The MSTI 15-Step Plan for 2012

It’s time for another edition of the yearly plan, in which I put on my GM hat and try to piece together a competitive 2012 club using realistic payroll and player restrictions. Before we start, I have to be honest: this was so much harder to do than it’s ever been. In previous years, I’ve looked forward to putting on the GM hat and thinking up interesting and realistic ideas to improve the next year’s team, but doing it this time was a struggle. Though the uncertain budget thanks to the McCourt mess is part of it, an even bigger problem is that there’s just not much out there. The free agent list is sparse, and while there’s values to be had in the trade market, the Dodgers have little of interest that they can move without opening up a new hole.

I thought about all kinds of possibilities. Perhaps the #5 starter hole could be filled by buying low (extremely low) on previously-successful veterans who have fallen out of favor and would be heavily subsidized, like Derek Lowe or John Lackey (before it was announced he’d miss 2012). Maybe there was some way to get the Red Sox to give up Jed Lowrie or Will Middlebrooks to help stabilize second or third base. Perhaps a package including Chad Billingsley could be sent to Kansas City for Alex Gordon, though the Royals are unlikely to be interested in such a deal and that would just open up another rotation hole anyway. Maybe 2005 Jeff Kent could rise from the dead and return to the Dodgers, because the second base market is a total mess. Is it worth believing that Aaron Hill or Kelly Johnson can come back from down years to reclaim past glory at the keystone? Or maybe you could go cheap elsewhere and pray that Aramis Ramirez, nearing his mid-30s, is worth the ~$40m he’s likely to get to play third base?

In the end, little of it made sense, at least in any way that would be realistic for the other team, because I like to think this blog isn’t the home of “I’ll trade you Mike MacDougal for Ian Kinsler!” type solutions. The Dodgers are boxed in by criminal ownership, too much dead money owed to long-departed players, ballooning payments to poor investments like Juan Uribe & Matt Guerrier, and outside alternatives that are less than ideal. Perhaps Ned Colletti wasn’t that far off when he suggested that he was generally okay with the current roster, because he had done this work already and knew that there was unlikely to be much movement.

Then again, perhaps he’s just not being creative.

******

The first question, of course, is how much do the Dodgers have to spend on payroll in 2012? It’s a question that’s almost impossible to answer right now, a problem Colletti has as much admitted to. In 2011, they spent about $98m on players, plus about $17m in “dead” money, for a total of ~$115m. Without revealing how much, this Tony Jackson interview with Ned Colletti claims that “all indications are it will be higher than the roughly $98 million it was this year.” Let’s guess that means an extra $5m, so that’ll put us to a $120m cap including the dead money. I’ve seen the arguments that the longer the ownership dispute drags on, the more likely it is that the payroll decreases by tens of millions of dollars, but I’m not buying it; it’s in no one’s best interest for the value of the Dodgers to go down any further than it already has, and MLB has been consistent about claiming it will be “business as usual” for the Dodgers this winter – whatever that means.

Of course, that doesn’t really mean there’s $120m available to spend. The Dodgers still have about $21m in deferred money committed to the dearly departed, including Manny Ramirez ($8m), Juan Pierre ($3m), Andruw Jones ($3.375m), Rafael Furcal ($3m), and Hiroki Kuroda ($2m), and also including the already-exercised buyouts of Casey Blake ($1.25m) and Jon Garland ($1.5m). So that $120m figure is already down to $99m.
Dead money: $120m – $21m = $99m

Then there’s the money already committed to members of the 2012 club, and here’s where the back-loaded contracts of Juan Uribe ($8m) & Matt Guerrier ($4.75m) really come back to bite us in the ass, making them look even more brutal than the day they were signed. While Ted Lilly at least finished 2011 strong, his salary increases from $7.5m to $12m in 2012, a whole more than I really want to pay him. That, plus the $9m owed to Chad Billingsley, eats up $33.7m of the $99m, leaving us with $65.3m to play with.
Committed money: $99m – $33.7m = $65.3m

But we’re not done yet, because several key members of the core are without contracts yet under team control in 2012. It’s sometimes difficult to guess what will come out of arbitration hearings, so for now we’ll go with Eric Stephen of TrueBlueLA‘s guesses that Clayton Kershaw will get $8m, Andre Ethier will get $12m, and Matt Kemp will get $13m. (The TBLA payroll sheet is an invaluable resource not just for this piece, but all year long.) I hate the idea of giving Ethier that much, but now, when his value is at a low, is no time to trade him. We’ll see about changing those numbers later, and there are definitely other arbitration decisions to be made, but the $33m we just said goodbye to means that with just seven spots on the roster set, we’ve already got $87.7m spoken for, leaving $32.3m to fill out 18 other spots. See how quickly $100m can go?
Arbitration money: $65.3m – $33m = $32.3m

Finally, let’s dedicate about $3m in minimum salary contracts to team-controlled 0-3 players who are almost certain to be on the roster next year – A.J. Ellis, Dee Gordon, Jerry Sands, Javy Guerra, Kenley Jansen, Josh Lindblom, Blake Hawksworth and Scott Elbert. Now we have fifteen spots at a cost of $90.9m, leaving us with $29.3m.
Controlled money: $32.3m – $3m = $29.3m

$29.3m, ten holes. What do you do? Here’s one man’s blueprint…

******

1) Sign OF Matt Kemp to a long-term deal.

This should be obvious and in no way arguable. It’s the absolute #1 priority of the winter, no matter what else happens. You can argue how much and over how many years – that’s a conversation for another time - but don’t forget that he’s still under team control for 2012, so the Dodgers retain some leverage. We’ll assume that whatever deal he gets is somewhat backloaded and settle on $12m for next year, more than he made in 2011 but less than he’d probably get in arbitration, which should be fine considering he’ll have the security of a long-term deal.
$29.3m +$1m = $30.3m (since I already accounted for him as $13m above)

2) Sign 1B Prince Fielder to a six-year, $140m deal.

I went back and forth on this one – a lot. I even wrote about the likelihood of Fielder or Albert Pujols arriving a few weeks ago and concluded that it was neither likely or advisable, simply because I don’t like the idea of tying up so much money into one player, especially when that’s going to need to happen for Kemp and Kershaw as well. Even just theoretically talking about it makes me a bit uncomfortable, because it’s so risky. If you want to make the argument that this money is best spent elsewhere, I’m more than open to it.

In the end, I settled on going for it in this exercise because the other options were simply so unattractive. Believe me, I had a whole lot of iterations of this article where I was trying to believe in James Loney and then working on other ways to upgrade. Since it’s hard to see any way to improve at 2B or 3B, your hopes for the infield were to either have to count on Loney to repeat the last six weeks of his season after four years of mediocrity, or overpay for a veteran like Derrek Lee or Lyle Overbay who is unlikely to be much better. There’s a big argument to be made that one year of Loney at $6m is a steal if he hits like he did to finish the season; there’s an even bigger argument to be made that if he doesn’t, you’re once again saddled with an infield that has almost no power whatsoever. If you’re going to try to contend in 2012, and I would argue that having Kemp & Kershaw means you are, then you need to make a move – in addition to the desperately needed positive PR that such a signing would bring.

Besides, it’s the perfect time to go after a Fielder because the traditional big spenders likely won’t be around to drive up the price. The Yankees and Red Sox are each heavily invested at first base and have bigger needs, especially in pitching. The Phillies are about to start a (hilarious) $125m extension with Ryan Howard; even though he’s hurt, their replacement there would be short-term, and the Cardinals will likely just retain Pujols. The Angels probably won’t jump in considering they already have both Mark Trumbo and Kendrys Morales on hand; the Rangers could be a fit but probably need to focus on pitching. You could definitely see the Cubs being interested, though it’s hard to know what their winter of transition will bring; the Braves definitely need a bat but seem happy with Freddie Freeman at first base. The best possibilities are probably Washington and Baltimore, but the Nats already have Michael Morse and Adam LaRoche under contract for first base and have been burned by the first year of Jayson Werth‘s massive deal; the O’s don’t even have a GM yet and probably have bigger concerns than first base. That’s not to say that Prince won’t get paid, because he will, just that it’s not likely to be the $200m+ figure I’ve seen thrown around.

In addition, Fielder’s relative youth (he’ll still be just 27 on Opening Day of 2012) means that the back-end of a six-year deal would be his age 32-33 seasons, not 35-36. That’s still young enough that you’ll be purchasing most of his prime, not most of his decline, and that’s a big deal considering the concerns about his body type. While I’m admittedly loathe to give up first round picks for free agents, Fielder at least has the potential to be the kind of franchise changer that could make it worth it (and yes, I’m looking at you, Orlando Hudson). Whether the 6/$140m is close or not – I really just made it up without an overwhelming amount of research, so it could be something like 7/$160m instead - it’ll clearly be backloaded, so we’ll start with $13.5m in 2012 as we wait a year or two for other obligations and the ownership crisis to clear. While there’s certainly a very good argument to be made that adding another huge long-term contract to a team that will need to pay Kemp and Kershaw is dangerous, there’s a lot of money coming off the books after 2013, when Lilly, Uribe, and Guerrier (combining to make about ~$25m that year) all figure to be gone, in addition to being free of further payments to Manny. That’s on top of the money you get back assuming that Ethier is no longer with the team after 2012.
$30.3m - $13.5m = $16.8m

3) Trade RP Javy Guerra, SP Chris Withrow, and 2B Ivan DeJesus to Florida for LF/1B Logan Morrison.

This is another one I went back and forth on a lot, initially considering Morrison for first base rather than left field. Then, after getting Fielder, I figured, what the hell – why not try for both? Morrison’s spat with Marlins management is well-known, leading to a brief demotion this summer, and with reports that ownership is ready to take more control over player decisions, it’s not hard to see them wanting to be rid of the outspoken Twitter hero as soon as they can. That makes him an appealing buy-low target, since as he enters his age-24 season, he’s coming off a 2010 in which he had a .390 OBP and a 2011 in which he hit 23 homers. (The obvious comeback there is, “well, he hasn’t done both at the same time, since he hit just 2 homers in 2010 and had a .330 OBP in 2011.” Both true, however his age and his minor league track record suggest otherwise, especially considering that much of his power loss in 2010 can be put on a broken wrist, an injury notorious for sapping power for at least a year, and his 2011 BABIP was quite low before ending the year with a fantastic September.)

Of course, “buy low” does not mean “trade garbage or expensive contracts to Florida”, because he’s low-priced and productive, and so that’s why I’m taking the possibly unpopular route of trading last season’s surprise rookie closer, Guerra. It’s not that I don’t like Guerra, because he was an out of nowhere success story, but if you’re making a trade, you need to deal from depth – and nowhere do the Dodgers have more depth than in young, righty relievers. Besides, Guerra’s high on my list for regression in 2012; his .261 BABIP was on the low side this year, his 4.07 xFIP was a lot less impressive than his 2.31 ERA, and his minor league history doesn’t shout superstar. That’s not to say that he can’t succeed or that I’m desperate to be rid of him, because that’s not true – just that saves are almost always overrated in the marketplace and it might be the best use of Guerra’s value to trade him at the peak of his perceived attractiveness, especially when the Dodgers have Kenley Jansen able to step in and several other young relievers ready to come up.

On the Florida side, they have a big hole in the bullpen thanks to the identity fraud scandal of Leo Nunez (or Juan Carlos Oviedo, Armen Tanzarian, Theodore Donald Karabotsos, or whatever he’s calling himself these days), and the Fish have never been big players in the market, so five more cost-controlled years of Guerra should be appealing. They also get a lottery ticket in Withrow, showing signs of life with 9.1 K/9 in AA last year, though still struggling with his control, and DeJesus, who seems to have little future in Los Angeles but shouldn’t be written off completely since he’s still only 24 and shows good on-base skills in the minors. (As always, the prospects could be replaced by anyone of similar value – it doesn’t have to be exactly these guys – but you get the idea. If they prefer Brian Cavazos-Galvez or Ethan Martin or Kyle Russell or someone instead, fine.)
$16.8m – $0m = $16.8m (Morrison would take Guerra’s 0-3 slot for a similar salary)

4) Don’t try to trade Andre Ethier – at least not now.

Believe me, there’s plenty of good reasons to move Ethier. He’s a bit overrated. He’s cranky. He’s coming off surgery. He can’t hit lefties. He’s not a great defender. When he’s a free agent after 2012, he’s a lower priority than Kemp and Kershaw, and not someone I want to sign to an expensive long-term deal as he enters his decline phase. I totally agree with all of this. However, now’s not the right time to do it. For all of those reasons plus the ~$12m cost for one year before losing him to free agency, I really don’t think the return is out there that we’d want. Even if teams would take the one year of Ethier for that price with all of the issues, it’s unlikely that anyone would give a top prospect in return.

Besides, I expect big things from Ethier in 2012. He’ll be healthy for the first time in a while, and headed into a contract year he should be especially motivated – and Ethier is exactly the type of “chip on my shoulder” player who really responds to that sort of thing. If he’s playing well and the Dodgers are out of it in July, you might be able to get a good prospect in return then (like the Mets getting Zack Wheeler for Carlos Beltran). If the Dodgers are still in it, you ride it out, try to win, and then collect two draft picks when he leaves.
$16.8m – $0m = $16.8m

5) Sign 3B/UT Wilson Betemit to a one-year, $1.5m deal.

Unfortunately, Uribe is going to be the starting third baseman in 2012. There’s just no way around it. Even if we didn’t have Fielder eating up a huge part of the hypothetical payroll, third base is just a black hole on the market, unless you want to overpay Ramirez or risk a ton of prospects on David Wright. Since Uribe’s going to get paid, he’s going to be the man, but you also can’t risk not having an alternative in case he repeats his 2011.

That’s a tough spot to fill. No one who thinks he’s a full-time starter is going to come to LA for a small contract and the possibility of riding the bench, but most of the available bench types are like Aaron Miles, stopgaps who provide little value. That brings us to Betemit, who I advocated acquiring in the 2011 plan. All he ended up doing was hit .285/.343/.452 for Kansas City and Detroit, albeit with subpar defense. But that’s kind of a perfect fit, isn’t it? Uribe may or may not be able to hit, but even in his lost 2011 he was a solid defender, and Betemit provides the yin to that yang. Besides, the switch-hitting Betemit has a massive platoon split (vs RHP, .865 OPS in 2011, .817 career; vs LHP, .607 OPS in 2011, .684 career) which makes him an intriguing bench piece and/or part-time replacement for Uribe. In emergencies, he can play first and second as well, nice flexibility even if it’s hopefully not needed. Betemit made $1m last year, so let’s give him a slight raise. (An alternative here is Eric Chavez, who I liked last season, if he chooses to play in 2012.)
$16.8m – $1.5m = $15.3m

6) Bring back C Rod Barajas on a one-year, $1.5m deal.

Let’s start with this: you absolutely cannot enter the season with A.J. Ellis & Tim Federowicz as your backstop duo, no matter what Ned Colletti says. Federowicz isn’t ready now (if he will be at all) and needs to play regularly at AAA. Even if you’re a bigger fan of him than I am, you still can’t get by with only two catchers who have combined for less than a full season of MLB play.

Now, I thought about Ramon Hernandez here, though I eventually decided against him because he’s a Type A free agent and may get a two-year deal. I thought about Ryan Doumit to add some switch-hitting pop, but was turned off by his atrocious defense and possible salary demands since he made over $6m last year. In the end, there’s no available difference maker who is really likely to matter, so even though I don’t really want to, we’ll take advantage of Barajas’ stated preference to remain a Dodger and let him do so at a discounted rate. It’s not sexy, and he’s not all that good, but he’s at least got power and the state of catching is so poor that a Barajas/Ellis duo could actually be slightly above average. On this team, Ellis starts 4-5 days a week, not Barajas.
$15.3m – $1.5m = $13.8m

7) Bring back 2B Jamey Carroll for two years and $4m.

This actually scares the hell out of me, and I don’t really like doing it, much as I like Carroll. He’s got absolutely zero power and he’ll be 38 in February; to be honest, I hate everything about this. That said, the second base market is absolutely god awful. My version of the Dodgers can neither afford nor count on Hill or Johnson, and Carroll at least offers on-base skills and decent enough defense. Along with Sellers, he’s also a fallback position in case Gordon flails or is injured; I don’t want to give Carroll two years, yet that’s probably what the market will demand. Ideally, he could get through one more year as a solid OBP guy, and then a better 2B option emerges for 2013, allowing Carroll to spend the second year as the utility guy he really ought to be.
$13.8m – $2m = $11.8m

8) Hedge your bets with Jerry Sands.

You’ve probably noticed that I’ve acquired a first baseman and a left fielder, which doesn’t leave a spot for Sands, who finished 2011 so well. In reality, when the Dodgers don’t get a player at either position, I’m more than fine with Sands getting first crack at left field. That said, he’s not enough of a slam-dunk prospect that you simply hand him the job with no backup plan better than a Tony Gwynn, so in this scenario he’ll be able to get playing time in both outfield corners, since Morrison and Ethier are both lefties (even moreso if Morrison is needed to fill in at first base from time to time), and as the main bat off the bench. If he continues to prove himself worthy, you let him step in for Ethier in right field when Andre is traded in July or moves on after 2012. Or, if that makes you uncomfortable, you let him play every day in AAA until injuries pile up.
$11.8m – $0m = $11.8m

9) Round out the bench with minimum-salary deals for IF Justin Sellers and OF Jamie Hoffmann.

Here’s where the big deal for Fielder bites you a little bit, because you no longer have the flexibility to carry much more than minimum salary types on the bottom of the roster. I would really have liked to have gone out and found some intriguing buy-low types like David DeJesus here; unfortunately, it’s just not feasible now. I’ve been pessimistic of Sellers’ ability to hit at the big league level, but he has a solid glove at both middle infield positions, and entering his age-26 season, he’s not enough of a prospect to worry about needing to play every day. Hoffmann is someone I’d like to do better than, yet he’ll be useful because this roster would desperately need a plus defender, and I’d prefer Hoffmann over Gwynn because he hits righty, which is preferable when you’ve got two starting lefty corner outfielders.
$11.8m – $0.8m = $11m

10) Bring back SP Hiroki Kuroda for one year and $9m ($2m deferred).

This is a bit risky, because Kuroda will be 37 years old in February and was slowed by neck pain for the last few weeks of the season. But he’s also coming off the best year of his career, and the Dodgers have a special gift here in that he’s almost certain to favor them over any other team (assuming he chooses to come back, of course). There’s also no one on the market likely to give the type of production we’ve seen from Kuroda for just a one-year deal, either, so if he’s willing to return, we should be happy to have him for one more season.
$11m – $7m = $4m

11) Sign SP Erik Bedard to a one-year, $2m deal, with the opportunity to add a good deal of incentives.

Bedard is almost never healthy for a full season (missed 2010, hasn’t thrown more than 129 innings since 2007), yet is almost always effective when he is. We saw that again this year, where he missed 45 days with two separate injuries (both to his knee, rather than his arm) but put up a 3.62 ERA that was matched by the advanced stats and a 125/48 K/BB for Seattle and Boston, making $1m while doing so.

As he reaches his age-33 season, and with his history, it’s unlikely that anyone is offering him big guaranteed money this winter, so he could be available for a low base price plus incentives. (It’s also possible that I’m completely low-balling this.)

If we accept the fact that he absolutely will miss some time and don’t get disappointent when it happens, I’d rather spend $2m guaranteed to get ~15 good starts from him and ~10 starts from fill-ins rather than ~30 mediocre starts from the 6th-8th starters.
$4m – $2m = $2m

12) Sign SP Rich Harden to a one-year, $1m deal.

I can hear the hesitation now. “Harden is constantly hurt, to the point where a proposed deal that would have sent him to Boston this summer fell apart over concerns about his medicals. He threw just 174.2 innings over the last two seasons combined, and his ERAs the last two years have been 5.58 and 5.12. Why in the hell would you want him?”

Well, I always like a lottery ticket, and as Harden enters his age-30 season, he seems like a perfect candidate to fill the relief ace/spot starter role that Vicente Padilla was supposed to have in 2011. Despite Harden’s ugly ERA last year, his xFIP was merely 3.68, with a 91/31 K/BB in 82.2 innings. His home run rate is admittedly troubling, but hey, we’re talking about a guy on a $1m deal here. If Bedard & Harden can combine for 25-30 decent starts for $3m plus incentives at the back of your rotation, that’s value even if they combine for 100 days on the disabled list. And if they both blow up? Well, at least you took the chance on talent over assured mediocrity, and it’s only $3m.
$2m – $1m = $1m

13) Buy a coach-class ticket to non-tender city for Loney and Hong-Chih Kuo.

Loney made this a pretty tough call with his hot end to 2011, and let me say that in the real world, the one in which the Dodgers aren’t really going to get Prince Fielder, I think he’s going to be tendered a contract to give him one more chance to prove his worth. Though I’d be positive that he’d succeed if he landed somewhere else, there’s no room for a $6m pinch-hitter on this club. (Obviously, trading him would be preferable to non-tendering, though I’m not sure any other club is taking that $6m gamble either.)

Kuo is the longest-tenured Dodger and I’d hate to see him go, but his 2011 struggles, long injury history, and yet another elbow surgery last week mean that risking a raise on his $2.73m salary in arbitration is foolish. If he does want to play and doesn’t want to risk turning his arm over to a new training staff who doesn’t know him well, he might be willing to come back on a reduced contract; you could argue that he should get Harden’s $1m allotted above, or you might even get lucky and get him back on a non-guaranteed deal.

14) Say goodbye to 2011 free agents Juan Rivera, Casey Blake, Tony Gwynn, Jay GibbonsAaron Miles, Eugenio Velez, Jon GarlandDana Eveland, Vicente Padilla, Mike MacDougal, and Jonathan Broxton.

Let’s caveat that by saying that if you can get any of these guys back (except Velez, who should be extradited from the country) on a minor-league deal to fight for a job in camp, then by all means do so – particularly Padilla, who has always been surprisingly effective as a Dodger when healthy. I’m guessing that’s unlikely to happen for most of them, who will merit at least a small major-league deal. In reality, I expect that Rivera, MacDougal, and Miles will all return, but there’s just no room for them on my hypothetical team.

15) Turn Pedro Baez into a pitcher. Come on already.

Yeah, I said this last season too, arguing that Baez’ rocket arm wasn’t going to be enough to get him to the bigs as a third baseman, especially considering that despite being old for the competition in the offensively-oriented California League, he managed just a .306 OBP and six homers in 2010. So what did he do this year to follow it up? He played in just 32 AA games, hitting .210/.278/.381, and missed the entire season after May with an injury. (Which, to be honest, I have not been able to identify.) I’m not saying it’s any sort of guarantee that such a conversion works out like it did for Jansen, but it basically is a guarantee that Baez never becomes a big leaguer as a third baseman. It’s worth a shot for both sides.

******

So what does this leave us with? A lineup that could look like this…

2B Carroll-R
LF Morrison-L
CF Kemp-R
1B Fielder-L
RF Ethier-L
3B Uribe-R
C Ellis-R
SS Gordon-S

BN: Barajas-R, Betemit-S, Sellers-R, Sands-R, Hoffmann-R

Though I know the real team would never actually let Carroll lead off and put Gordon 8th, that’s where I’m putting them due to their respective OBP skills. It’s amazing how much Fielder and Morrison lengthen that lineup, isn’t it, and how much better does that look than last year when we were forced to depend on Uribe, Dioner Navarro, Casey Blake, Marcus Thames, and Jay Gibbons? While the bench is less than sexy, that’s what you have to live with if you dedicate so much payroll to one or two expensive players. However, Sellers and Hoffmann are each excellent defenders, and could really come in handy replacing Gordon/Carroll and Morrison/Ethier for defensive purposes in the late innings. Betemit & Barajas would provide offense, if used correctly, and protection. At AAA, you’d still likely have Federowicz, Russ MitchellTrent Oeltjen, Alex Castellanos, Scott Van Slyke and whatever NRIs you pick up (Andy LaRoche, anyone?) along with others for depth.

Then your pitching staff would look like this…

1) Kershaw
2) Kuroda
3) Billingsley
4) Lilly
5) Bedard

CL Jansen
R Lindblom
R Guerrier
R Hawksworth
R Harden
L Elbert
NRI / Kuo / Padilla / Troncoso

I’d be a whole lot more comfortable with another ace in that rotation, but I guess that’s what happens when you give $33m to Ted Lilly. If and when Bedard breaks down, you could either move up Harden or bring up Nathan Eovaldi, John Ely, or your yearly veteran non-roster guy like Dana Eveland – if not Eveland himself. (I kind of like Dontrelle Willis as an NRI; look past his W/L record for Cincinnati and he actually had a decent year.) Later in the year, a younger starter like Allen Webster could be a factor, or even Rubby De La Rosa depending on the progress of his recovery. The bullpen could look forward to possibilities like Shawn Tolleson, Cole St. Clair, Steve Ames, and whatever random veteran NRI shows up in camp.

******

So that’s it. I’ve been staring at this for weeks and I’m still not sure I’m happy with it. Is it foolish to think that signing Fielder is even possible? Perhaps. Am I unintentionally low-balling what Bedard or Betemit might actually get, because I don’t want to give them more? Maybe so, and I didn’t get Kershaw signed long-term (though I suppose you could also do that and structure it so that it doesn’t affect 2012 that much). Either way, this is a team that could be built, in theory, for something close to what the Dodgers can spend, and it’d likely be a lot more competitive and interesting than what they have now. Compare this to some of the fantastic plans you all thought up over the weekend, and then let’s not try to be too disappointed when the big moves in reality are to bring back Rivera and sign Yuniesky Betancourt.

2011 Midseason Review: MSTI


We’re wrapping up this midseason review with a new focus: me. Regular readers of this blog know that nothing interests me more than big-picture roster mechanics, and so I’ve often put forth judgement on trades and signings, and occasionally offered suggestions of my own. It was pointed out to me on Twitter recently that if I was going to criticise the moves of others, it was only fair for me to turn the spotlight on myself. (It was also pointed out to me in the comments of a recent post that I get too much “told ya so!” sometimes, which, perhaps, but this post sure isn’t going to help change that perspective.)

Remember, this is just for fun on yet another off-day, because there’s no guarantee that a player who is doing well or poorly in one place would have had the same performance in another.

Matt Kemp

What I said at the time (03/24/11):

My positive feelings about him continued in his 2010 season in review piece later that month, where I noted that he had not only taken responsibility for his subpar year, he’d ended the season on a five-homers-in-five-games tear while ridding himself of the distractions that had derailed his season – Joe Torre, Larry Bowa, Bob Schaefer, and even Rhianna, if you believe in that sort of thing. (Rob Neyer had a great look at the shortcomings of the 2010 coaching staff, too.) Again, Kemp is not to be excused for being unable to work through all that, but nor should it be ignored that from all indications, he wasn’t getting a lot of support internally either.

I realize it’s spring, and that everyone has a nice, rosy outlook this time of the year. That’s fine, and it’ll take more than some spring dingers and saying the right things to prove Kemp right. But the signs are all there for a massive year – no one’s questioned his talent, but now he’s motivated to prove himself, with distractions gone and the right instruction in place.

Matt Kemp is still just 26. The two-year contract he signed after 2009 is up this year. He’s got a lot to prove – and mark my words, he’s going to do it.

How’d that work out?

Eh, he’s okay.

Juan Uribe

What I said at the time (11/29/10):

Now that we’ve got the positives out of the way… what in the hell is this team doing giving three years* and $22m to Juan Uribe?! (*standard caveat of “it’s just a report, and not an official deal yet” applies.) Uribe’s never had even a two-year deal in his life. He was quite good in 2005 with the White Sox (111 OPS+, 23 HR), but after four consecutive years of not having an OBP over .301, he was cut loose after 2008. The Giants got him for 1 year, $1m in 2009, and he was quite good again – 112 OPS+ – so they resigned him for 1 year, $3.2m in 2010. Other than increasing his HR, he completely regressed at he plate. His OPS fell from .824 to .749, and his wOBA fell from .351 to .322.

That doesn’t make him useless, but as I’ve said every other time I’ve talked about him, I like him for one year and I’d accept an option for a second. But now we’re giving a guy whose age 25-28 seasons were all basically a waste, had one good year at 29 and couldn’t quite keep it up at 30 three guaranteed years? Why? Because he was a Giant? Because he hit a homer in the World Series (despite doing little else in October)?

How’d that work out?

While everyone knew giving Uribe three years was a horrendous idea, it should be noted that I originally tossed out the idea of signing him weeks before it happened. I was only willing to give one guaranteed year with an option for a second, of course, but the point is that even Uribe’s most ardent detractors weren’t predicting as poor of a season as we’ve seen. But hey, two more years!

Ted Lilly

What I said at the time (10/19/10)

I guarantee that I’m going to be in the minority here, but I’m not thrilled with this. The casual fan is going to see this as some sort of sign that Frank McCourt is willing to spend, but there’s a big difference between spending and spending wisely, and spending big on a 35-year-old pitcher entering his decline years is not wise. Isn’t this how we ended up being stuck with Casey Blake next year?

So sure, I’m happy to see him back in 2011, but we can’t be short-sighted about this. Remember, Lilly just finished a 4-year, $40m contract, which is an average annual value of $10m/year. Somehow, despite being 4 years older, less than a year past shoulder surgery, and on the decline, the Dodgers saw fit to give him a deal which increases that value?

I’m not arguing that he wouldn’t have found a contract like that on the market, because he would have. I would have just preferred it be some other team to make a foolish investment. Spending money does not equal spending wisely, because while Lilly’s a good pitcher, he’s hardly a difference-maker, yet he’s being paid like one. Though I’m glad he’s back for 2011, I really think we’re going to regret this deal in 2012 and 2013 – which is basically exactly what I said about Blake’s deal after 2008.

How’d that work out?

If I was wrong here, it was in that I at least thought Lilly could be good this year before falling off the next two years. Instead, he’s been barely above replacement level this year, and that does not give me much hope for the next two years of the deal as he’s 36 and 37. The lesson, as always: big money deals to older pitchers, particularly one who had a completely unsustainable debut with your club, rarely work out.

Casey Blake

What I said at the time (9/21/10):

Unfortunately, history isn’t on Blake’s side either. There’s only been seventeen seasons since 1961 in which a third baseman 37 or older (since Blake will be 37 most of next year) has managed to even play enough to qualify for the batting title. Looking at that list, most of them are Hall of Famers (Mike Schmidt, Pete Rose, Brooks Robinson, Wade Boggs, Cal Ripken, Jr.), or about to be (Chipper Jones) – and even then there’s quite a few dreadful seasons on that list. Do we really expect that Casey Blake is the one who bucks that trend?

Thanks to the budget and his veteran status, I fully expect that Blake is going to be the regular third baseman in 2011, but it’s not what’s best for the team (and is exactly what I feared when they signed him back in 2008).

How’d that work out?

Blake hit just .243/.346/.386 around three disabled list stints and is on pace to play in fewer than 80 games. He gets a little bit older every day.

Rod Barajas

What I said at the time (12/03/10):

Barajas signed for $500k with the Mets last year, waiting until just before camp opened in February to even get that. He was then so bad that the woeful Mets, you know, let him go to the Dodgers on waivers for absolutely nothing. Granted, he had a great first week or so in Dodger blue – 4 homers, 1.458 OPS in his first 8 games. Yet in his remaining 17 games, he had just 1 homer and a .612 OPS, also known as “Rod Barajas being Rod Barajas“. On the season, he had a .284 OBP, which exactly matches his career mark, because he’s not very good.

Look at it this way – Barajas had never made more than $3.2m, which is what he got from Texas in 2006. He’s now five years older, coming off several lousy seasons bouncing from team to team – making less than $1m in two of them – yet somehow, coming off a year in which he was dumped on waivers and will be 35, he’s all of a sudden worth $3.8m. Seriously? In my 2011 plan, when I said he could come back I said that I thought he could be had for $800k. Is this all because of his one good week as a Dodger? I’ve had to deal with a lot of casual fans who got taken in by that, but I never expected the front office to do so.

How’d that work out?

As I noted, Barajas’ career marks aren’t great, and even still he’s been unable to match them. Since he does still have some pop (8 HR) this year, it’s not the fact that he was signed which bothered me, it’s just the sheer amount of money he received.

Dioner Navarro

What I said at the time (2/20/11):

So tell me, why is it that Navarro has a $1m contract for 2011, while Ellis has bus rides around the PCL to look forward to? Because of that one good year? That fluke year also isn’t fooling the latest iteration of Baseball Prospectus‘ PECOTA projections, pegging Navarro for .243/.304/.336  and Ellis at .256/.364/.321. The numbers just don’t support it, and that’s without even questioning the off-field issues brought up by Navarro refusing to remain with the Rays in the playoffs last year after not making the roster. It’s also without bringing defense into the equation, as that’s notoriously hard to evaluate for catchers, though it should be noted that Ellis has a very good repuation, and the DRaysBay quote above wasn’t exactly glowing towards Navarro. (Update: after this went up, BP colleague and DockOfTheRays blogger Jason Collette added, “enjoy that hot mess behind the plate.” So there’s that.)

Now as I said upfront, I get that Navarro has the prospect history and does have the one good year, and it’s worth it to see if he can recapture that magic and be useful going forward. I’m fine with that; in fact, I love the idea. I’d just have preferred to see it on a minor-league deal, and I don’t understand why he seemingly doesn’t have to fight for the job.

How’d that work out?

Ha. You’ve watched baseball, right?

Aaron Miles

What I said at the time (02/07/11):

I am constantly trying to reassure people that minor league contracts are never as big of a deal as they seem, and the inherent lack of risk makes them almost a no-lose proposition.

In this case, I’m not so sure, because Miles is atrociously bad. No, really; among players who have had as many plate appearances as Miles had since he debuted in 2003, only three players in baseball have been less valuable. It’s a special kind of “not valuable”, though. If you’re simply awful, you don’t get to stick around for that long. Miles has really hit the sweet spot of being bad enough to hurt his teams for years, yet not so bad that he gets outright drummed out of the game. It must be his A+ levels of “grit” and “scrap”.

How’d that work out?

I’ve offered a mea culpa on Miles more than a few times now. He’s been a very nice surprise this year.

Matt Guerrier

What I said at the time (01/19/11):

Why are we all having such a hard time remembering that Guerrier is a Dodger? Perhaps it’s because the signing, which most of us disapproved of at the time, isn’t looking any better as the winter goes along. In the last week, four free agent relievers signed multimillion dollar deals with teams that hope to contend in 2011. (I’m excluding Rafael Soriano from this conversation, as that deal wowed even Yankee fans used to excessive spending.) Jon Rauch left Minnesota to sign in Toronto, while the A’s snapped up both Grant Balfour and Rauch’s former teammate, Brian Fuentes. Earlier, the Rays signed Kyle Farnsworth, in part to replace both Balfour and Soriano.

All four signed deals that were less in total value than the Dodgers gave to Guerrier earlier this offseason. You can make the argument that all four are better pitchers, too.

How’d that work out?

Basically as I expected. Guerrier has been mediocre, despite being the highest-paid of the guys mentioned above. Love, love, love longterm deals for non-elite relievers.

Adam Dunn

What I said at the time (10/11/10):

I’ll admit that I’ve coveted Dunn for years, and my hypothetical Dodgers have enough money to make one big splash. You could argue that finding a pitcher is more important, but pitching is always overpriced on the free agent market, and if you don’t do something to add some power and OBP, then it’s not going to matter anyway. Dunn’s not without his warts, but he’s also among the most consistent power hitters of the last generation – you know you’re getting 35-40 homers and an above-average OBP, and as he’s just turning 31, you should get him before his decline sets in. Besides, you saw what kind of difference Manny made on Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier when he was in the lineup, right? Nothing torpedoed the 2010 club more than lousy offense, and getting one of the top 3 bats available would be a huge step in the right direction.

How’d that work out?

Woof. Huge whiff there, since Dunn is hitting just .160/.292/.305, though I’ll try to semi-defend myself by saying that plenty of analysts thought he was a great fit in Chicago, and that absolutely no one saw this coming. Still, yikes.

Russell Martin

What I said at the time (12/02/10:)

Where do you start? We’ve talked about this ad nauseum. He’s not nearly what he was, yet that’s still better than most catchers. He’s coming off a serious injury and stands to get about $6m in arbitration, yet the options to replace him are terrible. I don’t know if there’s a right answer here; I’d probably try to sign him to a two-year deal at less per year than he’d get in arbitration, but there’s probably not enough time left to do that today.

How’d that work out?

Martin got off to a ferocious start in New York, hitting 9 homers in the first month of the season. He’s been atrocious since then, battling a knee injury and hitting only .184/.296/.282 since April 25. I thought the Dodgers made the right move by letting him go; this is still a point of contention for many since the LA catchers have been so bad, but other than those first three weeks, I’m not seeing much that says they made a mistake here.

Michael Morse

What I said at the time (12/20/10):

Still, even if he’s not perfect, a righty-power bat is exactly what the Dodgers need, and shouldn’t they be in the business of taking a low-cost chance instead of the assured mediocrity of a Scott Podsednik or Jerry Hairston? Don’t take this as anything more than a fun comparison of stats, but Morse has an .810 OPS with a HR every 29.4 at-bats through his age-28 year. At the same age, Werth had a .793 OPS with the same HR rate. In parts of 5 AAA seasons, Morse’s line is .292/.354/.461; Werth, in parts of 4 AAA seasons, had .268/.355/.472. I’m not saying it’s definite or even moderately likely that Morse will become the next Werth (Werth is a far better fielder) but it seems like a chance worth taking, and at the least he could fit as the righty platoon bench bat the Dodgers don’t currently have.

How’d that work out?

Morse shook off a slow start to bash 15 homers and join Andre Ethier on the NL’s final man voting for the All-Star team with a line of .306/.351/.535 while playing 1B and LF. In retrospect, I probably undersold what it would have taken to get him, but, yeah – I liked him for a reason. Would have been nice to have him instead of, say, Marcus Thames.

Jeff Francoeur

What I said at the time (10/11/10):

Jeff Francoeur, for all his ridiculous portrayals in the media, has two strengths and one extremely large weakness. He’s a very strong defensive outfielder with a good arm, and he can hit lefty pitching (.823 OPS career). What Francoeur cannot do, under any circumstances, is hit righty pitching (.639 OPS this year, .699 career). However, it just so happens that the Dodgers have an outfielder in Andre Ethier who’s a mediocre defender and even worse against lefties (.625 OPS this year, .681 career) than Francoeur is against righties. Do I have to spell out the fit here? It’s basically the Reed Johnson role, except that Johnson is 7 years older, couldn’t stay healthy, and had less upside.

How’d that work out?

vs RHP this year: .248/.294/.385
vs LHP this year: .321/.352/.630

I would not be interested in “Jeff Francoeur, starting left fielder”, and as I mentioned later in the article the idea depended on having a manager who could manage a platoon properly, but would I take that as a platoon partner for Ethier and/or Tony Gwynn? You’re damned right I would.

Eric Chavez

What I said at the time (01/06/11):

So what makes him interesting? Chavez is the rare lefty-hitting third baseman, and he has a pronounced platoon split over his career – .873 against RHP, .697 against LHP. You’ve probably noticed that I’ve spent much of the offseason insisting that although Casey Blake mashes against LHP, he’s simply unplayable against RHP. Unfortunately, nothing’s changed there; while you could theoretically bench him against righties and push Juan Uribe to 3B while Jamey Carroll plays 2B, that’s not an option I really see Don Mattingly choosing a lot in his rookie season, so I’ve become resigned to watching Blake flail against righty pitching. If Chavez has anything left, that’s a perfect fit for this team.

How’d that work out?

Okay, you got me. Chavez was very good for the Yankees (127 OPS+ in 39 plate appearances) before once again injuring himself. There was pretty much no question that would happen at some point.

Chris Davis

What I said at the time (03/07/11):

This is a Dodger team that badly needs offense, has no future at 3B, and may or may not have a present at 1B. (In case you didn’t see, Don Mattingly claims that if Loney were to miss an extended period of time, his replacement would likely not be Blake or Jay Gibbons, but Russ Mitchell. Yikes.) Davis may not field well enough to handle 3B full-time, and he may not hit well enough to play 1B full-time. But if you think the 2011 Dodgers, as constructed, are good enough to contend but not good enough to win, as I do, then you need take a gamble now and then, and Davis offers hope and possible longer-term solution – if the trade price is right, that’s worth giving him a shot in my book.

How’d that work out?

Davis has an .814 OPS in 57 MLB plate appearances this year, and 20 homers to go with a 1.255 OPS in 167 AAA plate appearances. I’d still love to get him.

Wilson Betemit

What I said at the time (10/11/10):

We can do better, and Betemit had a pretty monstrous half-season for Kansas City this year: .297/.378/.511. Almost as important, he’s a switch-hitter who’s been more successful against RHP than LHB over his career, which fits into our scheme here (though this year he’s done very well against both).

Now, I can hear the objections to this already. “It was half a season. He spent much of the last two years in the minors. And haven’t we seen this movie before?” All fair points. But I’ll argue that Betemit’s been pretty underrated. In parts of 8 seasons, his career line is .267/.335/.449, which works out to a 103 OPS+, even though much of that came when he was far too young (he made his MLB debut at 19, and saw significant time at 22). Before being traded in 2007, he had a .359 OBP and .474 SLG in 84 games for the Dodgers. How was production like that a problem again? Oh, right, it’s because people put far too much stock in a low batting average.

How’d that work out?

Betemit got off to a solid start to the season, hitting .306/.370/.438 through the first two months as the everyday third baseman. His playing time took a dip when the Royals promoted rookie Mike Moustakas, and so did his numbers at that point, but he clearly would have been a big upgrade on the Dodger 3B situation. 

Michael Young

What I said at the time (02/07/11):

You’ve heard me talk about how I think Blake is at the end of the line in the past, but I’m having a hard time seeing how Young would be any sort of upgrade – and that’s without even considering that Young is due $16m in each of the next three seasons, while 2011 is likely Blake’s last season in blue, or that the Rangers would want some sort of talent in return. It just doesn’t make sense.

How’d that work out?

Well, Young is having a resurgent season with the Rangers, hitting .323/.358/.482, and clearly outperforming the broken down Blake. My bad on that one. However, he is once again a creation of Arlington, hitting 200 points of OPS better at home than on the road. With how lousy the 2011 Dodgers have hit everywhere, that would still be an upgrade, but not enough of one to make it worth it considering the talent and dollars it would have taken.

Russell Branyan

What I said at the time (05/23/11):

But I wouldn’t be bringing Branyan in as the everyday first baseman, or even to replace Loney on the active roster. Branyan is 35 and a poor defender, and only three times has he received 400 plate appearances in a season. He’d be here because he can murder a baseball, and on a team with the weakest bench in baseball – remember, this is the club that had to throw Castro up with the bases loaded last week – that’s an incredibly valuable skill. Branyan’s role would be as a bench power bat who gets a start at first base once a week or so.

How’d that work out?

Not too great. Branyan has hit just .210/.290/.339 in Anaheim, rarely playing as Mark Trumbo has taken hold of the first base job.

Felipe Paulino

What I said at the time (05/23/11):

His xFIP is actually just 3.36, as he got a little unlucky with homers in the early going. He’s still throwing 95 MPH heat, and his starting experience could make him an ideal longman out of the pen, a role this team desperately needs right now. Remember, the idea here isn’t “is this guy going to propel me to a championship?”, because Paulino certainly will not. It’s “is this guy better than the guy I currently have?” and a 27-year-old power arm with strikeout stuff who had trouble in Coors Field is absolutely a better bet than Lance Cormier, particularly when Paulino can go multiple innings if needed.

How’d that work out?

Paulino got scooped up by the Royals and has been excellent in 7 starts, putting up a 45/12 K/BB mark, with Rany Jazayerli going so far as to refer to him as the club’s “best starter”. That one would have been nice to have for sure.

******

All in all, not too bad. There were a few misses – Dunn chief among them – but I’m pretty sure we’d all be happier with a team that included Morse, Davis, Betemit, Francoeur, and Paulino, right?

The MSTI 2011 Plan, Part 1: Offense

Well, it’s that time of the year again. In what is annually my longest post of the year, it’s time to look close the book on the season (like we didn’t do that months ago) and start planning for next year.

Of course, this particular off-season is a little uglier than usual. As if the divorce case wasn’t making enough ugly headlines by itself, this is a team that failed on pretty much all fronts this season, is constrained by a tight budget – and has $17m of dead money committed to Jason Schmidt and the entire White Sox outfield. They’ve got just two starting pitchers, no catcher, no second baseman, no left fielder, and a bunch of under-performing incumbents. They need power, they need OBP, they need starters… and they have no money to help their rookie manager get those things. It’s not going to be a pretty winter, that’s for sure.

Still, that doesn’t mean there isn’t hope. With a little bit of creativity and a dash of luck, there’s moves to be made which can get this team back on the right track. Now, keep in mind that this is what I might try do, not in any way a prediction of what the team will do. How can you make any predictions about a team who thought trading James McDonald and Andrew Lambo for 18.2 innings of Octavio Dotel and a player to be named was a good idea, anyway?

By my calculations, the Dodgers have $43m in obligations for 2011 to the following six players: Rafael Furcal, Casey Blake, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Jamey Carroll, & Jonathan Broxton. Add the $17m or so in “dead money”, and you’re up to $60m, before considering arbitration cases and filling out the roster.

The real unknown, of course, is how high the ceiling is for the 2011 club. And I’ll admit, I have absolutely no idea. Many think that the payroll could be cut drastically as the divorce case plays out, yet some (including Tony Jackson and Buster Olney) think there might be more to play with as Frank McCourt tries to repair his image. So for this exercise, I’ll say $95-100m is the goal. That may not be exact, but this is all for fun, anyway. With $60m already committed, I have $35-$40m remaining, and nineteen holes to fill. Let’s see what we can do.

This is the third year in a row I’ve done this, but the first time in which it’s become so big that I’ve felt the need to split it up between more than one post. So today we focus on the offense, and check back tomorrow for pitching.

1) Sign Adam Dunn to a 3 year, $33m contract (slightly backloaded)… but to play 1B, not to replace Manny Ramirez in LF.

Dunn’s an absolutely atrocious outfielder, yet he’s merely a pretty bad first baseman (though it should be noted he ranked better by UZR this year than Prince Fielder, Ryan Howard, Paul Konerko, and Miguel Cabrera). While I agree with you that he really ought to be a DH, he’s been very clear that he doesn’t want to sign with an AL team that would take his glove away. Besides, being a lousy first baseman doesn’t really mean as much as being a poor fielder elsewhere, as John Dewan of the Fielding Bible explains.

I’ll admit that I’ve coveted Dunn for years, and my hypothetical Dodgers have enough money to make one big splash. You could argue that finding a pitcher is more important, but pitching is always overpriced on the free agent market, and if you don’t do something to add some power and OBP, then it’s not going to matter anyway. Dunn’s not without his warts, but he’s also among the most consistent power hitters of the last generation – you know you’re getting 35-40 homers and an above-average OBP, and as he’s just turning 31, you should get him before his decline sets in. Besides, you saw what kind of difference Manny made on Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier when he was in the lineup, right? Nothing torpedoed the 2010 club more than lousy offense, and getting one of the top 3 bats available would be a huge step in the right direction.

While it may seem difficult to think that Dunn wouldn’t get more or the Dodgers could be in on a contract like this, remember that Dunn is limiting his own market by ignoring the AL, and teams like the Cardinals, Padres, Reds, Phillies, Mets, Astros, Marlins, and Rockies probably aren’t going to be in the market for a 1B. That limits the competition greatly, mainly to the Cubs and Nationals, and Washington has given indications they’d prefer the superior defense and lower cost of Carlos Pena. (The crowd at FanGraphs seem to agree with my 3/33 guess, as well). It’s not impossible, and I’m more concerned about the years than the money anyway. I’d rather give him 2, but I don’t think that’s doable; I’d live with 3, but wouldn’t go 4.

Now tell me you don’t feel better about the offense with just this one move? But wait! There’s more…
$60m + $8m = $68m

2a) Trade Russell Martin to Detroit…

I went back and forth about Martin about a million times. On one hand, I hardly need to remind you that he followed up his horrendous 2009 with more or less the same year in 2010, except that he set a career high with a 18.4% K rate. On the other, the state of catching is so dreadful right now that he actually managed to put up a 2.1 WAR this year, thanks to the replacement level being so low.

Martin never looked so good as right after he was injured, when Brad Ausmus and A.J. Ellis combined to hit about .020 and go six months without throwing out a runner. (Those numbers may be slightly exaggerated, but probably not as much as you’d think). Sure, Rod Barajas had a fantastically hot start and Ellis even caught fire in September, but if Martin wasn’t the rising star he saw in 2007, nor was he the total failure we’d all become accustomed to thinking of him as. Neither Barajas (and his .284 career OBP) or Ellis have the skill to be anything like peak-level Russell Martin.

However… peak-level Martin isn’t walking through that door. Martin made over $5m last year, and he would probably make at least $6m in arbitration. Plus, he’s coming back from a broken hip, and while he avoided surgery, it’s still a broken hip, not exactly a common injury for catchers to be coming back from. You could make the argument that he’s worth that kind of salary if he’d had a great year or if he wasn’t coming off that injury; you could take the risk on the injury if you had a hefty payroll. That’s not something my hypothetical team is willing to do next year, and I’d probably non-tender him if a trade isn’t an option.

As for Detroit, Alex Avila had only a .674 OPS himself, and Gerald Laird was even worse as he heads into free agency. The Tigers have a ton of money to spend, and they could use a veteran backstop to pair with the 23-year-old Avila. There’s an added bonus here, because other than Toronto, this is the closest place to home you can send Martin.
$68m + $0m = $68m

2b) …for Ryan Raburn.

I first noted Raburn in my Jonathan Broxton post last week, and thought that Broxton was too high a price to pay for him. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been interested in him for a while as a multi-positional asset who bashes left-handed pitching, and the Dodgers reportedly looked at him in July. They ended up with Scott Podsednik. They chose poorly.

That might be underselling him, actually; he had OPS of .891 and .826 the last two seasons, with 16 and 15 homers. He really shined against lefties though – .931 OPS this year, .976 last year. The Tigers never saw him as an every-day player and instead let him start at six different positions, everywhere but SS and C. Overall, he was worth 2.1 WAR this year. While I briefly considered putting him at 2B to fill the Theriot-sized hole, Raburn is by all accounts a below-average infielder, so we’ll use him in the outfield here. The infield experience is nice to have for double-switches and extra-innings affairs, though.

For the purposes of this exercise, we’ll say that no money changes hands and each team is responsible for the arbitration case. Raburn will probably get about $1m.
$68m + $1m = $69m

3) Punt on the left field problem by platooning Raburn with Jay Gibbons.

Everyone seems to think that getting a big-time outfielder is a must just because Manny is gone, but beyond Carl Crawford (who the Dodgers can’t afford) and Jayson Werth (who they probably also can’t afford, and who would never come back), there’s nothing all that exciting out there. Meanwhile, the Dodgers have Trayvon Robinson and Jerry Sands each about a year away from contributing. There’s no need to overpay for someone mediocre who would just end up blocking one of those two, and since we’ve replaced Manny’s bat with Dunn’s, going lower-cost here is okay.

Raburn crushes lefties. Gibbons has a 60-point OPS advantage against righties in his career. His outfield defense is.. well.. better than Manny, right? You make do with what you can on a limited budget, and if used properly these two could make for a very productive combo. Gibbons has made it clear he badly wants to be back. We’ll take advantage of that and give him $800k.
$69m + $800k = $69.8m

4) Don’t make the disastrous July trades any worse by hanging on to Ryan Theriot or Scott Podsednik just to save face.

As outlined here for Theriot, he’s one of the worst second basemen in baseball, and certainly not worth the $3.5m or so he’d get in arbitration. If you can fool some team into giving up any sort of a useful bullpen arm for him, I’d do it in a heartbeat, though I don’t think it’s all that likely. Podsednik’s going to be 35, had a .313 OBP for the Dodgers with so-so defense, and missed the last month with a foot injury, therefore putting the only skill he actually has in jeopardy. Uh, no thanks.
$69.8m + $0.1m Podsednik buyout = $69.9m

5) Sign Juan Uribe to a 1-year, $5m deal to play 2B with an option for 2012.

Yes, he’s a Giant, and one with a .310 OBP at that. But the Dodgers are probably going to pay Theriot $3.5m to play decentish defense while being a black hole at the plate. If you’re going to pay that much for a 2B without much of an OBP, why not pay just a bit more for better defense and more power?

Theriot has 16 homers in his big-league career. Uribe has hit at least 16 in six of the last seven seasons; his .440 SLG this year and .431 SLG career is nearly 100 points better than Theriot’s ever had. On defense, Uribe (10.9 UZR/150 at 2B) is better than Theriot is (4.3 UZR/150 at 2B), plus he’s above average at SS and 3B – and provides excellent insurance for another Rafael Furcal injury, as he started 96 games at SS this year with Edgar Renteria ailing.

Uribe’s not perfect. But for $4-5m, would you rather a low-OBP guy with zero power and decent defense, or a low-OBP guy with good power and plus defense? Now, it’s possible I’m short-changing the contract Uribe would get here, but he was horrendous in 2007 and ’08, to the point where he had to take a minor-league deal before 2009. That, plus the fact he’s turning 32 next spring and that he entered 2010 as a backup to Renteria and Freddy Sanchez, means I can’t see anyone investing a bunch of years.
$69.9m+ $5m = $74.9m

6) Turn Casey Blake into the lefty-mashing bench bat he ought to be.

I worried weeks ago that Blake was nearing the end of the line, putting up some of the worst numbers of his career. Since then we’ve seen Joe Torre say that Blake needed more rest, and Blake mention that he would accept a reduced role if it were put upon him. Making sure he’s not the everyday guy in 2011 is a must.

However, Blake’s not completely without his uses. While he was just the 30th-best 3B against RHP this year (min. 150 PA, by OPS), he was the 6th-best against lefties (.895 OPS). That’s a difference of more than 220 points of OPS, and at his age it’s clear that both selective use and more rest could be a huge boon to him.

It lines up nicely, too, since Dunn’s far weaker against fellow southpaws at 1B. Blake would make an outstanding backup corner IF / designated LHP-crusher, and can even serve as a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency corner outfielder as well.

Of course, if you’re pushing Blake to the bench, that means you need a primary 3B who can hit righties, and that’s why we’re going to welcome back a former Dodger 3B (no, not that one) when we…
$74.9m + $0m = $74.9m

7) Trade Xavier Paul and Scott Elbert to Kansas City for Wilson Betemit and Tim Collins.

I’m anticipating that this is going to be the most unpopular move I propose – perhaps on both sides – but that’s okay.

A replacement for Blake was by far the hardest hole to fill. I don’t think I fully realized this until I started researching, but only 12 3B had even an .800 OPS against righties this year, and most of them are guys like Evan Longoria, Alex Rodriguez, and Ryan Zimmerman – i.e., not even worth discussing as viable options. The more I looked at the list, the more I became convinced that Blake really will still be the Dodger 3B in 2011.

But that’s not good enough for my hypothetical team. We can do better, and Betemit had a pretty monstrous half-season for Kansas City this year: .297/.378/.511. Almost as important, he’s a switch-hitter who’s been more successful against RHP than LHB over his career, which fits into our scheme here (though this year he’s done very well against both).

Now, I can hear the objections to this already. “It was half a season. He spent much of the last two years in the minors. And haven’t we seen this movie before?” All fair points. But I’ll argue that Betemit’s been pretty underrated. In parts of 8 seasons, his career line is .267/.335/.449, which works out to a 103 OPS+, even though much of that came when he was far too young (he made his MLB debut at 19, and saw significant time at 22). Before being traded in 2007, he had a .359 OBP and .474 SLG in 84 games for the Dodgers. How was production like that a problem again? Oh, right, it’s because people put far too much stock in a low batting average.

What that means is that despite the fact he’s been around forever, he’s still only turning 29 next month, and he’d hardly be the first guy to take a little longer to figure it out. Besides, in one of the very first posts on this blog – way back in July of 2007 – I argued that he should be given more playing time at 3B. Why not rectify that four years later? It’s not a perfect solution, and his defense may be suspect, but I do believe he’ll outperform Blake in 2011. In what’s become a running theme, he’s also received starts at 1B, 2B, and LF this year, adding more versatility along with Raburn.

As for Paul to the Royals, they have a ton of minor-league talent, but it’s still probably at least a year or two away, and 3B is about to be taken by Mike Moustakas, one of the brightest stars in the minors. They’re not going to contend in 2011, so if they need someone to cover for a few weeks before Moustakas arrives, Josh Fields can do that. Paul’s proven all he needs to prove in the minors (.882 OPS in AAA), but just needs some regular playing time in the bigs. He’s unlikely to get that in LA, especially since the Dodgers already have two lefty outfielders in Andre Ethier and Jay Gibbons, and as he’s out of options they’ll need to do something with him. The KC outfield is unsettled beyond David DeJesus, who’s coming off injury and may be a trade candidate, with Alex Gordon and his .664 OPS likely to have a spot as well. Paul’s got talent, and could find opportunity in KC.

Then we swap Elbert for Collins and… well, look. Elbert’s probably the most talented of the four, and the former 1st-round pick has produced in the minors, striking out 10.4/9 (and has even struck out more than a man per inning in his brief MLB time). I don’t want to move him, but of course you’re not going to get Betemit for nothing, and after his strange 2010 season it’s not hard to think that a change of scenery is a good idea for him. He’s originally from Missouri, anyway.

Collins is fun because of his absurd strikeout numbers; at only 20, he’s averaging 13.3 K/9. He’s not seen as a top prospect, however, because of his height (5’7″, which may be generous), and he was actually traded twice in 2010. He went from Toronto to Atlanta as part of the Alex Gonzalez/Yunel Escobar deal, and then to KC in the deal which sent Kyle Farnsworth and Rick Ankiel to Atlanta. Clearly, his trade value hasn’t been particularly high, considering the names there.

I’m guessing that Dodger fans will think this is giving up too much, and Royal fans won’t think it’s enough. That probably means it’s about right. Either way, I don’t pretend to be a prospect expert. If it’s not exactly these names, but something similar that gets the deal done, that’s fine too.
$74.9m + $2m = $76.9m

8) Sign Jeff Francoeur to a 1-year, $1.5m deal once he inevitably gets non-tendered by Texas.

I know, I know. I hate myself for even suggesting it, and if any of my Met fan or baseball writer friends see this here they’ll die laughing and unfollow me. But hear me out; we’re trying to build a team on a limited budget, and sometimes that means working around a player’s limitations in order to take advantage of his strengths.

Jeff Francoeur, for all his ridiculous portrayals in the media, has two strengths and one extremely large weakness. He’s a very strong defensive outfielder with a good arm, and he can hit lefty pitching (.823 OPS career). What Francoeur cannot do, under any circumstances, is hit righty pitching (.639 OPS this year, .699 career). However, it just so happens that the Dodgers have an outfielder in Andre Ethier who’s a mediocre defender and even worse against lefties (.625 OPS this year, .681 career) than Francoeur is against righties. Do I have to spell out the fit here? It’s basically the Reed Johnson role, except that Johnson is 7 years older, couldn’t stay healthy, and had less upside.

The danger here is having a manager who gets fooled by Francoeur’s lefty-bashing tendencies and wants to play him every day, a trap we saw Jerry Manuel fall into this season. It remains to be seen whether Don Mattingly can handle that, but in my hypothetical 2011 world, we have a manager who can.
$76.9m + $1.5m = $78.4m

9) Suck it up and go with A.J. Ellis and Rod Barajas behind the plate.

I can’t believe I’m saying this either, because I’ve been driving the “Barajas was never that good and Ellis isn’t a major league hitter” train. I’ll admit I’m not thrilled about this. Unfortunately, you’re dealing with a very tight budget, and there’s not a lot of other choices out there. Victor Martinez isn’t an option, and John Buck‘s likely to get a lot more than he deserves. Do you really want Bengie Molina? Jason Varitek? Yeccch.

So if you’re going to have to skimp somewhere, this is probably the place to do it, and Ellis and Barajas could be a decent combo as two total opposites. Ridiculous intro to LA aside, Barajas is still a guy with a career .284 OBP, but he’s definitely got pop, hitting double-digit homers in six of the last seven years. Meanwhile, Ellis would kill to have Juan Pierre‘s power (no, really; he hasn’t hit a pro homer since 2008) but he does have a .398 career OBP in the minors and managed .363 in the bigs this year, with a nice 18/14 K/BB mark in limited time. Barajas even has a reverse-platoon split, dealing with RHP better than LHP, so you could schedule starts around that.

Neither’s a long-term solution, but each has a decent defensive reputation, and for just over $1m, it could be worse. I guess. I can easily see regretting this by May.
$78.4m + $0.4 (Ellis) + $0.8 (Barajas) = $79.6m

10) Don’t guarantee Russ Mitchell a job.

I’ve seen it mentioned in several places that Mitchell’s all but certain to have a bench spot on the 2011 club, because of his low cost and positional versatility. To that I say, why? I didn’t have very high hopes for Mitchell when he was recalled, and he didn’t do much to change that perception by getting just six hits in the bigs without a single walk. He’s got options left. Send him back to ABQ, let him provide depth should injuries happen, but do not start the season with him on the bench.

___________________________________

So here’s the Opening Day roster you’re looking at..

C Ellis (R)
1B Dunn (L)
2B Uribe (R)
SS Furcal (S)
3B Betemit (S)
LF Raburn (R)
CF Kemp (R)
RF Ethier (L)
Bn Barajas (R-C)
Bn Blake (R-1B/3B)
Bn Carroll (R-2B/SS)
Bn Francoeur (R-OF)
Bn Gibbons (L-1B/OF)

Four of the five guys on the bench have the chance to put the ball out of the yard, four more than the Dodgers usually have. Actually, 11 of these 13 (all but Ellis and Carroll) could put up double-digit homer numbers. There’s great platoon plays, if used properly, in Blake, Francoeur, and Gibbons in place of Dunn, Ethier, and Raburn. Two switch-hitters give you great lineup flexibility, and the addition of players who can play multiple positions really helps you out in the field as well.

The main weakness here is the lack of a true backup CF, but Kemp plays every day and Raburn & Francoeur can each cover in a pinch. I suppose I’m also a bit concerned about the corner infield defense, but Furcal and Uribe are both quite good in the middle, and again there’s only so much you can do when you’re as constrained budget-wise as this team is.

If we take the platoon idea to its full extent and put together some quick lineup ideas, you’ll really see how this would improve the offense. (Yes, Kemp should probably be batting lower, that’s a discussion for a different time.) The MLB average for wOBA in 2010 is about .325, meaning that everyone here save for Kemp against RHP was at least a tick above-average this year – and no matter what other moves you make, success in 2011 is largely dependent on his bouncing back. And how much fun is the idea of sitting both Dunn and Ethier vs. a LHP, just daring the other manager to start bringing in righty relievers?

Of course, a good year in 2010 doesn’t guarantee that Betemit isn’t a fluke, or that Ellis didn’t just have a well-timed hot streak, etc. There’s no guarantees about any of this for next year… but on a team that regularly rolled out Theriot (.301 vs LHP, .280 vs RHP), Blake (.295 vs RHP), Loney (.256 vs LHP, .340 vs RHP), and Martin (.304 vs RHP), it’s hard to argue that this isn’t a team which is better poised for success – and all it’s cost us so far is Paul, Elbert, Martin, and about $15m.

“But where’s James Loney,” you’re probably asking. Well, our friend James is on his way to the Midwest in a trade for a starting pitcher…. but who? You’ll have to check back tomorrow to find out about the pitching side, where I’ve got about $20m to put together a pitching staff around the $7m already committed to Broxton. Can I do it? Come back to see.

Dodgers of the Decade: Third Base

Jeff Kent is killing it at second base, so rather than wait until tomorrow, let’s just close it and move on. His win was notable if only for the fact that it wasn’t unanimous. Somebody needs to own up to being the Mark Grudzielanek fan, please.

Dodgers of the Decade team:
C: Russell Martin (68%)
1B: James Loney (62%)
2B: Jeff Kent (88%)

Today we move on to third base, but before we do, let’s think about what we’re really dealing with here. Third base for the Dodgers has been a black hole from whence no light can escape for years. Before Adrian Beltre, do you know who the last Dodger third baseman to play even 500 games (just barely over three seasons) at the position was? Ron Cey, and his Dodger career ended in 1982, nearly 30 years ago. So to say that third base for the Dodgers doesn’t exactly have the cachet of, say, center field for the Yankees is a bit of an understatement.

Even in this decade, it had somehow gotten worse. In October 2007, I noted all of the Dodgers who had seen time at 3B since Beltre departed after 2004, and let me tell you – it’s a sorry group:

Dodger Third Basemen, 2005-07 (3 seasons since Beltre left):
1. Mike Edwards
2. Oscar Robles
3. Antonio Perez
4. Olmedo Saenz
5. Nori Nakamura
6. Jose Valentin
7. Willy Aybar
8. Cesar Izturis
9. Wilson Betemit
10. Bill Mueller
11. Julio Lugo
12. Ramon Martinez
13. Joel Guzman
14. Wilson Valdez
15. Tony Abreu
16. Shea Hillenbrand
17. Nomar Garciaparra
18. Andy LaRoche

I look at some of those names and blood starts rushing from my ears. Antonio Perez! Shea Hillenbrand!! Nori Nakamura!!! I am now having an epileptic seizure. And that list is only just from after 2007, because since then we’ve added 7 more names: Blake DeWitt, Russell Martin (!), Casey Blake, Pablo Ozuna, Mark Loretta, Ronnie Belliard, and Juan Castro. While Blake has finally solidified the position, that’s still 25 players through the revolving door in just five seasons.

Yet while Beltre clearly had the best season of the decade with his monster 2004, and will have the highest total WAR, that’s also because he played the longest. He was largely subpar before 2004, even putting up a .290 OBP in 2003. Blake has, in some regards, actually outplayed Beltre, including in OPS. Also competing: Blake DeWitt and Wilson Betemit.

Third Base

Adrian Beltre (737 games, 2000-04)
Dodger stats: .278/.331/.476 .808 125 hr 421 rbi
WAR: 18.8

Casey Blake (197 games, 2008-09)
Dodger stats: .272/.349/.466 .814 28 hr 102 rbi
WAR: 7.1

Blake DeWitt (148 games, 2008-09)
Dodger stats: .257/.333/.384 .717 11 hr 56 rbi
WAR: 2.3

Wilson Betemit (139 games, 2006-07)
Dodger stats: .236/.332/.455 .787 19 hr 50 rbi
WAR: 0.3

Top three seasons
10.1 WAR Beltre, 2004
6.1 WAR Blake, 2009
3.5 WAR Beltre, 2000

Just like I said for catcher, this encompasses every year of the decade… except 2005. What a horrendous year.

Dodger third baseman of the 00s: go!

[polldaddy poll=2438792]

So Long, Rafael

Diamond Leung, take it away:

Shortstop and leadoff hitter Rafael Furcal will undergo back surgery tomorrow and miss about another eight weeks. The microdiscectomy operation will involve removing a part of a bulging disk in his lower left back in order to reliever pressure. “It’s a blow, but it’s reality,” Manager Joe Torre said. “We anticipate this will solve everything.” Nomar Garciaparra is expected to be activated from the DL by the end of the week to play shortstop, but Torre conceded he won’t be able to go everyday. Class AA Jacksonville shortstop Ivan DeJesus Jr. is also being considered.

Fantastic. I’m no doctor, but I would absolutely love to know how something that was supposed to keep him out just a few days in early May has now mushroomed into a four month absence. From Furcal’s perspective, this is costing him millions; the hot start to his walk year probably had him lined up for a nice raise on his current $39 million deal, but now – who knows what he’ll get? Actually, now that he’s going to spend just about 2/3 of his Dodgers career injured (if not on the DL), he sounds exactly like the kind of player Ned Colletti will give a 4 year $60 million deal to.

Anyway, it’s become more obvious than ever that it’s time to get a shortstop, because after Hiroki Kuroda’s excellent return tonight, this team is somehow astoundingly just 1.5 games out of first. Sure, that’s almost entirely because the Diamondbacks have been terrible for two months (for example, the Blue would be ten games out in the NL Central and dead last at twelve games out in the AL East), but since they’re being dealt such a favorable hand here in terms of competition, they might as well run with it. When I looked at the shortstop market a few weeks ago, I came up with the following names: Christian Guzman, Jeff Keppinger, Jack Wilson, and David Eckstein. Guzman sounds like he’s about to re-sign with Washington, so maybe he’s out. Diamond mentioned Ivan DeJesus Jr. (more on him in a second), and Rotoworld says:

This puts the Dodgers very much in the market for a shortstop. It’s doubtful that Nomar Garciaparra is the answer, and none of the internal options have been close to adequate. A trade for Juan Uribe or David Eckstein could be a possibility, though Eckstein probably isn’t available just yet. Perhaps Edgar Renteria could also become an option later this month.

I can’t even tell you how much Juan Uribe scares me. He had one pretty good year (111 OPS+ in 2004) and since then has been trapped in a solid vortex of suck, with OPS+ scores since of 85, 73, 74, and finally 61 this season. I want to be incredibly clear about this: in exactly the same way I said Angel Berroa is not the answer, Juan Uribe is also not the answer. Uribe got only 19 plate appearances in all of June, which should tell you how much the White Sox value him. And if that doesn’t, the fact that he’s been a DFA candidate for weeks – after being placed on waivers in spring training – should.

As for Ivan DeJesus, Jr., I’m a little surprised to hear his name. But I imagine Leung wouldn’t have said he “was being considered” if there wasn’t some truth to it, so let’s look at him. As a 21-year-old in AA right now, he’s put up a pretty decent line of .300/.412/.378. That’s very little power, but the OBP and 39/37 BB/K rate seems to show that he’s a patient hitter. I’ll admit I don’t know a whole lot about DeJesus’ game, so let’s go back to the offseason and look at Baseball Prospectus’ capsule on him, where they ranked him the #9 prospect in the LA system, between Jon Meloan and Blake DeWitt:

Year In Review: Another excellent defender at short in the organization, DeJesus also had solid year with the bat at High-A.
The Good: DeJesus has a unique sense of his strengths and weaknesses at the plate, and knows that his greatest value comes from working the count and using a contact-oriented swing to lash line drives to all fields. He’s a very good defensive player with good range and smooth action, and as the son of 15-year big-league veteran Ivan DeJesus, it’s no surprise that his makeup is strong.
The Bad: DeJesus has little power, nor any projection for it, so he’ll need to maintain his high on-base percentages as he moves up. He’s no more than an average runner, and an inefficient basestealer. He needs to better measure which plays he can make and which he can’t, as many of his errors came on throws he shouldn’t have tried to attempt.
Fun Fact: In 21 games batting ninth for Inland Empire, DeJesus hit .354/.442/.492.
Perfect World Projection: An everyday big-league shortstop.
Timetable: DeJesus will face a big test with a Double-A assignment in 2008, beginning the season three weeks short of his 21st birthday.

To be honest? He sounds like he’ll be just fine down the road, but he’s hardly dominating at AA, and he’s still pretty young. As much as I’ve been on the pro-kids, anti-washed up vets bandwagon over the years, I really think we might be better off just looking to acquire one of the mediocre veterans we’ve already discussed – depending on the price, of course. Either way, this is going to get interesting.

In completely unrelated ex-Dodger news, I attended the Rangers at Yankees game in the Bronx tonight, and when former Dodger Wilson Betemit came to bat, the song played on the PA system was Pearl Jam’s “Better Man“. The section of the song that was played? I shit you not, it was the chorus, which if you’re unfamiliar with the song goes as follows: “can’t find a better man… can’t find a better man…” How’s that for instilling confidence in your players?

Finally, as I’m reading the paper this morning, an insert falls out for the All-Star game at Yankee Stadium. Apparently they’re doing this promotion in which all around New York City, 42 eight-foot-tall Statues of Liberty painted in the colors of all 30 teams (plus 12 others for AL, NL, defunct teams, etc.) are planted to drum up publicity. Some of them are in appropriate locations (Padres in front of a PETCO, Mariners in front of the Nintendo store), some are unintentionally hilarious (Rays in front of Champs!) and some are just randomly placed on the street. I couldn’t help but go track down the Dodgers statue (in front of Niketown on 57th and 5th, if you happen to be in the area) and snap a shot:

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