On Reported Dodger Interest in Torii Hunter & Everyone Else

In the midst of all the fun over the posting of Hyun-Jin Ryu and reported Dodger interest in Kevin Youkilis, now there’s this: the Dodgers are also interested in Torii Hunter, and may in fact have already offered him a two-year contract, which now frees them up to trade Andre Ethier & Juan Uribe to Seattle for Felix Hernandez & Dustin Ackley & Taijuan Walker & the 1994 version of Ken Griffey, Jr. and a big basket of puppies, and…

…and let’s just stop right there and try to regain some perspective.

We’ll return to Hunter in a second, but with the offseason rumor mill already working at hyper-speed  it’s important to step back and remember the rules of the road here. Hearing that “team X checked in on player Y” should barely even be reason to stop what you’re doing. Every team makes contact with every player they have even the vaguest interest in, because if they don’t, they’re not doing their job. Yes, the Dodgers checked in on Hunter. And Zack Greinke. And Anibal Sanchez. And Kyle Lohse. And Dan Haren, and just about everyone else. It’s the way things work. As Ken Rosenthal noted, at least ten teams have made contact with Hunter. Just because the Dodgers were one of them doesn’t suddenly mean Ethier is being traded, and Dylan Hernandez checked in to say that Hunter’s agent actually approached the Dodgers; I’ve verified independently that a contract was never offered, and Hunter himself confirmed that.

Nor, it should be noted, does this suddenly make Ethier a trade candidate. I know, I know: most of you don’t like his contract. While I was hardly a huge fan of it, the simple fact of the matter is that the team doesn’t view it as a bad contract, especially because this isn’t a leftover from the McCourt years, this was signed with the new regime in charge. Ethier’s done nothing since then to change our fundamental understanding of what he is, which is a fan favorite who murders righties, cannot hit lefties, and gets his share of bumps & bruises.

If you think that a team like Tampa is dying to pick up that contract and send back James Shields in return, think again; that’s just now how it works. Besides, I’ve long contended that if you simply stop forcing him to hit lefties, his numbers will skyrocket. While “platoon outfielder” may not be optimal for that amount of money, I doubt anyone’s complaining if he hits .300/.350/.500 next year facing mainly righty pitching.

Anyway, back to Hunter. While it’s very unlikely that he’d join a crowded Dodger outfield, since he’s coming off one of the best seasons of his career and likely wants a guaranteed starting job, the appeal here is obvious. The Dodgers clearly need A) an insurance policy for Carl Crawford in left, B) someone on the roster who can handle center now & then to keep Matt Kemp fresh, and C) a righty bat to make sure Ethier really can skip most lefties. Hunter is a perfect fit for each of those roles, he owns a home in Newport Beach, is good friends with both Kemp and Crawford, and after 16 years in the game, still hasn’t made it to the World Series. He’s not going to repeat his 2012, of course – helloooo .389 BABIP and declining K% & BB% rates – and at 37, there’s obvious risk of aging at a “guy who chooses poorly at the end of Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade” rate, which makes him more suited for a role in which he may not need to play every day.

So if you can convince Hunter that ~400 plate appearances for a good team with his friends is better than ~600 plate appearances guaranteed elsewhere, it’s a hole that needs filling. If not, I won’t shed a lot of tears that some other team gave a multi-year deal to a 37-year-old coming off an unsustainable season.

Either way, it’s almost certainly not a precursor to an Ethier trade, nor should it be; if Ethier is used properly, he’s all but guaranteed to be a more valuable player over the next several years. But considering what we’ve heard in the last hour or so that the Dodger interest in Hunter isn’t anywhere near what it was originally reported, it’s a good reminder of how crazy things can get this time of year.

Let's Spend Millions on Center… wait, what?

Sure, we just went through some unbelievably insane rumors a few days ago. Now that I’ve had the weekend to recover from that idiocy, I thought we’d look at some of the rumors bouncing around about one position: center field.

“But MSTI,” you say. “I thought we had a center fielder. And I thought we just signed him to a expensive long-term deal only one year ago. He’s still got 4 years and $36 million left. Why would we be throwing more money into center field?”

“Well, there’s an easy answer to that. Juan Pierre, as you may have read, is very bad at the game of baseball. Very bad. You’ve seen the Native American who cries, ostensibly because of littering? He doesn’t care about non-biodegradable trash. He’s just watched Juan Pierre go 0-5 with 4 flyouts to right, and seen a runner tag from first on a short pop to center.”

That said, that hasn’t stopped the rumors from flying about the Dodgers pursuing one of the big ticket free agent centerfielders, namely Torii Hunter, Aaron Rowand, or Andruw Jones, and then moving JP to left (which would be a terrible idea) or dealing him elsewhere somehow (would would be the greatest coup in sports history, regardless of what was coming back.)

So here’s my thing: if we can move JP to another team/league/sport/planet, then I don’t really have a problem with putting some money into a centerfielder, with Ethier and Kemp in the corners beside him. Unfortunately, since Pierre is so overpaid and unproductive, I’ve got to think that moving him is very unlikely – especially since it would represent Colletti admitting a big ticket mistake.

But moving Pierre to left, a free agent to center, and Ethier or Kemp to the bench? A horrible, terrible, wildly inefficient idea. Let’s see:

OPS, 2005-07
Jones: .848 (but coming off a .724 in 2007)
Kemp: .840padres_dodgers_baseball_6_400.jpg
Ethier: .822
Hunter: .822
Rowand: .797
Pierre: .694

2007 EQA (includes park adjustments)
Kemp: .294
Rowand: .294
Hunter: .278
Ethier: .269
Jones: .251
Pierre: .248

Age on Opening Day 2008
Hunter: 32
Rowand: 30
Jones: 30
Pierre: 30
Ethier: 25
Kemp: 23

Contracts/Rumored Demands
Hunter: 6 yr/ $90 mil
Rowand: 5 yr / $60 mil
Pierre: $44 mil due through 2011
Jones: who knows, but a boatload
Ethier: minimum salary for 2 more years, ineligible for FA until at least 2011
Kemp: minimum salary for 2 more years, ineligible for FA until at least 2011

What does this prove? Well, besides for Juan Pierre being a really, really bad signing last year. Seems pretty obvious to me. We’ve got 6 players to consider. 4 are 30 or over. The same 4 are receiving or will recieve mammoth salaries. Then there’s 2 players, both 25 or under (i.e., likely to improve over time, unlike the 30+ players), who are making the minimum and are under Dodger control for the next several years. Not only are they young, cheap, and likely to improve, but they’ve already equaled or outperformed some of the bigger names on the list – and that’s even taking into account the fact that each of them has suffered through some rookie/sophomore slumps and managerial lack of confidence.

The answer, as always is – Juan Pierre sucks. Sorry, I meant “play the awesome young kids you have instead of pouring millions into players who aren’t very likely to outperform them.” I don’t mean to come off like I want the Blue to be a small-market team and not spend money – I thought last year’s signing of Jason Schmidt was a great signing (doh!), and I also liked the Furcal signing a few years ago. Except, in each case, the big ticket signing filled a need. In this case, there’s no need to spend millions on players who aren’t likely, over the life of the contract, to do better than the players you already have who you are paying minimum wage to.

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

It's Crazy Rumor Round-Up Time!

Holy Christ, are there some awful rumors floating around. A LOT of them, actually, and unfortunately they all make me feel as ill as the thought of a Roseanne/Rosie O’Donnell/Barbaro threesome. And that’s not even considering any of the Alex Rodriguez rigamarole. Where to start?

First we’ve got the ongoing Miguel Cabrera rumors. Now, the Miggy talk is something we’ve already discussed on here, and basically I felt that because the cost would be so exhorbinant, we might as well just stick with Andy LaRoche, who as you may have heard is raking in winter ball. But it was interesting none the less to think of what exactly it’d take to get him. Obviously, he wouldn’t come cheap. But I didn’t think it’d take roughly the gross domestic product of Canada, which is what the Palm Beach Post has to say:

The Dodgers would have to give up four players from a group that includes pitcher Chad Billingsley, pitching prospect Clayton Kershaw, third baseman Andy La Roche, first baseman James Loney and outfielder Matt Kemp. The Dodgers probably would balk at giving both Billingsley and Kershaw in the same deal because it would hurt the organization’s pitching depth.

Four! Is the Palm Beach Post on the Marlins’ payroll? First of all, Clayton Kershaw has to be off the table in a deal for any player. By every single account, he is the best pitching prospect in the minors, and could be ready as soon as the end of next season. You do not give those guys away. But even without him, Billingsley, LaRoche, Loney, AND Kemp? I’m having a hard time even rationally discussing this due to howcramer.jpg incomprehensibly ridiculous the thought is. You can include ONE of that group, and then some second-level guys like Andre Ethier, James McDonald, etc. Guys who would be top-level talent in organizations not as deep as the Dodgers.

You know what? Let’s just move on from that. My brain can’t handle this mind-blowing stupidity.

Speaking of mind-blowing stupidity, Tim Krasovic of the San Diego Union-Tribune, come on down! You’re the next contestant on “The Price Is In No Way Going to Be Right!”

Responding to Colletti’s preference for veterans, the Padres are contemplating three-team trade scenarios that would bring them young Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp.

Oh really? Are they? What could the Padres possibly have in mind that would convince Colletti to trade Kemp to a main rival? Jake Peavy, certainly, but I can’t see any scenario in which that happens. I know it says “three-team trade”, so some other team would be sending us the return for Kemp, but still; it’s not like we wouldn’t know where he’d be going. I can’t imagine that Colletti would willingly deal Kemp knowing that he’d just end up right down the road in San Diego, helping that horrible sand-colored team that always seems to have our number.

Moving on to our favorite FOX Sports midget, Ken Rosenthal! Ken, what wild story have you dreamed up today? Perhaps Jorge Posada to push Russell Martin to the bench? Maybe convincing Darren Dreifort to come out of retirement?

The signing of Hunter would force Pierre to left field, with Kemp and/or Ethier in right. Hunter might not be as dynamic offensively playing his home games at Dodger Stadium. But for the Dodgers, a center fielder who has averaged 30 homers and 103 RBIs the past two seasons would be a modern-day Duke Snider.

It’s almost too obvious.

The Dodgers should sign Hunter.

Ken’s FOX Sports cohort Dayn Perry completely agrees, which sort of makes me wonder if they had some office meeting to decide what sort of rumors they’d start this year.

Juan Pierre is still under contract, but he’s a massive liability for the Dodgers. He’s terrible at the plate and roundly overrated with the glove. Yes, he’s only one year into that deliriously stupid five-year, $44 million contract, but it’s time to treat him as a sunk cost. That means unloading him for whatever you can get (rosin bags, used jocks, canned wine) or relegating him to a reserve role. Playing Pierre on a daily basis will only compound such a bad decision. Throughout baseball last season, only the White Sox endured worse production from center field, so the Dodgers badly need an upgrade. That brings us to Hunter. Defensively Hunter is exceptional, and he’d also provide L.A. with some much-needed power. Hunter’s also more of a known quantity than the other premier center fielder on the market, Andruw Jones.

Well. I hate to say it, because I usually disagree with Dayn Perry on an everyday basis, but those are good points. Then again, when your point is “Juan Pierre sucks”, you don’t exactly have to work overtime to talk me into it.

As for Hunter? I’m sort of indifferent. He doesn’t really excite me. He’s good, but he’s not great. Sure, he’s a fantastic defensive CF, and he’ll get you 20-something homers a year. But he’s already 32, and the thought of giving huge money to a guy for his age 33-36 years – especially when his defense is such a big part of his game, and when the legs go the defense often does too – is a scary thought. Especially when we’ve got outfielders *coughDELWYNYOUNGcough* who can crush the ball but still aren’t getting a chance. I guess I’d say, if Pierre can be dumped, I wouldn’t be adverse to spending some money on Hunter in CF. But I’m firmly against the “Pierre in LF” idea. Just when you thought you couldn’t drop his value any lower.

Let’s wrap this up with one more batshiat-insane rumor! Show me… Mariano Rivera! Who the Yankees have apparently offered 3 years at $15 million per year, making him the highest-paid closer of all time by nearly 30%. Except, Rivera hasn’t jumped at it, for some reason. Why? Well, Ken Rosenthal thinks he has the answer:

The Yankees’ three-year, $45-million offer to free-agent closer Mariano Rivera was more than generous. Rivera’s $15 million average salary would dwarf that of the highest-paid closer, Billy Wagner, who is earning $10.75 million per season.

Rivera, who turns 38 later this month, mentioned possibly joining Joe Torre and the Dodgers to the Associated Press. The Dodgers wouldn’t pay Rivera nearly as much as the Yankees, but the idea that they wouldn’t have interest in him due to the presence of closer Takashi Saito is ridiculous.

Imagine a bullpen anchored by Jonathan Broxton, Saito and Rivera, one of the best closers in the history of the game. The Dodgers wouldn’t need to worry about their rotation as much, would they?

Fact: Mariano Rivera is the best closer of all time.

Fact: His stats show a disturbing downward trend over the last three years, and Takashi Saito was unquestionably better than Rivera in 2007.

Between 2005-07, Rivera’s ERA, WHIP, and, of course, age have all increased. Saito, on the other hand, was dominating. (Sidenote: I don’t think we give Saito enough credit for how good he was in 2007. His WHIP was an otherworldly 0.715. By comparison, the best WHIP Future Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera has ever had? 0.868).

Not that Rivera wouldn’t make a nice addition to the bullpen and all, but A. if he’s turning down $15 million/year from the Yankees, what would he want from us? and B., I would not boot Saito from his role for Rivera. I don’t care who’s the bigger name. Saito is the better pitcher right now. And I can’t see Rivera deigning to be a setup man. Especially since we already have Broxton squarely set in that role.

Well, that was fun. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go curl up in a ball in the corner for fear that any of this might actually go down.

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