A Weekend of Wheeling and Dealing…

After a weekend of work and play, it’s time to see what all happened while we went Christmas and Hanukkah shopping…

Who Signed?

Rafael Soriano was signed to a $7 million contract – and then traded by the Braves to Tampa for reliever Jesse Chavez.  Soriano immediately upgrades the closer role in Tampa, a problem all of 2009.  [FanHouse/SI]

Houston inked reliever Brandon Lyon to a three year, $15 million deal.  Lyon isn’t bad – he’s dependable, but is he really better than Grant Balfour?  $3 million better for the next three years?  (See his deal below.)  [SI]

The new third baseman in Houston is former Phillie Pedro Feliz – one year, $4.5 million.  [SI]

Scott Olsen got an incentive-filled deal with the Nationals – coming off a disappointing season and shoulder surgery.  [ESPN]

Jason Kendall – who looked like he aged four years at the plate last year – signed a two year deal with the Royals.  (See John Buck, below.)  By the way – Miguel Olivo might not return.  The Royals confuse me.  [SI]

Meanwhile, the Royals signed Brian Bannister and Kyle Davies to one-year deals.  [SI]

The Royals non-tendered catcher John Buck, but he signed with Toronto for $2 million pending a physical.  [ESPN]

Two years ago, he was a closer – now, J.J. Putz is an eighth inning guy in Chicago for one year at $3 million.  There are a lot of incentives, too.  [SI]

Kevin Correia will stay in San Diego, signing a one-year, $3.6 million deal.  [ESPN]

Arizona signed Augie Ojeda and Blaine Boyer to one-year deals.  [SI]

The Braves signed outfielder Matt Diaz for one year at $2.55 million. [ESPN]

Grant Balfour signed with Tampa – one year, $2.05 million.  [SI]

Milwaukee gets one more year with Craig Counsell – who remains a valuable utility player at 39.  [MLB]

Esteban German remains in Texas for 2010.  [MLB]

The Cubs tendered offers to eight players, (Jeff Baker, Mike Fontenot, Koyie Hill, Ryan Theriot, Tom Gorzelanny, Angel Guzman, Carlos Marmol and Sean Marshall) with Neil Cotts likely heading to arbitration.  [MLB]

The Dodgers tendered offers to nine players (go read the article), including Chad Billingsley, Andre Ethier, Jonathan Broxton and Russell Martin.  Everybody gets a raise in LA!!!  [MLB]

Who Got Let Go…

The Braves non-tendered outfielder Ryan Church and second baseman Kelly Johnson.  [MLB]

Boston non-tendered outfielder Brian Anderson.

The Mets non-tendered four players, including pitchers Tim Redding and Lance Broadway, as well as outfielders Cory Sullivan and Jeremy Reed.  [ESPN]

Despite hitting 20 homers in little more than a half season, Johnny Gomes was non-tendered by the Reds.  He might still sign somewhere, but let’s face it – he’s a DH.  [ESPN]

Chien-Ming Wang is a free agent, and apparently disappointed that the Yankees didn’t stay with him…  Since injuring his ankle running the bases, Wang has REALLY struggled. [ESPN]

Matt Capps, closer for Pittsburgh, was caught off guard – he was non-tendered by the Pirates.  [MLB]

Jose Arredondo, about to have surgery, will not have an Angels contract for 2010.  [MLB]

Jack Cust (Oakland), Ryan Garko (San Francisco), Mike MacDougal (Washington), D.J. Carrasco (Chi Sox), Clay Condrey (Philadelphia), Alfredo Amezaga (Florida) join a LONG list of free agents.

Here’s a good summary of who is now available…  [SI]

For a complete list of transactions, you can always go here…  [MLB]

What’s the Hold Up?

Jason Bay may not return to Boston – the hold up appears to be the duration of the contract.  Bay wants five years; Boston is offering four.  [ESPN]

Mike Lowell’s injured thumb is stalling an agreement between Texas and Boston.  Boston would (a) get catcher Max Ramirez – a good prospect and (b) pretty much pay for Lowell to play in Texas where he would play first, DH, and backup Michael Young at third base.  [ESPN]

The Cards made a pitch to Matt Holliday and hope to have an answer this week.  [FoxSports]

Happy Birthday!

One of the more famous names in baseball history, Bill Buckner, turns 60.  Billy Buck was a hustler – played through injuries, used to complain about every called strike or close play at first base.  He was unfortunately humbled by that error in the 1986 World Series and his career degenerated quickly after that – though he was showing signs of age at the time.  He had a lot of hits – 2715 of them – and used to be fast.  Something tells me that he’s probably mellowed a lot over the last 20 years…  I’d love to buy him lunch.  Happy Birthday, Billy.

Others celebrating with cake, cards, or remembrances include: Honest John Anderson (1872), Maurice “The Comet” Archdeacon (1897), Toothpick Sam Jones (1925), Ken Hunt (1938), Ken Hill and future Hall of Famer Craig Biggio (1965) – I loved Biggio who was an amazingly versatile athlete, Dave Nilsson and Scott Hatteberg (1969), Angel Guzman (1981), and Josh Fields (1982).

Afterthoughts…

Peter Gammons thanks everyone for the memories at ESPN.

Advertisements

Rios Waived by Blue Jays – Let White Sox Pick Up Tab; More Cub Injury Woes…

I’m not sure I buy this, but okay.  The Toronto Blue Jays were disappointed by Alex Rios’ production on the heels of a huge contract signing in 2008 – and placed him on waivers.  The White Sox put in a claim…  So, the Blue Jays could either (a) recall Rios and make a trade offer or just keep him, or (b) let the White Sox keep him and absorb his salary.  The Jays chose (b).  Sure it’s a cash savings, but do they really have a replacement for him?  Rios was the best centerfielder on the team – but they insisted on playing the older (and slower, and more injury prone) Vernon Wells out there.  And, the Jays get NOTHING.  No prospects, no short term help.  A year ago, this team should have been in the playoffs.  Now, Roy Halliday was placed on the trading block, A.J. Burnett left as a free agent, B.J. Ryan wasn’t allowed to work through his issues, and Alex Rios is gone.

For the White Sox, who haven’t really had a solid centerfielder all season, they get an immediate upgrade defensively and offensively (albeit for about $60 million over the next six seasons) and if Rios puts it together, they could have an impact player between elder statesman Jermaine Dye and the injured but exciting Carlos Quentin.  And all they had to do was claim a guy off of waivers?

Should I be worried that this is just a precedent and other teams wishing to dump salary will no longer trade for prospects but just drop the player and keep the cash?   Look out Texas, San Diego, and others.  If you don’t win, your players may not get traded – they may just get dumped.

Two Cubs horses are making doctor visits…  Carlos Zambrano had an epidural treatment to relieve pain in his back – sources saying its the third time (at least) that this has happened this season.  And now comes word that Aramis Ramirez’s left shoulder is ailing again and needs a doctor visit – the same shoulder he separated diving for a liner earlier in the season causing him to miss two months of the season.  [MLB/ESPN]

And it doesn’t get any better.  The same night the Cubs were clocked by the Rockies (and Troy Tulowitski’s seven RBI, five hit – cycle even – game last night), starter Tom Gorzelanny was hit by a grounder in the second inning and had to leave the game.  He should make his (well, Zambrano’s) next start.  [MLB]

Two years ago, he was the toast of the 2007 rookie crop.  Last year, he signed a five year extension.  In 2009, with a batting average hovering around .180 with little power and no confidence, Diamondback centerfielder Chris Young heads to AAA to find his swagger.  Gerrardo Parra will likely get the bulk of the playing time in center for Arizona.  [FoxSports]

The Phillies are going to tempt fate, move Jamie Moyer to the bullpen, and give a start Wednesday to Pedro Martinez.  For a couple of innings this might be fun.  After that, who knows…  Personally, I don’t want to see Pedro lose his 100th decision.  [FoxSports]

Dodger second sacker Orlando Hudson strained a groin when he had to quickly change directions on a deflected grounder Monday night and will likely miss at least Tuesday’s game while he heals.  So, he’s day-to-day until we hear otherwise…  [MLB]

Chad Billingsley’s hamstring will keep the Dodger ace from making his start this week, and if he can’t go next Monday will head to the DL.  [SI]

Another player leaving early with an injury is Reds starter Johnny Cueto, who will have his left hip flexor examined.  Cueto was running to first on a grounder when he limped and quit running about 45 feet down the line.  The Reds hurler has been off his game for a month, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets a DL stint to rest up and comes back in September.  [MLB]

The Cards got some bad news – Todd Wellemeyer’s elbow was sore following a bullpen session and may miss his next start.  [SI]

And, two other pitchers may get moved soon – both Bronson Arroyo and Aaron Harang have cleared waivers, according to FoxSports.  Any takers out there?  I mean, a two month loan for a couple of guys who might be motivated to finish strong…  Milwaukee?  Houston?  Los Angeles?  Chicago?

Welcome Back!  Jared Burton (Reds), Chad Durbin (Phils) return from the DL.  Arizona signed Daniel Cabrera to a minor league deal.  I used to love watching Cabrera – big fastball and no idea what he was doing out there.  Maybe he’ll figure it out here – but I doubt it.  I’ll still watch.

Hurry Back!  Rodrigo Lopez got lit up by the Marlins, so the Phillies sent Lopez to AAA.

Might Be Yankees Year; Giambi and Padilla join Smoltz on Released and Designated for Assignment List

I struggled to stay up to watch the Yankees-Red Sox fifteen inning masterpiece – a great game, really, with loads of amazing pitching and the best stained player of his generation hitting a game-winning homer in the 15th inning to win it.  You had Josh Beckett and A.J. Burnett, former teammates in Florida, dueling it out before handing it to the bullpen.  And it was the bullpen of the Sox – heck, the pitching of the Sox, once touted for its depth and skill and now looking frazzled and weak – that finally caved.  The one time weakness, the Yankees bullpen, pitched nearly eight innings of beautiful baseball.  It’s certainly not over.  Ali looked like he would finish Frazier in 4 rounds in Manilla, if you remember, but Frazier gamely came back for more.  A war of this size cannot be won in a single series.  But the Yankees look like the best team in the AL East, and Tampa might be #2.  And the difference is depth – depth in offense and pitching, which the Yankees have now, and the Sox do not.

Speaking of the Red Sox pitching…  What to do with John Smoltz, he of the 8-plus ERA?  He’s been designated for assignment.  The Sox have ten days to trade or release him, and then Smoltz will have to figure out what he wants to do.  Should he head to the minors and work through it?  Should he take another offer?  Should he ride off in his golf cart into the sunset?  If so, he’ll have plenty of people to golf with – now that Maddux and Glavine also have free time.  The PGA Champions Tour will have to look out.  Smoltz is coming soon.  [MLB, SI, ESPN, FoxSports]

Just as the Cubs started rolling after the All-Star break, another pitcher stumbles.  This time, it’s Carlos Zambrano who was scratched from his start with a stiff lower back.  [SI]

And, the Dodgers don’t need this – Chad Billingsley tweaked his hamstring running the bases after hitting a single in the sixth inning.  Billingsley tried to pitch at the start of the seventh, but one warmup pitch later, he was done.  He’s start to start, but a DL stint wouldn’t be surprising.  [MLB]

Seattle’s Erik Bedard has fraying in his sore throwing shoulder – and will likely miss this season and if another MRI shows more damage, could require surgery.  [SI]

The Minnesota Twins could use some starting pitching, and Cleveland – who had given up on 2009 – gave them Carl Pavano.  Pavano will actually start Saturday for the Twins.  Cleveland put Pavano on the waiver wire, the Twins pegged him, so the two clubs worked out a deal.  Cleveland will get a player to be named later.  [MLB]

Baltimore also got a player to be named later when they agreed to trade catcher Greg Zaun to Tampa.  Chad Moeller was recalled from AAA to back up Matt Wieters.  [SI]

Most teams are looking for help.  Here are two teams that are moving in the other direction.  Texas designated Vincente Padilla for assignment.  Padilla hasn’t been in the good graces of Rangers management – and now management has ten days to trade, release, or send Padilla to the minors.  And, Oakland released Jason Giambi.  The 38-year-old slugger has been fighting a quad injury that has him on the DL – and now he’s got time to find a new job.  If he’s healthy, he might be able to help someone off the bench for six weeks – so somebody might take a flyer on him.  [SI]

Alex Rios was considered a franchise type player by Toronto.  Now, he’s been put on the waiver wire and according to sources, some team put in a claim.  Toronto can let him go (the new team takes on the rest of his $60 million in salary), or pull him back and make a trade offer.  [FoxSports]

Welcome Back!  Geovany Soto (Cubs), Darin Erstad (Astros), Rich Aurilia (Giants) all returned from the DL.  Chris Woodward had been released by Seattle – Boston needs a shortstop badly, so they signed him up…

Hurry Back!  Astro reliever Doug Brocail heads to the DL with a strained right shoulder.  The Dodgers got two starts out of Jason Schmidt before he headed back to the DL with a strained shoulder.  Now THAT was a good investment of $47 million… 

Welcome to the Majors!  Julio Borbon was called up by Texas.  He’s hit over .300 the last couple of years heading through the minors, but in cities that make people look like hitters.  He’s got some speed and won’t turn down a walk, but isn’t likely to get one because he makes so much contact.  He’s probably no better or worse than Willy Taveras (though he won’t run as often), but he is certainly younger and cheaper…

After Randy Johnson, Who’s Next to 300 Wins?

With Randy Johnson going for win #300 this week and Jamie Moyer winning #250 tonight, I wondered what the chances were of finding who was next. There aren’t a lot of guys who are close. Mike Mussina would have been next to 300, but he retired at 40 with 270. He would have had a fighting chance, but admittedly, he was running on a lot of guile and luck and three more years of success might have been a lot to ask for.

I’ll do them by age groups.

Over 40: Jamie Moyer would have to win 50 games more to join Johnson and that means pitching until he’s 50. I think he was lucky to get a two year deal and will not make 270, much less 275. John Smoltz has the goods but an arm that is running out of bullets. And, he’s 90 short when he finally makes it back. That’s six years from now when he’ll be 48. Not likely.

Born in 1970 – 1972: Pedro Martinez has 214 and no job, so it’s hard to see that he’ll make it. Besides, he’s not the same guy and his health hasn’t been solid lately. A year younger and still winning is Andy Pettitte, who turns 37 in a few weeks. He keeps threatening to retire, so that doesn’t bode well, but he has 215 wins, so six good years and he’s got a shot. Let’s see what he’s like two years from now and guess again.

Born 1973 – 1976: Derek Lowe has 126, Bartolo Colon has 150. Only Lowe is still going strong, but 170 wins means 10 really good seasons and he doesn’t usually win 17. Kevin Millwood is at 142, turns 35 on Christmas Eve. He’s probably going to make 200 if he stays healthy, but I doubt it.

Tim Hudson and Livan Hernandez are at 146 and 147, but only Hudson seems young at 34. Livan always seemed six years older than he is. Hudson, if he finds a second life, could make a run at 250 but would need a few really successful seasons. Javier Vasquez turns 33 this year, has always been healthy, and has 127 wins. He could make a run at 250, but he could use some help. He’s never won 20, so if he gets there, it’s by attrition.

Born 1977 – 1979: Roy Halliday (131) and Roy Oswalt (129) are 32 this summer. They’ll likely be around 145, hopefully more, by the end of the year. If it’s 150, eight more good years could get them to 270 and then it’s a matter of knowing how healthy either is at 40. My money will be on Halliday.

Barry Zito leads the 31 year olds with 123 wins. If he finds a new life – certainly possible, he could easily make a run at 250. And, if he has a Moyer resurgence, he could get further. I just don’t know if he’ll make it.

The guys who are 30 in 2009 include Mark Buehrle and Johan Santana. Guess who has more wins? If you guessed the Southsider, you’d be right. Buehrle has 122 and at this rate is well on pace for 250 by 40. If this year’s start is indicative of better things to come, he’d have a legitimate shot at 300. Santana is the better pitcher, but only has 109 wins. He’s going to need about five really good years to pass Buehrle and get on track. I like 250 as his end point, but you never know.

Born 1980 – 1984: Sabathia is already at 117 and counting. With the Yankees, he’s going to be a candidate for 20 wins a lot and if he stays healthy he could hit 35 with more than 225 wins. He’s my top pick to make 300 next. Josh Beckett has 89 wins, and should make 200, but won’t get much past it.

Carlos Zambrano turns 28 on 6/1 and already has 100 wins. He’s ahead of Halliday’s pace and is a horse. I like his chances to blow through 250 and if he stays healthy and doesn’t get too fat, he could make a run at 300. Jake Peavy is also 28 this year, but ten wins behind Zambrano. I like his chances at 250, but I’d like them better if he were on good teams.

The big winners of the 1982 birth year are Dontrelle Willis and Jeremy Bonderman, neither of whom will be active in 2015. Justin Verlander has 50 wins and will be around 60 when the year is done. He could be around 200 at age 36, so 250 is not impossible. He COULD be really good, but I don’t buy it.

The guys who are 24 or 25 include too many guys with just 30 wins – Zack Greinke, Chad Billingsley, and what not. Three really good years, though, and I’ll think about it.

The one really young guy who is off to a good start is the 23 year old Felix Hernandez. He’s blown by 40 wins and should make 55 at the end of the year. Assuming any luck in good health and good teams, he could easily pass 100 wins by 27, which would make him well prepared for a run at 250 or more.

In sum:

SOLID BETS: Sabathia, Halliday, Zambrano
GOOD BETS: Buehrle, Zito, Verlander, Hernandez
LONG SHOTS: Anyone who is 25.
NO SHOTS: Everyone else.

I’d say that ONE of the guys listed here will make 300, and maybe two.

One Fan’s Agony and Other Baseball Notes…

Tough to be a Marlins fan right now… You start 11 – 1, then fall way below .500, now we’re watching a slew of players get shuttled back and forth between the bigs and either New Orleans or Jacksonville. Last night, errors and a dose of Matt Lindstrom led to a 10 – 3 loss (it was tied at 3 after seven)- and this on the heels of a 15 – 2 loss on Friday night. UGH!

My friend Steve Roberts came up with a great (Berman-esque) nickname for pitcher Reynal Pinto. “72” Watching him pitch, it makes sense – goes along nicely but it’s only a matter of time before something hits him and he explodes. Say it out loud… 72 Pinto.

The Cubs fan in me is struggling with the Cubs latest slide, as they can’t beat (or score on) the Padres. No wonder Piniella wants Hoffpauir in the lineup.

And, the Royals are on the wrong side of a slide facing the amazingly hot St. Louis Cardinals. My three favorite teams are all taking a beating.

How about the Mets? Can’t keep a healthy player in the lineup but they find ways to beat the Red Sox on back to back nights. Yesterday, Omir Santos homered off of Jonathon Papelbon in the 9th to win.

Let’s all give a quick salute to chemistry. A-Roid’s homer in the 9th off of Brad Lidge tied the score, leading to a 9th inning rally for the Yankees over Philadelphia. Meanwhile, Jason Giambi hit his 400th homer last night in Oakland’s loss to Arizona. (And a tough loss – leading 5 – 1 into the eighth, gave up four in 8th and lost in extras when they scored two, but allowed 3 in the 11th.)

I mentioned the Mets – last night Francisco Rodriguez’s back was so sore he couldn’t stand, much less walk. He’ll be out a few days for sure. It’s his first back injury, but apparently it was a doozy.

I mentioned the Royals – Luke Hochevar was sent back to AAA Omaha (bummer) and struggling Mike Aviles was placed on the DL with a strained right forearm. He’s had pain in that forearm since the spring, but the real pain was that .183 batting average. Willie Bloomquist is the new starting SS. Robinson Tejada also went to the DL (Shoulder Tendonitis). Coming back? Pitchers John Bale, Roman Colon, and infielder Tug Hulett.

Bale is returning after having thyroid surgery, while Colon is a reliever who had performed well in Omaha. He’s not a true prospect, already nearing 30 and having struggled in a few ML trips the last three years. He is a fly ball guy who gives up a few long balls… Tug Hulett is Tim’s son (Tim Jr, actually – Tug is a nickname). Tug went to Auburn, was drafted by Texas, went to Seattle, and came to the Royals in the off season. He’s actually an interesting player – very patient, has had good on base percentages, runs the bases well (96 steals, just 29 caught stealing) and has a little pop. It’s getting time for him to make it – got a cup of coffee last year and didn’t disappoint.

I mentioned the Marlins… Henry Owens is getting to rehab with Jupiter. The guy throws hard, but has no shoulder or elbow to carry the load. Good Luck and Hurry back!!!

Orioles starter Koji Uehara left last night’s game with Washington with a hamstring injury. Dave Trembley said he’s praying it’s not serious. It’s not like Baltimore has a lot of options for the rotation and many of their prospects are still a year or two away… They already lost a sold hitter to a thumb injury – Lou Montanez injured his thumb making a diving catch a few weeks ago and now is heading toward surgery, which would kill much of his season.

Cleveland placed Anthony Reyes and Aaron Laffey (taffy) on the DL. Jeremy Sowers (I said before, no prospect no matter what Baseball America thinks) and Rich Rundles get the call from Columbus.

The Angels put Shane Loux on the DL with shoulder tendonitis and recalled Rafael Rodriguez to log some mop up innings. He’s no prospect.

Rockies catcher Chris Ianetta is struggling with a hamstring injury. Michael Young’s injury was actually an ankle sprain and he’ll miss a few games.

Tom Glavine heads to Gwinnett for a rehab assignment. Good luck, Tommy. Won’t be many more of these to go and we’d like to see you one more time.

Couple of Newcomer Notes…

John Mayberry Jr. hit his first career homer in Yankee Stadium for the Phillies yesterday, a three-run shot. His teammates gave him the silent treatment in the dugout… Minnesota’s Anthony Swarzak, the Davie, FL grad, got the start last night and threw seven solid innings to beat Milwaukee for his first major league win.

Looking ahead to today’s games…

Cole Hamels vs. C.C. Sabathia in Yankee stadium. James Shields vs. Josh Johnson in the final game of the Florida Wars. Hope it don’t rain too hard there… Matt Palmer (5 – 0) faces Chad Billingsley (6 – 1) in LA – that’s a great matchup.

2009 Season Forecast: Los Angeles Dodgers

Los Angeles Dodgers
2008: 84-78 (1st NL West)

One of the great mysteries, as I see it, is trying to reconstruct how the Dodgers did what they did.  This is a team that, on the surface, looks like it should have clocked the division – but it didn’t.  Joe Torre’s job, as I see it, is to figure out how to make them play more consistently at the high level shown not just in September but at other odd stretches throughout the season, and eliminate some of the huge stretches of losing streaks that plagued Los Angeles for much of the season.

Looking Back on 2008

Looking at the roster, you had a lot of potential in the young players like Andre Ethier, Chad Billingsly, Jonathon Broxton, James Loney, and Matt Kemp, surrounded by the veteran presence of players like Rafael Furcal and Andruw Jones, Jeff Kent, and Derek Lowe.  Plus, you had the new sage leadership of Joe Torre and his management crew – guys like Don Mattingly and Larry Bowa.  At the beginning of the season, many (including me) had them winning the division and possibly making a run deep into the playoffs.  And they did – but it wasn’t in any way a dominating performance.

Instead, you had a wildly inconsistent team.  The Dodgers were capable of winning ten out of eleven, just as well as losing ten out of eleven.  Nearly unbeatable at home, the hitters didn’t produce on the road and the pitchers might as well as not got off the plane on the road.

Right away, the Dodgers lost nine of twelve to fall into a deep hole as it coincided with the hot start of the Arizona Diamondbacks.  Facing Colorado twice, the Marlins and Mets at the end of April, the team ran off ten wins in eleven games, to get five games over and back into the race.  However, with Andruw Jones hitting half the Mendoza line, and Brad Penny fighting through injuries and pitching poorly, a second slump pushed the Dodgers seven games under .500 after getting swept by a lousy Detroit team in mid-June.

Not quitting – and getting Penny and Jones out of the lineup – the team rallied gamely back over the next six weeks, winning a few more than they lost into mid-August when another extremely poor streak (losing eleven of 13) would have appeared to bury LA.  The last of the losses was to Arizona.  Any other manager might have been fired, but Joe Torre was left in charge – at which point Manny Ramirez put the Dodgers on his back.

Los Angeles won the last two against Arizona and never looked back.  Winning fourteen of sixteen, the Dodgers not only roared back into the race but caught the fading Diamondbacks, holding them off thanks in large part to a weak schedule for the last two weeks of the year.  The Dodgers finished with San Francisco, San Diego, Colorado, and Pittsburgh down the stretch, while Arizona imploded.

Manny Ramirez continued his hot hitting into the playoffs, but by then the Dodgers had to face really good teams (Chicago and Philadelphia) and one of them was bound to be hotter.  Philadelphia finished off Los Angeles one series shy of the World Series.

 
Tell me about that offense

The Dodgers had a lot of solid performances up and down the lineup, but had two or three really poor performances that prevented this team from looking really as strong as they probably should have been.

The two best hitters didn’t play 90 games combined.  Rafael Furcal played in just 36 games, Manny Ramirez 53, but in those 89 games, I see them as having created about 117 runs – an unreal total.  The problem was that both players were negated by two others, Angel Berroa and Andruw Jones, who hit like two non-prospects from AA.  Much has been written about Ramirez’s hitting .396 in two months – at a pace that would have created 50 homers and 160 RBI in a full season.  But Furcal was also remarkably productive – in about a fourth of a season, he paced out at 20 homers, 30 steals, a .340 bat and a .440 OBA, a leadoff hitter any team would wish for.

They just weren’t here all year.

Behind the plate, Russell Martin played every game (not really – 155 of 162) and only really wilting in August, but playing well in September.  Few catchers have as well rounded a game as Martin – a little power, decent baserunner, works the count.

The infield was pretty sold, except when Angel Berroa had to play in Furcal’s absence.  Aside from Furcal, Jeff Kent was still an above average run producer and Blake DeWitt hit just as well as Kent.  James Loney isn’t a bopper at first base but still contributed close to 100 runs, hitting like Mark Grace without the batting eye.  Casey Blake and Nomar Garciaparra were decent fill-ins offensively.  Berroa, however, consumed outs and didn’t generate any offense (about 3 runs per 27 outs).  Not having Furcal all season probably cost the Dodgers 60 runs of offense.

In the outfield, Ethier and Kemp were both worth 110 or more runs offensively, with good power, some speed, and, in Ethier’s case, a willingness to work the count.  Jones was awful (2 runs per 27 outs); where he once created 110 runs a season or more, he was on pace to create about 35.  Forced to play Juan Pierre, Pierre did what you would expect – hit singles, ground out a lot, and steal a few bases.  He was slightly above what the average player delivers, but the net loss caused by Jones’s poor season was probably another 40 runs.

Then, you look at the rest of the bench and you see a lot of holes.  Mark Sweeney was asked to pinch hit a lot.  In 92 at bats, he got 12 hits.  Berroa was so weak as a hitter, the Dodgers gave innings to Luis Maza and Chin-Hung Lu, both of whom were even worse than Berroa.

Jones, Furcal, and the weak bench kept this team from scoring 800 runs, which would have been near the top of the National League – impressive for a team playing in Dodger Stadium.

Defensively:

Not so good.  Behind the plate, Martin is average – good with the pitchers, weak against the run, and makes a few too many errors.  Danny Ardoin occupied the bench a lot.

The infield features James Loney, who looks rather immobile for such a young player, and is missing a fielder at either second or third.  Offensively, Casey Blake and Jeff Kent and Blake DeWitt were interchangeable, but only DeWitt can field.  Once Kent lost his mobility, Torre made the right decision to play DeWitt at second and let Blake play at third.  If Manny Ramirez doesn’t come back, I think the Dodgers may miss Andy LaRoche.  Berroa played decently in the field, while Furcal’s numbers were way off thanks to injuries.

The outfield was generally weak.  Jones is no better than an average centerfielder, Kemp is slightly below average.  Ethier is weak in either corner.  That leaves you with left field where Pierre isn’t really that good at running down flies (for as fast as he is, he is consistently below average defensively).  Ramirez was surprisingly interested in fielding for two months – the best corner outfielder they have.

Ideally, the Dodgers would love to have a burner in center and move Kemp to right, Ethier to left – but I don’t see that happening soon.  And, thankfully, Jones is gone.

Now Pitching…

Just as the offense had to studs and a couple of serious burnouts, the pitching staff had a couple of studs, some good complimentary arms, and two guys who just killed them.

Chad Billingsley’s first full season as a starter was a decided success, finishing nearly 24 runs better than the average pitcher in 200 innings.  Derek Lowe was nearly as good, another 20 runs above average.  Hiroki Kuroda was slightly above average, and Clayton Kershaw showed enough in 100 innings that if he gains command of the strike zone, he could become a solid #2 starter.  After that, the Dodgers prayed.  Brad Penny was miserable, costing his team nearly 23 runs that an average pitcher wouldn’t have allowed – basically negating one ace – and the scraps given to Greg Maddux and Eric Stults were tolerable.  At least Stults looks like he has a future.

The bullpen was nearly as good as Philadelphia’s – with Takashi Saito holding down the closer role until he had to sit with a sore elbow.  Jonathon Broxton was solid as a setup man, and other pitchers, like Joe Beimel, Cory Wade and Hong-Chi Kuo were well above average pitchers.  Only Scott Proctor – also marred by a sore elbow – didn’t pitch above average on the season.

Forecasting 2008:

If there is optimism here, I don’t see it – and it really starts with the pitchers.

Billingsley was marvelous but it was his first season, and now he’s recovering from a broken shin bone suffered while falling on the ice in November.  He should be healthy, but he could be good and still ten runs worse than last year.  Lowe is gone – his likely replacement could be Randy Wolf, who has been generally unimpressive since coming back from injury three years ago.  If he actually gets to 200 innings and is better than planned, that would be league average and likely another 20 runs worse than last year.

Kuroda and Kershaw will be expanding their roles – not totally confident that either will make significant strides in any direction.  Let’s call that a wash over last year – but with more innings pitched.  That leaves the fifth spot, which could go to Stults, or Jason Schmidt (yeah, still here and collecting a paycheck), or Claudio Vargas.  If Schmidt is really healthy (the first surgeries were okay, but a clavicle repair in the fall apparently cleared up his pain and he’s throwing freely for the first time in years), this could be a big upgrade – a 30 run upgrade.  If not, it’s still going to be better – maybe 10 runs better.  I’ve seen a list of the other options and none of them impress me.  Jeff Weaver?  Really?

And, the bullpen is thinner.  Saito is with the Red Sox, Beimel is unsigned but still a free agent.   Wade and Kuo are still here, and Broxton was promoted to the closer role.  However, the potential replacements are Ramon Troncoso and Guillermo Mota, none of which have had a solid season in the majors in the last three years (granted Troncoso is just 25).  NRI options include Yhency Brazoben and Shawn Estes (really?).  Granted, an injured Proctor is gone, but the bullpen certainly won’t be better than last year.  More realistically, the bullpen will be 20 runs worse than last year. 

Defensively, the Dodgers would improve if they moved DeWitt back to third and played recently acquired Mark Loretta at second.  Only problem is that Loretta is 37 and likely just an insurance policy.  So, the infield will still be a challenge unless Furcal can return to the form he showed three years ago.  Furcal still has the arm, but he is 31 and collecting injuries at too quick a pace.  The outfield, already slightly below average, is likely going to remain below average.  Kemp and Ethier might perform a little better, but Manny will not and a full season of Juan Pierre in the outfield isn’t making anything better.

Offensively, the team is already pretty solid.  Kemp, Ethier or Loney could turn doubles into homers with another year of seasoning – and Ethier is at that age where a breakout season is possible.  The net effect should be about twenty runs better than before.  A full season of Furcal would help – it’s worth 15 more runs than having to play Tony Abreu or Lu at short.  Casey Blake, however is, 35 and may lose a step.  DeWitt has potential for improvement, but he’ll be playing his first full season.  Let’s see what happens.

Russell Martin is the question mark.  If asked to play 150 games again, I don’t think the offense holds up.  And, if he cedes games to Danny Ardoin or the unretired Brad Ausmus, they’ll lose ten runs by letting those guys bat.  If Martin goes down, the loss would be devastating.

And, if Manny signs, he’s not going to hit .396 all season.  Heck, he might not be here at all.  My take on it is that if he signs, the Dodgers will score about 710 runs this year.  If not, it might be closer to 670 runs.  If Manny isn’t back, when coupled with the decline of the pitching and defense, and the Dodgers are a candidate to finish under .500.  Even if he returns, we’re talking about a team that MIGHT with 82 games. 

I’m not that confident.  I think Joe Torre’s last year will be a year of distractions and underperforming.  If I were a betting man, I’d look at the over/under on the number of wins listed in Vegas and bet the under.  The system says 84 wins with Manny, and 79 without him.  My gut tells me 77 wins will be successful.

Down on the Farm…

After a couple of years in Las Vegas, the Dodgers are going back to Albuquerque for AAA games.  A couple of guys may make the move…  Eric Stults and Jason Johnson both pitched well in Vegas.  Stults is a long shot prospect, but Jason Johnson you might remember from stints in Detroit, Baltimore, and other major league outposts.  He’s 35 and running out of time.  Even Stults is rather old for a prospect – he’s 29.  Most of the batters for Las Vegas were older than Stults – those who are younger are now on an MLB roster.

The AA team is also moving from Jacksonville to Chattanooga in 2009.  The best player for Jacksonville was the son of a former Dodger prospect, Ivan DeJesus, Jr., who will likely be Rafael Furcal’s replacement in 2011.  He has a bit more power than his dad, and his batting eye looks to be a bit better, too.  Clayton Kershaw already made it to the bigs, leaving Scott Elbert, a former first round draft pick, as the next best pitcher on the AA staff.  Elbert has been slow to move up, but strikes out a lot of minor league hitters.  His next stop looks to be Albuquerque.

Carlos Santana looks to be the catcher of the future, after a solid season in A ball, and he’s still just 22.  He hit well, showed some power, and good plate discipline.  After that, it’s slim pickings.