Column: Dodgers deal for Vidal Nuno makes sense on several levels

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July 8, 2016: Seattle Mariners relief pitcher Vidal Nuno (38) during the MLB American League game between the Seattle Mariners and the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri. Mariners defeated the Royals 3-2 (Photo by William Purnell/Icon Sportswire)

The streets of Chicago are still buzzing with the Cubs’ long-awaited World Series title that ended the 2016 baseball season just days ago. But as soon as the final out nestled itself in Anthony Rizzo’s mitt, front offices around the league clicked on their hot stoves and prepared for the long winter ahead.

The Los Angeles Dodgers wasted no time.

In the grand scheme of offseason moves, trading a veteran backup catcher for a veteran middle reliever isn’t much to write home about, but it’s still a trade. It means the wheeling and dealing has officially begun. And despite the lack of star power in the deal, there are layers of implications for both teams.

First, the Mariners: Ruiz, despite his age (38 when next season begins), is a quality backup option and a marked improvement over Chris Iannetta. He still does a pretty good job defensively and can punish left-handed pitching. If his hitting performance in the NLDS for the Dodgers (2-for-4, HR, 3 RBI, 2 R) is any indication, Ruiz can still come up big in clutch situations, too.

For a team constantly fighting to get over the hump and back into the playoff picture, Ruiz will be a nice complement to Mike Zunino and will likely make a positive impact on the Seattle pitching staff.

The Dodgers swung A.J. Ellis to the Phillies late in the season to get Ruiz in the first place. Moving the incredibly popular Ellis was a move that drew a fair amount of criticism at the time, despite the team improving its actual talent level. Ruiz’s postseason performance wiped away any fear of missing value in the trade, but now the Dodgers have flipped two months of Ruiz into a bullpen upgrade.

Three things the front office has been focusing on in recent years are finding depth, saving money and getting younger. With Nuno, they hit every category. First, the lefty is 29 years old and can add insurance to a group of bullpen lefties that was hit with injuries and has questionable consistency.

(Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire)

(Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire)

J.P. Howell used to be the most reliable of the bunch, but has seen his stuff drop off sharply in recent years. He is a free agent anyway, and likely won’t be back with the Dodgers. Luis Avilan provided quality innings down the stretch, but has been very hit-or-miss in his years with the Dodgers. Adam Liberatore was brilliant before getting injured, and given the team’s track record with injuries lately, adding insurance makes a ton of sense.

Other than that trio, Grant Dayton is the only healthy, consistently-productive arm they can count on. Adding Nuno to the mix gives them a nice touch of depth to work with. Nuno has also started in the past and could be stretched out again to do that if necessary.

Nuno will likely only see a slight raise in his first try at arbitration this season, which could still double his salary to just over $1 million for 2017 (MLBTradeRumors.com predicts a salary of $1.1 million next year). A savings of $3 million or so isn’t huge for a team with a payroll like the Dodgers, but it shows they’re committed to finding bargains wherever possible to become more sustainable.

The final piece to the Nuno-Ruiz swap is how it will affect the Dodgers’ backup catching plan. Yasmani Grandal is the obvious starter (his 27 homers led all MLB catchers in 2016), especially given his elite pitch-framing abilities. What moving Ellis and Ruiz has created is a full-time opportunity for prospect Austin Barnes, whom the Dodgers acquired from Miami in the big Dee Gordon trade.

Barnes is a versatile catcher who can also play a little infield and gives the Dodgers a chance to really evaluate his plus bat against major league pitching. In the past, Barnes has gotten stints here and there but rarely saw game action. In just 61 MLB at-bats, Barnes has scuffled to a .180 batting average and only has three extra-base hits to his name.

But, the Dodgers are hopeful. In parts of six minor league seasons, Barnes has slashed .299/.388/.828 and has torn up Triple-A pitching over the past two years. Even if he’s just a role player fighting for a starting spot, the 26-year-old will finally have a chance to prove himself with consistent at-bats. He’ll likely become an upgrade over Ruiz, too, which is all the Dodgers could ask for when making a move.

The post Column: Dodgers deal for Vidal Nuno makes sense on several levels appeared first on Todays Knuckleball.

Source: Knuckleball

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Column: Dodgers not far off from Cubs model

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22 October 2016: Chicago Cubs third baseman Javier Baez (9) celebrates a double play to end the ninth inning to win the National League Championship between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field in Chicago, IL. (Photo by Patrick Gorski/Icon Sportswire)

Both teams invested heavily in a brilliant front office brain trust. Both built up a strong farm system through the draft and international signings. Both depend on an ace left-hander to anchor the rotation and a sturdy bullpen to lock things down. Both can and will spend big money on free agency when the time is right. Both won their respective divisions, and even battled it out in the NLCS for a shot at glory.

You better get used to it; the Dodgers and Cubs are built to last, and could very well be seeing each other in the playoffs many more times in the next decade. Chicago got the best of the Dodgers this time around, winning the NLCS in six games and marching on to their first World Series title in 108 years.

The Dodgers, working on a 28-year drought of their own, are so close. But overcoming the Cubs will be a difficult challenge in the future. Even if they hadn’t been crushed by injuries all season long, the 2016 Dodgers just didn’t quite have what the 2016 Cubs had.

There is a reason the Cubs won 103 games and were the best team from start to finish. What the Dodgers lack in starting rotation depth and youthful energy, the Cubs have in abundance. Again, it helps to stay healthy, but it seems like the Cubs just had a slightly more polished, effective player at most positions.

For example, Kris Bryant may just be in his second season, but he’s arguably the best all-around third baseman in baseball. Justin Turner is a top-five player at the position, but just can’t produce offensively like Bryant can. Adrian Gonzalez has had a long, productive career at first base, but he can’t hit like Anthony Rizzo, who is seven years his junior. And even when the Dodgers have the edge in age, like in centerfield with Joc Pederson, one can argue that Dexter Fowler is a better defender and more valuable hitter than Pederson; he’s certainly a smarter, more practiced player.

So, in the short-term, the Cubs have built the exact type of core team the Dodgers are hoping and planning to build. One issue has been that the Dodgers have been constantly competitive, and didn’t get to select players in the top-five of the draft like the formerly-lowly Cubs. Also, for everything great Dave Roberts did in L.A. this season, Joe Maddon is among the best managers in baseball and has been in the trenches for far longer.

It’s just the little things; where the Dodgers need a savvy veteran, they have a young loose cannon. Where they need youthful energy, they have age. Where they need depth, they have a bundle of injuries. Their philosophy is spot-on, as the newly-crowned Cubs can attest to. It’s the actual result of said philosophy that isn’t quite there yet.

16 October 2016: Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez (23) celebrates with Los Angeles Dodgers center fielder Joc Pederson (31) after hitting a home run during the second inning in game two of the National League Championship Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field in Chicago, IL. (Photo by Patrick Gorski/Icon Sportswire)

(Photo by Patrick Gorski/Icon Sportswire)

Let’s see how the Dodgers can make a few tweaks to actually pull themselves into the Cubs’ class and potentially make a run at beating them in the playoffs and go to the World Series.

First of all, there are some aging parts of the roster that need to be purged.

Gonzalez is on the last couple years of his contract and is still pretty productive, but Cody Bellinger is nipping at his heels after a .271/26 HR/71 RBI campaign in the minors last season. Willie Calhoun (33 homers and Saturday’s Fall Stars Game MVP) is close to being ready to man second base, a position last held by Chase Utley and soon to be held by Howie Kendrick.

Obviously, they have likely Rookie of the Year Corey Seager at shortstop and a good, young catcher in Yasmani Grandal. Pederson anchors the outfield and is only going to get better, and they can expect a healthy Trayce Thompson to make a significant impact in the future. Next in line is Alex Verdugo, who can hit a lot and throw even more, but could make for a solid corner outfielder to pair with Pederson and Thompson.

In the rotation, Julio Urias made his presence known last season, and Jose De Leon won’t be far behind. The team’s top prospect list is stacked with other promising arms, so they should have a pipeline of quality young arms marching through over the next half-decade. Clayton Kershaw, Kenta Maeda and Urias already form a nice starting point for that project.

All this is to say that it’s in the cards for the Dodgers. They’re not far off. The Cubs may have done it faster and stronger, but the Dodgers are just a year or two away from matching the Cubs talent for talent and having the right mix of solid veterans and young stars to make that World Series run.

In the short term, the Cubs will continue to be the team to beat. But, if the Dodgers continue with the organizational philosophy they’ve created, they could equal the Cubs soon and take a title of their own down the road.

The post Column: Dodgers not far off from Cubs model appeared first on Todays Knuckleball.

Source: Knuckleball

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What do the Dodgers do at second base?

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October 13, 2015: Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman Howie Kendrick (47) bats during Game 4 of the National League Division Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the New York Mets at Citi Field in Flushing, NY. (Photo by Joshua Sarner/Icon Sportswire)

Pretty much everyone expects soon-to-be 38-year-old Chase Utley to walk in free agency this offseason. Whether he signs on elsewhere for one more victory lap or decides to hang up the cleats, he probably won’t be back with the Dodgers.

Utley did have a fairly productive season as one of the Dodgers’ primary leadoff hitters and the leading clubhouse voice, slashing .252/.319/.716 with 14 homers. But, he did strike out 115 times and just couldn’t find consistency with the bat.

Chances are, the six-time All-Star will find a new home in 2017. The Dodgers want to get younger and Utley has exhausted his value to them. So, that begs the question: What direction do the Dodgers take their second base search? Utley started 118 games there last season, so at the very least, the Dodgers need a competent defender to fill in.

In-house, they have a few options: Howie Kendrick played mostly in left field last season, but he was a career second baseman before then. Kiké Hernandez, Charlie Culberson and Chris Taylor can all play there, but none of them really bring high expectations on either side of the ball. It would be a massive downgrade in each scenario.

The team’s top second base prospect is Willie Calhoun, who hit 27 homers and drove in 88 runs for Double-A Tulsa last season. He just turned 22 and looks to have a role with the big league team pretty soon, but he probably won’t be ready to start the 2017 season with the big club. Additionally, his defense is suspect.

On the free agent market, the best option besides Utley is Neil Walker, who would be a solid signing but may remain with the Mets who want to give him a qualifying offer. That, of course, means the Dodgers would have to forfeit a first-round draft pick if they signed Walker. Beyond that, it’s a who’s who of Sean Rodriguez’s, Kelly Johnson’s and Aaron Hill’s — not a great bunch to choose from.

For as much emphasis as the Dodgers’ front office puts on scouting and drafting, you wouldn’t expect them to give up any draft picks to sign Walker on a qualifying offer. And they also might not be willing to trade from their stacked farm system to upgrade the position.

More likely, the Dodgers will go with a rotating group of players at second base. They can survive with Kendrick there for the bulk of starts (they have a huge outfield logjam anyway) and would likely use Hernandez there more than they have in the past. It’s not the best situation, especially considering both are seeing their offensive numbers drop, but you could do worse.

Luckily, one position doesn’t make a team. The Dodgers have one of the best young players in baseball manning shortstop in Corey Seager and will probably make a strong push to re-sign Justin Turner at third base. Adrian Gonzalez has another good year or two left in his bat and Yasmani Grandal is one of the more underrated catchers in the league.

Combine that infield with Joc Pederson and Yasiel Puig in the outfield and a strong pitching staff, and the Dodgers should be able to sacrifice a slight downgrade at second until Calhoun is ready. All things considered, having a hole at second base as your biggest question mark isn’t bad.

No matter what they do, it likely won’t be the same starter (or leadoff hitter) in L.A. next season. Utley has had a Hall of Fame career and had some huge moments in blue, but the Dodgers are likely going to move on, and Kendrick will be the main beneficiary.

The post What do the Dodgers do at second base? appeared first on Todays Knuckleball.

Source: Knuckleball

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Does a Puig-for-Braun deal make sense to revisit this winter?

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21 September 2016: Los Angeles Dodgers Outfield Yasiel Puig (66) [9924] points to the sky after hitting a three RBI home run during the game between the San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by David Dennis/Icon Sportswire)

The Dodgers swung a few deadline deals this season, including a big one for Josh Reddick and Rich Hill. But the trade that sent the most shock waves through baseball never even happened: A Yasiel Puig-for-Ryan Braun swap was apparently discussed, and according to some, came very close to being finalized.

With the World Series in full swing and GM’s of the 28 other teams starting to look at their off-season options, could the Brewers and Dodgers have a deal this winter after all?

Originally, it was reported that Puig, Brandon McCarthy and prospects would go to the Brewers in return for Braun. On the surface, this seems like a win-win for both teams. The Dodgers rid themselves of a somewhat disappointing, entirely difficult player (despite how popular he may be with fans), a bad contract for an injury-prone starter, and deal from a position of depth with the prospects.

On the flip side, the Brewers add a cheap, talented player to their outfield and take a chance on an arm that is full of potential when it’s healthy. They shed most of Braun’s salary and get a prospect or two from the Dodgers’ loaded system.

The scenario could develop and change rapidly as the Winter Meetings approach, but if both teams still want to get a deal done, it’s entirely possible. Here’s the thing: Are we sure the Dodgers will be happy with a three- or four-for-one swap?

Farhan Zaidi and Andrew Friedman seem to pride themselves on squeezing every drop of value out of every transaction. They’ve built a top farm system and know they can afford to trade out of it, but if they do, don’t they at least want to get another piece in return?

Obviously, Braun is the superior player to Puig. The Dodgers’ outfielder might have more raw talent and athleticism than Braun (or pretty much anyone else in baseball for that matter), but it doesn’t matter if he can’t consistently put it together. Braun, on the other hand, has put it together. For many years.

(Photo by Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire)

(Photo by Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire)

In fact, Braun posted a slash line of .305/.365/.903 and 30 homers in 2016. His productivity went slightly under the radar for a Brewers team that finished well under .500, but he seems to be back to his old MVP-level self. It certainly dwarfs Puig’s inconsistent, injury-filled performance over the last couple seasons.

Another thing to consider is that Braun will be 33 for next season and has four years left on his contract (mutual option for a fifth), valued at about $77 million. The Dodgers are trying to cut salary and become more sustainable, so that is a big number, especially considering their desire to re-sign Justin Turner and Kenley Jansen, who will both command big bucks.

But, if you look at Puig and McCarthy’s combined salaries for 2017 and 2018 (both become free agents after the 2018 season), it’s equal to Braun’s $20 million per year, believe it or not.

When you break it down financially, the Dodgers are getting a boost to their lineup and an overall upgrade for the price of just a prospect or two. The Brewers are a couple years away from contention again, so cutting cost after 2018 would be a big boon. If McCarthy and Puig stay healthy, they are also adding significant talent to both the lineup and rotation.

One final thing to consider is the prospect of losing McCarthy from an injury-ravaged rotation. Kenta Maeda was pretty much the only pitcher who didn’t get hurt in 2016, and though you can chalk that up to bad luck, the Dodgers really don’t want to go through it again. They are likely losing Rich Hill and Brett Anderson to free agency, so trading McCarthy might hurt more than you’d think.

Whatever the case, if the Dodgers want Braun, they’ll get it done. They’ll probably find a way to squeeze a little more in return than expected from the Brewers, and then they have an aging, but still producing, outfield star for the next four years.

It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out, with two of the biggest names in baseball involved.

The post Does a Puig-for-Braun deal make sense to revisit this winter? appeared first on Todays Knuckleball.

Source: Knuckleball

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Dodgers absolutely must retain Kenley Jansen

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October 13 2016: Los Angeles Dodgers relief pitcher Kenley Jansen (74) during game 5 of the NLDS at Nationals Park, in Washington D.C. The Los Angeles Dodgers defeated the Washington Nationals 4-3. to win the series. (Photo by Tony Quinn/Icon Sportswire)

Aroldis Chapman, Mark Melancon and Kenley Jansen. That is the extent of elite closers (apologies to Jason Grilli and Wade Davis) who may be free agents this winter. The list of viable candidates within the Los Angeles Dodgers’ organization to replace Jansen is even shorter. In fact, it doesn’t exist.

All of this is to say the Dodgers absolutely must open the checkbook for Jansen and bring one of the game’s most dominant closers back to L.A. for 2017 and beyond. Even for a team that has found diamonds in the rough for the bullpen (Joe Blanton, Grant Dayton or Adam Liberatore, anyone?), they must realize the value Jansen brings to the back end of their staff:

  • In his MLB career, Jansen has never recorded a FIP above 2.40 in a season
  • In his five seasons serving as the primary closer for the Dodgers, Jansen has a 1.97 FIP, 0.86 WHIP, 13.6 K/9 and 180 saves (189 for his career)
  • In 2016, Jansen had his best year: 47 saves (2nd in MLB), 1.44 FIP (2nd), 3.2 WAR (1st, according to FanGraphs), 104 K (1st among full-time closers), and 11 BB (1st among full-time closers)
  • In 17 postseason games, Jansen has a 2.66 ERA, 1.03 WHIP and 15.5 K/9 to go with eight saves (in 6.1 IP in the NLCS in 2016, Jansen allowed one hit, no walks, no runs and struck out 10)

Many analysts might rank Chapman, Craig Kimbrel and maybe even Zach Britton above Jansen in terms of pure value from the closer position, but there’s a very sound argument to be made that Jansen has been the most dominant and consistent closer for the better part of three seasons now. It took a few years, but he is finally getting the recognition he deserves, even earning his long-overdue first All-Star Game nod in 2016.

The Dodgers are aware of how good he is, obviously. They know what they possess in the back of the bullpen, and they know it’s going to cost them a good chunk of cash to keep him on board. But it would be well worth whatever amount they pay to do so.

Chapman and Melancon are the only other two closers on the market who will command such high salaries and they each have their issues: Chapman has the domestic violence incident that scared the Dodgers away in the first place (from a purely PR standpoint, signing him now would still be a disaster), and Melancon is two years older than Jansen and not as good.

Even more pressing is that there will be a handful of other teams aggressively pursuing the free agent trio this winter. Among them, the San Francisco Giants. Rumors have already circulated that the Dodgers’ arch rivals will target Jansen in free agency. If the Dodgers lose that bidding war, they lose their best reliever and have to face him up to 19 times per year to boot.

The Dodgers’ starters and other relievers know they can rely on Jansen being available in the ninth inning of any game. It gives them a strong anchor that helped the team to the MLB’s best bullpen ERA in 2016 and has a chance to get even better next season. With a lack of internal options, Jansen’s popularity and success, and an elusive World Series title to chase, the Dodgers would be remiss to not pay whatever it takes to keep Jansen in blue for the foreseeable future.

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Column: The Dodgers must bring back Justin Turner

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07 October 2016: Los Angeles Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner (10) is congratulated in the dugout after hitting a three run home run in the third inning against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. in the first game of the NLDS. (Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire)

It’s safe to assume that when evaluating a team’s soon-to-be free agent and whether that team should retain said player, they look at a couple extra factors. How the player fits in with the clubhouse, how the fans react to him, and whether there are in-house options to replace him probably weigh a little heavier when making a decision like that.

Obviously, risk-reward, injury and projected performance factors are significantly considered, too. Primarily, even. But when it’s a player you know already, there are probably more variables considered. If the Dodgers were simply looking at Justin Turner on the free agent market coming from another team, they’d be wise to sign him this winter.

The fact that Turner comes from within and aces all the requirements of a free agent means the Dodgers would be shockingly shortsighted to let him walk. Let’s start with the obvious perks of re-signing Turner:

  • Since becoming the team’s full-time starter at third base in 2015, Turner is hitting .283 with 43 HR, 150 RBI, an .840 OPS and 130 OPS+ in just more than 1,000 at-bats.
  • Since joining the Dodgers in 2014, Turner has been worth more than 11 wins, according to Baseball-Reference.com.
  • In the postseason for the Dodgers, Turner has hit .357 with a 1.078 OPS over 18 games
  • His 2016 wRC+ was 124, good for fourth-best among NL third basemen (behind Kris Bryant, Matt Carpenter and Nolan Arenado — pretty good company).
  • According to FanGraphs’ “DEF” statistic (runs saved + positional fielding factors), Turner was the second-best defensive baseman last year behind future Hall of Famer Adrian Beltre and the 12th-most valuable defender in all of baseball.

Granted, Turner will be 32 in 2017. A long-term deal for someone on the “wrong” side of their prime isn’t necessarily good business. But considering Turner was a late bloomer, he might not possess the same wear and tear as many other 32-year-olds, so that might end up being less of a factor for the Dodgers. One thing that will certainly be considered is the lack of in-house replacements and a thin free agent market.

Of the players currently on the Dodgers roster (or in the minor leagues), their best bet to fill in at third base would probably be Kiké Hernandez, Rob Segedin or Chris Taylor. All three represent a massive drop-off in talent, and at this point in their careers, they are not legitimate MLB starters. If the Dodgers really wanted to stretch it, they could use Howie Kendrick, who started 14 games there this season, to fill in. But he’s shown himself to be most valuable as a second baseman and left fielder. Kendrick’s best days are also behind him.

So, the internal options aren’t great.

The free agent outlooks is just as bleak: Turner is far and away the best third baseman on the market. Other “top” options include Yunel Escobar, Aaron Hill and Luis Valbuena. So, it’s re-sign Turner, trade for someone or promote from within and deal with the drop-off.

The choice is clear. Turner must be retained by the Dodgers. The local boy (born in Long Beach, played in high school in Lakewood and college at Cal State Fullerton) went from scrap heap pickup to clubhouse leader and fan favorite. Not only does Turner bring loyal fans to the park every day, but he seems to have the respect of his teammates and they’ll likely be losing one of those other leading voices this offseason in Chase Utley.

The Dodgers don’t want to downgrade their overall talent level, upset fans, and fracture the clubhouse by letting Turner get away. The player has all the leverage in the world here, but the Dodgers should be able to get a deal done.

If they don’t, they better have a really good plan in place to make up for everything they lose at third base.

The post Column: The Dodgers must bring back Justin Turner appeared first on Todays Knuckleball.

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How to solve the Dodgers’ outfield logjam

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21 September 2016: Los Angeles Dodgers Outfield Yasiel Puig (66) [9924] reacts as he crosses home plate after hitting a three run RBI homer in the first inning during the game between the San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by David Dennis/Icon Sportswire)

The Dodgers came into the 2016 season expecting an outfield of Andre Ethier, Joc Pederson and Yasiel Puig from left field to right. In the clinching game of the NLCS, they started Andrew Toles, Pederson and Josh Reddick. During the season, they used everyone from Howie Kendrick to Trayce Thompson to Kiké Hernandez to Will Venable.

Injuries forced their hands multiple times, as did Puig’s inability to play consistently or stay healthy. Hernandez had a poor year at the plate and Thompson started strong before injuring his back and missing the rest of the season. Zach Walters got a shot. Kendrick was an adventure, defensively, but was the cork that plugged every hole.

Scott Van Slyke fought injuries. Carl Crawford was finally DFA’d. Ethier broke his leg in Spring Training and missed almost the entire regular season. So, the Dodgers made a deadline move to bolster the outfield depth and improve its pitching staff: Over from Oakland came Reddick and starter Rich Hill. Reddick had a miserable first month before finally showing some promise in September.

And, now, Reddick is a free agent. Kendrick is well past his days as a full-time starter. Toles, despite an impressive couple months, is a relative unknown. Hernandez’s best trait is his ability to play all over the field, but he can’t seem to hit a lick. Thompson and Van Slyke are still hurt. And Puig is…well, Puig.

So this is where the Dodgers are at. Eight potential starting outfielders in a group that can only hold three, and on a roster that will likely include no more than five most months. What a mess.

The first step in solving this logjam is to decide whether to bring back Reddick. If they do — though it seems unlikely given a relatively weak free agent class — the Dodgers may be inclined to move Puig and give Reddick the full-time starter’s job in right field. If not, that eliminates one.

Let’s move to second base now. The Dodgers need an upgrade in both age and productivity at that position, and a big decision will involve free agent Chase Utley. The aging second baseman hustles his butt off every play and is apparently a great clubhouse presence, but his best days are long gone. It would be very surprising if the Dodgers brought him back.

That means Kendrick, who learned (and seemed to start preferring) left field in 2016, will find himself back in the infield, at least more than he was this season. But, if the Dodgers are content with a platoon of Kendrick, Hernandez and Charlie Culberson at that spot, are they going to get the production they need with the bats? Probably not.

25 September 2016: Los Angeles Dodgers Outfield Howie Kendrick (47) [3104] makes a diving catch in left field during a Major League Baseball game between the Colorado Rockies and the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire)

25 September 2016: Los Angeles Dodgers Outfield Howie Kendrick (47) makes a diving catch in left field during a Major League Baseball game between the Colorado Rockies and the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire)

Let’s assume that Utley and Reddick are both gone. It’s safe to say that most of Kendrick’s playing time, then, would be allotted to second base. That leaves a few things to consider. First, Toles and Thompson both get a shot at the starting job in left field. Second, Ethier and Puig are both good enough to start, but do health or a dip in productivity affect either one? Third, Pederson is the one sure thing. He is the Dodgers’ center fielder for the foreseeable future.

Van Slyke and Hernandez are wild cards here. Between them, they can cover literally every position that isn’t involved in the battery. Both mash lefties, historically. But the Dodgers also have Thompson and Puig for that job. Knowing how much the Dodgers enjoy platooning, you could see left field and right field both platoon-heavy between the lefties Toles and Ethier and the righties Thompson and Puig.

That leaves Hernandez and/or Van Slyke for a “super utility” role as the last guy off the bench who does whatever is needed. That’s the role both are used to at this point anyway.

So, the dust has settled. Despite all the names for just a few spots, we assume Reddick and Utley walk, decreasing the confusion slightly. And unless the Dodgers go big and sign Jose Bautista or make a massive trade (Puig for Ryan Braun, for example), they will likely start the season with Pederson as the bona fide starter in center, flanked by the Ethier-Puig platoon in right and the Thompson-Toles unit in left.

The good news for the flexible Dodgers? In a pinch, Kendrick, Hernandez and Van Slyke can all give innings out there as well. It’s not normal, and it’s not popular, but it’s the future of baseball. The Dodgers are embracing it, and they’ll use it to unclog the outfield jam that seems so cluttered at the moment.

The post How to solve the Dodgers’ outfield logjam appeared first on Todays Knuckleball.

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How to fix the Dodgers’ starting rotation

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27 AUG 2016: Los Angeles Dodgers Starting pitcher Julio Urias (7) throws a pitch in the 1st inning in the game against the Chicago Cubs played at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire)

How can the Dodgers’ fix a broken starting rotation?

Wait, let me qualify that question with this: The Dodgers have the best starting pitcher in baseball, a chance to bring back Rich Hill, a strong number-three in Kenta Maeda and a few very young, talented prospects like Julio Urias and Jose De Leon.

But everyone not named Maeda, Urias or De Leon missed significant time this season for a variety of injuries. Kershaw with his back, Hill with blisters, Brett Anderson, Alex Wood, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Brandon McCarthy and Scott Kazmir with every injury under the sun. And that’s not even the whole list.

Point is, the Dodgers have a ton of talent in their rotation. Injuries decimated them, and Kershaw and Hill couldn’t rescue the season in the NLCS, no matter what they did. But it’s those injuries that makes the rotation in need of a fix.

Other than Kershaw, Maeda and the young guys, you can’t count on any of the rotation to be healthy in 2017. And given Maeda’s injury-friendly contract and Kershaw’s back being the focal point of his DL time, who knows how healthy they will even be? The injuries to Wood, Ryu, McCarthy and Kazmir were serious enough that they can’t be counted on to stay off the trainer’s table (not to mention all have injury history).

Anderson, who came back on a qualifying offer this year and struggled, won’t return. Hill might, but he’s edging into his late-30s and apparently can’t go a month without developing a deadly blister. But, the free agent class is sparse in the pitching department.

All this is to say that the Dodgers are in quite a bind. Besides Hill and Anderson, who honestly might be the two best free agent arms available, the Dodgers could look at Doug Fister, Jeremy Hellickson, Andrew Cashner, Ivan Nova or Ross Detwiler to fill a couple spots.

June 10 2016: Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson (58) during a MLB game at Nationals Park, in Washington D.C. Nationals defeated the Phillies 9-6. (Photo by Tony Quinn/Icon Sportswire)

(Photo by Tony Quinn/Icon Sportswire)

Of that group, Hellickson is probably the safest best, but even he comes with plenty of red flags. If the Dodgers can bring back Hill and get one of those guys cheap, they might be content to ride it out and hope for better luck with injuries, plus another year of growth from their pitching prospects. But that seems, uh, dangerous, given their track record.

So, now that we know the Dodgers are loaded with broken bodies and don’t have many external options on the market, how do they improve the rotation and ensure it won’t be hampered by long-term injuries in 2017?

Good health is never guaranteed, but leaning more heavily on their farm system may be the best bet. Urias is a blossoming star and De Leon has nothing left to prove in Triple-A. Brock Stewart and Ross Stripling both made good impressions here and there and clearly have the stuff to excel in a back of the rotation spot in the big leagues.

Not to mention, Chase de Jong, Yadier Alvarez, and Jacob Rhame are among the half-dozen good pitching prospects the Dodgers will be moving through the system next season. Those three might be the most ready to make impacts in the second half of the 2017 season, but even the younger ones will probably move rapidly.

It’s unconventional, but the Dodgers have shown under the Friedman-Zaidi regime that they are anything but conventional in how they utilize their roster. The best way, rather than spending money on a lackluster free agent market (though bringing Hill back on a short-term deal might make sense), would be to lean on Urias and De Leon in the back of the rotation with other young guys coming up to make spot starts here and there to give everyone rest.

With Kershaw and Maeda leading the way, the Dodgers would be in pretty good shape. Pending any kind of trade to bolster the staff, the Dodgers would simply need some better fortune from the baseball gods in terms of injuries to improve the staff’s performance in 2017 and lift the burden on the bullpen slightly.

Having a regular rotation of Kershaw, Maeda, Urias and De Leon and then supplementing the last two spots with well-crafted spot starts between other young prospects and anyone who may be healthy out of Wood, McCarthy and Kazmir may be the Dodgers’ best bet.

At least if that’s how it has to go, the rotation will be stocked full of talent. And at least the Dodgers will be ready to deal with it if injuries make it come to that.

The post How to fix the Dodgers’ starting rotation appeared first on Todays Knuckleball.

Source: Knuckleball

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What’s next for the Dodgers?

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Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw (22) reacts after the fourth inning in game six of the National League Championship Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field in Chicago, IL. (Photo by Patrick Gorski/Icon Sportswire)

That wasn’t how it was supposed to go down.

The Los Angeles Dodgers were supposed to lose to the 103-win Cubs in the NLCS, but not by playing three of their worst games of the season in a row, with each one pushing them closer to the grave and ending with Yasiel Puig’s double play to end Game 6.

Clayton Kershaw, who had mostly slayed his postseason demons in every start up until Game 6, was supposed to pitch a complete game shutout, further crushing the narrative and extending the Dodgers’ season. Not that a complete game shutout would have mattered, as the offense sent 27 men to the plate and none of them scored. Only a few of them even got on base — those that did were promptly erased by double plays or pickoffs.

And Kershaw, of all nights, didn’t have his best stuff in Game 6. No curveball, a so-so slider and a lack of fastball command. For the best pitcher on the planet, it was an unfortunate time to be average. Just as it was unfortunate for Joe Blanton, one of the team’s most reliable relievers for 171 games, to forget how to throw his slider — twice — in the other two games or for Rookie of the Year Corey Seager to forget how to hit for most of the NLCS.

That’s baseball, though. Especially against the best team in baseball.

For Dodgers fans, the most frustrating part of the way it ended in 2016 was the pure lack of fight and the landslide of mistakes that led to their demise. Uncharacteristic errors on defense, fundamentally-unsound base running, questionable managing and a lack of clutch hitting is a recipe ripe for losing and the Dodgers did it all.

As always, the sting lasts long into the winter. The optimism starts to creep in as the front office mixes and matches to find the right combination for 2017. And this year, they’ll have their work cut out for them.

In a season that saw a record-setting number of injuries and another heartbreaking playoff loss, Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi will have to find a way to supplement the bullpen further. They’ll, shockingly, need even more starting pitching depth. And figuring out a way to add some right-handed pop to a lineup that can’t hit lefties should top the priority list.

But, first order of business, even if just to appease distraught fans, should be to re-sign Justin Turner and Kenley Jansen. Not only are the two players elite at their positions, but among the most popular on the team (with both players and fans). They’ve both earned massive free agent paychecks this offseason.

It remains to be seen if adding two big contracts is in the Dodgers’ new penny-pinching plans, but both would be sound investments. The foundation is there with Kershaw, Kenta Maeda, Julio Urias and Jose De Leon in the rotation and Seager, Yasmani Grandal, Joc Pederson and Adrian Gonzalez (for now, anyway) in the lineup. Taking the starters’ trusted closer or the lineup’s most clutch performer away would certainly be a step in the wrong direction.

The Dodgers will also have some big decisions to make in terms of aging platoon members. What is Howie Kendrick’s role? Or Andre Ethier’s? Does Chase Utley come back? Josh Reddick? Do the Dodgers give up on Puig? Has Andrew Toles earned himself a spot for good? What about when Trayce Thompson gets healthy?

In the end, it wasn’t a pretty way to lose. Expected by most, but still frustrating. But, once the dust settles completely, the front office will go to work. They’ll decide whether to bring back Turner and Jansen. They’ll address what else went wrong in that NLCS and make necessary adjustments. They’ll hope everyone can avoid the DL for once.

Baseball is a game that requires constant tinkering. That’s why winning the World Series is such a rare occurrence for most teams. The Dodgers are no exception. If they want to end that drought in 2017, the preparation starts right now.

The post What’s next for the Dodgers? appeared first on Todays Knuckleball.

Source: Knuckleball

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Uncharacteristically sloppy Dodgers must prove they can bounce back

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Dodgers manager Dave Roberts visits the mound to pull Los Angeles Dodgers Pitcher Pedro Baez (52) from the game in the 5th inning during game four of the National League Championship Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Los Angeles Dodgers on October 19, 2016, at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire)

The Chicago Cubs’ offense was only going to be held back for so long. The best team in baseball had destroyed opposing pitchers for an entire regular season, so seven postseason games was just about enough flailing for them. A 21st straight shutout inning was the last straw.

In Game 4 in Los Angeles, the Cubs broke out in a big way. Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell both homered and collected three hits. Even Jason Heyward contributed an RBI. Regardless of blown replay calls or an ever-evolving strike zone, the Cubs were going to win that game, which they did by a final of 10-2.

All that said, the Los Angeles Dodgers made sure to shoot themselves in the foot repeatedly to seal the loss. On one hand, Dodgers fans are irate that everything that could go wrong in Game 4 went wrong. On the other, at least they got it all out of their system in one game, right?

It remains to be seen if that is the case. The Dodgers, who made just 80 errors in the entire regular season (good for third-best in the NL), committed four really bad ones in Game 4. Chase Utley tried to get fancy and dropped an easy flip to his bare hand early on; that’s the only error that didn’t cost the Dodgers a run.

Andrew Toles and Joc Pederson, owners of solid outfield arms, made errant throws on plays at the plate. Kiké Hernandez inexplicably threw a ball away to get the Cubs’ second big rally rolling. On Pederson’s bad throw, Luis Avilan overthrew the overthrow, which was generously not ruled an error.

Physical errors happen, even to the best defensive teams. But it was the mental errors that really cost the Dodgers and brought back horrid memories of the first game of the NLCS. Justin Turner was back-picked at second base to end the bottom of the first inning, despite there being a 3-0 count on Adrian Gonzalez at the plate.

Speaking of Gonzalez, third base coach Chris Woodward again mistook him for fleet of foot, sending him home against Heyward’s arm on the aforementioned controversial replay (Gonzalez beat the tag, despite the ruling, but the send itself was more than questionable).

Los Angeles Dodgers First base Adrian Gonzalez (23) is tagged out at home by Chicago Cubs Catcher Willson Contreras (40) in the second inning during game four of the National League Championship Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Los Angeles Dodgers on October 19, 2016, at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire)

(Photo by Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire)

Manager Dave Roberts didn’t get a lefty in the game to face Rizzo, who promptly drove in two with a single. He opted to pinch-hit with Hernandez with two runners in scoring position and a three-run game, rather than going to Yasiel Puig. These weren’t a matter of good moves backfiring — they simply didn’t make sense at the time.

So, basically, the Dodgers did everything the opposite of what they’d been doing in Games 2 and 3. They started pressing in their at-bats (expected, with a big deficit), playing sloppy defense and getting too aggressive on the basepaths. The coaching staff took too many risks. And none of it worked.

When the curtain dropped, the Cubs had pulled even in the series and reclaimed momentum with their ace going in Game 5, before the NLCS shifts back to Chicago. How do the Dodgers bounce back like the Cubs just did? They don’t have the offensive firepower, and with all due respect to Kenta Maeda, he is not Jon Lester.

Well, Roberts and the Dodgers have made a habit of backing themselves into a corner in 2016, only to claw and scratch and fight their way back out. This will be the next big test: beating one of the best lefties in baseball in a season that has seen the Dodgers struggle mightily against pitchers of the southpaw variety.

Though they’ve lined up Clayton Kershaw for Game 6 and Rich Hill for a potential Game 7, the Dodgers may be digging too big of a hole if they lose Game 5 at home. This is the time for them to forget everything that happened on Wednesday, turn the page and start fresh.

Forget the bad replay review. Forget the errors, both mental and physical. Forget the sudden awakening of Rizzo and Russell.

Just focus on the day’s task: beating Lester, and starting a now best-of-three series with a win in front of the home crowd. They need to steal the momentum back, win a game, and give themselves their two best shots at taking the series in Chicago.

For a team that has consistently put itself in difficult positions, they know how to handle it. They’re used to it. And they have a streak of their own to end: no World Series appearances since 1988.

Game 5 is the first chance to prove they can do it.

The post Uncharacteristically sloppy Dodgers must prove they can bounce back appeared first on Todays Knuckleball.

Source: Knuckleball

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