Ryan Dempster May Be Imminent, But What Then?

Over the last 24 hours or so, speculation about Ryan Dempster has really been turned up to a new level, with reports indicating not only that the Dodgers have an offer on the table, but that the Cubs have both newly-acquired Justin Germano and Triple-A starter Casey Coleman headed to St. Louis tonight to make sure they have a pitcher available should Dempster be traded prior to tonight’s game.

There are still several teams in the Dempster derby, but at this point it almost seems like it would be a shock if he didn’t end up in Los Angeles. Now we can debate the merits of that, because most of you know that I’m not convinced that this roster is one that is worth going all-in for in 2012, but we’ve been over that enough times and it’s clear that the front office does not agree with that, so moves are going to happen. Maybe we’ll like the deal – the rumor from last week that suggested Garrett Gould & Chris Withrow seemed fair – or much more likely, we’ll hate it, but I think we can at least agree that no matter the long-term damage, a rotation with Dempster in it for the remainder of 2012 (displacing Nathan Eovaldi, most likely) is definitely better than one without him. He’s no ace, but he’s a good, solid starter.

The only issue with that is that Dempster alone doesn’t put you into the World Series, not on a team with as many holes as this one has. You can get Dempster, but if you don’t also replace James Loney & Juan Uribe at the very least (to say nothing of holes at shortstop & left field), then it doesn’t really matter. You can make a good argument that they either need to not buy at all or make at least three moves, since simply trading prospects for Dempster seems like a waste of time if there’s not a bat coming in the next 11 days as well.

That doesn’t make it easier, since as we know all too well, bats are not readily available. You could pay the incredibly high price for Chase Headley, or dream on guys on the downside like Alfonso Soriano or Shane Victorino, or sucker yourself into thinking Bryan LaHair is ever repeating his April. (I saw yesterday, and unfortunately cannot recall the source of this, that since May 1 LaHair & Casey Kotchman have been essentially the same player on offense.) But if you’re trading for Dempster today, you all but have to do one of those things tomorrow.

Ryan Dempster seems likely to not be a Cub soon, perhaps even within the next few hours, and potentially soon enough to start for the Dodgers in New York this weekend. In a vacuum, that might be a good thing, because he’s a good pitcher. But it has to be seen as merely the first part of what looks to be an incredibly interesting week-plus; the question is, what else is following to make it worth it?

Trading Season is Coming Fast

A few notes on the upcoming hilarity which will be trade season as we wait for Aaron Harang and the Dodgers to take on Brandon McCarthy (potentially my favorite non-Dodger pitcher) and the Athletics tonight…

* We can slow down on those Ryan Dempster rumors for now. Dempster was placed on the disabled list with a sore right lat. It’s not expected to be serious, and it won’t take him off the market entirely, since the trade deadline isn’t for another six weeks. He was expected to be a fast mover in the market, however, and now any interested buyers will not only have to factor in his health, they’ll have to note that they could be receiving 4-5 fewer of his starts than they might have otherwise. In some way, this is a good thing, because it hopefully lowers his value.

* The Red Sox are apparently very motivated to move Kevin Youkilis. Or at least, that’s what Ken Rosenthal & Jon Paul Morosi claim…

The last days of Kevin Youkilis in a Boston Red Sox uniform may be approaching.

Trade dialogue surrounding the beleaguered Boston third baseman has intensified in the last 24 to 48 hours, major-league sources told FOXSports.com. The Red Sox have made clear that (a) Youkilis is available and (b) they are willing to include cash to facilitate a better player return. In response, a number of clubs have indicated that they have interest in acquiring the three-time All-Star.

“He’s being shopped everywhere,” said one high-ranking official with a National League club.

Youkilis has struggled, with his single last night being his first in more than a week. Obviously, if he doesn’t start producing, it’s pointless for any team to want him; on the other hand, I’m still having a hard time believing that a guy with a .373 OBP last year is just done, and as we’ve been over, the 1B/3B bar in Los Angeles is so, so low right now. As with Dempster, the silver lining here may be that his trade value has plummeted; Chris Cwik at FanGraphs investigates just how much:

Even if those teams are desperate for help at their corner infield slots, they shouldn’t have to give up any significant prospects for Youkilis. Middlebrooks’ play has made Youkilis redundant. If the Red Sox continue to play Youkilis at third, they’ll do so at the expense of Middlebrooks. And since the Red Sox already have better players at first and DH, the Red Sox don’t have a lot of leverage. If the Red Sox were to cover most — or all — of Youkilis’ remaining salary, it’s possible they could receive a low-level impact player. Maybe a reliever or a good bat off the bench. But right now, there’s no reason for a team to break the bank on Youkilis.

Even with his struggles, there is going to be a market for Kevin Youkilis. And while he would represent upgrades at third for some contending teams, he would be even more valuable moving back to first base. That makes the Dodgers and the Indians two of the teams that should be inquiring about Youkilis. And considering Kenny Williams is no stranger to taking risks, the White Sox will likely be involved as well. He’s had a history of success, and there will probably be a team willing to take a risk on him turning things around. But unless he starts producing soon, the Red Sox are going to receive pennies on the dollar for him.

* How worried should we be about Ned Colletti being the man in control this July? We’ve long since come to terms with the fact that few of us are big Colletti fans, particularly when it comes to big-ticket free agents or high-profile trades. (He’s much better on the smaller stuff.) Over at Baseball Prospectus, R.J. Anderson breaks down Colletti’s reputation as a GM who loves to trade prospects, noting that of the 36 “young” players Colletti has traded, 17 never appeared in the bigs (so far, at least) and 14 more contributed almost no value. Of the remaining five – Edwin Jackson, Dioner Navarro, Cody Ross, Carlos Santana, & James McDonald – Anderson grades three deals as “fail” and two as “pass”.

Colletti’s evaluation mistakes cost the Dodgers two middle-of-the-rotation starters, an All-Star catcher, and a good fourth outfielder at most. But what about the flip side? What about when Colletti correctly evaluated his own prospects? Silver wrote, “One of [Colletti's] strengths seems to be knowing when to bail on his own players.” In the time since, Colletti has reaffirmed that notion. Some of Colletti’s better trades have come when correctly identifying the lemons in his own bunch. He traded Bryan Morris and LaRoche to acquire Manny Ramirez (easily the best deal of his career), used the intrigue of Joel Guzman to land Julio Lugo (whom, for whatever reason, fell to pieces, mitigating an otherwise clever deal), grabbed Jon Garland for Tony Abreu, got Jim Thome for nothing, and added Ted Lilly and Ryan Theriot for Blake DeWitt and two prospects who were unable to make the Cubs’ top-20 list this preseason.

Tagging Colletti as a good or bad general manager adds no value. What can add value is breaking general managers down to tools and skills. Colletti seems to understand that future value is worth less than present value, particularly when his team has the ability to compete now and the resources to compete later. Proper evaluation is the engine in Colletti’s machine. That means the Dodgers have to continue to land potentially useful players and continue to evaluate and harvest the potentially overvalued prospects. Every once and a while, Colletti is going to miss on a player. It happens; even John Schuerholz, the master of farm system self-evaluation, lost a few times.

This isn’t to say that Dodgers fans should have blind faith in Colletti, just that cowering in fear seems to be equally as unreasonable.

I’d say that’s fair, and it’s amazing how much less negativity there is about Colletti when you look at trades only and forget the hundreds of millions wasted on Juan Pierre, Andruw Jones, Jason Schmidt, Juan Uribe, and others. Still, I can’t say I have a ton of faith in him trying to out-negotiate Theo Epstein and many of the other GMs.

* Finally, please send your best wishes… to Roberto Baly of Vin Scully is My Homeboy, who is dealing with some health concerns. Roberto runs a great blog and is by all indications an even better person, and we all wish him the best.

Dodger Interest in Ryan Dempster Apparently Strong, But Should it Be?

I suppose I can avoid the Ryan Dempster rumors no longer, given that they seem to become louder each & every day and now that ESPN’s Buster Olney is claiming that not only are the Dodgers & Red Sox both in on him, a trade could happen in the next 10-14 days. (Standard “I could make up a rumor that claims an unsourced person in the industry wants to trade a cat for Cliff Lee and have it go viral” disclaimer here.)

When we learned that the Dodgers had made an offer to Roy Oswalt and were showing at least some mild interest in John Lannan in recent weeks, I’d been pretty clear that I didn’t think the idea of getting another starter made sense, at least not ahead of getting a desperately needed corner infield bat. Given that Ted Lilly‘s injury didn’t seem to be serious and that Nathan Eovaldi‘s presence made the rotation six deep, spending prospects on pitching which is likely to be highly priced in the market seemed like a low priority.

While I think we all agree that offense is a bigger need, I’m starting to soften on that front. We’ve learned over the last few weeks that while Lilly isn’t likely to require surgery, he still doesn’t even have a timeline to begin throwing, much less return to the team. It seems clear that at this point, he’s not going to come back until at least the All-Star break, and potentially further than that. Given the ongoing concern about Clayton Kershaw‘s plantar fasciitis, the extensive injury histories of Chris Capuano & Aaron Harang, and everything else that’s happened to this team so far, it’s not alll that hard to see a situation where you have John Ely and/or Stephen Fife in the rotation, and that’s not a place anyone wants to be in.

Yet while there’s an argument to be made that added depth is worthwhile, that wouldn’t be my main goal in adding a starter. This Dodger rotation is built pretty well for the long haul of the season, as the top six starters can all give you a chance to win when they’re on the mound; there’s no “good lord, I can’t believe we’re really throwing out Ramon Ortiz or Brett Tomko or D.J. Houlton” situations here. But they may not be built as well for the playoffs, since I can’t say I’d feel really comfortable with any of the other guys after Kershaw matching up with the #2 starters they might see if they’re lucky enough to make the playoffs.

Does Dempster satisfy that need? I’m not sure that he does. At 35, he’s having a solid enough season, though not nearly as good as his 2.11 ERA would indicate (in much the same way he wasn’t nearly as bad as his 4.80 ERA last year would seem to say). As he’s aged, his velocity has declined and he’s attempted to make up for it by throwing his slider more than ever, though this has resulted in fewer swinging strikes than he’s ever had; he’s succeeding mostly this year on career-low and completely unsustainable levels of BABIP (.235) and HR/9 (0.67). It’s really, really hard to think he’s going to keep that up all season long, and there’s published reports (again, to be taken with an enormous grain of salt) that the Yankees may not see him as an upgrade on any of their five starters. That’s a New York squad which has Ivan Nova, Hiroki Kuroda, & Phil Hughes all showing FIP of 4.45 or above, by the way. If postseason experience is something that matters to you, Dempster’s lone October start in his long career lasted just 4.2 innings in the 2008 NLDS, during which he walked seven and allowed a grand slam to our good friend James Loney. (That alone should probably disqualify him, Dodger fans.)

That’s not to suggest I wouldn’t like Dempster at all, because I would; his 3.24 FIP would actually be the best of any Dodger starter right now. Obviously I don’t believe he’ll be that good going forward, but I’m a bit reluctant to go solely by his career stats, given that the guy in his early 20s who was routinely walking four or five per nine with the Marlins before he became a closer bears little resemblance to the Dempster we see now. Since returning to the rotation with the Cubs at age 31 in 2008, he’s been a 3.75-ish FIP pitcher, and there’s room for that in most any team’s rotation. (How exactly he’d fit into the current Dodger rotation, which has no one with a FIP worse than Lilly’s 3.86 and no obvious candidates for removal unless there’s a secret injury or you’re adding a Cole Hamels-like ace, is another discussion entirely.)

So while the idea of getting Dempster seems fine, it’d just have to be for the right price. That’s where the problem could be, since while I can’t pretend I have any inside knowledge of negotiations, I’d want to do exactly the opposite of what Chicago apparently wants. The Cubs, desperate to infuse talent into a largely barren farm system, are reportedly willing to eat a large portion of the approximately $8m remaining on Dempster’s contract in order to get better prospects. That may interest teams on a tight budget, but these are the new Dodgers, apparently flush with cash. If you must get him, I’d much rather simply pay Dempster while sending Chicago a lesser player, though of course who knows if the Cubs would even go for that.

While I like Dempster well enough, I just don’t see him as being enough of a difference maker or improvement on what the Dodgers already have that you absolutely have to outbid Boston and whomever else to send your top prospects to Chicago for half a season of his service. If you’re looking at a Cubs pitcher, Matt Garza is preferable, since he’s long been a favorite of mine, is coming off a strong season, and is signed through next year. But that all makes his price somewhat astronomical, and it’s hard to look past the fact that he hasn’t been better than Chad Billingsley either this year (3.73 FIP for Billingsley vs 3.88 for Garza) or over their careers, which both began in 2006 (3.71 for Billingsley, 3.97 for Garza).

As I’ve said in the past, I don’t mind trading just about any prospect, no matter how highly rated, in the right deal for the right player. I see the motivation to add to the rotation, and I see the appeal of Ryan Dempster. I just don’t see the point in trading top prospects for another older pitcher who doesn’t seem to be an obvious and season-changing upgrade over what you have or someone who is going to match up with other #2s like Gio Gonzalez or Madison Bumgarner. If you want to trade for Dempster, fine. If you want to trade for an ace like Hamels or Zack Greinke, also fine. Let’s just keep in mind that these are two entirely separate paths that should require two strongly different levels of effort, interest and return, because while Dempster is nice, he’s unlikely to be the difference between this club winning and losing the World Series.