Joe Torre Hands Off to Don Mattingly

After some initial hilarity at the idea that Preston Mattingly (Don’s son and failed Dodger prospect) was breaking major news on Twitter, the news is finally official: Joe Torre will not be returning as Dodger manager next season, and Don Mattingly will be taking over.

Just like many of you, I’m pretty disappointed by this. I want to caution against being too hard on Mattingly, because none of us really know what he’ll be like as manager, but I’m not at all happy about how this went down. Did Tim Wallach even get an interview? Did anyone? It certainly doesn’t seem like it, and it’s hard to think that Wallach will be back. The jury is still out on Mattingly as manager, to say the least, but his lack of experience plus the hope many of us had to completely turn the page on this coaching staff makes this hard to swallow.

As for Torre not returning, you know me well enough by now to know that I’m thrilled by this news, because Torre’s time in LA had clearly passed. Honestly, I could go for weeks about the issues I’ve had with his management – you know, things like incorrectly playing the matchups, generally overworking the bullpen, bringing in George Sherrill against a righty in the 9th inning of a tie game, letting Jonathan Broxton throw 95 pitches in five days (which he still hasn’t recovered from), sitting Matt Kemp in favor of Juan Pierre, continuous usage of clearly busted veterans like Garret Anderson & Mark Sweeney, running Russell Martin into the ground (in addition to his ridiculous “third base days off“, batting Juan Pierre leadoff every goddamn daytempting the fates of both Chad Billingsley and Hiroki Kuroda by using them before and after long rain delays, and finally, the most ridiculous quote anyone’s ever given:

“I tried to reason who was going to give me the better at-bat – Berroa or Loney,” Torre said.

…which I’m still reeling from, even though it was two years ago. I’ve barely scratched the surface there, but I’m not going to go any further. Partially, that’s because I don’t have the time to clear my schedule for two solid weeks to dig up every stupid thing he’s done, but mostly because the last three years of this blog provide a pretty solid record of it.

Besides, it’s unfair to not at least recognize his accomplishments, and the team did make it to the NLCS twice in his three years. While I haven’t always agreed with the way he ran the clubhouse, the off-field drama this team has had to deal with since arrival – the divorce and Manny’s suspension, just to name two - could have easily led to a complete collapse under a lesser manager. It hasn’t been smooth, but Torre mostly avoided that, and he deserves credit for it.

Mostly, I’m just glad he’s moving on. Torre may have been the right fit for the 2008 and 2009 teams, talented outfits that were trying to heal from the “veterans-vs-kids” split of the Grady Little years. Clearly, he’s not the right fit for the 2010 club, and I can’t see his “old-school” style working as this team moves forward.

Finally, at least I can say I was consistent on Torre. Back in October of 2007, we first started to hear the Torre-to-LA rumors. While I mistakenly dismissed them as being unrealistic, I did put down my feelings on Torre coming to Dodger Stadium at the time.

Second of all, much as we really, really, don’t like Grady Little, I really didn’t want to see Torre in Blue either. Torre and Little are actually very similar types – pretty good at managing people, and pretty rotten at managing baseball lineups. It’s pretty common knowledge that Torre ruins bullpen arms by picking the 1 or 2 guys he trusts and using them 8 days a week – what do you think would happen if he got his hands on Broxton? No thanks. We’ve already got a laid-back, players’ manager who makes questionable lineup decisions. No need to make a lateral move.

Besides, all due respect for what Torre’s accomplished in New York, it’s pretty obvious that he was helped out just a little by all the, you know, talent. People forget now, but he was regarded as a pretty mediocre manager in his stops with the Mets, Braves, and Cardinals – St. Louis actually fired him in mid-1995, before he took the Yankees job. You know why? Those teams sucked. Do you remember the late-70′s Mets? Of course you don’t, because the reason the mid-80s Mets were so good was because they were able to take players like Strawberry and Gooden in the first round, thanks to their terrible finishes under Torre. This is a guy, who in 15 opportunities before going to the Bronx, finished in first exactly once – and he just happened to have the best player in the league on his 1982 Atlanta team, 26-year-old NL MVP Dale Murphy. Then he goes to a team who just happens to have Jeter, Rivera, Posada, etc. etc. entering their primes and look at that, all of a sudden he can manage. Amazing what talent can do, isn’t it?

That was just about three years ago, and while I’ve had my share of poor opinions, I can’t really find a thing to quibble with there.

First Half in Review

As the second half kicks off tonight, let’s take a quick look back at the first half and issue some grades. (I actually got requests for these on Twitter. Ha!) These are slightly condensed compared to years past, but you only want to read so much of my garbage anyway.

Remember, these are totally subjective opinions of one man, and they reflect only what was expected from the player before the season – they’re not meant to compare them to other players on the team or in the league. I say that so no one thinks I really consider Jeff Weaver more valuable than Chad Billingsley.

A+
Hong-Chih Kuo. He’d get at least a B just for still being able to pitch with his history, but he’s dominating out of the pen in a way we haven’t seen in years. Still hasn’t allowed a hit to a lefty since last season. I’m pretty sure George Sherrill allowed three hits while I was writing this sentence.

Clayton Kershaw. That’s A for Ace. ACE. ACE. Tied for 6th in lowest batting average against, and the only one of the guys ahead of him who didn’t make the All-Star team should have – Mat Latos.

Juan Pierre. Wait, what? Oh, that’s right. He’s got a .615 OPS for the White Sox, and John Ely (and much less so, Jon Link) has been a huge contributor for the Dodgers in a time of need. This is without question the most valuable Juan Pierre has ever been to the Dodgers.

A
Rafael Furcal. Docked slightly for the missed time, but I did already call him the best shortstop in LA Dodger history, so there’s that.

Jamey Carroll. Hey, I’ll admit when I’m wrong, and Carroll’s been so much better than I ever expected he’d be. His OBP is stellar and his steady play at SS during Furcal’s absence prevented the kind of “Angel Berroa, 2008″ disaster which could have sank the entire season. That said, if someone’s actually looking to trade something of value (like a pitcher) for him, you do it ten times out of ten.

John Ely. Kind of funny to give an A to someone who got demoted before the break, right? Well it doesn’t matter. He could not pitch another inning for the rest of the year, and it wouldn’t diminish the excitement he brought out of nowhere when the starting rotation was at it’s lowest.

Jeff Weaver. Once again, a non-roster invite, and once again, a reliable jack-of-all-trades in the bullpen. If anything, he’s actually been better than last year (dig the lower WHIP). He’s not flashy, but he’s provided value from basically nothing.

Travis Schlichting. I jinxed the poor guy’s scoreless streak. Least I can do is give him an A. Now can someone please update his Wikipedia page so that the picture is no longer of him as a Devil Ray (yes, Devil) third baseman?

A-
Jonathan Broxton. Broxton’s awesome. Refute me, and be wrong. He’s only knocked down a peg because that Yankees debacle was so public and gave so much unneeded fuel to his detractors, which I could certainly have lived without.

Andre Ethier. Kicked down only because of his missed time and mediocrity since returning, but holy hell was he on fire before he got hurt.

James Loney. The power’s still not there, and I don’t know that I really expect it to come any more. That said, his .803 OPS would be nearly a 50-point improvement over last season, and his OPS has improved each month of the year. So for this season, on this team (with three top bats in the outfield)? He’s fine. But as arbitration costs go up, and as Manny’s going to get replaced with someone less productive next year, he may not be worth the price going forward. For now, he’s having a nice year.

Carlos Monasterios. I still don’t know how he’s getting by with a 4.5 K/9, but this is a guy none of us had heard of when he was acquired in the Rule 5 draft. Most kids who jump from A-ball to the bigs via Rule 5 either get sent back immediately, get torched in the bigs, get hidden on the DL with a phantom injury, or some combination of the three. Monasterios not only has stuck but has been decently effective, even while being forced into a few starts. That’s impressive.

B+
Chad Billingsley. Oh no! Run! Chad Billingsley doesn’t have “it”, the undefinable existential quality that all great pitchers have! Trade him! Cut him! Kill him! Oh, what’s that? By many standards, he’s having one of the best seasons of his career, because 3.2/9 is his lowest walk rate ever, and his 3.40 FIP is comparable to his 3.35 2008 mark when he won 16 games? Nah, facts bore me. I’d rather indiscriminately say that he’s got mental problems.

B
Hiroki Kuroda. Hey, he’s stayed healthy, and on this squad that counts for something, right? He’s been more hittable than in previous years, but he’s also striking out more, and his ERA+ is an even 100. I’ll take it.

Vicente Padilla. Such a hard grade. Missed so much time, but has been awesome since his return. Ah hell, no gunshot wounds, no fistfights or arrests, I should probably have given him an A+. Why do I feel like I’m about to take a beanball?

Manny Ramirez. Manny rightfully loses credit because he’s missed a lot of time, but the claims that he’s finished are laughable. His career OPS is an even 1.000, and at 38 he’s got a .937 OPS, which leads the team and would be 12th in MLB if he had enough plate appearances. Damn those pesky facts getting in the way of a good story!

B-
Justin Miller. He was going to be lower, but then I remembered that he was a non-roster guy who’s striking out 11.4 per 9. Even though he’s struggled lately and constantly seems on the verge of losing his job, that’s nice performance from a guy you invested nothing in.C+
Blake DeWitt. The nearly complete lack of power is concerning, and I’m still not convinced he’s the long-term solution at 2B. However, his defense has definitely improved since the beginning of the year – he’s clearly put a lot of work into it – and his OPS has improved each month of the year. Still plenty of room for improvement here.

C
Casey Blake. This is kind of an average between “Casey Blake = D” and “Casey Blake‘s Beard = A+”. So C it is.

Matt Kemp. This is another one of those tough grades, but only because we had such high hopes for him. Benching or no, it’s hard to ignore the obvious regressions in baserunning, fielding, and plate discipline. On the other hand, those who consider his season a disaster are way off base; he’s going to hit 25-30 homers and he’s got a 113 OPS+.

Reed Johnson. This is basically what we expected, right? Slightly below-average offense, slightly below-average defense. That sounds about right.

C-
Russell Martin. Can’t go any lower than this because I expected him to suck before the season started, and indeed he has. If anything, it annoys me that we have to say this is acceptable because every other catcher sucks, too. I just still can’t believe I actually wrote this in reviewing the 2008 first half:

Without question, the best offensive player so far. There were actually some inane stories out there that I won’t even subject you to linking to saying that he’s been off his game this year, but that’s mostly thanks to his very slow start to the season, hitting .197 as late as April 20th. But you know what? Martin’s actually having the best offensive year of his career overall. His 118 OPS+ is up 5 from last year, and while his slugging % is down slightly (.029 less than last year), it’s more than made up by his exemplary .394 OBP, which is actually better than Alex Rodriguez, Josh Hamilton, and Hanley Ramirez. Plus, he plays third base! What can I say? This guy’s the heart and soul of the team. He’s the best player, and he never complains. Love this guy. Love him.

Ugh. Not enough facepalms in the world. Seriously, I wish I was on fire right now.

D
Ramon Troncoso. Blame Torre if you want, and that’s certainly part of it, but just read this post from June and remember that this isn’t as shocking as it seems. Still, don’t forget how valuable he was in April when the staff was falling apart.

Ronnie Belliard. Remember the excitement he brought after coming over via trade last year? So far the only interesting thing he’s done was get weighed daily in camp to see if he’d made his number. He’s also got one hit in his last 27 at-bats. When do we start calling for his job?

D-
Ronald Belisario. We still don’t know the true extent of his situation, but has proven to be absolutely unreliable. Obviously, you hope he can overcome whatever’s causing his issues. Does he still have a future in LA? Hard to say.

F
Charlie Haeger. What can I say, I had the highest of hopes for Haeger, and he disappointed. Was his foot injury really that serious? Who can say. All I can cling to at this point is that he’s still just 26, which is an infant in knuckleball terms – and that in his last three AAA outings, he’s got a line of 14 IP, 7 H, 3 ER, 11 K, 8 BB. It may not be until September, or next year, but he’ll get another shot in the bigs. I just hope it’s with the Dodgers.

George Sherrill. All-Star to waivers in the space of a year. Just unreal. Like Haeger, I bet we haven’t seen the last of him, because no one’s claiming that contract.

F-bomb
Ramon Ortiz. After predictably failing as a Dodger, he’s now getting lit up even worse for the Mets’ AAA club (18 ER in 19 IP). Nothing makes me happier, except…

Russ Ortiz. …knowing that Russ Ortiz was forced into retirement, he was so bad. I’m not even sure that’s enough, he should be in witness protection. Really, was anything more predictable than the failure of these two?

Holy god, FFFFFFF
Garret Anderson. For the record, I said this was a terrible idea from day one. (Before day one, actually.) But even I never thought it’d be this bad. Remember, he’s having ONE OF THE TEN WORST SEASONS IN TEAM HISTORY, and this team’s been around since about 30 years before Vin Scully was even born. How is it okay that Sherrill gets dumped because he’s unfixable, but Anderson keeps on keepin’ on?

Incomplete
Brad Ausmus. One game before back surgery, but he may be back as soon as next week. Hooray?

A.J. Ellis. No, he’s not hitting. He’s also played about as much as I have. What did we really expect?

Nick Green. Hitting a robust .154 with Toronto. Boy, who could have seen that coming?

Chin-lung Hu. Hu got into three innings over two games, and didn’t even get a single defensive chance, much less an at-bat. I’m honestly not sure what you want me to say here. At least he’s hitting a (mostly empty) .300 at ABQ?

Jon Link. Link’s been up and down about five times this year, yet only has seen action in four games. Still like him better than Pierre.

Scott Elbert. Geez, I’m not sure how his season could be any worse. His one MLB appearance this year was a 3 BB, 0.2 IP disaster, he hasn’t been great in AAA (1.846 WHIP)… oh, and he basically disappeared for over a month. He’s only recently returned to Camelback to start throwing, but his future is hugely in doubt at this point.

Xavier Paul: Hasn’t really played enough to judge, but he isn’t Garret Anderson, and that alone counts for something.

Kiko Calero’s a Minor League Signing I Can Get Behind

You probably remember the string of non-roster invites and minor league signings over the winter, most of which caused me nausea. John Koronka? Nick Green? Angel Berroa? It’s not that there was any guaranteed money tied up in these guys, so the invites couldn’t be that disappointing, it’s just that most of them were never any good in the first place, so it seemed like a waste of time. Or worse, Garret Anderson.

Today, the Dodgers signed another mid-30s veteran to a minor league deal, reliever Kiko Calero. The difference is, Calero’s actually worth investing an AAA roster spot in. Over his seven-year career spent with St. Louis, Oakland, and Florida, he’s struck out more than a man per inning (9.6/9) with a 1.196 WHIP and a 3.24 ERA. The fact that his career FIP is nearly identical – 3.29 – shows that he’s done that without a ton of luck, and that he’s performed just about how you’d expect.

Even better, unlike the other guys who hadn’t been good for many years if ever at all, Calero had one of his best seasons in 2009 for the Marlins, striking out 10.4 men per 9 with a sparkling 1.95 ERA in a career-high 60 innings. Now, he wasn’t quite that good, since his BABIP was an unsustainably low .259, leading to a more reasonable but still excellent 2.56 FIP.

“So,” you’re probably asking, “if he’s that good, why was he a free agent willing to take a minor league deal this offseason?” Well, quite simply, it’s because he’s had a history of shoulder injuries, causing teams to be wary of investing in him – not that it stopped him from succeeding last year. He signed a minor league deal with the Mets, and the results weren’t pretty – a 10.59 ERA, though still striking out nearly a batter per inning, before being released last month.

The Mets, as we all know, are desperate for pitching, and if they didn’t think there was anything here worth salvaging, it’s probably not a good sign. That said, this is the perfect kind of player to be signing to a minor league deal; one who’s been successful both throughout his career and as recently as last year. If he goes to ABQ and he’s cooked, well, no harm done. But if he’s anything like the pitcher he was just last season, you might have a find, with the only investing being whatever pennies a pro-rated AAA contract is for half the season, or one session with a Russian mystic. Well done.

*****

In the same dodgers.com article which noted the signing of Calero, Ken Gurnick notes that Calero will be taking the roster spot of Brent Leach, who has been sent back to AA to try to convert into a starting pitcher. I’m not sure if it’s a great idea or not, but Gurnick notes “the club believes with his four-pitch repertoire he might be able to make the switch”, so it’s worth noting.

Crisis Averted!

Normally the release of a non-roster middle infielder wouldn’t warrant its own blog post. But Angel Berroa is no normal player, which is why the news from Dodger Thoughts is so welcome:

Gurnick also notes that the Dodgers released shortstop Angel Berroa.

I have neither the time nor the space to recount my entire blogging history regarding Angel Berroa, but I encourage you to look through the archives and enjoy such gems as…

“Berroa is so bad that he might actually open a hole in the goddamn space-time continuum.”

and

“the so-bad-I-may-renounce-my-fandom-if-he-sticks Angel Berroa.”

and

“and Berroa, well, he’s basically the worst major leaguer in baseball history.”

And that’s only since he was signed this winter, much less when he played every day in 2008.  If you’re a real masochist, I’d start from the day he was acquired. Even better, he wasn’t just sent to minor-league camp, he was flat-out released. Hooray!

Casey Blake, Backup Shortstop?

Earlier today, Tony Jackson of ESPN LA participated in a live chat (count how many times Eric Stephen’s name shows up!), and about halfway through he dropped an interesting nugget regarding his thoughts on the backup shortstop competition:

I think barring an injury, Green, Berroa and Hu are probably all headed to Triple-A to start the season (assuming Green and Berroa are willing to go). The backup SS will be Jamey Carroll is the backup SS, with Casey Blake able to fill in there on occasion. Joe says if DeWitt is the regular 2B, he’ll play ONLY 2B because Joe doesn’t want him moving around. If somebody gets hurt, they can always bring one of those guys up from the minors when the need arises.

Backup shortstop has been a surprisingly common topic of conversation around here this offseason, no doubt due to the fact that 7 of the 8 lineup spots are sewn up and we have to talk about something. Whether it’s been bemoaning the signing of the old and busted Nick Green or Angel Berroa, wishing that Felipe Lopez had been signed (it’s not too late!), trying to talk ourselves into Alfredo Amezaga because he’s a lefty, or outright requesting Chin-Lung Hu, we’ve had no shortage of thoughts on it.

With all those options, one route I never considered they might go with is to not carry a backup shortstop at all. If Jackson’s feeling is correct (and you’d have to assume that Blake DeWitt wins the 2B job in this scenario, since otherwise DeWitt would be in the minors and Carroll would be needed at the keystone) then Jamey Carroll would step in to give Rafael Furcal a rest, with Casey Blake (hilariously!) being the emergency option.

In some ways, it makes sense. Green, Berroa, and even Hu are all varying degrees of terrible. None will help you with the bat, Green won’t help you much with the leather, and Berroa is so bad that he might actually open a hole in the goddamn space-time continuum. If that’s the case, why bother? No need to add yet another righty to a righty-deep bench when that righty can’t hit and can only play shortstop in name only; much better to save that space for the lefty bat of someone like Doug Mientkiewicz, Xavier Paul, or even Brian Giles.

The only problem is, of course, that Carroll’s not much of a shortstop either. He hasn’t even played an inning there in either of the last two years, and considering that he was -6.7 on the UZR/150 scale before that, it’s hard to think he’s improved much headed into his age-36 season. Still, if he’s only starting once every ten games or so, you’d have to think he couldn’t kill you that much – and if anything happened to Furcal, well, Albuquerque’s not all that far away.

But man, Casey Blake at shortstop – imagine that? You’d have to think that would only happen in the sort of emergency situation that would require Blake’s left-side partner to be Russell Martin over at the hot corner. Fun fact, though: Blake has played two innings of shortstop in his career, back in 2008 for Cleveland (on the same day Eric Stults was shutting out the White Sox). Who was his middle infield partner for those two innings? Jamey Carroll. So you think it can’t happen? It’s already happened.