Thursday, February 27, 2014

Not exactly the greatest start to spring for the two aces

Yes, I know it's just Spring Training.  And yes, I know these games don't count for anything.

With that said, I'm guessing the Dodgers' brass was hoping for something a little better than what they got out of Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke through two games.

Kershaw got the start on Wednesday against the Diamondbacks, and gave up three runs over two innings.  Working mostly on locating his fastball, with some off-speed stuff mixed in, the big blows came in the first on an RBI double from Martin Prado, and in the second on an RBI triple from A.J. Pollack, followed by a run-scoring single by Aaron Hill.

What should be pointed out is that Carl Crawford had just as much to do with Kershaw's bad day as anyone else.  The "triple" by Pollack was actually a liner that Crawford came in on, then watched it sail over his head.  How in the world that was ruled a hit I have no clue.  That would have been the final out, so really only one of those runs was earned.

Still, the Dodgers had to feel good about sending Ace 1A in Greinke to the mound today... then watched him exit after four pitches.  That's right - four whole pitches.  The reason was a strained right calf, which was described as mild at best.  Of course, it's all about protecting the players this early in the season, so taking extreme caution is the right route to go.

Greinke recently made waves by saying he has "absolutely zero excitement" about the upcoming Australia trip, but tried to backtrack on that today.  Whether he wants to pitch there or not might not matter anymore, as I can see the Dodgers letting Kershaw and maybe Hyun-Jin Ryu or Dan Haren pitch instead.  It's possible Greinke wakes up Friday morning, feels great, and is good to go for the second game Down Under, so we'll have to wait and see.

On a side note, the Dodgers are 1-1 in the early going.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Signing Arruebarrena sends a message

The Dodgers have officially inked Cuban shortstop Erisbel Arruebarrena to a five-year, $25 million deal on Saturday, with a $7.5 million signing bonus.  He's still in the Dominican Republic working on getting his visa, then is expected to start the season somewhere in the minors.

After that?  It's full speed ahead in LA and into the future.

Ned Colletti made no bones about it - he sees Arruebarrena as the starting shortstop of the future.  The praise for his defense has been high, and he also brings some pop with his bat.  It's acknowledged that his offense does need some work, but they're hoping he can hold his own at the Major League level while providing great defense up the middle.

So, what's the message that is being sent?  It pertains to Hanley Ramirez.  He needs to prove he can stay healthy over the full course of a season in order to get the extension he's looking for, and he needs to be willing to move to third in a year or two.

As great as Ramirez has been since becoming a Dodger towards the end of 2012, he definitely has had his injury issues (thumb, hamstring, back, ribs...).  I can certainly understand his desire to get a huge deal worked out, but from the Dodgers' point of view, that will only happen if he spends more time on the diamond and less in the trainer's room.

Juan Uribe is currently etched in at third for the next two seasons, but that doesn't mean it will stay that way.  Suppose Uribe goes back to his old ways of... well, doing a big pile of nothing.  Then it's not out of the question to see Ramirez slide over to third, while Arruebarrena becomes the everyday shortstop.

If Colletti is serious about promoting Arruebarrena to the big club sometime in 2014, then his signing is also a message to Uribe, so has been benched plenty of times in the past.  Is it possible to see an all international infield of Ramirez, Arreubarrena, Alexander Guerrero, and Adrian Gonzalez starting in the playoffs?  It certainly could be.

On a side note, in order to make this signing official, someone had to be the odd man out on the 40-man roster.  That guy is Justin Sellers, who went from starting shortstop in 2013 to DFA'd a year later.  Ouch.  Unfortunately, it's really not a surprise.  He simply never showed an ability to hit Major League pitching, so it's the right call.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

If the season started today...

Here is my early look at what I believe the 25-man roster will be come March 22 in Australia.

Clayton Kershaw
Zack Greinke
Hyun-Jin Ryu
Dan Haren
Josh Beckett

Kenley Jansen
Brian Wilson
J.P. Howell
Paco Rodriguez
Chris Perez
Brandon League
Jamey Wright
Paul Maholm

A.J. Ellis
Adrian Gonzalez
Alexander Guerrero
Hanley Ramirez
Juan Uribe
Yasiel Puig
Andre Ethier
Carl Crawford

Tim Federowicz
Dee Gordon
Scott Van Slyke
Justin Turner

Matt Kemp
Chad Billingsley

Missing Out:
Chris Withrow
Jose Dominguez
Chone Figgins
Miguel Rojas
Justin Sellers
Drew Butera

I'll go with Kemp on the DL for now, as he's all but said to cross him off the active list for the two games in Australia against the Diamondbacks.  That will leave room for Van Slyke to be the primary sub.

I think Gordon's versatility and speed, along with recent reports of bulking up a bit, make him the ultimate utility man right now.  I think that's a role he can thrive in, as long as he doesn't throw the ball all over the place.  I'll give a slight edge to Turner over Figgins for that other utility role, if for no other reason than Turner has youth, which is something Ned Colletti said he wanted to focus on off the bench for this season.

As usual, the back end of the rotation is a question mark for now.  But as we all remember from last year, that can and probably will quickly change.  I'll go with Haren and Beckett as the 4-5 starters, with Maholm biding his time in the bullpen.  The only tricky thing is that Wright is the clear-cut long reliever, so they really don't need two.  We'll have to keep an eye on Beckett's health, because if he can't go or needs more time, that's an easy DL decision.

I have to begrudgingly list League as part of the 'pen, only because of that damn contract.  It would be nice to see someone like Withrow or Dominguez get the nod if one of them clearly outperforms League, and for the Dodgers to cut their ties.  We'll see.

This will be something I'll take another look at at least one more time before the games start in March, so stay tuned.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Despite signing Guerrero, 2nd base looks wide open

Perhaps the Dodgers aren't ready to just hand Alexander Guerrero the everyday job at second right away?

It sure looks that way based on recent quotes from Don Mattingly.  While the Dodgers eventually see Guerrero as the guy, especially since he's armed with a four-year, $28 million contract, Mattingly acknowledged on Thursday that he's not ready to declare Guerrero the "everyday guy" quite yet.

The word on Guerrero is pretty simple - he's a great hitter, but will be a work-in-progress with the glove at second.  He's been a shortstop in Cuba before defecting to the US in 2013, and the transition to second isn't as smooth as people may think.  When you're so used to pivots and angles of fielding and throwing from one side of the diamond, it can be pretty tricky to adjust all of that to another.

So if Guerrero is slow to pick up the nuances of second, whom do the Dodgers turn to?

The list is quite long, and it starts with old friend Dee Gordon.  Once looked at as the primary leadoff hitter and shortstop for years to come, ineffectiveness at the plate, with his glove, and injuries have all made him an afterthought.

The good news is that he's tacked on about 30 pounds on his wiry frame, from 150 to 179.  He still has plenty of speed, so that will never change.  He also has spent time working in the outfield, which is smart because at the very least, he can be quite the utility player and super-sub if he shows the ability to handle multiple positions.

There are a few other names to keep in mind as Spring Training gets underway.  Justin Turner is a former Met who hit .280 in 86 games last year.  I can see him making a push to replace Nick Punto as a utility infielder.

Justin Sellers broke camp last year as the starting shortstop after an injury to Hanley Ramirez, and horrible play from Gordon.  He then proceeded to hit .188 and earn his way back to Albuquerque.  By the way, the link above is worth clicking because he's hilariously referred to as "Justin Fellers" in the article.  Poor guy!

The remaining two names are Miguel Rojas, who came over from the Reds, and Chone Figgins, who's 36 and looking to make one last push.  Never say never, but I wouldn't count on either one of them.

The race to start at second will be a big battle to watch in Spring Training, along with juggling four outfielders and filling out the back end of the rotation.  Let's see how it all plays out.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The leadoff debate: Crawford vs. Puig

Don Mattingly has gone on record about his desire to put Yasiel Puig in the leadoff spot, dropping Carl Crawford to the #2 hole.  While nothing is set in stone yet, Mattingly likes the balance of right-left-right-left at the top of the order, with Puig, Crawford, Hanley Ramirez, and Adrian Gonzalez leading the way.

With that in mind, let's take a look at the pros and cons of making the switch.

  • Puig had 108 at-bats in the leadoff role last season, hitting .333 with a .409 OBP, both very good numbers.
  • Puig also had 8 of his 19 homers in the leadoff spot.  Having power at the top of the lineup is obviously an impactful way to set the tone.
  • Crawford is a long ways away from his mega-stolen base days.  Last season he only had 15.  He peaked at 60 in 2010 with the Rays, and was consistently in the 50-60 range for years.
  • Crawford would be much better at situational bunting, as Puig bunts to get base hits.  I'm not sure Puig knows what a sacrifice bunt even is.
  • Crawford has had Tommy John surgery, and more important to a base stealer, hamstring injuries.  It's hard to think he'll ever be the same dynamic runner again.
  • While Puig had great numbers leading off, Crawford actually did as well with a much bigger sample size.  In 359 at-bats, he hit .304 with a .353 OBP.
  • Crawford doesn't have the power of Puig, of course, but he did hit 5 homers, 2 triples, and 27 doubles leading off to provide a decent amount of pop.
  • Crawford struck out 66 times in 435 at-bats last season; Puig had 97 in 382.  You do the math.
  • Neither one of them likes to walk much: Crawford 28, Puig 36.  So flip a coin.
  • Puig is still very raw in many ways.  If the game is tight in the last inning and Puig is leading off, will he try to get on base, or be swinging for the fences?  I would guess the latter, so Crawford might be trusted a little more in that situation.

At this point before the start of Spring Training, I'd make the switch, but only by keeping a close eye on Puig's discipline at the plate throughout February and March.  You never want to tell a guy like Puig to totally change his approach just because he's leading off, but he can't be the guy who swings for the fences on every pitch and expect consistent production.

If this was the Crawford of just a few seasons ago, then I don't think Mattingly would even think about doing this.  But as I said above, you can't ignore what injuries and Father Time has done to Crawford.  It's not like he's a station to station runner, but don't expect to ever see the Crawford circa Tampa Bay days again.

If I'm an opposing pitcher, I would much rather see Crawford leading off than Puig, simply for the fear that Puig puts into you every time he's up.  What pitcher wants to start the game by watching a long blast or a ball drilled to the gap?  That's what Puig can bring, along with his aggressiveness on the bases.  Crawford can still make things happen, especially if he can prove he's healthy, but not like the young, fresher Puig.

Of course, if Puig isn't getting on base, then I can see Mattingly deciding the leadoff hitter based on the opposing pitcher.  If it's a lefty, then it's Puig, and vice versa for a righty.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

With Arroyo in Arizona, Maholm seeks his chance in LA


Paul Maholm is officially a Dodger, inking a one-year deal for $1.5 million.  It'll be Major League deal, and not a Minor League one which was the expectation, so good for him.


To answer the question I posed in my previous post: "No, because Arroyo apparently doesn't need the Dodgers either."  After flirting with going to LA, Arroyo chose the Diamondbacks for two years (with an option for a third) along with $23.5 million.  Can't blame him there.

Judging by the way Ned Colletti has pursued starting pitchers this offseason by signing Dan Haren and missing on Masahiro Tanaka and Arroyo, it shouldn't come as a surprise that he's looking to add another name for the back end of the rotation.

That man appears to be Paul Maholm.

Maholm is in Glendale, Arizona right now, undergoing a physical and looking to be on the verge of a minor league deal.  Considering there's a locker with the name "Maholm" written above it, I'd say that's a good sign he's a Dodger.

So, let's go ahead and take a look at him.  Last season the lefty was with the Braves, going 10-11 with a 4.41 ERA and 1.41 WHIP.  Those were his highest numbers since 2010 with the Pirates, as the previous two seasons split between the Pirates, Cubs, and Braves saw an ERA at 3.66 and 3.67, along with a WHIP at 1.22 and 1.29.  For his career, he's 76-95 with a 4.28 ERA and 1.40 WHIP.

Right away, the WHIP is what strikes me as way too high, but that could be a bit deceiving, too.  Like I mentioned above, his WHIP was in the mid-1.20 range in 2011 and 2012, which is pretty good..  So, maybe last year was just a hiccup for some reason.

It's also obvious he won't blow anyone away, as he has 950 K's in 1,485 2/3 career innings.  Last year he had 105 in 153 innings.  Considering the Dodgers' pitchers were second in the NL last season in strikeouts, he doesn't exactly fit in.  If he doesn't have his control, he suffers through rough starts.

Still, I'm willing to see where this could go.  Rather than throwing $20 whatever million at Arroyo, maybe a smaller deal like this will bring similar results, as Maholm will only be asked to give some good innings as the fourth or fifth starter.  His numbers last year were high, but the previous two were solid, including less hits than innings pitched in each of them, always a good sign.

Behind the big three of Clayton Kershaw, Zach Greinke, and Hyun-Jin Ryu, the battle for the final two spots looks to come down to Josh Beckett, Dan Haren, and Maholm (Chad Billingsley is out until July).  Dodger fans are reminded about this all the time, but it's so true: you can never have enough quality starting pitching, as evidenced by last season.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Do the Dodgers really need Arroyo?

The long offseason wait for Bronson Arroyo may finally be coming to an end, as three teams are reportedly interested in the veteran right-hander: the Dodgers, Diamondbacks, and Orioles.  Bob Nightengale of USA Today says the DBacks are the "slight favorites."  No word yet on whether or not the breaking point is Arroyo getting the guaranteed third year he's been seeking.

That's all well and good, but I can't help but ask the obvious question: Do the Dodgers even need Arroyo?

First of all, you can't blame Ned Colletti for being aggressive in stockpiling starting pitchers after multiple injuries made a mess of the rotation last season.  Only Clayton Kershaw and Hyun-Jin Ryu went unscathed (thankfully), while Zack Greinke, Chris Capuano, Ted Lilly, Josh Beckett, and Chad Billingsley all got hurt at one time or another.  Heck, even Stephen Fife couldn't stay healthy, and he was barely in LA.  Matt Magill did stay healthy, but pitched like someone who was hurt.

So, as I said above, you can understand Colletti's rationale in pursuing Arroyo, a guy who's made a career out of punching the clock over and over.  Over 14 seasons, he's put together a 138-127 record with a 4.19 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, and 1,479 K's.  He appeared in the 2006 All-Star Game, won an NL Gold Glove in 2010, and twice led the NL in starts with 34.

Speaking of starts, he's never once appeared on the DL.  Seriously.  Think about it - that's 391 career starts, and not once has he been unable to take the mound because he's on the Disabled List.  That's amazing.

Right now the rotation is Kershaw, Greinke, Ryu, Dan Haren, and hopefully Beckett, assuming he's ready to go.  Waiting in the wings is Chad Billingsley, who might reappear around the All-Star break.  Then there's also someone like prospect Zach Lee, who's quietly biding his time until his number is called.

With all of that said, if the Dodgers are able to give Arroyo a deal similar to what they gave Brian Wilson (one year, with an option for a second), then I'd go for it.  If it's two years guaranteed I probably would as well, but three would seem like too much.  I know that's what Arroyo wants, but maybe that's also why it's February and he hasn't been signed yet.

He's been a member of the Reds since 2006, and four of the past five seasons he's put together an ERA in the 3.70-3.80 range.  That's pretty darn good considering Cincinnati is a hitter's park and he isn't getting any younger.  Imagine what he can do in Dodger Stadium for a full season.  That's even more reason to get excited.

If I'm Arroyo, I'm liking the Dodgers because of the opportunity to win, being in pitcher's ballpark, and the cash he can get is probably more than anywhere else.  Why would I be a little nervous?  Well, you saw the list of starts a few paragraphs above.  I can't imagine he'd be willing to pitch out of the bullpen if everyone is healthy, especially considering he hasn't done so since 2005 with the Red Sox.

The Dodgers lost out on a mega-contract for Masahiro Tanaka, so let's see how much they want a veteran innings-eater like Arroyo instead.