Daily Distractions: Predicting the Dodgers’ agenda for the Winter Meetings.

Juan Uribe

Juan Uribe is the Dodgers’ first choice to play third base in 2014. (Associated Press photo)

Tuesday was such a busy day for free agent signings and trades around baseball, one website asked what many major league beat writers were probably thinking: “Who needs the Winter Meetings”?

For the Dodgers at least, next week could be a productive one. The Brian Wilson deal isn’t official yet, despite reports that he passed his physical. Assuming that contract has been signed by the time Dodgers officials land in Orlando, Florida, here’s what will top the to-do list:

1. A third baseman. General manager Ned Colletti is still hoping to bring back Juan Uribe, who is reportedly seeking a three-year contract. If the Dodgers are willing to go to a third year, there must still be a gap in dollar figures being exchanged by the two sides. Maybe they can overcome their differences in a week. Maybe not. If the Dodgers aren’t ready to commit to Hanley Ramirez as their third baseman for 2014, they might be best suited to resolve the position via trade if Uribe signs elsewhere. The free-agent crop at third base is really that thin.

2. A left-handed reliever. The Dodgers have a nice stable of right-handers among Kenley Jansen, Wilson, Chris Withrow, Brandon League and Jose Dominguez. Other than Paco Rodriguez, who petered out around the time of his 66th appearance in 2013, they don’t have a single established lefty reliever who will be healthy to start next season. (Scott Elbert underwent Tommy John surgery in June.) Re-signing J.P. Howell seems like the logical move, even if he is seeking a three-year contract. At age 30, Howell is a less risky investment than, say, Randy Choate, who was 37 when the Dodgers wouldn’t give him a three-year contract at this time last year. Javier Lopez raised the market value by signing a 3-year, $13 million deal to stay in San Francisco and Howell’s numbers are comparable. If the Dodgers can’t re-sign Howell, they may turn to a veteran such as Scott Downs on a shorter-term deal.

3. A bench. After losing Skip Schumaker and Nick Punto as free agents, the Dodgers lost arguably the two most proven quantities on their bench. Backup catcher Tim Federowicz, first baseman/outfielder Scott Van Slyke, outfielder Mike Baxter and whatever-he’s-playing-these-days Dee Gordon are all in line for bench jobs. The Dodgers would like to bring in another infielder as insurance if Alexander Guerrero isn’t ready to be the everyday second baseman. They could also shake up the equation by accepting trade offer for Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier or Carl Crawford.

Some bullet points to tide you through the weekend:
Continue reading

Daily Distractions: Dodgers, others still waiting on first domino to fall in free-agent pitching market.

Masahiro Tanaka

Masahiro Tanaka will not be able to come to the United States until a new posting system is agreed to by MLB and NPB. (Associated Press photo)

Tim Hudson is off the board.

So is Jason Vargas.

So when will the Dodgers jump into the free-agent fray and sign a starting pitcher?

A few days ago, I was doing an interview with a Japanese television station that was interested in gauging the level of interest and awareness about Masahiro Tanaka in the United States. Frequently, the question of how good Tanaka might perform in the U.S. was raised; as the presumed cream of the free-agent crop, I guessed that the bar is being set pretty high.

And because he is considered the cream of the crop, Tanaka has the potential to hold up the market until MLB and NPB can agree to a new posting system. In my interview I theorized that a new posting system might cause a domino effect on the entire free-agent pitching market, with Tanaka becoming the first domino to fall.

That appears to be the case now, at least for the Dodgers and several other teams that have been linked to Tanaka. The Giants and Royals must have decided internally that they weren’t going to enter the bidding war, so they moved on with Hudson and Vargas, respectively. Confirmation was buried in this story in the St. Paul Pioneer Press which mentions, among other things, that the Minnesota Twins have shown “initial interest” in signing Chris Capuano:

Bidding on Japanese ace Masahiro Tanaka has yet to open as Major League Baseball and Nippon Professional Baseball continue to haggle over a new posting system.

A Twins official recently called Tanaka “a key domino, from the financial to the ability.”

“For sure,” the official added, “he is a major linchpin in the pitching market.”

So while the Dodgers kick the tires on some of the second-tier free agent pitchers — Dan Haren has been reported, and there are certainly others — those pitchers might be nothing more than Plans B, C, D, E, and so on.

Some bullet points for a Lebanese Independence Day:
Continue reading

Ranking the Dodgers’ twelve in-house free agents.

J.P.  Howell

Dodgers reliever J.P. Howell became a free agent on Thursday. (Getty Images)

As noted here this morning, the Dodgers have 12 in-house free agents after they declined the options on second baseman Mark Ellis and pitcher Chris Capuano.

Not all 12 will be back, but here’s an educated guess at the likelihood of each player returning to the Dodgers, ranked in order of least likely to most:
Continue reading

Daily Distractions: Let the free agency period begin.

Red Sox fans

Boston Red Sox fans celebrate the start of free agency Wednesday night. (Associated Press photo)

The World Series is over, making ringbearers of the Red Sox and free agents of dozens of players around baseball.

The Dodgers will have at least 10: Ricky Nolasco, Michael Young, Juan Uribe, Carlos Marmol, Jerry Hairston, Edinson Volquez, Skip Schumaker, Nick Punto, J.P. Howell and Brian Wilson. Per MLB rules, the Dodgers have exclusive negotiating rights with each player up until midnight Eastern Time Monday, after which all are free to sign with any club.

Sometime within the next five days, general manager Ned Colletti and staff must ultimately decide whether or not to extend these players a qualifying offer, a guaranteed contract for 2014 equal to the average salary of the highest-paid 125 players. This year, that’s $14.1 million.

The potential risk every team faces in extending a qualifying offer is that the player will accept the offer and receive more money than he would by testing the open market. The potential reward is twofold: 1, you might re-sign the player at a discount compared to his open-market value; 2, if the player doesn’t accept the qualifying offer and signs elsewhere, your team receives a first-round draft pick in 2014 from the team that does sign the player.

Of the Dodgers’ 10 free agents, Nolasco is the only viable candidate to receive a qualifying offer. He made $11.5 million last year. What’s another $2.6 million? That’s the, um, $2.6 million question that’s been floating around the front offices at Chavez Ravine this month. The answer should be an easy one: Since Nolasco didn’t begin the year with the Dodgers, they won’t receive any draft-pick compensation if he signs elsewhere.

More on him, and the other free agents, later today.

We should also note here that Chris Capuano and Mark Ellis have options for 2014 in their contracts. Capuano’s is a mutual option for $8 million with a $1 million buyout; Ellis’ is a $5.75 million club option with a $1 million buyout. If the team declines the option on both players, that’s a dirty dozen Dodgers destined to hit the free-agent market.

Some bullet points for an Allantide morning:
Continue reading

Daily Distractions: Why isn’t Chris Capuano on the Dodgers’ NLCS roster?

Chris Capuano

Chris Capuano walked three batters but didn’t allow a run in Game 3 of the National League Division Series against the Braves, earning the victory in his only postseason appearance. (Associated Press photo)

Five days ago, Chris Capuano said he “really had no idea” that he was going to be on the Dodgers’ roster for the National League Division Series.

“You have Carlos Marmol who’s just throwing the ball fantastic, you’ve got Brandon League, you’ve got Edinson Volquez, you’ve got some real power arms,” Capuano said. “It was exciting for me to have a chance to contribute.”

At the time, Capuano reeked of false modesty. He had just pitched three scoreless innings in relief of Hyun-Jin Ryu, who lasted just three innings in his MLB postseason debut. The veteran left-hander is the only pitcher not named Clayton Kershaw to win a game for the Dodgers this postseason. He validated manager Don Mattingly‘s faith in Capuano and his health — he missed three weeks in September with a strained groin — and seemed to have earned his keep as a long reliever for any similar situations in the National League Championship Series.

Why, then, was Capuano left off the Dodgers’ NLCS roster Friday morning?
Continue reading

Dodgers reliever J.P. Howell reflects fondly on his time in Tampa Bay.

J.P. Howell

Dodgers reliever J.P. Howell pitched for the Tampa Bay Rays from 2006-12. (Getty Images)

When J.P. Howell was traded to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 2006, he was a “failing starter” making the major league minimum. When he left as free agent to sign with the Dodgers before this season, he was a southpaw specialist pitching out of the bullpen and making $2.85 million.

So there really are no sore feelings toward the Rays, the Dodgers’ opponent this weekend.
Continue reading

A content James Loney returns to Dodger Stadium.

James Loney

James Loney was drafted 19th overall by the Dodgers in 2002, and played in Los Angeles from 2006-12. (Getty Images)


Dodgers pitcher J.P. Howell and Tampa Bay Rays first baseman James Loney were sitting in opposite clubhouses Friday. They were never traded for each other, but they have effectively swapped spots: Loney appeared in parts of seven seasons for the Dodgers from 2006-12, while Howell pitched for the Rays from 2006-12.

Both said the same thing about playing in Tampa.

“You always want to be yourself. (Manager Joe Maddon) is real big on that,” Loney said.

Howell elaborated: “Sometimes where people [on other teams] give up on (players), they go to Tampa and they get another chance, and they’re allowed freedom to be themselves, create who they want to be when they first started their career. … That’s what happened in my case.”

That seems to be the case with Loney, too.

Continue reading

Daily Distractions: Let’s go streaking.

Kenley Jansen

Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen retired 27 straight batters, a streak that ended Thursday night. (Getty Images)

The Dodgers have racked up a lot of streaks lately, enough to put a fraternity house to shame. The top five, in my opinionated order:

1. 15 straight road wins. This streak ended Tuesday in a 5-1 loss, curiously the only game in St. Louis started by Clayton Kershaw, the presumptive Cy Young award favorite. The Dodgers fell three games short of a major league record but created eight bottom-of-the-ninth save situations in the process, making a hero of Kenley Jansen. More on him … now.

2. Kenley Jansen’s 27 straight outs: This one ended last night, ensuring that Mark Buehrle‘s record of 45 straight batters retired is safe. (Bobby Jenks still holds the record for relievers with 41.) Eric Stephen at TrueBlueLA.com charted each out today, while Evan Bladh at Opinion of Kingman’s Performance reminded me that the streak began rather inauspiciously in Toronto.

3. Fourteen straight series at .500 or better (10 wins, 0 losses, 4 ties). Managers tend to think in terms of series, and players do to an extent, but I think for many fans this concept is harder to grasp. Consider that when the streak began June 23, the Dodgers were in fifth place in the National League West. Since then, the Dodgers have only played one team (Arizona) that was in first place at the time of the series — so they were all series that a good team would expect to win. The Dodgers simply weren’t a good team when the streak began.

4. Eleven straight wins in one-run games. Again, this is largely due to Jansen and a bullpen that has held batters to a .179 batting average since the All-Star break. Paco Rodriguez has faced 33 batters in the second half and five have reached base.

5. Yasiel Puig‘s 16 straight games reaching base. Nobody’s talking about this one because it’s only 16 games, but those 16 games have seen Puig walk 12 times and reach base at a .520 clip. He’ll go for number 17 tonight.

Some bullet points for a Singaporean Independence Day:
Continue reading

Daily Distractions: Picking a new WBC favorite; Cactus League attendance down; Mike Piazza ads.

WBC logoI started toying with this mental exercise last night: What if the state of California had a team in the World Baseball Classic?

Forget about how many players would decline invitations. Forget about generational eligibility — if you were born in California, you’re eligible (which is fine, since I had a better chance of making Team Wisconsin anyways). What would that team look like? Could it contend?

The answer is yes.

C: John Jaso, Mariners/Rod Barajas, Diamondbacks
1B: Adrian Gonzalez, Dodgers
2B: Aaron Hill, Diamondbacks
SS: Jimmy Rollins, Phillies
3B: Ty Wigginton, Cardinals
LF: Ryan Braun, Brewers
CF: Coco Crisp, A’s
RF: Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins
DH: Prince Fielder, Tigers
UT: Skip Schumaker, Dodgers

SP: Jered Weaver, Angels
SP: CC Sabathia, Yankees
SP: James Shields, Royals
SP: Cole Hamels, Phillies
SP: Stephen Strasburg, Nationals
RP: Sergio Romo, Giants
RP: Brandon League, Dodgers
RP: Addison Reed, White Sox
RP: Dale Thayer, Padres
RP: J.P. Howell, Dodgers
RP: Bryan Shaw, Diamondbacks
RP: Kris Medlen, Braves

Manager: Dusty Baker, Reds
Hitting coach: Mark McGwire, Dodgers
Pitching coach: Chris Bosio, Cubs

Apologies to C.J. Wilson, Mark Trumbo, Michael Young, Will Venable, Brandon McCarthy, Kyle Lohse, Mike Moustakas and Carlos Quentin. Perhaps you can dig into your family tree and find another state to play for.

On to some bullet points:

Continue reading