With about .00001 percent of the publicity and controversy surrounding the regular Hall of Fame balloting, the Veterans Committee elected three new members this morning, enshrining managers Bobby Cox, Tony LaRussa, and Joe Torre (all unanimously). I was never really Torre’s biggest fan as a Dodger manager — and I can show that with consistency, from before he arrived until the day he left — but it’s pretty hard to argue with his credentials. Yes, I’m talking about the rings that Derek Jeter and friends gave him in New York, but also the 18-year playing career that included eight All-Star appearances and the 1971 NL MVP award. If anything, I’m surprised he wasn’t included sooner than this.
In the days since Seattle signed Robinson Cano, one thing has become clear: The Mariners can’t stop now. You don’t make a move like that merely to take your team from 91 losses to 86, not when you’re in a division with the Rangers, A’s, and Angels, and not when your front office may be certifiably insane.
That may or may not mean they’re the team that goes crazy to add David Price, which has been the hot rumor, but it absolutely means they’re going to get an outfielder. Or two. Or three, since only center fielder Michael Saunders was worth even 1 WAR for them last year, and .236/.323/.397 is hardly anything to get excited about. Last year’s primary left fielders were Raul Ibanez and Jason Bay; the right fielders Mike Morse and Endy Chavez. So yeah, they need some help, badly.
Since Oregon native Jacoby Ellsbury decided to head to New York, that probably means they’re going to lavish the terribly overrated Nelson Cruz with a huge deal. But it also might mean that they try to fill one of these holes via trade, since it’s long been difficult to get free agents to choose to come to a place with the team is lousy, the weather is questionable, and the travel is difficult. (You may remember Justin Upton using his no-trade clause to block a move there.)
So you know what that means: How do the Dodgers and Mariners fit for potential deals? Right off the bat, we should state two things: 1) Knock it off about Kyle Seager right now, since it makes no sense for Seattle to part with a young, productive, cost-controlled asset who they can’t easily replace; and 2) Ned Colletti, quite properly, indicated that he doesn’t have to trade an outfielder.
But let’s say that they do, especially since it was pretty well known the two teams were involved in talks last winter. Maybe it’s Matt Kemp, maybe it’s Andre Ethier; for the moment, it doesn’t matter, because the return for either would be so much defined by money. Still, the Cano signing changes the equation both in terms of what the Mariners will do and what they can give up, so let’s take a look at what they have that might be of interest to the Dodgers. (No, not Taijuan Walker, who isn’t going anywhere other than possibly to Tampa Bay, or Danny Hultzen, who probably misses all of 2014 after October shoulder surgery, or Brad Miller, who will start at shortstop in Seattle, or Justin Smoak, who isn’t a fit in Los Angeles or any good, or D.J. Peterson, who can’t be traded yet, or Mike Zunino, who Seattle expects to be their catcher for the next decade.)
2B Nick Franklin — Franklin is the Mariner most immediately impacted by Cano, since the 22-year-old second baseman looks like he just lost his job after playing 102 games in his rookie season. Franklin was a 2009 first rounder who was a Top 100 Baseball America prospect in each of the last two seasons; he actually played more shortstop than second in the minors, but is probably limited to second base defensively in the big leagues.
The good news is that he’s still just 22, showed some surprising pop in the minors (.287/.360/.459 career line) and hit 12 homers in the bigs last year. The bad news is that he was essentially replacement level overall, showing an alarming 27.4% strikeout rate as he was eaten alive by breaking pitches, a poor .225/.303/.382 line, and average-to-slightly-below defense. Unsurprisingly, he’s likely to be traded, and I’d like him in the system, but I can’t say I’m comfortable giving him a starting job on a contending team in 2014.
2B/UT Dustin Ackley – part of the reason Franklin got the call is because former #2 overall pick Ackley saw his up-and-down career implode once again. Ackley showed some of his excellent on-base skills (.397 career minor league OBP) in a nice partial 2011 for Seattle (.273/.348/.417), but then fell off the cliff in 2012 (.226/.294/.328). It didn’t get a whole lot better in 2013 (.253/.319/.341), though at least this time there was something interesting about his year.
At the end of May, barely hitting .200, he lost his job to Franklin and was sent back to Triple-A. When he returned a month later, he was an outfielder. Playing mostly center field, along with eight starts at second and some time in left field and at first, Ackley showed signs of life, hitting .285/.354/.404 in 256 plate appearances.
But before we get too excited about that…
So to put a value on his ability, he just doesn’t have a bunch of upside. After being promoted in 2013, he basically hit the same as his rookie season which isn’t really that good. And more importantly, he as a ton of downside.
He turns 26 in February, and there’s some value to a guy who can play second and center without being terrible at it. (Hi, Skip Schumaker!) But that’s a pretty long way off from what you’d hope out of a #2 pick.
SP James Paxton — 25-year-old Canadian lefty Paxton made a brief debut last year and might be the team’s #5 starter if the season started today, so they might not be super motivated to move him. Most see him as a likely #3 with the ceiling of a #2 if everything goes well, so there’s definitely value there, and he brings three pitches, with a plus curve, a fastball that has some life, and a decent change.
He can miss bats (9.6 K/9 in the minors), but he’ll need to improve his control (4.0 BB/9), and while you know as well as I do that PCL ERA’s aren’t worth much, a 4.45 mark in 145 innings certainly isn’t impressive. Mariners fans like him, though:
Naturally, the thing with Paxton’s always been about the inconsistency. He’s done that thing where he’s alternated brilliance with unwatchability. Over a seven-start stretch this year in the minors, he had eight walks and 43 strikeouts. Over his next five starts, he had 17 and 13. He followed that with a gem against Salt Lake. With Paxton, it’s been hard to tell what’s coming next, and that’s why people have thought of him as occupying a tier below Taijuan Walker and Danny Hultzen. But what we have is a lefty starter in the bigs who can touch 98, and he just had a game with ten strikeouts and zero walks. There’s a good pitcher in there. Maybe a real good one. I’ve never been afraid of the Erik Bedard comparisons, because Bedard had a lot of success in between the DL stints.
While he’s a good talent, there’s also the question of where he might slot into the Dodger system, since I’m not entirely sure the team wants to give up on Josh Beckett and Chad Billingsley, and we all want to see Zach Lee get his shot. Then again, there’s no such thing as too much pitching.
Okay, on to the lightning round…
P Tom Wilhelmsen — Wilhelmsen has a pretty fun backstory that includes him walking away from baseball for years and serving as a bartender before surfacing with the Mariners in 2011 and stealing Brandon League‘s job in 2012. He then lost the closer’s role to Danny Farquhar in 2013, as he stopped missing bats, but we know Ned Colletti wants relief arms, loves “closer experience,” and… hey, maybe any deal can include League going back to Seattle?
SS Chris Taylor — Honestly, I had legitimately never heard of him before today, but I found his name come up in a Beyond the Box Score article about potential Seattle/LA trades that referenced my FanGraphs piece on the Dodgers having too many outfielders. Taylor’s a 23-year-old shortstop with a nice .316/.411/.449 line in two minor league seasons. You know as well as I do not to simply scout the minor league stats, but as I said I’m not familiar with him, so I don’t have a lot to go on.
Taylor is an all-glove shortstop who is doing a great job at shoving that label up the backsides of clubs who passed on him for that reason. The hands and feet are terrific and Taylor’s arm strength grades out in average to above-average range, suggesting he’s at least a utility candidate in the majors. He’s made some swing adjustments in his quick ascent through the minors, but more are needed if he’s to hit for enough extra-base power to warrant any consideration for a long-term starting role. His patience and all-around plate skills are superb, but he will strike out, and that will be a challenge for him in Triple-A, which is where he’ll start 2014.
Not someone who will help the Dodgers right now, but certainly a nice piece to add to a system that has little up-the-middle infield talent other than Corey Seager.
P Charlie Furbush — A name I had heard the Dodgers were interested in last year, he would help fill the lefty bullpen position by bringing big strikeout rates (9.2/9 career) and is death on lefties (.206/.283/.278 career). Unfortunately, since Oliver Perez is a free agent, the Mariners may prefer to simply hang on to Furbush themselves.
C Tyler Marlette — Blocked, probably, by Zunino in Seattle, and we all know the Dodgers have little catching depth. Marlette’s a 20-year-old who just hit .304/.367/.448 in the Midwest League, and was ranked as #9 by Baseball Prospectus and #12 by FanGraphs. BP lauds his makeup and his chances of being a plus defender with some pop, while FG saying:
Marlette made huge strides behind the plate in 2013, which caused his prospect value to increase significantly. The 20-year-old Florida native is a strong hitter. He isn’t afraid to take the pitch where it’s offered and go the other way. He showed flashes of his raw power potential in ’13 but needs to be a little more selective to continue having success as he reaches the upper levels of the minors.
So the Mariners definitely have some interesting pieces, but remember this: Tampa Bay isn’t taking Walker for Price straight up, and so Seattle may need to use some of these prospects in order to pry Price away from the Rays. But they still remain as one of the most intriguing potential trade partners for the Dodgers, one that is more than likely to do something big over the next few weeks.
It’s not exactly breaking news because it had been rumored for a few weeks, but now it seems official: Steve Dilbeck reports that Orel Hershiser will leave ESPN to join the new SNLA broadcast team, joining Nomar Garciaparra, who came aboard last week. Hershiser, of course, pitched for the Dodgers from 1983-1994 (and briefly in 2000), was the pitching coach in Texas from 2002-05, and had been at ESPN since 2006. (You might also remember him from “trying to purchase the Dodgers” two years ago.)
It’s not yet certain how Garciaparra and Hershiser will fit into the mix — I cannot imagine the two of them are the new “road team,” because neither are really play-by-play guys — and I can’t say I have strong feelings about Hershiser’s performance with ESPN. That gives him a clean slate, I guess, but by simply not being Steve Lyons, that’s a massive step up.
Dilbeck also adds that Alanna Rizzo, most recently of MLB Network, will join for pre- and post-game shows. Rizzo had been at MLBN since 2012, but before that the Colorado native had been with Fox Sports Rocky Mountain since 2007, including on Rockies coverage. Maybe she just wanted to get away from Coors Field, too?
2013 in brief: The only survivor of the three-headed Lilly/Harang/Capuano monster made 20 starts in between 75 injuries.
2014 status: Free agent after option was declined.
Remember how certain we were that Chris Capuano, or Aaron Harang, or Ted Lilly was going to get traded last winter? It seemed so obvious that none would be in the rotation that by February I was dreaming about Capuano being a lefty relief option. That’s exactly what did happen, at least for the first week of the year, but when Zack Greinke got run down, Capuano got the call to replace him… and lasted all of two innings before leaving with an injured calf.
That cost him nearly a month, and the main benefit of his return was that it finally forced Mark Ellis to the disabled list. Still, Capuano stuck in the rotation for the entire month of May, mixing two good starts (allowing single earned runs against Miami and Atlanta) with two lousy ones (five earned runs each against Arizona and St. Louis) and a decent one (three earned runs against the Angels).
Capuano briefly lost his rotation job when Ricky Nolasco arrived, with the plan being that he’d head to the bullpen. But that ended up not mattering because he injured his lat and went back to the disabled list for a second time, missing the first few weeks of June, then came back in the second game of a doubleheader in the Bronx. He was great, pitching six shutout innings, but it was just the start of one of the oddest stretches I can ever remember. For a stretch of nine consecutive starts, Capuano allowed either zero earned runs (five times)… or five (four times).
On August 9, before he gave up his final five-spot, I wrote about this absurdity at FanGraphs:
It’s a little simplistic to merely say “he’s been good” without adding some context there, and we’ll get to that in a second, but in eight starts since returning from that second injury, Capuano’s K/BB is 35/4. That, to be perfectly honest, is filthy, and he’s put up nothing but zeroes in five of his eight starts. So why isn’t the entire world digging into why Capuano has suddenly become Clayton Kershaw? It’s because of what’s happened in those other three starts:
As you can see, there’s not been a whole lot of middle ground there — he’s either great, or atrocious. When he gets hit hard, it hasn’t been because he’s lost his control, because each of those three lousy games featured a single walk apiece. It’s because he just gets hit very hard, allowing 10, 7, and 7 hits in the bad games, respectively.
Eventually, the streak ended, and so did his health: his third injury of the year came on September 6, when he left a game in Cincinnati after 1.2 innings due to a strained left groin. He’d return to throw two scoreless innings in relief appearances in the final week of the season, but never started again.
Still, his season wasn’t quite over yet. When Hyun-jin Ryu lasted just three innings in Game 3 of the NLDS, it was Capuano who came in with three scoreless innings to keep the team in the game, leading to what became a 13-6 blowout. Then, for some reason, he was left off the NLCS roster with Paco Rodriguez, because having Carlos Marmol and Edinson Volquez was apparently so much more important.
Following the season, Capuano’s 2014 option was declined, as expected, and he’s likely to sign elsewhere, with a chance to be a useful piece as a swingman. While Capuano was rarely healthy or consistent in his two years in Los Angeles, he did contribute 304 innings of 3.91 ERA ball. For $10 million, that’s a pretty reasonable return. So long, Chris.
Next! That was fun, Ricky Nolasco!
It’s well-known that the Dodgers need to rebuild their bench after the departures of Nick Punto (to Oakland), Skip Schumaker (to Cincinnati), and Jerry Hairston & Michael Young (to the glue factory, probably). Most importantly, they need a multipositional infielder who can handle second and short, lest we be subjected to Brendan Harris or Dee Gordon or Justin Sellers, since Hanley Ramirez & Alexander Guerrero both come with question marks.
One such fit, a player who I believe the Dodgers may have made contact with already, is Los Angeles native Justin Turner, who was somewhat surprisingly non-tendered by the Mets last week. Turner turned 29 last month and was a seventh-round pick of the Reds in 2006, eventually being traded to the Orioles (for Ramon Hernandez!) in 2008, but he’s spent the bulk of his career with New York.
Turner was expected to be tendered by the Mets, but it didn’t happen after an injury-plagued year, and so he’s free after parts of five years and just under 1,000 major league plate appearances. Over that time he’s got a 93 wRC+ and a .684 OPS, making him somewhat below league-average, but he’s made starts at second (88), third (50), short (21), and first (17), which is pretty nice versatility. That said, DRS (-21) and UZR/150 (-21.5) both hate him at second, which is where he’s seen the most action, so it’s hard to call him a plus glove.
In his favor, aside from the fact that he’s a local and not a total zero with the bat (and, according to Twitter, his wife may be good friends with a Dodger front office staffer) is that he’s gained a reputation as a clubhouse prankster along the way. That won’t help put runs on the board, but you know how much Ned Colletti likes “good clubhouse guys,” right? He’d also presumably come extremely cheaply, since he was only projected to make about $800k in arbitration, and the Mets didn’t even want to pay him that.
Anyway, the Dodgers clearly have a need for a guy like this, even if he’s not all that exciting. Maybe it amounts to nothing, but let’s be honest: if it’s not Turner, it’s going to be someone exactly like him.