Thursday, December 26, 2013

Taking a look at the loaded Dodgers' bullpen

If you're a Dodger fan looking for quality arms, then Christmas was very kind.  Ned Colletti announced the signings of Chris Perez, Jamey Wright, and J.P. Howell on Tuesday, giving the Dodgers one of the deepest, and hopefully best, bullpens in all of baseball.

To go along with the signings of those three is the return of Brian Wilson, who was re-signed about three weeks ago.  With that in mind, let's take a look at the arms that could form the 'pen in April, with their 2013 stats in parenthesis.


Closer - RHP Kenley Jansen (28 saves, 16 holds, 1.88 ERA, 0.86 WHIP)
Enters the season as the clear-cut closer, and there's little reason to believe that will change.  Then again, in a crazy spot like closer, anything can happen.  Didn't Brandon League enter 2013 as the closer?  And wasn't Jonathan Broxton once a "shutdown" closer?  You get the point.  Still, with a great fastball and cutter, it's hard to believe Jansen will flop.

Setup - RHP Brian Wilson (3 holds, 0.66 ERA, 0.88 WHIP)
In a great move by Colletti, was brought back as both the primary eighth inning guy, and a fallback option in case Jansen has some troubles.  Was everything the Dodgers could have hoped for and more in 2013, and with more time ticking away since his Tommy John surgery in 2012, should have even stronger stuff for 2014.

LHP J.P. Howell (11 holds, 2.03 ERA, 1.05 WHIP)
Got the multi-year deal he was searching for, and with a .164 average against left-handed hitters, will find himself in plenty of big situations once again.  Two straight seasons of great numbers with the Rays and Dodgers shows he's up for the challenge.

LHP Paco Rodriguez (20 holds, 2 saves, 2.32 ERA, 0.90 WHIP)
About the only thing that went wrong for him in an incredible rookie year was the nosedive he took at the end of last year, as he was actually left off of the NLCS roster.  But with a fresh arm and deceptive delivery, showed what he could do for many months.  The hope, of course, is that his arm strength can last during the rigors of a full season.

RHP Chris Perez (25 saves, 1 hold, 4.33 ERA, 1.43 WHIP with Indians)
He's a two-time All-Star, so he certainly knows how to get the big outs.  Last season was a disaster in every way for him, whether he was getting hurt, blowing saves, or getting busted by the law.  The best thing for him could very well be pitching in friendly Dodger Stadium against weaker offenses and away from the closing spotlight.  I like the addition, as I'll take a chance on him over a bum like Ronald Belisario any day of the week.

Long Relief - RHP Jamey Wright (6 holds, 3.09 ERA, 1.20 WHIP with Rays)
As Colletti recently admitted, he wished he was more aggressive in re-signing him after the 2012 season.  A year of long relief success later, that's exactly what he did in bringing him back to LA for the same role.  There really aren't a whole heck of a lot of pitchers who actually embrace the role of getting ready quickly to pitch multiple innings at a moment's notice, and he's one of the best, so it's a good move.

Battling it Out:

RHP - Chris Withrow (4 holds, 1 save, 2.60 ERA, 0.90 WHIP)
Like Rodriguez, is another young arm who got plenty of big outs. I bet people will look at those numbers above and be pleasantly surprised. I can see him teaming with Perez and Rodriguez in the middle innings to bridge the gap to Wilson and Jansen. He's got the hard stuff to do it.

RHP Jose Dominguez (1 hold, 2.16 ERA, 1.68 WHIP)
A young man with electric stuff, as he can reach 100 MPH at any point.  He's very fortunately to have such a low ERA, as opponents hit .314 off of him, albeit in a small sample size with 8 1/3 innings.  Still, there's something about power arms out of the bullpen that is so intriguing, and if he can learn to pitch to corners and mix in some soft stuff, he can be a huge weapon.

RHP Brandon League (14 saves, 2 holds, 5.30 ERA, 1.55 WHIP)
Ahhh, good old League, the guy who won't go anywhere thanks to two years left on a three-year, $22.5 million contract.  What a shame it would be if he beats out better arms like Withrow and Dominguez, but that's a definite possibility.  Maybe Rick Honeycutt found something in his delivery that will improve him?  I'm searching for something here, because it's hard to get even a little bit excited to see him pitch again.

Don't Forget About:

LHP Scott Elbert (Did not pitch in 2013)
Still recovering from Tommy John surgery, he will be out until around the All-Star break at best guess.  Pitched mostly in 2011 and 2012, and with ERA's of 2.43 and 2.20, respectively, it's easy to see why a lefty with hard stuff like him sticks around.  Suppose Rodriguez gets worn down again, then possibly Elbert steps in down the stretch.  It might not be entirely realistic to count on him for any of 2014, but like it says above, don't forget about him.

Bottom Line:
By my count, that's nine guys duking it out for between 7-8 spots in the bullpen (taking out an injured Elbert).  Plus, you have to remember that when fully healthy, the starting rotation sports six guys in Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dan Haren, Chad Billingsley, and Josh Beckett.  You know those first three names won't be anywhere near the bullpen, so one of Haren, Billingsley, or Beckett may have to be do the Chris Capuano act of bouncing between starter and reliever.

With the way this team gets hurt, Don Mattingly might not need to make many tough decisions on who stays and who goes, much like the outfield situation from last season.  But of the three names on the "Battling it Out" list, I'd say as of right now Withrow gets the nod, with League and then Dominguez.  League is awful, but has that damn contract, so he can't be ignored.  Dominguez has to show more consistency before getting a permanent stay in LA.

Colletti has stated that he's all but done with roster moves, so it would be a surprise to see another reliever signed.  Then again, if the Dodgers bid and are successful in getting Masahiro Tanaka, then that throws a wrench into all of these plans, not that that's a bad thing if this kid is the real deal.  We shall see.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Another bullpen boost as Howell re-signs

More good news for the Dodgers' bullpen, as J.P. Howell has signed for two years and $11.25 million, with a vesting option for 2016.

The option would be triggered if he makes 120 appearances in the next two seasons.  Will that happen?  It's possible, as 55 appearances with the Rays in 2011 led to 67 with the Dodgers last season, which adds up to 122.  He's made 60+ appearances two other times with the Rays in 2008 and 2009.

Last season was his first in LA, and it was a good one.  He pitched in 67 games, which was good for fourth on the club behind Paco Rodriguez, Kenley Jansen, and the legendary Ronald Belisario (not).  Primarily as a middle-late inning reliever, he collected 11 holds while going 4-1 with a sparkling 2.03 ERA and 1.05 WHIP.

In addition, left-handed batters hit a mere .164 against him, and right-handed ones weren't much better at .222.  He only surrendered two home runs in 62 innings, and struck out 54.

All in all, he was more than effective in getting the job done, and teamed with Rodriguez to form a pretty deadly duo from the left side.  Now that same combination will be back to get the ball to Brian Wilson and Jansen in the late innings.  It's a win-win.

Not surprisingly, Howell was originally seeking a three-year deal after his big season.  Ned Colletti was reluctant to do so, and Howell can blame the awful Matt Guerrier and Brandon League for that.  Much like Juan Uribe, Colletti was able to find a common ground by settling at two years.  The only difference is that Howell got a $6.25 million option for a third year, and Uribe only has two years.

There's still more work to be done if you're Colletti, as a bullpen that relies on guys like Chris Withrow, Javy Guerra, Jose Dominguez, and League are either inexperience, bad, or both.  There's four good relievers in Rodriguez, Howell, Wilson, and Jansen, no doubt, but putting in a right-handed pitcher to get out of a sticky situation in the earlier innings is still important.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

With Ellis gone, Dodgers' bench looks depleted

Yesterday the Dodgers decided to bring back Juan Uribe on a two-year, $15 million deal to remain the starting third baseman.  Today, their bench took a hit when Mark Ellis decided to sign with the Cardinals.

Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports that Ellis will ink a one-year deal with St. Louis, pending a physical.  It's not too surprising that Ellis is gone considering the Dodgers declined his option after signing Alexander Guerrero to a four-year deal, but there was still some talk of keep him aboard as insurance.  Now, he becomes insurance for talented youngster Kolten Wong.

Now that Ellis has moved on, the Dodgers' bench suddenly looks pretty bare.  The following have packed their bags for elsewhere this offsesason: Nick Punto (A's), Skip Schumaker (Reds), Jerry Hairston (retired), and now Ellis.  Not exactly the most productive players at the plate, but versatile guys who filled in at multiple positions.  And with an injury-prone team like the Dodgers, little things like bench depth becomes that much more important.

The question now is what the Dodgers will do with their bench for 2014.  Some in-house candidates include Tim Federowicz, Dee Gordon, Scott Van Slyke, and Elian Herrera.  All four have big league experience, albeit with not very good results.  Other candidates could be Nick Buss, Drew Butera, and Justin Sellers.

All of these guys are decent, but certainly not the greatest options to fill in when called upon.  Ned Colletti made it a point after the Dodgers were eliminated by the Cardinals in the NLCS that he wants to get younger on the bench.  With that in mind, it's not surprising that he let some of the old boys go.

Who's out there that the Dodgers can sign for their bench?  Just to throw some names out there, there's Mark Reynolds, Casey McGehee, Jayson Nix, Roger Bernadina, and Chris Coghlan, to name a few.  There's always the trade option, and if Colletti really is serious about moving one of his outfielders, you can guess he'll want some depth in return for salary relief.

I'll miss Ellis, as I always appreciated how hard he played no matter how banged up he was.  It's obvious he's not scaring anyone at the plate anymore, but his defense earned him a final nod for Gold Glove this year, something I'm not sure many people realized.  He probably felt like the Dodgers didn't find him very useful anymore, so I can't blame him for leaving.

I can see Colletti either relying on some of the youngsters to step up and fill roles, or blow the thing up completely and sign a few new guys.  Depth on the bench and in the bullpen are his biggest priorities as January starts to roll around.  Let's see what kinds of moves he makes.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Welcome back, Juan Uribe

*** UPDATE ***

The deal is for two years and $15 million, according to Buster Olney of ESPN.


After floating the idea out there that Michael Young could be the Dodgers' starting third baseman in 2014, Ned Colletti was able to convince Juan Uribe to stick around after all.

Uribe has agreed to stay in LA by signing a two-year deal, as first reported by Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports.  The money is not known yet, but is probably in the $10-15 million range, as best I can guess.

The picture above is a huge reason why Uribe was able to get something more than just a one-year deal with maybe an option for another, as his NLDS-winning two-run run to beat the Braves will go down as one of the biggest moments in Dodgers' postseason history.  That hit was the culmination of a complete turnaround from where he was after the previous two seasons.

And what a turnaround it was.  After winning a World Series ring with the Giants in 2010, he signed a three-year, $21 million deal with the Dodgers.  In 2011, he played in 77 games and hit .204 with 4 homers and 28 RBIs.  The following year he played in 66 games, hitting an even more pathetic .191 with 2 homers and 17 RBIs.

Yet, there he was on the 2013 Opening Day roster at third base, albeit as a backup to Luis Cruz.  Thanks in large part to Cruz's own incompetence, Uribe slowly got more starts, and ended up playing in 132 games, hitting .278 with 12 homers and 50 RBIs.  He also was fantastic at the hot corner, becoming one of the three finalists for Gold Glove that ended up going to the Rockies' Nolan Arenado.

During the latter part of the season, I wrote about how Uribe probably earned himself a new deal thanks in large part to his good season, and because the free agent market for third basemen was so pitiful (check out my article here).  There was a thought that the Dodgers would chase after current shortstop and World Series champion Stephen Drew and push Hanley Ramirez to third.  Then there was the recent talk of putting Young at third, which seemed like a pretty desperate solution.

Now that Uribe is back for the next two seasons, the Dodgers obviously have to hope that he doesn't repeat the first couple of season from his old deal.  It's hard to name a worse player in all of baseball than him from that time, or at least one who received as much playing time as him.  He was slow, old, out-of-shape, and had a look on his face that suggested he was completely lost.  I couldn't wait for him to leave town.

Then 2013 hit, and when the other options weren't there, I never thought I'd say this, but I'm happy Colletti was able to convince him to stay with a reasonable deal.  One year with an option would have been better, but two years isn't a big commitment in the grand scheme of things (Uribe reportedly wanted a three-year deal to start the offseason).  For Uribe, the motivation will be to prove that he's not simply another "contract year" player who rose to the occasion, got the money, then tanked again.

Colletti can now shift his focus on adding to the bullpen and his bench... and who knows, maybe a trade of one of his outfielders?  We'll see.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Dodgers enter Winter Meetings looking to get younger, fill some gaps

Mark Saxon over at wrote his latest blog about the Dodgers' intentions as they head to Lake Buena Vista, Florida for the Winter Meetings.  In a nutshell, don't expect a huge splash like they had last year in signing Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu.

What we should expect to see is a focus on adding a third baseman (which could mean re-signing Juan Uribe), and a focus on restoring bench depth and relievers.

It's not exactly the most exciting news in the world, but keep in mind the Dodgers have already done some work in November.  They signed Alexander Guerrero with the hope that he can anchor second base the next four years, or even play some short and shift Hanley Ramirez to third.  Dan Haren was chosen for one year over Ricky Nolasco for four, which was a smart move.  They also brought back Brian Wilson to continue one of the best late inning combinations with Kenley Jansen, a fantastic move.

As I pointed out during the year, the timing for Uribe's resurgence could not have been any better for him.  The free agent market for third basemen is basically zilch.  Uribe went from hitting .191 with 2 homers and 17 RBIs in 2012 to .278/12/50 this past year.  His OBP shot up from .258 to .331, and his games played from 66 to 132.  There's always a risk that he could regress again, but a similar contract to Wilson's (one year, with an option for another) would make sense.

On the relief side, there's a bunch of guys with closing experience like Grant Balfour, Joaquin Benoit, Fernando Rodney, and Kevin Gregg (who was actually released by the Dodgers last Spring Training).  Those guys will probably require longer contracts than one or two years the Dodgers will offer, so I'd be surprised if any of those guys sign.

For middle relief, names like Mitchell Boggs, Jesse Crain, and Kyle Farnsworth pop up from the right side, and J.P. Howell and Matt Thornton from the left side.  The Dodgers would like to bring back Howell, but again, he wants a three-year deal, and the Dodgers appear to have learned their lesson from the horrible Matt Guerrier and Brandon League deals, and don't want to go above to.  Good for them.

None of these names will blow you away, but then again, the Dodgers have their core in place, especially if Clayton Kershaw and Hanley Ramirez get extended before next season.  Right now it's all about plugging in holes, so stay tuned for small signings here and there.

What's about the only news that could blow you away?  If Matt Kemp or Andre Ethier get traded.  Buster Olney takes a look at that possibility (Insider only).

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Wilson is back, as Belisario gets booted

Some good news coming out of the Dodgers' bullpen these last few days.  Brian Wilson has been re-signed to a one-year, $10 million contract on Thursday, with a player option for 2015 that could pay him the same.

The other good news?  Ronald Belisario has been non-tendered, mercifully ending his roller coaster ride in LA.

Wilson did everything the Dodgers could have hoped for towards the end of 2013, and then some.  He was signed as a free agent in late-July after winning two World Series rings with the Giants (one as their closer, another as he was recovering from Tommy John surgery).  He made his debut on August 19 and proceeded to go 2-1 with an 0.66 ERA and 0.88 WHIP in 18 appearances covering 13 2/3 innings.

In the playoffs, he made six appearances without surrendering a run, as he clearly showed the world that he has plenty of gas left in the tank.

With that in mind, I'm shocked that he's back.  I thought for sure he would land a closer's role somewhere.  Maybe he could've and never could agree on terms, or maybe he just liked pitching in LA and was never blown away by any other offer.  Either way, it'll be great to see the Wilson-Kenley Jansen combination shutting down the eighth and ninth innings again.  That's great news for a team looking to take the next step to the World Series.

If I'm a starting pitcher for the Dodgers, I'm thrilled that Wilson is back because my chances for a higher win total just went up.

As for Belisario, there was no way the Dodgers could conceivably give him another deal after watching how inconsistent he's been the last couple of seasons.  This past year in 77 appearances, he went 5-7 with a 3.97 ERA and 1.47 WHIP, which is very high.  His stuff is never in doubt, but his ability to throw for strikes consistently was only getting worse and worse.  Plus, he had a 7.36 ERA in seven postseason appearances.

In other words, good bye, and good riddance!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Hanley wants to stay awhile... and the Dodgers will take him

As Hanley Ramirez was celebrating a World Baseball Classic championship with his Dominican Republic teammates on Thursday, he dropped a bit of news: he's working on a contract extension with the Dodgers, and it could be done this winter.

For how much and how long?  That he wouldn't say, so let the speculation commence.

Ramirez enters 2014 in the final year of his six-year, $70 million contract he originally inked with the Marlins in 2009.  We all know how he started off as the next five-tool star, only to fall on some pretty hard times before reviving his career with the Dodgers.

Despite all of the injuries Ramirez went through last season (thumb, hamstring, back, ribs), there was no doubt this guy meant everything to the Dodgers in winning the NL West.  It seems like he played in more than 86 games, but alas, we only saw him in about half of the games.  In those games, he hit .345 with 20 homers and 57 RBIs, a clear indication of just how good he was.

The Dodgers really have no choice but to extend him.  Obviously they still feel that at 30 entering next season, he still is in the prime of his career and is an MVP-like player.  The fact that he put up those great numbers with injuries all over his body shows the talent he has.  Plus, his defense at short was much-improved, and he may actually switch to third for next season if needed.

Those who are skeptical of such an extension will point out that both Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier received mega-deals after they put up big numbers, and proceeded to see their numbers go down ever since.  Ramirez, fair or not, is injury prone, though the Dodgers hope he can't possibly be as banged up in the future as he was in 2013.  The bottom line is, no matter who the player is, there's always risk involved in long-term investments.

I'll wait to see what kind of deal Ramirez does sign, but I'm probably going to like it no matter what.  Along with Yasiel Puig, Ramirez brought so much more energy and production to a fledgling Dodgers' squad this past season.  Look how flat they were once he was beaned in the ribs during Game 1 of the NLCS.  They only could muster a couple of wins as their offense tanked.  A healthy Ramirez was good enough to lift them to the Fall Classic.

Hopefully the Dodgers get this done soon, then shift their attention to filling other spots, such as in the bullpen.  Could a trade of Kemp, Ethier, or Carl Crawford be next?  You never know.