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: SportsNet LA officially launches on February 25.

Vin Scully

Vin Scully will call all the Dodgers games in California and Arizona on SportsNet LA. (Associated Press photo)

It’s official. SportsNetLA exists.

The network has a website but it doesn’t have an actual studio yet — that’s under construction in El Segundo as I type. The network doesn’t even have a live channel; the official launch date is Feb. 25, one day before the Dodgers’ first Cactus League game. By then, Time Warner and its 2-plus million subscribers in Southern California are guaranteed to not miss a game. AT&T, Comcast, Cox, DirecTV, Dish and Verizon FiOS customers don’t have that luxury yet.

The message splashed across the top of the website, in all caps — “DEMAND YOUR DODGERS NOW” — seems to anticipate a conflict. When the Lakers broke off their relationship with Fox in 2012 to launch their own channel (TWC SportsNet), non-TWC customers were unable to watch games well into the season. The millions of Laker fans who didn’t subscribe to Time Warner became a group of angry nomads, left to seek out homes, bars, restaurants and pirate internet feeds that carried the games until their provider agreed to pay for the new channel.

Dodger fans, this could be you soon. We don’t know.

Here’s what we do know:

1. Vin Scully will broadcast all the Dodgers’ games in California and Arizona for the third straight year. Charley Steiner (who moves over from the radio play-by-play chair) and analyst Orel Hershiser (who moves over from eight years with ESPN) will call the games that Scully does not.

2. Nomar Garciaparra and Rick Monday will be the new Dodgers’ radio team on 570-AM.

3. Garciaparra and Jerry Hairston Jr. will contribute to SportsNet LA’s pre- and post-game coverage, both live from the stadium and from the SportsNet LA studio.

4. Hershiser will also be a part of the pregame broadcasts from the SportsNet LA studio on occasion.

5. Alanna Rizzo, late of the MLB Network, will be the in-game reporter during games called by Steiner and Hershiser.

6. John Hartung will be the studio host for SportsNet LA, anchoring the network’s live shows. He joins the network from KABC-TV in Los Angeles, where he spent the past 11 years as a sports and news anchor.

7. Fox’s pre- and post-game studio was set up behind the center-field fence at Dodger Stadium. That’s gone. Expect something in the area of the home dugout.

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Daily Distractions: The verdict is in, and Clayton Kershaw’s contract makes sense.

Clayton Kershaw

Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw will re-sign for $215 million over seven years, a contract that is expected to become official today or tomorrow. (Associated Press photo)

Serious question, folks: When’s the last time an athlete signed for mind-boggling money, and there was almost unanimous consensus that the money was worth it?

FanGraphs.com called Clayton Kershaw’s contract a “ridiculous bargain,” at least if he opts out of the final two years. TheScore.com called it “a risk, but not a significant one for team or player.” That’s because they broke the flow chart, writes Grant Brisbee of SBNation.com.

SportsOnEarth.com had a well-informed analysis of the economic situation in baseball that neither trashed nor praised Kershaw’s contract, but concluded this: “knowing the money is there to help if needed, it’s easier to take those shots now than it ever was.” Similarly, ESPN.com said that a contract of $300 million over 10 years — essentially the same average annual value that Kershaw got, only over a longer term — would be “a smart move for a team with the ability to be able to absorb the downside risk.”

FanGraphs.com called seven years and $230 million a “decent price.” NBCsports.com took a stab at what Kershaw might give the Dodgers before the contract runs out. We know what Kershaw gives off the field.

Everyone’s a winner, writes colleague Jill Painter, except there are losers in the deal. They work for teams in San Francisco, Denver, Phoenix and San Diego. Writes ESPN’s Buster Olney: “The Blue Jays haven’t made the playoffs in two decades, and the Orioles have made it once in the past 16 years. And this is what the existence of the Padres, Rockies and Diamondbacks promises to be, in light of the Dodgers’ massive payroll advantage.”

Olney goes on to suggest that the Kershaw contract could be a thorn in the side of labor peace, if enough small-market owners needed this as ammunition to complain about a lack of parity in baseball.

If the Dodgers win the next three World Series before the Collective Bargaining Agreement expires in 2016, will fans complain about a strike or lockout?

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Daily Distractions: Would the real Juan Uribe please stand up?

The depth chart on the Dodgers’ website is missing a third baseman, which paints an accurate picture of their third-base situation if Juan Uribe does not re-sign.

If only penciling him into the Dodgers’ 2014 lineup were as simple as lifting a pencil.

 

It seems that Uribe, whose OPS jumped from .542 to .769 in the final year of his contract, is counting on being rewarded handsomely for his bounceback season, which also saw him finish as the runner-up to Nolan Arenado for the National League Gold Glove award at third base.

The circumstances are similar to 2010, when Uribe signed a three-year, $21 million contract with the Dodgers after posting a .248/.310/.440 slash line for the defending champion San Francisco Giants. (His slash line in 2013: .278/.331/.438.) That year, the top free agent third baseman was Adrian Beltre. The Dodgers determined early on that Beltre would be out of their price range; under Frank McCourt, the 5-year, $80 million deal Beltre ultimately signed with Texas certainly qualified as “expensive.”

So they bit on Uribe. The next-best third baseman in that free agent class was either Miguel Tejada or Bill Hall, depending on your point of view. Neither player finished last season in the majors. Hall (-1.5) and Tejada (0.5) actually have fewer Wins Above Replacement, per baseball-reference.com, from 2011-13 than Uribe (3.7). That statistic is a little misleading, since Uribe had -0.4 WAR from 2011-12, and 4.1 WAR last season. Here’s why:

Juan  Uribe spray chart

Those spray charts are courtesy of FanGraphs’ new interactive spray chart tool, which I plan on using way too much from now on. (For all its limits compared to the tools offered for a price by Bloomberg, and to ESPN employees by ESPN, you can lose an entire afternoon playing with FanGraphs’ new toy.)

The chart on the left shows where Uribe hit the ball in 2012. On the right, 2013. The quick takeaway: Uribe re-discovered his power stroke last year, particularly his pull stroke, and probably hit the ball harder too. At least that’s one way to explain Uribe’s uptick in line drives and ground balls that got through the infield.

Optimistically, pairing Uribe with hitting coach Mark McGwire for another season (or three) could lead to similar results. Pessimistically, 2013 was a fluke and Uribe — who turns 35 next July — can be expected to regress to more 2012-like levels at some point during a three-year contract.

In the midst of another thin free agent market, how optimistic are the Dodgers feeling about Uribe internally? We could find out soon.

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