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Saturday Night Special – Dodgers Style

KershawGreinke

Saturday night – the weather has been warm, even for spring, but this is supposed to be winter. Visions of pitchers and catchers reporting dancing in my head. Wondering what the Dodgers new 24/7 TV network will look like (imagining a point/counterpoint debate show with Vin Scully and Mike Piazza, or a cooking program with Tommy). Wondering if Masahiro Tanaka will end up with the Dodgers, impressed with the Asian community in LA and the 80 degree “winter days” – not to mention the promise of post-season appearances, immediately and for years to come. These are just some random thoughts to clear the cobwebs and get the fingers hitting keys. Be productive, say it out loud, I say to myself. Or at least the Web equivalent.

Topics:

Kershaw/Tanaka/pitching in general. Best/smartest lineups. Bench ideas.

Here we go…

With or without Tanaka, the Dodgers pitching staff is one of the best in the game – 1-2-3 and 1-11 or 12. If Tanaka isn’t signed, I imagine Bronson Arroyo will be. Or perhaps they trade kids for Price, though that seems less likely. If they add Tanaka though, it could be an all-time great staff. If your worst starter is Dan Haren, you’re doing something right. Not to mention all the kids waiting for a crack, and Chad Billingsley, who should figure into the pen in the 2nd half, and/or get traded. I’ll assume Josh Beckett is finished, but if he proves healthy in Feb/Mar, he could fetch a prospect or two in a deal, with the Dodgers paying the bulk of his remaining year.

The Dodgers success forever rises and falls with the pitching. I’d like it to get back to being best in the National League, or second. I’m also very happy Stan Kasten finally realized his bullpen needed work, fixed it, and is even improving on that. I am tantalized by the impressive kiddies that are ready, or close. Yimi Garcia and Jose Dominguez being just two. And I really like what Chris Withrow brings to the table. The bullpen, save for Jamey Wright, is very impressive. I assume Brandon League, like Beckett, will be trade bait, with the Dodgers happily paying a large portion of his salary to move him.

All this said, the greedy side of me wants Tanaka. I assume he could be a bust like Hideki Irabu was years ago, but given the Dodgers track record then and now with international signings and scouting, I believe he’s the real deal. The greatest thing about Frank McCourt no longer being owner is the team’s interest in the international marketplace. Fernando, Nomo, Saito, Ishii, Park, Ryu, etc., etc. I love to see interesting players from around the world want to play for the Dodgers because unlike here in the US, the Dodgers are beloved worldwide. Here, they’re disparaged and hated by most not living in Los Angeles.

It’s encouraging that signing Clayton Kershaw doesn’t mean the Dodgers won’t pursue Tanaka. As Kasten noted, one signing doesn’t affect another. With injuries always a factor with pitchers and opt-out clauses up the wazoo, it’s smart to have depth that is tiered for such events. No one knows what can happen, but depth allows for insurance no matter what may. Perhaps Zack Greinke shows signs of vulnerability, or is hurt, or just decides he wants money two seasons from now and opts out. The Dodgers can decide to re-up for probably another 5 years, at a higher rate, or with depth, can tell him to bolt. Kershaw can walk in 5, and it’s unfathomable to think they wouldn’t just give him more money, but depth offers an option.

Plus, who among us wouldn’t want to watch Kershaw/Greinke/Tanaka/Ryu? Haren, I hope, is a competent innings eater and perhaps pushes into the fold as a higher profile factor, but right now, it’s the other 4. Then all those kids. If the Dodgers want, they can flip Haren in June or July for prospects and promote Ross Stripling or Zach Lee, or Stephen Fife, or Matt Magill. It’s an exciting time rotation wise, as well as in the pen.

Brian Wilson should get save opportunities, and he will. It’s good to have two great options in the 9th. Kenley Jansen won’t have to close 3 consecutive days, and if Kenley falters, Wilson is there, and vice-versa. The hard throwing kids coming up through the ranks, as noted, are inspiring. And JP Howell, Paco Rodriguez, and even former closer Chris Perez, he of the marijuana and occasional talent lapses. The Dodgers pitching should rule the NL; sorry, Washington Nationals.

***

Pitching is the name of the game, so no matter what happens with the Dodgers run production, the arms will keep things interesting. That said, the weakness – or potential weakness – of the Dodgers is their position players, which includes everyday lineup and bench.

I’ve commented in the past about outfield configurations, my annoyance with perceived stupidity by three of our four superstar outfielders, etc., but in a nutshell, for those who are new to my ramblings, let me sum it up…

As we all know, three of the four Dodger outfielders have health concerns – one, Andre Ethier, is likely less of a chronic problem than the other two, Matt Kemp and Carl Crawford. The only physical certainty is Yasiel Puig, and the way he runs into walls, he could be down and out at any moment. Luckily the Dodgers top prospect right now is an outfielder – Joc Pederson. He sounds like a ballplayer, either baseball or a quarterback, and he’s known for his defense. Like Ethier and Crawford, he can’t hit lefthanders, but is young enough to perhaps learn how. He’s hungry, has speed, power, and seems the complete package. I am looking forward to seeing his big league debut in 2014.

Pederson is the insurance policy, and I’m sure the Dodgers would prefer he marinate a good chunk of the year in AA/AAA, wherever he ends up. The plan is to see who is healthy of the 4 outfielders and knowing most likely than someone will not be. Like last season, it’s quite probable than the 4 outfielder situation will take care of itself.

I imagine Kemp will try, but end up on the DL either right away or soon after the season begins. His off-season progress doesn’t scream “I’m ready”, in my opinion. Talk of walking boots, starting to run, and how the team plans to take it easy with Kemp, sound likes more of the same to me. Everyone talks about how in 2011 he was one of the best players in the game – true – but that’s a long time ago. For the past 2 seasons he’s been a mess, and is not ready to right now either. I took a lot of grief from folks on twitter last year when I predicted Kemp would be on the DL, and how as early as April I was saying for the good of the team – and himself – he should take the year off and recover fully.

Kemp’s problems run deep – it isn’t just one thing. The shoulder is a huge problem, as his swing was compromised last season. His hamstrings are always an issue, and the leg/ankle issues aren’t helping. No conspiracies, but it’s possible that whatever made him what he was in 2011 is not there anymore. While possible he could break out again – albeit like not in anywhere near 162 games – it’s also a reality he could be a non-factor again. This isn’t bad news for the Dodgers, not necessarily. A healthy Kemp, with Hanley Ramirez and the others, is obviously a more sure bet for winning, but the team did pretty well last year with virtually no contribution from him. In other words, the Dodgers have moved on, whether they would put it like that or not. It’s my observation that while a healthy Kemp would be a huge boost, no Kemp isn’t the end of the world either.

Carl Crawford, I imagine, will be healthier than last year – at least I hope so. I just pray Donnie dim bulb doesn’t forget that Crawford thrived when not being wasted at the top of the lineup, especially not leading off. He was the catalyst in the post-season last year, and someone I was pulling for all along. Crawford is pre-whatever Barry Bonds – when healthy. It would be nice to see a little of that in 2014, but I know that’s asking a lot. I hope CC can stay healthy and not be too distracted by his professional gold digger of a fiancé. That distraction disappoints me. I would assume that type of idiocy for Kemp, who seems more in love with celebrity and himself than playing baseball, but CC’s baby mama drama makes me a bit sad.

So to tie this segment up, I’ll throw out a few potential lineups that seem pretty good to me, though not perfect. I only hope that Donnie – or Kasten, if it were he who suddenly put together solid lineups come October – is listening. Here we go…

Lineup A

Puig (for lack of a better option – leadoff is wasted on Puig, but what are you going to do?)
AJ Ellis (I know, he’s slow. So was Scioscia. AJ gets on base, is patient and takes walks)
A-Gone (like the righty/lefty thing, plus he’s a professional hitter)
Hanley (the man – assuming he has no lingering effects from his “accidental” beaning)
Crawford (great hitter, thrived in heart of lineup in Oct)
Uribe
Ethier
Guerrero (if he makes it – he’s an enigma but could be a nice power source if as advertised)

If Guerrero actually can play – and I have to believe he can, or Logan White wouldn’t have let him get signed for 4 years at $7M per – that’s a very potent lineup, top to bottom. Lots of righty/lefty balance throughout. The issue is a strange leadoff hitter, and of course AJ wouldn’t be allowed to bat second, but should, given this mix. Here’s another try…

Lineup B

Puig
Uribe
Hanley
A-Gone
Crawford
Guerrero
Pederson
AJ Ellis

In this edition, it assumes Kemp is on the DL and Ethier gone somehow – perhaps a trade to shed some salary and get a spring training phenom like Pederson into the mix in CF, where I’d rather have him than Ethier.

It also puts Hanley in his familiar 3 slot, and moves AJ down to 8th, where catchers “have” to be. It creates a free swinging 1-3, which I don’t like, but could make for some excitement. The Spanish speaking trio of Puig/Uribe/Hanley could sell t-shirts, and lead nicely into A-Gone’s walkup mariachi music.

While many want to dismiss it, I think if Kemp isn’t playing in CF, Pederson should. And who knows if Kemp should be in CF anyway, given his penchant for injury. I like mixing in health, youth, and defense in one move. Let’s all hope Hanley/Guerrero can stay healthy and field the ball in that middle infield as well.

***

Last let’s talk about the bench a little bit.

From the sound of it, Michael Young may be brought back to fill the role 4 guys filled last season – utility infielder. The good about Young is that he can in theory play all the infield positions, and is a plus hitter. The bad thing is he’s no longer much of a plus hitter, and not much of a fielder at 37. But – it’s called a bench player for a reason, so he doesn’t have to be outstanding either way.

While he appeared old and crappy when he wore blue end of last season, his overall numbers suggest that if he’s not starting (hear that, Donnie?), he is a capable player to have around. He’s a great career hitter who can mentor younger Dodgers and adds a veteran presence that could only help this immature bunch. But it’s as likely he could be done and that’s that. If done, and released, it’s no huge loss, except the blue would be where they are today, figuring out what to do with that key bench slot.

Personally I would look around the league at either players on big league rosters now or guys languishing in someone’s farm. There has to be guys as good as old man Jerry Hairston, Jr. and the rest who filled in last season. Depending on Tanaka signing, there could also be a surplus of pitching options to move – some of the kids who are blocked, Beckett, etc. Finding bench players and serviceable utility infielders isn’t that hard, so maybe take a flyer on Young and see if you can’t find better. If Young is ready for the glue factory, cut him quickly – unlike what they did with Luis Cruz – and plug in said replacement.

And then there’s Dee Gordon. I can hear your curses, you so called fans.

I’m currently off the Dee bandwagon like most of you, weary from defending him, frankly. I think it would be wonderful if we had a speed guy as unlike Sabermetric dipshits, I know how speed changes games. The old adage about speed doesn’t take a day off, or have an off day, or whatever it is. I’ve seen game changers over the years – Jackie Robinson, Lou Brock, Rickey Henderson, Vince Coleman, Tim Raines, Steve Sax, Brett Butler, Juan Pierre, Dave Roberts, and so forth. To me, Dee is the guy we’d be lucky to have in the lineup, batting leadoff, or on the bench, capable of disrupting opposing pitchers and stealing us games. We’ve seen it in small doses, but at this point, either Dee will come around as a backup piece, or maybe in another town, or not at all.

I think Dee was rushed through the system due to his famous dad and also because of his blazing speed. He wasn’t ripe when he was forced up, and it shows. He’s an incomplete hitter and incomplete fielder – or incompetent, at least at times, if you choose. I think either the game has gotten into his head, or the microscope of oft disappointed fans in LA, or it’s clear he can’t even field routine balls anymore without drama. More, he seems confused on the base paths, something he actually did well – run. So, I would say he’s not the answer for the bench, but it’s quite possible in a lesser role he could finally put it together. His skills are intriguing, as is his young age, so I suppose spring training will determine if he sticks or is traded. I don’t see more minor league time with the Dodgers as a real possibility. But, for the record, I’m rooting for him. I just have doubts.

Scott Van Slyke has to be on the bench as he can fill in for the corner outfielders (though that likely won’t happen much) or potentially at first. More, he can jack one out with the game on the line, and that’s needed. Our popgun bench last year had no long ball threat, and like speed, I think a bench needs such a weapon. SVS is the guy, and his new determination and slimmed down physique make him a valuable piece of the backup plan. Of course, Donnie seems to dislike him – not allowing him to bat in important post-season situations when a long fly ball was needed. Not sure why Donnie feels this way, but I think he should be there. Providing, he never stands like a statue before a game of such magnitude. Note to Dodger fans (and Dodger players) who feel that was cool and fun – you’re wrong. It was asinine and showed the Dodgers were into fun and games when they needed to be in Kirk Gibson mode. Very stupid for all concerned.

Tim Federowicz (FedX) is a terrific backup catcher who is great defensively. I could care less if he hits .230 because he’s a defensive whiz with a strong arm and catcher should be about game calling, receiving and throwing – hitting is extra. His minor league hitting suggests he can do that too, and has power. Ultimately, unless the blue gets soon to be FA Matt Wieters from the Orioles, FedX should be starting. I like him and am happy we don’t have washed up geezers in the mix currently. Keep it that way, Kasten.

And what’s left? I’d say some trading, or perhaps reclamation project Chone Figgins, who the Dodgers watched work out recently. I have to admit, as crappy as Figgins has been, he might be fixable. He has speed, experience, and something to prove. He is 36, so who knows what’s left, if anything. But, he also won’t cost anything so he’s a viable I think as Young.

And that’s that. My typing experiment is over. Hopefully it got your juices flowing, or imagination churning; one or the other. I have done my best to pass the time since October, getting Dodgers fans to spring training. The light at the end of the tunnel is near. February 8th is the date – don’t look now, but it’s not far away. With the weather we’ve been having, it already feels like May.

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