- Bryan Stow “was transferred to a rehabilitation facility Tuesday after nearly seven months in hospitals,” reports The Associated Press.
- There have been tweaks to the Dodger logo, tweaks I would never have noticed if they weren’t pointed out to me. Paul Lukas has more at Uni-Watch.
- MLB Trade Rumors offer its take on the salary projections for arbitration-eligible Dodgers, topped by a potential $16.3 million for Matt Kemp. Thoughts about Tim Lincecum and the Giants can be found here.
- Seedlings to Stars (via Lasorda’s Lair) analyzes some Dodger hitting prospects.
- Of the 912 batters Clayton Kershaw faced this year, 20.1 percent of them came up with runners in scoring position. At the other end of the spectrum was Chad Billingsley, with 27.1 percent. Full chart from David Pinto at Baseball Musings.
- Kenny Williams considered naming current White Sox first baseman and former Dodger Paul Konerko as Chicago’s player/manager, according to Doug Padilla of ESPNChicago.com.
- Joe Posnanski, frightened by how bad some contracts are, wonders if baseball will drift toward a greater number of contracts with higher annual salaries but shorter duration.
- Hall of Famer Rod Carew shared a harrowing story from his childhood, Sean Kirst of the Syracuse Post-Standard reports (via Baseball Musings).
Scott Rovak/US PresswireScott Elbert (14)
The setup: A year ago, it wasn’t clear whether Elbert would pitch in the majors again. In 2010, he appeared in one game for the Dodgers, on May 29, faced six batters, walked three and allowed a hit and a run. Two days later, he was sent back to Albuquerque. In June, he left the Isotopes for undisclosed personal reasons and ended up not pitching in a professional game again until the Arizona Fall League in October. “I obviously have to earn my stay (in Los Angeles),” he told Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com. “I know where I stand. I have to fight and earn that respect back.”
As one of the final roster cuts before Opening Day, Elbert was sent to Albuquerque, where he struck out 16 in 14 1/3 innings but allowed 23 baserunners. However, with the Dodgers’ bullpen depleted, he was recalled May 11.
The closeup: Very quietly, Elbert turned over a new leaf and then some. In his season debut with the Dodgers, Elbert pitched one inning against Arizona and struck out the side. He pitched 7 2/3 innings over 11 games, striking out eight, before he gave up his first run of the season, while stranding six of eight inherited runners. A rough two-game stretch followed in which he allowed five runs, representing more than half of his 2011 total. By the time the season ended, Elbert had made 47 appearances and was unscored upon in 42 of them. He had a 2.43 ERA in 33 1/3 innings with 34 strikeouts against 42 baserunners. Problems flared slightly in September, when he walked six (compared with eight in the previous 3 1/2 months combined) and allowed five of 10 inherited runners to score (compared with seven of his previous 23). But overall, Elbert’s season was an unexpected pleasure, one of the undertold great stories hidden in the Dodgers’ strange 2011 season.
It is true that Elbert pitched better against lefties (.267 on-base percentage, .250 slugging percentage) than righties (.344/.382), facing almost equal amounts of both.
Coming attractions: For the first time, Elbert, 26, will arrive at Spring Training with a major-league job waiting for him, a chance to build upon the progress he showed this past season.
Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesXavier Paul (13)
The setup: In 2010, Paul missed an opportunity to help fill the Manny Ramirez void, managing only a .591 OPS in 133 major-league plate appearances (in contrast to his .963 OPS in Albuquerque). Out of options in 2011, Paul entered Spring Training with a chance to take playing time in left field away from Jay Gibbons, Tony Gwynn Jr. and Marcus Thames, but not a few of us thought he would end up being traded to Pittsburgh.
The closeup: We were way off. Paul wasn’t traded to Pittsburgh. He was designated for assignment and claimed on waivers by Pittsburgh. Despite going 3 for 7 during the season’s first week, Paul earned only four more plate appearances over the next week, each off the bench, and struck out all four times. On April 18, the Dodgers DFAed Paul to make room for the first coming of Jerry Sands.
With the Pirates, Paul went 2 for 4 in each of his first three starts and 6 for 7 in two games against the Mets to start the month of June, but in between those highlights, he was 3 for 27 with two walks and no extra-base hits. He ended up with a .293 on-base percentage and .349 slugging percentage for the Pirates in 251 plate appearances, to go with 16 stolen bases — not Hall of Fame stuff, but not too far off the offense Gwynn (.308/.353/22 in 340 plate appearances) provided the Dodgers, and at least more than Gibbons or Thames delivered.
Coming attractions: Paul, who made 41 starts in 2011 (with a .686 OPS, in contrast to a .253 OPS in 45 plate appearances as a pinch-hitter), will compete for a more regular role with the Pirates next season, or at least to remain on a major-league roster for an entire season for the first time.
Andrew B. Fielding/US PresswireTed Lilly (12)
The setup: After coming to the Dodgers, the team that drafted him in 1996, at the 2010 trade deadline and posting a 3.52 ERA with 77 strikeouts in 76 2/3 innings, Lilly was a free agent but one with an interest in staying in Los Angeles. In mid-October, not waiting to sound out offers from other teams, Lilly signed with the Dodgers for three years and $33 million. Though his ERA was above average during his half-season in Los Angeles, there was concern about his age (35 in January) and his home-run rate (one every six innings, roughly).
The closeup: Lilly didn’t eat innings, averaging 5.8 per start, nor was he reliable even at that length for most of the year. He was one of several Dodger veterans who disappointed in the first four months of the season, seemingly taking two steps back after every step forward. Beginning the year by allowing four runs in 4 2/3 innings of a 10-0 loss to the Giants, Lilly had three quality starts in his first nine. After managing to lower his ERA to 3.98 on June 11 with a nice run of five starts, he was hit hard over his next three, allowing 17 earned runs in 14 2/3 innings. (Was it the left-elbow tenderness?) Only once in 11 starts from June 6 from August 3, did he last more than six innings, and not once did he complete the seventh. When August began, his ERA was 5.02.
And then, there were the homers and steals. While Matt Kemp pursued a 30-30 or even a 40-40 season, Lilly was in effect doing the same thing from the dark side. For the year, opponents stole 35 bases in 37 attempts against the lefty, all but powerless to slow them. Meanwhile, after allowing only two home runs in April, Lilly gave up nine in May, five in June, seven in July and five in August – a total of 28 entering the season’s final month.
But following a solo homer to Colorado’s Carlos Gonzalez on August 26, Lilly kept the ball in the park for his final 42 2/3 innings of the season, delivering a 1.69 ERA over that period with 39 strikeouts. (Was it the acupuncture?) When he finished his seventh shutout inning at Arizona in his final appearance of the season, Lilly lowered his ERA to 3.97, its best level since he took the mound for the first time in April. Still, his park-adjusted ERA+ of 94 was Lilly’s worst since 2005. Lilly now has a 3.84 ERA in 269 1/3 innings over 45 starts with the Dodgers.
Coming attractions: In he second year of his contract, a 36-year-old Lilly will try to slow his decline in a Dodger rotation that, behind Clayton Kershaw, is also looking for a bounceback year from Chad Billingsley, a return or replacement for Hiroki Kuroda and adequacy from Nathan Eovaldi or his like.
Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesJuan Uribe (11)
The setup: Glowing from his 26-homer season (including two in the playoffs) in 2010 like a rod from the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant, the 31-year-old Uribe fused with the Dodgers on a three-year, $21 million deal to play second base and a little third as well. After failing to post an OPS over .700 in his final three seasons in Chicago, Uribe had turned in seasons of .824 and .749 from 2009-10 with San Francisco, convincing Ned Colletti to let him light up the Dodgers.
The closeup: Uribe started his Dodger career 7 for 49 with no home runs – perhaps hampered by getting hit by a Tim Lincecum pitch Opening Day – but seemed to get on track in mid-April. On April 29, he hit his third homer in five games to raise his season OPS to .742. But that was his peak. May turned rough at the plate, and then all of a sudden, he was sidelined by a strained hip flexor. Uribe came back to active duty on June 6, but at no time did his season really show any signs of turning around. An 0-for-5 against the Angels on June 24 dropped his OPS below .600 for good. On July 30, he was placed on the disabled list again, seven days after he last played in a game, and he did not return, topping things off with surgery for a sports hernia September 7. He finished the year with a .264 on-base percentage and astonishingly low .293 slugging percentage, making 53 starts at third base (where his defense was a bright spot), 17 at second base and three at shortstop. He went homerless in his final 85 at-bats, and really did nothing more memorable than end up the subject of the above photo and accompanying website.
Coming attractions: Whenever I think of new Dodgers who disappoint with only four home runs, I think of Dusty Baker, who hit four in his first season in Los Angeles, then came back the next year with 30. While I’m not exactly holding my breath for Uribe to do the same, nor am I expecting him to again turn in a slugging percentage that was his lowest in nine years by more than 100 points. In short, it’s hard to imagine Uribe’s production going anywhere but up (like his salary) in the second year of his contract. Here’s hoping for adequacy!
Slow news day? Not for these folks …
- Former Dodger outfielder Mike Marshall was relieved of the general manager job with the independent North American League’s Chico Outlaws, who have an uncertain future because of their stadium lease, reports Travis Souders of the Chico Enterprise-Record (via Baseball Think Factory). Marshall’s wife Mary, the assistant general manager, was also pink-slipped. “With everything up in the air, it’s not fair to Mike or Mary to keep them in Chico and running the team when we don’t know for sure what’s going to happen with the stadium, first and foremost,” league commissioner Kevin Outcalt said.
- Dodger assistant trainer Todd Tomczyk has left to become head trainer with the Pirates. Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com has details.
- Evan Bladh writes at Opinion of Kingman’s Performance about “the King of Infield Conversions,” former Dodger coach Monty Basgall.
- Justine Siegel had Christina Taylor Green on her mind when she wrote about her graduation from MLB Scout School.
- “Shoeless Joe” author W.P Kinsella has released his first novel in 13 years, “Butterfly Winter.” Eric Volmer of the Calgary Herald (also via BTF) talked to Kinsella.
- Fresh off their great interview with Bryan Cranston, the Kamenetzky brothers have another baseball-entertainment broadcast with actor and Tigers fan J.K. Simmons.
Scott Boehm/Getty ImagesVicente Padilla (10)
The setup: Following a 2010 in which he was a controversial choice as Opening Day starter (it seems so long ago now), only to pitch 95 innings all year, the Dodgers re-signed Padilla for 2011 in December. The reasons: He required only a $2 million base salary, he had a summertime hot streak (after recovering from right forearm trouble) in which he had a 1.32 ERA in eight starts and 54 2/3 innings with 48 strikeouts, and he and the Dodgers came to an understanding that he might end up as the team’s closer if Jonathan Broxton continued to struggle.
The closeup: Arm trouble returned for Padilla before March even arrived, with the righty undergoing surgery to free up a nerve in his forearm. By the time he was ready to make his 2011 debut on April 23, concern had begun to mount for Broxton, who, despite being 1-0 with five saves in five opportunities, had allowed 14 baserunners in 8 2/3 innings. Though Padilla gave up a run on two hits and a walk in his second appearance of the season, it only took a perfect inning his next time out, saving a 10-inning victory in Florida on April 27, to ignite his candidacy for closer. On May 4, the day Broxton was shut down to have an MRI, Padilla pitched a shutout ninth inning (in a 5-1 loss to the Cubs), and it seemed the Dodgers’ backup plan was in motion.
However, after Padilla pitched three times in the ensuing week, allowing three runs in 2 2/3 innings, he was done. Placed on the disabled list May 19, he never came off. In June, he had season-ending neck surgery. He finished his season with 8 2/3 innings pitched in nine games and a 4.15 ERA.
Coming attractions: Padilla, who turned 34 on September 27, is a free agent again. News on his recovery has been hard to come by, but if he has any inclination toward a comeback, there should still be interest in offering him at least a minor-league contract from more than a few teams, including the Dodgers. If someone like Mike MacDougal was worth a shot last winter, Padilla with a clean(er) bill of health might be as well.
US PresswireRafael Furcal
The setup: Furcal entered his sixth season in Los Angeles with no one quite sure what he’d produce. In 2008, he had a .439 on-base percentage and .573 slugging percentage but only managed to play in 36 games. In 2009, you could flip that: he appeared in 150 contests, but his numbers declined to .335 and .375. The 2010 season split the difference: 97 games, .366/.460, including a hot streak that propelled him into the All-Star Game. With free agency likely beckoning and Dee Gordon waiting in the wings, the only thing that seemed relatively certain was that 2011 would be Furcal’s last in Los Angeles.
The closeup: As inevitable as injuries might seem with Furcal, his first of 2011 just didn’t seem fair. In his seventh game of the year, Furcal broke his thumb sliding into third base. He didn’t return to action until May 22, and may have rushed himself at that. Through May 27, he had come to the plate 50 times and made 42 outs. He then reached base seven times in his next 14 plate appearances, only for a new injury to sideline him for another month. Again, he struggled upon his return. On July 22, in the midst of a season that was paying him $12 million, Furcal went 0 for 4 in a loss to Washington that dropped the Dodgers’ record to 43-56 and lowered his season on-base percentage to .220 and slugging percentage to .200. The notion that Furcal would be boosting his team into the National League Championship Series could hardly have been more absurd.
Over the next six games, Furcal went 8 for 22 with three walks and three doubles, enough to convince the St. Louis Cardinals it was worth taking a chance on him. On July 31, they traded minor-league outfielder Alex Castellanos (who finished his Double-A season with a .958 OPS, 1.009 in Chattanooga) for Furcal, who could look back on his Dodger career, injuries and all, as the team’s best all-around shortstop since at least Maury Wills.
All-time Dodger shortstop OPS+ leaders (via Baseball-Reference.com)
Rk Player OPS+ PA From To Age OBP SLG OPS
1 Lonny Frey 108 1901 1933 1936 22-25 .361 .403 .764
2 Glenn Wright 103 1570 1929 1933 28-32 .324 .463 .787
3 Bill Dahlen 102 1712 1901 1911 31-41 .337 .350 .687
4 Rafael Furcal 100 2802 2006 2011 28-33 .351 .406 .757
5 Pee Wee Reese 98 9470 1940 1958 21-39 .366 .377 .743
6 Jose Offerman 87 2297 1990 1995 21-26 .344 .325 .669
7 Maury Wills 87 6744 1959 1972 26-39 .331 .332 .663
8 Greg Gagne 83 1040 1996 1997 34-35 .315 .359 .673
9 Bill Russell 82 8020 1969 1986 20-37 .310 .338 .648
10 Phil Lewis 80 1940 1905 1908 21-24 .281 .282 .563
But there was little time for Furcal to reflect on the past.
Furcal reached base twice in his first start with St. Louis, and homered and drove in four runs in his third. The Cardinals fell out of the NL Central race, but made a surprising run to the playoffs by stealing the wild card from Atlanta. It wasn’t all good from Furcal – though he hit seven homers in 50 games, his on-base percentage was only .316, and his ninth-inning error September 22 opened the door for a six-run ninth inning by the Mets that nearly crushed the Cards’ playoff hopes. Furcal also wasn’t healthy enough to play in the team’s final two games of the regular season. But he played every inning of the NL Division Series against Philadelphia, culminating in Friday’s Game 5, in which his leadoff triple against potential Cy Young-winner Roy Halladay led to the game’s only run and his sparkling defensive play in the eighth inning helped preserve the lead. Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch captured the moment and what Furcal has meant to the Cardinals in this postgame feature.
Coming attractions: After the pursuit of his first World Series ends, Furcal’s offseason adventure begins. St. Louis inherited a $12 million option for 2012 on Furcal, who turns 34 on October 24, and though there seems to be some mutual interest, more likely his next contract comes via the free-agent market.
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.
Also, don’t miss the Kamenetzky Brothers’ podcast with “Breaking Bad” star and longtime Dodger fan Bryan Cranston.
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.
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. …
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.
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.
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.
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.