Improving the 2014 Dodgers: Second Base

mark_ellis_baltimore_2013-04-20Before we get into season reviews, which probably start later this week or early next, let’s spend some time looking at the four biggest areas of need for the 2014 Dodgers — second base, third base, another starting pitcher, and another reliever. Today, second base.

The Incumbent: Mark Ellis, 36, had what’s become a typical season for him. Combining solid defense, declining offense (just a .300 wOBA) and his annual leg injury (this one a quad that cost him three weeks), Ellis still contributed nearly two wins above replacement. That’s actually not too bad for the $5.25m he made this year, though his increasing inability to hit righty pitching (.265/.319/.325) is troublesome. The Dodgers have a $5.75m option for his services in 2014 should they choose to exercise it, a salary figure which isn’t unreasonable for the value he provides, but you know what you’re getting — there’s no upside left here.

Frankly, I think I’d like him a lot more if he were just hitting seventh or eighth rather than second (which he did 47 times this year), because he’s a below-average hitter and someone who Don Mattingly just loves to bunt ahead of the #3 hitter with. If he comes back, he needs to be the starter; Since he can’t play other positions and doesn’t have much power or speed, he’s not a great bench choice.

Organizational Options: Not even close. Seriously. Elian Herrera & Alfredo Amezaga played the bulk of the time at the keystone for Albuquerque this year, and if you suggest with any level of seriousness that Dee Gordon is the solution here, I will IP block you from the site forever.

Trade Options: There’s a few, with varying degrees of intrigue. We keep hearing the Mets are willing to trade Daniel Murphy, who the Dodgers reportedly had interest in two years ago. He’s got more bat than Ellis (.320 wOBA and 13 homers), but isn’t as good on defense; FanGraphs has him worth 3 WAR this season, which isn’t bad. Howie Kendrick is another second baseman we heard the Dodgers were in on, and he had a good season (.337 wOBA) at age-29. He’s not quite the defender Ellis is, but he’s turned himself into an asset there. Kendrick makes $18.8m over the next two seasons, which is fair, but the Angels won’t give him up cheaply, and would probably insist upon Zach Lee.

Brandon Phillips is also expected to be on the block, but he’s a huge no for me. In addition to the $50m over four years remaining on his contract, there’s the fact that all the bleating over his RBI masked that he had a career-worst offensive year (.307 wOBA, barely better than Ellis), and is regarded as a troublesome personality. Shockingly, it turns out that hitting behind Joey Votto & Shin-Soo Choo gives you about a billion opportunities to drive runners in. Put Zack Greinke there and he could get to 100 RBI too, which is why I find RBI completely irrelevant.

Ian Kinsler‘s name will always come up in Texas until they find a home for Jurickson Profar, and even in a “down year”, he was still far better (.334 wOBA) than Ellis, while performing as a more-or-less average defender. He has 4/$57m (plus a $5m buyout of a fifth year at $12m in his age-36 season) remaining, and I imagine we’ll hear people suggesting trading Andre Ethier for him until the end of time. Rickie Weeks Dan Uggla are also both easily available, but I’d rather just play with eight men on the field.

Free Agent Options: The Phillies took Chase Utley off the table with an extension, which is disappointing, and the Rays are certain to exercise Ben Zobrist‘s option. Robinson Cano is obviously the big fish, but even if you don’t believe the team’s repeated denials about having interest in him, I think most of us agree that it’s smart to avoid giving him a monster contract. Omar Infante spent most of the first eight years of his career as a utility man, but 401 of his 403 games for Miami & Detroit over the last three years have come at second. He’s headed into his age-32 season having just put up a .346 wOBA, which is very good, but it should be noted that it was just. 306 in 2011 and .310 in 2012. He’ll still probably get something like three years and $33 million. And, of course, we’ve talked about Cuban Alexander Guerrero ad nauseum at this point.

The Verdict? I think most of us would like to see Guerrero, and while that’s probably both because of pure excitement of the unknown and the fact that it feels like he’s been destined to be a Dodger for months, I tend to agree. He’s the youngest of this group, and if reports are accurate, may have comparable power to anyone here other than Cano. He also won’t cost anything in talent, which is a big drag on interest in Kendrick. I’m still hopeful the Dodgers get him for three or four years in the $30ish million range. Failing that, I would investigate Kendrick (but wouldn’t even consider discussing Corey Seager or Joc Pederson, obviously) or see just how overpaid Infante is going to be. If that all fails, bringing back Ellis for the $5.75m isn’t the worst backup plan in the world, but there’s not a lot to get excited about there, either.

NLCS Game 5, Part Two

As has become par for the course, playoff games require more than one game thread. What we know so far: Zack Greinke loaded the bases in the first inning, somehow managed to get out of it, then knocked in a run of his own. Greinke didn’t look so hot in the third inning either, though Andre Ethier‘s adventures in center field didn’t help; Juan Uribe made a great play to help Greinke out in the first and drove in the first run, while Adrian Gonzalez hit a ball real, real far, and the Dodgers are up 3-2 after four.

Oh, and Mark Ellis did this:

Poll: Who Will Be the Dodger Second Baseman In 2014?

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Mark Ellis had himself quite the nice game last night, and thinking about it overnight, it felt like he’s had more than a few big hits lately. The stats back that up; over the last 30 days, he’s hitting an excellent .347/.390/.507. That’s of course pretty far off his season line of .280/.325/.378, and he’ll probably end the season at about one win over replacement. While it’s obviously incredibly premature to think about it in the midst of the great run this team is on, Ellis’ little streak and the recent news that Chase Utley has taken himself off the free agent market does make you wonder if this changes opinions about the incumbent’s status for next season.

Do you want to pay an additional $4.75m (his option is for $5.75m, but there’s a $1m buyout he’s getting regardless) to keep Ellis around for another year, despite advancing age, mediocre offense, and near-guaranteed missed time due to injury? Do you want to massively overpay Robinson Cano? You don’t really think Dee Gordon can hit or field in the bigs, I imagine? Is it a problem that Rafael Ynoa might be the best second base prospect in the organization? How much weight is there to the rumors about Howie Kendrick or Daniel Murphy? No one really expects that Andre Ethier is getting traded for Ian Kinsler, right? Whatever happened to Alexander Guerrero, anyway? Otherwise, the free agent options for second base next year are perilously thin.

Who will be the LA 2B in 2014?
  
pollcode.com free polls 

So as a fun and far-too-early exercise before the Dodgers welcome the Mets into town tonight, who is playing second base next year? (I resisted the urge to include “whoever is hitting second” as an option, since I know that would have been the overwhelming winner.)

Dodgers 3, Yankees 2: That’s a Walkoff

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There are approximately 11,862,298 different ways a baseball team can win a game. That includes blown calls, acts from above, and animals on the field. Pretty much zero of those ways involve Juan Uribe hitting one of the longest homers you’ll see in Dodger Stadium and Andre Ethier setting up the winning run with a stolen base that had absolutely no business being attempted, much less completed.

That’s baseball, sometimes, except that the “sometimes” seems to be happening just about every single night. Usually, that’s what makes baseball so great, but right now, it’s what’s making this team something unbelievably special.

Actually, after Uribe’s second-inning blast gave the Dodgers a 2-1 lead, we weren’t really sure how this was going to end, because it was a pretty quietly well-played game after that. Zack Greinke made one mistake to Lyle Overbay that ended up in the seats for the first run, then allowed the tying run in the fourth on an Overbay groundout, but was otherwise effective over seven innings. Ronald Belisario & Kenley Jansen — about whom enough simply cannot be said right now — pitched in two more scoreless frames to get it into the ninth.

Despite the fact that Andy Pettitte never really looked all that great — especially in the first inning, when Yasiel Puig came about three inches from parking one over the center field wall — and allowed every Dodger in the lineup other than Carl Crawford to get at least a hit, he managed to minimize the damage through seven innings of his own. So let’s skip ahead to the ninth, where a sellout crowd saw A.J. Ellis ground out and Ethier poke a hit to left. I’ll be honest at this point — even before the inning started, I was hoping against hope that Uribe (due up third in the inning) would get a chance to come up to be the hero. Well, he got that chance, and he was well aware of it. Too aware of it, really, because he was coming out of shoes on every swing, even losing his grip on the bat at one point.

Sadly for those of us hoping for Uribe’s tale of redemption to come full circle, Shawn Kelley struck him out, and up stepped Mark Ellis. For reasons I still don’t quite understand — perhaps a missed hit-and-run? — Ethier ran on the second pitch, a called ball, and really didn’t beat the throw. But the ball slipped out of Robinson Cano‘s glove on the tag, putting Ethier in scoring position for Ellis to drive a full-count ball into the left field gap.

Ethier came around, and we have a stolen base, a Uribe blast, and some quality pitching to thank. Now 27-6 in their last 33 and 10-1 since the All-Star break, the Dodgers have a comfortable 3.5 game lead in the West.

I keep saying this can’t last. For every rational reason in the world, it can’t last. It shouldn’t last. But it keeps lasting. And while I may not be able to explain, I sure am enjoying it.

Dodgers 8, Blue Jays 3: Top That One, I Dare You

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Remember all the way back to yesterday when I said “you can’t make this stuff up” after the Dodgers fought back from a 8-3 deficit to win?

Uh, yeah. About that. You know, I’m going to recap what happened tonight because I’m a blogger and that’s what I do, but it almost feels a bit hollow. Sure, I can recite the facts, but… I mean, good lord, right? How do you even do justice to a night like this, to a team like this? Even when things aren’t working, everything is working. You know it’s not going to last forever, but it’s all happening right now, and it’s beyond anything I think any of us can ever remember.

Anyway, to the facts: Ricky Nolasco carried a no-hitter into the fifth inning despite walking four, then give back a 2-0 lead by allowing Brett Lawrie to double two home. That was all they had into the bottom of the eighth, when an infield hit by Melky Cabrera, a stolen base by pinch-runner Rajai Davis, and a throwing error by Adrian Gonzalez conspired to bring home the go-ahead run and look to hang Ronald Belisario with an undeserved loss.

That looked more likely than ever when Toronto closer Casey Janssen worked around a leadoff walk to Yasiel Puig in the ninth to blow away Gonzalez & Hanley Ramirez and get to two strikes on Andre Ethier, who singled to Colby Rasmus and then OH MY LORD THIS HAPPENED (via Chad Moriyama):

Puig scored the tying run, and then the wheels really fell off for Toronto in the tenth. Mark Ellis hit what very well be the longest homer of his career, an absolute no-doubt bomb to left field. Puig followed with a shot of his own, his first since July 2, and then Ethier doubled in two more to suddenly make this a laugher.

That’s six wins in a row. That’s 10 in a row on the road. That’s 23 of the last 28, a streak that only the 1924, 1953, and 1955 clubs can beat since the start of the 20th century. That’s now a full game lead over Arizona, who are down 6-0 to the Cubs at the moment after Nate Schierholtz‘s three-run homer.

If not for all the insanity, we’d probably be talking about Puig a whole lot more. In addition to his homer, he singled, doubled and walked, but as you imagine he did them all with as much flair as possible. The double came up just short of a homer, and so Puig had to hustle to second as he’d been watching it go; the walk came with a fun amount of ump-show as Puig was halfway to first base on what looked to be ball four before being called back to do it again. After the worry about his slump, he ended up with six hits (and two walks) over the last three games of the series. That’ll work, I think.

But you know what the scariest part is? The most impressive performance tonight didn’t come from Puig or Ellis or Ethier or the Astroturf. It might very well have come from Brandon League, who pitched two shutout innings and actually collected the win for the second game in a row.

Brandon League, contributing to victories. Now you know things are out of control. I love it. Oh… and they return home to face the Reds on Vin Scully Bobblehead Night with Zack Greinke on the mound and Clayton Kershaw to follow. What a time, friends.