Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Broxton Era is over

The Dodgers and Jonathan Broxton have officially parted ways on Tuesday, as he agreed to a one-year, $4 million deal with the Royals. He moves on after spending the first seven years of his big league career in LA.

Just the name "Jonathan Broxton" alone brings up so many mixed emotions in people. He was at one point one of the top 2-3 closers in the game. He started closing full-time for an injured Takashi Saito in 2008, and the Dodgers didn't miss a beat. He collected 14 saves that year to go with a 3.13 ERA, and picked up the final outs in Game 3 of the NLDS to sweep the Cubs.

Unfortunately, he didn't end the '08 season well, as it's hard to forget the moon shot that Matt Stairs cranked off him in Game 4 of the NLCS against the Phillies. To this day it's one of the longest hit balls I've ever seen.

To Broxton's credit, he bounced back very well in 2009, as he posted his best numbers by far. He went 7-2 with 36 saves in 42 chances with a 2.61 ERA, and an incredible 114 strikeouts in 76 innings.

And, in an eerie repeat of the year before, he fell apart in the NLCS... in Game 4... to the Phillies. This time he walked Stairs with one out, beaned Carlos Ruiz, and after getting the second out, lost on a two-run double by Jimmy Rollins.

Then came the 2010 season, which saw him collect 12 straight saves in the month of May. Good. But then came the infamous meltdown on June 27 against the Yankees, in which he failed to protect a 6-2 lead in the 9th, giving up four runs and throwing a whopping 48 pitches. Bad. His ERA coming into that game was 0.83. He stunk after that, blowing five more saves and finishing with a 4.04 ERA.

You can forget about his 2011 campaign, as it was a waste. He made only 14 appearances, saving seven games, but with a 5.68 ERA. May 3 was his last game of the year, as he was shut down for good in September with elbow surgery.

While many people held on to hopes that he could put the past behind him and still be a force in the 'pen, but let's be realistic here: this is a move that's the best for both worlds. Broxton needed to get away, and the Dodgers needed him to go away. A fresh start, with hopefully a fresh arm, is the best thing for him, as a Broxton-Joakim Soria combination can be really good if both are on.

I've been a vocal critic of Broxton for awhile now. My biggest complaint was that he simply could not be counted on to make the big save. His fastball was losing velocity (his elbow I'm sure had something to do with that), and his slider wasn't reliable anymore. What he needs to do is learn how to become a complete pitcher. What was Eric Gagne's best pitch when he was breaking save records? An off-speed pitch. Broxton needs to develop one as well.

Not to be a hater, but I'm really not sad to see him go. I didn't have any confidence in him, and his presence will no longer force Don Mattingly into the awkward role of defending him. Now, the Dodgers can move on with guys like Kenley Jansen and Javy Guerra to finish off opponents, as they did so well in 2011.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Kemp finishes 2nd in MVP voting

Matt Kemp did everything he possibly could to claim the National League's MVP award. Unfortunately, the players surrounding him cost him in the end.

Kemp finished second in the MVP balloting to the Brewers' Ryan Braun, whose team advanced to the NLCS before falling to the Cardinals. The Dodgers went nowhere for most of the season before getting hot at the end to just finish over .500 at 82-79.

While both players put up crazy numbers, it was Kemp who had the edge. Here's how they breakdown:

Braun: .332 AVG, .397 OBP, .994 OPS, 109 R, 38 2B, 33 HR, 111 RBI, 33 SB
Kemp: .324 AVG, .399 OBP, .986 OPS, 115 R, 33 2B, 39 HR, 126 RBI, 40 SB

Plus, there's the Gold Glove that Kemp brought home that Braun did not. Though to be fair, that award was not announced at the time of the MVP voting.

A couple of thoughts come to mind here. First, as I touched on before, Braun was obviously rewarded for being a member of the better team. There's no doubt he was a huge part of that, so he should be commended for it. It's hard to not like the guy, as he plays hard, puts up huge numbers, and stays out of trouble.

But, it's also hard not to ignore the fact that Braun had a monster backing him up in the lineup (Prince Fielder), and Kemp most certainly did not. Fielder finished third in the voting thanks to a .200 average, 38 homers, and 120 RBIs. Who had Kemp's back? Well, if you were to guess that Rod Barajas finished with the second most homers on the Dodgers with 16, you're either A) a liar (shame on you), or B) a reader of this site, as I've pointed it out over and over (thanks!).

Don't get me wrong, I'm not ripping Braun for winning, but merely making the case that the MVP award is more about overall team success than a measure of whom the best player is. Braun was awesome in 2011, but Kemp was slightly better. But the bottom line is, the Brewers were a much better team. And that's the difference.

Kemp did leave us with one parting thought - "Fifty/fifty." It could happen...

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Kemp signs the dotted line

Matt Kemp finalized his contract extension with the Dodgers on Friday, agreeing to an eight-year, $160 million deal. It's the largest in the storied history of the Dodgers.

Make no mistake about it: Matt Kemp is officially the face of the franchise.

With the Dodgers in the middle of a massive change in ownership, Ned Colletti did the right thing by declaring Kemp the guy who will lead the team into the future. And why not? The guy is coming off a season in which he posted some absolutely sick numbers: .324 AVG, .399 OBP, 115 R, 33 2B, 39 HR, 127 RBI, 40 S. Plus, he won his second Gold Glove by taking home the top honor for center field.

What made the 2011 even more special for Kemp was that he looked so lost the year before. It's hard to forget the images of Colletti complaining about his laziness and the many swinging strikeouts. Who knew what to expect from him going into this past season? He was about as big a question mark as there could be. He already had the reputation of a multi-talented player with little heart.

Rather than letting that become his legacy, he went out and showed the world what a top five-tool player looks like over and over again. Whether it was making a diving catch, stealing another base, or cracking a walk-off homer in extra-innings, he gave fans a reason to actually care about the Dodgers again, despite a mediocre record. He helped carry the team along with Clayton Kershaw.

The challenge for Kemp, like all others who sign huge contracts, will be to prove the money hasn't lessened the desire to be great. If you recall, Colletti's complaints two seasons ago came not long after he signed a two-year, $11.1 deal. It didn't take long for observers to question whether the money went straight to his head. A more mature Kemp this time around should eliminate that doubt.

It will also be interesting to see where the Dodgers go from here as far as the free agency scene goes. Dodger fans were hopefully that a big bat like Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder would come aboard, but Colletti did the smart thing in letting everyone know early that that wasn't going to happen. The payroll is already looking to be shrunk from $110 million last season to around $90 million next year. So you can forget about the big dogs.

Instead, there's guys like Andre Ethier and Kershaw to worry about. Ethier missed the end of the season with right knee surgery, so it's unknown how much the Dodgers want to commit to him. Still, unless a trade partner comes calling, it's hard to imagine him leaving. Kershaw is still under team control for three more years, so they will most likely milk that for all it's worth.

The offseason already got off to a great start thanks to Frank McCourt agreeing to take a hike. With Kemp signed, sealed, and delivered for many more years to come, Dodger fans have plenty more to get excited about. I know I am.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Cy Young caps Kershaw's brilliant season

After a season full of dominating hitters, Clayton Kershaw dominated something one last time: first place ballots.

Kershaw was named the National League's Cy Young Award winner on Thursday. He received 27 out of a possible 32 first place votes, which put him well ahead of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Ian Kennedy. He's the first Dodger to claim the prestigious award since Eric Gagne in 2003, and first starting pitcher since Orel Hershiser in 1988.

The reason for winning is simple: he started the year off hot, and only got better in the heat of the summer. He ended up 21-5 with a 2.28 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, and 278 strikeouts in 233 1/3 innings pitched. Those numbers were good enough to win the pitching Triple Crown. Heck, he even picked off nine runners, which was a big reason he won the Gold Glove as well.

And let's not forget his continued mastery of Tim Lincecum, the two-time award winner. In head-to-head matchups, Kershaw went 4-0, winning by scores of 2-1, 1-0, 2-1, and 2-1. Those numbers alone showed just how much of a big-game pitcher he's become.

Obviously I'm a Dodger fan, and naturally a big fan of his, but this was absolutely the right call. The Dodgers may have fallen out of the playoff picture much earlier than other teams, but Kershaw still did his thing. In fact, for most of the season, about the only time you really needed to turn on a Dodger game was every fifth day. He was that much fun to watch.

Kershaw has set the bar very high for himself, but the scary part is that he's only 23. Can you imagine what kinds of numbers he'll put up for the next 10 years, and he'll still be in his early 30's? If the two studs from Philadelphia are any indication, he would still have plenty more good years ahead of him even then. Wow, that's just awesome to think about.

Even though the Dodgers went through all sorts of crap on and off the field during the season, the hardware has been flowing in very nicely, which shows they have the young guns to turn things around and fast. Kershaw will lead the way on the mound, with Matt Kemp on the other side. Dodger fans have to feel great about that.

Congratulations one more time to the great Clayton Kershaw, and here's to many more years of brilliance to come!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Treanor jumps on board

The Dodgers have found their replacement for the departed Rod Barajas, signing Matt Treanor to a one-year, $850,000 deal on Tuesday. He won't be the starter, but will play a key role in helping the development of young A.J. Ellis and Tim Federowicz.

Treanor spent last season split between the Royals and Rangers. Offense is not exactly his thing, as he hit .214 with 3 homers and 17 RBIs. For that matter, offense has never been his thing, collecting a .225 average with 16 homers and 119 RBIs since 2004. He has also spent time with the Marlins and Tigers.

What he is known for, however, is defense. Described as a "catch and throw" type of guy, he gunned down 25% of basestealers last season. One part of Barajas that I thought was underrated was his ability to handle the pitching staff, especially Clayton Kershaw. If Ned Colletti is aiming for similar results, then Treanor is a good guy to replace him with.

Now is the time for Ellis to step up and be the man. Federowicz is still a little ways away from being ready for the bigs, and Treanor isn't expected to catch more than 40 games a year. If Ellis can continue where he left off in September (.323 average in 12 games), then a starting spot should be his. If he still can't claim it, I don't think he ever will.

Dodgers nab Ellis for 2nd base

With the Dodgers closing in on locking up Matt Kemp with a huge deal, they made a smaller one to address another need on Tuesday.

Mark Ellis was inked to a two-year, $8.75 million deal to play second base. The deal includes an option for a third year.

Last season, Ellis split time between the A's and Rockies, hitting .248, 7 homers, 48 RBIs, and 15 stolen bases. For his career, he's hit .266 with a .331 OBP. He was a member of the A's organization since 2002 before being traded last season.

When it's all said and done, the Dodgers have basically swapped Jamey Carroll (who signed with the Twins) with Ellis. But which of the two is better? Well, Carroll is 38 and Ellis is 34. Both look to be locked in at starting positions, as Carroll will be at short.

I have to think it will be hard for Ellis to top the production of Carroll, who put together a good couple of years playing many different roles. Carroll hit .290 in 2010 and .291 last season. He also averaged playing in 140 games a season, and started in both the infield and outfield. I was disappointed to see him leave, but certainly can't blame him for taking Minnesota's offer.

Ellis has more pop, as he had five straight seasons of 10+ homers. He hit .291 in 2010, but really tanked to start the 2011 season with a .217 in 62 games. After moving over to the Rockies, though, he hit .274 in 70 games.

Both are good defenders, but the edge has to go to Ellis, who owns a career .990 fielding %. In playing second between both teams last year, he committed three errors in 636 total chances. Wow.

What the Dodgers have to hope for is that Ellis is more like the hitter he was in Colorado and not at the end of his Oakland tenure. They definitely will get a slick double play combination with Dee Gordon up the middle, as both can flat out get it done. That should be fun to watch.

It's not a major signing by any means, but with Kemp in the fold and second base taken care of, it's time to look at locking up the other big guns (Clayton Kershaw, possibly Andre Ethier) and improving their starting pitching.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Kemp on the verge of massive deal

If the news of a deal for Matt Kemp is true, he is about to become a very rich man.

The Dodgers look to be all set to extend Kemp's contract for eight years and $160 million, the largest in franchise history. It would easily outpace Kevin Brown's lousy seven year - $105 deal signed in 1998. Let's just hope this one turns out slightly better than that.

Kemp is scheduled to take a physical on Monday, which is a mere formality before it can officially be announced. When it does, I'll be back for more analysis on just how big of a move this is to the franchise.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Barajas goes to the Pirates

The Pittsburgh Pirates swooped in on Thursday and signed Rod Barajas to a one-year deal with a club option for 2013. He'll get a bump in salary from $3.5 million last year to $4 million this year.

Barajas is a streaky hitter, but one with pretty good pop. This past season he appeared in 98 games, hitting .230 with 16 homers (good for second on the team, which is a little sad) and 47 RBIs. He also stole... zero bases. But he does have two for his career!

I'm a little bummed about losing Barajas because he you knew what you were going to get with him - around 15 homers and a tough presence behind the plate. It's by no means a huge loss, but I think he was good for the pitching staff.

The new catching options for the Dodgers are young in A.J. Ellis and Tim Federowicz. Ellis has been up and down like a damn elevator between the minors and majors. Last year he played in 31 games, hitting .271 with 2 homers and 11 RBIs. To his credit, he played very well in September, hitting .323.

Federowicz was acquired at the trade deadline, so he only appeared in seven games, going 2-for-13 with an RBI. He's known for his defense, a major reason why Ned Colletti got him.

It wouldn't surprise me to see Colletti go after a veteran catcher, as that seems to be his forte. Ellis and Federowicz are decent options, but I'd hardly consider them difference makers behind the plate, especially right now.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

McCourt to sell... and the fans rejoice!

November 2, 2011... the day the Dodgers turned around?

Only time will tell, but regardless, this is a day that will forever be etched in Dodgers' lore. Frank McCourt has agreed to sell the team after a lengthy fight to hold on. The decision comes at a time when the free agency frenzy will soon begin.

McCourt sent out an email on Tuesday to inform his employees of the decision. In part, it read:

"I have made this decision because I believe it is in the best interests of our
organization, our loyal fans and the community at large."

Well, that's nice. Granted it came years too late, but it's safe to say there were plenty of fans who thought this day would never come. But thankfully, it has, and now we can all look forward to improving the team for the 2012 season and beyond.

One point I do have to caution fans about is not to think this will automatically make the Dodgers the team to beat. Yes, it will certainly help their long-term future, but there's plenty of work left to be done. Just as all of other teams are facing right now, it's all about which players to resign, which players to dump, and which players to seek after in free agency.

I'm sure we'll be hearing in upcoming days and weeks about possible suitors, including the Mavs' Mark Cuban, who must be loving this news. As usual, I'll keep you posted on any breaking news.

Kemp, Kershaw, and Ethier are GOLDEN

Mark down the dates of November 1 and November 2, 2011 as huge moments in the history of the Dodgers' organization.

First things first, and a big congratulations go out to Clayton Kershaw, Matt Kemp, and Andre Ethier for winning the National League Gold Glove awards at pitcher, center fielder, and right fielder, respectively. It's the second time for Kemp, and the first for Kershaw and Ethier.

It's also the first time in the history of the Dodgers that a trio have won these awards. After a season full of letdowns, this is a sign that great things could be to come.

For the first time, Rawlings split the award for outfield into all three positions, as opposed to any three outfielders winning it. That no doubt helped Ethier, who admitted that he didn't have much thought of winning. He outlasted Carlos Beltran and Jay Bruce.

Kemp, on the other hand, outpolled Shane Victorino and Chris Young in center, two fantastic fielders. And deservedly so, as he became the ultimate five-tool player this year with his monster offensive numbers and diving plays in the field. He last won this award in 2009.

Kershaw won over fellow teammate Hiroki Kuroda, and Kyle Lohse. If you watched the presentation show on ESPN 2, you saw highlights of Kershaw making diving plays to get outs at first. He's looking to join the great Orel Hershiser as the only Dodgers to win the Gold Glove and Cy Young Awards in the same season. It's highly likely he will indeed do so.