Claudio Vargas, Really?

I’m not entirely sure I remember writing this on Twitter late last night, but apparently I did:

I could have sworn I just saw dodgers.com say Claudio Vargas may be the 5th starter soon. Clearly, I have alcohol poisoning.

Well, at least it was legible and without typos. And apparently it’s true:

Vargas could take over fifth-starter role

BOSTON — The Dodgers’ fifth-starter shell game has a new/old name in play: Claudio Vargas.

In his first start for Triple-A Albuquerque on Thursday night, the right-hander allowed one run on a solo home run in three innings, with four strikeouts and no walks.

Vargas was signed earlier in the week, two weeks after being cut loose by Milwaukee, where he had a 7.32 ERA in 17 relief appearances. The three innings was his longest outing of the year, an indication the Dodgers will try to stretch him out and make him a starter again.

I think the only indication here is that the rotation is in serious trouble, hurt by the injury to Chad Billingsley and the poor outings of John Ely and Carlos Monasterios – and that’s without having any idea how Vicente Padilla will do in his return today. I guess I don’t really understand why people are all that surprised Monasterios struggled last night; he’s a Rule 5 pick who’s striking out just 4.1/9. The fact that he’s been able to stick in the big leagues without completely embarrassing himself, and with some small successes, is remarkable in itself. It says far more about the Dodgers that he’s been asked to start so much than it does about him.

As for Vargas, well, why not? I actually was sad to see him go last season, mostly because the trade made no sense at all. It’s not like he’d come up until he shows he can get hitters out at AAA, so that’s at least a few more turns of the rotation.

Really, I think people are looking at the problem here in the wrong way. The issue isn’t really whether guys like Ely, Vargas, or Monasterios can pitch like All-Stars. They’re your #5 starter, and there’s plenty of teams in the bigs who have even larger issues at the back of the rotation. No, the problem is having more than one of them in the rotation at the same time. Now, part of that will be helped when Billingsley returns, hopefully as soon as his 15 days are up. But if and until Padilla proves himself… well, everyone seems to want the Dodgers to get a Cliff Lee or a Roy Oswalt. I’m not going to go through the reasons again why they’re so unlikely; we’ve been through that. But even if the Dodgers were able to get one of those guys, it likely wouldn’t be for another month. Maybe what they ought to be doing is getting a lesser veteran who wouldn’t cost as much – sort of like Jon Garland last year – right now, just to solidify things.

And no, I’m not talking about Pedro Martinez. I want someone who’s actually pitched this year. I’m talking more along the lines of (and I’m just tossing names out without really looking into salary concerns or doing a ton of research) Kevin Millwood or Jake Westbrook. They’re certainly not the piece that’ll push you to a championship, but they may be the stabilizing force in the middle of the rotation that will keep things from imploding until Billinglsey is healthy and you can work on getting a top starter.

(Although if you really want a good laugh, go read some of the jokers on the Dodger Facebook page, replying to the Vargas story. I’m not sure how some of these people managed to even turn their computer on; I particularly like the suggestion that the Dodgers should trade Vargas to Florida for Josh Johnson.)

Of course, Tony Jackson has the perfect last word on the situation:

Even when he is ready to go, well, he is still going to be Claudio Vargas.

Yep. He sure is.

******

Ramon Troncoso got rocked, again. Travis Schlichting was effective, again. Whether you think Troncoso’s problems are that Torre ran him into the ground, that he was never that good in the first place, or both, there’s a roster move to be made today to activate Padilla, and it makes no sense to keep Troncoso over Schlichting. I’m not saying you demote Troncoso, but at least come up with an injury to get him some time off and away from the mound.

******

I’m sure some people will read this as arrogance, but these anecdotes from Jackson’s story on Manny make me think that Matt Kemp is just hilarious:

Before any of the real reporters could approach him, a phony one did. Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp, holding his blue batting-practice bat like a microphone, immediately stuck it into Ramirez’s face and said, “How does it feel to be back in Boston?”

Ramirez gave Kemp about as much time as he was going to give anyone. After Kemp returned to the other side of the clubhouse, which was about seven feet away, he yelled at the assembled media, “Manny smells good today. If y’all get close enough, you can smell him.”

and…

When Ramirez stepped out of the cage after taking his first allotment of hacks, he received another loud cheer. Kemp, who had followed Ramirez into the cage, who had his right back pocket hanging out of his uniform pants and who, like Ramirez, was helmetless, stopped after one swing and turned to wave an acknowledgement to the crowd, feigning as if he thought the ovation was for him.

No complaints about immaturity, old people. That’s good clean fun.

******

Yes, I saw that Garret Anderson hit a homer last night, and yes, it is making me reconsider the DFA-o-meter on the right sidebar, though not for the reasons you’d think. I still think he’s awful and want him to get cut, but since I don’t think the team will ever actually do it, I’m not sure I feel like updating it for the entire season.

******

Hey, Nick Green signed with Toronto. Hooray! Gone for good.

Chad Billingsley Heads to the DL

Well, this came out of nowhere, and lets let Dylan Hernandez tell the story via Twitter:

Chad Billingsley to the DL with a groin strain.

Billingsley felt something in his last start, according to Torre.

Billingsley underwent an MRI exam on Sunday; no structural damage.

When I first heard Billingsley was going to the DL, my first thought was of course, “damn does Ned Colletti hate having to DFA anybody,” considering that the hot topic lately was who was going to be DFA’d once Vicente Padilla comes back this weekend.

That’s clearly not the case here, though. Regardless of how injured Billingsley is, you screw with fake injuries with guys like Charlie Haeger and Jeff Weaver, not a starting pitcher who – fairly or unfairly – is seen as being somewhat fragile.

I was going to discuss how this would impact the rotation, with Haeger, Scott Elbert, and James McDonald all unavailable for various reasons, but Jon Weisman already has the answer:

Joe Torre says Padilla is ready to go and will be activated. Ely Thursday, Monasterios Friday, Padilla Saturday, Kuroda Sunday

Yes, that means Rule 5 pick Monasterios will be starting in the first game against the Red Sox in Fenway, sure to be an outright circus. On the other hand, ESPN has the Boston starter for Saturday as “undecided”, so the Red Sox may not be in much better shape.

More immediately, there’s no word yet on who is being recalled. One would think that there’s no urgency to do so today as – with the game starting in 20 minutes in Cincinnati – there’s no one who’s going to be able to make it to the park. I’d guess we’re likely to see Jon Link or Travis Schlichting headed back up for the next few days, only to go right back down when Padilla is activated.

Update: Hernandez confirms that it will be Schlichting.

All Sorts of Moves

Talk about an active last 24 hours….

1) Travis Schlichting sent down, Charlie Haeger recalled. No surprise here, as we all knew Schlichting was gone as soon as he completed throwing four shutout innings in relief against Arizona on Wednesday. With the extra-inning games depleting the bullpen in the midst of a long stretch without a day off, you had to get a fresh arm up, and having a guy like Haeger makes sense.

Steve Dilbeck still hates it, though:

Almost sounds like they’re going to throw Haeger out there one last time to prove he cannot get it done. Somebody needs more evidence.

Haeger is a stand-up, competitive guy who would be the first to tell you he has pitched miserably. But he’s essentially a trick ball pitcher whose knuckleball hasn’t been tricky.

His time, I think, is running out.

…or maybe his rehab stint was coming to a close, and the Dodgers were forced to activate him or lose him, which is basically what Joe Torre said in that exact same article:

“We activated Haeger more out of necessity than really wanting to at this point,” Torre said. “I would feel a lot better if I was a little surer of his physical well-being, but after [Wednesday’s] game we’re kind of up against it.”

If the Dodgers were trying to “prove he cannot get it done”, wouldn’t you have just DFA’d him and brought up Jon Link? I can’t defend Haeger’s performance thus far, but if his foot injury was really a thing, he deserves a shot as the long man to see if he’s any better, especially in this time of bullpen need.

2) Josh Lindblom moves from the rotation to the bullpen. Chad is going to be thrilled, and I agree with him; Lindblom probably only has the stuff to be a mediocre starter, but he could be a solid reliever. It’s interesting what’s become of the ABQ starting rotation, though. Look what’s happened to the top five from the beginning of the year: McDonald (injured), Ely (promoted), Elbert (still there, but wild), Towers (released), and Lindblom (bullpen). There’s a few good relievers still there, but probably not a lot of help for the starting rotation unless we start getting into Seth Etherton and Tim Corcoran territory.

3) Jeff Weaver and Casey Blake move from the game to the bench. Weaver came into the game but left without throwing a pitch, thanks to a blister. Blake was scratched with back spasms. Neither seems serious.

4) James Loney moves… in exactly the same direction as always. Last winter in the Maple Street Press Dodgers Annual, I wrote that Loney’s 2009 was a season that “only a math major could love”, since he had exactly the same amount of plate appearances (651), homers (13), RBI (90), and steals (7) as he did in 2008. What’s he on pace for in 2010? 12 homers and 96 RBI. He’s like clockwork – though he does somehow already have 7 stolen bases, and I doubt he’s really going to hit his projected total of 21.

5) Manny Ramirez is moving… in completely the wrong direction. Since he returned from the disabled list on May 8, he’s hitting .188/.288/.304, with four extra base hits in almost a month. It’s starting to become worrisome. Everyone loves to yell “steroids!”, of course, but he’s also 38 years old. He’s a huge part of why the Dodger offense is struggling right now.

Tonight, Clayton Kershaw goes against Kenshin Kawakami, who’s having a pretty average season. His ERA is 4.66, his WHIP is 1.321, neither of which are great, but not terrible either. Yet his record is somehow 0-7. Prediction: he goes 6.1 innings, allowing 2 hits and a run.

Garret Anderson Walks Off

…unfortunately, not into the sunset. Still, he did just knock in the only run of a 14 inning game, so we’ll let him bask for one night, without focusing on his 1-6 with an error. But that’s all he gets, since I’m on line for Conan O’Brien right now.

(Also, cheers to Travis Schlichting, who probably punched his own ticket back to ABQ with FOUR scoreless innings of relief.)

MSTI’s 2009 in Review: Relievers, Part 3

Finally! This is the last player review segment of the year, and while I won’t pretend this one is the most interesting grouping of players you’ll read about all year, this whole series served its purpose. It allowed me to get some thoughts down on each player this year, and almost as importantly, helped fill some space between the end of the season and the start of the Hot Stove.

85toppscorywadeCory Wade (F)
(2-3, 5.53, 1.373 WHIP)

See Cory Wade in his picture over there? He looks sad. Sure, that’s a picture from 2008 (you can tell because of the 50th anniversary patch on his right arm), but maybe he just looks sad because he knows that his 2009 will in no way reflect his excellent 2008.

Really, Wade’s 2009 stands as glaring proof of two truisms: 1) that except for the best of the best, reliever performances are incredibly volatile year-to-year, and 2) Joe Torre tends to crush his new favorite toy like he’s Lennie in Of Mice and Men.

Thus, Wade’s problems were pretty clear this year. He couldn’t stay healthy (two trips to the DL for a right shoulder that bothered him even in 2008) and he wasn’t very good even when he was available (huge increases in BB/9 and WHIP, huge decrease in K/9). That being the case, part of his problems is that he was never as good as he seemed in 2008 – a .227 BABIP is completely unsustainable and was a large part of why the ERA that looked so good (2.27) was nowhere near what FIP said he should have been (3.78). This year, his luck completely changed, since the huge increase in BABIP to .294 helped turn an already lousy FIP (4.40) into a much worse ERA (5.57).

You have to wonder how much of the blame for his injuries should be heaped on Torre, because we tend to forget how much Wade was worked in 2008. Even in April, Kensai and I were both ringing the bell on this, as I said at the time

Wade’s pitched in four games this season, and has been great in three of them (three scoreless outings of an inning apiece, allowing two hits) and awful in one (three hits and two runs in 1/3 of an inning). The poor outing was the only one that came on a back-to-back appearance, and since this is apparently the same shoulder issue that bothered him last season and in spring, you have to wonder: should we be treating him as the right-handed Hong-Chih Kuo? I’d rather live with an effective Wade who’s not available as often as everyone else than no Wade at all. Some guys just aren’t built for the constant workload, and you have to wonder if Wade falls under that category.

Wade, of course, never did come close to regaining his form for the rest of the year, and even worse, was horrible in the minors – allowing 17 ER in 22.2 AAA innings. He’ll still just be 26 when Opening Day comes, so his time has hardly passed. But he’ll likely have to prove his health in the minors again before he gets another shot at what looks to be a pretty loaded big league bullpen crew.

85toppsbrentleachBrent Leach (?)
(2-0, 5.75, 1.377)

Brent Leach is a left-handed pitcher who appeared in 38 games for the Los Angeles Dodgers of Major League Baseball.

Okay, I was tempted to just go with the Wikipedia-esque description and leave it at that, because I seriously have no recollection of Brent Leach doing anything meaningful for the Dodgers this year. Did he really get into 38 games? Jesus. My top memory of Leach is mainly the firestorm Kensai unwittingly set off by discussing his wife’s hilarious blog (which I can’t seem to find the link to anymore).

As for his pitching, he got the call from Chattanooga because he was dominating down there (1 ER and 17 K in 13 IP). Before you get too excited about that, remember that this was AA and he turns 27, well, today. (Happy Birthday!) Once he got to the bigs the strikeout rate was nice (8.4/9) but the homer rate much less so (1.3/9) and the walk rate was pretty bad (5.31/9).

Actually, he looks to have had control issues his entire career – only in 2008, as a 25-year-old in High-A ball, has he ever really been able to keep it below a walk every other inning. Still, some lefties are known to develop late, and he appears to have the stuff to miss bats, so if he can ever get a handle on that control, he might actually have a future in a bullpen to be named later.

85toppswillohmanWill Ohman (F)
(1-0, 5.84, 1.622 WHIP)

Oh, Will Ohman. I had such high hopes for you. I actually had first brought him up way back in October 2008, before any rumors had attached him to the Dodgers, in my 2009 plan:

Ohman’s a 31-year old lefty reliever and Pepperdine alum who’s made it into at least 56 games in each of the last four seasons with the Cubs and Braves, with ERA+ marks of 151, 112, 94, and 112. Plus, he’s absolutely murder on lefties (.571 OPS against in 2008), which makes him unlike Beimel (who’s actually harder on righties) and Kuo (who kills everyone, but isn’t really a situational kind of guy).

So when he became another victim of the lousy free agent market and signed with the Dodgers late in spring training, I was thrilled (and had only mentioned it about eleven times in March during the whole song-and-dance).

But there were worries from the beginning. Having missed most of spring training, Ohman was behind in his conditioning and was hit hard almost immediately. In 21 games over the first two months, he got shelled, somehow allowing a .609 SLG and .979 OPS in that time. On May 29, he went on the DL with a sore shoulder, experienced pain in his elbow during the rehab, and finally ended up having shoulder surgery in September. So clearly, that didn’t work out, and his 2010 option was obviously declined.

Still, I’m sad it didn’t work out. He had high socks, which rule in their own right, but he was also one of the funniest players the Dodgers have ever had. You know it’s good when sportswriters are breaking their own rules by cheering for him, but also check out these two videos:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i4kkmlh92LA]

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WZWjdDTjtXw]

So long, Will.

85toppsclaudiovargasClaudio Vargas (C)
(0-0, 1.64, 1.000 WHIP)

Sometimes you sign a mediocre veteran to a minimum salary contract, and you hope for the next Chan Ho Park or Jeff Weaver.  Sometimes you get a nice surprise like that… and sometimes you get a guy who gets this written about him in spring training

I had a whole section on Claudio Vargas written out, mostly about how unlike Milton, Estes, and Weaver, he was given a major-league contract rather than just a spring training invite. But all that’s out the window after Monday, because Claudio Vargas has committed the unthinkable: he allowed a home run to our favorite fat sack of crap, Andruw Jones. That alone should disqualify him – and if it doesn’t, the three other homers he’s allowed in just 8.1 innings so far ought to. Odds: Andruw Jones’ weight times a hundred-to-1

…before being put on the 60-day DL with arm troubles, missing the first three months of the season. So to say Claudio Vargas was an afterthought is putting it lightly.

But then something crazy happened; when Vargas returned in July, he was good. Really good. In 11 innings over 8 relief outings, he allowed just 2 ER, struck out 10, and held opponents to a puny .184/.279/.263 (.542 OPS) line. Sure, it was only 11 innings, and nothing in his history suggested he could keep that up – I get that. Still, with the depleted Dodger staff at the time, any contributions were welcome.

So what happened? The Dodgers traded him for a 29-year-old backup catcher hitting .249 on Milwaukee’s AA team, Vinny Rottino. This didn’t make sense to me at the time

Believe it or not, Vargas has actually been pretty good for the Dodgers since coming off the DL. 11 innings isn’t much of a sample size, but he’s allowed only 11 baserunners and 2 runs in that time, with a nice 10/4 K/BB ratio. I’m hardly crushed that he’s gone, but did we really need Vinny Rottino? He’s 29 with all of 18 MLB games under his belt, and he’s so highly thought of that he’s being sent to AA. You almost feel bad for the guy, being a Wisconsin native and all, now being shipped out to Chattanooga.

No, what this feels like is a way to clear out a roster spot for George Sherrill, but there were better ways to do that. DFA Jason Schmidt, for one, and no, I don’t care that he’s tonight’s starter. Send down James McDonald or Scott Elbert, if you must, because you know that either one would be right back up in a week.

Vargas wasn’t great, but he was at least useful, while Vinny Rottino looks unlikely to ever play a single game as a Dodger. I hate to act as though I’m all worked up over losing Claudio Vargas, of all people, but this move just makes no sense at all.

…and it doesn’t make any more sense now. Vargas went to Milwaukee and continued to excel (1.78 ERA, .530 OPS against), Rottino went to Chattanooga, never to be heard from, and I still can’t find a good reason for any of it.

85toppstravisschlichtingTravis Schlichting (inc.)
(0-0, 3.38, 2.250 WHIP)

Signs that your newest reliever may not have been a top prospect: when MSTI’s first mention of him was pointing out that his Wikipedia page showed him as a third baseman for the Devil Rays. (Actually, it still does. Doesn’t anyone want to go fix that?)

Schlichting actually had a pretty nice minor league season (in 29.1 IP across 3 levels, he allowed just 3 earned runs), but the less said about his major league stint the better. He got into 2 June games, managing to walk 5 and allow a Ryan Howard homer in first major league at-bat. So, yikes.

Still, those minor league numbers are nice, and it’s important to remember that he’s only been a pitcher since 2007, having turned himself around from being a failed third baseman. He’ll likely start 2010 in the minors, but don’t be surprised to see him back in the bigs – and maybe even do well enough to get himself a real Wikipedia picture.

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So that’s it! We’re done with reviews. I suppose I should probably write something up for Joe Torre as well, and I probably will at some point.  Damn it, why isn’t there VORM for managers?