Oct 07

Ned Colletti talks about 2012

Dodger general manager Ned Colletti gave a long interview to Jim Bowden for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Some highlights:

…Matt Kemp is a priority, and I plan on getting with his agent, Dave Stewart, and will work diligently in trying to work out a long-term deal with Matt. There is some urgency because he’ll be a free agent at the end of the 2012 season if they don’t sign him long term now. Clayton Kershaw’s situation is not as urgent because he’s only first-time arbitration eligible and won’t be a free agent until after the 2014 season. That doesn’t mean we won’t have conversations and listen, and if we can make a deal that makes sense, we will be open to it — but not with the same urgency as Kemp.

… We will entertain signing (Andre Ethier) as well, but he’s coming off an injury and a subpar season. … I am not inclined to trade any player that is a key player to our major league club right now, and he fits that category.

… We really need a middle-of-the-lineup impact bat, which would be a very key component to us winning next year. We need to figure out second base. Carroll and Miles are free agents. Right now we have the two young players in Sellers and Ivan DeJesus that we might let compete for that job next year. We need to figure out left field as well, but we’re leaning towards Jerry Sands, especially after the way he finished this season with us. Behind the plate, we’ll probably let Tim Federowicz and A.J. Ellis handle the duties. They are both good catch-and-throw receivers. If Federowicz can hit .240 with some power, he can be an everyday catcher.

… And finally, although we’re pleased with our deep young bullpen, we’d still be open to signing another veteran reliever, but that would be a low priority based on our other team needs.

… We have a need in the middle of our lineup, and if we could do the right deal with a player in terms of duration and money, we would be willing to do it. We have flexibility if we keep catcher, second base, shortstop and left field as non-arbitration eligible players like we have now, then it is definitely possible that we could afford to spend the money on a significant middle-of-the-order bat.

… Kuroda has bought a house in Los Angeles and both of his daughters go to school here. He is an extremely loyal person to both the Dodgers and the city of Los Angeles and really doesn’t want to play anywhere else. We hope he decides to stay here because he’s a very important part of our rotation and clubhouse.

… Our best prospects in our system right now are mostly pitching prospects, led by Zach Lee, who pitched at the Midwest league this past season but has a chance to be special. Allen Webster and Shawn Tolleson are two other top pitching prospects. Tolleson was our minor league pitcher of the year and a close friend of Clayton Kershaw. Steve Ames is another bullpen arm that we could see as early as next season. Chris Lee, our first round pick from Stanford, of course, is also special, and we’re going to try to develop him as a starter.

… We’re a lot closer to winning than people realize. If we had gotten just the typical offensive contributions this year from James Loney, Andre Ethier and Juan Uribe, who knows how many games we could have won. But injuries and subpar seasons are just part of the game. If we can make a few key moves this offseason and solve some of the question marks on this team that we’ve just been talking about, I really believe this club can finish in first in 2012.

There’s more, so be sure to read the whole interview, as well as Tony Jackson’s five key offseason questions and Ramona Shelburne’s own interview with Colletti.

Also, don’t miss the Kamenetzky Brothers’ podcast with “Breaking Bad” star and longtime Dodger fan Bryan Cranston.

Oct 07

Remembering 2011: Javy Guerra


Kirby Lee/US PresswireJavy Guerra

The setup: Guerra pitched most of 2010 at Double-A Chattanooga, finishing with a 2.33 ERA and 27 strikeouts in 27 innings, so it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility that he could see some major-league action this year. But he certainly wasn’t counted on to be a deluxe topping on the Dodger pizza, especially considering he walked 22 in that same period and his offseason work slowed by a deep gash in his right hand. However, the Dodger bullpen-that-was-supposed-to-be quickly fell by the wayside to visa problems and injuries. With Guerra rocking a 1.06 ERA in Chattanooga with 15 strikeouts in 17 innings and only eight hits and five walks allowed, his ticket to Los Angeles was punched.

The closeup: Five games into his major-league career, Don Mattingly turned to Guerra (after Rubby De La Rosa made his major-league debut in the eighth inning) to close a 5-4 victory over Houston on May 24. With as little fanfare as one could have imagined, Guerra remained in the traditional closer’s role for the remainder of the season, and simply excelled, saving 20 games in 22 opportunities with a 2.31 ERA. His strikeouts weren’t sky-high, especially for a closer – 7.3 per nine innings – and he could occasionally get in trouble, such as the July 8 game against the Padres when he loaded the bases with none out and a 1-0 lead on a double and two hit batters. But he escaped that game and for the season really was superb, soothingly so for a rattled Dodger fan base.

From June 15 through August 12, he pitched 17 1/3 innings, struck out 17, allowed one run (0.52 ERA) on a .404 opponents’ OPS and stranded all five inherited baserunners. Though he usually came in at the start of an inning, he entered a July 25 game against Colorado with the bases loaded and one out, the Dodger lead having been reduced from 8-1 to 8-5, and retired Troy Tulowitzki and Seth Smith on a popout and a groundout. Only the home run he allowed in the Dodgers’ September 27 collapse against Arizona, in his final game of the year, pushed his season ERA above 2. One reason for Guerra’s success as a closer? He actually performed better against left-handed batters than against righties, which kept opposing managers from overwhelming him with opposite-side batters.

Coming attractions: Guerra, who turns 26 on Halloween, is the incumbent closer, a role I hope he retains even if Kenley Jansen continues to overshadow him as a strikeout god. But to hang onto the job, he will probably need to make sure his strikeout-walk ratio doesn’t fall much below this year’s 2.1.

Oct 06

Thursday news and notes

As Bryan Stow continues to gain ground

  • The Dodgers tweeted this photo of the team celebrating its 1963 World Series victory, 48 years ago today.
  • Another former Dodger in the managerial ranks: Robin Ventura has been hired by the White Sox. He has never managed or coached in professional baseball.
  • Billy Beane talked about “Moneyball” (among other topics) with Tyler Bleszinski of Athletics Nation.
  • Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness takes a long look at the market for a power hitter and finds the Dodgers’ options short.
  • Justine Siegel is keeping a journal of her experience at MLB Scout School; today she passes along a brief encounter with former Dodger executive Kim Ng. Also check out her previous entries.
  • Johnny Schmitz, who came to the Dodgers midway through the 1951 season, has passed away, according to the Wausau Daily Herald of Wisconsin (via Vin Scully Is My Homeboy). “For almost 50 years, Schmitz would walk across the street from his home on East Union Avenue to Mark’s Barber Shop every couple weeks to get his hair cut and talk with his longtime friend, barber Mark Resch,” the Daily Herald wrote.
  • Josh Fisher of Dodger Divorce offers his latest thoughts on the McCourts:

    … In the past, I’ve expressed regret that it’s had to come this far, and I still feel that way. There’s nothing left for Frank McCourt to win. Even if he bludgeons the bankruptcy court into allowing an auction of the TV rights over the sincere objection over several relevant parties, and even if he can somehow win an injunction forcing baseball to stay out of his franchise, Frank McCourt would escape this firestorm with an openly hostile customer base wholly uneager to support his ownership.

    There’s nothing left to win.

    I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the failure of Frank and Jamie McCourt to settle their differences amicably two years ago. At the heart of one of the most bitter and protracted public sagas to unfold in American sports was the simple failure of two people to realize they had more to lose by fighting than they could possibly gain.

    I don’t know what was happening behind closed doors two years ago today. I do know what’s happened in the press and in the courtroom since, though, and I suspect that fighting over a couple hundred million dollars might end up costing Frank and Jamie some multiple of whatever amount truly separated them. …

Oct 06

Remembering 2011: Aaron Miles


Evan Habeeb/US PresswireAaron Miles

The setup: After hitting .185 with a .224 on-base percentage in 74 games for the Cubs in 2009, Miles was traded to the A’s, traded to the Reds, released and signed by St. Louis within a six-month period. He began to rebuild his career with the Cardinals in the second half of 2010, hitting .281 with a .311 OBP in 79 games. A free agent, Miles wasn’t signed for 2011 until February by the Dodgers, whose thin bench made him a contender for a spot on the 25-man roster.

The closeup: Miles not only wore a Dodger uniform on Opening Day, he was pressed into starting duty at third base in two of the first three games. By the last week of April, injuries to Rafael Furcal and Juan Uribe created openings in the lineup for both Jamey Carroll and Miles, who would end up starting 110 times in 2011 with 490 plate appearances, his most since 2004 and fifth most on the ’11 Dodgers. (Miles and Carroll combined for exactly 1,000 plate appearances this season.)

Miles unexpectedly thrived as a Dodger, with a 4-for-4 performance on July 1 raising his batting average for the season to .324, though he only had five walks in 227 plate appearances. That won him many fans in Dodger dugout – Don Mattingly started Miles in every spot of the batting order except cleanup and ninth – as well as in the cheap seats, in what to that point was obviously an especially trying year for the franchise overall. So when he hit .231 for the remainder of the season (though with a higher walk rate), few noticed.

Coming attractions: Miles, who has changed organizations eight times in his career, may yet return to the Dodgers, who have room for an experienced reserve in the infield. The 35-year-old would command a raise from his $500,000 salary, but nothing earthshattering. Whether the Dodgers should go out of their way to retain someone whose .660 OPS was his highest in three years is another matter, but odds are if they don’t end up with Miles, they’ll end up with someone like him. By comparison, Carroll, who turns 38 in February, had a .706 OPS this year.

Oct 05

Remembering 2011: Juan Castro


Jesse Johnson/US PresswireJuan Castro

The setup: The long-respected defender played in exactly one game for the Dodgers in 2010, his third separate stint with the team. Nonetheless, in December, Los Angeles re-signed him as a minor-league free agent. He almost retired in March after not making the Opening Day roster, but ended up heading to the minors — where he promptly missed a month with an oblique injury. Still, once he was back on the field, was there any doubt he’d find his way back to Dodger Stadium? On May 13, almost exactly 20 years after the Dodgers signed him as an amateur free agent at age 19, the Dodgers brought Castro up from Albuquerque, sending Ivan De Jesus Jr. down to play in Triple-A regularly.

The closeup: Castro helped the Dodgers to two extra-inning wins, on May 20 against the White Sox and on June 4 in Cincinnati, where he had a leadoff single in Los Angeles’ four-run 11th inning. But two days later, when the Dodgers decided to launch the Dee Gordon era in the wake of another Rafael Furcal injury, Castro was designated for assignment. On June 10, he retired from baseball, finishing his season with a career-high .286 batting average (4 for 14) and his playing career with a.595 OPS in 1,103 games over 17 seasons. Rarely charged with errors, Castro also has the 15th-highest fielding percentage for shortstops in MLB history. His retirement arguably paved the way for Eugenio Velez to become a Dodger a month later.

Coming attractions: It was initially reported that Castro would be a special assistant to Ned Colletti, but he is actually serving as a minor-league roving instructor for the Dodgers.

Oct 05

Remembering 2011: Casey Blake


Jesse Johnson/US PresswireCasey Blake

The setup: After an .832 OPS in his first full season as a Dodger in 2009, Blake played in 146 games in 2010 but fell to a .727 OPS. The Dodgers believed going into 2011 that Blake would need more regular rest to remain productive.

The closeup: Forget about rest: Blake hit the disabled list before Opening Day, setting the tone for an injury-riddled season. When he did play in April, he was actually red hot, with a .446 on-base percentage and .509 slugging percentage in 14 games, only to return to the DL before the month was over. When he was activated in late May, he started out 5 for 16, but then suffered through a rough June: .250 on-base percentage, .262 slugging. His third trip to injured reserve soon followed, taking him out for most of July. He was his average self in August (.720 OPS), but on September 1, he finally succumbed to ongoing and career-threatening neck issues and called it a season. He finished his whip-around year with a .713 OPS but played in only 63 games, hitting four home runs.

Coming attractions: For a ballplayer who didn’t become a major-league regular until he was 29, Blake has had a fine career: .336 on-base percentage, .442 slugging and 167 home runs while playing a solid third base. Whether he adds to it remains to be seen. The rumors of his impending retirement might be exaggerated, but how much the 38-year-old family man with five kids ages 10 and under wants to spend another year in the bigs destined to be a reserve is unclear. At a minimum, he became in his 3 1/2-year Dodger tenure one of the team’s top-five third basemen ever in Los Angeles.

Oct 04

Remembering 2011: Nathan Eovaldi


John Amis/APNathan Eovaldi

The setup: Having spent most of 2010 in Single-A ball with Rancho Cucamonga, for whom he posted a 4.45 ERA with 6.1 strikeouts per nine innings, Eovaldi was slated for nothing more than a year’s worth of learning with Chattanooga in the calm of the Double-A Southern League. But his banner season — 2.62 ERA, 99 strikeouts in 103 innings — combined with injuries to Jon Garland, Vicente Padilla and Rubby De La Rosa, vaulted Eovaldi into the Dodger starting rotation August 6.

The closeup: Eovaldi made six starts for the Dodgers before they pulled the 21-year-old into the bullpen as a workload precaution. In all but one of the starts he pitched at least five innings and allowed no more than two runs, and if not for a sun-aided bloop double that fell in front of Trent Oeltjen against Colorado on August 28, Eovaldi could have easily gone 6 for 6. Even so, he had a 3.09 ERA as a starter with a .649 opponents’ OPS. Of more concern is that he allowed 43 baserunners in 32 innings while striking out 23. His Expected Fielding Independent Pitching ERA (xFIP), according to Fangraphs, was 4.80.

After his final start, Eovaldi went nine days without pitching in a game, then faced only 15 batters over a 15-day stretch as a reliever, with seven of them reaching base.

Coming attractions: With De La Rosa needing most if not all of 2012 to recover from Tommy John surgery, Eovaldi is a leading contender to take a place in the Dodger starting rotation — though it’s far from impossible that, if Hiroki Kuroda returns, the Dodgers might find a way to start Eovaldi in the minors again. There’s great respect for the three-level leap that U-less made this year, but whether he’s ready to sustain that over an entire major-league season at age 22 remains somewhat in doubt. Nathaniel Stoltz’s analysis at Seedlings to Stars (via Lasorda’s Lair) suggests that Eovaldi might be too reliant on his fastball.

Oct 04

Will Adrian Beltre reach the Hall of Fame?


Lynne Sladky/APAdrian Beltre hit 147 home runs in seven seasons with the Dodgers, all before turning 26.

Adrian Beltre, who hit three home runs today in the Texas Rangers’ 4-3 victory over Tampa Bay (clinching their American League Division Series), has 2,033 hits and 310 home runs in his career at age 32, to go with a superb defensive reputation. How many of you think the former Dodger third baseman will play well enough, long enough, to win the favor of Hall of Fame voters?

Beltre is likely to finish in the top five all-time among third basemen in hits, though I imagine he’ll need to make it all the way to 3,000 to win enough Hall votes and avoid the fate of the Ron Santos of the world. When his time comes, would that number still be a golden ticket, or could something like Beltre’s relatively low on-base percentage hold him back?

Texas has Beltre under contract for four more seasons, with a vesting option for a fifth. If he can average 140 hits per season, he’d be in the 2,700 or 2,800 neighborhood when his contract expires.

Oct 04

Dodgers part ways with Blake, Garland

As expected, the Dodgers have paid $1.25 million to buy out Casey Blake’s $6 million contract option for 2012, while also declining Jon Garland’s $8 million option for next season (at a cost of $500,000). Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com has more.

Both players become free agents and are eligible to sign with any team after the World Series ends, and with the Dodgers at any time. In fact, each has past experience of returning to the Dodgers as a free agent: Blake three years ago, Garland last year.

We’ve gotten mixed signals on Blake, from possible retirement to a potential willingness to come back as a reserve to the Dodgers on a cheaper contract. However, I’d be surprised if the Dodgers bid very enthusiastically on either Blake or Garland, both of whom spent much of 2011 injured, unless their salary quotes came way, way down.

Some might consider this the top story: The Dodgers also removed Eugenio Velez from their 40-man roster by outrighting him to Albuquerque. That takes him out of the team’s 2012 plans, but it doesn’t mean we won’t see him at Camelback Ranch for Spring Training next year.

* * *

  • Federal bankruptcy judge Kevin Gross has appointed a mediator to try to bridge the chasm between the Dodgers and Major League Baseball out of court. Good luck on that one.
  • Suspended list star Ronald Belisario is looking to rebuild his career, even if it’s not with the Dodgers or even in the U.S., according to this story on the Bravos de Margarita website (Google translation here) passed along by Roberto Baly of Vin Scully Is My Homeboy.
  • Baly also has links to radio interviews with Vin Scully, Tommy Lasorda, Ned Colletti and Charley Steiner.
Oct 03

Remembering 2011: Eugenio Velez


Lenny Ignelzi/APEugenio Velez

The setup: A .264 hitter with a .701 OPS in his first three seasons with San Francisco, Velez had fallen to .164 and .555 in 2010. He was actually batting .412 after going 3 for 5 against the Dodgers on April 17 last year, but finished his major-league action with a little-noticed hitless streak of nine at-bats. Signed to a minor-league contract by the Dodgers in December, Velez settled in nicely with Albuquerque, posting a .339 batting average and .371 on-base percentage with the Isotopes in 55 games. To emphasize that last point, Velez had 74 hits in Albuquerque before he was called up by the Dodgers in July and, if you look at the Isotopes’ batting average leaders, is No. 1 among those who played in at least 10 games, above such players as Trent Oeltjen, Dee Gordon, Tim Federowicz, Ivan De Jesus Jr., A.J. Ellis, Justin Sellers, Jay Gibbons, Trayvon Robinson, Russ Mitchell and Jerry Sands.

The closeup: Um, well, Velez did not hit .339 with the Dodgers. Or .239, or .139, or .039, or .0039. Though he was twice walked and once hit by a pitch, he failed to get a hit in 37 at-bats, establishing records for a non-pitcher for most hitless at-bats in a single season as well as longest hitless streak period: 46. Since a third-inning single on April 20, 2010, Velez is an unbelievable 1 for his last 66 in the majors: an .015 average. And if not for extra innings on May 18, 2010, Velez would be riding a hitless streak of 66 at-bats. There were also few instances of Velez just missing a hit in 2011. According to Baseball-Reference.com, he struck out 11 times (including all three at-bats of his seventh and final start of the year) and made 18 infield outs, in comparison to eight outs recorded by outfielders. He was credited with two line-drive outs in the majors this year.

Coming attractions: When he reached 46 consecutive hitless at-bats, Velez broke a record jointly held by two others who spent time with this franchise, Bill Bergen and Craig Counsell. Bergen was 31 when his streak ended in 1909; he collected 70 more hits over the final two seasons of his career. Counsell was 2 1/2 weeks shy of his 41st birthday when his streak ended in August, and he actually finished the season in an 11-for-40 hot streak (.275). So it’s not as if Velez, 29, should never get a hit again. However, Velez does have a burden borne by neither of his predecessors: He has to carry his hitless streak into his offseason job hunt. No one’s going to hand him a major-league job that offers him an early opportunity to exorcise this particular ghost. Velez will be playing in some organization next year, but he’s going to have to work his way up from the minors, and then figure out how to hit it where they ain’t. Expect him to drive in a go-ahead run with a double down the line against the Dodgers sometime before the decade is over.

Oct 03

Dodgers move to AM 570

The Dodgers made official today their move from KABC 790 AM to KLAC 570 AM, beginning next season.

The new three-year deal puts Vin Scully and the Dodgers on an all-sports station for the first time in years. The deal calls for all regular season games plus “at least seven Spring Training games.”

DodgerTalk will air for at least one hour after every game, with an hourlong exhibition season program airing at 7 p.m. from the start of Spring Training until Opening Day. There was no immediate word whether Josh Suchon and Joe Block would be part of the transition, although I have trouble believing anyone doesn’t want them included.

In other news and notes:

  • ESPNLosAngeles.com and Tony Jackson have offered a poll where you can decide which Dodgers you would keep and which you would “trash.” I always find these kinds of questions hard to answer when you don’t know what the cost would be in many cases — I wouldn’t trash Jamey Carroll, but I wouldn’t go crazy trying to keep him either — but my biggest question is how Matt Kemp would have fared in such a poll a year ago.
  • The fan vote for the Hank Aaron Awards for the best hitters in the National and American Leagues has begun. We can finally settle the question of who is more deserving: Matt Kemp or Cameron Maybin.
  • The Dodgers have asked federal bankruptcy judge Kevin Gross to reconsider the exclusion of evidence on how Major League Baseball has dealt with other teams. Wrote Craig Calcaterra of Hardball Talk: “Motions for reconsideration just never, ever work. They’re the litigation equivalent of my son saying “but DAAAAAD!”
  • Milwaukee Brewers owner Mark Attanasio (who lives in Los Angeles) has been named to the LACMA Board of Trustees, where he will share metaphorical office space with Jamie McCourt.
  • Most everything you wanted to know about 2011 ejections but you were afraid to inquire about can be found in this post at the Platoon Advantage.
  • Japanese free agent Tsuyoshi Wada gets a closer examination from analyst Chad Moriyama, whose guard is up and optimism down about the Japanese lefty.
  • Jay Gibbons, who finished the season with Albuquerque, has filed for free agency, according to MLB Trade Rumors.
  • Update: Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. breaks down the contract status of everyone on the Dodger 40-man roster.
Oct 03

Remembering 2011: John Ely


Kelvin Kuo/US PresswireJohn Ely

The setup: Last year’s rookie darling, at least before his pinpoint control abandoned him midway through the 2010 season, Ely was believed to hold enough usefulness that, amid a seeming lack of alternatives, he figured to be the first minor-league pitcher the Dodgers would turn to in 2011 if anything happened to Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Hiroki Kuroda, Ted Lilly or Jon Garland.

The closeup: As soon as April 10, the ninth game of the season, the Dodgers did turn to Ely, because Garland hadn’t yet recovered from his Spring Training oblique injury. And Ely was one strike away from a quality start, having allowed two runs in 5 2/3 innings, when he then walked San Diego’s Ryan Ludwick and then gave up a home run to Nick Hundley. If the Dodgers were going to be forgiving, an uneven performance at Albuquerque (5.99 ERA) changed their minds: Despite Garland soon being lost for the season, Ely made no more starts for Los Angeles in 2011, passed over in favor of Rubby De La Rosa, Nathan Eovaldi and Dana Eveland. In fact, Ely made only four other appearances in the majors this year. One of them was June 5, when he had a chance for a four-inning save before faltering in the ninth. The other three came after rosters expanded in September, when Ely pitched four innings of shutout ball, lowering his season ERA to 4.26 with 13 strikeouts against 12 hits and an uncharacteristic seven walks in 12 2/3 innings.

Coming attractions: Ely wouldn’t seem to figure in the Dodgers’ plans for 2012, especially with a new wave of homegrown minor-leaguers making the grade. Pitching in Albuquerque certainly seems to have done him few favors. On the other hand, he’s still only 25, and if not the Dodgers, some team might see if he can rediscover the confidence control that made him such a hit in 2010. In the same fashion that Eveland got another shot this year, perhaps Ely can too.

Oct 02

Remembering 2011: Justin Sellers


Kirby Lee/US PresswireJustin Sellers

The setup: With the Dodgers, his third organization as a minor-leaguer, Sellers began working his way onto the radar in 2010, when the shortstop hit 14 home runs in 288 at-bats with Albuquerque. He performed similarly in 2011, knocking 14 homers in 270 at-bats for the Isotopes while increasing his on-base percentage to .400. When Rafael Furcal’s replacement, 23-year-old homegrown prospect Dee Gordon, went on the disabled list on August 11, the 25-year-old Sellers got the proverbial break he was looking for.

The closeup: Sellers made an impression quickly, not just with his everywhere-you-look tattoos but with a home run in his third major-league game, after which he gave a memorable postgame TV interview while holding his 2-year-old daughter in his arms. During Gordon’s three-week absence, Sellers started 16 games at shortstop with a .714 OPS, while looking reliable and occasionally acrobatic in the field. Rather quickly, support began to build for the idea that Sellers could become the Dodgers’ starting second baseman next to Gordon in 2012, or at least a replacement for utility infielder extraordinaire Jamey Carroll.

Unlike several other Dodger rookies, however, Sellers suffered through a miserable September. He went 9 for 60 with a .227 on-base percentage and a .217 slugging percentage, and needed to go 2 for 4 in the season finale just to reach those heights. He finished 2011 with a .283 on-base percentage and .301 slugging percentage in 139 plate appearances.

Coming attractions: The Dodger infield is in flux, with Gordon arguably the only current member of the 40-man roster assured of a starting job. Casey Blake is likely gone, no one’s quite sure of what will happen with James Loney, and Don Mattingly has indicated that even Juan Uribe needs to prove himself. Carroll and Aaron Miles are free agents, but even if both returned, a bench role could be Sellers’ market. But thanks to his final-month performance, he would appear to be more of a fallback option than one at the forefront, and certainly an unlikely choice to be a starter Opening Day.

Oct 01

So, when exactly were the Dodgers out of contention?

On August 24, St. Louis was 10 1/2 games behind Atlanta in the National League wild card race. Though everyone might have thought the Cardinals were out of playoff contention, it turns out they were anything but. Today, they will play the Phillies in the National League Division Series.

As a result, by the definition of “valuable” that exists in the minds of some (as opposed to the one that actually exists in the Baseball Writers Association of America voting guidelines), everyone on the Cardinals is eligible for the NL Most Valuable Player Award.

What does this have to do with the Dodgers?

On August 24, Los Angeles was 10 1/2 games behind Arizona in the NL West race. Same date, same deficit.

(Yes, the Cardinals were closer to Milwaukee in the NL Central race, but that’s not the race they won.)

If you argue that the Dodgers were never in contention this summer, then you have to argue that the Cardinals were never in contention. Which is obviously not true.

National League standings after August 24
1t) .719 23-9 Arizona
1t) .719 23-9 St. Louis
3) .688 22-10 Los Angeles
4) .600 18-12 Milwaukee

13t) .355 11-20 Atlanta

The Dodgers certainly played as if they were in contention. They played hard and they played well. The difference between the Dodgers and St. Louis has nothing to do with the Dodgers. The Braves collapsed, and the Diamondbacks didn’t.

I realize the 2011 MVP ballots have already been cast, so this is moot as far as this year goes, but it should be remembered for future votes. The comeback of the Cardinals in the NL (along with Tampa Bay in the AL) points out yet another flaw in the misbegotten argument that Matt Kemp should be effectively ineligible for the MVP award because the Dodgers didn’t contend.

You certainly can’t argue that the games through August 24 didn’t matter for the Dodgers, and given how incredible the other comebacks were, I’m not sure how you can argue that any game for the Dodgers before they were eliminated September 17 didn’t matter to them.

With the season on the line, from August 22 through September 10, the Dodgers went 15-3 – yet they lost 1 1/2 games in the standings. Is it really fair to punish Kemp, who had a typical .971 OPS during that stretch, for his team not making the playoffs?

As smart as they think they are, sportswriters (and fans) don’t get to decide when the games no longer matter. The players do.

Update: Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness has more on the subject.