Dodgers Beat Me to the Punch, Demote Jerry Sands

No one’s going to believe me on this, but I was just now halfway through writing a post about how the Dodgers should demote Jerry Sands to Albuquerque and recall Trent Oeltjen to take his place. Halfway is apparently as far as I’m ever going to get, because Dylan Hernandez reports that the Dodgers have done just that. Predicting an otherwise out-of-nowhere move? Sounds award-winning to me.

Anyway, I’ve been okay with the idea of Sands getting sent down for some time now, and I’d fully expected him to be shipped out for Marcus Thames last week rather than Jay Gibbons. In fact, at the time I wrote that I’d had to shelve a post explaining why Sands should go that I was never able to use. Here’s the remnants of that draft:

I’m sure that many of you will find this to be a horrendous miscarriage of justice. You’ll wonder why the Dodgers just sent down the player with their second best May OPS. You’ll use this as further evidence that the Dodgers value mediocre veterans over talented young players. And you’ll wonder why Thames is even worth a roster spot in the first place.

These are all valid concerns. Believe me, when I flip on the game, I’d much rather watch Sands than Thames, Jay Gibbons, or Tony Gwynn, in much the same way I’d rather see Ivan DeJesus get a shot instead of Aaron Miles, or a potted plant instead of Juan Castro. I’d rather see players who could be a big part of the future than players that have no future here and barely even have a present. But I’m also not sure I can get on board with this being such a terrible idea.

On May 22, Sands went 4-4 in Chicago in an 8-3 loss to the White Sox, which was the game that saw both Rod Barajas and Andre Ethier collect minor injuries. Since then, Sands has just three hits in 35 plate appearances, dragging his season line down to .200/.294/.328. That’s not entirely fair, as that line represents his entire year, and he definitely showed large improvement in May as opposed to April.

(I updated the numbers in that last paragraph to reflect the last few days.)

Numbers aren’t everything, of course. When Sands arrived, we heard a great deal about his maturity, ability to make adjustments, and command of the strike zone. From this vantage point, all of what we’ve heard has been true and then some. Before his recent slump, he’d shown an increased ability to pull the ball, rather than always going the other way, and even when the power wasn’t there he was seeing a lot of pitches and getting on base.

By sending him back down now, you hope that he goes down knowing he can play on this level, with a few adjustments. This is where the maturity comes into play; some rookies can’t handle a demotion well, but Sands sounds like the type who can. Ideally, he goes back down to ABQ, mashes Triple-A pitching for a while to get his confidence back up (also important, as you don’t want a string of oh-fers in the bigs to get him down), and then we’ll see back up later in the summer. I’d say “when rosters expand on Sept. 1″, but I think we all know that injuries will necessitate a recall sooner.

Besides, not saying goodbye to the minors for good after making your big league debut is hardly the sign that a player is unable to be a productive major leaguer. Matt Kemp came up at 21 in 2006 and in his first 50 plate appearances, he wowed with seven HR and a 1.287 OPS. Over his next 83 plate appearances, he struck out 30 times with no homers and a .539 OPS, as pitchers realized he couldn’t lay off breaking balls low and away. That got him a ticket back to the minors until rosters expanded, and I think it’s worked out pretty well for him. The same can be said for Clayton Kershaw, who got a three-week trip back to AA after eight starts of varying quality in 2008.

So go ahead and be disappointed, because the part of me that watches the team everyday is as well. Just keep in mind that this is almost certainly the right thing for Sands long-term, and that’s where the focus of this team ought to be right now.

That’s how I felt a week ago, and nothing has changed today. Sands is a big part of this team’s future, and it’s in his best interest to go back down and get his confidence back up. He’s not helping the team right now, and he’s not helping himself. He’ll be back, and he’ll be better for the experience.

As for Oeltjen, the Australian lefty appeared in 14 late-season games for the Dodgers last year, and has been terrorizing AAA pitching to the tune of .339/.429/.583 this year. It’s to be expected that we consider that an ABQ creation and while it’s true he’s been ridiculous at home (.382/.451/.607), he’s still been productive on the road (.297/.407/.560), with his eight homers split evenly. He’s not likely to see much playing time, but he can spot at all three outfield positions and is likely to be a Gibbons-esque lefty bench bat. To make room on the 40-man roster, pitcher Luis Vazquez was DFA’d.

Winter Meetings, Day 3 (Updated)

Yesterday, I was stuck in a work meeting for two hours and then was out of touch with “real life” obligations for about three hours. Based on my history, I half expected to come back and find that James Loney and Jamie McCourt had been traded to Miami for LeBron James and Ricky Nolasco.

Instead, we got Tony Gwynn, Jr. Hmmph.

Let’s kick off the third day of the winter meetings with a roundup of a few things from yesterday. As I have all this week, I’ll update this post with rumors and news as they happen.

Update, 9:31am PST:

Jayson Stark with some disheartening news about Matt Diaz

Matt Diaz turned down more $ from #Dodgers than he got from #Pirates because he wanted to stay on east coast & train in Florida.

Not a whole lot you can do about the “prefers East coast and Florida” thing, and I suppose it’s good that the Dodgers at least put a dela out there. Just crazy to imagine that a player chose less money in Pittsburgh than more money in Los Angeles.

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Original post:

Jon Weisman at Dodger Thoughts with an interesting thought about Gwynn’s one good aspect, his defense…

Defensively, Gwynn’s another story, as he was arguably the best center fielder in the National League last season.

So if the Dodgers plan on using Gwynn as more than a fifth outfielder, should they not play him in center field, either moving Matt Kemp to left field or Kemp to right and Andre Ethier to left?

Just as you shouldn’t bat a great offensive player eighth, shouldn’t you avoid minimizing the impact of a fine defensive player?

The Dodgers’ 2011 lineup may be the most OBP-challenged we’ve seen in Los Angeles in some time. If the plan is to win with pitching and defense, while hoping that Kemp, Ethier and others hit a few home runs along the way, the Dodgers should seriously consider using Gwynn in center.

This makes all the sense in the world, honestly, and it will of course be Gwynn in the middle when Kemp sits. I’m just not sure I can see the club pushing Kemp to LF (or RF, with Ethier to LF) for the sake of Gwynn. Kemp & Ethier may not be happy with the shuffling on a daily basis, and rookie manager Don Mattingly is already going to have to deal with as many as four time-share positions. That just means I don’t expect to see it, not that I don’t agree with it.

Buster Olney:

Russell Martin‘s negotiations have reached the point where teams are making offers to his agent, Matt Colleran; NYY, Bos center of mix

We also heard yesterday that the Dodgers haven’t spoken to Colleran since Martin was non-tendered. I’d say he’s as good as gone at this point.

Tony Jackson:

Trent Oeltjen, a seldom-used outfielder from Australia, agreed to terms on a minor league deal that includes an invitation to big league spring training. The Dodgers signed Oeltjen on July 6, four days after he was released by the Milwaukee Brewers organization, and promoted him on Sept. 7 from Triple-A Albuquerque to the majors, where he hit .217 with a .357 on-base percentage in 14 games for the Dodgers.

I’m pretty fine with this. Oeltjen mashed in the minors, and didn’t totally embarrass himself in the bigs. ABQ needs players too, and he’ll likely put up big numbers there. You could do worse as depth should injuries strike during the season.

Less interesting is the other minor-league news Jackson brings, from the same column…

Also, the Dodgers are in negotiations on a minor league contract with longtime major league infielder Juan Castro, who potentially would be joining the organization for the fourth time. Castro played in one game for the Dodgers on Aug. 15 after being released by the Philadelphia Phillies, then was sent to the minors. The Dodgers tried to call him up in September, but discovered he was ineligible due to a rule technicality.

What is the infatuation with Castro? He could never hit even at his peak, and he’ll be 39 this year. He’s not even a great fielder anymore, and while I get it would be just a minor league deal, we all know that veterans like this signed to minor league deals always find their way up to the bigs. If he takes even one inning of playing time away from Ivan DeJesus or Chin-lung Hu, in the minors or majors, it’s too much.

Jackson also reported that the Dodgers made a call to the Royals to inquire about Zack Greinke. I’m glad they’re doing their due diligence, but there’s just not a fit there. The Royals probably wouldn’t want Chad Billingsley, who’s getting expensive and closer to free agency, and while I’m sure they would want Clayton Kershaw, Kershaw is arguably as good or better than Greinke is right now. If the Royals want to take a package built around Dee Gordon and Chris Withrow then fantastic, but that just doesn’t seem reasonable. Don’t hold your breath on this one.

Finally, Matt Diaz signed with Pittsburgh, which is unfortunate for those like myself who wanted him as a righty outfield bat. With Gwynn in the fold, the Dodgers absolutely have to get a righty outfielder, but the choices are dwindling. Bill Hall? Jeff Francoeur? Austin Kearns? Lastings Milledge?

MSTI’s 2010 in Review: Center Field

Matt Kemp (D-)
.249/.310/.450 .760 28hr 2.3 WAR

Hoo boy. Where do I even start with this one? Remember, Kemp came into the season as arguably the best center fielder in baseball, and most thought that he’d only scraped the peak of his potential. So to say that expectations were sky-high is largely understating it, and he certainly got off to a start that would justify such hype, hitting seven homers in a ten game stretch in April.

I know April 21 is hardly any sort of sample size into a season, but it’s important to remember how in love we were with him at the time:

Matt Kemp may be the single most dangerous hitter in baseball right now, to the point where I’m getting prettttty close to not issuing my standard “non-Pujols division” disclaimer. He’s tied for the MLB lead in homers, he leads MLB in RBI, and he’s one game short of having a hit on every single day of the season. (And even in that game, on April 9 in Florida, he had a walk and three deep flyballs.) He’s homered in 5 of the last 8 games, and his slugging percentage right now is .750. If that number doesn’t mean anything to you, just know that if he was able to keep it up throughout the season, it’d be tied for the 11th highest mark in baseball. Ever.

Of course, no one ever expected he’d keep that up for a full season, but in the back of our minds, we allowed ourselves to remember that this was someone we’d all hoped would break out, not just some no-name who’d had a few fluky hot weeks. Near the end of April, on the 28th, he had a .934 OPS… and then Ned Colletti had to go call him out for his subpar baserunning and defense, which seemed like a ridiculous statement at a time in which the Dodgers were imploding in nearly every way. It’s like I said on April 30:

I think what got lost in Colletti’s comments is that he’s not exactly wrong. Kemp has looked horrendous in the outfield this season, and I can’t put my finger on exactly why that is. I do think part of it is that after years of his defense being underrated, coming into this year he was now overrated, since he never really deserved last year’s Gold Glove in the first place. The Gold Glove voting is such a fantastically flawed process (it often just goes to the best hitter at a position) that it’s barely even worth recognizing, yet most fans still take it to mean something.

Still, that doesn’t absolve Kemp. His play on defense has been lousy, and it needs to change. But being right doesn’t absolve Colletti either; the whole point of yesterday’s post was not that Kemp’s play isn’t a problem, but just that the general manager of a team – one who’s made more than his share of mistakes – shouldn’t be publicly calling out the best player on his team without mentioning the horrible pitching that Colletti himself assembled, or the dozens of other far more pressing issues.

Kemp didn’t quite keep up his scorching April, but he was still quite good in May, getting a hit in 23 of 28 games and ending the month with an .857 OPS. But it was all downhill from there; Kemp didn’t have a month with an OBP over .300 for the rest of the season. In early June, I wondered if he’d been playing too much, but the shit really hit the fan in late June when he got into a confrontation with bench coach Bob Schaefer and was benched. That wouldn’t be a big deal, except that it wasn’t one game, it was three games – and Joe Torre said that it would have been longer if Kemp hadn’t come to him to talk, as though that makes any sense.

Kemp briefly perked up, hitting three homers in his first five July games – and earning Torre a lot of undue credit – but it was short-lived, as his July OPS was just .715. August was even worse, at .694, as the off-field issues continued when he was called out by Larry Bowa and had his agent, Dave Stewart, start to wonder aloud if Kemp ought to be traded. That’s about when people started wondering how to fix what had gone wrong.

ESPN’s Rob Neyer looked at Kemp’s relationship with the coaching staff:

I don’t have any idea, really. But you can understand the coaches’ frustration with Kemp just a little, can’t you? Larry Bowa and Bob Schaefer have been around the game forever, and they haven’t seen many players with Matt Kemp‘s raw talents. And it must be killing them to think he’s wasting it.

Which doesn’t mean they’re helping. Maybe Kemp would benefit from an attitude adjustment, but maybe that process would be facilitated by a coaching adjustment.

Which brings to mind a question that nobody seems to have asked … What’s Joe Torre been up to? In the spring, the general manager ripped Kemp. In the summer, the coaches ripped Kemp. Is Torre waiting for the fall?

Of course, that’s probably too late for the Dodgers, who have already fallen too far. Maybe the solution here is to keep Kemp and find a new coaching staff. Because the old staff doesn’t seem to have accomplished much this summer.

If you know me at all, you know I couldn’t possibly have agreed more with that. Later in August, Chad @ MOKM took a great and thorough look at Kemp’s issues, and settled on his mechanics as the culprit, but Kemp’s September wasn’t much better, with just a .664 OPS.

But there were signs of hope. On September 28, he homered in Colorado. The next day, he left the yard at Coors Field again, and took responsibility for his poor season, saying that he owed the fans more. The team came home for a season-ending three game set with Arizona, and Kemp homered in the opener… and the second game.. and the third game. That’s five homers in five games to end the season, and it was about that time I started thinking that everyone should just let him be:

No one doubts the talent is there, and Ned Colletti claims he has no plans to move him. His clashes with the current coaching staff have been well-documented – though he seems to have a good relationship with Don Mattingly – and if there’s anyone who looks to benefit from the post-Torre era, it might just be Kemp, my early choice for the “No, Chad Billingsley wasn’t dead after one bad year either, now was he?” award next year.

So yeah, Kemp gets that D-, and he certainly earned it with his poor defense (by some measures, he was the worst outfielder in baseball), atrocious base-running (19 SB, but 15 CS), and whifftastic tendencies (shattering the club record for K’s). I’m not defending his performance in 2010, but I think there’s a lot to look forward to in 2011. He ended the year on a great hot streak, Torre, Bowa, & Schaefer are all gone, he’s got a lot to prove after a poor year, he’s playing for a new contract, and he’s still just 26.

Besides, as far as “disaster” seasons go, you can do a lot worse than a 107 OPS+ and a career-high 28 homers. I’ve talked a lot about players I don’t expect to see much improvement from in this review series – like Russell Martin, James Loney, Casey Blake – but as I said in the last quoted piece above, Kemp’s got everything it takes to make 2011 a big year. Now let’s just leave him alone and let it happen.

Trent Oeltjen (inc.)
.217/.357/.348 .705 0hr 0.1 WAR

I just wrote 1200 words on Matt Kemp. Do you really care about Trent Oeltjen and the 30 meaningless plate appearances he got in September? Fine, fine, let’s make this quick. He was released by Milwaukee’s AAA club in July, with me laughing at his choice to join the Dodgers:

For the sake of completeness, let’s note that the Dodgers released Timo Perez from AAA and signed former D-Back Trent Oeltjen, who had opted out of his minor-league deal with the Brewers last week. The Australian native has had minor league OPS’s over .800 in each of the last three years, and had been on a hot streak recently. But it’s not his bat that denied him a call-up:

Oeltjen had been on an offensive tear with the Sounds, raising his batting average to .301 with 24 doubles, two triples, eight homers, 38 RBI and a .851 OPS. But his defense wasn’t considered major-league ready, so the Brewers opted not to call him up and move out one of their players.

“Our reports were that he was coming on dramatically with the bat,” said assistant general manager Gord Ash. “We liked him, obviously. That’s why we signed him. But as a defensive outfielder, he wasn’t what we were looking for.”

So after opting out of his deal, a man who clearly should have signed with an AL team in order to keep the DH option open not only stayed in the NL, but he signed with perhaps the only other team who can top Milwaukee’s level of outfield stackitude. Time for a new agent, maybe?

Oeltjen raked in ABQ, as everyone does, with an environment-fueled .979 OPS. That earned him a call-up in September, where he didn’t do all that much in his limited chances, but he did get four starts in center field, so his defense couldn’t have been all that bad. Honestly, he’s got a pretty decent track record of minor league hitting, and he’ll be just 28 next year; I can think of worse players to stash away in AAA as depth.

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Next! A tale of two Andre Ethiers! Xavier Paul tries to make his mark! And Reed Johnson‘s ridiculous facial hair! It’s right field!

Ronnie Belliard Gets a Pink Slip

Well, I can’t say I saw this coming:

Ronnie Belliard was designated for assignment and Trent Oltjen was called up from Albuquerque.

That’s via Ken Gurnick, and he means Trent Oeltjen, who we knew would be recalled yesterday.

Belliard’s incompetence is something I touched upon a few times this year, but probably never as much as it really deserved. I mean, since the beginning of July he was hitting just .175/.232/.222, with three extra base hits, and offering a lot of negative value on defense. His spot could have been put to better use months ago, and it wasn’t.

But what’s odd here is that Belliard’s being DFA’d in September, after rosters have expanded. As I mentioned yesterday, the 40-man is full, but one way to get around that would be to put Xavier Paul on the 60-day DL, since he won’t be back this season after suffering a neck injury. It’s the long-established m.o. of the Ned Colletti administration to keep as many players under club control as possible, sometimes going to absurd lengths to do so.

That wasn’t done here, and the timing of it makes me wonder. Just how much of Belliard’s continued employment was an attempt to make Manny Ramirez happy, since it’s well known that the two were good buddies? Manny’s been gone for barely a week, and now Belliard is out the door, despite no desperate roster need to do so, and no new on-field evidence to demand it (by that I mean, he doesn’t suck any more now than he already has all season).

I always figured that Belliard’s friendship with Manny was just a nice additional perk from a mostly useless backup infielder. Perhaps it was his only use to the club at all.

So That’s How You Stop a 10-Game Losing Streak

…you play the Dodgers. Vicente Padilla was allowed to go just 59 pitches deep, allowing three runs in four innings, before Joe Torre decided to empty the bullpen. Ronald Belisario, George Sherrill, Octavio Dotel, Jonathan Broxton, & Kenley Jansen all paraded in in hopes of keeping the game close; other than Broxton, all did, particularly Jansen, who struck out the side. Broxton’s velocity was there tonight, but his control was once again off, unless he really meant to park meatballs down the middle. At least we don’t have to hear people say “it’s the pressure of the 9th inning” tonight, right?

As for the offense? Well, nine hits is nice enough, but once again they didn’t do anything with them. One of the two runs came off of a Scott Podsednik homer, which would have been impressive if it weren’t so terrifying that it increases his chances of being retained to lead off every day in 2011. Besides that, John Lindsey didn’t get to bat off the bench, but Ronnie Belliard, Jamey Carroll, Jay Gibbons, & Reed Johnson all did, and not a single one got on base.

Really, it’s the same old same old. The pitching was acceptable, and the offense was useless. There really can’t be any argument that this lineup is not the same without Manny; now, since I said it was time to let him go I can’t complain about that too much, but it’s time to admit that it’s not happening this year, and to start playing some of the new guys. (Well, it was time for that a month ago, but still).

Considering that (other than the sweep of the woeful Brewers) the Dodgers have lost two of three in each of the last four series against NL contenders (CIN, COL, PHI, SFG), we can at least hope they’ll split the next two.

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Tony Jackson reports that Australian outfielder Trent Oeltjen will be called up from ABQ on Tuesday. He will be, I believe, the third fourth Australian to play for the Dodgers, after Luke Prokopec and Jeff Williams (and Craig Shipley, who I initially omitted). Williams somehow managed to play in parts of four seasons for LA (1999-02) without my having any recollection of him at all, though that’s probably because he pitched in just 37 games in that time, and it overlapped with my college career, in which I paid little attention to the FOX-led Dodgers.

As for Oeltjen, he was signed by the Dodgers in July after being released from Milwaukee’s AAA club. Oeltjen’s had his share of success at the plate, putting up OPS of .823, .862, and .906 in AAA the last three seasons, spent with farm clubs of Arizona, Milwaukee and LA. Judging by the quotes from Brewers exec Gord Ash that I linked when he was signed, he’s a pretty lousy defensive outfielder, which is what’s holding him back from the majors. (Though it didn’t stop him from starting four games in CF for the DBacks last year). The outfield is pretty crowded right now, so I doubt he sees much of a chance, but he’s auditioning for a bench job in 2011, just like everyone else.

The 40-man roster is full, so unless there’s an unexpected DFA in store, I’d think that Xavier Paul is called up and placed on the 60-day DL, as he’s out for the season with a neck injury.