MSTI’s 2009 in Review: Second Base

85toppsorlandohudsonOrlando Hudson (B-)
(.283/.357/.417 9hr 62rbi)

It’s one thing to get off to a hot start, and it’s quite another to introduce yourself to your new team by hitting for the cycle in the home opener, isn’t it? Despite the fact that I was so fervently against giving Arizona a first round pick to sign him in the offseason, even I had to give him props when he hit .332/.407/.469 through the first two months of the season.

But there was a big problem with that outstanding start to his Dodger career, and it’s that his amazing first impression seemed to color everyone’s impression of him for the rest of the season. I started getting worried about him as far back as July, when I was doing our mid-season reviews and giving him credit for his nice first half. In the same review, I pointed out:

So why just the B grade? Because while Hudson may have made an enormous first impression (come on, a cycle in your first home game for your new team? Who does that?) I think it may have obscured just how horrible he’s been over the second half of the first half. (Shut up, that’s a thing.)

Apr. 6 – May 13: 35 games, .348/.429/.539
May 14 – Jul. 10: 49 games, .237/.300/.320

For some reason baseball-reference hasn’t updated to include yesterday’s games yet, so I am missing his 2-homer outburst in that latter section, but still: the difference is glaring. You’d like to think that was the start of something, because at some point he’s going to need to turn this around, or all of the good feelings of April are going to dissipate.

Hudson picked it up some from his horrible June stretch, but an OPS that had been over .900 in May still fell to as low as .768 in September. With Ronnie Belliard’s contributions upon arriving, it was absolutely the right decision to bench Hudson for him.  So what we ended up with was a year that was average overall (104 OPS+, exactly in line with his previous years), but was put up by two completely different players. But hey, at least he cost a first round pick! Let’s hope that can be recouped by offering him arbitration, especially since in regards to any possibility of a return next year, I’d say this quote from Baseball Prospectus about sums it up:

Second baseman Orlando Hudson, stung by being benched in favor of Ronnie Belliard in the playoffs, has no desire to re-sign with the Dodgers as a free agent.

Fine by me, because he was good, but not great. Thanks for the season, Orlando, especially for being a complete professional about being benched (Hudson has always had a fantastic reputation in that sense), and best of luck in your non-Dodger future. But mostly, best of luck to the Dodgers in terms of recouping the draft picks and getting more bang out of second base next year.

85toppsronniebelliardRonnie Belliard (A)
(.351/.398/.636 5hr 17rbi)

It’s tempting to compare Belliard to the last late-season veteran import from Washington, Marlon Anderson, but what Anderson did was so far out of whack that it’s hard to compare anything to that. Still, Belliard was fantastic upon his arrival in LA – especially compared to the less-than-enthusiastic welcome I gave him: 

Well… I guess? I suppose this is related to Ken Gurnick’s report that the Dodgers were looking for a run-producing bat off the bench, but I’m not exactly sure that this qualifies. 

Still, I am proud that I was able to point how hot he’d been in Washington out:

Though Belliard’s had a few roughly league-average seasons, he’s hitting a brutal .247/.297/.376 this season, almost exclusively as a second baseman and pinch-hitter. To be fair, since his OPS cratered at .459 (!!) on July 1, Belliard’s hit a nice .323/.380/.475 in 35 games (20 starts).

Which is basically the line that he was able to produce in LA, just with even more added power. Joe Torre got a lot of heat for starting Belliard over Hudson in the playoffs, but when one guy is so hot and the other is so cold – and there’s not a huge difference between them anyway – you can’t be faulted for that.

For next year, I’m not really dying to have Belliard back – his performance in LA is hardly sustainable – but it wouldn’t surprise me all that much if he won people over with his hot September.

85toppstonyabreuTony Abreu (so long!)
(.250/.455/.250 0hr 1rbi)

Ugh. This one is going to kill me. Well, gee, let’s see. You’ve got a giant hole at second base opening up after the season. You’ve got a talented young player who’s finally overcome injuries and is dominating at AAA, and even has already had a taste of the majors, to boot.

And… you trade that young player to a division rival just so you can get 6 decent starts that you probably didn’t really need, especially when Jon Garland didn’t even appear in the playoffs.

Look, Abreu may not be a superstar, though there’s something to be said about a middle infielder who has a .916 OPS in AAA in 2007, misses all of 2008, and then returns to be even better with a .999 AAA OPS. (Yes, I know Vegas and Albuquerque inflate offensive stats somewhat – still, those are good numbers.) For 6 relatively meaningless starts of Garland, you’ve just handed this player to the Diamondbacks.  I hated the trade from Day 1, saying:

Look, if it’s Abreu, I’m going to be really unhappy. He’s a 24-year-old with a .991 OPS in AAA this year, and looks to finally have put his career back on track after two years of injuries. With Orlando Hudson headed back into free agency this offseason, I was strongly in favor of letting him walk and giving Abreu a crack at the second base job. Now – again, if it’s him – the Dodgers have just handed a division rival an excellent prospect for 5 mediocre starts of Jon Garland?  

Survey says… We’ll of course have more to say on this once we know who the player is going back to Arizona. Right now, the feeling is more “worried” with a good chance of “horrified“. 

Yep. “Horrified” is about right. What an awful move. Then again, with all we’ve learned about the issues in the owners’ box, this might be another instance of Colletti’s hands being tied by cheap management. The D-Backs took on all of Garland’s remaining salary for the chance to get back a better prospect, just like how the Indians did for Casey Blake to get Carlos Santana. Please, why won’t they sell?

Next: Casey Blake’s beard! Mark Loretta’s corpse! Blake DeWitt’s frequent flyer miles! It’s third base!

NLDS Game 3: Let’s Finish This Off Tonight, Shall We?

I still haven’t gotten over how Game 2 ended, and it’s been nearly two days. Even moreso, I still can’t comprehend the fact that this series – which, even though we laughed at the pundits predicting a Cardinal sweep, we knew would be a difficult battle – could be wrapped up today.

I’m incredibly interested to see how Cardinal fans recieve Matt Holliday tonight. My prediction? He gets the largest ovation in the house. That’s partly because St. Louis baseball fans have such a great reputation of being welcoming, but also partly because I’m sure they don’t want to lose him for the rest of the series – and kill any chance they may have had of re-signing him this offseason. It should be noted, though, that while we’ll all remember Holliday’s gaffe for years, it’s hard to put the blame entirely on him. As Cardinals blog Viva el Birdos notes:

That said, his error Thursday meant that, rather than having a 100% chance of winning the game, we “only” had an 86.7% chance of winning the game. Many have pointed out the obvious – that if Holliday catches the ball, we win the game. Well, if Ryan Franklin gets either of the next 2 hitters out – Casey Blake and Ron Belliard, btw (not exactly A-Rod and Teixeira!) – we win the game also. And if he gets only 1 out of the next 4 hitters out – Blake, Belliard, Russell Martin and the always potent Mark Loretta – we go to extra innings and still have a chance. Ryan Franklin’s transgressions were much greater than Holliday’s.

That’s not how it’s going to look in the history books, but it’s 100% true. Speaking of closers, anyone still complaining about Jonathan Broxton, by the way? I thought not. Even the LA Times is doing favorable stories about him now, which they should have been doing all along.

*****

Tonight, we’re looking at Vicente Padilla against Joel Pineiro, and I have to admit I have absolutely no idea what to expect from either one. If “Adam Wainwright vs. Clayton Kershaw” was a hot matchup between two young stud pitchers, “two guys who got unceremoniously dumped by AL teams in recent years” isn’t quite the same thing.

Pineiro was another one of Cardinal pitching guru Dave Duncan’s famed reclamation projects, and won 15 games with a 119 ERA+ this year. But there’s a lot more to it than that, because A) his worth two months of the year were August and September, as he had a 4.64 ERA in those two months, alternating good starts (3 times allowing just 1 run) with bad (allowing 7 ER twice and 4 ER three times). And B), Pineiro’s been rocked by the important cogs in the Dodger lineup. If there’s ever a time for Manny to bust out of his slump, facing a guy who he’s hit 4 homers and put up a crazy .424/.500/.788 line in 38 plate appearances would be a hell of a start. Casey Blake’s been great as well (1.226 OPS in 22 PA), well everyone else has had relatively small sample sizes, except for Jim Thome, who’s unlikely to face Pineiro anyway.

padilla.jpgOn the other side, Vicente Padilla is making his playoff debut. He was great for the Dodgers down the stretch, and absolutely dominating (10 K in 5 IP) against Colorado on the last day of the season, pitching himself into this start. What’s really interesting, though, is Padilla’s history against the Cardinals. He’s faced just eight of them, and we can eliminate four of those based on being backups or pitchers (Joe Thurston, John Smoltz, Jason LaRue, and Troy Glaus). Against the remaining four?

Mark DeRosa – .523 OPS in 24 PA
Albert Pujols – 1.000 OPS in 9 PA
Matt Holliday – .542 OPS in 8 PA
Julio Lugo – .583 in 10 PA

Other than DeRosa, those are all pretty small samples, but three of the four have performed poorly and Joe Torre seems determined – rightly, I’d say – to not let Pujols even have a chance to hit. So Padilla will be facing 7 guys who’ve either never seen him at all or very few times, 1 guy who he owns (DeRosa), and the pitcher. How many times have we seen the Dodgers get dominated by guys they’ve never seen before just because of unfamiliarity? No one’s ever questioned Padilla’s stuff, so that combination could lead to great things tonight.

*****

While I of course want to see the Dodgers take the sweep tonight for obvious reasons, I will put out there that there is one nice silver lining if they lose, and that’s that Chad Billingsley would get to pitch in Game 4 tomorrow. With Hiroki Kuroda’s availability for the rest of the playoffs still in doubt, Billingsley would presumably be lined up to be the Game 4 starter in the NLCS, scheduled for Monday, October 19.

Billingsley hasn’t pitched since facing the Padres on September 29, so if he doesn’t get to start tomorrow and then is asked to go in Game 4 of the next round, he’ll have had 19 days between outings. I don’t mind getting a young guy extra rest, but nearly three weeks between starts is a really tough request, not to mention one who’s had the issues that he had late in the season.

Letting him make a start tomorrow is not worth wanting to see this series extended, because if they lose tonight and he’s not sharp tomorrow we could easily be looking at a do-or-die Game 5 with a motivated-for-revenge Chris Carpenter on the mound, and no one wants that. It’s just a small positive that could come out of losing today’s game.

*****

As you’ve probably heard, Tony Abreu was officially traded to Arizona to complete the Jon Garland trade. I hated the trade when it happened, saying:

Look, if it’s Abreu, I’m going to be really unhappy. He’s a 24-year-old with a .991 OPS in AAA this year, and looks to finally have put his career back on track after two years of injuries. With Orlando Hudson headed back into free agency this offseason, I was strongly in favor of letting him walk and giving Abreu a crack at the second base job. Now – again, if it’s him – the Dodgers have just handed a division rival an excellent prospect for 5 mediocre starts of Jon Garland?  

Survey says… We’ll of course have more to say on this once we know who the player is going back to Arizona. Right now, the feeling is more “worried” with a good chance of “horrified“. 

So what did we get out of Garland? 36.1 IP over 6 starts. Five of those were decent before he imploded in his last one, but I haven’t changed my mind on this. The Dodgers will likely have a huge hole at 2B this offseason (I can’t see either Orlando Hudson or Ronnie Belliard being the Opening Day guy next year) and they handed a talented young player to a divison rival for 36.1 solid innings that had almost no bearing on the pennant race or, so far, the playoffs. Great deal, that.

What’s All This Now?

Looks like there’s some doings transpiring in the Jon Garland/probably Tony Abreu deal…

When the Diamondbacks agreed Monday to send pitcher Jon Garland and cash to the Los Angeles Dodgers for a player to be named, they expected that player to be Tony Abreu, whom they believed could be their second baseman of the future.

They also expected that Abreu would make close to the major-league salary minimum for two seasons and be eligible for salary arbitration the next three years.

What they did not know – and what the Diamondbacks believe they had no way of knowing, according to sources – was that Abreu and the Dodgers were nearing a settlement on a grievance filed in 2007 that would award him extra days of service time and could make him arbitration eligible in 2011 instead of 2012.

According to sources, the Diamondbacks believe the Dodgers did not act in good faith during the trade negotiations by failing to disclose the settlement, which could allow Abreu to earn millions of dollars more before he becomes a free agent.

Nothing like a good old intra-divisional slapfight, is there? So basically, if this settlement happens, the Dbacks would have to let Abreu go to arbitration a year earlier, which would cost them (probably) about $1-2m dollars.

But since I could care less about whether the Dbacks are whining, what could happen to the Dodgers here? The trade can’t really be undone, since Garland’s already pitched for the Dodgers (against the Dbacks, no less), so if Arizona files a grievance with MLB – which they haven’t yet – the most likely outcome is that the Dodgers might have to kick back some extra money to cover Abreu’s service time.

However, Arizona could also ask for a different player in return. So while there’s a slight hope that we might not yet lose Abreu (as you might remember, I thought he was far too much to give up) the downside of that is that it’s not likely they’d just be taking Mark Loretta back, and in fact the prospect might even be better. Something to keep an eye on…

In other news – Hiroki Kuroda returns tonight! And it’s on ESPN2! And Peter Gammons finally gives the NL West the respect it deserves! In part, he writes:

Two years ago, four of the five teams in the NL West had better than .500 records, and the Rockies and Diamondbacks played in the NLCS. This season, the Dodgers went into Saturday tied with the Cardinals for the best record in the National League and either the Rockies or Giants appear headed for the wild-card role in the National League playoffs.

On Saturday morning, only the Cardinals, Dodgers and Phillies had won more games than the Rockies and Giants. Yet, there is this the perception that somehow the National League West is some remote wilderness somewhere between the Pacific Coast League and the Alaskan League.

Damn straight!

Well, Now That I’ve Regained Conciousness…

I write a weekly Dodgers fantasy recap for Heater Magazine, and last night before I went to bed I wrote a short piece about how Ronnie Belliard was the big late-August trade acquisition. Hey, he even hit a homer in his first at-bat last night! Well, talk about having that shoved aside, because I nearly had a heart attack when I woke up to read the headlines and saw that the Dodgers had picked up both Jim Thome and Jon Garland. Say what you will about these deals – and we will – but no one can ever say that Ned Colletti’s not working his ass off to get things done, ever again.

Big splashes aside, these trades come with two completely different reactions. Remember, every trade now has to be judged not only on the talent given up but how much money was or was not taken on, in addition to how much it helps the club . So let’s start with Thome.


thomewhitesox.jpgDid we need him?
Hah. You think? Thome may not be the player he once was, but save for an injury-shortened 2005, he hasn’t hit less than 20 homers since 1993, when he got into just 47 games as a 22-year-old Indian. His OPS+ hasn’t been less than 120 since 1992, again excepting 2005. So yeah, the man can hit. Even at 38 years old this year, he’s got 23 homers and an .864 OPS. As the 12th-leading homer hitter of all time who’s almost completely avoided the taint of the steroid era, he’s a no-doubt Hall of Famer.

It’s true that he’s been almost exclusively a DH in recent years, so unfortunately he won’t be taking his 130+ OPS point advantage to replace the disappointing James Loney. Though Ned Colletti says that he won’t be a first baseman, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him get at least a few innings throughout September just to see if he’s passable, with Loney in reserve for defense. Whether or not he can play there in October is TBD (probably not), but either way the bench just got a huge boost. And if you don’t think a power pinch-hitter is worthwhile, just ask Jonathan Broxton how he felt about Matt Stairs last October. Besides, if the Dodgers do make it to the World Series, we just replaced Juan Pierre at DH with Jim Thome. How’s that for improvement?

But the money… Thome’s only got about $2.4m left on his deal before he’s a free agent this winter, and the Chicago Tribune reports that the White Sox are picking up at least part of it. So the financial obligation shouldn’t be a huge issue here.

So the talent going back… I use the word “talent” loosely here, because no offense to Justin Fuller, but guys who are 26 and hitting .254 as a backup in A-ball aren’t exactly top prospects. I can honestly say I’d never heard of him before today, and now that I’ve researched him I don’t even feel a twinge of loss. It’s basically a free pickup.

Survey says… Giving up zero talent and (presumably) paying less than $2m for a massive improvement to your bench headed into the playoffs? Oh, you better believe that’s a win

Moving on to Garland…

garlanddbacks.jpgDid we need him? Well, last winter this would have been a “yes”, when we all saw inning-eating issues in the future and I advocated signing him for just that reason. So, yeah, we needed him in January. We needed him in April. We probably needed him in July. But now, when it’s already September? What’s he going to have, 5 starts? Maybe? That’s nice and all, but with the division lead back up to 5.5 games and Colorado imploding, the playoffs seem safe. Vicente Padilla and Charlie Haeger aren’t All-Stars, but they’re serviceable to get through the month, and Hiroki Kuroda might return as soon as this weekend.

It’s not like Garland’s starting in the playoffs; Wolf, Billingsley, and Kershaw are your obvious top three, and if Kuroda’s as healthy as he seems to be you can’t see Garland getting the call over him for a Game 4. So this is just “September depth”.

Jon Garland’s not a guy who makes a difference in the short term. He’s a guy who can reliably take the ball every 5th day and provide average or slightly above performance over the long haul. I’m not saying there’s not value in that – there definitely is – but he’s also not someone you should be targeting in the late part of the season. But, okay, he’s not terrible, so let’s see what was given up to get him…

But the money… Well, the Diamondbacks are picking up every last penny. Hooray! A free pitcher! Wait a second. Aren’t the DBacks cash-strapped? And isn’t this how the Indians ended up with Carlos Santana for Casey Blake – because the Dodgers didn’t want to pick up any salary, so they give up a better prospect than they had to? Uh oh…


abreuwalksaway.jpgSo the talent going back…
It’s officially still “a player to be named later”, though Steve Gilbert of MLB.com is reporting that Dodger players believe it’s Tony Abreu. That’s hardly a confirmation, so I’ll withhold judgement until we hear that it’s actually the case. However, it would make sense; if it’s a PTBNL, it’s likely because the player would have to clear waivers first, and with the Dodgers needing to make the deal before the deadline to have Garland playoff-eligible, they made the deal this way until the player clears (or until after the season, if he does not.)

Look, if it’s Abreu, I’m going to be really unhappy. He’s a 24-year-old with a .991 OPS in AAA this year, and looks to finally have put his career back on track after two years of injuries. With Orlando Hudson headed back into free agency this offseason, I was strongly in favor of letting him walk and giving Abreu a crack at the second base job. Now – again, if it’s him – the Dodgers have just handed a division rival an excellent prospect for 5 mediocre starts of Jon Garland?  

Survey says… We’ll of course have more to say on this once we know who the player is going back to Arizona. Right now, the feeling is more “worried” with a good chance of “horrified“. 

Our Long National Nightmare is Over

(This has to be at least the third time I’ve used that line on this blog, right? Guess I’m just a sucker for Nixon references.)

Ken Gurnick with the news on today’s roster move:

To make room for Thursday starting pitcher Vicente Padilla on the 40-man roster, the Dodgers placed Jason Schmidt on the 60-day disabled list, effectively ending his tenure with the club. Schmidt is in the final season of a three-year deal and has hinted he will retire. He went 2-2 in four starts last month, but was placed on the disabled list with recurring shoulder problems. In three seasons with the Dodgers he won a total of three games and had two shoulder operations. The Dodgers also optioned infielder Tony Abreu to Triple-A and he is expected to return Sept. 1 when rosters expand.

Not that any of this was anything but completely expected, but it sure is good to know that we’ll never have to suffer through Jason Schmidt in Dodger blue again. No hard feelings, of course, because we know that he did everything he could to come back and it just wasn’t there – but man, was that some of the most painful pitching you’ve ever seen? Actually, I kind of wonder what he’s doing right now; if he’s still rehabbing or if he’s packed up and gone home.

It’s less than an hour until Padilla-time, and for the record, no – I don’t care that he’s a jerk. If he can pitch, great. If not, lose him.

By the way, how great would “Dodgers go into Coors Field and take two of three from baseball’s hottest team” look as a headline to all those who predicted impending doom?