Winter Meetings, Day 3 (Updated)

Yesterday, I was stuck in a work meeting for two hours and then was out of touch with “real life” obligations for about three hours. Based on my history, I half expected to come back and find that James Loney and Jamie McCourt had been traded to Miami for LeBron James and Ricky Nolasco.

Instead, we got Tony Gwynn, Jr. Hmmph.

Let’s kick off the third day of the winter meetings with a roundup of a few things from yesterday. As I have all this week, I’ll update this post with rumors and news as they happen.

Update, 9:31am PST:

Jayson Stark with some disheartening news about Matt Diaz

Matt Diaz turned down more $ from #Dodgers than he got from #Pirates because he wanted to stay on east coast & train in Florida.

Not a whole lot you can do about the “prefers East coast and Florida” thing, and I suppose it’s good that the Dodgers at least put a dela out there. Just crazy to imagine that a player chose less money in Pittsburgh than more money in Los Angeles.

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Original post:

Jon Weisman at Dodger Thoughts with an interesting thought about Gwynn’s one good aspect, his defense…

Defensively, Gwynn’s another story, as he was arguably the best center fielder in the National League last season.

So if the Dodgers plan on using Gwynn as more than a fifth outfielder, should they not play him in center field, either moving Matt Kemp to left field or Kemp to right and Andre Ethier to left?

Just as you shouldn’t bat a great offensive player eighth, shouldn’t you avoid minimizing the impact of a fine defensive player?

The Dodgers’ 2011 lineup may be the most OBP-challenged we’ve seen in Los Angeles in some time. If the plan is to win with pitching and defense, while hoping that Kemp, Ethier and others hit a few home runs along the way, the Dodgers should seriously consider using Gwynn in center.

This makes all the sense in the world, honestly, and it will of course be Gwynn in the middle when Kemp sits. I’m just not sure I can see the club pushing Kemp to LF (or RF, with Ethier to LF) for the sake of Gwynn. Kemp & Ethier may not be happy with the shuffling on a daily basis, and rookie manager Don Mattingly is already going to have to deal with as many as four time-share positions. That just means I don’t expect to see it, not that I don’t agree with it.

Buster Olney:

Russell Martin‘s negotiations have reached the point where teams are making offers to his agent, Matt Colleran; NYY, Bos center of mix

We also heard yesterday that the Dodgers haven’t spoken to Colleran since Martin was non-tendered. I’d say he’s as good as gone at this point.

Tony Jackson:

Trent Oeltjen, a seldom-used outfielder from Australia, agreed to terms on a minor league deal that includes an invitation to big league spring training. The Dodgers signed Oeltjen on July 6, four days after he was released by the Milwaukee Brewers organization, and promoted him on Sept. 7 from Triple-A Albuquerque to the majors, where he hit .217 with a .357 on-base percentage in 14 games for the Dodgers.

I’m pretty fine with this. Oeltjen mashed in the minors, and didn’t totally embarrass himself in the bigs. ABQ needs players too, and he’ll likely put up big numbers there. You could do worse as depth should injuries strike during the season.

Less interesting is the other minor-league news Jackson brings, from the same column…

Also, the Dodgers are in negotiations on a minor league contract with longtime major league infielder Juan Castro, who potentially would be joining the organization for the fourth time. Castro played in one game for the Dodgers on Aug. 15 after being released by the Philadelphia Phillies, then was sent to the minors. The Dodgers tried to call him up in September, but discovered he was ineligible due to a rule technicality.

What is the infatuation with Castro? He could never hit even at his peak, and he’ll be 39 this year. He’s not even a great fielder anymore, and while I get it would be just a minor league deal, we all know that veterans like this signed to minor league deals always find their way up to the bigs. If he takes even one inning of playing time away from Ivan DeJesus or Chin-lung Hu, in the minors or majors, it’s too much.

Jackson also reported that the Dodgers made a call to the Royals to inquire about Zack Greinke. I’m glad they’re doing their due diligence, but there’s just not a fit there. The Royals probably wouldn’t want Chad Billingsley, who’s getting expensive and closer to free agency, and while I’m sure they would want Clayton Kershaw, Kershaw is arguably as good or better than Greinke is right now. If the Royals want to take a package built around Dee Gordon and Chris Withrow then fantastic, but that just doesn’t seem reasonable. Don’t hold your breath on this one.

Finally, Matt Diaz signed with Pittsburgh, which is unfortunate for those like myself who wanted him as a righty outfield bat. With Gwynn in the fold, the Dodgers absolutely have to get a righty outfielder, but the choices are dwindling. Bill Hall? Jeff Francoeur? Austin Kearns? Lastings Milledge?

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.)

So Long, Russell Martin

It came down to the wire, but the Dodgers have decided not to tender Russell Martin a contract for 2011 and risk paying him an increase on his $5.05m 2010 salary. While I thought they may have been attempting to negotiate a more palatable contract, SI’s Jon Heyman reported that the club also spent time trying to trade him.

This doesn’t necessarily spell the end of Martin in Dodger blue, of course. They can still attempt to sign him, and my guess is that that they will try (Ned Colletti confirmed this after the decision was made), particularly since the already poor catching market has largely dried up now that John Buck‘s in Florida, Yorvit Torrealba‘s in Texas and A.J. Pierzynski stayed in Chicago. (Fine, fine, and Jason Varitek returned to Boston.) But there’s sure to be interest in Martin’s services, so there’s a real risk that he’s playing elsewhere next year.

Really, I wasn’t going to be able to argue this decision either way. If they’ve decided that risking $6m to a declining catcher coming off a serious hip injury isn’t a wise choice, that makes total sense. On the other hand, the catching market is so poor – really, is anyone excited about Rod Barajas and Miguel Olivo? – that locking up a young catcher with above-average on-base skills is a more than defensible decision as well. Earlier this offseason, I’d been leaning towards letting him go, though as the market proved to be more expensive than we’d thought and as low-OBP Juan Uribe was signed, I’d been waffling on that in recent days. If Martin is replaced by someone like Olivo or Barajas, this could be a team with a serious OBP problem. On the other hand, maybe there’s a happy ending and they can re-sign him at a lower price later this winter. Either way, it’ll be an interesting story that’s far from over. (Update: Dylan Hernandez reports the team is “close”  to re-signing Barajas. You could do worse for a backup, so okay – but you couldn’t do much worse for a starter. That still doesn’t preclude Martin’s return.)

As expected, Chad Billingsley, Hong-Chih Kuo, and James Loney were tendered contracts, and George Sherrill (and Trent Oeltjen, who I completely forgot was involved in this) was not.

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But wait! There’s more! There’s unconfirmed reports saying that Vicente Padilla signed tonight to return for 2011. I’ll have more to say on that if it ends up being official in the morning, but Ken Gurnick explains how it’d work, since the club already has five starters:

Padilla could serve multiple purposes for the Dodgers. Colletti has talked about adding a veteran swingman capable of pitching multiple innings of relief with the durability to slide into the starting rotation if needed.

Padilla could do that, and his stuff is still nasty enough (especially against left-handed hitters) to close games. The Dodgers have All-Star Jonathan Broxton for that role, but there is concern over his late-season fade. There’s Hong-Chih Kuo, but his injury history is well documented. Kenley Jansen made a spectacular debut, but he remains unproven as a pitcher.

So the 33-year-old Padilla could be a staff utility man.

On the surface, that sounds great. How could you ever have too much pitching? There’s no question that Padilla has talent, and if pitching in shorter bursts helps preserve his health, that could be very useful. The two questions here are, #1) is he really okay with doing that, and #2) how much can you spend on pitching before you realize that the lousy offense is what sunk you last year?

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Not that I really expected that Loney was ever in danger of being non-tendered, but any thought of that probably went away when Adam Dunn agreed to a $56m contract with the White Sox today. I was actually pretty happy to see that, because he both waived his “no-DH” stance and was offered far more money than anyone expected. The Dodgers weren’t going to offer him $60m, nor would I have expected them to, so it’s not like watching him sign for $33m with an NL team while the Dodgers spent money on Juan Uribe.

Place Your Non-Tender Votes Now

The Dodgers have until 12am EST / 9pm PST tonight to decide whether to tender a 2011 contract to their five arbitration-eligible players – Chad Billingsley, Hong-Chih Kuo, James Loney, Russell Martin, and George Sherrill. For those not familiar, if the player is tendered a contract, then they may not talk to any other team about a contract, and are on the path to an arbitration hearing early next year. The player and the club are free to discuss a contract agreement before that happens, and that’s usually the case – Jonathan Broxton, Andre Ethier, and Matt Kemp are among the notables to agree to contracts before the arbitration hearing arrived in recent years. The level of difficulty here is that the team may not offer a contract that represents more than a 20% cut from the previous season, so you can’t, for example, try to give Sherrill a $500k deal.

If the player is non-tendered, he then becomes a free agent, and able to negotiate with any team. The Dodgers could still talk to any of the players they non-tender and would no longer be bound by the 20% rule, though of course they would no longer have exclusivity in discussions and would be competing with other teams.

With Ryan Theriot mercifully out of the way now that he’s St. Louis’ problem, let’s quickly look at the five remaining cases. You can cast your vote at the bottom.

Chad Billingsley. He’s 26. He bounced back from a rough end to 2009 to have one of the better seasons of his career. Uh, yeah, you better believe he’s getting an offer. I’d rather see him agree to a long-term deal before arbitration, though I have to say he’s second in the pecking order to Clayton Kershaw in my book. He’s likely to make about $5.5m in arbitration if he gets that far.

Hong-Chih Kuo. Only had one of the most dominating seasons in history by a reliever last year, so I’d say he’s getting an offer as well. I’m more hesitant to sign him long-term because of his injury history; the $2.5m or so he’d likely pick up in arbitration seems fair to me.

Russell Martin. 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.

James Loney. He’s sub-par among his first base peers, and as he gets older and his salary increases the promise of his potential gets dimmer, especially when there’s a decent crop of veterans who could be had for one year and offer similar production. I said months ago that I’d like to trade him for pitching and get a better option at 1B; still, I don’t think you’ll see him non-tendered.

George Sherrill. Well, he made $4.5m last year, and I can’t imagine they’ll risk paying him anything like that. Still, he was effective vs. LHP and with his record, he’s got a better chance of a bounce-back year than anyone else, so I’d be interested in bringing him back cheaply.

At the time of this writing, the Dodgers have just about 13 hours to make their choices. Check out the poll below, and let me know – which guys are getting contract offers? You can vote for as many as you like.

(Update: the percentages here are kind of misleading, since it’s trying to make all of the figures add up to 100% on the whole, rather than individually. I tried to turn off the percentages and show hard votes only, but it doesn’t appear to be an option. So ignore the percentages and focus on total votes.)

[polldaddy poll=4184630]

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Unrelated, but fun: we’ve started up the hot stove talk at the Baseball Prospectus Fantasy outlet. My first article of the winter about relief pitchers went up today.

MSTI’s 2010 in Review: Catcher

Good lord, is this really the 4th time I’ve done end-of-season reviews already? It’s terrifying to think how much time I’ve spent writing this thing over the last three-plus years, and here we are again, needing to wrap a bow on the season by reviewing each player. Following in the footsteps of 2007, 2008, and 2009, each player gets a mention, meaning I’ll be deeply regretting that around the time I have to try to come up with something to say about Nick Green or Jack Taschner.

As usual, the letter grades here are completely arbitrary, and based only on what was a reasonable expectation of the player before the season began, not as a comparison to anyone else. That means that even though Carlos Monasterios is probably going to get an A as a Rule 5 pick who made it through the season without embarrassing himself, it certainly doesn’t mean I think he’s the best pitcher on the staff. Less than 10 IP or 50 plate appearances gets you an “incomplete”.

Special thanks should be noted here for M.Brown of the wonderful Left Field Pavilion, who lent me a hand with the baseball card templates. I’m also using the baseball-reference flavor of WAR, rather than FanGraphs, for no particular reason other than that I had to pick one.

Russell Martin (D-)
.248/.337/.332 .679 5hr 1.9 WAR

Since I happened to have the previous three years of reviews open for the links above, I figured I’d see just how far Martin has fallen. In 2007, it was “Amotherf***ingplus”. In 2008, it was C-, and last year it was an F. Ugh.

The fact that I’m bumping Martin back up from an F to a D- this year isn’t really an indication that he improved in 2010, unfortunately. It’s just that after two years of watching him decline, expectations for him had dropped far enough that basically repeating his mediocre 2009 wasn’t as disappointing as it was a year ago.

I’m not kidding when I say that his 2010 was more or less a repeat of his 2009, as his OPS (.680/.679), wOBA (.307/.306), and oWAR (1.4/1.5) were nearly identical over the two years. There a small positive in that both the numbers and the smell test indicated that his defense improved from 2009 to 2010, which is nice, but it was overshadowed by the continued lousy offense, the groin injury which cost him most of the spring, and the broken hip which cost him the last two months.

Despite all that, you’ll notice that his 1.9 WAR isn’t awful, and that’s directly due to the sorry state of catching in the big leagues right now; it actually put him 15th in MLB among C, which is squarely middle-of-the-road. However disappointed you were in Martin this year, half the league had to put up with even less production from behind the plate, particularly those who foolishly employed Bengie Molina, Jason Kendall, and Ronny Paulino.

If Martin weren’t coming off such a serious injury, you might be able to get past the dreadful lack of power (208th of 225 in SLG, ahead of Pierres, Figginses, Theriots, and Izturises) and accept average-ish catcher production. If he wasn’t going to make over $6m in arbitration this winter, you might be able to rationalize the risk of his rehab.

But the injury, plus the cost, plus the uncertain production, on a team with a tight payroll and subpar offense? Sorry, Russell. Smells like a non-tender to me.

A.J. Ellis (B)
.278/.363/.324 .687 0hr 0.6 WAR

I’ll be honest and say that I still have absolutely no idea what to make of A.J. Ellis. He started off the spring looking to be ABQ’s starter once again, until Martin hurt his groin and was expected to miss the first few weeks of the season. Ellis was then preparing to start the year as the Dodgers’ main backstop. In March, I put down some thoughts on how that would go:

Now, I like a guy who can take a walk, and for his career Ellis has shown that ability, walking 273 times against just 248 strikeouts. Here’s the problem he’s going to run into in the bigs, though: he has no power. Zero. Juan Pierre levels. Ellis has just 17 homers to his name over 7 years, which would be bad enough, except that he played the last two seasons in the hitter’s havens of Las Vegas and Albuquerque. ABQ turned Hector Luna into a .610 slugger last year, when he’d never been over .417 before, and it allowed Dee Brown to hit 19 HR, a number he hadn’t approached in nearly ten years. Ellis somehow didn’t hit a single homer down there last year, which seems absolutely impossible from a man who got 360 total plate appearances.

You might be saying, “well, he’s an emergency fill-in, we’re not looking for him to hit cleanup.” I’d agree with that. It’s just that it’s all well and good that Ellis can lay off the pitches of AAA retreads who are terrified of serving up a fat pitch at high altitude to rack up those OBP numbers. But what’s going to happen in the bigs? If he can’t hit a ball out of Albuquerque, pitchers at the big-league level are going to have nothing to fear from him. That means he’s going to be seeing a lot of strikes, and he’s shown no reason to think that he can do a lot of damage to those pitches in the zone.

Martin ended up making it back in time for Opening Day, and while Ellis ended up starting the year in the minors, that only lasted for about a week until he came up to replace the injured Brad Ausmus as Martin’s backup. By the time Ausmus returned in July, Ellis had done basically exactly what you’d expect: .208/.286/.224, with just one extra-base hit, a double. Of course, as I noted several times throughout the year, it’s hard to fault him too much because Joe Torre refused to ever play him, despite Martin hardly earning the right to play 110% of the time. Ellis got just four starts in April, and two in May. How are you supposed to get anything going with such inconsistent time like that?

When Ausmus returned, Ellis was sent back down once again, only to return two weeks later with Martin was injured. His August was much the same, going .217/.217/.261, before being sent back down yet again when Rod Barajas was acquired. But in his last game before being shipped out, on August 22, Ellis went 3-3 in a loss against the Reds. It was just his second multihit game of the year, but it was hardly his last.

When rosters expanded in September, Ellis came back up and immediately became the hottest Dodger hitter among a collection of ice-cold contemporaries, hitting .417/.533/.500 in 15 September games (12 starts). Most encouragingly, his trademark plate control returned, walking eight times against five walks.

This is why I have no idea what to make of him. Was this just a well-timed hot streak? A case of a guy merely needing some sustained playing time? It’s hard to think that a man with zero power (and clearly without the speed that sustains other punchless hitters, like Juan Pierre) can possibly be successful, though again the bar for catchers is set exceedingly low.

Ellis may have made a case to stick on next year’s roster with his hot September, but he does have (I believe) one more option remaining. You can never have too much catching depth, so having him as the #3 option down in AAA waiting for an opportunity wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. He has the most to gain or lose from a Martin tender or non-tender.

Brad Ausmus (D)
.222/.310/.254 .564 0hr -0.2 WAR

Well, this is easy enough. I wasn’t really enthused when Ausmus signed again for 2010, though I was resigned to it happening and didn’t think it was really worth getting all that upset over. Of course, he lasted all of one April game before heading to the DL to undergo back surgery.

To his credit, Ausmus took an injury that was supposed to keep him out for nearly the entire season and made it back to the bigs by July, though I wasn’t entirely thrilled by the idea of adding yet another lousy offensive catcher to the Dodger collection:

I have all the respect in the world for Ausmus, who’s known as a solid teammate and a future managerial candidate, but is that really going to be a good thing for the Dodgers? Ausmus (career .670 OPS) was obviously never much of an offensive force even in his prime, so you can imagine what he’s going to be like at 41 and coming off major back surgery.

That’s about what happened. Ausmus was predictably terrible (.551 OPS after returning), and actually admitted at the end of the year that he didn’t feel like he could play in the bigs anymore, a feeling he’d had in spring training before the injury.

Ausmus rides into the sunset with a solid career behind him, and a bright future ahead of him should he choose to pursue coaching or managing. I’d love to see him in a Dodger uniform again one day on the coaching staff, but I can’t act as though I’m not pretty happy that he won’t be on the active roster next year.

Rod Barajas (A)
.297/.361/.578 .939 5hr 0.9 WAR

Barajas is the first example of “letter grades are based upon what we thought the guy would do when the season started”, or in his case, upon his acquisition. As you might remember, I wasn’t exactly a big fan when he was claimed off waivers in August, though I did think he was a slight upgrade…

…and that should tell you a lot, because Rod Barajas is horrendous. He’ll be 35 in two weeks, and his laughably bad .263 OBP this year is actually not that far off his amazingly poor .284 career mark. He just missed a month with an oblique strain, and he’s hitting .163/.223/.221 since the end of May.

He’s also your new Dodger starting catcher, since they claimed him off waivers from the Mets today. That should tell you something as well; even though he’s got less than half of his paltry $500k salary coming to him, the Mets didn’t even work out a deal with the Dodgers. They just said, “fine. Take him.”

Of course, Barajas made a phenomenal impression as a Dodger, hitting three homers in his first five games. That includes one in his first home game as a Dodger, setting off a thousand human-interest stories delving into how Barajas was a lifelong Dodger fan and had always wanted to play for his hometown team.

This is all well and good – even I’m not going to be against a nice personal story, especially in the dying days of a lost season – and his hot bat was appreciated, coming as it did after two years of little from Martin and weeks of nothing from Ausmus. The problem here is that I can already see that casual fans have been fooled by Barajas’ debut into thinking that he’s an above average catcher, and he’s just not.

In his first five games as a Dodger, Barajas hit those three homers, and he had a .526 OBP. That’s a great start by a player looking to make a good impression on a new employer, but five games is hardly enough to overcome 11+ years of sustained mediocrity. True to form, in his next 20 games, he hit .250/.302/.396, which is a lot more like it.

Barajas turned 35 last month. He’s just not that good, and an incredibly well-timed week-long hot streak doesn’t change that. Now, it’s hard enough to find one decent catcher, much less two, so if you want to bring him back at the veteran minimum to back up Martin (or whomever) to add some much-needed pop off the bench, I can live with that. But if his nice week fooled people into thinking he can be the starting catcher on the 2011 club, then we’re all in big trouble.

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Next up, James Loney‘s infuriating mediocrity! John Lindsey‘s heartwarming story! It’s first base!