It’s Friday…

…so why is everyone at work in such a foul mood? Anyway, the less said about last night’s game the better (I’m only half kidding when I say that watching it was less entertaining than watching the cat chase bugs around), so  let’s touch on a few widely varied topics.

Let’s start off with the rotation, where James McDonald appears likely to get the Monday start in John Ely‘s place, and while that’s not confirmed, McDonald was scratched from his start today. McDonald missed over a month with a hamstring pull, and his three starts since his return have been mixed. Four shutout innings on July 1 was a nice start, but then he allowed four earned runs in 6.2 IP at Iowa on July 6. Then on the 11th, he allowed just one run over 6.1 at Omaha, but did so while walking four and striking out just two, so it’s hard to say what to expect. I’m not convinced that he’s any better than Ely is right now, but I’m glad to see him get a chance – and fortunately for him he gets to face the Giants.

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How many people were confused when George Sherrill got into last night’s game? I asked that on Twitter, and the answer was: a lot, since they thought he had been immediately removed from the roster. Think of this like the month of August, where trades are still allowed but only once players have made it through waivers. You never hear about it, but tons of players - even ones teams don’t really plan on trading – are placed on waivers, just to see who makes it through and is available to be used in deals. It’s kind of the same thing for Sherrill, who finds out if he clears waivers today and is on the roster until then. The only difference here is that if Sherrill is claimed, he can’t be pulled back by the Dodgers, unlike the usual August waivers I mentioned.

In a related topic, I suppose this is why waiver deals are supposed to be kept so secret. Imagine if Sherrill had come out and struck out the side last night? (I know, you’d probably need some sort of medicinal help to imagine that.) How would that have made things look then?

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BP’s Jay Jaffe says that the Dodgers have regressed more on defense from 2009 to 2010 than any other team in baseball:

Having accentuated the positive, we’ll move on to lambasting the negative, since eliminating it doesn’t seem to be an option, or even very much fun. And No. 1 on the list of teams that deserve it are the Dodgers, who went from leading the league in DE last year by a whole seven points to ranking 10th this year. Not surprisingly, one key culprit appears to be the loss of Orlando Hudson (+17), though Blake DeWitt and friends have been a respectable two runs above average at the keystone. At third base, Casey Blake has declined (+13 to -5), and Rafael Furcal has dropped off (+13 to +4), surprising given how much more Furcal-like he’s been when available. In the outfield, Matt Kemp has lost 10 runs himself (+8 to -2), a particularly rough blow when coupled with his 20-point drop in True Average. Luckily for the Dodgers, they’re second in the league in strikeout rate, minimizing the number of balls in play.

It’s really hard to argue with any of that.

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Ramon Troncoso‘s pitched in four games for the Isotopes, and he’s allowed two homers – though he has struck out five and walked just two. Only one of the two homers was at home, so it’s not all the ABQ effect, though last night’s was a walkoff. Not good.

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ESPN’s Buster Olney speculates on who may want to buy the Dodgers should the McCourts be forced to sell:

There is speculation within the sport that if the McCourts are forced to sell the Dodgers as they go through their divorce proceedings, the person who is most perfectly positioned to buy the team is Dennis Gilbert, the longtime agent and team executive. Gilbert lives in the L.A. area, is a known quantity to commissioner Bud Selig, and Gilbert essentially finished second in the bidding for the Texas Rangers last year — largely because Nolan Ryan chose to align himself with Chuck Greenberg. Gilbert knows a whole lot of people, big hitters in the money world, and if the Dodgers’ franchise needs rescuing — and in the sport right now, the team’s ownership troubles are regarded as a cover-your-eyes embarrassment — Gilbert will have the financial wherewithal to restore the club to its past greatness.

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Garret Anderson update: his 0-1 last night kept him steady at #10 on the list of “worst seasons in Dodger history“, though with only six more hitless at-bats, he’ll likely be up to #7.

Also, while I have a lot of respect for Tony Jackson, this part of his chat yesterday killed me:

Sam (Fullerton)
How much longer will the Dodgers leave the corpse of Garret Anderson out on the field before they waive him?

Tony Jackson 
That’s a good question, Sam, but I get the sense they’re not going to wait much longer, unless Garret suddenly gets hot. I do think Torre and the coaching staff likes having him around for what he brings to the clubhouse. He lockers next to Matt Kemp at home, and I think they think he has been a good influence. So it may come down to how long the front office is willing to go along with the wishes of the staff.

Maybe I’ve been off on a distant planet or something, but haven’t we heard plenty of whispers that people aren’t always thrilled with Kemp’s attitude, culminating in the benching that seemed to be a direct result of a spat he had with bench coach Bob Schaefer? So… wouldn’t that then mean that Anderson’s actually doing a terrible job at mentoring, too? Guess we can just add that to the list of things he can’t do anymore.

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As long as we’re getting on Anderson, I should be an equal opportunity naysayer and expand on the D I gave Ronnie Belliard in the first-half grades. He’s got one hit in his last twenty-eight at-bats, and he’s hitting just .220 on the season. Clearly, he’s not much of a contributor in the field, either.

I don’t think cutting him is as clear-cut as it is for Anderson, simply because there’s not an Xavier Paul behind him ready to step in. Chin-lung Hu isn’t any sort of a bat, and Ivan DeJesus needs to play every day after losing last year to injury. In addition, Belliard is really the only backup 1B on the team, unless you count Casey Blake.

So his spot is secure for now, but I’d really like to see if the Dodgers can cheaply go after Russell Branyan, as I suggested earlier this week. Think about it: dump Anderson, dump Belliard, keep Paul, acquire Branyan. You’d then have your non-catching bench split between two righties and two lefties, you’d be covered in the outfield with Paul and Johnson, Jamey Carroll could cover backing up 2B/SS/3B, and Branyan would be a true lefty power bat who could actually play some 1B. Even if you think that stretches the non-1B backup infield to have only Carroll, remember that it’s only six weeks until rosters expand, ABQ isn’t that far away should injury happen, and if worst comes to absolute worst, you could still stick Russell Martin at 3B for the late innings of a game where injuries mount until reinforcements arrive.

Ronnie Belliard… What Are You Doing Here?

According to a Tweet by Ken Gurnick and an official press release from the team, Ronnie Belliard is coming back on a one-year deal for $825,000, and I am, to put it lightly, confused.

In a vacuum, the deal is fine. Belliard’s useful-ish, he hit well as a Dodger last year, and he can (sort of) play more than one infield position. Any deal that’s worth less than a million dollar is negligible in my book, so on its own merits, fine by me.

Except… isn’t this exactly what Jamey Carroll was for? You know, a mediocre veteran who can play some 2nd and 3rd as needed? Because Belliard can’t play shortstop any more than Carroll can, and it was that “lack of a shortstop” issue that led to Nick Green getting a spring training invite.

So if this isn’t to fill that backup shortstop hole (since Belliard can’t do it) and it isn’t to be the 2B/3B backup bat off  the bench (since that’s ostensibly what Carroll’s here for), what the hell is Belliard’s role? Please don’t tell me he’s the Opening Day 2B, not until Blake DeWitt is given a chance to fail, and not with guys like Felipe Lopez and Orlando Cabrera still out there with rapidly falling contract demands.

Even if the public face is that DeWitt is still the first choice, I don’t see how it makes sense from a roster standpoint. With Joe Torre’s well-known ways of burning through a bullpen, and with a starting rotation that’s hardly full of innings eaters, I don’t see any way the Dodgers don’t start the year with 12 pitchers. That leaves room for 4 backup players, 2 of which have to be a backup catcher and backup outfielder. If you’re carrying both Belliard and Carroll behind DeWitt, where is the room for your backup shortstop? (Okay, my math is faulty here. Jon helpfully points out that it’s 5 backups. The Dodgers spent much of last year with 13 pitchers, which left 4 backups, and that’s what I still had on my mind. Still, wouldn’t surprise me to see that happen again too.)

Again, the deal itself – $875k for a moderately useful player – seems harmless enough. Its what it says about the rest of the roster that worries me.

The Smell of Grass, the Crunch of the Dirt…

…. and the blood in the water. Well, it only took until March 9 for the rumors to start flying! With LaRoche out for 8-10 weeks, Nomar hardly the epitome of durability, and Jeff Kent 40 and already nursing a hamstring pull, the media is already circling. Now, I like to think that Nomar and Kent’s issues are just minor, and considering their ages and the fact that it’s still only March 9, the team is erring on the side of caution. Which, is of course, the entirely correct way to go. But since the presumed main backup at 2B & 3B, Tony Abreu, has played all of one game this spring, it’s hard to count on him, so I suppose I can’t really blame – for once – the rumormongers for coming out on this one.

Let’s start within the blogosphere at South Side Sox, who wonder if the Dodgers might want to acquire Joe Crede. Sell me, boys!

Crede and Inge are very similar players in that they’re both low-OBP, defensive minded, slugging third basemen. But Crede brings more power, a better contact rate, and a smaller salary — Inge is owed $19.1M over the next three years. Why wouldn’t the Dodgers be interested?

Well, I’ll admit that Crede is a far more attractive option than Brandon Inge, if only because Crede is only on the books for $5.1 million for this year, rather than the $19.1 over three for Inge. Also, as you may have read, Brandon Inge is in no way the answer to our problems. I don’t know that Joe Crede is, either – players who manage to get a league average OPS in exactly one of their four seasons and are 8% below average for their career aren’t exactly drool-inspiring. But Crede does have some pop, and on a one year deal, as an injury stopgap, I could live. Oh, what’s that?

I know, I know, Crede’s got a bum back. But he’s appeared healthy (with the exception of his throws to 1B) in camp, and the Dodgers might only need him for 2-3 months anyway.

Oh, well, you’ve got me convinced. He’s totally healthy – except that he can’t make the throws to first base. Well, why didn’t you say so? What MLB team couldn’t get by for 2-3 months with a third baseman who’d have to run every grounder to first base? Yeah, thanks: PASS.

Over at FOXsports.com, Ken Rosenthal says that we’ll be lucky enough to bypass the Inge/Crede route entirely:

Instead of pursuing a high-priced third baseman, the Dodgers are looking for a more versatile infielder who can play second and third, backing up Jeff Kent and Nomar Garciaparra. 

Which is all well and good, except Tony Jackson, who I trust way more on Dodger issues than Rosenthal, says not quite yet:

Joe and Ned met this morning, and pursuing a 3B from outside the organization was discussed, but don’t look for it to happen until later in the spring, after all other options are explored — and those options DO include trying Delwyn Young and Chin-lung Hu at 3B.

Considering that Young has been surprisingly excellent at 2B this spring, and Hu has such a dazzling defensive reputation at SS that it’s not hard to imagine him being able to smoothly handle the fielding aspects of 2B and 3B, this seems to be the wise course.

Rosenthal, back to you:

Delywn Young, who is out of options, is an internal possibility for the utility role, but his defense might not be strong enough for the Dodgers to justify carrying him.

Not impossible, but as he says, “out of options”, so I’d be very surprised to not even see him get a shot. But okay, Ken, who might we otherwise be looking at?

The Nationals’ Ron Belliard and Royals’ Esteban German, both of whom are attracting the Dodgers’ interest, would be more affordable than the Tigers’ Brandon Inge or White Sox’s Joe Crede.

Well there’s two names I would have never thought of. Belliard’s not a bad target, at first belliard.jpgglance. The Nationals have a huge middle infield glut between Belliard, Christian Guzman, Felipe Lopez, and the inexplicable resurgance of the corpse of Bret Boone, so it’s well-known they’re going to need to dump someone. He’s been around a surprisingly long time – despite being only 30, he’s got 8 seasons with at least 350 at-bats. He hit .290 with 11 homers last year for the Nats, though a .332 OBP leaves a bit to be desired. He only played 2 games at third base last year and one in 2006. Before that, he hadn’t touched the bag since 2002. And, he’s no simple stop-gap: the Nats, for some reason, signed him to a 2-year, $3.5 million deal this offseason. I don’t hate the idea, but I still don’t prefer him to Delwyn Young, and we haven’t even gotten into what it would cost in trade to acquire him. PASS.

Esteban German? You know what? I actually like this one. He’s been kicking around for parts of six seasons, and finally got some real playing time the last two seasons. Look at this line in german.jpg2006 – only 279 at-bats, but still, a .326/.422/.459 line (128 OPS+) is pretty impressive. He dipped a little last year to .264/.351/.376, but I’ll still take that .351 OBP from a backup role. Even better, in the last two seasons he’s seen time at every position except for 1B and RF. Plus, he’s signed for a very reasonable $1 million this year. A quick glance at the Royals depth chart shows that he’ll have a fight for playing time behind Mark Grudzielanek, Alberto Callaspo, and Tony Pena, Jr., up the middle, so it might not cost more than a mid-level prospect to get him. I wouldn’t want him at the expense of having to cut Young free without giving him a shot, but on the whole: ACCEPTABLE!

The season is still three weeks away, but it’s certainly not quiet around Dodgertown. And just wait until the whole China trip starts. Oh, and if you haven’t yet seen this clip of Clayton Kershaw’s absolutely ridiculous curvevall today against the Red Sox, sit back, relax, and enjoy (fantastic find by Jon Weisman at DodgerThoughts):

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T2M0c6DxCMY]

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