Dodgers Finally Say Goodbye to Chin-Lung Hu

Finally, some news to break the holiday doldrums. According to the official Dodgers Twitter feed, Chin-lung Hu has been traded to the Mets for minor league lefty Michael Antonini.

This comes as no surprise, of course. Hu is out of options and had done little to force his way into a big-league roster spot, though it must be noted that the Dodgers often let useless veterans get chances before him. Between the need to open up a 40-man roster spot and the very small likelihood that Hu was making the big club, he was almost certainly going to be moved before the season started.

That being the case, you wouldn’t expect to get back much of a prospect, and Antonini, an 18th-round pick in 2007, isn’t great. He wasn’t even mentioned in Baseball Prospectus’ look at the Mets top 20 prospects last week, and while the Dodger tweet mentioned his “4.04 career ERA”, much of that was accumulated at the lower levels. In two brief tastes of AAA the last two seasons, he’s been lit up, allowing a 1.556 WHIP and 12.4 hits/9. I can’t find much scouting info on him, but considering he’s a lefty with good control (7.0 K/9, 2.1 BB/9 over his career), I’m guessing that means he’s a soft-tosser. Albuquerque will love him, and he’s basically a non-entity.

Still, as far as mediocre non-prospects go, you may prefer the lefty starter with good control over the slick-fielding shortstop who can’t hit, if you have a preference at all. Really, this is a low-impact trade, as trades come. The only worry here is that with Hu gone, and assuming that Ivan DeJesus does not make the team out of camp, is this another step in the direction of wasting a roster spot (not to mention oxygen) on one of the worst players in big league history, Juan Castro?

******

Totally unrelated,  but the Brewers signed former Dodger Takashi Saito to a one-year deal for a base salary under $2m today. Saito will be 41 soon, and his arm is held together with jelly beans and masking tape. He also had a lower WHIP and more than double the K/9 rate that Matt Guerrier did last year. So tell me this, would you rather have given Saito ~$2m for 2011, or Guerrier $12m for 2011-13?  Especially when ESPN’s Buster Olney spends half his column today talking about how three-year deals for relievers, especially non-elite ones, almost never work out?

Dodgers of the Decade: Closer

1%! Paul Quantrill edges out Guillermo Mota by 1%! That’s just three votes.

Dodgers of the Decade team:
C: Russell Martin (68%)
1B: James Loney (62%)
2B: Jeff Kent (88%)
3B: Adrian Beltre (80%)
SS: Rafael Furcal (87%)
LF: Gary Sheffield (62%)
CF: Matt Kemp (94%)
RF: Shawn Green (79%)
LH starter: Clayton Kershaw (56%)
RH starter: Kevin Brown (42%)
LH reliever: Hong-Chih Kuo (57%)
RH reliever: Paul Quantrill (33%)

Well, here’s where the real fun begins, as we choose the last player for our All-Decade team. The Dodgers have had four outstanding closers in the 2000s, and the latter three are in some ways historically good. How can you even choose? Also, Yhency Brazoban!

Did you know that 28 different pitchers recorded a save for the Dodgers in the last ten years? With apologies to Alan Mills, Jesse Orosco, and Steve Schmoll, here’s the five guys who managed at least 20 total saves.

Closer

Eric Gagne (293 games, 2000-06)
Dodger stats: 24-20, 161 saves, 3.34 ERA, 121 ERA+, .650 OPS against
WAR: 10.6

Takashi Saito (180 games, 2006-08)
Dodger stats: 12-7, 81 saves, 1.95 ERA, 226 ERA+, .511 OPS against
WAR: 8.2

Jonathan Broxton (133 games, 2005-09)
Dodger stats: 19-12, 55 saves, 2.92 ERA, 146 ERA+, .591 OPS against
WAR: 6.1

Jeff Shaw (117 games, 2000-01)
Dodger stats: 6-9, 70 saves, 3.89 ERA, 106 ERA+, .710 OPS against
WAR: 1.5

Yhency Brazoban (116 games, 2004-08)
Dodger stats: 10-12, 21 saves, 4.70 ERA, 88 ERA+, .778 OPS against
WAR: -0.8

Top three seasons
4.3 WAR Gagne, 2003
3.7 WAR Saito, 2007
3.2 WAR Gagne, 2002

Now that’s a tough choice. Gagne obviously had what may have been the most dominating stretch by a closer in history, but we also are pretty sure how exactly he was able to pull that off. Saito came out of nowhere and only lasted just more than two years as the closer, but it’s hard to ignore how dominating he was. And Broxton currently holds the Dodger record in K/9. Imagine if Gagne had been healthy in 2006? You could have had all three of them in the same bullpen.

Chew on this one through the weekend, friends, as MSTI is out of town.

With the game on the line, who’s your man of the decade?

[polldaddy poll=2454465]

Coming and Goings

Let’s catch up on some of the fun that’s been going on in this, the most boring hot stove season in years…


steroidsball.jpgComing: Guillermo Mota
Hey, remember Mota (shown at right)? Lights-out setup man for Eric Gagne in 2003? Part of the controversal deal that sent Paul LoDuca to Florida in 2004? Well, pending a physical (presumably looking for track marks), he’s going to be back in Dodger blue in 2009. No, it’s not a coincidence that I mentioned all-but-confirmed ‘roid abusers like Gagne and Paulie, because Mota actually got caught with the stuff and lost the first 50 games of 2007. You think Gagne’s career fell off the rails to injury and ineffectiveness after he stopped with the helpers? You think LoDuca’s short peak ended pretty quickly once he went back to doing it all naturally? Let’s look at this fun “Gee, You Think Steroids Helped?” timeline:

2006, April-August: 6.21 ERA, 1.699 WHIP for Cleveland. Mota, your stats… woof.
2006, August 11: DFA’d by Cleveland.
2006, August 20: Acquired by the Mets.
2006, August-Septmber: 1.00 ERA, 0.833 WHIP for the Mets.
2006, November 1: MLB announces a positive test from “sometime” during the 2006 season and hands down a suspension.

Gee. You think steroids helped?

As for the actual signing, it gets a solid “meh”. I don’t know what the contract details are, but it’s unlikely to be a huge amount of money, and Mota was basically average last year. But do we really have a shortage of guys who could do exactly what he could, for less money and without his history? I suppose we can hope that he’s going to be the next Giovanni Carrera-type who only pitches well as a Dodger. 

Going: Derek Lowe
No surprise that he wasn’t returning to LA, but I am surprised that he did actually get up to $15m/year, getting $60m over 4 years from Atlanta. Unless I missed something, wasn’t his only other offer about $30m over 3 years from the Mets, which may have not even been officially tendered? As I detailed here several months ago, I really am going to miss Lowe, and the rotation’s going to be worse off without his solid reliability and occasional brilliance. But at his age and at that salary, I’m not too disappointed – that’s higher than I was willing to go for him. Really, after how badly DePodesta was bashed for giving him $36m/4 years in 2005, who’d have thought that four years later he’d be nearly doubling that salary? Enjoy Atlanta, Derek. Can we please go get Ben Sheets now? Thanks. 

Coming: Mediocre Retread Starters
Welcome, Shawn Estes. Over there, Claudio Vargas. Now paging Jon Lieber and Kip Wells. I know we hit the proverbial “old busted dude” jackpot with Chan Ho Park, Aaron Sele, and Scott Erickson, lately, but how many times are we going to keep going to that well? For every Park there’s a Jason Johnson or Esteban Loaiza. Ah, hell, whatever. Short money and non-guaranteed deals. Let’s get that welcome mat ready for Kris Benson and Josh Fogg.

saitofistpump.jpgGoing: Takashi Saito
So long to one of my favorite players. How can you not like a guy who comes over to America in his late 30s after a relatively average career in Japan only to dominate the bigs? I was singing his praises back in 2007, just after we launched (yeah, weird formatting on that one with the move to MVN, I guess). I can’t overstate this enough – his 2007 was better than any season Mariano Rivera has ever had, and Rivera’s going to the Hall of Fame. I really believe one day we’re going to look back and be simply amazed that we had Saito and Jonathan Broxton in the pen at the same time. Between his elbow injury and his age, I think we all knew it was basically a foregone conclusion that he wasn’t coming back for a while, but still, it’s sad news.  

Really, I’m just going to miss the happy first pump after every successful save. We’ll miss you, Sammy. I hope your arm doesn’t land outside of Jillian’s on Lansdowne Street.


michaelyoung.jpgNot Coming: Michael Young
At least, not if I have anything to say about it. The Texas shortstop has requested a trade after the Rangers *gasp* asked him to move to third base. Hey, good luck with that, guy. You’re going to be 32, on a four-year slide in OPS+ (131, 108, 107, and 96), immensely helped by your home park, and about to start a ridiculous $60 million contract extension. Not only that, you’re an overrated defensive shortstop (Gold Glove be damned, FanGraphs actually has him at a negative rating) and your reputation is taking a hit because of your balking at this request to help your team. I particularly like this quote from an unnamed GM in today’s Buster Olney blog:

“Put it this way,” one GM said. “If the Rangers offered up Michael Young for free — with that contract, I don’t think there would be any takers.”

What does this have to do with the Dodgers? Because, of course, they keep popping up on the list of Young’s possible suitors after he said he’d move to second base in order to faciliate a trade. You know what? Forget the home park helping his stats, and forget the immense contract. Just look at the lines:

22 year old, “overmatched” rookie Blake DeWitt: .264/.344/.383
31 year old, All-Star super veteran Michael Young: .284/.339/.402

Look at that. DeWitt actually had a better OBP and a competitive SLG, and that’s including the two solid months he was completely awful that led to his demotion. If Michael Young could only just barely outperform DeWitt while playing in Texas, why would we want to have him at another year older and not playing in that bandbox? Not to mention, the extra $60 million. So, no thanks. Enjoy Texas, Michael.

Jason Repko Lives to See Another Day

As you’ve probably heard, the Dodgers non-tendered five players, making them free agents: Takashi Saito, Angel Berroa, Scott Proctor, Yhency Brazoban, and Mario Alvarez. Forget Alvarez and Brazoban, because Alvarez is a minor leaguer who’s injured (but hey, at least we let him eat up a roster spot while losing Wesley Wright to Houston) and Brazoban is a fat tub of injured goo who’s made it into 11 games over three years. So no big losses there, unless you count the only guy in the room who might have made Andruw Jones feel svelte.

As for Saito, Proctor, and Berroa, this doesn’t necessarily mean the end of them in Dodger blue – but it does mean that any team can now talk to them. For Berroa, that makes complete sense, because after the Dodgers declined his $5.5 million option (!!!) they would have had to offer him at least $3.8m because there’s only so much you can cut a player’s salary in his situation. Considering I don’t think Berroa’s worth $3.80, that’s a pretty easy decision. Proctor, well, you know that Joe Torre will do whatever he can to ensure he’s back. Hell, if Proctor signs with another team, I half expect Torre will quit and try to go get that job.

saito.jpgAnd then there’s Takashi Saito, who by some measures has been the best closer in baseball over the last three years. Just a bizarre situation all around, here. Usually you can look at a baseball or financial decision and draw comparision to similar choices in the past. But can you name any other soon-to-be-39 relievers who don’t have free agency rights who’ve dominated the opposition, yet choose to avoid elbow surgery with experimental injections of blessed pig’s blood? (Okay, it was stem cells.Whatever.) If the Dodgers decided it was time to part ways because of his injury, that’s fine – but they had offered him a contract that was deemed unacceptable by Saito’s agent, which sounds like they’re relatively confident he can pitch next year.

Usually, I’d attack the Dodgers for letting a valuable piece go over a relatively small amount of money, but not this time. Arbitrators like to look at fancy numbers, and Saito certainly has that. It’s not unreasonable to think that he might have received $5 million next year, and that’s too much to gamble on a guy who might never throw another pitch. It used to be that players who were non-tendered weren’t allowed to sign with their old teams before May 1, almost guaranteeing they wouldn’t return. Fortunately that’s no longer the case, so hopefully Saito won’t want to start over somewhere else at this stage in his career and we’ll see him come to an arrangement with the Blue.

But who did get tendered an offer? Jason Repko, of all people. Now I like Jason Repko, I do. It’s just odd to see a team make sure to keep a guy who gets injured at a level that’s Nomar-esque and has a career OPS+ of 76. Actually, Nomar-esque might be insulting to Nomar – Repko missed all of 2007 and has only 148 MLB at-bats in the last three seasons. That said, a .373 OBP in AAA this season is pretty tasty, and with a track record like his he can’t stand to make a lot in arbitration.

On the other hand, teams don’t usually offer arbitration to guys who they plan to keep in the minors all season long, and as we all know the Dodgers have a ton of outfielders, and possibly one more on the way. Maybe our prayers for getting rid of Jones or Pierre really will be answered!

Let’s Make Today Kershaw’s Last Start

Coming into today, Clayton Kershaw’s up to 151.1 innings pitched (90 MLB + 61.1 MiLB) on the season. Last year, entirely in the minors, Kershaw accumulated 122 innings, so he’s almost exactly 30 innings ahead of that pace. As we discussed briefly last week, it’s generally accepted that when young pitchers add more than 30 innings or so to their innings total from the year before, they’re entering the danger zone in which arm injuries become even more likely – and some take the view that he should be shut down for the season right now to protect that arm. Now, the Dodgers have said all year that 170 would be his limit, so he’s got about 19 innings left before we really start to get into trouble with him. He’s averaging 5 innings per start, so let’s assume that after today he’ll be up to 157 or so – although in his only other start at Coors, he only managed to make it through 3 innings, giving up 10 hits and 5 runs.

So why not take him out of the rotation after today? No, I’m not going to be so naive as to assume the division title is already sown up, though with each passing day it does look more likely. But if Kershaw’s only got 13 innings left on his arm this year, wouldn’t you rather use them in more important situations? Like out of the bullpen in October, or possibly starting a Game 4 in the NLDS? The Dodgers have a decent enough cushion to work with where they can reasonably take their 4th best starter out of the rotation in order to protect his arm. It’s not like there’s not a plethora of other starting options (Brad Penny, Eric Stults, Jason Johnson, Chan Ho Park, etc.) who could step in for a start or two.

Again, I won’t go so far as to call these games “meaningless” because we’ve all seen how quickly the tide can turn with this team. I’d just rather have the dual benefits of protecting the most valuable young arm in the organization and further strengthening what is already one of the best bullpens in baseball.

Speaking of improving the bullpen, welcome back Takashi Saito! After two months on the DL, he’s expected to be activated today. Of course, someone’s got to be dropped off of the 40-man roster to make room for him, and since the only man left on the 15-day DL (Jeff Kent) isn’t going to be moved onto the 60-day DL, it means that someone is going to have be DFA’d. To which I say, it has to be Pablo Ozuna, right? He’s only had 18 at-bats since coming to LA nearly two months ago, and since neither Nomar nor Chin-Lung Hu can buy their way into a game up the middle, it’s not like there’s not enough depth there to withstand his “loss” – especially with Rafael Furcal expected to be activated soon, and Kent perhaps soon after that.

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