How to Improve the Offense: Trade a Good Young Hitter!

Brilliant. Why didn’t I think of that?

I wasn’t planning on putting up another post so soon after praising Martin (sidenote: Vote Martin ’08!), but this article just came out about two hours ago, and I can’t help but take a look at it here. It’s FOXsports.com’s Ken Rosenthal with more crazy trade rumors! I’m often torn between wanting to strangle him for some of the things he says, and wanting to send him a basket of candy for giving me gifts like this to write about.

What do you have for us today, Ken?

Make outfielder Matt Kemp available, and the Dodgers’ trade options quickly would multiply. Make Kemp available, and the team could put together a package for virtually any hitter on the trade market — the Pirates’ Jason Bay, maybe the Tigers’ Magglio Ordonez, maybe even the Rockies’ Matt Holliday.
 
To this point, the Dodgers have resisted moving Kemp or any of their other top young players, but their stance might be changing. “If we get to the point where we can definitively improve ourselves, we’ll do it,” general manager Ned Colletti told the Los Angeles Times.

This is already getting out of hand. No one denies the Dodgers could use some help on offense – that much is obvious. But trading Matt Kemp is in no way the answer. Remember back on April 6, when I posted a Baseball Prospectus article that showed that Kemp was off to a historic start for someone his age? Sure, he hasn’t necessarily kept up that pace, and we’d all hoped the power would have come along by now. But as someone who’s not even 24 for three more months, he’s still leading the team in slugging percentage (excepting Furcal, who hasn’t played enough to qualify.) Not to mention the fact that he’s shown a strong arm in both CF and RF, and much improved instincts in the outfield. No question that he’s got room to improve at the plate, but he’s not the problem here.

Also, I’m not sure how Colletti stating the obvious (if we can make ourselves better, we will) proves that “their stance is changing” on anything.

Kemp, batting .299-.346-.446 at age 23, possesses the tools to become a major star. A rival executive describes him as an “awfully, awfully intriguing talent,” one who only figures to get better. Questions persist about Kemp’s makeup and ability to make adjustments, but those are not unusual criticisms of a young player.

He certainly does possess the tools to become a major star, and is already proving so at the major league level. And while I’ve long though any issues about his makeup were overblown by the media, the end of this paragraph is dead on – he’s a young player. In the outfield, he’s already shown that experience has helped him immensely; why should we think the same won’t happen at the plate?

A trade of Kemp is not the Dodgers’ only alternative — the team also could pursue a less dramatic possibility, trading either first baseman James Loney or right fielder Andre Ethier to add more of a veteran presence to a lineup that ranks 11th in the National League in runs per game.

This is a little more reasonable. I don’t really want to see Loney moved after we waited so long to get him, but he’s been pretty underwhelming so far this year (97 OPS+). As for Ethier, he’s been a good, solid player who I think we’d all like to see manning the outfield for the next several years, but there’s no question he doesn’t have the ceiling that Kemp does.

The eventual returns of shortstop Rafael Furcal and even center fielder Andruw Jones should help the offense, but Furcal is expected to be out three more weeks, with the oft-injured Nomar Garciaparra replacing him at short. If the Dodgers ever get healthy — if — the addition of a proven slugger could be the difference in their quest to overtake the Diamondbacks in the NL West.

Well, Furcal, sure. But Jones? Really? Is anyone out there saying, “damn! if only we had Jones back, we’d be fine.” Anyone? Hey, I’m hoping that his time off and healthy knee will help him more than anyone, but what happens if/when he comes back and is still his same ineffective self?

Rosenthal then goes on to suggest deals for Adam Dunn, Magglio Ordonez, Matt Holliday, and Jason Bay. To which I say:

Dunn. I wouldn’t mind taking him for the next few months until he goes free agent, but not at the expense of Kemp.  
Ordonez. Magglio’s 34, missed two years to an experimental overseas knee surgery, and after getting $15m this year is in line for $18m next year and $33m more over 2010-11 with easily reached incentives. Uh, pass?
Holliday. Besides being a Boras client who’s free agent at the end of the year and being a divisional rival, he’s a massive Coors Field creation. Career home OPS, 1.088. Career road OPS, .780. Pass.
Bay. The only really interesting name on the list. Though he does turn 30 in September, he’s relatively cheap ($5.75m this year, $7.5m next year) and is absolutely killing the ball. I’d love to have him on the team. That said, I still wouldn’t move Kemp for him. But I would be willing to send Ethier and some other parts to Pittsburgh.

If the Dodgers are patient, Kemp might prove more productive than Bay, Ordonez or even Holliday. But this is a team that has won only one postseason game in the past 20 years. Colletti needs to win. Manager Joe Torre wants to win. And Matt Kemp is one powerful chip.

And herein lies the problem. One huge reason that the team hasn’t won in 20 years is that when the Dodgers have come up with talented young players, all too often they’ve been dealt off too soon (Pedro Martinez, Mike Piazza, etc.) So far, Colletti’s done an admirable job of not selling off our talented young players, but it’s the line “Colletti needs to win” that really gets me. The reason he needs to win is not because the young players haven’t performed to expectations (though that may be true, in some cases). The reason Colletti is feeling the pressure is because of all of the high-priced veterans he’s signed that haven’t lived up to their billing – i.e., Jones, Jason Schmidt, Nomar Garciaparra, Juan Pierre, etc. To further blow the future of this team because his mistakes have him on the hot seat could set this team back years.

One more Dodger-related note from Rosenthal:

The Dodgers, before obtaining shortstop Angel Berroa, attempted to acquire White Sox infielder Juan Uribe in a deal for Esteban Loaiza, major-league sources say. The Dodgers offered to split the difference between Loaiza’s contract and Uribe’s, but the White Sox balked and signed Loaiza for the pro-rated minimum after the Dodgers released him — a move that also enabled them to retain Uribe as a trade chip.

I’m torn about this idea. On one hand, Uribe is awful – after putting up a pretty good 111 OPS+ with 23 HR in 2004, his numbers have cratered straight downhill every year since. On the other hand, even while awful he still gets double digit HR every year, and even more importantly his acquisition might have forestalled that of Angel Berroa’s.

Speaking of Nomar and the infield situation, this line from Tony Jackson blew me away and is really what I’d intended to write about today:

Nomar Garciaparra, meanwhile, is expected to start a rehab assignment possibly by the end of this week, and he is expected to play exclusively SS on that assignment — which means he’ll probably be the Dodgers’ everyday SS, the position where he became a star in the late 1990s, when he returns. Torre said Nomar won’t need the full 20 days.

As someone who lived in Boston 4 years ago when the “Nomar as SS” idea really started to flame out, this blows my mind. Hey, remember last year when he had to stay at 1B, keeping Loney in AAA, because he was “too fragile” to play 3B? SS ought to be a trip. I can’t even blame Torre for putting this out there, because really, what else is he going to do? With Furcal’s return constantly up in the air, Angel Berroa clearly not the answer, and Nomar unlikely to be a permanent solution, we’re really going to need to look for yet another shortstop. I’m definitely going to be looking around the SS market to see who we can come up. Like, tomorrow.

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

Furcal for MVP! Plus, Nomar’s Back…

After getting shut out on Sunday by San Diego, and kicked in the stomach by Pittsburgh on Monday, how welcome was last night’s romp? Matt Kemp – who as you may or may not have noticed, I have advocated allowing to play – scored three times. James Loney has now hit in every game this year (that’s 14 in a row, longest to start a season for LA since Steve Garvey in 1978. I believe “14 in a row in 1978″ was also Steve’s record for stewardesses, but we’ll save that for another time). Russell Martin finally gets something going with his first home run of the year, and even Andruw Jones showed some life with two hits. And what can you say about Rafael Furcal after a 2-5, 2 RBI night that pushes his average up to .364? Well, there’s this:

2008 MLB Leaders in VORP:
1. Rafael Furcal SS LAD 11.5
2. Hanley Ramirez SS FLO 11.4
3. Nate McLouth OF PIT 11.1
4. Pat Burrell OF PHI 10.9
5. Albert Pujols 1B STL 10.8

Is it too early to start the “Rafael for MVP” chant? For tonight’s game, Andre Ethier is going to sit in favor of Juan Pierre, according to Dylan Hernandez of the LA Times, but since Ethier has yet to sit even once this year, I can’t get too worked up about that.

But here’s where things may get interesting. We have Nomar news, also from Hernandez:

Back in Los Angeles from a minor league rehabilitation assignment, Nomar Garciaparra is set to be activated in time for a five-game trip that begins Friday in Atlanta.

“You have steps throughout the whole process to get back and I’ve taken every step,” Garciaparra said. “Now, it’s go out there and play.”

Great! I’ve been more than thrilled with Blake DeWitt, but since the team obviously doesn’t view Chin-Lung Hu as more than an emergency option at 3B, DeWitt has played every single inning at the hot corner thus far. Think about that for a second – there is no Dodger who has played more this season than Blake DeWitt, other than James Loney, who has also played every single inning at his position. Mind-blowing. Anyway, I think this team could use the infield depth, not only to have another viable 3B option, but also because Loney can’t play every inning all year either, and Torre has already said he’d prefer not to start Mark Sweeney and lose his bat off the bench, going so far as to have Ethier take grounders at 1B in practice. I don’t think any of us want to see that experiment, so Nomar will come up, hopefully get some time at both corners (I’m thinking, two starts a week at 3B and one at 1B?), and keep everyone happy and healthy. Right?

Garciaparra said his preference would be to play “every single day.”

Oh. I suppose I can’t blame him for saying that; would you really want a guy who admits he doesn’t want to play every day? The thing is, DeWitt’s actually been surprisingly good. DodgerThoughts does a good job of breaking down the supposed “success” of DeWitt this year vs. the supposed “failure” of Andy LaRoche last season – although I might add, it seemed to me that most of the people who considered LaRoche’s debut to be poor were those who only look at batting average as an evaluation tool.

As for the corresponding roster move, Tony Jackson, on his blog, says:

And although I have been hinting that DeWitt is going back to the minors when Nomar comes off the DL, it now looks like they are at least considering keeping him and cutting back to 11 pitchers temporarily. That would almost certainly mean Ramon Troncoso is the odd man out.

Maybe it’s just me, but isn’t that the only possible move? There’s no way you can send down DeWitt just yet. Even if Nomar is handed the everyday third base job, which I can’t imagine happening right off the bat, the Dodgers obviously have no other third base solutions. There’s simply no way you can count on the fragile Nomar to play every single inning. With Tony Abreu suffering yet another setback (is it possible he’s going to make Nomar look like an ironman?) and Andy LaRoche just about to start his rehab assignment, DeWitt can’t possibly go anywhere. If he’s sent down, he has to stay down for ten days, and that’s a scary proposition to have to count on Nomar to be able to handle all of that immediately. It’s not that any of this is groundbreaking; I’m just surprised that Jackson would even consider that DeWitt gets sent down until LaRoche or Abreu are available.

Also, Joe Torre has an Iphone? I don’t know why that thought entertains me so much.

Finally, just to throw fuel on the fire, take it away, Buster Olney!

Nomar Garciaparra has rejoined the Dodgers, but if he doesn’t play regularly — and he says within this piece that he wants to play every single day — you wonder how long this situation will last. Blake DeWitt has done a nice job at third base, and you wonder if it would be best all for all involved for the Dodgers to cut ties with Garciaparra and move on.

Buster, I still don’t really have a problem with Nomar saying that – that’s what he has to say. Besides, this team is in absolutely no position to start dumping third basemen. Plus, as much as I like to be objective and focus on the stats, cutting Nomar would be a pretty big PR hit for a team that doesn’t need any right now. Here’s what I’d do when the injured start returning:

1. Nomar comes off the DL, Troncoso goes down. Nomar gets two starts a week at 3B and is available to give Loney a breather at 1B.
2. LaRoche comes off the DL, DeWitt goes down. DeWitt gets to play every day in the minors, which he wouldn’t with both LaRoche and Nomar around. LaRoche gets the majority of starts at 3B, Nomar available to spell both infield corners.
3. Abreu comes off the DL (assuming this ever happens), Hu goes down. Abreu’s now your middle infield backup, and Hu gets to play every day in AAA, which, considering how high I am on him, is very important, as I think he might be stagnating a little sitting on the bench every day in the bigs.
4. To get back to 12 pitchers: cut Mark Sweeney. I know, I know: Torre loves his veteran bat off the bench. Well, guess what? Sweeney has 1 hit in 10 pinch-hitting at-bats. He’s yet to touch his glove. Dump Sweeney, and make Nomar the new Big Sexy.

Of course, since this is what I’m proposing, none of it will actually happen.

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

You Can’t Really Dust For Vomit, You Know

Marty DiBergi: Now, during the Flower People period, who was your drummer?
David St. Hubbins: Stumpy’s replacement, Peter James Bond. He also died in mysterious circumstances. We were playing a, uh…
Nigel Tufnel: …Festival.
Nigel Tufnel: And, uh, it was tragic, really. He exploded on stage.
Derek Smalls: Just like that.
David St. Hubbins: He just went up.
Nigel Tufnel: He just was like a flash of green light… And that was it. Nothing was left.
David St. Hubbins: Look at his face.
Nigel Tufnel: Well, there was…
David St. Hubbins: It’s true, this really did happen.
Nigel Tufnel: It’s true. There was a little green globule on his drum seat.
David St. Hubbins: Like a stain, really.
Nigel Tufnel: It was more of a stain than a globule, actually.
David St. Hubbins: You know, several, you know, dozens of people spontaneously combust each year. It’s just not really widely reported.

Great – all we need now is for Tony Abreu to die in a bizarre gardening accident. Anyway, remember all those times recently we’ve discussed the cursed third base situation here? Well, don’t expect it to end any time soon, because now the wrist Nomar took a pitch off of has been revealed to have “a microfracture”, which means either:

the Los Angeles Dodgers’ third baseman might not be ready for opening day. (Foxsports.com)

or

Nomar could swing bat by weekend (Ken Gurnick, MLB.com)

Well then. I’m glad we’re all in agreement here. Oh, what’s that Gurnick adds?

The location of Garciaparra’s microfracture is on top and the opposite side of the wrist from where it was struck by a Kyle McClellan fastball, which makes this injury hauntingly similar in location to that suffered by former Dodgers outfielder Jayson Werth in Spring Training 2005.

Oh good. We all remember how quickly Werth bounced back from that, and it’s not like Nomar has a fragile reputation or anything – or a prior history of wrist injuries. Or is coming off an awful season even before getting hit by this pitch.

I think it’s pretty obvious that even if Nomar is ready for Opening Day, he simply cannot be counted on for full-time duty. But Tony Abreu’s only made it into 3 games this spring, so he can’t be counted on either. Let’s bounce around the blogosphere, starting with new it-boy Blake DeWitt, the talk of camp with his .571 SLG this spring. DodgerThoughts:

Blake DeWitt has also been mentioned by some, but considering how recently the guy was in A ball, it just strikes me as too huge a leap for him to make. Consider that the Dodgers are hesitant to do the same thing with Clayton Kershaw, then ask yourself whether it makes sense to throw DeWitt to the major-league wolves at this stage.

I’m not really worried about the Kershaw comparison, because it’s such a different situation – the Dodgers have a few decent 5th starter options, and are getting absolutely desperate at third base. But on the whole, I tend to agree that DeWitt’s not ready for the bigs, and so does ESPN.com’s Rob Neyer:

DeWitt’s just not ready. He spent most of last season in the Class A California League before moving up to Double-A. Also, he wasn’t great at either level, and in 128 games he drew 27 walks and struck out 88 strikeouts. The major league wolves would eat him alive.

Speaking of Neyer, what’s his idea?

Not Hu, though. He may be a shortstop — and by all accounts a good one — but last year he hit like a third baseman, posting .500-plus slugging percentages in both Double- and Triple-A. If Rafael Furcal wasn’t earning $13 million this season, Hu would be in line right now for the everyday shortstop job. Instead he’ll have to wait until next year. In the meantime, though? He should play third base until LaRoche is ready. And shortstop once every week or two. And second base when Jeff Kent’s hammy aches like it’s 40 (which it is). Hu is 24, he’s already played well in Triple-A, and he might as well serve his apprenticeship this year in the majors.

This isn’t exactly a terrible idea. I think my main reluctance towards it is just a general malaise at seeing this team continually having to play out-of-position stopgaps at 3B. The point about him being able to play 2B is a good one though, as Kent is still down.

There’s also outside the organization. Andrew at True Blue LA agrees with my posting of last week that Royals IF Esteban German isn’t a bad option if reasonably priced. I can’t possibly reiterate my complete disgust to Brandon Inge any further (short version: can’t hit! expensive! three year deal! Tigers want bullpen help!). Fortunately for all of us, today’s Detroit Free Press acknowledges that Inge is most likely off the Dodgers’ radar screen.

Joe Crede’s far more palatable with just one year on his deal, but he’s still coming off a major back injury, hasn’t hit much in spring training, and can’t play any other positions.

Seems to me, the best options, in order of preference, are:

1) Trade for Joe Crede (if we can send Pierre to Chicago!)
2) Play Chin-Lung Hu and/or Tony Abreu, if he’s available.
3) Trade for Esteban German
4) Trade for Joe Crede (without sending Pierre to Chicago)

I can’t even bring myself to put Inge on the list at all, and DeWitt is far too unlikely.

Perhaps the most viable option is putting all the team’s resources into that DeLorean, so we can go back in time two weeks and encase Andy LaRoche in frozen carbonite until Opening Day?

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

So, Now What?

The injury to Andy LaRoche could have a major impact on how the Opening Day roster shakes out, reaching far beyond just third base. Obviously, the third base competition has been quickly and bizarrely short-circuited, which is unfortunate because both Nomar and LaRoche had been having good springs at the dish. Barring a trade, Nomar is now going to be the Opening Day 3B, which means he won’t be serving in the “supersub” role that so many of us had thought he could excel in.

Prior to this, the only two spots that were guaranteed on the bench were going to Gary Bennett and Juandre Piethier. That’s still true, but now we might be seeing a different configuration to join them, especially if the team opens the season with 12 pitchers, as clubs often like to do earlier in the year. Nomar being the starting 3B means that he’s not going to be the primary backup on the corners, be the main veteran bat off the bench, and possibly be the backup SS. Particularly since he’s no longer available to backup at 1B (when he gets a day off of 3B, he needs it to actually be a day off), it looks like things just became a lot easier for Mark Sweeney to drive down the “Olmedo Saenz Memorial Veteran Pinch Hitter and Backup First Baseman Off-Ramp”.

Despite his dreadful spring at the plate (11 Ks in 21 at-bats, though he did homer today) Delwyn Young is also likely to make the team; partially because he’s shown some defensive skill at second base, but mostly because he’s out of options. Teams with four everyday outfielders don’t really need a lot of backups out there, and since Young and Sweeney can each hold down the corners, it seems as though there’s nothing Jason Repko can do to avoid another summer in Las Vegas. This isn’t a bad thing, of course; having missed all of last season and much of 2006, he’s only been able to get 435 at-bats over the last three seasons.

That makes Bennett, Piethier, Sweeney, and Young. Carrying 12 pitchers means only 5 bench players, so we’ve got one spot left, and a dire need for an infielder who can play SS and 3B. Which means the last spot is a fight between Tony Abreu and Chin-Lung Hu. Abreu’s saw a lot more time up in the bigs than did Hu in 2007, and personally I’d rather see Hu back in Vegas playing every day to start the season. However, Abreu just hasn’t been able to stay healthy and continuing abdominal issues have allowed him to only get into one game this spring.

Bennett, Piethier, Sweeney, Young, and Hu? As benches go, that’s not bad.

Of course, they could muck it all up and come down with Brandon Inge – but let’s not imagine such horrors until they occur.

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

I Blame You For This, “momoracci@yahoo.com”

So one of the big stories of spring, as we all know, is the third base competition: Nomar Garciaparra vs. Andy LaRoche. Experience vs. Youth, Knowledge vs. Potential, etc. etc. Actually, so far, each has been playing pretty well. nomar_iymgkjnc_1.jpg

So what happens today vs. St. Louis? Well, let’s let the posters on the official Dodgers blog tell the story:

Breaking News: Nomar Garciaparra was hit on the right hand by a pitch and immediately went to the dugout. More to follow.
Posted by: alex41592@aol.com | March 7, 2008 11:11 AM

Okay, Nomar gets hit by a pitch and has to leave the game, although you can’t read too much into that because in spring training, a mosquito bite is enough to get a veteran off the field. 12 minutes later:

LaRoche is now our starting 3rd baseman! YES!!!
Posted by: momoracci@yahoo.com | March 7, 2008 11:23 AM

Now that right there, cheering for an injury, is more than enough to lay down the superjinx, as other posters noticed:

Hey momoracci, better watch what you think, before you make hasty decisions? You may have jinx LaRoche.
Posted by: pierreseastmeetswest@yahoo.com | March 7, 2008 11:28 AM

I’ve got to say, I’m pretty impressed with the baseball gods on this one.. 7 minutes is all it took:

On an attempted pickoff by Ardoin at third the ball goes into left field, LaRoche lands awkwardly on his left wrist and could be hurt,”
See, this is instant karma for people taking glee at Nomar taking a pitch off the hand. Dagnabbit!
Posted by: old_fogey_la@yahoo.com | March 7, 2008 11:35 AM

(Side note, this is 2008, why is every game not televised? I’m reduced to following this through secondhand message board postings.) 

Fortunately it sounds as though neither injury is going to be that bad:

Nomar injury update: Right hand, taken to the hospital for x-rays, not expected to be serious.

LaRoche injury update: Right hand swollen, not the left wrist, taken to the hospital, x-rays, not expected to be serious, details at a later time.
Posted by: alex41592@aol.com | March 7, 2008 12:04 PM

But man, no way to derail a heated competition than to have both combatants going down in one game, is there? Either way, let’s hope this doesn’t cause any more Brandon Inge stories to flare up.

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