Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Dodgers' Options This Postseason

Editors Note: This note was originally posted on August 3, 2010

After a demoralizing loss tonight, I've decided to go ahead and write the obituary for this season's playoff hopes, although I'm probably two weeks too late. The Dodgers are a horrific 5-13 since the All-Star break, and the offense is incapable of scoring any runs. They have scored 41 runs in 18 games, for an average of 2.28 runs scored per game since the break. Cliff Lee couldn't help the Dodgers right now if he tried.

Every offseason, teams have three options (depending on their situation). What's funny is that the Dodgers could quite possibly fit into all three scenarios.

Option #1: Go all in and splurge for a World Series title run

This option is probably the least likely of them all. With the Dodgers' ownership problems, we might as well write this one off because unless a judge orders Frank McCourt to sell the team, the Dodgers are going to stay in their financial stasis. But just for the hell of it, let's see what this entails.

Next season the Dodgers are on the hook for $65.29 million, and that's with starting pitchers Hiroki Kuroda and Vicente Padilla, along with role players Garrett Anderson, Reed Johnson, Ronnie Belliard, Jeff Weaver, and $3.5 million worth of Juan Pierre coming off the books. That's also not considering that James Loney, Ryan Theriot, Hong-Chih Kuo, Chad Billingsley, and Russell Martin are all due arbitration (George Sherrill is also up for arbitration, but considering the way he's pitched this year, I can't imagine the Dodgers wanting to keep him around). I've estimated those players' arbitration salaries bumping the Dodgers' 2011 payroll to $83.44 million. Depending on who (or if) buys the team, the payroll could increase to over the $118 million that was spent in 2008 (incidentally the first year the Dodgers had won a playoff series since 1988).

Let's say a wealthy (compared to Frank McCourt, not you or me) owner that is able to shoulder a big checkbook purchases the team and puts his payroll ceiling at a cool $135 million. Obviously for Dodger fans, this is the most ideal scenario because it allows them to pursue marquee free-agents Carl Crawford and Cliff Lee. Assuming both those free agents command a combined $40 million a year, that leaves the Dodgers with around $12 million, which could be enough to sign a 4th and 5th starter (or maybe just a fourth if they choose to bring back Kuroda) and a couple of bench players (Ronnie Belliard will be a free agent, along with Wes Helms, Austin Kearns, and Marcus Thames) for around $800k a piece. This leaves them with about $8.5 million of financial flexibility, which might allow them to retain Kuroda if they can convince him to take a pay cut and stay with the club. If they choose to get a high-end 4th starter (such as Kuroda), they could experiment again with John Ely at the end of the rotation, or scrape the bottom of the bargain barrel by trying to acquire Jake Westbrook, Dave Bush, or Kevin Millwood. The Dodgers would also be able to run Ronald Belisario, Ramon Troncoso, Travis Schlichting, Justin Miller, and Kenley Jansen out of the bullpen to compliment Jonathon Broxton and Hong-Chih Kuo. This is all assuming they buyout Octavio Dotel for $.25 million, instead of picking up his $4.5 million option.

If this ended up happening, the Dodgers' Opening Day starting lineup would look something like this:

1) Furcal SS
2) Crawford LF
3) Kemp CF
4) Ethier RF
5) Loney 1B
6) Blake 3B
7) Theriot 2B
8) Martin C
9) Lee P

Rotation: Cliff Lee, Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Hiroki Kuroda, Jake Westbrook

Bench: UTIL Jamey Carroll, OF Austin Kearns, OF Marcus Thames, 1B/3B Wes Helms, OF Xavier Paul

Option #2: Restructure the roster in an attempt to give minor league players some experience (Rebuild)

This is the one that fans never want to hear. The dreaded term usually means that an organization is blowing up the team and bringing in cheap veterans to mix with their major-league ready prospects. In my opinion, if the Dodgers don't end up getting sold, this is the only viable option that they have. Think about it, will Frank McCourt have money after the divorce? Most likely not. He wasn't that wealthy anyways, and Jamie McCourt is trying to take him for every last penny that he's got. So between alimony and his own personal living expenses, he's not going to have the money to field a championship caliber team. That's the sad reality of the situation.

So where to go from here? Well, the Dodgers currently have three prospects in AA that I like, along with a couple in AAA that are major-league ready as well.

AA Chattanooga
Trayvon Robinson, CF, 20/60 candidate, currently batting .301/.390/.448 in AA ball.
Jerry Sands, 1B/OF, 30/15 candidate, currently batting .267/.379/.583 in 34 games of AA ball
Dee Gordon, SS, incarnate of Juan Pierre at shortstop. Currently batting .281/.328/.368 with 39 steals in 99 games in AA.

AAA Albuquerque
Ivan De Jesus, 2B/SS, comparable to Omar Vizquel. Currently batting .289/.329/.400 in AAA.

So by my count, that's two outfielders, a shortstop and a second baseman. The last I heard, Gordon's field instincts needed a little refining, although if the team is rebuilding, that shouldn't be a problem. The only decision Ned Colletti would have to make is where Sands would play, and what to do with Rafael Furcal. If the team is indeed rebuilding, it would be imperative to get both Gordon and De Jesus playing time, making Furcal expendable. I'm sure Furcal might fetch a decent return in either draft picks or prospects to a team on the verge of winning the big one. If they decide to play Sands in the outfield, they're going to have to trade either Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, or Robinson. I would think the choice there would be Kemp, but the problem is that they probably wouldn't get equal value for him. To improve markedly, they would have to get a power hitting third baseman or catcher for him. The only guys that would fetch a return would be David Wright and Ryan Zimmerman, unless they wanted to trade him within the division, which could mean a trade to Arizona for Mark Reynolds and maybe a prospect that needs a fresh start. Assuming the last deal might be the only realistic deal, the Dodgers might be more inclined to keep Kemp, move Sands to first, and trade Loney. I'm not exactly sure what the Dodgers would get back in exchange for Loney, but perhaps they could get back a 3rd caliber starter, or a good arm at the back of the bullpen. I'd like to see them acquire a big bat at third base, but with home runs in such a high demand these days, I don't think there's any way the Dodgers would be able to acquire a big corner bat for James Loney straight up. If Colletti went through with this plan, the opening day starting lineup would look something like this:

1) Gordon SS
2) Robinson LF
3) Ethier RF
4) Kemp CF
5) Sands 1B
6) Blake 3B
7) De Jesus 2B
8) Martin C
9) Kershaw P

Obviously if minor league success translated directly to the big leagues, this lineup would be pretty formidable. Sands hasn't struck out much as a minor leaguer, and Robinson's plate discipline has also really improved since last year. Gordon could be a liability at the top of lineup if he doesn't improve his plate discipline, but the speed is very tantalizing. The pitching would probably be shored up with cheap free agents, a la Ted Lilly, Westbrook, or Padilla. With the likes of Mark Buerhle and Wandy Rodriguez headlining the starting pitcher free agent class of 2012, the Dodgers had better hope that Ethan Martin progresses sooner rather than later and is able to come up to the major league level and contribute in a major way to the ballclub if they're going to go with this option.

Option #3: Stand pat with the core of your team, make minor adjustments, and hope to get a bargain

If I was a betting man (or if I had money), I would bet on this one. Over the past three seasons, the only big acquisition the Dodgers have come up with is Manny Ramirez, who they got for nothing (aka Andy LaRoche). Players that have signed with or been traded to the Dodgers have included Belliard, Orlando Hudson, Padilla, Jon Garland, Sherrill, Blake, Ramirez, Andruw Jones, Mark Loretta, Mark Sweeney, Garrett Anderson, Reed Johnson, Brad Ausmus, Scott Podsednik, Jim Thome, Ryan Theriot, Ted Lilly, Hiroki Kuroda, Jeff Weaver, Guillermo Mota, Chan Ho Park, Jamey Carroll, and Octavio Dotel. There might be others, but those are the only ones I can think of at the moment. After reading that list again, it almost makes me queasy with the amount of subpar players Colletti has spent money and prospects on. It's almost like he attempts to strike gold with one of these mediocre players, and that's fine, except the players he pulls out can't be squeezed anymore. If the Dodgers end up not spending any money next season, the opening day starting lineup could look like this:

1) Theriot 2B
2) Furcal SS
3) Ethier RF
4) Kemp CF
5) Loney 1B
6) Blake 3B
7) Paul LF
8) Martin C
9) Kershaw P

...with major question marks in the starting rotation after Kershaw and Billingsley.

That feeling you have is the feeling of malaise, which is also the feeling the entire Dodger nation will have when they find out the club will continue to cut payroll under the control of McCourt and Colletti. I've never been more depressed in my time as a Dodger fan than I am right now.

(All contract information was obtained from
Cot's Baseball Contracts)

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