Hiroki Kuroda Was Awful, and That’s The Least Of Our Problems

At this point, if it weren’t so sad, it’d be funny.

Through three and a half innings, this was just another nondescript game in what’s quickly turning into a very forgettable season. The Dodgers were down 4-0, thanks to Hiroki Kuroda allowing first-inning homers to Alexei Ramirez and A.J. Pierzynski on his way to giving up nine hits and six runs (four earned) in 5.2 innings. (It should be noted that most of the last two innings fall under the category of “taking one for the team”, as mopup guys Lance Cormier and Ramon Troncoso each threw multiple innings yesterday.) With one out, the White Sox were threatening to add to the lead, having Gordon Beckham on first thanks to a Rafael Furcal error.

Pierre came up, and took a Kuroda meatball deep to right field. (The simple fact that Pierre was able to do that should tell you all you need to know about how ineffective Kuroda was today.) Andre Ethier went hard to the wall trying to come up with the ball, but was unable to, allowing Pierre to reach second. It was immediate from the moment it happened that Ether had injured himself, though while it initially appeared he’d hurt his shoulder, we later learned that it was a “right elbow contusion, lower right back contusion and sprained left big toe”. That’s three injuries for the price of one, apparently. Ethier stayed in for one more batter, a run-scoring single to right by Ramirez that Ethier clearly was hindered in getting to, before being replaced mid-inning by Tony Gwynn.

Pierre wasn’t done yet, however, apparently having decided he hadn’t caused enough damage to the Dodgers in his three years with the team. Having advanced to third on the Ramirez hit and standing firm while Adam Dunn walked, he took off for home on a Paul Konerko sacrifice fly to center. 95% of the time, Pierre scores on that ball without breaking a sweat, but Matt Kemp‘s laser throw made it a tight play. Kemp’s throw was just ever so slightly to the first base side, so Rod Barajas shifted to grab the ball and dove back to the plate to try and tag Pierre. He was unable to do so in time, but came away with a fun parting gift – Pierre’s spikes in his right wrist. Barajas stayed in for Pierzynski to strike out, and was hit for by Dioner Navarro in the next inning; while x-rays came back negative, he has a sprained right wrist and is “day to day”.

This was a day that had actually started with some optimism, as Furcal had returned and Casey Blake & Blake Hawksworth are each expected to within the next week. The Dodgers were one game away from finally winning a series in an AL park. Now? Now, they were just a Russ Mitchell last-second homer away from being swept, and have to quickly make some roster decisions. They’ve been playing shorthanded all weekend, with the combination of the extra hitter in the lineup at DH and the “active but unavailable” status of Aaron Miles & Juan Uribe before today meaning that the team had only two healthy bench players for the first two games of the series. That became three today when Furcal took Uribe’s spot, but while you can get away with that when you’re in the AL and not hitting for your pitchers, that’s not going to fly when they head back to the NL with a series in Houston tomorrow.

Uribe’s trip to the DL was the 15th disabling injury the Dodgers have had this season in less than two months, and it’s hard to believe that we won’t see at least one more in the next 24 hours, between the uncertain statuses of Miles, Ethier, and Barajas. Since the 40-man roster is pretty sparse at this point, the AAA call-ups would seem pretty straight forward: Ivan DeJesus for Miles, Jamie Hoffmann for Ethier, and A.J. Ellis for Barajas. My total speculative guess? Ethier and Barajas go to the DL, Miles does not. Barajas probably gets less leeway than Ethier does, because if he is unavailable for even a few days, you either have to call up Ellis or be comfortable with Mitchell as your backup catcher.

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Let’s not totally ignore some bright spots: As I joked on Twitter, James Loney is slowly moving into “not our biggest problem” territory, after reaching base three times today. That doesn’t mean that he’s suddenly become all that good or that I’ve changed my overall opinion on him, but he has doubled in three straight games and hit in 8 of 9 & 15 of 18, raising his line from an unbelievably bad .167/.191/.211 on April 23 to a more realistically poor line of .240/.283/.292 after today. With the rest of the injury and production issues mounting, and Loney still contributing his usual solid defense, he’s no longer the biggest concern. That said, he can’t afford any mental mistakes, like the one he made today by being doubled off of first on a Barajas pop-up caught by the second baseman in short right field.

In addition, Jerry Sands followed up his first career homer on Saturday with his first career four-hit game today. His OBP is now up to .330, which is far from great, yet still miles better than anyone on this team not named Kemp, Ethier, or Carroll. In May alone, his line is .289/.407/.467, which is a great sign. Like the Saturday homer, the first three hits were pulled to left field, which could be a sign that he’s becoming more comfortable. It’s also a good sign that the first two of those hits came against righty Edwin Jackson, as recent comments from Don Mattingly had me worried that Sands would be in a strict lefty/righty platoon with Jay Gibbons.

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Yes, Furcal went 0-5 with three strikeouts and an error, far from the spark we’d all hoped for. Still, it reminded me that we’ve seen this before. Last season, he missed nearly a month starting in April due to injury, returning in late May. In his first game back on May 25, the Dodgers went into Chicago and lost 3-0 to the Cubs. Furcal went 0-4 with two strikeouts and two errors that day in his return to the lineup.

Sound familiar at all? The good news is that after that day, Furcal hit .319/.381/.518 through May, June, and July, before being injured again in early August. He’ll need to have another run like that if this team is going to stay afloat.

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Bullet dodged: Ken Rosenthal reminds us that it could still be worse, passing along the news that Scott Podsednik signed a minor-league deal with the Phillies today. Frankly, I was shocked that Ned Colletti didn’t jump on him as soon as he was cut by Toronto a few weeks ago, and the timing here is key, particularly if Ethier is out for any significant period of time. Hey, remember when Podsednik turned down his half of a team option this winter? Yeah, me neither.

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(Update) I meant to add this originally, but there was good news from Albuquerque today as well.  John Ely throw a complete game three-hitter today, needing 107 pitches to beat Reno. He struck out seven and walked just one. Christopher Jackson has the full story.

Did You Want A.J. Pierzynski As Your Catcher?

I’m not sure this is exactly news – I’m pretty sure we’d heard something similar to this a while ago – but I don’t remember discussing it here previously. Let’s ponder the alternate universe that could have been had the events described in today’s Chicago Tribune played out:

A few days later, as Pierzynski was waiting for Dodgers owner Frank McCourt to approve language in a contract proposal, Sox assistant general manager Rick Hahn and agent Steve Hilliard reached agreement on a two-year, $8 million deal before Pierzynski could tell the Dodgers he would accept their offer.

That allowed the Sox to turn from Olivo, who had them on his short list. He ended up with a two-year, $7 million contract with the Mariners less than a week after Pierzynski returned to the Sox.

“It all came together in a 15-minute span,” Pierzynski said. “I was pretty much resigned to the fact I wasn’t coming back.   (h/t MLBTR)

In the same way that Aubrey Huff was reportedly almost the new Dodger first baseman (or left fielder), A.J. Pierzynski was almost the new Dodger catcher, thus satifisfying the continued lust for aging ex-Giant veterans.

I’m mostly kidding about the Giant part – Pierzysnki played just one of his thirteen MLB seasons in San Francisco, coming over from Minnesota in one of the worst trades in baseball history – but certainly not the aging veteran part, as he’s 34 and coming off of a .300 OBP season. My initial thoughts at reading this were, well, let’s just say not ones of happiness.

So while it’s no secret that I wasn’t thrilled with giving Rod Barajas $3.25m for next season, does it turn out that since his was for less money, seemingly coming off a better year, that Barajas’ deal was actually the lesser of two evils? Let’s find out, and let me preface this by saying the fact that Pierzynski has a reputation throughout the game as an instigator is irrelevant to whether he’s a good ballplayer, and besides, that’s generally the type you despise on other teams but love on your own.

Let’s start on offense, where Pierzynski’s career worst 2010 (.688 OPS, 83 OPS+) doesn’t quite stack up to Barajas’ .731 and 97. But there’s mitigating factors there; Barajas had nearly 170 fewer PA, and his line is largely fueled by his completely unsustainable fluky debut as a Dodger. At the time he was dumped by the Mets, his OPS was .677, good for an 82 OPS+, or basically identical to Pierzynski. To avoid the vagaries of one fluky stretch, let’s look back over the last three years:

Barajas: 1176 PA, .237/.277/.418 83 OPS+   b-ref oWAR: 2.4
Pierzysnki: 1512 PA, .284/.315/.410 88 OPS+ b-ref oWAR: 4.2

Pierzynski has clearly been the more effective batter, in a greater sample size, over the last three seasons. Not much argument there. Defense, as we know, is much harder to quantify, but even moreso among catchers. FanGraphs has each of them as essentially average over 2008-10; baseball-reference rates Barajas as slightly above-average, with Pierzynski slightly below, though neither to such extents that it’s really meaningful. Even less meaningful to me are caught stealing numbers, highly dependent as they are on pitchers, but since I know someone will ask, Barajas was at 34%, 34%, and 15% the last three years. (Worth noting that the first two years each came in Toronto, while the last year was split between the Mets and Dodgers). Pierzynski comes in at 18%, 23%, and 26%, which again doesn’t really tell you anything.

I’ve never thought much of A.J. Pierzysnki, and I have to admit I’m somewhat surprised to say that this exercise has convinced me that he’s clearly the better choice than Barajas, without even noting that he’s more than a year younger. Of course, it’s not exactly a high bar to set – Barajas is pretty lousy – and that doesn’t mean that Pierzysnki is all that great himself.

On a one-year deal, I don’t think there’s any question who you’d rather. But Pierzysnki ended up getting two years, and more than twice the guaranteed money. It’s not as though the Dodgers have a young catcher ready for 2012, though, so assuming the Dodgers would have signed Dioner Navarro as a backup regardless, who would you have rather seen as the starter? The lefty-swinging Pierzysnki, historically better but coming off a poor year, for two years? Or the righty Barajas, historically awful, coming off of a fluky Dodger debut, for just one? Or forget Navarro entirely and try to hook up two of the only six A.J.’s in MLB history on the same position on the same club?

Rod Barajas Turned One Good Week Into $3.8m (Updated: $3.25m)

Update: Hernandez clarifies that his source was mistaken and it’s actually $3.25m, not $3.8m. That’s slightly better, but still not good – and even if $3.25m was the first number reported I probably would have had the exact same reaction anyway. The original post, unedited, is below.

Today in “something I won’t believe isn’t a typo even if the contract was deposited on my desk” news, Dylan Hernandez not only confirms that Rod Barajas‘ signing is official, but fills in the financial blanks:

Barajas’ one-year deal with #Dodgers is worth $3.8 million.

There is just no way that can be accurate.

Barajas signed for $500k with the Mets last year, waiting until just before camp opened in February to even get that. He was then so bad that the woeful Mets, you know, let him go to the Dodgers on waivers for absolutely nothing. Granted, he had a great first week or so in Dodger blue – 4 homers, 1.458 OPS in his first 8 games. Yet in his remaining 17 games, he had just 1 homer and a .612 OPS, also known as “Rod Barajas being Rod Barajas“. On the season, he had a .284 OBP, which exactly matches his career mark, because he’s not very good.

Look at it this way – Barajas had never made more than $3.2m, which is what he got from Texas in 2006. He’s now five years older, coming off several lousy seasons bouncing from team to team – making less than $1m in two of them – yet somehow, coming off a year in which he was dumped on waivers and will be 35, he’s all of a sudden worth $3.8m. Seriously? In my 2011 plan, when I said he could come back I said that I thought he could be had for $800k. Is this all because of his one good week as a Dodger? I’ve had to deal with a lot of casual fans who got taken in by that, but I never expected the front office to do so.

I refuse to believe that Rod Barajas required that much money to sign. And if I’m wrong, and he did? THEN YOU MOVE ON. He’s not nearly good enough to lose any sleep over.

Beyond the initial shock of “holy crap, they paid Rod Barajas what?!”, this brings up a raft of questions. Questions like, “wait, they let Russell Martin walk over $800k but still had $3.8m for Rod F’ing Barajas?”, “hey, let’s pay Barajas, Juan Uribe, and Jon Garland $17m this year rather than give less than that to Adam Dunn,” and “the payroll’s at nearly $110m and you still don’t have a LF or a good C, and what can possibly be left?”

Remember back in July when one of the main complaints about the three awful trades was that the team gave up nearly ten prospects and got back only Ted Lilly and a pile of junk, when for that outlay (or less) you probably could have had Roy Oswalt or Dan Haren? Yeah, this is that. Again.

On Russell Martin, Rod Barajas, and the Catching Situation


So I stayed up late last night to see how the Russell Martin situation would play out, and as we all know he ended up getting non-tendered. I made my feelings on that choice clear yesterday; basically, since he’s not even running yet it’s hard to bash the team for not wanting to commit ~$6m to him.

But that was hardly the end of it, because three interesting pieces of news came down later in the night, and all pertained to who we might see donning the catching gear next year.

1) The Dodgers and Yankees almost came together to trade Martin to New York for Francisco Cervelli. This is from Michael Schmidt of the New York Times (via River Ave Blues) who suggests that it got quite far along, but that it fell apart before completion. We don’t know which side backed out, but this isn’t a deal you should be upset about missing out on. On the surface, sure, Cervelli will be just 25 next season, and had a decent OBP this year, but the RAB guys don’t rag on him for no reason. He has zero power, his 2010 stats were skewed by a great small sample size start (1.012 OPS on May 14; .616 over the rest of the year), and Beyond the Box Score ranked him as the next-to-worst defensive catcher in baseball. Acquiring Cervelli is certainly not worth extinguishing the chance you still have to retain Martin now that he’s a free agent.

2) Rod Barajas has officially re-signed, per the Los Angeles Times. I alluded to this last night when I first heard it, and suggested that I don’t mind him as a backup catcher, because he can at least provide power and he’s not awful behind the plate, but his terrible OBP would be a disaster if he was the everyday starter. I don’t think it’s set in stone yet, but these comments from Ned Colletti just before Barajas was signed don’t fill me with hope:

“I think we are on the cusp of getting something done in a different direction,” Colletti said. “I wasn’t going to go to sleep tonight without a big league catcher here besides [backup] A.J. [Ellis]. We’re pretty far down the road with something, and it should come to fruition in a short period of time. This is somebody who, if the season were to start today, would take the lion’s share of [playing time], with A.J. in a backup role.”

One of the more difficult obstacles we’ve had to face this offseason is convincing people that Barajas just isn’t very good – that one hot week as a Dodger doesn’t overcome more than a decade of sustained mediocrity. The .284 OBP he put up last year exactly matches his career mark, and on a team which just signed Juan Uribe (.300 career OBP) and has Casey Blake, James Loney, and Matt Kemp all coming off years with OBP below .330, that’s going to be a serious issue as far as run-scoring goes.

3) Martin could still be back, but not neccessarily as an every-day catcher. From Tony Jackson’s story, Colletti dropped this bomb:

Colletti said that even with a primary catcher in the fold, he intends to continue discussions with Matt Colleran, the agent for Martin.

“Matt and I have talked, and Russell and I talked about it a month or so ago when he was in town to get checked out, about being more versatile and playing other positions,” Colletti said. “We do think that with his athleticism, if he returns, he can do more than just catch.”

Martin originally was drafted as a third baseman, but Colletti also said left field was “something you would have to think about” for Martin.

This bit of news dismayed me more than anything else, because I’ve been hearing fans suggest that Martin should play 2B or 3B for months, and I’ve come really close to writing a post about why that’s silly several times. His mediocre offensive output is acceptable only because he’s a catcher; I don’t even have to bust out the stats to confirm that he’d be one of the weakest-hitting players in the league at almost any other position. “But if he catches less, he’ll be less worn-down and his offense will come back!”, people claim. Will it, though? He’d have to basically return to his peak 2007 level for him to be valuable in other positions, and it’s pretty unfair to expect that a guy coming off a serious injury and who would have to learn other positions is going to do that.

Now I suppose this is a little different, in that he wouldn’t be an every-day player elsewhere and would be a utility guy who would still do some catching, so that could be interesting. I’m just not sure I see the point; you can get guys who aren’t coming off major injuries, aren’t coming off back-to-back terrible seasons, and won’t be making a major positional change for a lot less than Martin’s going to want. SI’s Jon Heyman is reporting that Martin’s already received calls from six other teams.

Look, I get non-tendering Martin because of the uncertainty around his injury. I really do. You just can’t go into a season with Rod Barajas and A.J. Ellis as your primary catchers. You just can’t, so there better be some sort of other plan in place here. (And before anyone points out that I did just that in my 2011 plan, note that my hypothetical team had also picked up Adam Dunn, among others.)

Dodgers Decline to Offer Arbitration…

…and unlike in previous years, it’s a very good thing.

The #Dodgers declined to offer arbitration to their three Type B free agents – Scott Podsednik, Vicente Padilla and Rod Barajas.

There was never any doubt that Padilla wasn’t getting an offer, and Barajas was also unlikely, but there was some concern that the inexplicable infatuation with Podsednik would continue after the club picked up their half of his mutual option, which he of course declined. Fortunately for us all, this brings us one step closer to a post-Podsednik world, though of course any of the three could still return next year.

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On the heels of yesterday’s Dana Eveland signing, Steve Dilbeck brings us news of another ultimately meaningless move:

The Dodgers added to their non-roster list for 2011 Tuesday, signing right-hander reliever Oscar Villarreal.

Villarreal has spent parts of six seasons in the National League but hasn’t pitched in the majors since part of 2008 with the Astros.

He has a career record of 24-15 with a 3.86 ERA, so it’s not like he was completely awful. Heck, last year in the Dodgers’ bullpen, that almost would have made him a star.

Villarreal, who turned 29 on Monday, was born in San Nicolás de los Garza, Mexico, and still lives with his family in Monterrey. He spent last season with the Phillies’ triple-A Lehigh club, going 4-3 with a 4.40 ERA in 49 games.