In appreciation of catchers

Fourteen years after his last game as a Dodger, Mike Piazza still has us all spoiled.

Piazza, arguably the greatest hitter in Los Angeles Dodger history, and without question the best hitting catcher of all time, will no doubt enter the Hall of Fame next year as a New York Met. Thank you very much Rupert Murdoch, Chase Carey or whomever at News Corp you want to blame for the sacrilege.

The batting skill exhibited by The Strongest Man in SoCal (still a great nickname, and one I intend to use forever), to a lesser extent by Paul Lo Duca (cheating bastard) and Russell Martin (briefly), wonderful while it lasted, is far from the norm. Because catchers don’t hit .360. They don’t homer 40 times and drive in 100-plus runs per season. They just don’t.

Piazza was an aberration beyond our wildest dreams, and you should be pissed about being cheated out of half his career. More than half, actually. I know I am.

It’s unfortunate that subsequent Dodger catchers – or catchers anywhere, really – continue to be judged against the accomplishments of a player the caliber of Mike Piazza.

With the Braves beginning a three-game series at Dodger Stadium tonight, I thought this might be a good time to talk backstops, because in Brian McCann, Atlanta has a catcher worthy of comparisons. Catchers don’t hit .360, as I said, but .270 to .300, with 20-some-odd home runs and 80 or 90 RBIs a year sure works, and that’s about what you get with McCann. Plus a smart, savvy presence behind the plate, big-game experience and clutch hitting.

The Braves have another receiver you might remember, guy by the name of David Ross. Play word association with Ross’ name and you’re liable to come up with, “oh sure, name the player who homered against ‘relief pitcher’ Mark Grace” ten years ago in Arizona. Yep, that David Ross, Lo Duca’s old backup, and someone who you might not have expected to have much of a career after leaving town.

But he did, and it’s worth a mention now. McCann plays as much as any catcher, but with two Dodger lefties (Chris Capuano and Ted Lilly) going, you might get a game’s worth of Ross in the upcoming series. And if so, why not a tip of the Dodger cap to the 35-year-old veteran, who after bouncing around with the Pirates, Reds and Padres, has made a name for himself in Atlanta.

He’s hit .273, .289 and .263 in his three full seasons there, playing in 50 to 60 games each year, with more than respectable on base and slugging percentages. Plus fine play receiving the always professional Braves pitching staff.

The Arizona home run occurred in a 19-1 Dodger runaway game, during Ross’ first call-up on September 2, 2002, at what was then Bank One Ballpark in Phoenix.

I prefer to remember Ross for a more significant L.A. highlight, from the 2004 National League West race. On September 30 at the stadium, Ross gave the Dodgers a 4-2 win in extras, with a walkoff two-run homer off Brian Fuentes. With San Francisco winning the same day, Los Angeles held a three-game lead going into their season-ending series with the Giants the following day. Some 48 hours later, of course, Steve Finley cliched the division with that oh-so-memorable grand slam of his.

You’re also going to see another catcher of distinction during the homestand, in A.J. Ellis. Compare him to Piazza, Lo Duca, or even Russell Martin, if you like, but I wouldn’t. But put Ellis up against the catchers available to the Dodgers during the winter, and realize they came out just fine.

I’m happy to go on record predicting these numbers for A.J. Ellis: .265, 10 homers, 50 RBIs and an OBP of .400, hitting in front of the pitcher all season long. Yes, batting eighth throughout 2012.

2011 Midseason Review: MSTI


We’re wrapping up this midseason review with a new focus: me. Regular readers of this blog know that nothing interests me more than big-picture roster mechanics, and so I’ve often put forth judgement on trades and signings, and occasionally offered suggestions of my own. It was pointed out to me on Twitter recently that if I was going to criticise the moves of others, it was only fair for me to turn the spotlight on myself. (It was also pointed out to me in the comments of a recent post that I get too much “told ya so!” sometimes, which, perhaps, but this post sure isn’t going to help change that perspective.)

Remember, this is just for fun on yet another off-day, because there’s no guarantee that a player who is doing well or poorly in one place would have had the same performance in another.

Matt Kemp

What I said at the time (03/24/11):

My positive feelings about him continued in his 2010 season in review piece later that month, where I noted that he had not only taken responsibility for his subpar year, he’d ended the season on a five-homers-in-five-games tear while ridding himself of the distractions that had derailed his season – Joe Torre, Larry Bowa, Bob Schaefer, and even Rhianna, if you believe in that sort of thing. (Rob Neyer had a great look at the shortcomings of the 2010 coaching staff, too.) Again, Kemp is not to be excused for being unable to work through all that, but nor should it be ignored that from all indications, he wasn’t getting a lot of support internally either.

I realize it’s spring, and that everyone has a nice, rosy outlook this time of the year. That’s fine, and it’ll take more than some spring dingers and saying the right things to prove Kemp right. But the signs are all there for a massive year – no one’s questioned his talent, but now he’s motivated to prove himself, with distractions gone and the right instruction in place.

Matt Kemp is still just 26. The two-year contract he signed after 2009 is up this year. He’s got a lot to prove – and mark my words, he’s going to do it.

How’d that work out?

Eh, he’s okay.

Juan Uribe

What I said at the time (11/29/10):

Now that we’ve got the positives out of the way… what in the hell is this team doing giving three years* and $22m to Juan Uribe?! (*standard caveat of “it’s just a report, and not an official deal yet” applies.) Uribe’s never had even a two-year deal in his life. He was quite good in 2005 with the White Sox (111 OPS+, 23 HR), but after four consecutive years of not having an OBP over .301, he was cut loose after 2008. The Giants got him for 1 year, $1m in 2009, and he was quite good again – 112 OPS+ – so they resigned him for 1 year, $3.2m in 2010. Other than increasing his HR, he completely regressed at he plate. His OPS fell from .824 to .749, and his wOBA fell from .351 to .322.

That doesn’t make him useless, but as I’ve said every other time I’ve talked about him, I like him for one year and I’d accept an option for a second. But now we’re giving a guy whose age 25-28 seasons were all basically a waste, had one good year at 29 and couldn’t quite keep it up at 30 three guaranteed years? Why? Because he was a Giant? Because he hit a homer in the World Series (despite doing little else in October)?

How’d that work out?

While everyone knew giving Uribe three years was a horrendous idea, it should be noted that I originally tossed out the idea of signing him weeks before it happened. I was only willing to give one guaranteed year with an option for a second, of course, but the point is that even Uribe’s most ardent detractors weren’t predicting as poor of a season as we’ve seen. But hey, two more years!

Ted Lilly

What I said at the time (10/19/10)

I guarantee that I’m going to be in the minority here, but I’m not thrilled with this. The casual fan is going to see this as some sort of sign that Frank McCourt is willing to spend, but there’s a big difference between spending and spending wisely, and spending big on a 35-year-old pitcher entering his decline years is not wise. Isn’t this how we ended up being stuck with Casey Blake next year?

So sure, I’m happy to see him back in 2011, but we can’t be short-sighted about this. Remember, Lilly just finished a 4-year, $40m contract, which is an average annual value of $10m/year. Somehow, despite being 4 years older, less than a year past shoulder surgery, and on the decline, the Dodgers saw fit to give him a deal which increases that value?

I’m not arguing that he wouldn’t have found a contract like that on the market, because he would have. I would have just preferred it be some other team to make a foolish investment. Spending money does not equal spending wisely, because while Lilly’s a good pitcher, he’s hardly a difference-maker, yet he’s being paid like one. Though I’m glad he’s back for 2011, I really think we’re going to regret this deal in 2012 and 2013 – which is basically exactly what I said about Blake’s deal after 2008.

How’d that work out?

If I was wrong here, it was in that I at least thought Lilly could be good this year before falling off the next two years. Instead, he’s been barely above replacement level this year, and that does not give me much hope for the next two years of the deal as he’s 36 and 37. The lesson, as always: big money deals to older pitchers, particularly one who had a completely unsustainable debut with your club, rarely work out.

Casey Blake

What I said at the time (9/21/10):

Unfortunately, history isn’t on Blake’s side either. There’s only been seventeen seasons since 1961 in which a third baseman 37 or older (since Blake will be 37 most of next year) has managed to even play enough to qualify for the batting title. Looking at that list, most of them are Hall of Famers (Mike Schmidt, Pete Rose, Brooks Robinson, Wade Boggs, Cal Ripken, Jr.), or about to be (Chipper Jones) – and even then there’s quite a few dreadful seasons on that list. Do we really expect that Casey Blake is the one who bucks that trend?

Thanks to the budget and his veteran status, I fully expect that Blake is going to be the regular third baseman in 2011, but it’s not what’s best for the team (and is exactly what I feared when they signed him back in 2008).

How’d that work out?

Blake hit just .243/.346/.386 around three disabled list stints and is on pace to play in fewer than 80 games. He gets a little bit older every day.

Rod Barajas

What I said at the time (12/03/10):

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.

How’d that work out?

As I noted, Barajas’ career marks aren’t great, and even still he’s been unable to match them. Since he does still have some pop (8 HR) this year, it’s not the fact that he was signed which bothered me, it’s just the sheer amount of money he received.

Dioner Navarro

What I said at the time (2/20/11):

So tell me, why is it that Navarro has a $1m contract for 2011, while Ellis has bus rides around the PCL to look forward to? Because of that one good year? That fluke year also isn’t fooling the latest iteration of Baseball Prospectus‘ PECOTA projections, pegging Navarro for .243/.304/.336  and Ellis at .256/.364/.321. The numbers just don’t support it, and that’s without even questioning the off-field issues brought up by Navarro refusing to remain with the Rays in the playoffs last year after not making the roster. It’s also without bringing defense into the equation, as that’s notoriously hard to evaluate for catchers, though it should be noted that Ellis has a very good repuation, and the DRaysBay quote above wasn’t exactly glowing towards Navarro. (Update: after this went up, BP colleague and DockOfTheRays blogger Jason Collette added, “enjoy that hot mess behind the plate.” So there’s that.)

Now as I said upfront, I get that Navarro has the prospect history and does have the one good year, and it’s worth it to see if he can recapture that magic and be useful going forward. I’m fine with that; in fact, I love the idea. I’d just have preferred to see it on a minor-league deal, and I don’t understand why he seemingly doesn’t have to fight for the job.

How’d that work out?

Ha. You’ve watched baseball, right?

Aaron Miles

What I said at the time (02/07/11):

I am constantly trying to reassure people that minor league contracts are never as big of a deal as they seem, and the inherent lack of risk makes them almost a no-lose proposition.

In this case, I’m not so sure, because Miles is atrociously bad. No, really; among players who have had as many plate appearances as Miles had since he debuted in 2003, only three players in baseball have been less valuable. It’s a special kind of “not valuable”, though. If you’re simply awful, you don’t get to stick around for that long. Miles has really hit the sweet spot of being bad enough to hurt his teams for years, yet not so bad that he gets outright drummed out of the game. It must be his A+ levels of “grit” and “scrap”.

How’d that work out?

I’ve offered a mea culpa on Miles more than a few times now. He’s been a very nice surprise this year.

Matt Guerrier

What I said at the time (01/19/11):

Why are we all having such a hard time remembering that Guerrier is a Dodger? Perhaps it’s because the signing, which most of us disapproved of at the time, isn’t looking any better as the winter goes along. In the last week, four free agent relievers signed multimillion dollar deals with teams that hope to contend in 2011. (I’m excluding Rafael Soriano from this conversation, as that deal wowed even Yankee fans used to excessive spending.) Jon Rauch left Minnesota to sign in Toronto, while the A’s snapped up both Grant Balfour and Rauch’s former teammate, Brian Fuentes. Earlier, the Rays signed Kyle Farnsworth, in part to replace both Balfour and Soriano.

All four signed deals that were less in total value than the Dodgers gave to Guerrier earlier this offseason. You can make the argument that all four are better pitchers, too.

How’d that work out?

Basically as I expected. Guerrier has been mediocre, despite being the highest-paid of the guys mentioned above. Love, love, love longterm deals for non-elite relievers.

Adam Dunn

What I said at the time (10/11/10):

I’ll admit that I’ve coveted Dunn for years, and my hypothetical Dodgers have enough money to make one big splash. You could argue that finding a pitcher is more important, but pitching is always overpriced on the free agent market, and if you don’t do something to add some power and OBP, then it’s not going to matter anyway. Dunn’s not without his warts, but he’s also among the most consistent power hitters of the last generation – you know you’re getting 35-40 homers and an above-average OBP, and as he’s just turning 31, you should get him before his decline sets in. Besides, you saw what kind of difference Manny made on Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier when he was in the lineup, right? Nothing torpedoed the 2010 club more than lousy offense, and getting one of the top 3 bats available would be a huge step in the right direction.

How’d that work out?

Woof. Huge whiff there, since Dunn is hitting just .160/.292/.305, though I’ll try to semi-defend myself by saying that plenty of analysts thought he was a great fit in Chicago, and that absolutely no one saw this coming. Still, yikes.

Russell Martin

What I said at the time (12/02/10:)

Where do you start? We’ve talked about this ad nauseum. He’s not nearly what he was, yet that’s still better than most catchers. He’s coming off a serious injury and stands to get about $6m in arbitration, yet the options to replace him are terrible. I don’t know if there’s a right answer here; I’d probably try to sign him to a two-year deal at less per year than he’d get in arbitration, but there’s probably not enough time left to do that today.

How’d that work out?

Martin got off to a ferocious start in New York, hitting 9 homers in the first month of the season. He’s been atrocious since then, battling a knee injury and hitting only .184/.296/.282 since April 25. I thought the Dodgers made the right move by letting him go; this is still a point of contention for many since the LA catchers have been so bad, but other than those first three weeks, I’m not seeing much that says they made a mistake here.

Michael Morse

What I said at the time (12/20/10):

Still, even if he’s not perfect, a righty-power bat is exactly what the Dodgers need, and shouldn’t they be in the business of taking a low-cost chance instead of the assured mediocrity of a Scott Podsednik or Jerry Hairston? Don’t take this as anything more than a fun comparison of stats, but Morse has an .810 OPS with a HR every 29.4 at-bats through his age-28 year. At the same age, Werth had a .793 OPS with the same HR rate. In parts of 5 AAA seasons, Morse’s line is .292/.354/.461; Werth, in parts of 4 AAA seasons, had .268/.355/.472. I’m not saying it’s definite or even moderately likely that Morse will become the next Werth (Werth is a far better fielder) but it seems like a chance worth taking, and at the least he could fit as the righty platoon bench bat the Dodgers don’t currently have.

How’d that work out?

Morse shook off a slow start to bash 15 homers and join Andre Ethier on the NL’s final man voting for the All-Star team with a line of .306/.351/.535 while playing 1B and LF. In retrospect, I probably undersold what it would have taken to get him, but, yeah – I liked him for a reason. Would have been nice to have him instead of, say, Marcus Thames.

Jeff Francoeur

What I said at the time (10/11/10):

Jeff Francoeur, for all his ridiculous portrayals in the media, has two strengths and one extremely large weakness. He’s a very strong defensive outfielder with a good arm, and he can hit lefty pitching (.823 OPS career). What Francoeur cannot do, under any circumstances, is hit righty pitching (.639 OPS this year, .699 career). However, it just so happens that the Dodgers have an outfielder in Andre Ethier who’s a mediocre defender and even worse against lefties (.625 OPS this year, .681 career) than Francoeur is against righties. Do I have to spell out the fit here? It’s basically the Reed Johnson role, except that Johnson is 7 years older, couldn’t stay healthy, and had less upside.

How’d that work out?

vs RHP this year: .248/.294/.385
vs LHP this year: .321/.352/.630

I would not be interested in “Jeff Francoeur, starting left fielder”, and as I mentioned later in the article the idea depended on having a manager who could manage a platoon properly, but would I take that as a platoon partner for Ethier and/or Tony Gwynn? You’re damned right I would.

Eric Chavez

What I said at the time (01/06/11):

So what makes him interesting? Chavez is the rare lefty-hitting third baseman, and he has a pronounced platoon split over his career – .873 against RHP, .697 against LHP. You’ve probably noticed that I’ve spent much of the offseason insisting that although Casey Blake mashes against LHP, he’s simply unplayable against RHP. Unfortunately, nothing’s changed there; while you could theoretically bench him against righties and push Juan Uribe to 3B while Jamey Carroll plays 2B, that’s not an option I really see Don Mattingly choosing a lot in his rookie season, so I’ve become resigned to watching Blake flail against righty pitching. If Chavez has anything left, that’s a perfect fit for this team.

How’d that work out?

Okay, you got me. Chavez was very good for the Yankees (127 OPS+ in 39 plate appearances) before once again injuring himself. There was pretty much no question that would happen at some point.

Chris Davis

What I said at the time (03/07/11):

This is a Dodger team that badly needs offense, has no future at 3B, and may or may not have a present at 1B. (In case you didn’t see, Don Mattingly claims that if Loney were to miss an extended period of time, his replacement would likely not be Blake or Jay Gibbons, but Russ Mitchell. Yikes.) Davis may not field well enough to handle 3B full-time, and he may not hit well enough to play 1B full-time. But if you think the 2011 Dodgers, as constructed, are good enough to contend but not good enough to win, as I do, then you need take a gamble now and then, and Davis offers hope and possible longer-term solution – if the trade price is right, that’s worth giving him a shot in my book.

How’d that work out?

Davis has an .814 OPS in 57 MLB plate appearances this year, and 20 homers to go with a 1.255 OPS in 167 AAA plate appearances. I’d still love to get him.

Wilson Betemit

What I said at the time (10/11/10):

We can do better, and Betemit had a pretty monstrous half-season for Kansas City this year: .297/.378/.511. Almost as important, he’s a switch-hitter who’s been more successful against RHP than LHB over his career, which fits into our scheme here (though this year he’s done very well against both).

Now, I can hear the objections to this already. “It was half a season. He spent much of the last two years in the minors. And haven’t we seen this movie before?” All fair points. But I’ll argue that Betemit’s been pretty underrated. In parts of 8 seasons, his career line is .267/.335/.449, which works out to a 103 OPS+, even though much of that came when he was far too young (he made his MLB debut at 19, and saw significant time at 22). Before being traded in 2007, he had a .359 OBP and .474 SLG in 84 games for the Dodgers. How was production like that a problem again? Oh, right, it’s because people put far too much stock in a low batting average.

How’d that work out?

Betemit got off to a solid start to the season, hitting .306/.370/.438 through the first two months as the everyday third baseman. His playing time took a dip when the Royals promoted rookie Mike Moustakas, and so did his numbers at that point, but he clearly would have been a big upgrade on the Dodger 3B situation. 

Michael Young

What I said at the time (02/07/11):

You’ve heard me talk about how I think Blake is at the end of the line in the past, but I’m having a hard time seeing how Young would be any sort of upgrade – and that’s without even considering that Young is due $16m in each of the next three seasons, while 2011 is likely Blake’s last season in blue, or that the Rangers would want some sort of talent in return. It just doesn’t make sense.

How’d that work out?

Well, Young is having a resurgent season with the Rangers, hitting .323/.358/.482, and clearly outperforming the broken down Blake. My bad on that one. However, he is once again a creation of Arlington, hitting 200 points of OPS better at home than on the road. With how lousy the 2011 Dodgers have hit everywhere, that would still be an upgrade, but not enough of one to make it worth it considering the talent and dollars it would have taken.

Russell Branyan

What I said at the time (05/23/11):

But I wouldn’t be bringing Branyan in as the everyday first baseman, or even to replace Loney on the active roster. Branyan is 35 and a poor defender, and only three times has he received 400 plate appearances in a season. He’d be here because he can murder a baseball, and on a team with the weakest bench in baseball – remember, this is the club that had to throw Castro up with the bases loaded last week – that’s an incredibly valuable skill. Branyan’s role would be as a bench power bat who gets a start at first base once a week or so.

How’d that work out?

Not too great. Branyan has hit just .210/.290/.339 in Anaheim, rarely playing as Mark Trumbo has taken hold of the first base job.

Felipe Paulino

What I said at the time (05/23/11):

His xFIP is actually just 3.36, as he got a little unlucky with homers in the early going. He’s still throwing 95 MPH heat, and his starting experience could make him an ideal longman out of the pen, a role this team desperately needs right now. Remember, the idea here isn’t “is this guy going to propel me to a championship?”, because Paulino certainly will not. It’s “is this guy better than the guy I currently have?” and a 27-year-old power arm with strikeout stuff who had trouble in Coors Field is absolutely a better bet than Lance Cormier, particularly when Paulino can go multiple innings if needed.

How’d that work out?

Paulino got scooped up by the Royals and has been excellent in 7 starts, putting up a 45/12 K/BB mark, with Rany Jazayerli going so far as to refer to him as the club’s “best starter”. That one would have been nice to have for sure.

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All in all, not too bad. There were a few misses – Dunn chief among them – but I’m pretty sure we’d all be happier with a team that included Morse, Davis, Betemit, Francoeur, and Paulino, right?

Russell Martin Takes Less Money With the Yankees*

Buster Olney reports that Russell Martin has passed his physical with the Yankees, but also includes this nugget:

Martin’s deal with the Yankees is for a $4 million base salary

That’s of note because the Dodgers had offered him a $4.2m salary before non-tendering him; reports were that Martin was holding out for $5m. So let’s extrapolate a few things from that:

First, despite what we’d heard about Ned Colletti having interest in bringing Martin back, the $4.2m offer appears to have been “take it or leave it” and expired once the non-tender deadline passed. As Eric Stephen notes, that assumption is validated somewhat by the fact that Rod Barajas had his deal in place about 30 seconds after Martin was non-tendered, which I imagine the club must have been using as leverage in talks with Martin.

Second, it looks like Martin overvalued his worth, which is hard to do in this winter of crazy spending. We knew that the Yankees, Red Sox, and Blue Jays were all in on Martin, and that the Red Sox ended up not offering as much as the Yankees did. I don’t know what the Jays were offering, but it’s doubtful they were topping both the Sox and Yankees, so when Martin spurned the $4.2m offer from the Dodgers, that may have been a mistake.

Finally, this does somewhat validate the team’s decision to non-tender Martin. Had he been tendered a contract and gone to arbitration, he would have made $5m at the very least and possibly up to $6m. I’d said all along that was too much to risk on an injured catcher, and they appear to have read the market correctly.

Now all that being said… we’re still suck with Barajas and Dioner Navarro, who officially signed his one year, $1m contract yesterday. Does someone want to tell me how in the hell Navarro got more than the major league minimum? Not that the extra $500k or so is a big deal in the long run, but you really had to sweeten the pot for him? Why, to buy him away from his Plan B, fry cook at Long John Silver’s?

* The caveat to all this is of course that we don’t know what kind of incentives are included in Martin’s Yankee contract. As we saw with Vicente Padilla, incentives can be several times the guaranteed base value of the contract. Still, Martin is guaranteed less than he would have been as a Dodger.

Russell Martin Signs With the Yankees

The news comes according to MLB.com. Though Ned Colletti kept the door open for Martin’s return after being non-tendered, his departure always seemed like somewhat of a foregone conclusion to me. There’s no news yet on how much he signed for, and that’s largely what will make or break this choice for us. He turned down an offer of $4.2m from the Dodgers, and one would think he got at least that or more from the Yankees. If he’s getting north of $5m or so, I can’t be too upset about it – and this does at least avoid the worst-case scenario alternative of him returning to LA as a utility man, rather than a catcher. I’m actually a little surprised he didn’t choose Boston, as he’d be more likely to get regular playing time behind the plate there, but that’s no longer our problem.

What is our problem is that it’s all but guaranteed that Rod Barajas enters 2011 as the everyday catcher for the Dodgers, with Dioner Navarro probably ahead of A.J. Ellis (who still has an option left) as the backup. That doesn’t seem like a great exchange for the Dodgers, though of course much depends on how much Martin’s deal is for (which we’ll know today) and how well he recovers from his hip injury, which could take well into next season to gauge.

Regardless, Russell Martin leaves a lot of fond memories in Los Angeles. His breakout 2006 arrival, his role in the 4+1 game, his superlative 2007 and first half of 2008, the walkoff grand slam against the Pirates – there was a time when you could easily say he was the most popular Dodger. Clearly, the last 2+ years have done much to reverse that trend, but I’ll look back on his time positively, with only a slight thought of what might have been.

Winter Meetings, Day 4 (Updated)

Today’s the last day of the winter meetings; thanks for following along. Today is also the Rule 5 draft, and it actually started a few minutes ago.  Let’s get right to the overnight news, and as usual I’ll update this throughout the day.

Update, 9:20am PT:

Jon Heyman with news that’s simultaneously cool and terrifying…

teams most aggressive on greinke are #rangers, #brewers, #dodgers, #bluejays, #nats

I think I’ve said this before, but I just can’t see it. I wouldn’t trade Kershaw for Greinke, and the other Dodger starters don’t make sense. Would a package built around Jerry Sands and Dee Gordon be enough? Probably not, and even if it was, should the Dodgers really be trading offense for more starting pitching?

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Update, 7:56am PT:

Dylan Hernandez with obvious news

#Dodgers GM Ned Colletti said he is looking to add a right-handed hitter who can play left field.

Goddamn right. But who? Matt Diaz and Jeff Francoeur are off the board. We’ve heard rumors of interest in Bill Hall and Austin Kearns. I like Hall, but I’d like him better as an around-the-field utility man; he looks a lot less interesting as just a left fielder. I’d almost prefer Lastings Milledge, I think. If you’re into big offense from older, injury-prone, terrible-fielding players who ought to be a DH – i.e., the Manny role – there’s also Magglio Ordonez, who had a 130 OPS+ last year with Detroit. But he won’t come cheap and he’ll be 37 in January – and as I was surprised to find out today, has never played a single inning in left field. He’s been a RF his entire career, and really should stay in the American League.

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Original post:

Rule 5 draft…

Dylan Hernandez reports the Dodgers have decided not to select anyone, and that no Dodger prospects were selected in the major-league portion. Minor-leaguer Jamie Ortiz, who neither Dylan nor I have heard of, was lost to the Marlins. (Research shows he’s a 1B who was a 7th-round pick in 2006, and had a .742 OPS as a 21-year-old in low-A ball last year. Snooze.) Minor league catcher Jesse “Fausto” Mier went to Texas, and he had a .686 OPS as a 25-year-old in AA last year. Double snooze. Minor league pitcher Matthew Sartor went to the Giants; he has good K stuff (10.5/9 career), but also had a 1.568 WHIP in A/AA last year, and he’s already 26. Snooze x3.

Tony Jackson:

The Dodgers also remain open to re-signing left fielder Scott Podsednik, who declined his half of a $2 million mutual option after the season but apparently hasn’t found as much of a market for his services as he had hoped.

The club still needs an every-day left fielder despite having signed first baseman-outfielder Jay Gibbons, who will be their primary left-handed pinch hitter, and having agreed in principle on a one-year, $675,000 deal with Tony Gwynn Jr., who will be a backup outfielder.

I know that the winter meetings are all about lies, but Jackson is one of the reporters that I have a good deal of respect for. Besides, who’d bother to lie about Scott Podsednik anyway? So that means I think there’s at least some truth to this, and if so, it’s completely mind-blowing. Even if the Dodgers had zero outfielders, Podsednik’s not a good option; he was less than impressive after arriving last year, and at 35 he’s unlikely to develop power and defense, or sustain on-base skills.

But of course, it’s not just that Podsednik is somewhat useless which is the problem here; it’s that under no circumstances should the Dodgers be going after another lefty outfielder. Even before they signed Gwynn I wanted two righties to platoon with Gibbons and Ethier, but now that Gwynn’s in the mix (and don’t forget Xavier Paul) signing another lefty would just be astoundingly stupid. You’re really only going to have one righty outfielder? You’re going to let tough lefty pitchers eat up everyone else? I’m not going to freak out about this too much if only because there’s absolutely no way it’ll happen, but still: sheesh.

Jackson:

Los Angeles Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said his team still has an interest in re-signing Russell Martin as a multiple-position player even with two other catchers apparently already in the fold, but that Martin, a former Gold Glove catcher, likely won’t get much time behind the plate if he does re-sign with the club.

However, with media reports having surfaced that Martin is being pursued by the Toronto Blue Jays, Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and Colorado Rockies — all of whom presumably would want him to catch on at least a semi-regular basis — there now appears to be little to no chance that Martin will return.

This is another idea that kind of makes no sense at all. I was hardly Martin’s biggest fan over the last two years, but I admitted that the poor state of catching in general meant he still had value. If he comes back, that’s fine – perhaps even good, if your alternatives are Rod Barajas and Dioner Navarro – but you just can’t bring him back to not catch. His bat plays at catcher because catchers can’t hit; putting his subpar offense at other positions (positions we don’t even know if he can really play) just wouldn’t work. That said, it doesn’t sound like there’s much chance of him returning anyway.

Eric Stephen at TrueBlueLA gives some numbers to an issue I’ve been harping on for weeks….

So far this offseason, the Dodgers have signed five offensive players:

Gwynn and Navarro are pending physicals, but will be official soon enough. Anyway, in 2010 those five hitters combined to hit .233/.299/.395 in 1,475 plate appearances.

Yep. And that doesn’t even take into account returning guys with lousy 2010 OBP, like Casey Blake, James Loney, Matt Kemp, and Jay Gibbons. I’m really going to have to start a “free Jamey Carroll!” campaign just to see some on-base percentage next year, aren’t I?