So Here’s Your Closer By Committee (Update: Kinda Not Really)

Hard to say this was entirely unexpected. Molly Knight, hit me:

Ned Colletti says Broxton is being removed as Dodgers primary closer until he gets his confidence back. Team will use Padilla/Brox/Kuo.

This sounds momentous. This sounds like Jonathan Broxton has lost his job. But don’t think you’re rid of him yet. Hong-Chih Kuo‘s on the disabled list through Friday at least, and must always be used tenderly. Vicente Padilla hasn’t gone on consecutive nights since 2001, and didn’t look any better than Broxton did last night. (This raises the fun question of who tonight’s closer is, assuming Broxton won’t go three days in a row and if Padilla’s not ready for back-to-back nights so soon off arm surgery. Mike MacDougal, anyone? Ugh.) So the big man is still going to get his chances, like it or not.

As for the idea of whether Broxton should be removed… well, you know how I feel by now. He’s not doing that well, he hasn’t for a while, he probably doesn’t deserve the job right now, and if there’s a better option, then by all means go for it. I’m just not sure that there is a better option, and I mainly find the timing of this odd. Half of my point after last night’s mess was that it shouldn’t have been seen as any sort of turning point. Broxton’s been several shades of mediocre all season, and he wasn’t really any better or worse than usual last night; if anything, you could argue that he was slightly better, because he didn’t give up a homer, merely a terrible walk and then a single to a great hitter. The only difference is that the luck that sustained him through the first five not-entirely-deserved saves failed him last night, thanks to Jamey Carroll and Jerry Sands. So to make an announcement, especially on a night where Broxton was almost certain to not pitch anyway, seems needlessly premature. I’m sure it’ll satiate the masses’ lust for blood, however.

Update: So…

Broxton was told by Mattingly that he is still the #Dodgers’ closer.

Broxton heard TV analysts say #Dodgers would go to closer by committee. Mattingly called him into his office to clarify that wasn’t case.

That’s two tweets from Dylan Hernandez just now, claiming that everything you know is wrong. As I’d said above, the move didn’t really seem to make sense coming when it did. And… it didn’t come at all, apparently.

That said, I think we’ll still be having this conversation in a week or two.

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As expected, Xavier Paul didn’t make it through waivers and is now a Pirate, following in the footsteps of Andy LaRoche and Delwyn Young. The Pirates generally pick near the top of the waiver list so this sounds like Paul didn’t get that far down the list. Sad to see him be lost for nothing, though I’ll admit that neither Young nor LaRoche really worked out there. Best of luck, Xavier. ESPN’s Keith Law actually put some praise on him, noting that he’s better than an organizational guy, and could be a bench bat. That’s high praise from Law.

Vicente Padilla To Have Arm Surgery

It’s not quite Adam Wainwright possibly needing Tommy John surgery, but it’s also not good:

Vicente Padilla will undergo surgery on his pitching arm on Thursday to release a nerve that is entrapped by one of the deep muscles in his forearm.

The Dodgers have not set a timetable for his return.

You’ll remember, of course, that Padilla missed two months last year with – wait for it – nerve problems in his right arm. He was able to avoid surgery, and came back strongly, putting up a 1.80 ERA with a 52/13 K/BB in his first nine starts after returning.

It’s hard to say the full impact here until we know more details, though it should be noted that Padilla’s deal is heavily based on incentives. With Ronald Belisario still MIA, there’s now three potential openings in the pen, news which must make Blake Hawksworth, Ron Mahay, Scott Elbert, and the cast of thousands happy.

Who knew that the additional pitching depth would be tested by February 23?

Gaining Clarity on the Dodger Batting Order

About six weeks ago, I examined the Dodger batting order, wondering how this oddly assembled mismash of players would fit behind Rafael Furcal at the top. I reviewed some options, but basically determined that there was no perfect solution, particularly at #2.

Over the weekend, a story from Ken Gurnick of dodgers.com has helped us gain a little bit of insight into what Don Mattingly is thinking:

One day before he addresses the full squad for the first time as manager, Don Mattingly said Monday he plans to bat Ethier third and Kemp fourth and keep them there “all year long.”

Mattingly said he’s still thinking about Casey Blake as a No. 2 hitter behind leadoff hitter Rafael Furcal. That would likely mean James Loney following Kemp, with Uribe sixth, the left-field platoon of Marcus Thames/Jay Gibbons seventh and the catching platoon of Rod Barajas/Dioner Navarro eighth.

Ethier at 3 and Kemp at 4 is what I predicted in January, and it could be awesome, or it could just as easily be disastrous. Nonetheless, it’s an acceptable use of imperfect options, because we’ve known all winter that the success of the 2011 largely hinges on what you get out of those two. JaMarcus Gwybbons, Jr., at 7 and the catchers at 8 is also the best you can do with those subpar choices, so that’s fine as well. Loney at 5 and Uribe at 6 seems to also make sense, continuing the L/R balance of the lineup and pushing Uribe’s inferior OBP down as far as you can; ideally, he’ll often come up with some combination of Ethier, Kemp, and Loney on base, allowing his occasional power to do the most damage.

That brings us to the only really questionable idea, which is putting Casey Blake in the two spot. I certainly understand Mattingly’s thinking there, because it does make for a great L/R lineup balance (on days that Gibbons or Gwynn starts at #7, there wouldn’t be a single situation with back-to-back hitters from the same side), and there’s quite honestly no obvious solution. The problem, of course, is that Blake is hardly the ideal answer himself. At 37, he’s coming off what is arguably the worst year of his career; his 27.1 whiff percentage is the highest he’s ever had, and his .159 ISO is the lowest he’s had since 2002. He’s making less contact, he’s hitting for less power, and his age doesn’t exactly promise a rebound. It’s not really the kind of hitter you want to see getting the second-most at-bats in your lineup, or the kind of guy who gives you hope that he can advance Furcal into scoring position for Ethier and Kemp to take advantage of.

Still, I’m hard-pressed to offer a better solution. Uribe’s brand of low OBP and decent power certainly doesn’t fit the spot any better, though I do wonder if James Loney may be an interesting choice there. We all know that Loney has little power, though his K rate was 10% less than Blake’s. On the other hand, that could certainly turn into more double plays, given Loney’s propensity for hitting grounders nearly half the time. I guess the tiebreaker here is that it would also mess with the L/R split, because you’d have lefties at 2 and 3, and righties at 4-5-6 (assuming it’d be Kemp-Blake-Uribe).

So I suppose it comes down to this: I don’t like Casey Blake as a #2 hitter, but there’s also not a really great alternative. So I tentatively approve of Mattingly’s choices here, since he’s doing the best with the limited options he’s been handed.

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In other news, we have our first injury note of the spring (and yes, I saw that Dana Eveland pulled his hamstring last week, and no, that doesn’t count):

Vicente Padilla is heading to LA to have MRI on his right elbow, which has similar pains as last year. Results expected tomorrow.

That’s not a great sign, though it does underscore the importance of all of the pitching depth Ned Colletti put together this offseason. If anything, it might scuttle any prospective battle between Padilla and Jon Garland for the #5 spot, since it sounds like Padilla’s injury concerns might make him more effectively used in short bursts anyway.

Winter Meetings, Day 2 (Updated)

Yesterday was a ton of fun, right? As long as you realize that 99% of what you hear is an outright lie, this can be a hilariously entertaining time of year. Just try to remember not to completely kill teams on rumors that may be totally unfounded until the deals actually go down, okay?

Just like yesterday, I’ll keep updating this with Dodger-related news and rumors throughout the day. Don’t forget, there’s an added bonus today, since we expect that Judge Gordon will hand down his decision on the McCourt divorce case.

Updated, 10:30am PST:

Jon Morosi with some news

#Dodgers could sign a RH-hitting OF this week. They’ve looked at Diaz, Frenchy, Billy Hall. #LA

Once #Dodgers sign a new outfielder, Xavier Paul could be available via trade. #LA #MLB

I’ve been saying Paul would be gone for weeks. Still believe it.

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Updated, 8:56am PST:

Well, this is a thing that happened…  (via Molly Knight)

Breaking: Judge in Dodger divorce trial rules for Jamie McCourt, throws out marital property agreement.

Obviously, that’s a decision that will need a lot more analysis, but basically it means that the judge didn’t buy the document that said the Dodgers belong to Frank while the properties belong to Jamie. This is probably good news if you were hoping for a sale, but this is going to drag on forever before anything like that happens.

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Updated, 7:57am PST:

Per Buster Olney, it’s a done deal…

Vicente Padilla and Dodgers have an agreement on a one-year, $2 million deal, pending physical.

Love this, love this, love this. (Now wait for the incentives to add up to $8m).

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Updated, 7:22am PST:

Ken Gurnick with news on Padilla…

The Dodgers and free-agent pitcher Vicente Padilla moved close to agreement on a one-year, $2 million (plus incentives) contract that would bring this year’s Opening Day starter back to the club as a swingman, according to multiple baseball sources. Padilla, who missed time with arm and neck injuries, would essentially become the sixth starter and long reliever, capable of spot starting, pitching multiple innings of relief and even providing insurance for the late innings should closer Jonathan Broxton struggle as he did in the second half this year

If this is the deal – one year, $2m (plus incentives) – then that’s outstanding. I love it, becuase Padilla was excellent at times last year and would provide amazing depth. I’m just shocked that he’d really take such a small guarantee. There’s not better out there for him?

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Original post:

Let’s kick it off with notes from a few of our preferred sources…

Molly Knight:

Source: Dodgers and Padilla getting closer, deal should happen soon.

We’ve been hearing the “Vicente returns” rumors for a while now, and most of them say he’ll be in some sort of hybrid starter/reliever role. Jon Heyman did say yesterday that he’d return to the rotation, but that could just be a communication breakdown over the short form of Twitter. Since you’re obviously not trading Clayton Kershaw or the three guys you just signed, that’d have to mean that Chad Billingsley was on the move, and I just can’t see that happening.

Tony Jackson:

The Los Angeles Dodgers’ search for a left fielder has been narrowed to free agents Matt Diaz and Scott Podsednik and a third outfielder whose name remains a mystery, according to a well-placed source.

I’m not going to say anything here you haven’t already heard me say this week, but the two being in competition makes no sense. Diaz is younger, much more powerful, better at getting on base, and at least as good (if not better) in the outfield. Podsednik is better than Diaz at precisely one thing – stealing bases – but he gets thrown out so much that it’s barely even worth it.

Besides, as I’ve said ad nauseum, the Dodgers need at least one righty outfielder and preferably two to spot for Andre Ethier and Jay Gibbons. Signing yet another lefty outfielder makes no sense at all; with the way the roster is coming together I’m not even sure I’d put Xavier Paul (another lefty, one who’s out of minor-league options) on it right now, but if you do need another lefty Paul is certainly preferable to Podsednik..

As for the “mystery outfielder”? We don’t know for sure, but Knight did mention Austin Kearns yesterday.

Eric Stephen of TrueBlueLA:

On latest @JonahKeri podcast, A’s AGM David Forst said Oakland offered more $$ & more yrs to Jamey Carroll than 2/$3.85m he got from Dodgers

Didn’t expect to be talking much about Jamey Carroll this week, but I believe this qualifies as “news we did not know”.

So Long, Russell Martin

It came down to the wire, but the Dodgers have decided not to tender Russell Martin a contract for 2011 and risk paying him an increase on his $5.05m 2010 salary. While I thought they may have been attempting to negotiate a more palatable contract, SI’s Jon Heyman reported that the club also spent time trying to trade him.

This doesn’t necessarily spell the end of Martin in Dodger blue, of course. They can still attempt to sign him, and my guess is that that they will try (Ned Colletti confirmed this after the decision was made), particularly since the already poor catching market has largely dried up now that John Buck‘s in Florida, Yorvit Torrealba‘s in Texas and A.J. Pierzynski stayed in Chicago. (Fine, fine, and Jason Varitek returned to Boston.) But there’s sure to be interest in Martin’s services, so there’s a real risk that he’s playing elsewhere next year.

Really, I wasn’t going to be able to argue this decision either way. If they’ve decided that risking $6m to a declining catcher coming off a serious hip injury isn’t a wise choice, that makes total sense. On the other hand, the catching market is so poor – really, is anyone excited about Rod Barajas and Miguel Olivo? – that locking up a young catcher with above-average on-base skills is a more than defensible decision as well. Earlier this offseason, I’d been leaning towards letting him go, though as the market proved to be more expensive than we’d thought and as low-OBP Juan Uribe was signed, I’d been waffling on that in recent days. If Martin is replaced by someone like Olivo or Barajas, this could be a team with a serious OBP problem. On the other hand, maybe there’s a happy ending and they can re-sign him at a lower price later this winter. Either way, it’ll be an interesting story that’s far from over. (Update: Dylan Hernandez reports the team is “close”  to re-signing Barajas. You could do worse for a backup, so okay – but you couldn’t do much worse for a starter. That still doesn’t preclude Martin’s return.)

As expected, Chad Billingsley, Hong-Chih Kuo, and James Loney were tendered contracts, and George Sherrill (and Trent Oeltjen, who I completely forgot was involved in this) was not.

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But wait! There’s more! There’s unconfirmed reports saying that Vicente Padilla signed tonight to return for 2011. I’ll have more to say on that if it ends up being official in the morning, but Ken Gurnick explains how it’d work, since the club already has five starters:

Padilla could serve multiple purposes for the Dodgers. Colletti has talked about adding a veteran swingman capable of pitching multiple innings of relief with the durability to slide into the starting rotation if needed.

Padilla could do that, and his stuff is still nasty enough (especially against left-handed hitters) to close games. The Dodgers have All-Star Jonathan Broxton for that role, but there is concern over his late-season fade. There’s Hong-Chih Kuo, but his injury history is well documented. Kenley Jansen made a spectacular debut, but he remains unproven as a pitcher.

So the 33-year-old Padilla could be a staff utility man.

On the surface, that sounds great. How could you ever have too much pitching? There’s no question that Padilla has talent, and if pitching in shorter bursts helps preserve his health, that could be very useful. The two questions here are, #1) is he really okay with doing that, and #2) how much can you spend on pitching before you realize that the lousy offense is what sunk you last year?

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Not that I really expected that Loney was ever in danger of being non-tendered, but any thought of that probably went away when Adam Dunn agreed to a $56m contract with the White Sox today. I was actually pretty happy to see that, because he both waived his “no-DH” stance and was offered far more money than anyone expected. The Dodgers weren’t going to offer him $60m, nor would I have expected them to, so it’s not like watching him sign for $33m with an NL team while the Dodgers spent money on Juan Uribe.