Money For Nothing, and Hits For Free

It’s 2012, and I’m referencing a song mostly known for having a video that shows what people in 1985 thought 1997 would look like. Deal with it.

After the surprising spending spree that kicked off the offseason, one question no one’s really been able to answer adequately is, “are the Dodgers really even any better offensively for it?” Most of the articles I’ve seen on that topic start off with “if Andre Ethier & Juan Uribe return to form, and if James Loney hits like he did in the second half and not the first…” which is all well and good, except that none of those three are new acquisitions and their performances were going to be the most important no matter how many other declining veterans were brought on. For the approximately $22m the Dodgers spent on six offensive signings this winter (other than Matt Kemp‘s extension), does it improve them at all over last season?

Over at Beyond the Box Score, David Fung takes a graphical look using wRC (weighted runs created) and wRAA (weighted runs above average), along with 2012 Bill James projections. Remember, this is talking about offense only.

click to embiggen

Fung isn’t including returnees Juan Rivera and Tony Gwynn, as I would have, but they wouldn’t change the overall impression that for all of the money spent, the offense isn’t markedly improved, with the newcomers seemingly unlikely to provide more offense than the departing Jamey Carroll, Rod Barajas, and Casey Blake. Mark Ellis / Adam Kennedy probably won’t contribute all that much more than  Carroll / Aaron Miles (if even as much), and while I think he’s far too optimistic on Matt Treanor‘s projected 87 OPS+, I’ll take the over on A.J. Ellis at 69, so that’ll probably even out.

This also doesn’t take into account the terrifying prospect of a full season of Rivera in left field, since after being lousy for five of six months last season, he’s not exactly high on my optimism list as he turns 34. The damage could be limited by allowing Jerry Sands a healthy amount of playing time in Rivera’s stead, though whether that’s realistic remains to be seen. (By the way, who among us wouldn’t have traded a fallen top prospect and a middling pitching prospect, say Chris Withrow & Josh Wall or Cole St. Clair, to the White Sox for Carlos Quentin, as the Padres just did? Quentin probably can’t play defense any better than Rivera can, but he’s at least under 30 with great power and good plate discipline, and at ~$7m in his final year of arbitration wouldn’t have cost all that much more than what Rivera will get.)

With the estimated offensive production coming in not much better than the production going out, the hope for success, as it always has been, rests on those returning. Uribe has to be better. Loney has to be August/September Loney. Ethier has to be healthy and productive (which I believe he will). Dee Gordon has to keep improving. Kemp has to repeat or come close to repeating his stellar 2011. If a majority of those questions don’t land on the right side for the Dodgers, their season is sunk.

That being the case, it’s worth repeating: why spend tens of millions on older, mediocre role players unlikely to bring much improvement?

The 2012 Dodgers Want You To Stay Off Their Lawns, You Damn Kids

Earlier this month, I noted how troubling it was that just about all of the Dodger shopping spree so far this winter has focused on older players on the backside of their careers:

Worse, the age trend here is terrifying. Adam Kennedy is 36 in January. Matt Treanor is 36 in March. Jerry Hairston turns 36 in May, which is also when Aaron Harang is 34. Mark Ellis is 35 in June. Juan Rivera will be 34 in July. Chris Capuano is 34 in August. That’s seven signings (assuming Harang arrives), and not a single one younger than Capuano.

Add them to Ted Lilly (36 in two weeks) & Matt Guerrier (34 in August) and the 2012 Dodgers will start off with nine players who are 33 or older by June 30, which is when Baseball Reference marks as the cut-off for determining a player’s age during a season. Assume that Mike MacDougal returns (35 in March) and that would make it ten, a full 40% of the active roster, and it would be eleven if not for the fact that Juan Uribe (33 on July 22) misses the deadline by just three weeks.

So that got me thinking – how might this compare to previous Dodger squads in terms of going to battle with players coming dangerously near their expiration date? As it turns out, we don’t have to go too far, since the club record for a season with most players 33 or older on June 30 came all the way back in… 2010, with 19 graybeards ranging from Garret Anderson to Jeff Weaver. Unsurprisingly, three of the top four Dodger clubs on this ranking, and four of the top six, have come under the leadership of Ned Colletti; all of the top eight have come since the turn of the century. That 2010 club actually had the fourth-highest amount of 33+ players of all time, though I think topping the memorably aged 2005 Yankees’ count of 25 such players is probably just a bit out of reach.

Ten isn’t nineteen, but remember that no team – and particularly one depending on so many older players – gets through the year with the same 25 players. When injuries strike, it’s almost certain that a few of your standard Triple-A non-roster types like Josh Bard (34 in March), Alberto Castillo (37 in July), and others we don’t know about yet pick up at least a few token appearances during the season. Beyond that, it’s still not out of the question that they will end up signing someone like Hideki Matsui (38 in June) and push Jerry Sands to the minors – plus whatever other questionable acquisitions pop up during the season.

Can they get nine more 33+ players into games over the season to tie the 2010 “record”? I think they can, especially if someone says Juan Castro‘s name three times in a row so he can make his yearly appearance. It’s okay, though; of the ten plus Uribe I listed at the start of the piece, all but Rivera, Treanor, Kennedy and (for the moment, at least) MacDougal are under contract for 2013 as well. So look for this piece next December, except then we can bump up the limit to 34 years of age – that record is only 15, set back in 2007. Fun times ahead!

What Do the Dodgers Have Left?


The Dodgers certainly aren’t taking their time this offseason, are they? After getting things started quickly by bringing back Juan Rivera, they’ve now snapped up Mark Ellis, have agreed in principle to an extension for Matt Kemp, and are getting close to adding catcher Matt Treanor. Yet they’re not done yet, because they still need at least one starting pitcher (preferably two), one more bench bat, and Ned Colletti’s yearly “oh god, my bullpen is too young and talented” veteran reliever.

But as Dylan Hernandez points out today, the 2012 payroll could be less than it was in 2011. So it’s fair to ask – after the recent spending spree, how much is left? When I did my 2012 plan a few weeks ago (one which looks more outdated by the day), I noted that the 2011 club had spent about $98m on player salaries and an additional $17m or so on “dead money”, or approximately $115m total. Before they had done anything this winter, they already had $99m committed for 2012, broken down by category, and assuming that James Loney is tendered but Hong-Chih Kuo is not:

2012 commitments as of 11/1/11

$22m of dead money - Manny Ramirez ($8m), Juan Pierre ($3m), Andruw Jones ($3.375m), Rafael Furcal ($3m), Hiroki Kuroda ($2m), Casey Blake ($1.25m), Jon Garland ($1.5m)

$33m of committed moneyTed Lilly ($12m), Chad Billingsley ($9m), Juan Uribe ($8m), Matt Guerrier ($4.75m)

$41m of arbitration moneyMatt Kemp ($15m), Andre Ethier ($12m), Clayton Kershaw ($8m), James Loney ($6m) (all best guesses)

$3m of team control money – approximately, for minimum salary guys like Javy Guerra, Dee Gordon, Kenley Jansen, A.J. Ellis, and several others

We’ll assume that Kemp’s new contract is backloaded in such a way that his 2012 salary doesn’t change that much in either direction, and since then they’ve either added or are likely to add the following new contracts:

$7.5m of new money – $4m for Rivera, $2.5m for Ellis (backloaded, per Hernandez, and let’s enjoy paying him $5.25m in 2013!) and ~$1m for Treanor (per Jon Morosi, though it’s not finalized yet; if he doesn’t get it, someone else will to fill that role.)

That puts the budget up to about $106.5m, with $84m of that being 2012 players – which I assume is what Hernandez is referring to when he says that the payroll could be less, because only nerds like us remember the “dead money”.  Yet if Hernandez is correct and that number is to be lower – and let’s admit we don’t know if Hernandez’ info is good (though he’s generally excellent) or how much lower we’re talking about – the Dodgers could have only about $10m remaining to spend for the 2012 club. Is that enough to bring back Kuroda (who, by the way, decided to return for 2011 a year ago today, so the clock is ticking)? To get a fifth starter so Nathan Eovaldi can go back to the minors? To get another righty 1B/OF bench bat to ensure that Loney & Ethier never have to face lefties again? To bring back Tony Gwynn, as seems likely? To accommodate the inevitable guaranteed veteran reliever who will show up?

There are ways to decrease these commitments, I suppose. Maybe Loney is non-tendered, though that seems unlikely and you’d still need to replace him. Perhaps Kemp’s contract is even more backloaded than we think it’ll be. Or maybe this is finally the year Ethier gets traded, though again, I wouldn’t count on that. Either way, we can stop with the Prince Fielder and Aramis Ramirez talk, because it’s just not happening. Personally, I’d be happy with bringing back Kuroda for one more year and fill in around the edges as best as can be done.

******

Joey Matschulat of Baseball Time in Arlington on Treanor:

Treanor did, of course, end up finding his way back to Texas when the Rangers acquired him just before the August 31st waiver-period trade deadline, but came to the plate only 12 times over the final month of the regular season, and didn’t record a single post-season plate appearance. For all of the praise that Treanor drew a year earlier vis-a-vis his game-calling and ability to handle the Rangers’ pitching staff, he had clearly ceded his previously high spot in the backstop pecking order to Mike Napoli and Yorvit Torrealba, and thusly found himself relegated to more of an emergency catching/pinch-hitting role.

Another Day, Another Rumor: Dodgers Reportedly Interested in Matt Treanor

Ken Gurnick at Dodgers.com:

The Dodgers’ search for a veteran catcher apparently has turned to Matt Treanor, who split time between the Royals and Rangers in 2011, according to a baseball source.

The Dodgers are looking for a replacement for Rod Barajas, who last week signed a $4 million deal with the Pirates. The Dodgers had inquired about free agent Ryan Doumit but didn’t make an offer after hearing his asking price.

Treanor, who will be 36 in March, is a defense-oriented catcher who would serve as a veteran backstop, as well as a mentor, to second-year catcher A.J. Ellis and rookie Tim Federowicz.

As if the Matt Kemp and Mark Ellis news from the last two days wasn’t enough, the Dodgers keep pushing forward in what was otherwise expected to be a quiet baseball offseason. I suppose we should enjoy this now, because at this rate, there’s not going to be a single player move between Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day. (Sidenote: fun to see that Gurnick completely debunks the idea that the Dodgers had ever offered Ryan Doumit a contract, isn’t it? Though I did caveat the hell out of the Doumit post because it was from “a source”, it’s another good reminder that 90% of what we hear this time of year is absolutely made up. Then again, since Gurnick is quoting “a source” here, let’s take the Treanor idea with the same grain of salt.)

Treanor’s exactly the kind of guy I’ve expected the Dodgers would be in on behind the plate, that is, a dues-paying member of the International Brotherhood of Backup Catchers. He’s played for four teams over the last four years (including two stints in Texas), and as expected, he can’t hit even a little: a career .225/.315/.307 line.

In the comments of dodgers.com and the few other places I’ve seen it mentioned, the reaction has been overwhelmingly negative from the fans who cared enough to discuss it, mainly focusing on how Treanor will be 36 next year and provides no offense, with a bit of “Colletti gonna Colletti” thrown in. I have to say, I can’t really see the uproar here, because the alternatives are slim. Just look at the MLBTR list of free agent catchers, won’t you? Are you really dying for Jason Varitek, Gerald Laird, or Ivan Rodriguez? You could possibly argue for Chris Snyder, but he made $5.2m and $6.2m the last two years and is unlikely to accept a massive paycut. It’s not the same scenario as when we were against Dioner Navarro last year, because in that case Ellis seemed to be an immediately superior internal option; unless you’re one of the very few who think Federowicz is ready now, someone’s going to have to come in from the outside.

If anything, this might further indicate that the Dodgers are willing to give Ellis a shot as the primary option in a job share, which is great. So maybe it’s Treanor, maybe it’s Brian Schneider, maybe it’s Jose Molina (probably my choice because of his defense)… and maybe it’s not really going to matter. As long as it’s $1m or less, choosing between half a dozen guys who essentially provide the same value isn’t really worth getting up in arms over. It’s probably even money that whomever it is gets DFA’d two-thirds of the way through the season for Federowicz, anyway.