Thursday, November 28, 2013

Nolasco packs his bags for the Twin Cities

He better dress warm.  It's slightly colder in Minnesota than it is in LA.

While Ricky Nolasco might not have gotten the enormous five-year, $80 million deal he was originally seeking (or at least floated out there to inflate his own value), he signed a four-year, $49 million contract with the Twins on Wednesday.  The Twins had an astronomical 5.26 ERA from their starters last season, so you can understand why they're desperate to bring any arms of value into the fold.

Kudos to both Nolasco and the Dodgers on this one.  First, let's give credit to Nolasco for what he brought to the table in LA after being acquired from the Marlins in early July.  The Dodgers went 10-2 in his first 12 starts, as he personally went 8-1.  He was big part of the Dodgers' red hot summer run, and gave them four great starters along with Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, and Hyun-Jin Ryu.

And here's where the Dodgers deserve credit - they recognized that he's probably not that good, as his final few appearances were rather poor.  After going 5-0 with a 1.66 ERA in August, he went 2-2 with a 6.66 ERA in September.  He fell off so badly that he only got one start in the playoffs, losing Game 4 of the NLCS at home against the Cardinals, lasting only four mediocre innings.

Oh ya, he also was skipped over in Game 4 of the NLDS, as Don Mattingly chose to put Kershaw on the mound with only three days of rest.  The same Kershaw who eventually ran out of gas in getting drilled in the NLCS Game 6 to end the season.  Could the two things relate to one another?  Who knows, but you have to wonder.

So, while we all know the Dodgers have incredibly deep pockets, I'm happy to see them stay away from throwing around $50 million at Nolasco for multiple years and instead give Dan Haren $10 million for a year.  It makes much more financial sense, and while Haren won't get as scorching hot as Nolasco did in August, he can still be a very effective 4-5 starter in that rotation.

Good luck to Nolasco in Minnesota, who most likely becomes their #1 starter by default.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Dodgers sign Haren for end of rotation

As Dodger fans wait on any possible movement with big names like David Price and Masahiro Tanaka, management added a piece to the back end of the rotation.

Dan Haren has agreed to a one-year, $10 million deal on Monday, with an option for another year in 2014, and $3 million in incentives.  He'll slot in right behind Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, and Hyun-Jin Ryu as Josh Beckett and Chad Billingsley work their way back from injuries.

Now 33 and with over 2,000 innings of Major League pitching already under his belt, it's safe to say we can't expect to see the same guy who was an All-Star from 2007-2009 with the A's and Diamondbacks.  In 31 starts with the Nationals last season, he went 10-14 with a 4.67 ERA and 1.24 WHIP, as his team went from World Series contenders to flameouts for a variety of reasons.

Taking a closer look, however, you'll see some encouraging second half splits.  After he returned from a right shoulder injury in June, he ended up going 6-4 with a 3.52 ERA and 1.02 WHIP in 13 starts after the break.  Plus, his BAA went way down from .299 to .226.

If you're a believer in a second half performance carrying over into the next season, then Haren gives you plenty of reasons for optimism.  With the Dodgers, he can fit nicely into the 4-5 spot and not feel immediate pressure to beat other teams' aces.  It's a low-key signing, but a good one if his shoulder problems don't come back.

Now Haren has to prove he should keep his rotation spot when Beckett and Billingsley are declared good to go.  As Ned Colletti pointed out, the Dodgers know more than any other team that you can never have enough starting pitching.  Remember how Ted Lilly, Aaron Harang, and Chris Capuano were all left out of the rotation coming out of Spring Training last year?  Well, one injury after another made them scramble to call up guys like Stephen Fife and Matt "Ball 4" Magill to make emergency starts.  It wasn't pretty.

I applaud Colletti for going with a deal like this over giving Ricky Nolasco way too much money.  Haren might not get as hot as Nolasco was for a stretch last season, but he can still be very solid behind the studs at the top of the rotation.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Nolasco wants the big bucks

But then again, don't we all?

As Ricky Nolasco hits the free agent market, he let it be known what he thinks he's worth: five years and $80 million.

Yes, really.

Maybe the two-year, $35 million contract that Tim Lincecum signed to remain with the Giants made guys like Nolasco think they can raise the bar even higher.  And you know what?  It might just work.

Let's take a look at Nolasco's 2013 season.  He started off the season making 18 starts with the Marlins, going 5-8 with a 3.85 ERA and 1.22 WHIP.  He was then moved to the Dodgers in early July and went 8-3 with a 3.52 ERA and 1.20 WHIP in 16 starts.

Looking at those numbers, it's safe to say that the trade worked out for the Dodgers, and his numbers improved.  And that would be true, as he was as red hot as a pitcher could be through his first 12 starts.

And then September 14 hit, and Nolasco was absolutely pummeled at home by the Giants, and everything fell apart.  His two starts after that weren't any good either, and his Game 4 start in the NLCS only lasted four ineffective innings against the Cardinals, putting the Dodgers in a 3-1 hole.

So, we've seen the absolute best and worst of Nolasco in a short amount of time.  Obviously he's going to sell his first 12 starts to prospective teams, as well as the innings he eats, as he's hovered around 190-200 the last three years.  For teams hard pressed to find quality starters, that's tough to ignore.

Unless Nolasco is willing to ease his contract demands, there's no way we should expect to see him back in Dodger blue next season.  Keep in mind that Chad Billingsley and Josh Beckett are still lurking, and guys like David Price and Masahiro Tanaka could be sought after.

Teams that are being linked to Nolasco are the Giants, Twins, Padres, and Phillies.  There could always be more, but my guess is more in the two to three year range, not what he currently is asking for.  Even the big money Dodgers have to draw a line at that.

Trade rumors for Kemp heating up

Have the Dodgers already run out of patience with Matt Kemp?

If you are to believe the rumors swirling around in the Hot Stove season, then perhaps they are.  As Kemp works to recover from ankle and shoulder injuries, both the Mariners and Rangers have been linked to acquiring him in recent days.

For the Dodgers, moving Kemp would serve a couple of purposes.  One, they still have four outfielders for three spots with the emergence of Yasiel Puig, who isn't going anywhere.  This was the same exact scenario all last season, but was never an issue because Kemp was hurt a lot, and Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford were banged up at times as well.  Don Mattingly never had to make any tough decisions because injuries controlled all of that.

The other reason is that the Dodgers might be admitting that they don't believe Kemp will ever live up to his massive eight-year, $160 million contract he inked in 2011.  He still has six years and $128 million remaining, which is huge for a guy who's spent much more time on the DL than producing wins for the Dodgers.

Sometimes injuries are chronic, which seems to be the case with Kemp's shoulder.  And sometimes injuries are freak accidents, like Kemp hurting his ankle with an awkward slide into home.  But no matter how it happens, right now he's a bit of damaged goods, and that might be putting it mildly.  Maybe the Dodgers would be wise to take a good offer if it comes their way.

While the rumors of moving to the Mariners don't include any names yet, the move to the Rangers is linked to shortstop Elvis Andrus.  Speaking of huge contracts, Andrus has nine years and $123 million remaining.  He's only 25, plays great defense, and has lightning fast speed.

The downside, other than that bloated contract, is his inability to get on base consistently.  He's not at all a power hitter (four homers, four triples, and 17 doubles this past season in 156 games), so a .328 OBP leaves something to be desired.  But 42 steals in 50 chances speaks for itself.  He was tied for fifth in baseball with teammate Alex Rios.

Say the Dodgers do pull the trigger on this deal, then would it work?  Defensively it would, as Andrus would play short and Hanley Ramirez can slide over to third, which would be better for his body, and Juan Uribe would be allowed to walk.  Plus a guy like Andre Ethier can enter the 2014 season knowing that centerfield is all his, and maybe would put up better numbers.

Offensively, however, I'm not so sure.  A healthy Kemp (if that ever happens again) is such an explosive hitter.  A 3-4 combination of Ramirez and Kemp can compete with anyone... if healthy.  You see, everything goes back to that word - "healthy."  Both of those guys have a hard time avoiding the injury bug.

We'll see over the winter if these Kemp trade rumors go anywhere, of if it's simply a case of Ned Colletti seeing what kind of value his star player has without really intending to move him.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Another Cy Young award for the masterful Kershaw

Clayton Kershaw blew away the Cy Young competition the same way he blew away hitters all season long.

In what turned out to be a completely lopsided vote, Kershaw claimed 29 of a possible 30 first place votes in winning his second Cy Young Award in three years.  Adam Wainwright got the lone other top vote and finished second, and Rookie of the Year Jose Fernandez was third.

There really was no doubt who would win this award, as Kershaw's season was unlike any other.  In 33 starts, he finished 16-9 with a 1.83 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, .195 BAA, and 232 K's in 236 innings.  Throw in three complete games, two of which were shutouts, and you've got a pure ace.

Compared to the rest of the National League, he finished first in ERA, WHIP, and strikeouts; second in innings; and third in wins and complete games.

The next step for Kershaw is inking a massive extension, which is rumored to be in the $300 million range.  If you watched him on the live Cy Young Award announcement on MLB Network, or a little bit later on SportsCenter, you'd see how he avoided that questions all together.  And who can blame him?  He'll let his agent take care of that.

What I love about Kershaw is that even with another Cy Young in his trophy case, he talked about the need for getting a ring, and how all of the stats don't matter compared to winning a World Series.  The Dodgers will lock him up, then get to work on adding a few more pieces to get over the hump in October.

A Cy Young Award and a World Series ring in 2014?  Hey, when it comes to Kershaw, nothing is out of the question.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Puig falls short in Rookie of the Year race

Yasiel Puig had one of the most impactful rookie seasons in Dodgers' history this year, igniting a fire in June when the Dodgers were in dead last place in the NL West.  He ended up hitting .319 with 19 homers, 42 RBIs, and 11 stolen bases.

All awesome numbers... but still not good enough to beat Jose Fernandez for Rookie of the Year.

In what turned out to be pretty much a blowout, Fernandez took home 26 of a possible 30 first place votes in winning the National League Rookie of the Year.  He's the fourth Marlin to take home the prize.

As much as I'm a believer in how Puig helped turned a dreadful season around in LA, I can't say I'm surprised by this.  If this was voted on in June, July, or August, then Puig would have easily won.  But as Puig slowly cooled off, and the negative attention started coming his way, Fernandez was red hot to close out the season, despite being shut down after a September 11 start against the Braves.

The argument can be made that Puig's team not only made the playoffs, but went to the NLCS, while the Marlins were eliminated... well, pretty much once Opening Day hit.  But, if that's the stance that people are going to take, then that takes away great seasons by players who have bad teammates, which isn't right.

Puig still has plenty to be proud of, as he was so good this season, the Dodgers seem open to at least exploring the possibilities of trading Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, or Carl Crawford.  In other words, right field belongs to Puig and no one else.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Greinke wins an award... for his hitting, of course

Zack Greinke finished the 2013 campaign with a 15-4 record, a 2.63 ERA, and a 1.11 WHIP.  Pretty darn good numbers.

What's even better?  His .328 average at the plate.  And for that, he's claimed his first ever Silver Slugger Award.

The award that honors the top hitter at each position was pretty much a no-brainer in the National League, as Greinke was clearly the top choice.  The next closest amongst pitchers with more than just a handful at-bats were Henderson Alvarez of the Marlins and Tyler Chatwood of the Rockies, who each hit .300.  But even they had between 20-30 less trips to the plate than Greinke.

In 58 at-bats this season, Greinke had 19 hits, including three doubles.  He also drove in four runs, walked seven times, and only struck out 10 times.  Heck, he even stole a couple bases just for good measure.  Not bad for a guy who entered the season with a .170 after playing nearly his whole career in the American League.

The Dodgers were shut out of any Gold Gloves despite having five candidates.  Just yesterday it was announced that Clayton Kershaw is a finalist for the Cy Young, along with Don Mattingly for Manager of the Year and Yasiel Puig for Rookie of the Year.  Look for at least Kershaw to join Greinke with some offseason hardware.