if that’s ever happened before, but I think it’s safe to say it’s not a regular occurrence.

Since we’re talking about Gregg, by the way, let’s be absolutely, unmistakably clear here: I had absolutely no problem with the Dodgers cutting him at the end of spring. None at all, and I bring that up because as Gregg has a 1.11 ERA and 11 saves with the Cubs as the Dodger bullpen continues to struggle, we’re hearing an increasing chorus of second-guessers who insist that a huge mistake was made.

To that I say: no. Hell, at the time I said “this is no loss at all, and… I’ll consider it a win.” Remember, this was a soon-to-be 35-year-old guy coming off years of mediocrity who had been flat-out let go by Baltimore last season and hadn’t caught on anywhere else. After a decade in the bigs, you’re not going to convince me that a nice run of 24.1 innings is suddenly a massive change in who he is, and a .246 BABIP indicates nice luck that isn’t going to last. That’s not to say that he wouldn’t have been useful to have around, but remember that if he had made the roster, Rodriguez almost certainly wouldn’t have. That’s not a net win.

But enough of Gregg and the inevitable trade of Joc Pederson and Ross Stripling for he and Luis Valbuena, because Colletti is all but certain to do something in the bullpen, and that’s what’s scary. Every once in a while that works — Josh Bell for George Sherrill ended up nicely, though I think I was one of the few who didn’t hate it at at the time — but more often than not, due to the volatility and low usage of relievers, it ends poorly. Have we all forgotten James McDonald & Andrew Lambo for three weeks of Octavio Dotel already?

This is what you’ve wrought, Brandon League.

Dodgers Cut Eight, Set Likely Opening Day Roster

kevin_gregg_spring_green

Zack Greinke was effective in his final tuneup of the spring, going five innings against the Angels tonight, and it now seems clear he’ll make the Opening Day roster. The Dodgers wasted no time in making cuts after the game, sending down Alfredo Amezaga, Alex Castellanos, Stephen Fife, Elian Herrera, Kevin Gregg, Peter Moylan, Josh Wall, & Matt Wallach.

So! There’s a lot happening there. Amezega, Fife, Herrera, Moylan, Wall, & Wallach are no surprise, because they were almost certainly never going to make the club. Gregg (above) was somewhat of a surprise considering how highly Don Mattingly had been speaking of him, but as I guessed earlier today, the extra starters and Gregg’s lack of a March opt-out probably sealed his fate.

Castellanos going down means that Justin Sellers will indeed be on the roster and probably start at shortstop on Opening Day. We talked about this earlier, and while it’s defensible for fielding purposes, it does cause something of an outfield problem, because Jerry Hairston is now the only righty outfield backup. That means you can expect to see Andre Ethier in against every lefty ever, and while I never expected a full platoon or anything close to it, I had at least hoped that there would be some amount of limited play for him against southpaws. Carl Crawford can’t hit lefties either, and Hairston can only play one corner at a time; that’s a situation to keep an eye on.

However, the biggest surprise here is that Paco Rodriguez made the team as a second lefty (well, potentially third or fourth depending on what happens with Chris Capuano & Ted Lilly) to go with J.P. Howell.  Rodriguez was outstanding in spring, with a 12/3 K/BB ratio, but with options remaining and an overstuffed roster I really didn’t think he had a shot. I was wrong, and I’m glad to be.

So an updated look at the roster…

Hitters (13)

C — A.J. Ellis, Tim Federowicz
IF — Adrian Gonzalez, Mark Ellis, Justin Sellers, Luis Cruz, Nick Punto, Juan Uribe
OF — Carl Crawford, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Jerry Hairston, Skip Schumaker

Pitchers (12)

SP — Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Josh Beckett, Hyun-Jin Ryu
RP — Brandon League, Kenley Jansen, J.P. Howell, Ronald Belisario, Matt Guerrier,Paco Rodriguez, Chris Capuano, Aaron Harang

Disabled list (4)

Chad Billingsley, Scott Elbert, Ted Lilly, Hanley Ramirez

That’s not official yet, because a last-second trade of Capuano or Harang could still happen tomorrow, and we haven’t heard for sure that Lilly will be disabled, but I just can’t see any other way for the puzzle pieces to fit together. Again, this is a temporary solution, because something has to give when Billingsley returns, possibly as soon as April 7.

Six Days Before Opening Day, Six Questions Left For the Dodgers

With less than a week before Opening Day, the Dodgers still have a fair amount to work through. Taking from the most popular questions I receive across all forms of media…

1. Is Yasiel Puig going to make the team?

No. Well…. no. Right? I think?

We’ve been over this a lot, but he’s still here, and even though management said weeks ago that he definitely wouldn’t be on the team, it’s hard to argue .526/.508/.842. But with Carl Crawford looking like he’s going to be ready to play, there’s not a spot here without bouncing Crawford to the bench, which doesn’t seem realistic. Besides, there’s service time considerations at play with Puig, in addition to obvious concerns about his true readiness.

92topps_alexcastellanos2. So who will get that last spot off the bench?

For most of camp, we thought this was simple. Carl Crawford would start the season on the disabled list, Jerry Hairston & Skip Schumaker would platoon in left field, and Tim Federowicz, Nick Punto & Juan Uribe would staff out the rest of a very unappealing bench. But now it looks like Crawford will be active, and Hairston may be needed for additional duty at third base thanks to Hanley Ramirez‘ injury.

That makes the outfield extremely left-handed, which is why Don Mattingly has been talking about wanting a righty corner outfielder so much. (Thanks for joining the rest of us in “every year since 2009″ in wanting that, by the way, Don.) That’s partially why Puig remains in the mix, as does Alex Castellanos and multipositional switch-hitters Alfredo Amezaga & Elian Herrera. Amezaga’s non-40 man status probably hurts him here, so I really think Castellanos is the right call. That being the case, it’ll absolutely be Herrera because of course it will.

3. Oh my god, Kevin Gregg is going to make this team, isn’t he?

Wellll… yes. I’m sorry.

We know that Brandon League, Kenley Jansen, J.P. Howell & Ronald Belisario are locks. Matt Guerrier, much as I hate to admit it, is probably getting one spot, and let’s say one additional spot goes to an excess starting pitcher. That leaves one final spot for Gregg, Peter Moylan, Paco Rodriguez, etc, but we know that Ned Colletti almost always has one NRI pitcher on the club.

That worked out okay last year with Jamey Wright, who just made the Tampa roster today, and the Dodgers have had success with it in the past. (They’ve also had more than one Ortiz on the same time, so there’s that.) You’ll hear a lot about Gregg’s “1.00 ERA this spring!”, but I’m guessing surprisingly little about his 4/0 K/BB in nine innings. Can’t say I have super high hopes on that one.

4. So if just one starter makes the bullpen, then…

… yes. I expect some sort of trade before the end of the weekend, because noise and rumors have really picked up over the last few days, especially with the amount of scouts watching Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang. My guess is that one (likely Capuano) starts in relief, one gets moved (likely Harang), and as for Ted Lilly, well, he probably has to hope that Chad Billingsley‘s injured fingernail falls off. Considering how rotten his spring has been, it’s probably not too hard to see some sort of DL stint get ginned up for him.

5. Where is Kyle Cofield going to end up?

If the reaction here is “wait… who?” that’s more than justified. The Dodgers signed the minor league free agent in January after many undistinguished years in the low minors for Atlanta & Pittsburgh. He didn’t receive an invite to major league camp (though he has suited up on occasion to fill out the big league roster for the day), and is more than likely destined for the Chattanooga bullpen, if he even makes a roster at all. Why am I bringing this up now? Because I have one person who has asked me about him at least a half-dozen times this spring, both via email and Twitter. I have no idea why I should care about Kyle Cofield, but someone clearly does.

6. What can’t Vin Scully do?

Nothing, apparently.

 

Helping Kevin Gregg Understand Why He’s a Non-Roster Invite

Interesting bit from Ken Gurnick’s piece at Dodgers.com today…

Kevin Gregg, 34, was 3-2 with a 4.95 ERA last year with Baltimore before being released in September. He can’t explain why he couldn’t land a Major League contract.

“If you can explain it, let me know,” he said. “I’ve accomplished quite a bit. The resume speaks for itself. It’s definitely puzzling. I know I’m coming off a year where I didn’t perform to my best, and I take that into account. But you have to be put in a position to succeed.”

Let’s help him out.

A good place might be with his declining strikeout rate…

gregg_k9_rate

…or that as he continually gives up more dingers, his ERA and FIP has risen to unacceptable levels.

gregg_era_fip_hr

Or maybe it’s because he’s been on five teams in the last seven years, and was cut loose by Baltimore last August — in the middle of a pennant race! — because

Gregg said Orioles manager Buck Showalter told him he “didn’t like my style of pitching.”

…which I can only assume is the style of pitching that sees you allow 12 earned runs and 27 baserunners over your previous 11.1 innings, as Gregg did.

Maybe it’s because he lost his job as closer in 2008 with Florida and in 2009 with Chicago and in 2011 with Baltimore. Or maybe it’s just because no one wants to fist bump him.

gregg_xfipOr maybe because of the 317 different major league pitchers to toss at least 100 innings over the last two seasons, only seven have worse xFIP, as you can see in the chart at right. Of the seven men ahead of him on that list, one (Chris Young) is not currently in baseball, three (Jonathan Sanchez, Miguel Batista, Jeff Gray) are in camps on similar non-roster deals as Gregg is, one (Kyle Drabek) is a talented young player struggling to overcome injury, and one (Barry Zito) is Barry Zito. Only Logan Ondrusek, who has actually managed to keep runs off the board — I know, xFIP is a little bit of cherry-picking, because it’s not measuring actual run prevention skills — is on a major league deal.

Frankly, I can’t figure it out either. Why didn’t Kevin Gregg get a major league deal headed into his age-35 season? It’s a mystery.

Projecting the Dodgers’ Minor-League Rosters: Double-A & Triple-A

Editor’s note: Chris Jackson rounds off the minor league roster projections with Chattanooga & Albuquerque. Also, don’t forget to enter the Opening Day roster contest — open through 9pm PT tonight!

Van Slyke is one of nine outfielders who will vie for an Isotopes roster spot this spring. (Photo courtesy of the Isotopes)

Scott Van Slyke is one of nine outfielders who will vie for an Isotopes roster spot this spring. (Photo courtesy of the Isotopes)

Chattanooga Lookouts (Double-A Southern League)

Starting rotation: Onelki Garcia, Zach Lee, Aaron Miller, Rob Rasmussen, Chris Reed

All prospects, all the time, in east Tennessee this year! Garcia has the most pure stuff, but the least experience. Lee and Reed will hope their potential matches the results this season. Miller will have to fight to keep his starting spot after a middling season. Rasmussen will get some attention as the new guy in the organization.

Bulllpen: Geison Aguasviva, Steve Ames, Kelvin De La Cruz, Eric Eadington, Jordan Roberts, Andres Santiago, Chris Withrow

That is a lot of lefties, but it is hard to figure out where else to put them. De la Cruz is not a LOOGY and will give them a second long reliever to go with Santiago, who could start if Miller struggles. Aguasviva could fight his way to Albuquerque. Roberts is 27, so if he can’t stick here, his time with the Dodgers may be done. Ames and Eadington figure to share the closing job, though Withrow could see saves, too, now that the Dodgers have committed to him as a reliever. Just missed: Javier Solano

Catchers: Gorman Erickson, Christopher O’Brien

Erickson will be looking for some redemption after a lousy 2012. O’Brien was decent enough at Rancho to merit the promotion.

Infielders: 1B–J.T. Wise, 2B–Rafael Ynoa, SS–Alexis Aguilar, 3B–C.J. Retherford, UTIL–Joe Becker, Omar Luna

Wise and Ynoa have played well enough to earn promotions, but they are blocked at Albuquerque barring some trades. Aguilar is the pick I am least confident in; it could be a half-dozen other guys. In other words, please, Dodgers, sign some random Cuban defector shortstop to spare the poor fans in Chattanooga watching a guy with a career .662 OPS. Retherford had a big year at Rancho, but struggled with the Lookouts, so he will return here. Luna and Becker didn’t play a lot of shortstop last year, but they sure could this year. Just missed: Chris Jacobs 1B, Elevys Gonzalez 3B/2B, Miguel Rojas 2B/SS

Outfielders: LF–Yasiel Puig, CF–Joc Pederson, RF–Blake Smith, OF–Nick Buss, Bobby Coyle

Puig and Pederson are premium prospects. They both figure to play all three outfield spots here. Smith deserves to move up, and he certainly could, but for now I have him starting with the Lookouts. Buss and the talented but oft-injured Coyle return. Just missed: Kyle Russell

Final analysis: If some of the pitchers can translate their potential into results, then this team could be the favorite to win the Southern League. The rotation is six-deep and strong, while the bullpen is strong from both sides of the mound. The outfield should carry the offense, with shortstop being the only real concern on the infield. The Lookouts should be fun to watch this season.

Albuquerque Isotopes (Triple-A Pacific Coast League)

Starting rotation: Fabio Castro, Stephen Fife, Matt Magill, Matt Palmer, Mario Santiago

Magill is the legit prospect here. Fife returns and will be the first called up in the event of an injury to a starter in L.A. Palmer can chew up innings, but that is it. Castro was terrible last year with the A’s organization and might not last long in Albuquerque. Santiago is a gamble, with the Dodgers/Isotopes hoping he can carry over the success he found in Korea last year with the SK Wyverns.

Bullpen: Michael Antonini, Blake Johnson, Hector Nelo, Red Patterson, Paco Rodriguez, Cole St. Clair, Shawn Tolleson, Josh Wall

Antonini’s health is in question, so he might not crack this group. Rodriguez and Tolleson both deserve to pitch in the Majors, but I have Javy Guerra and Ted Lilly taking the last two spots. Johnson and St. Clair return in the long relief roles. Wall should close again. Patterson moves up, but it could easily be Ames instead. Nelo, a minor-league Rule 5 pick, gets the nod over the plethora of Triple-A vets signed this off-season. I am also betting that the veteran trio of Kevin Gregg, Mark Lowe, and Peter Moylan will opt out at the end of the spring. Just missed: Juan Abreu, Victor Garate, Gregory Infante, Wilmin Rodriguez, Luis Vasquez

Catchers: Jesus Flores, Matt Wallach

Flores could easily be subbed out for Federowicz if the Dodgers opt to have the prospect play every day and the veteran back up A.J. Ellis. Consider them interchangeable. Wallach has never hit, but he plays good defense and seems like a safe bet to the backup. Just missed: Eliezer Alfonzo, Wilkin Castillo, Ramon Castro

Infielders: 1B–Nick Evans, 2B–Elian Herrera, SS–Dee Gordon, 3B–Dallas McPherson, UTIL–Rusty Ryal, Justin Sellers

Evans always earned rave reviews for his defense, which could be a big help for Gordon’s wild throws (remember how Mark Teixeira made Derek Jeter look better back in 2009?). While it can be speculated that Gordon could or should be in the Majors, until he proves otherwise, I have him here. Sellers is another guy most people are counting out, but the Dodgers have not dumped him yet, even after his arrest in Sacramento. Herrera can, and likely will, play everywhere, but he should play almost every day. McPherson will DH against AL teams, since his back is unlikely to hold up for 144 games. Ryal gets the nod because the Isotopes need the left-handed bat. Just missed: Alfredo Amezaga UTIL, Brian Barden 3B, Ozzie Martinez SS

Outfielders: LF–Scott Van Slyke, CF–Tony Gwynn Jr., RF–Alex Castellanos, OF–Jeremy Moore

Unless Castellanos returns to the infield, this outfield is tough to figure out. Both he, Moore and Van Slyke are all right-handed hitters, so it would make a lot of sense for someone like Smith (who hits left-handed) to move up from Chattanooga. Unless the Isotopes only carry seven relievers (which, fat chance), it won’t happen unless the Dodgers move Van Slyke in a trade. Moore gets that backup spot because he can play all three positions and because the Dodgers obviously think very highly of him as he was the only free agent to participate in their prospect minicamp last month. Just missed: Matt Angle, Brian Cavazos-Galvez

Final analysis: This team does not look as talented as last year’s playoff squad, at least on paper. The rotation looks awfully suspect behind Fife and Magill. The bullpen could be good, at least. The lineup lacks left-handed bats, but should be able to score enough runs to keep games interesting. If the Dodgers can’t find any additional starting pitchers, however, it could be a long summer of 12-10 scores in Albuquerque, which this reporter is not very interested in watching anymore.