Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Get ready for a Gibbons-Thames platoon

The Dodgers chose not to sign a big-name (and big money) free agent to start opposite Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier in the outfield. Instead, it appears as if they will platoon lefty slugger Jay Gibbons with a power bat from the right side: Marcus Thames.

Pending a physical, Thames will ink a one-year, $1 million deal with the Dodgers to be a part of the outfield. On paper, it looks as if Kemp will be in center, Ethier in right, and Gibbons and Thames will split duties in left. Tony Gwynn will play the role of super-sub, thanks to his versatility... and his extreme lack of hitting.

After spending six seasons with the Tigers, Thames was with the Yankees last season. Playing 82 games, he hit .288 with 12 homers and 33 RBIs. That's pretty decent pop, as it would translate to around 24 projected over a full season. For the Dodgers, that must seem like 50!

All jokes aside, it's a good idea by the Dodgers to add in someone else that at least provides the threat of the long ball, something they didn't have last year once Manny Ramirez left (or was on the DL). Thames's defense has been described as pretty dreadful, so expect Gwynn to get his fair share of playing time late in games.

I know many Dodger fans wanted someone big to play outfield in L.A. this upcoming season, like Carl Crawford or Adam Dunn. But in today's financial squeeze, that just wasn't going to happen. And you know what? Considering the money those boys are making, I can't say I'm upset about that. The Dodgers spent their money wisely this offseason, highlighted by a much-improved starting rotation. And they didn't break the bank to do it.

Seeing Gibbons, Thames, or Gwynn etched in the starting lineup Opening Day isn't the most exciting thing in the world, but at least the Dodgers didn't throw away millions in the process. So I applaud them.

Besides, if they're going to break the bank on anyone, there is that Albert Pujols guy to keep an eye on for next offseason. Hmmm......

No arbitration for Billingsley

The Dodgers and Chad Billingsley avoided arbitration today by agreeing to a one-year, $6.275 million contract. The only two remaining players eligible for arbitration are now Hong-Chih Kuo and James Loney.

Billingsley had a lot to prove in 2010, as he was coming off a 2009 season that saw him slump so badly in the second half, he was left out of the rotation in the postseason. He responded very well, going 12-11 with a 3.57 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, and 171 strikeouts in 191 2/3 innings.

This season, Billingsley will be slotted towards the top of a strong rotation that includes Clayton Kershaw, Ted Lilly, Hiroki Kuroda, and Jon Garland. I expect Bills to be the #2 starter.

If Bills can put together another solid season and show some improvement in his numbers, then I would think the Dodgers would start to think more long-term with him (ditto for Kershaw). He put together a 3.31 ERA in 2007, 3.14 in 2008, and 4.07 in 2009. Even with the nosedive he went through in '09, he was still good enough in the first half to earn his only All-Star berth.

For now, the Dodgers will settle for a young pitcher who keeps the ball in the yard (eight homers in 31 starts last season), and has shown much better control (69 walks, down from 86 the previous season). If Kershaw continues his ace-like status, then he and Bills will be one of the best 1-2 combos in baseball.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Home opener moved up a day

The Dodgers and Giants will get national treatment to open the season, as the opener has been moved up a day to Thursday, March 31 to put the game on ESPN. Despite ESPN wanting it to be a home game for the Giants, that's just not going to happen. So fear not, Dodger fans.

The three-game set will now run from March 31-April 3. Monday, April 4 will now be a day off for both clubs.

I can understand ESPN wanting the reigning world champs to open the season at home. But to ask the Dodgers to give away their home opener for the Giants? Uh, get real. Kudos to the Dodgers for squashing any talk of that.

Barring any injuries, look for Clayton Kershaw vs. Tim Lincecum to open the Major League Baseball season. Throw in Dan Mattingly's managerial debut (at least as the official manager), and you've got a fun start to the season for everyone.

Dodgers to work out Chavez

Here's an interesting potential solution to another third baseman: Eric Chavez. It's been reported that the Dodgers will work out the former Oakland A's star on January 20 in hopes that he can provide depth to the infield.

Chavez has had a crazy journey in the majors. From 2000-2006, he hit at least 20 home runs, topping out at 34 in '02. For his career, he has a .267 average, 282 doubles, 230 homers, and 787 RBIs.

His last four seasons, however, have been nothing but one big injury after another. It's hard to believe just how banged up he became, as he totaled 154 games the last four seasons. Shoulder and back injuries have just crippled him.

With his six-year/$63 million contract with the A's now a thing of the past, Chavez has "incentive laden contract" written all over him. Two other American League teams are reportedly interested in working him out as well.

It's no secret the Dodgers want to upgrade at third base. Casey Blake is coming off a down season in which he hit .248 with 17 homers and 64 RBIs. Plus, he'll be 37 this upcoming season with plenty of mileage on his body.

Splitting Chavez (a left-handed bat) with Blake could work out, as both would get some starts and plenty of rest as well. But first and foremost, Chavez has to somehow prove the injury bug won't hit again. Can he? I'm skeptical, but we shall see.