Mar 29

Looking back on 2010: The Dodger Thoughts reader predictions thread

For the fifth year in a row, I’m asking Dodger Thoughts readers to summarize the upcoming season before it happens.

The Dodgers went xx-xx in 2010 because ______________.

(And, yes, if you need an extra x, take it.)

Last year, we had a dead-on prediction from the second person offering one.  Here’s Dodger Thoughts reader KG16 on March 30: “Always the optimist when it comes to sports, I’ll say the Dodgers have a breakout season and finish 95-67, and good enough for home field through the NL playoffs.”

The rest of his comment was not quite as accurate – “I’ll also predict that the NL gets home field in the World Series because of All Star game home runs by Manny and Russ, along with three shutout innings to start the game by Billingsley and a perfect seventh by Kershaw.” – but forgivable under the circumstances.

Also picking a 95-67 record was commenter Unlazy4sports.

Several people picked a breakout season for Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw, but no one had “50-game suspension for Manny Ramirez” in the pool. More than a few talked about midseason acquisition Roy Halladay …

Feb 16

2010 Dodger Opening Day Roster Locks


Gary A. Vasquez/US Presswire
Clayton Kershaw pitches in the first inning of the NL West clincher against Colorado.

Before we go any further, Josh Wilker’s Cardboard Gods piece on Burt Hooton is better than anything you’ll see in this post.

And with that introduction …

* * *

Now that we’ve spent some time chewing on the gristle, let’s take a look at the meat. Here are the 19 folks who, short of an injury or a trade, will be on the Dodgers’ Opening Day roster.

I’m finding the more I look at the starting rotation, the higher I am on Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley, and the lower I am on Hiroki Kuroda and Vicente Padilla. I’m also feeling pretty sanguine about the seven locked-in spots of the lineup, despite the aging players at shortstop, third base and left field. (Well, they’re aging at every position, but you know what I mean.)

Starting Pitchers (4)

Clayton Kershaw, LHP: The injury to Kershaw’s non-throwing shoulder last summer might have been a blessing, reducing the wear on his arm in his first full season in the majors. Turning a wizened 22 on March 19, Kershaw will try to build upon what was quietly a remarkable year, one in which he led National League starting pitchers in fewest hits allowed per nine innings. The quiet part had to do with his poor run support; he faced 289 batters after the All-Star Break and allowed only two home runs, recorded a 2.27 ERA, yet was credited with one win. In his final six quality starts of the season, Kershaw was winless. The four times he struck out 10 or more in a game, Kershaw was winless.  Much will be expected of Kershaw in 2010, especially if he can reduce his wildness, but Torre will have to be careful not to fall so deeply in love with Kershaw that he overworks him.

Chad Billingsley, RHP: Goodness, I’ve written volumes on Billingsley the past year. Just a sampling: His overall credentials. How Joe Torre has used him. Comparing him with Justin VerlanderComparing him to Brandon Webb and Dan Haren. The fact that he actually had a good August. The fact that he has performed well the overwhelming majority of the time, including pressure situations. It all adds up to the same total: a very good pitcher who had some struggles, none of which should permanently halt the 25-year-old’s upward trajectory. I can’t wait to see him back on the mound again.

Hiroki Kuroda, RHP: Kuroda made only start before June 1, then came back with two fine efforts against Arizona and Philadelphia – the latter featuring six innings of shutout ball that lowered his ERA to 1.62. But it got pretty rocky after that, as only one of his next eight starts was above par. Abruptly, Kuroda turned it around and was in the process of making his fifth consecutive quality start when Rusty Ryal’s line drive got him, cranium-style. The quality of the opponent doesn’t really seem to matter much – Kuroda has been inconsistent in both his Dodger seasons. By the end of the year, the numbers have added up to above-average performance, but he turned 35 last Wednesday and is still an injury concern, so it’s fair to wonder how long that equation will last.

Vicente Padilla, RHP: I’m trying to find reasons why Padilla’s super performance with the Dodgers wasn’t a fluke, and I’m coming up kind of empty. For his career, including the NL portion from 1999-2005, he has struck out 6.2 batters per nine innings. With the Dodgers, it’s 8.2. I’ll grant that Padilla might be adequate this year, but I’m struggling to buy into a full Renaissance. I mean, Carlos Perez had a nice September once upon a time.

Bullpen (5)

Jonathan Broxton, RHP: One of 14 relievers to blow a save or take a loss in the 2009 postseason (along with Joba Chamberlain, Ryan Franklin, Brian Fuentes, Brad Lidge, Joe Nathan, Jonathan Papelbon and Huston Street, among others), Broxton is, in my view, the best closer in the NL. The 2008 and 2009 losses to Philadelphia were painful, but if you’re using them against him in evaluating Broxton, I hope you’re doing the equivalent for all the others.

George Sherrill, LHP: For all the grief that Broxton got at the end of the playoffs, Sherrill had the rockier postseason, allowing four runs on seven baserunners in 4 1/3 innings. Before that, Sherrill’s numbers were ridiculously good with the Dodgers, allowing two runs in two months in the regular season (plus three inherited runners). His overall 2009 ERA was more than three runs lower than his 2008 ERA.

Ronald Belisario, RHP: A year ago, Belisario was a 26-year-old water-treader who was a Spring Training afterthought – or nonthought. Now, he’s the Dodgers’ top righty set-up man after striking out nearly a batter an inning with a 2.04 ERA in 69 games. You have to look real hard to see a dropoff in Belisario’s numbers after his midsummer stint on the disabled list: 2.42 ERA, 8.6 K/9, .575 OPS allowed before; 1.21 ERA, 7.3 K/9, .589 OPS allowed after.

Ramon Troncoso, RHP: Much of my musing time on Troncoso is spent wondering if he’ll repeat Cory Wade’s 2009 downfall. The reason might not be justified; it’s tied to the decline in Troncoso’s strikeout rate to 6.0 per nine innings. On the bright side, Troncoso’s groundball rate is still much better than Wade’s ever was. Troncoso has allowed five home runs in 120 1/3 career innings, and his career slugging percentage allowed is .348. That helped Troncoso strand 27 of 32 inherited baserunners in 2009.

Hong-Chih Kuo, LHP: Kuo pitched 30 innings in 2007, 80 innings in 2008, 30 innings in 2009. So of course I envision big things for 2010. … In his last 110 innings, Kuo has 128 strikeouts against 120 baserunners, a 2.37 ERA and a .575 OPS allowed, and he has stranded 26 of 30 baserunners. He’s 28 years old; fate needs to give this guy a little more time in the sun.


Russell Martin

Catchers (2)

Russell Martin, C: It really is a stunning drop: Martin’s slugging percentage in 2009 was 30 percent lower than his 2007 mark (.329 vs. .469). Having turned 27 Monday, Martin should be entering the prime of his career, but instead the questions are whether he will ever recover from his slide. Your (all-)star has certainly fallen when people begin suggesting you should be replaced by career minor-leaguer A.J. Ellis. That solution doesn’t really make sense: Ellis’ only offensive skill is the one Martin has retained: on-base percentage. In any case, no one’s really interested any more in Spring Training stories about Martin’s off-field habits, good or bad. It’s all about what happens on the field and whether the ball will jump off his bat ever again.

Brad Ausmus, C: You’d think that Martin’s disappointing 2009 would have shot down all the “Brad Ausmus is a great mentor” talk, but apparently not. Fun fact: Ausmus reached base twice in each of the four games he played in July. The Dodgers went 4-0 in those games. Then they lost in his first five August appearances.

Infielders (4):

James Loney, 1B: Others have noted that in 2008 and 2009 Loney had the same number of plate appearances (651), home runs (13), RBI (90) and stolen bases (seven). But as Mike Petriello wrote in the Maple Street Press 2010 Dodgers Annual, there’s reason to believe Loney hasn’t stagnated, noting among other things his improved strike zone discipline. We’re still trying to understand how Loney could OPS .640 at home in 2009 and .862 on the road.

Rafael Furcal, SS: If you look at Fangraphs’ Wins Above Replacement rankings for shortstops in 2009, Furcal was fourth in the NL and eighth in the majors. Not bad for a season that was mostly a bummer. Credit his high ranking to being tops in the NL defensively, if you buy into their system. Furcal’s OPS by month in 2009: .663, .566, .658, .895, .563, .891.

Casey Blake, 3B: You could make the case that 2009 was the best or second-best year of Blake’s career, at age 36. And while so many were busy crowning Juan Pierre team MVP because of his performance during Manny Ramirez’s suspension, Blake quietly had a .901 OPS, slugging .530 and reaching base in all but five of the games he started during that time. If he’s going to have a dropoff in 2010, at least Dodger fans can console themselves that he’s dropping from a higher plateau.

Jamey Carroll, 2B-3B: The most on-base happy part-timers for the Dodgers in the 2000s include Willy Aybar (2005) .445, Chad Kreuter (2000) .416, Dave Hansen (2000) .415, Jose Cruz, Jr. (2005) .391, Alex Cora (2002) .371, Jose Hernandez (2002) .370, Jeff Reboulet (2001) .367, Andy LaRoche (2007) .365, Olmedo Saenz (2006) .363 and Antonio Perez (2005) .360. With Cleveland each of the past two seasons, Carroll has been at .355, and will be hoping a return to the NL gives him a boost after he turns 36 Friday.

Outfielders (4):

Manny Ramirez, LF: Not much more to say about Ramirez this week after this. But not to leave you completely dry: Ramirez’s OPS+ of 155 in 2009 was the 25th best in MLB history among players 37 and older (minimum 400 plate appearances) and the best in Dodger history.

Matt Kemp, CF: Kemp was on track for an even more spectacular season than the one he had in 2009, but he OPSed .586 after September 1 (despite a 13-game hitting streak mid-month). He went 4 for 31 with one walk and no extra-base hits or stolen bases in the final nine games of the season. He put all that behind him to hit a huge home run in his first playoff at-bat. Kemp is still going to have downs with his ups, but the notion that he can’t counter-adjust to big league pitching seems to be out the window.

Andre Ethier, RF: Los Angeles Dodgers who have had consecutive seasons with an adjusted OPS of more than 130: Tommy Davis (1962-63), Willie Crawford (1973-74), Steve Garvey (1974-76, 78-79), Jimmy Wynn (1974-75), Ron Cey (1975-76, 78-79), Reggie Smith (1977-78), Dusty Baker (1980-82), Pedro Guerrero (1981-85), Mike Piazza (1993-97), Gary Sheffield (2000-01), Shawn Green (2001-02), Andre Ethier (2008-09). Davis, Crawford, Garvey, Guerrero and Piazza were the only ones to do it before turning 28 (Ethier’s age in April).

Reed Johnson, OF: Johnson historically has hit lefties well, so you might see him spot-start for Ethier against southpaws (if only on the road?). Against righties, Johnson ain’t so hot (.707 career OPS, .628 in 2009) – so on the days Ramirez gets a breather against a right-handed pitcher, the Dodger lineup will take a beating unless (or even if) Blake DeWitt, Xavier Paul or Brian Giles makes the team.

Feb 13

The Dodger Thoughts 2010 Spring Training Primer

Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US Presswire
Ronald Belisario

This post really is what the title says: a preview of March baseball for the Dodgers, because many of the names below won’t see the light of the Chavez Ravine day in 2010. Last year, I shone a spotlight on such fellas as Travis Chick, Brian Mazone and Jacobo Meque. Anyone remember when Erick Threets was knockin’ on the door? Stephen Randolph?

The winner of the Most Unlikely to Succeed Award in 2009 was Ronald Belisario, who I placed at the very bottom of my “Check Back in a Year or Two” category. On that note, Tony Jackson on Friday wrote up a long list of Dodger non-roster and minor-league surprises from the past decade, led by Takashi Saito. The thing about several of the names on that list is that they didn’t necessarily win playing time with great exhibition seasons – which in a way is comforting, because exhibition performance is just such a dicey measuring stick to begin with.

Anyway, let’s see what we’re looking at …

Locks (19)

Only the disabled list or a trade can stop these guys from making the Opening Day roster. (We’ll discuss them more in an upcoming post.)

Starting Pitchers (4): Chad Billingsley, Hiroki Kuroda, Clayton Kershaw, Vicente Padilla

Bullpen (5): Jonathan Broxton, George Sherrill, Ronald Belisario, Ramon Troncoso, Hong-Chih Kuo

Catchers (2): Russell Martin, Brad Ausmus

Infielders (4): James Loney, Rafael Furcal, Casey Blake, Jamey Carroll

Outfielders (4): Matt Kemp, Manny Ramirez, Andre Ethier, Reed Johnson

Most Likely to Succeed (6)

Ronnie Belliard, IF: Belliard is the incumbent at second base – if he isn’t victimized by what I’m calling his Andruw Jones Clauwse: 209 or bust. Belliard had 19 hits and seven walks in 51 games before the All-Star Break last season with Washington; he matched those totals in his first 20 games with the Dodgers in September. Get ready for the Dodger second-base position to look like the No. 5 starter slot – there could be five or six different people starting there this year.

Mark J. Rebilas/US Presswire
James McDonald

James McDonald, P: Last year’s original No. 5 starter, the 25-year-old McDonald might not make it into the rotation in April – or at all in 2010 – but he’s quite likely to find a spot on the pitching staff somewhere. In his regular-season career as a reliever, the Dodgers’ two-time minor-league pitcher of the year has a 2.43 ERA and 50 strikeouts in 55 2/3 innings against 74 baserunners.

Eric Stults, P: I ran down my logic earlier this month for Stults being the season’s initial No. 5 starter. Basically, because he’s out of minor-league options, it’s use-him-or-lose-him time. However, his shutout against the Giants was his only quality start in 10 tries for Joe Torre in 2009, and he allowed 14 baserunners per nine innings. He has to pitch with some authority in Spring Training, however, or it’ll just be lose-him time.

Brian Giles, OF: Giles had a 137 OPS+ as recently as 2008; last year was the first time in his 15-year career he wasn’t above average at the plate. If he can recover enough from his knee problems to put 2009′s 55 OPS+ (.548 OPS) behind him, he could be the lefty bat off the bench – dare I say, Matt Stairs-like – Dodger fans are looking for.

Nick Green, IF: It’s a tossup among Chin-Lung Hu and various non-roster candidates, including Green, for the backup shortstop/pinch-hitter of second-to-last resort slot. There’s no reason Hu can’t do the job – and with his chances of becoming a starter fading, not much reason not to get him started in the next phase of his career. But I’m going to hazard that if he has recovered from offseason back surgery to remedy a herniated disk, his American League pedigree and his .783 OPS last April-May, he’ll get first crack at the job. That said, he is a 31-year-old who fell into a Red Sox roster spot last April after injuries to Julio Lugo and Jed Lowrie, so he’s hardly a heavy favorite.

Carlos Monasterios, P: Last year, we were all caught off guard by Ronald Belisario making the big-league squad and excelling despite having virtually no resume to speak of. There’s nothing to Monasterios’ stat line that suggests he can be a big-leaguer in 2010 – he wasn’t even that great in winter ball – but I’m suspecting that the Dodgers didn’t acquire him (and Armando Zerpa) on Rule 5 day without a good reason. As with Stults, the Dodgers can’t send Monasterios to the minors. So I can see them stashing him in the back of the bullpen and testing him out before discarding him.

Next in Line (7)

Blake DeWitt, 2B: As I wrote in January, if DeWitt is the starting second baseman, then the Dodger bench would be 80 percent right-handed bats with a right-handed starter typically facing them. And there’s almost no chance DeWitt will be kept as a reserve, even if it meant him at least pinch-hitting almost every game. So short of Belliard munching one Almond Roca too many, DeWitt is headed to Albuquerque by Opening Day. I’m sure the Dodgers wouldn’t mind him showing some real dominance in AAA this time around before they give him a starting job. Keep in mind that while DeWitt’s career got ahead of itself with his rushed promotion in 2008, it’s no longer too soon for the 24-year-old with six professional seasons to be major-league ready.

Scott Elbert, P: Elbert’s career major-league ERA is 6.66, but with more than 10 strikeouts per nine innings for his career in the majors and minors, the 24-year-old lefty (one week older than DeWitt) is not to be dismissed. We’ll see early in Spring Training if he’s going to get stretched out as a starter, but in any case, he’ll not only be pushing Stults, McDonald and Monasterios, he’s arguably the stealth man to beat altogether.

Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US Presswire
Charlie Haeger

Charlie Haeger, P: Haeger was on a quicker hook than Stults, which is saying something. The guy went seven innings in his Dodger debut against St. Louis and seven more against the Cubs five days later, allowing no runs in the second start. But one rugged outing in Cincinnati, and he was done as a starter. Before his next turn came, Jon Garland was in a Dodger uniform. (One wonders, if Haeger had managed to hold a 4-0 lead against the Reds, whether Tony Abreu might still be in a Dodger uniform.) The knuckleballer with a 5.26 career ERA might not be taken seriously as a rotation candidate when Spring Training begins, but he remains an intriguing possibility. He’d have to clear waivers if the Dodgers try to send him back to the minors, however.

Doug Mientkiewicz, IF: Due to the Dodgers’ dearth of deft lefties at the dish, Mientkiewicz really has just a couple of men to beat to make the roster. One, Xavier Paul, has minor-league options remaining. The other, Giles, is  3 1/2 years older than the 35-year-old Mientkiewicz, who missed most of last year because of an ill-advised slide in April. Mientkiewicz never had Giles’ peak as a hitter, but it’s conceivable he matches the gimpy ex-Padre at the plate now, plus he brings superior defensive value to the team.

Chin-Lung Hu, IF: Signed nearly seven years ago by the Dodgers, Hu’s prospect status has risen and fallen, relating in some part it seems to vision problems that he has had. At 26, he’s still young enough to step it up and become a fixture on a major-league roster, even if only as a backup. But he only had a .725 OPS with Albuquerque last season, so the Dodgers aren’t going to simply hand him the job.

Josh Lindblom, P: The 22-year-old from Purdue wowed the Dodgers in Spring Training last year, and despite an unsensational stint in AA, had a 2.54 ERA and 36 strikeouts against 49 baserunners (three homers) in 39 innings for Albuquerque, mostly in relief. The guess here – much more than a guess if McDonald makes his way back into the rotation – is that Lindblom starts his major-league career the same way several other young Dodgers have, in the bullpen.

Armando Zerpa, P: Listed here for the same reasons Monasterios is listed above, Zerpa had a mixed bag of a 2009 in the Red Sox farm system.

See You by September? (12)

Xavier Paul, OF: Paul is quite astonishingly the only left-handed bench candidate under the age of 35 – that’s a pretty big chit to have. Turning 25 later this month, he’d make a nice defensive backup for Ramirez and Ethier. He homered as a pinch-hitter in his fifth major-league at-bat in a year he slugged .500 in AAA. Freak health problems prevented the Dodgers from getting a longer look at him last year, but that might change in 2010. Like Hu, minor-league options might send Paul back to AAA in April; but he might have more plate time by the end of the year.

Jeff Weaver, P: Weaver officially rejoined the Dodger major-league squad in late April and remained through the National League Division Series, striking out 64 in 79 innings with a 3.65 ERA. He made seven starts and didn’t average five innings, but as a swingman he was more than adequate. Weaver is still only 33.

Brian Barton, OF: A lot of people like Barton, 28 in April, as a darkhorse to make the team. He OPSed .746 with Atlanta in 2008 (179 plate appearances), though he followed that with a .715 OPS in the minors last year. He gave a fun interview to Baseball Prospectus in March.

Alfredo Amezaga, IF-OF: Coming off microfracture surgery on his knee and without much of a bat, I have trouble seeing Amezaga making a contribution to the 2010 Dodgers, even with his defensive utility.

Angel Berroa, SS: The Dodgers’ starting shortstop as recently as 2008 (that’s right, with as many shortstop starts as Furcal and Nomar Garciaparra combined), the 32-year-old former Rookie of the Year spent 2009 with both New York franchises, going a combined 7 for 49 with three walks and two extra-base hits on the major-league level. His recent major-league service and name recognition might earn him some service time, but he really should have to pay to get into Dodger Stadium just like the rest of us.

A.J. Ellis, C: It’s another painful wait for Ellis, who at least got his first major-league hit last September. Ellis has no power, but he does have a career .398 on-base percentage in the minors and .437 the past two seasons in AAA. Those figures have gotten a few people carried away in thinking he might challenge Martin for a starting job; that ain’t happening. But if Martin or Ausmus ever has to go to the disabled list, the Dodgers probably wouldn’t hesitate to give Ellis the promotion.

Justin Miller, P: You don’t hear much talk this winter about Miller since he inked his deal with the Dodgers, perhaps because of his arthroscopic surgery or his declining strikeout rate, but he had a 137 ERA+ for the Giants last season, his third straight above-average season in the majors.

Cory Wade, P: The cautionary tale for any reliever who enjoyed sudden success without the strikeouts to back it up. Or, the cautionary tale for any reliever who enjoyed sudden success and then became Torre’s pet. A 2.27 ERA in 2008 made Wade a Dodger bullpen mainstay … all the way through April 12, when he went on the disabled list. Although it might seem like Wade never made it back, he actually did and stayed with the major-league club into July. But he never put together more than three consecutive games without allowing a run or inherited run to score. It seems extreme, after an offseason of rest, to entirely dismiss Wade’s chances of making the team – the 26-year-old could easily have a remaining up to follow his down, just like a Troncoso could have a down to follow his up.

Joel Auerbach/US Presswire
Brent Leach

Brent Leach, P: In that window when the Dodgers had neither Kuo nor Sherrill at their disposal, Leach had a nice 22-game stretch in which his ERA was 1.35 and opponents OPSed only .347 against him while striking out 10 times. From May 29 through July 11, Torre used Leach in 23 of the Dodgers’ 38 games. But then the roof caved in a bit for Leach, and he was back in the minors to stay before August. Last year’s rookie is this year’s 27-year-old – he stands to get another callup in the not-so-unlikely event that Kuo returns to the disabled list.

Travis Schlichting, P: A 25-year-old former infielder, Schlichting made his major-league debut with the Dodgers last year June 7 – eight days after the Dodgers called him up. He walked five of the 15 batters he faced in two games. He spent much of the year on the minor-league disabled list, but when he wasn’t in rehab, he did deliver a 0.92 ERA in 29 1/3 minor-league innings, striking out 23.

Ivan DeJesus, Jr., IF: Profiled Friday by Ken Gurnick of MLB.com, DeJesus is coming back from a broken leg that DeJesus said “looked like a chicken bone, broken in half, all jagged” on X-ray. Primarily a shortstop in the minors, DeJesus might have been contending for a starting job at second base this spring if not for the injury. He had an outstanding 2008 with Jacksonville (.419 on-base percentage, 16 steals in 18 attempts), and if he can recover that form, he could have a significant impact on the team by summer.

Jason Repko, OF: He seems like the nicest guy in the world, but he just gets pushed further and further down. In his profile with Mitch Jones in the 2010 Maple Street Press Dodger Annual, you can really get an idea of how much his injuries derailed his career even before he reached the majors. Now 29 years old, drafted in 1999, Repko hit a career-high 16 homers for the Isotopes last year but with only a .329 on-base percentage. He still does well against lefty pitchers, so an outfield injury to anyone but Ethier would make him a logical callup.

Check Back in a Year or Two (6)

Lucas May, C: May bounced back from a disappointing 2008 with Jacksonville to OPS .858 with Chattanooga, albeit in only 68 games. People still recall his 2007 season, when he hit 25 homers in 507 at-bats for Inland Empire in the California League (much-admired catching prospect Carlos Santana hit 14 in 350 at-bats there a year later before being traded). Besides Paul LoDuca and Russell Martin, Dave Ross (343) is the only home-grown Dodger catcher to have more than 100 plate appearances with the team since 2000.

Javy Guerra, P: Guerra, 24, typically has good strikeout numbers but struggled in 28 1/3 innings at Chattanooga last season, allowing 32 hits and 16 walks. He’s got a chance to make the majors, but a lot of righty relievers in the system to pass.

Kenley Jansen, P: Converted from catcher last year, the 22-year-old struck out a whopping 19 batters in  11 2/3 innings in A ball but also allowed 25 baserunners. So his target date is 2011 at the earliest.

Jon Link, P: Acquired in the Juan Pierre trade, Link is another righty down below who can rack up the strikeouts but also the baserunners. Walking nearly a batter every two innings each of the past two years, Link (26 in March) will have to display better control before he sees Dodger Stadium.

Trayvon Robinson, OF: The 22-year-old Crenshaw High grad has some excitement about him: .875 OPS and 43 steals with Inland Empire last year. We’ll see how he adjusts to the Southern League this year.

Russ Mitchell, IF: Averaging 16.8 homers (and 16 errors) the past five seasons, Mitchell moved backward last year, struggling to a .703 OPS with Chattanooga. After six years in the minors, it’s still very much an uphill battle.

Fodder (8)

Josh Towers, P: When your upside is 2009 Eric Milton, I guess that puts things in perspective. Towers pitched 208 2/3 innings for Toronto in 2005 with a 3.71 ERA, but in 174 1/3 innings since, he’s 7-20 with a 6.40 ERA. His comeback attempt saw him post a 2.74 ERA in 18 starts with the Yankees’ AAA team, which no doubt piqued the Dodgers’ interest, but it was with 4.9 strikeouts per nine innings.

Luis Ayala, P: The 32-year-old righty had a career 2.82 ERA in four seasons through 2007 but has struggled since. He has never been much of a strikeout guy for a guy coming out of the pen.

Francisco Felix, P: Felix was a Dodger farmhand last year and had a 3.05 ERA and 78 strikeouts in 76 2/3 combined innings between AA and AAA. So if it were only up to those numbers, he might be in line for a midseason callup.

Prentice Redman, OF: The 30-year-old has reached .900 or more in OPS each of the past two years in AAA.

John Lindsey, IF-OF: At age 33, Lindsey will give it another go with the Dodgers. He hit 56 homers in two years as a Dodger minor-leaguer from 2007-08, then 19 last year with Florida’s AAA team in New Orleans in what for him was a down year. With Mitch Jones gone and Larry Barnes a distant memory, Lindsey will resume the role of slugger on the outside looking in. The Dodgers could do him a solid by getting him into the majors for the first time, as they did with Jones a year ago, but I’m not holding out much hope.

Scott Dohmann, P: A very inconsistent righty, Dohmann had a nice 2004 season (as a Rockies rookie) and then again three years later (with Tampa Bay). The intervening years, you don’t really want to know about. But if he’s good every third season, that times out nicely for 2010.

Michael Restovich, OF: After a promising enough career launch (.837 OPS in 78 appearances through age 24 with Minnesota), Restovich, now 31, began to slip. Out of the majors since 2007, he has 1,291 career hits in the minors and Japan.

Argenis Reyes, IF: His best OPS was .771 in Low A ball in 2005. He’s a backup’s backup’s backup. For what it’s worth, he has not made an error in 114 major-league chances at second base.

Fodder’s Fodder (6)

Ramon Ortiz, P: He hasn’t been in the majors since 2007 and hasn’t had an ERA below 5.00 since his final season with the Angels in 2004. So despite a 3.05 ERA in the minors last year, I’m not buying what Ortiz, 37 in March, is selling.

Russ Ortiz, P: He hasn’t been in the majors since 2009 and hasn’t had an ERA below 5.00 since his final season with the Braves in 2004. So despite a 4.06 ERA in the minors last year, I’m not buying what Ortiz, 36 in June, is selling.

Juan Perez, P: Perez is 31 with 10 minor-league seasons and 15 2/3 major-league innings. He had a 3.47 ERA with Atlanta’s AAA team in Gwinnett in 2009 but walked 36 in 57 innings.

J.D. Closser, C: Having followed in the Colorado-to-Los Angeles footsteps of Danny Ardoin (which led to Ardoin’s 54 plate appearances with the Dodgers in 2008), the 30-year-old Closser will try to make it back to the majors for the first time since 2006.  Closser OPSed .723 in the Dodger system last season, splitting time with Ellis, Ardoin and May, among others.

Gabriel Gutierrez, C: Gutierrez has seven homers in 975 career minor-league at-bats through age 26, never having played more than 75 games in a season.

Justin Knoedler, C: Other than having twice as many major-league hits as Ellis, there isn’t much to recommend the 29-year-old Knoedler, who last saw the show in 2006.

Feb 11

Tracing the citizen rebellion in Mannywood

On the morning of July 24, Manny Ramirez’s popularity in Los Angeles was so high that his biggest critic this side of Boston, Bill Plaschke of the Times, said he “got chills” after Ramirez hit his pinch-hit grand slam home run while nursing a sore hand. The Dodgers quickly rushed out a commemorative poster and a second Manny Bobblehead Night onto their calendar, and the fan base ate it all up.

Let me emphasize how recent this was. It was barely six months ago. It was with only 67 games left in the regular season. It was also more than two months after Ramirez had been suspended for violating baseball’s drug policy and more than two weeks after he returned. The violation was in the past, and though some didn’t want to forgive him and others never liked Ramirez in the first place, the overwhelming majority of Dodger fans basked in his presence.

After returning from his suspension, Ramirez had a .347 batting average, .439 on-base percentage and .755 slugging percentage with five homers and 17 RBI in his first 57 plate appearances. Anyone who tries to tell you that Ramirez wasn’t on his game when he began his comeback is rewriting history. Ramirez was punishing the ball, and Dodger fans knew it. They felt it. They saw it.

And what was more exhilarating on the morning of July 24 was that it seemed not even age, not even an injury, could keep him down.

Flash forward, if you will, and now you can hardly walk anywhere Mannywood without finding a Ramirez skeptic, if not more and more fans who have completely turned against him.

It’s not clear exactly when the shift happened. Ramirez did struggle some in the games following the Bobbleslam, but he didn’t disappear. From July 24 through the end of the regular season, he failed to reach base in only nine starts. His on-base percentage was a healthy .378, and his batting average remained above .300 until September 23.

The fault lay more with his power. He had 12 doubles, eight homers and a .439 slugging percentage post-Bobbleslam, which is mortal by his standards, but not necessarily so far down that you’d expect many fans to notice.

However, the real turning point might not have been at the plate at all. On August 23, Ramirez overran a shot to the corner by Chicago’s Aramis Ramirez and then was extremely sluggish in recovering, allowing Aramis to get a triple in what would be a 3-1 Cubs victory on a hot Sunday at Dodger Stadium. Boos rained down on Manny, who also went 0 for 4, and numerous observers wondered if Bad Manny had finally arrived.

Subsequently, the team’s near-slide in the pennant race got people even more uptight, and as much grief as guys like Chad Billingsley received, it was Ramirez who in some ways became the biggest villain on the offensive end  — especially from those who credited Juan Pierre with everything from the Dodgers’ first-half surge to the polio vaccine.

After the Dodgers blew a potential division-clinching game in the ninth inning September 27 in Pittsburgh, Ramirez didn’t start the next game, then went 0 for 10 (with two walks) as the Dodgers lost twice to San Diego and once to fast-charging Colorado, the team scoring four runs in the three games.  By this point, the “Manny has lost it” mantra was in full swing — with few caring to remember that he began losing it following the hand injury, weeks after his return from the suspension.

Ramirez’s slump extended to 0 for 13 before he singled in the fifth run of the Dodgers’ 5-0 National League West clincher Oct. 3. But he was definitely on watchlists by this time. At times, he was chasing pitches and looked more desperate than dominant.

In the NL Division Series, Ramirez had a double and a walk in the Dodgers’ wild Game 1 victory, then barely escaped goat horns with his 0-for-4 in the Game 2 miracle. But in St. Louis for Game 3, Ramirez went 3 for 5 with two doubles as the Dodgers advanced to the Championship Series. Not exactly a disappearing act.

If that last performance bought him any goodwill, it wasn’t much. Even in the Dodgers’ disappointing NLCS defeat, Ramirez hit in all but one of the five games, homering in Game 1. In the final three games in Philly, he was 4 for 10 with a walk.

But if Ramirez’s job was to carry the Dodgers to the World Series, I guess enough people felt he didn’t do his job. That has translated into a lot of people thinking that Ramirez won’t be able to do his job in 2010, which could make for a vexing final season in Los Angeles.

I’m honestly not sure what to expect. It’s silly not to foresee some decline from a player who turns 38 on May 30. On the other hand, I think the biggest fulminators are overreacting to what happened toward the end of 2009 — especially those who ignore what Ramirez did before he was hit by that pitch July 21.

In my mind, when the Dodgers re-signed Ramirez for two years, the plan was that by the second year, he wouldn’t have to carry the team by itself. And with the flowering of Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier, that plan seems to be on target. Yes, Ramirez is earning an eight-figure salary, and with that comes certain responsibility. And more than anything, Ramirez is unpredictable. But finished? I’m not so sure.

Ramirez probably won’t regain all the goodwill that slipped away from him after Bobbleslam Night, but I don’t think there’s nearly enough evidence to write Ramirez off as a productive player. If people somehow ratcheted down their expectations to those merited by a 38-year-old slugger, I’d say there’s a very good chance they wouldn’t be disappointed.

Of course, I’m not holding my breath that people will recalibrate their expectations. And I get the sense that there is more than one person out there quite eager to see Ramirez fail, no matter what it means for the Dodgers.

Feb 04

New Dodger annual headed to print

I’m pleased to announce that the first Maple Street Press Dodgers Annual, edited by yours truly and featuring many writers familiar to Dodger Thoughts readers, will be shipping this month and is available for pre-order.

The annual, which will also be available on local newsstands at the start of March, offers 128 ad-free pages devoted to the Dodgers, including a review of the 2009 season, a thorough series of player profiles and articles previewing the coming year, a 25-page section on the farm system and another 25 pages of historical features.

Here are some of the highlights:

  • Amid Turmoil, Hope (2010 season preview), by Chad Moriyama of Memories of Kevin Malone
  • So Close, Again (2009 season in review), by Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A.
  • Manny Be Good? (What to expect from Ramirez in 2010), by Jay Jaffe of Baseball Prospectus
  • Disorder In McCourt (an analysis of the impact of the McCourts’ divorce) by Joshua Fisher of Dodger Divorce
  • State Of The Stadium, by Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A.
  • One Out Away (Jonathan Broxton looks to recover from another disappointing finish), by Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness
  • Critical Campaigns (James Loney and Russell Martin), by Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness
  • The Collected Colletti (a Q&A), by Josh Suchon of KABC AM 790
  • Aces Are Wild Cards (The last word on No. 1 starters), by Eric Enders, baseball historian
  • Prospect Park (Top 20 prospects in the Dodger farm system), by Dodger prospect expert Richard Bostan
  • Individually Packaged (how the Dodgers develop young arms), by Josh Suchon of KABC AM 790
  • No Minor Hopes (life in AAA), by Albuquerque Isotopes play-by-play announcer Robert Portnoy
  • One In A Trillion (a Vin Scully retrospective), by Dodger team historian Mark Langill
  • Unsung Heroes (key contributions from unexpected sources), by Bob Timmermann of The Griddle and One Through Forty-Two or Forty-Three
  • Sweep And Low (the end of the 1980 season), by Dodger Thoughts commenter BHSportsGuy
  • The Great Dividers (the 20 most controversial Dodgers of the 2000s), by Jon Weisman
Petriello also wrote the bulk of the player profiles, along with BHSportsGuy and another Dodger Thoughts commenter, CraigUnderdog.
If you enjoy this site (and maybe even if you don’t), you won’t want to be without this annual.
* * *
A great wrapup of the Dodgers’ caravan stop at my go-to fried chicken place, Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles, can be found at Vin Scully Is My Homeboy.
Feb 02

Dodgers will pick a No. 5 starter – and another, and another …

It’s risky to place too much importance on who will be the Dodgers’ No. 5 starter when the season begins, just because that role fluctuates so much. So instead of trying to predict the winner, I’m going to pursue this from another angle: truth-based fiction.

March: Josh Lindblom has a sensational spring, but the Dodgers decide there’s no way he can handle a starter’s innings from April on, without being eased into the role via the minors. Scott Elbert also shows flashes of brilliance, but the team prefers he also wet his feet in Albuquerque, where John Ely (the new one, not the old one, though both will end up with stops in Chattanooga) is slated to spend most of the year. James McDonald is penciled in early for the bullpen.  Charlie Haeger is denied meaningful innings. Russ Ortiz has one good start that generates a day’s worth of comeback stories, then implodes and is a non-factor. The longshot bids of Rule 5 Day acquisitions Carlos Monasterios and Armando Zerpa devolve into a slightly less longshot bid to become the seventh reliever.

That leaves Eric Stults. Despite his annual shutouts, the Dodgers don’t have any long-term faith in him, but with Stults out of minor-league options, they decide to give him first crack rather than throw a less experienced pitcher into the mix. The memory of McDonald’s April from last year still stings. Monasterios gets the (way) back-of-the-bullpen role, Zerpa is sent back on the Rule 5 highway, Ortiz goes to Albuquerque to find Shawn Estes’ old locker, and Haeger is released but doesn’t clear waivers.

April: Thanks to some rest-infused early season scheduling, the Dodgers don’t use a fifth starter until April 24 at Washington, an outing that finds Stults rusty but reasonably effective. He makes it through the capital city and his next start at home against Pittsburgh.

May: Before the month is out, Stults turns in the mediocre outing that confirms his limitations in the Dodgers’ eyes, and he is designated for assignment. Elbert, off to a strong start in Albuquerque, gets the callup.

June: Wear and tear on the staff — I’ll say Padilla, but it could be anyone — forces the Dodgers to bring up Lindblom to work alongside Elbert. McDonald wonders if he’ll ever be stretched out, but he becomes too valuable in the bullpen for the Dodgers to envision changing his role.

July: A four-game series in St. Louis right after the All-Star Break trashes the Dodger staff, though McDonald turns in a sterling four-inning relief stint that stops the bleeding in one game and rekindles thoughts of putting him back in the rotation. With the trade deadline approaching and the McCourt divorce case having been decided, there’s much talk about a deal. In the meantime, Ely is called upon to make a spot start, and Elbert gets a second wind after a poor stretch.

By the time the July 31 trading deadline comes, the Dodgers have a much better idea of what their starting pitching needs are. And that’s where I’m going to pause this speculation.

While few of the above plot twists might actually come true — the lack of need for a fifth starter for most of April could be enough to derail Stults’ chances of sticking, for example — the overall points are safe ones. No matter what happens in March:

1) Odds are, the Dodgers will run through several No. 5 starters.

2) Odds are, their collective performance will be good enough to allow the Dodgers to post a decent record in their outings, which is all you can really ask in a baseball world where virtually no team has a reliable No. 5 starter.

There are enough candidates for the fifth starter position that the Dodgers will have a low tolerance for failure. Unless none of them can do the job — and there’s no real reason to think all of them will fail to manage even a short hot streak — this part of the rotation will be less of a concern than some people think.

The Dodgers’ fortunes depend greatly on how their front four performs. If they can be relatively stable, the Dodger rotation will be fine — better than fine. If Chad Billingsley, Clayton Kershaw, Hiroki Kuroda or Vicente Padilla develop a serious, prolonged problem, then the Dodgers could be in trouble.

Update: Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports tweets that Jeff Weaver has agreed to a minor-league deal with the Dodgers.

Correction: I misread the schedule somehow. The Dodgers will need a fifth starter April 11 at Florida and April 17 against San Francisco. Chalk up a couple of confidence-building victories for Stults?

Feb 01

The year after 2009

The year after Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Bill Russell and Ron Cey first made the playoffs in 1974, the Dodgers finished 20 games out of first place.

The year after the Dodgers lost two consecutive World Series in 1977-78, they were in last place at the All-Star break.

The disappointing 1975 and 1979 seasons came with nary a cloud over Chavez Ravine to match the jejune gloom that fans today feel over Dodger ownership in the wake of Frank and Jamie McCourt’s divorce. Back in the 1970s, the leadership baton was successfully passed from Walter O’Malley to son Peter, with the widespread approval of the Dodger community – assuming that community even noticed the change, amid the stable ticket prices and cheap Double-Bagger peanuts.

Don Sutton turned 30 five days before Opening Day 1975. Garvey, Lopes, Russell, Cey, Steve Yeager, Bill Buckner, Andy Messersmith, and Doug Rau all were younger. The team was in its prime, but the Cincinnati Reds, whose biggest offseason acquisition was John Vuckovich (and his eight 1975 hits), fired up the Big Red Machine and annihilated rest of the National League West.

There would be a big lesson here about the dangers of standing pat – if the Reds hadn’t stood pat themselves. In other words, 1975 is a bad omen for the 2010 Dodgers – unless the 2009 Dodgers are the 1974 Reds.

Before you think me completely crazy, understand that I realize Russell Martin isn’t Johnny Bench, James Loney isn’t Tony Perez, Casey Blake isn’t Pete Rose and no combination of Blake DeWitt, Ronnie Belliard and Jamey Carroll could ever flap Joe Morgan’s elbow. But the point is that the coming Dodger season could go well or poorly – and whichever way it goes, it will probably have much less to do with Divorce Court than people believe.

Relative to the rest of the current NL, the Dodgers have considerable strengths in other areas, most notably the outfield and the bullpen. They’re a 95-win team that has retained about 75 percent of its talent, and the three principal losses – Randy Wolf, Orlando Hudson and Juan Pierre – figure to decline this year anyway, while a good portion of the team’s core has a chance to improve and Manny Ramirez has a good chance to avoid a 50-game suspension.

And contrary to what seems to be popular opinion in Los Angeles, the other NL contenders haven’t blown past the Dodgers, divorce or not. The league champion Phillies got Roy Halladay, though they gave up Cliff Lee to get him. They get to be the favorites, though not by any wide margin. No other team in the NL had an offseason that should make any Dodger fan nervous. Arizona might get a bounce-back season from Brandon Webb and added several players (at a cost), but has a 25-game gap to make up on Los Angeles. Milwaukee picked up Wolf and Doug Davis, but saw several players depart. And so on …

NL Team 2009 W-L Notable 2010 arrivals Notable 2010 departures
Dodgers 95-67 Jamey Carroll, Nick Green, Justin Miller Randy Wolf, Orlando Hudson, Juan Pierre
Philadelphia 93-69 Roy Halladay, Placido Polanco Cliff Lee, Pedro Feliz, Pedro Martinez
Colorado 92-70 Miguel Olivo, Tim Redding Yorvit Torrealba, Jason Marquis
St. Louis 91-71 Brad Penny, Ruben Gotay Joel Pineiro, Rick Ankiel, Khalil Greene
San Francisco 88-74 Aubrey Huff, Mark DeRosa Ryan Garko, Bobby Howry, Justin Miller
Florida 87-75 Jose Veras, Derrick Turnbow Nick Johnson, Ross Gload, Jeremy Hermida
Atlanta 86-76 Melky Cabrera, Troy Glaus, Billy Wagner Javier Vazquez, Adam LaRoche, Rafael Soriano
Chicago 83-78 Marlon Byrd, Xavier Nady Milton Bradley, Rich Harden
Milwaukee 80-82 Randy Wolf, Doug Davis Mike Cameron, Felipe Lopez, J.J. Hardy
Cincinnati 78-84 Orlando Cabrera, Aroldis Chapman Kip Wells, Willy Taveras
San Diego 75-87 Jon Garland, Scott Hairston, Jerry Hairston, Jr. Kevin Kouzmanoff, Edgar Gonzalez, Henry Blanco
Houston 74-88 Brett Myers, Pedro Feliz Miguel Tejada, Jose Valverde
New York 70-92 Jason Bay, Kelvim Escobar Carlos Delgado, Gary Sheffield
Arizona 70-92 Edwin Jackson, Bobby Howry, Adam LaRoche Max Scherzer, Chad Tracy
Pittsburgh 62-99 Akinori Iwamura, Ryan Church, D.J. Carrasco Matt Capps, Jesse Chavez
Washington 59-103 Jason Marquis, Ivan Rodriguez, Brian Bruney Livan Hernandez, Josh Bard

The 2010 season could go either way. The Dodgers have the talent to contend for a chance to upset the American League champion in the World Series (we’ll get to the team’s inferiority to the Yankees and Red Sox another day). They are also, like every other team including the Phillies, vulnerable to key injuries or prolonged slumps that could send them tumbling.

The 1979 Dodgers, who seemed to have everything going for them entering the season except the departure of Tommy John, lost 31 of 41 games leading into the All-Star Game, digging themselves a hole so deep that not even a league-leading 43 victories after the break could save them. And younger fans will certainly remember what happened to the Dodgers from 2004 to 2005.

On the other hand, the Dodgers rose from a heartbreaking season’s end in 1980 to a World Series title in 1981 not because of any outside acquisitions, but on the precociousness of Fernando Valenuzela and Pedro Guerrero. And though the Dodgers benefited from Kirk Gibson falling into their laps in 1988, they also had to overcome the loss of a key starting pitcher, Bob Welch.

If the Dodgers falter, it will undoubtedly be seen through the prism of the McCourts’ divorce, with everyone pointing out how the Dodgers didn’t get the reinforcements they needed. But not getting enough reinforcements is a historical pattern for the Dodgers. No Dodger team, in Brooklyn or Los Angeles, has ever made the postseason three years in a row. None. The 2010 Dodgers have a chance to be the first (not to mention a chance to be the first to win a World Series in 22 years). Their season will ride a thin line between ecstasy and disappointment.

There probably aren’t any Dodger followers, including myself, that don’t wish the team had more talent entering the 2010 season, that don’t wonder if an opportunity to get over the top is being squandered. You always want your odds to be the best they can be. But they never are.