Daily Distractions: Which non-roster invitees have a chance at making the Dodgers’ Opening Day roster?

Clint Robinson

Who is non-roster invitee Clint Robinson, and does he have a chance of making the Dodgers’ Opening Day roster? (Answer: Not really) (Getty Images)

With the addition of Justin Turner on Wednesday, the Dodgers have extended spring training invitations to 17 non-roster players:

Infielders: Turner, Chone Figgins, Miguel Rojas, Brendan Harris, Clint Robinson
Outfielder: Joc Pederson
Catchers: JC Boscan, Griff Erickson, Chris O’Brien, Miguel Olivo
Pitchers: Sam Demel, Carlos Frias, Zach Lee, Daniel Moskos, Red Patterson, Chris Reed, Ross Stripling

Two years ago, Jamey Wright made the Dodgers’ Opening Day roster out of camp as an NRI. Last year, no non-roster invitees made the roster — though you figure Kevin Gregg was close. The Dodgers’ surplus of starting pitchers squeezed Gregg out of a job in Los Angeles, and he eventually became the Chicago Cubs’ closer.

So recent history says that the 17 NRIs are competing for one job at most. Not all have a realistic chance of making the team. In most cases, injuries will dictate the winner of the logjam. That’s particularly true for Pederson, the catchers and the pitchers.

The Dodgers are carrying four outfielders (Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford and Yasiel Puig) with large guaranteed contracts. The fifth is Scott Van Slyke, who has value as a corner outfielder/first baseman with power off the bench. Pederson, who turns 22 on April 21, can turn heads in camp if his .912 OPS in the Venezuelan Winter League was no fluke, but that might be all he can do. There’s no job for him without another significant injury hitting the outfield — and remember that Kemp still isn’t running on his surgically repaired ankle.

Among the catchers, all A.J. Ellis and Tim Federowicz need to do to reprise their 2013 Opening Day jobs is stay healthy. Olivo, who’s played in more than 1,100 major-league games since 2002, knew that when he signed with the Dodgers on Jan. 17. He’ll try to push Drew Butera for the primary catcher’s job at Triple-A Albuquerque.

The pitching staff is also surprisingly stacked with veterans who are difficult to displace. Lee, Stripling, Reed, Patterson and Frias are competing to make an impression and learn the ropes in their first camp, not land an Opening Day job. Demel and Moskos have major-league experience but are slotted for roles in the Albuquerque bullpen and rotation, respectively.

So that leaves us with the infielders. Second base is an open competition until Alex Guerrero learns the position defensively. Until we see him in camp, it’ll be hard to pin down Guerrero’s learning curve. Other than starting third baseman Juan Uribe, and light-hitting utilityman Justin Sellers, Dee Gordon is the only player on the Dodgers’ 40-man roster with experience at second base. He only learned the position last year. There’s a reasonably wide opening here.

Rojas will go as far as his bat will take him – historically, he’s struggled to hit at the Triple-A level.

The same goes for Figgins, whose 68 OPS+ the last three seasons isn’t enough to justify a 40-man roster spot. Figgins will have to prove in camp that his bat speed at age 36 is as major-league ready as his foot speed and defensive versatility — he’s played 647 career games at third base, 274 at second and 27 at shortstop. No other player in camp is quite as versatile, and the longtime leadoff hitter will help his cause if he can steal a base.

In some ways, the 33-year-old Harris is a slower version of Figgins. He’s able to play third base, shortstop and second base, and carries a light bat (.695 career OPS).

Robinson is a 28-year-old first baseman whose career consists of 3,337 at-bats in the minors and four in the majors. With at least two first basemen ahead of him on the depth chart in camp, Robinson’s chances of getting a major league at-bat this season range from slim to none.

Turner is an above-average fielding second baseman and has been for parts of five major-league seasons. What really makes him stand out in this group is his track record at the plate. Turner is the definition of an average hitter, as a 100 OPS+ and 0.9 oWAR last season attest. Baseball-reference.com’s version of oWAR rated Turner a 1.6 in 2011, his only full major-league season.

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly and general manager Ned Colletti have agreed that second base can be a defensive position in 2014. But if they want to give the second-base job on Opening Day to an above-average fielder and an average hitter, Turner might be the only man in camp who fits that description.

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Daily Distractions: The Dodgers are starting the 2014 regular season before everyone else — again.

Clayton Kershaw

Clayton Kershaw might have three starts under his belt by the time some teams have played only five games. (Associated Press photo)


ESPN has selected the Dodgers’ first regular-season game in the United States for its first Sunday Night Baseball game of the season.

That sounds simple, but it contains some interesting implications.

The Dodgers were originally going to begin the non-Australia portion of their regular season on Monday, March 31, like every other team. That game — in San Diego — will now be played the night before, on March 30 at 8 p.m. There are no other MLB games scheduled for that day.

Dan Shulman, John Kruk, Curt Schilling and Buster Olney will broadcast the game.

But who will pitch?

If Don Mattingly hasn’t abandoned his start-Clayton-Kershaw-as-often-as-possible mantra since signing his fat new contract, expect Clayton Kershaw to start the game. The Dodgers have nine days between their second game in Australia (scheduled for 7 p.m. Pacific Time on March 22) and their first game in San Diego.

And because the game will be played a day earlier, Kershaw will have four full days of rest before the Dodgers’ home opener on April 4 against the San Francisco Giants. So Dodger fans might be the big winners in all of this.

The losers? Anyone who has a gripe about ESPN playing favorites with certain terms. The Dodgers will be, by far, the most exposed baseball team in March:

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Report: Mark Ellis signs with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Mark Ellis

Dodgers second baseman Mark Ellis dives for a ground ball in a June game against the Arizona Diamondbacks. He reportedly agreed to a contract with the St. Louis Cardinals on Sunday. (Associated Press photo)

According to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the St. Louis Cardinals have agreed to sign Mark Ellis, pending a physical.

Ellis started 206 games for the Dodgers over the last two seasons, batting .264/.328/.357 and finishing in the top five in the National League in fielding percentage at second base both years.

In 2013, Ellis batted .270/.323/.351 with six home runs and 48 RBIs in 126 games. He batted .250 (10 for 40) in the playoffs.

Ellis’ departure came as little surprise after the Dodgers signed free agent infielder Alexander Guerrero to a four-year, $28 million contract in October. Guerrero might not be ready to be the Dodgers’ everyday second baseman at the beginning of next season, but such a long-term commitment left little room for Ellis in the Dodgers’ infield the next four years — particularly after the Dodgers locked up third baseman Juan Uribe on Saturday.

Though Ellis’ offense can be replaced, the Dodgers will undoubtedly miss his defense. Ellis ranks fourth all-time in UZR/150 among major-league second baseman who have played at least 4,000 innings. He is second all-time in total defensive runs saved and UZR.

Ellis’ humble persona also played well in a full clubhouse of superstars.

Since the Dodgers have no real insurance if Guerrero falters, a veteran with major-league experience at second base becomes high on their off-season wish list. Brendan Harris, who signed a minor-league contract with an invitation to spring training Nov. 18, could also figure into the major-league team’s plans.

As Juan Uribe remains a free agent, Ned Colletti is expanding Dodgers’ infield options.

Hanley Ramirez

The Dodgers haven’t talked to Hanley Ramirez about being their starting third baseman in 2014. (Associated Press photo)

Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti hasn’t eliminated the possibility of re-signing Juan Uribe. But now that Uribe has rejected multiple contract offers, Colletti sounded more open to other alternatives Saturday than he has at any point this off-season.

“We’ve been in contact with Juan. Been in contact with a handful of agents for players who can play the infield,” Colletti said. “Really our emphasis is on infielders and relief pitching right now.”
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Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti on Juan Uribe, Alexander Guerrero, losing a first-round draft pick.

Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti spoke with reporters Monday afternoon in conjunction with the signing of Dan Haren. The Dodgers gave the 33-year-old right-hander a one-year contract with a vesting option for 2015.

Some non-Haren things were addressed:

1. Colletti said that he is still in conversation with representatives for third baseman Juan Uribe. Uribe is reportedly seeking a 3-year deal and has drawn interest in a thin free agent class, notably from the Miami Marlins, according to one report.

2. Alexander Guerrero hasn’t played a game in the Dominican Winter League since Nov. 12. The infielder is nursing a left hamstring strain, Colletti said. “He needs to play this winter. He doesn’t need to lead the Dominican League in at-bats or games played, so we weren’t going to push it.”

3. Thirteen free agents received qualifying offers from their 2013 teams. One, catcher Brian McCann, has already signed with the New York Yankees. The other 12 are still on the market, and Colletti strongly downplayed the Dodgers’ interest in losing a first-round 2014 draft pick to sign them. “I don’t think we ever want to lose a pick … unless it really strikes our interest more than typically. Typically we would not want to sacrifice that pick.”

Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti talks Juan Uribe, Alexander Guerrero, outfielders.

Juan Uribe

Juan Uribe is still the Dodgers’ preference to be the everyday third baseman in 2014, according to general manager Ned Colletti. (Associated Press photo)

Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti divulged some of the Dodgers’ off-season plans Tuesday in an interview with MLB Network Radio on Sirius XM. There were no major revelations, but these were among the talking points:

1. The Dodgers would prefer to re-sign Juan Uribe to fill their starting third base job.

2. Plan B could involve moving shortstop Hanley Ramirez or second baseman Alexander Guerrero out of those positions, and/or acquiring an infielder through trade. The organization isn’t there yet. No mention of Guerrero’s recent health concerns.

3. The Dodgers aren’t shopping any of their outfielders, but that is one area in which Colletti “would like to get younger if possible.” (In other words: Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford are much more available than Yasiel Puig right now, which isn’t news.) Multiple teams are inquiring about the Dodgers’ outfielders and Colletti is listening to offers.

You can listen to the interview here:

Daily Distractions: Finally, a major-league job for a longtime Dodgers minor-league coach.

Matt Martin

Matt Martin, right, coached in the Dodgers’ organization for six years (Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers)

Matt Martin took the long way to the major leagues.

Given the newly created title of defensive coordinator today by Detroit Tigers manager Brad Ausmus, Martin has strong ties to the Dodgers organization, but is unknown to the casual major-league fan. That’s because he spent 18 years as a minor-league coach, including five years as the Dodgers’ minor-league infield coordinator (2007-11), and one year (2012) as the coordinator of Arizona instruction at Camelback Ranch and manager of the Arizona Fall League Dodgers.

De Jon Watson, the Dodgers’ vice president of player development, called Martin “an extremely hard worker” who is “really sound on infield defense.”

“Matt’s bilingual and he’s worked his tail off to be fluent in Spanish,” Watson said. “He really has a good rapport with most of the players I’ve worked with.”

Young players were Martin’s specialty. When the Dodgers moved to Camelback Ranch, “we wanted a strong entry-level teacher who can walk these guys through the daily grind, preparation, how to know the uniform,” Watson said. “It was a teaching position.”

Why did it take Martin so long to get a major-league job? Watson couldn’t say.

Gabe Kapler, who worked with Martin while in Dodgers camp in 2011, indulged his theory in a recent article for BaseballProspectus.com:

Partially because he’s different and opinionated, and because baseball is notorious for disliking both attributes. His appearance and teaching style are drastically divergent from the MLB cultural norm. In a world where conformity feels safe, Matt can come off as threatening—not in the least to players, but certainly to other staff members.

When he disagrees with you, he will let you know, no matter who you are. Sometimes without filter and often times when he shouldn’t. Sugarcoating doesn’t sit well with him. He views it as disingenuous.

“Matt will give his honest opinion, even if he stands alone,” (Dodgers manager Don) Mattingly told me.

Standing alone, it turns out, is not conducive to ladder climbing.

Mattingly also told Kapler that Martin is known for his loyalty. Watson said the same thing.

Martin parted amicably with the Dodgers to become the Baltimore Orioles’ minor league infield/Latin American field coordinator last year. Climbing the next rung on the ladder, in any business, is often about who you know, and Ausmus and Martin knew each other from Ausmus’ brief time in the Dodgers’ organization.

It’s a slow baseball news day, yes. Also a good time to flesh out the interesting back stories that don’t often get told.

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Daily Distractions: Nick Punto signs with the Oakland A’s.

Nick Punto

Nick Punto’s new contract will nearly double his $1.5 million salary from 2013. (Getty Images)

Nick Punto did enough in his brief time as a Dodger to remind fans why he was included in the trade for Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett. And that was enough.

Punto signed with the Oakland A’s on Wednesday. According to Yahoo! Sports’ Jeff Passan, the contract pays $2.75 million in 2014 with a $2.75 million vesting option for 2015 based on time spent on the active roster, or a $250,000 buyout.

Primarily a pinch-hitter, defensive subsitute, and shortstop during Hanley Ramirez‘s multiple absences in 2013, Punto batted .255/.328/.327 as a Dodger. He appeared in six playoff games, going 2-for-6 with a double, and led the Dodgers in headfirst slides and shredded jerseys after walk-off victories. He was the team’s nominee for the annual Heart and Hustle Award.

Defensively, Punto was the Dodgers’ best shortstop, and an adequate fill-in at third base. The A’s have recently turned versatile platooners like Jed Lowrie, Eric Sogard, Brandon Moss and others into productive contributors as dictated by matchups, and are likely to do the same with Punto.

https://twitter.com/JeffPassan/status/400702602578374656

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Which players might the Dodgers pursue in free agency?

Masahiro Tanaka

Soon-to-be free agent pitcher Masahiro Tanaka hasn’t lost a decision since Aug. 2012 and will pitch Game 6 of the Japan Series on Saturday. (Associated Press)

Yesterday, we analyzed the Dodgers’ 12 in-house free agents. Don’t be surprised if only a few players out of that group return — say, four or less. Signing 26-year-old infielder Alexander Guerrero was the first indication that the Dodgers are serious about getting younger. All of their in-house free agents are more than 30 years old. So are all of the players on this list, with one outstanding exception at the top.

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Daily Distractions: MLB to test new replay system in Arizona Fall League games.

MLB replay

Glendale Desert Dogs players will be among the first to get a first-hand look at baseball’s proposed replay system for 2014. (Associated Press photo)

Baseball’s revamped replay system is about to take its first test-drive.

Select Arizona Fall League games from Nov. 5-9 will be the first to allow manager’s challenges of umpires’ calls. One of the games will feature the Glendale Desert Dogs, the Dodgers’ AFL affiliate. All of the games will be televised on MLB Network, so fan input on social media will likely be swift.

The proposed changes to baseball’s replay system were devised with significant input from former Dodgers manager Joe Torre, Tony La Russa and Atlanta Braves president John Schuerholz. A thorough review of the changes, including the guidelines for manager’s challenges, can be read here.

Four things to keep in mind:

1. Arizona Fall League umpires are usually Triple-A umpires, but the games will be observed by select MLB officials and umpires.

2. A spokesperson for the league said that the feedback from the replay experiences at the AFL games will be evaluated by MLB. If any changes are recommended to the proposed system, teams will know by the time their owners vote to implement it in 2014. That vote is expected to take place at the owner/GM meetings, Nov. 11-13.

3. Managers will make verbal indications of their intent to challenge a play. No flags need to be thrown in the process of challenging a call.

4. The camera angles available to AFL umpires won’t be the same as they would be during a major-league game.

A few bullet points for an Antigua and Barbudan Independence Day:
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