In Which We Try To Convince Cubs Fans That Ned Colletti Is A Good Idea

Jim Hendry, as you’ve no doubt heard, was fired by the Cubs today after just over eight years as GM.  Some of the highlights of his tenure as GM: he took a blue-clad team with a long and proud history to the playoffs three times, including two seasons in a row; he hired a big-name manager more famous for his successes elsewhere; he gave up too much for Juan Pierre; he signed Ted Lilly to a long-term deal; he had a fascination with short, white, scrappy infielders (remember, Mike Fontenot, Ryan Theriot, and Aaron Miles were all Cubs); he dealt with a messy ownership situation; and he watched as an expensive roster laden with poor choices sunk into mediocrity. Though his club certainly had their moments under his watch, ultimately it wasn’t enough to save his job.

If that all sounds familiar… well, congratulations, you’ve punctured my thinly-veiled premise of “Jim Hendry as Ned Colletti”. That alone isn’t why we’re talking about this, of course. If Colletti were to get fired in Los Angeles, you can guarantee we’d be bouncing off the walls with our favorite young prospective candidates. There’d be a Kim Ng or Logan White here, a Ben Cherington or Tony LaCava there. It’d be great. We’d have a ball, and that’s what I assume many happy Cub fans are doing right now.

Except… there’s a name that keeps popping up where you wouldn’t expect it to, a name that when I first saw it appear on Twitter, all I could do was laugh. See if you can spot who:

Jon Heyman, Sports Illustrated:

In addition to Bush, possible candidates to replace Hendy could include Pat Gillick (though he’s said he he’d prefer a team president job) plus Brian Cashman, Andrew Friedman, Ned Colletti, Rick Hahn and Josh Byrnes.

Phil Rogers, Chicago Tribune (from June):

Some potential candidates long have been working behind the scenes to try to grab Hendry’s office. The Cubs easily could wind up with one of them or another happy-to-be-there GM with Kenney involved in the process. But could they get around his negative image to raid the Red Sox’s talent pool for Allard Baird or Ben Cherington or find a way to finesse Ned Colletti away from the Dodgers.

Phil Rogers, Chicago Tribune (today):

Ricketts could wait a couple of months to see if guys like Cashman, Friedman or the Dodgers’ Ned Colletti become available.

Danny Knobler, CBS Sports:

Other names that are sure to come up are White Sox assistant Rick Hahn, who interviewed last year for the Mets job; Dodgers GM Ned Colletti, who grew up in the Chicago area and got his start in baseball many years ago with the Cubs; Yankees GM Brian Cashman, whose contract runs out at the end of the year (but is considered unlikely to leave); possibly Rays general manager Andrew Friedman, who has been more prominently mentioned in Houston; former Astros GM Gerry Hunsicker, working as an advisor with the Rays (and could also be a possibility in Houston); Rangers assistant Thad Levine; Blue Jays assistant Tony LaCava; and A’s assistant David Forst.

Gordon Wittenmeyer, Chicago Sun-Times (from July):

And don’t bet the house that the next GM will be an improvement, especially considering the cast of baseball newbies and wannabes who figure to be making that hire. Considering some baseball insiders believe Josh Byrnes and Ned Colletti would be near the top of the Cubs’ list, head-hunting fans might want to be careful what they wish for.

Colletti, of course, has well-known ties to Chicago; in addition to having grown up there, he got his start in baseball with the Cubs and his brother Doug has been a long-time member of the Bears radio team. (Sidenote: try to come up with a more Chicago name for two brothers than “Ned” and “Doug”. You can’t.)

It’s hard to tell if this is just “oh, the Dodgers are a mess and Colletti will either be swept out or look to jump ship, and oh, hey, he’s from Chicago right?” lazy reporting, or if there’s actual fire to this smoke. My guess is probably the former, and with so many qualified candidates out there, it’s hard to think that Cubs ownership would really want to go in this direction. (Besides, even if Colletti were to be gone in time to get the Cubs job, that would still be before the Dodger situation is sorted out, greatly limiting the external candidates who would even be interested in replacing him here.)

Still, the 0.0003% chance there’s actually a prayer of this happening is more fun to think about than the 99.9% chance that the team we’re watching right now is going to finish 74-88. So have at it, friends.

Ned Colletti Speaks


As Hiroki Kuroda and the Dodgers attempt to complete a sweep of the even-worse-than-we-thought-they-were Astros today, Tom Hoffarth of the Los Angeles Daily News brings us a detailed Q&A session with Ned Colletti.

The whole thing is interesting to read and worth the click; some of the more interesting exchanges…

Q: So with the September call-ups, is there anything in particular you’re looking for? Mattingly has talked about not bringing too many guys up if they’re not going to play. What’s the strategy to that?

A: Well, we’ve got some guys in mind already. I probably shouldn’t give them to you right now. Most of them I want to see play. Maybe one or two I just want them to get acclimated. But I don’t usually do it without a purpose.

We’ve long figured that guys like A.J. Ellis, Jerry Sands, Ivan DeJesus, etc, will come up in September to flesh out the roster. But we’ve seen them already this year; Colletti mentions that “one or two” might come up “to get acclimated”. That infers that they’d be players who haven’t yet seen time in the bigs. With injuries and ineffectiveness causing a greater-than-usual amount of turnover this year, there’s not so many obvious candidates in AAA. Looking at the current 24-man Isotope active roster, 11 have played with the Dodgers at some point over the last two seasons; three (Dana Eveland, Roy Corcoran, & Roman Colon) have played with other teams. There’s also several guys who are in their late 20s and/or were signed from independent leagues this year, and aren’t considered prospects. The only Isotope who would seem to fit the criteria is newcomer Tim Federowicz – more on him later – but unless Rod Barajas or Dioner Navarro are miraculously moved in the next two weeks, starting his clock to be the team’s fourth catcher in September seems unlikely.

Looking down to AA Chattanooga, some possibilities might be 1B/OF Scott Van Slyke, who has had something of a breakout year, or impressive young pitchers Shawn Tolleson, Steven Ames, or possibly even Allen Webster.

Q: So there has to be frustration from you when you hear anyone say, “This trade makes no sense,” when there’s a reason why you can’t really explain all that goes into it, whether it’s impossible to do or you don’t want to give away any secrets?

A: Well, I never want to disparage anybody. And, sometimes it’s not just a disparaging situation. You know, we just made this deal with Boston and Seattle. People wonder how we could trade a local player, Trayvon Robinson. And I like Trayvon. But I have to look at the team on July 31, 2011. And on April 1, 2012. And on … I’ve got to take a short look and a long look.

But one of the key guys to acquire in that deal was a catcher (Tim Federowicz). We’ve got, maybe, a couple of prospect catchers in our system. One I think is a pretty good catch-and-throw guy. Another is a younger player that by all accounts is three years away, but that’s just showing up here, not an every-day contributor. So the kid we acquired, we feel, is within months of being up here. He’s got a great mind, he knows how to catch and catching to me is one of the most important positions on the field. He can catch and throw, he’s got some ability to hit and he’s got the right perspective and the right demeanor.

I couldn’t go into this offseason without more at that position. If you’re short a left fielder, you can take one of a couple of right fielders and move him over. If you’re short a third base or second base, you move an infielder around. But if you don’t have a catcher, you don’t have a catcher. That’s the one position you can’t invent out of thin air.

So, a few things here. Colletti claims that the Dodgers have two prospect catchers, the first being “a pretty good catch-and-throw guy,” the second being “a younger player that by all accounts is three years away.” Let’s check the organizational catching depth chart and try to identify who he’s referring to. As you can see, the pickings are pretty slim; you could argue that Ellis is the first guy, as he’s a solid defender without much of an offensive reputation, and he’s technically still a “prospect”, though at 30 and unable to get a shot ahead of the current two failures it’s unlikely that he’s even on Colletti’s radar. More likely, he’s referring to Matt Wallach, who isn’t much of a hitter (.230/.380/.345 at 25 in AA) yet has a good defensive reptuation.

As for the second guy, the “younger player who is three years away”, that’s a little tougher. You could possibly consider Pratt Maynard, drafted in the 3rd round this year, though you have to do better than hit .211 in rookie ball before you have any sort of MLB ETA. That’s more likely Gorman Erickson, having a solid season between Hi-A and AA this year while showing some nice pop.

Back to Federowicz, Colletti’s remarks on him are telling, especially the bit about how he is “within months of being up here.” He clearly sees him as someone who can contribute in 2012, though personally I think his offensive skills are questionable, and please don’t read too much into nine Albuquerque-fueled games since he arrived. Ellis and Federowicz in 2012? It’s not sexy, but it’s hard to think it could be worse than Barajas and Navarro, and there’s clearly not much available on the market.

Also, thousands of jokes were made at Colletti’s expense for his comment the day of the trade – reiterated here – that you can’t make a catcher by moving a player from another position, since the Dodgers alone have seen success doing just that with Carlos Santana and Russell Martin. But now that he explains it a little further, I think I understand what he was trying tot say a little more: you can do that, but it takes time. You could toss Andre Ethier into left field in time for next season if you wanted. You could put Juan Uribe or Jamey Carroll at any of a few infield spots. But if you’re converting someone to catcher, you need several years for that transition to happen, and you need to do it at a relatively early age. If you’re a team desperate for help next year, that’s not a viable option.

Q: Here’s another question from a reader – and here it is in its entirety:

“Explain to me – to all Dodger fans – why Juan Uribe was signed for any price, let alone the amount you overpaid him. I have been a Dodger fan since 1971, and never has any player been less qualified to be on this team than Uribe. This year proves that he played way over his head last season and you took the bait like a typical former Giants employee. Or do you still work for Frisco? Maybe you thought his World Series ring would make you a champion by proxy? Why in God’s name did you sign him, besides your unnatural attraction to former Giants? I know you probably won’t ask this, but I just saved myself three sessions with my therapist writing that question out and pretending that Colletti might actually read it.” And it’s signed “respectfully” from Kieran C. Scott, a fan from Placentia.

A: God bless Kieran. I understand his frustration, and mine is equal to his. Going into the offseason, we needed someone to play in the middle of the diamond and could be a run producer. We didn’t expect him to duplicate what he did last year, but certainly didn’t expect this type of season. We thought 15, 16 homers and 65, 70 RBIs which, when you look at his track record, isn’t that far off line with what he’s been able to accomplish. But I get it. Signing free agents is the most volatile, toughest thing to really gauge. All I can say is thank you for your fandom.

I included this one mostly because Hoffarth is awesome for asking it. And because when Colletti talked about what he expected from Uribe, one of the first items he brings up is “RBI”. Which, ugh. (Speaking of Uribe, Ben Bolch reports today that his recovery from a hip injury has stalled, and he will visit a specialist to try and identify if his injury is more severe. Surgery is an option, though sadly, it wouldn’t be expected to be career-threatening. Yes, I hesitated before writing that, and it sounds awful, but come on: like any of us want to see him on the field again.)

Hoffarth’s interview with Colletti goes on to touch quite a few off-the-field issues, particularly his relationship with his parents, and for all we say about how Colletti’s performance, there’s little doubt that he deeply cares about the work that he’s doing. That doesn’t mean he’s any good at it, of course, but it’s clear that he’s as troubled by this season as the rest of us are.

******

Unrelated: the Florida Marlins shipped off sometimes-controversial outfielder Logan Morrison to AAA today, despite the 23-year-old being almost indisputably their third-best hitter, reportedly for reasons beyond his recent slump at the plate. Though Morrison has had trouble keeping his mouth shut at times, the Marlins – on their third manager of the season and with one of the most reviled non-McCourt owners in the sport – clearly own much of the blame here, as this is hardly the first time they’ve been in the news for issues like this. By claiming that the demotion is for baseball issues, the Fish have cratered Morrison’s value, and he’s outspoken enough that it seems unlikely the relationship can be repaired. Morrison isn’t a star, but he’s got a career 114 OPS+ and doesn’t even turn 24 for several more weeks. Time to buy low? Fine by me.

2011 Midseason Grades: Pitching and Management

Thanks for all the feedback on yesterday’s hitting grades, and today we move on to pitching and management. Remember, the letter grades are just for fun, without a whole lot of thought or science behind them.

Starting Pitchers

Clayton Kershaw (A+) (9-4, 3.03 ERA, 2.45 FIP)
Is A+ even high enough? I’m not sure it is, though we certainly expected great things from him. Think about this: his HR/9 rate and H/9 rate are unchanged from last year, but he’s managed to do that while lowering his walk rate (again!) and increasing his strikeout rate. He’s leading the league in whiffs, and he has two shutouts among his three complete games. He’s 23. He’s lefty. He’s an All-Star.

Don’t let anyone tell you that he’s progressing towards being an ace, or one day he could be one of the best. Clayton Kershaw is, right now, one of the 10 best pitchers in baseball. The scary part? He could still get better.

Chad Billingsley (B) (8-7, 3.87 ERA, 3.41 FIP)
Over at Baseball Prospectus this morning, Geoff Young of DuckSnorts offers the opinion that Billingsley “should be a star, but isn’t”. And that’s true. 26-year-old Billingsley is walking more and striking out less than 23-year-old Billingsley did in 2008. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because he’s still a very valuable asset and the extension he signed over the winter was welcomed, but he’s also not going to be a Kershaw-level star like we’d once hoped he would be. Again, that’s not to get on Billingsley, it’s just seemingly who he’s going to be – a durable #2 or 3 type who will be consistently inconsistent (3 starts this year of at least 8 IP and 1 ER or less, 3 starts allowing 5 ER or more). That’s not a star, but it is a quality pitcher we should be happy to have.

Hiroki Kuroda (B) (6-10, 3.06 ERA, 3.73 FIP)
Only five pitchers have received less run support than Kuroda (shockingly, no other Dodger appears on the top 40 of that list), so let’s not pretend the poor win/loss record means absolutely anything at all. Conversely, the ERA is a little misleading as well, since he’s striking out fewer and walking more than he did in either 2009 or 2010, facts which are reflected in the higher FIP. Still, he’s been a solid member of this rotation… and probably the only Dodger with any real trade value at the deadline. I’ll be sorry to see him go, if he does.

Ted Lilly (D) (6-9, 4.79 ERA, 4.59 FIP)
Lilly hasn’t been awful (back, back, it’s gone!), but nor has he been (throw to second, and the runner is in!) in any way worthy of the $33m deal he received in the offseason. He’s (that ball is far, it is out of here!) striking out fewer than ever, and more (he’s going, and he swipes second without a throw) batted balls in front of a defense that isn’t great at converting them into outs isn’t (that ball is crushed into the second tier!) a good mix. Oh, and he’s 35 and has complained (Navarro’s throw to second, not in time, another steal!) of arm soreness already. Loving that three-year deal more than ever.

Rubby De La Rosa (A) (3-4, 3.74 ERA, 3.40 FIP)
Probably the most impressive of any of the rookies pushed ahead of their schedule this year, de la Rosa has shown immense talent while being forced to learn on-the-job. While his first few starts were dicey – good lord, the walks, and that one game that he nearly got bounced in the first inning was a heart-stopper – RDLR has shown marked improvement, even flirting with no-hitters in each of his last two outings. The talent is unquestioned, but the real concern now is limited his innings, since he’s quickly coming up on matching his previous high with more than two months remaining in the season. But if he’s limited and if someone like Kuroda is dealt… how do you finish out the season? John Ely? Dana Eveland? Yikes.

Jon Garland (D-) (1-5, 4.33 ERA, 4.59 FIP)
Hey, remember when Garland was signed largely because he’d never been on the disabled list before? If you do, then you probably also remember him saying he couldn’t get multi-year deals because other teams didn’t like the looks of his medical reports. Garland gets a lousy grade not because of his performance (ignore the 1-5, a 4.59 FIP is in line with his usual season), but because he sells his durability as a skill. Clearly, that’s one item he forgot to pack for his second (and likely final) tour with the Dodgers. At least that large 2012 option won’t kick in.

John Ely (inc.) (0-1, 6.23 ERA, 5.61 FIP)
Remember Ely-mania last year? Seems so far away, doesn’t it?

Relief pitchers

Jonathan Broxton (MRI) (1-2, 7 saves, 5.68 ERA, 5.56 FIP)
I have absolutely no idea how to grade Jonathan Broxton. Was he good this year? No, of course he wasn’t, and for many people that justifies their opinion that at around midseason 2010, he somehow lost his heart / mind / balls / toes / earlobes / whatever. The fact that he somehow managed to even close out seven games earlier this year is somewhat misleading, because he rarely did so smoothly; conversely, it’s difficult to blame him entirely for the big blown save in Florida because the Dodgers would have won if Jamey Carroll had merely fielded a simple ground ball.

I’d say the answer lies in the fact that he’s been on the disabled list for over two months due to a right elbow injury, with no estimated return date. We never saw the healthy Broxton this year, just as I felt we never saw a healthy Broxton in the second half of last year. The lesson, as always? Joe Torre cannot be trusted with relievers. You hate to say it about a guy who is only 27, but Torre may just have ruined Broxton’s career. Thanks for stopping by, Joe!

Hong-Chih Kuo (-) (0-0, 8.71 ERA, 4.12 FIP)
Take everything I said about Broxton above and multiply it by 100 for Kuo, because the anxiety issue he’s been fighting for years makes it impossible to really judge his on-field performance. Since returning, he’s at least managed to limit the walks (6/2 K/BB in 5.2 IP), though the results (five runs, four earned) haven’t all been there yet. The fact that he even returned as quickly as he did should count as a win.

Kenley Jansen (B+) (1-1, 4.40 ERA, 3.15 FIP)
I bet a lot of people will be surprised by this grade for Jansen. “But his ERA is 4.40, rabble rabble rabble!”, they’ll yell. That’s true, it is. That number is also heavily inflated by two poor outings – allowing 5 earned runs to Atlanta on April 19 in a game that the Dodgers were already losing in, and allowing 3 earned runs on May 23 in Houston, a game which preceded his stint on the DL with right shoulder inflammation by less than a week. Since returning from injury on June 18, he’s been nearly untouchable, striking out 13 while allowing just two singles in 9.2 innings. While the walks remain a problem, he’s actually striking out more per nine than he did in 2010, and you might remember that even last year’s rate was on the verge of being historic. The question for me is, why is he stuck in middle relief and garbage time rather than in higher leverage situations?

Matt Guerrier (C-) (3-3, 3.10 ERA, 4.44 FIP)
Boy, who would have thought that handing out an expensive multi-year deal to a non-elite middle reliever wouldn’t have worked out well? Besides everyone, that is. Guerrier actually hasn’t been that bad, but that’s sort of the point: players who get $12m over three years should be able to do better than “hasn’t been that bad”. Though he’s striking out slightly more than he did as a Twin, he’s allowing both more walks and hits than he did in either of the last two years, despite moving to the easier league. He’ll be 33 in less than a month. It’s not a good trend.

Mike MacDougal (C+) (0-1, 1.67 ERA, 3.74 FIP)
2003 All-Star MacDougal has done an excellent job of reviving his career after several years bouncing between the bigs and AAA. MacDougal, who made the 2003 All-Star team as a member of the Royals, has just a 1.74 ERA, emerging as a leader of the injury-plagued Dodger bullpen. The former All-Star has allowed only six earned runs to score, putting him in contention for 9th inning responsibilities. All-Star.

(I can’t do it. MacDougal has allowed approximately 982 of the 48 inherited runners he’s received* to score. For nearly the entire season, he’d walked as many as he’d struck out, before finally giving himself some distance in recent days. He’s not a good pitcher, but like Aaron Miles, we expected nothing, so the small contributions he’s made get him some minor credit. *note: numbers may be fabricated.)

Number of Ortizii: 0 (A++++)
Say what you will about this club, at least they’re not employing anyone named Ortiz who was last useful 6-8 years ago, much less multiple players like that.

Javy Guerra (B+) (1-0, 4 saves, 2.33 ERA, 4.01 FIP)
Guerra, like MacDougal all those years ago, is a perfect example of why we shouldn’t overrate saves. For a guy who walked 6.8/9 in the minors last year and was forced to the bigs simply because of injuries, he’s been fine. He’s keeping the ball in the yard, he’s cut down on the control issues, and he’s even managed to steal a few saves while serving as the last-ditch closer. As far as debuts go, his has been a successful one. Let’s just not go overboard in anointing him as the man in the 9th inning, because he hasn’t been that good – 13 K in 19.1 IP doesn’t thrill me – and in each of his last two saves, he loaded the bases before getting out of the jam. That’s not the kind of tightrope you can walk for very long.

Blake Hawksworth (B) (2-2, 3.00 WHIP, 4.12 FIP)
“Isn’t Ryan Theriot“, and that alone gets him a boost. Actually, I joke, but it’s sort of true: when healthy, Hawksworth has been a perfectly acceptable and average reliever, doing a decent job of keeping runners off the bases (WHIP of 1.000), and striking out more than double as he’s walked. Considering that Theriot is doing his usual “I’m not a very good baseball player, but I am short and white, and that counts for something, right?” routine in St. Louis, even just getting that moderate level of contribution in exchange is a big win.

Scott Elbert (B-) (0-1, 5.25 ERA, 2.54 FIP)
I know there’s been a lot of turnover in the bullpen this year, but Elbert is one of those guys where I constantly have to check if he’s still on the team or down in ABQ. I suppose that’s partically because he’s pitched just twice in the last two weeks, and partially because he’s rarely in for more than 2-3 batters at a time. As for his performance, he’s a bit of an oddity in that you’d expect a power lefty to be hell on lefty hitters, but he’s actually rocking a reverse split: lefties (.701 OPS) are actually doing more damage than righties (.561 OPS) against him. Overall, I guess you can say he’s been “acceptable”, in that he’s finally gained a foothold in the majors, but hasn’t exactly made us think he’s going to be a difference maker.

Then again, considering his mysterious disappearance at this time last year, even that is a massive step forward.

Ramon Troncoso (D) (0-0, 6.23 ERA, 4.92 FIP)
I know it’s popular to blame Torre for Troncoso’s downturn as well, and maybe that’s part of it, but I do remember writing a post last year that outlined how he had larger issues than overuse. Whatever it is, he’s barely a major league quality pitcher right now… which probably explains why he’s not in the major leagues. That’s what’ll happen when you aren’t striking anyone out and giving up an absurd amount of hits, though I’ll allow that since he was never a strikeout guy, pitching in front of a defense that does no favors probably doesn’t help.

Ronald Belisario (MIA)
Ha, no. There’s about as good of a chance that he pitches for the Dodgers again as there is that you’ll see Orel Hershiser or Don Drysdale out there.

Josh Lindblom (B+) (0-0, 1.69 ERA, 3.43 FIP)
Nearly two years after we first thought we might see him, Lindblom finally got the call this year, and so far, so good. It’s hard to make judgements based on just eight games, but he’s yet to allow more than one earned run in an appearance, and for now, that’s good enough.

Lance Cormier (dFa) (0-1, 9.88 ERA, 6.84 FIP)
I’m still convinced the only reason Cormier wasn’t DFA’d a week or two earlier than he eventually was (on May 24, when Rubby De La Rosa came up) is because he had a charity event for tornado victims set up at the stadium on May 15, and it would have been poor form to cut a guy just before or after that. I also like that we can say “nah, he wasn’t as bad as his ERA, look at his FIP” and while that’s true, even his FIP says he was awful.

Vicente Padilla (inc.) (0-0, 4.15 ERA, 2.61 FIP)
I sure do feel like we’ve talked about Padilla a lot this year for a guy who piched just 8.2 innings. First he was signed to a somewhat confusing 6th starter/longman/Broxton insurance role, in a move for depth I actually really liked. Then he required surgery for a forearm injury in the spring, preventing him from taking Garland’s rotation spot to start the year. He returned exceptionally quickly from that, taking over for the injured Broxton to nab three saves of varying quality in late April and early May, leading many to proclaim him the next big thing… until he returned to the DL with a recurrence of the arm injury. But the fun doesn’t stop there, because he was supposedly hours away from being activated in June before a neck injury flared up, leading to more surgery and probably the end of his season. Got all that? Phew.

Management

Don Mattingly (B+)
It may sound odd to praise a rookie manager when we weren’t fans of his hiring in the first place and when the club he’s leading is on pace for its worst finish in decades, but I don’t see how you pin much of this mess on Mattingly. He’s proven himself to be far more than a Joe Torre clone, in particular showing a nice willingness to be creative with his bullpen. It hasn’t been perfect, as some of his Navarro-related pinch-hitting escapades still burn, and he likes bunting more than I’d prefer, but he was handed a subpar roster that had its infield and bullpen totally destroyed by injuries, all as fans stayed away thanks to the off-field mess. It would be an impossible situation for any manager, and though the final record won’t be good, Mattingly has been a pleasant surprise, managing to keep the team playing hard through it all. Let’s just hope he doesn’t end up shouldering more of the blame than is needed when all is said and done.

Davey Mutha-F’ing-Lopes (A+^100)
I don’t usually grade the base coaches. Matt Kemp doesn’t usually lead the league in WAR. There you go.

Ned Colletti (F+)
Let’s quickly review all of the contracts handed out last winter by Colletti that were for at least $1m, shall we? Uribe, massive bust. Lilly, missing fewer bats than ever. Guerrier, adequate but overpaid and having one of the lesser years of his career. Garland and Padilla, both injured multiple times and likely out for the year. Barajas, crappier than usual and hurt. Thames, ineffective and injured. Navarro, hitting .183. To be fair, Kuroda has been very good, but it’s hard to say that without caveating that he clearly took a huge paycut to stay in LA.

There’s been a few positives – signing Billingsley was great, the no-risk NRI of Miles worked out, and trading Ryan Theriot for Hawksworth was a good move if you try to forget that it was necessitated by acquiring Theriot in the first place – and you want to be sensitive to the fact that the ownership mess has really put him in a bad position. But overall? Not good, Ned. Not good.

******

Tomorrow, the final review of the series: me.

MSTI’s 2010 in Review: Management

With the players in the books, we turn to management today. Though I’m going to reference some moves from previous years, the grade is based only on putting together the 2010 club, so only moves made from the last pitch of 2009 until the end of the 2010 season are considered.

Ned Colletti (D-)

Ned Colletti got off to a pretty atrocious start as Dodger general manager after arriving in the winter of 2005-06. He signed Juan Pierre, Jason Schmidt, and Andruw Jones to disastrous big-money deals. He gave nearly $10m to broken-down Bill Mueller, who played all of 32 games for the Dodgers. He traded top prospect Carlos Santana to Cleveland for far less than his value, and he made more than one terrible trade with Tampa, ultimately losing Edwin Jackson for veterans and spare parts. Those are only the marquee mistakes, since there’s plenty of arguments to be made that several good young role players were lost in the name of keeping useless veterans like Ricky Ledee and Jose Cruz, Jr. Besides, he signed Angel Berroa. Twice!

Fairly or unfairly, even the successes that did happen weren’t seen as being fully credited to him. No one on the planet saw Andre Ethier turning into what he has, signing Hiroki Kuroda was in large part due to Logan White (who at one point said he’d “stake his reputation on him”), and the Manny Ramirez deal basically fell into his lap. Though much was made of the team going to the playoffs three times in four years, the 2006 club was largely Paul DePodesta’s doing, and the 2008 and 2009 teams were built on the back of White’s farm system. It’s no secret that I, and many like me, have not been the biggest fan of Ned Colletti.

However, after the 2008 season ended, I felt his performance began to improve. Though I didn’t like giving three years to Casey Blake, it wasn’t fatal (Blake was very good in 2009), and he did a masterful job in waiting out Scott Boras in the Manny negotiations (and although there’s an argument to be made that the deal wasn’t worth it, don’t forget what Boras originally wanted, and that this was pre-suspension, much-loved Manny). He was able to land Randy Wolf and Orlando Hudson when they signed below-market one-year deals, and picking up Vicente Padilla off the scrap heap late in the 2009 season worked out wonderfully. Santana aside, all of the prospects we’d grown attached to – Matt Kemp, Chad Billingsley, Clayton Kershaw, etc. – were still in the organization, and we can’t possibly know what the real impact of the McCourt divorce was on his decision-making, which is largely why I’m giving him a pass here on the foolish decisions to not offer arbitration to Wolf or Hudson after 2009.

Though I still wouldn’t consider myself a fan of Colletti, my opinion of him had definitely improved heading into the 2010 season. Sorry to say, nearly all of that goodwill has now been washed away after a series of disastrous moves.

Let’s be fair here and start with the one really good offseason move, trading Pierre to Chicago for John Ely and Jon Link. At the time, I said:

Indeed, because despite how much some of us may have wanted to get Ned Colletti’s promised “back of the rotation” starter, this deal is not about the players who the Dodgers get. This deal would be a win even if no one came back.

Think about the gift the White Sox have bestowed upon the Dodgers, even without the players. They’ve basically paid LA $8m to have less controversy and better defense off the bench. Who cares if the pitchers coming back are even breathing?

Of course, Ely and Link both look to be useful, so that’s a nice win for Colletti, even if it is rectifying a huge mistake of his own making. Signing Jamey Carroll also worked out a lot better than most of us expected, as well. Otherwise? Yikes.

The problems began in the spring, where not one but two horrible retread Ortizes made the roster. Then Eric Stults, hardly a star but certainly usable for a team with rotation questions, was sold off to Japan without much of a reason. And despite several rounds of begging on my part, Garret Anderson was signed and made the team.

At the end of April, with the Dodgers struggling on all fronts, Colletti chose to call out Matt Kemp for his baserunning and defense. The issue here is not that Colletti was wrong, but that his timing was absurd. The Dodgers of late April had huge problems with pitching and fielding, while the offense was doing fine. Kemp had an OPS of .934 at that point; he managed just .730 for the rest of the season as controversy swirled. That’s more on Kemp than Colletti, of course, but the comments certainly didn’t help. As I said at the time, there were about three dozen reasons bigger than Kemp why the team was flailing.

In May, Xavier Paul and Ely were sent down in order to keep the atrocious Anderson and Ramon Ortiz, which would be bad enough, except the kicker was the comments made by Paul:

“I don’t fit here right now, that’s it,” Paul said after being consoled by teammates Casey Blake and Matt Kemp. “Right now, I just don’t cut it here.”

Paul said he was told by general manager Ned Colletti to work on his mental approach to the game “and being a big leaguer.”

In addition, when Rafael Furcal was hurt that month, Nick Green was chosen to replace him rather than Chin-lung Hu. In the space of a week, three young players were passed over for three useless veterans.

Then July hit, and things really got ugly with three ill-conceived deadline deals. Octavio Dotel pitched just 18.2 IP for the Dodgers before being dumped on Colorado. Ryan Theriot was horrendous, with a .606 OPS, and Scott Podsednik managed just a .313 OBP before being injured. Only Ted Lilly provided any value at all, but as I said more than once before the deadline, the starting pitching wasn’t the problem – the offense was. Even with Lilly making a good impression, adding Theriot and Podsednik sunk the offense even further, and we all saw how well that ended. These were trades that never should have been made.

That’s just talking about who came to LA, without even considering the prospects that left town. Though giving up Andrew Lambo and James McDonald for Dotel was a crime in itself, what really bothered me is that for the seven prospects the team gave up, they got one good pitcher and a pile of crap. If you were going to trade all that, shouldn’t you have received more? This bothered me at the time

In the last few days, the Dodgers have traded James McDonald, Blake DeWitt, Andrew Lambo, Lucas May, Kyle Smit, Elisaul Pimentel, and Brett Wallach.

They’ve acquired Ted Lilly, Ryan Theriot, Scott Podsednik, and Octavio Dotel – basically, a decent but not vital starter, a lousy middle infielder, a mediocre outfielder, and a decent veteran reliever, and all over 30.

Now, most of the baseball community has spent an enormous amount of time lately laughing at the Diamondbacks and Astros for the seemingly meager hauls they pulled in for Dan Haren and Roy Oswalt. You’re telling me that some combination of the players the Dodgers just traded couldn’t have pulled in one of those guys? Alternatively, is there really anyone who wouldn’t have preferred Haren or Oswalt rather than the collection of mediocre, over-30 veterans they just pulled in?

Yet despite all the moves, the offense – the biggest problem – didn’t get improved, and arguably was made worse. That’s supposed to help propel the team to October how, exactly? Really, what a terrible day all around.

…and I don’t feel much differently about it now. It soon became clear the new acquisitions weren’t going to get the team to the playoffs, and other than Lilly were proving to actively hurt that goal. This led to Manny being claimed off of waivers by Chicago, a move I promoted. However, when you’re letting your most talented hitter walk for nothing, that seems like a pretty big sign that this is not your year and it’s time to move on.

If you decide that it’s time to pack it up, and to move Manny, it shouldn’t stop there. Ted Lilly should go. Hiroki Kuroda. Octavio Dotel. Casey Blake, if you can get anyone to pick up his contract for next year. Really, anyone who’s not signed for 2011 or doesn’t have a good chance of returning should be moved. I’m probably not speaking for the majority here, but if the team doesn’t make the playoffs then it makes no difference at all to me whether they finish 4 games out or 10.

Manny did get claimed, and the next day I begged Colletti to swallow his pride and start selling in August for what he could get:

Hiroki Kuroda, perhaps at the peak of his value after last night’s gem, was claimed on waivers by the Padres, who could badly use a veteran starter.

Ted Lilly, who’s been brilliant since coming to the Dodgers except for his last start, was claimed on waivers by the Yankees, who have serious depth issues in the rotation.

Yet the Dodgers, in their infinite wisdom, decided to trade neither one, meaning they’re doing exactly what I begged them not to last week: they’re doing this half-assed. They have a 4.1% chance of making the playoffs, and they just dumped their best hitter on the White Sox, yet they’re acting like they’re primed for a playoff push.

Of course, none of that happened. Yes, they did re-sign Lilly and Kuroda, but if they wanted to play in LA so badly that could have still happened this winter.

All  in all, not a great season for the general manager, and it doesn’t engender a lot of confidence going forward. Hey, I’m not perfect either. Not every move I liked has worked out, and you’re always going to come up with some stinkers, no matter what you do. There’s just a big difference between well-intentioned moves that don’t pay off, and moves that were a terrible idea from the moment they were conceived. I’d like to see the Dodgers get a few less of the latter.

Joe Torre (D-)

So much has been said about Torre already that I’m going to take the easy way out and reiterate what I said about him when he officially stepped down:

As for Torre not returning, you know me well enough by now to know that I’m thrilled by this news, because Torre’s time in LA had clearly passed. Honestly, I could go for weeks about the issues I’ve had with his management – you know, things like incorrectly playing the matchups, generally overworking the bullpen, bringing in George Sherrill against a righty in the 9th inning of a tie game, letting Jonathan Broxton throw 95 pitches in five days (which he still hasn’t recovered from), sitting Matt Kemp in favor of Juan Pierre, continuous usage of clearly busted veterans like Garret Anderson & Mark Sweeney, running Russell Martin into the ground (in addition to his ridiculous “third base days off“), batting Juan Pierre leadoff every goddamn daytempting the fates of both Chad Billingsley and Hiroki Kuroda by using them before and after long rain delays, and finally, the most ridiculous quote anyone’s ever given:

“I tried to reason who was going to give me the better at-bat – Berroa or Loney,” Torre said.

…which I’m still reeling from, even though it was two years ago. I’ve barely scratched the surface there, but I’m not going to go any further. Partially, that’s because I don’t have the time to clear my schedule for two solid weeks to dig up every stupid thing he’s done, but mostly because the last three years of this blog provide a pretty solid record of it.

Besides, it’s unfair to not at least recognize his accomplishments, and the team did make it to the NLCS twice in his three years. While I haven’t always agreed with the way he ran the clubhouse, the off-field drama this team has had to deal with since arrival – the divorce and Manny’s suspension, just to name two - could have easily led to a complete collapse under a lesser manager. It hasn’t been smooth, but Torre mostly avoided that, and he deserves credit for it.

Mostly, I’m just glad he’s moving on. Torre may have been the right fit for the 2008 and 2009 teams, talented outfits that were trying to heal from the “veterans-vs-kids” split of the Grady Little years. Clearly, he’s not the right fit for the 2010 club, and I can’t see his “old-school” style working as this team moves forward.

That about sums it up.

******

That’s it for the 2010 season in review pieces; thanks for sticking through me despite how depressing most of them ended up being. Unless anything happens on the player front, we’ll be back on Monday as the Hot Stove really gets going. Enjoy the weekend.

What Will the 2011 Payroll Be?

I’ve been trying to put the finishing touches on my 2011 plan, which I’d hoped to run this week but now might push to Monday, and one of the biggest hang-ups is not being sure how much money the club will actually be able to spend on payroll. Thanks to the divorce atrocity, that’s not something anyone seems to be able to guess, including Ned Colletti, if you believe the quotes in T.J. Simers’ story:

Colletti said he doesn’t have an answer from Frank McCourt on how much money, if any, will be available this off-season to improve the team.

The Dodgers have exclusive rights to negotiate with seven players before free agency begins. But he said those talks depend on what he has to spend and he doesn’t know that answer.

I think most fans are terrified that the payroll will be on the level of something you’d see from the Pirates or Marlins, and while that level of cost-cutting seems unlikely, their concerns are more than justified. Let’s take a look at what might really happen.

According to the excellent Cot’s Baseball Contracts, the Opening Day payroll the last two seasons was $100.4m (2009) and $102.0m (2010). That includes all the “dead money” from corpses like Andruw Jones, Jason Schmidt, and the like. Of course, the payroll certainly changes from April 1 to the end of the season based on trades and attained incentives; according to True Blue LA, the end-of-season numbers were $110.2m (2009) and $99.7m (2010).

That’s obviously not headed in the right direction, and fears are further fueled by revelations that have come out of the divorce case, including claims that Frank McCourt is completely cash-poor and that some financial documents claimed that his long-term plan was to keep the payroll low through 2018.

However, 2010 was a complete disaster, both on the field and off. If Frank plans on keeping the team, the only way to even contemplate rebuilding his image is to put out a winner, and decreasing the payroll while risking another losing season isn’t the way to do that. Similarly, if the outcome of the case is a sale of the team, a losing team would hardly have the market value that a winning team would.

We’ve also heard snippets from writers who think that there may be money to spend. ESPN’s Buster Olney mentioned that…

I’ve heard that the Dodgers should have more payroll flexibility than last winter, when they were completely locked down.

ESPN LA’s Tony Jackson said something similar, saying…

It is going to take more than the money owner Frank McCourt put into this year’s payroll to turn this thing around. There are strong indications McCourt will increase that figure, although it isn’t clear by how much.

Of course, we’re dealing in complete unknowns here. Personally, I think a total teardown to a level below $80m, which I know many are worried about, is almost certainly not going to happen. But if you can’t get above $100m and spend some real money, is it worth it to try to build a team that may only be slightly better in 2011?

Let’s hear your thoughts. (Note: I’m including the $17m or so in 2011 “dead money” here.)

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