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:
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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:
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Daily Distractions: The case for Zack Greinke, Game 1 starter.

Clatyon Kershaw Zack Greinke

Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke are arguably best 1-2 combination in the playoffs, but does it really matter who’s 1 and who’s 2? (Associated Press photo)


The world would not fall off its axis if Zack Greinke started the Dodgers’ playoff opener and Clayton Kershaw started Game 2. It would merely seem that way when you think of all the arguments in favor of Kershaw starting Game 1: Kershaw is going to win the National League Cy Young Award; he leads the world in ERA; he’s been the Dodgers’ best starter all season; he’s Clayton Kershaw for goodness sakes!

I’m not about to invoke a sabermetric-versus-old school angle, so this debate will not gain much traction outside of Los Angeles. But there’s a small case to be made for Greinke.

Here are the two pitchers over their last 15 starts:

IP H R ER BB SO BA OPS ERA
108.2 76 23 20 19 106 .198 .516 1.66
102.2 72 18 18 22 89 .197 .539 1.58

Leave out the wins and losses, and it’s not so easy to guess which stat line belongs to which pitcher. (Kershaw, who is 9-4 in his last 15 starts, owns the first line. Greinke, who is 9-1, owns the second.) The small differences are outweighed by the similarities.

The main reason Greinke isn’t challenging Kershaw for the National League ERA title is because he wasn’t nearly as effective in his first 12 starts of the season. Blame a stop-and-go spring training, blame Carlos Quentin — whatever the reason, Greinke’s early-season numbers have hurt his October credentials.

Greinke pitched only two games in April and three in May because of his run-in with Quentin. That carries another side effect: Greinke has made five fewer starts, and thrown 622 fewer pitches than Kershaw, this season. When choosing between a pair of virtual equals on the mound, shouldn’t that count for something? Say the Dodgers’ first-round series goes to five games. If Kershaw needs to start Game 5, that will be 35th start of the season. If Greinke starts the game, it would be his 30th.

You would still see both pitchers at least once in a best-of-seven NLCS, should the Dodgers get that far. Same for the World Series. So the question of who pitches Game 1 is just as much about who pitches a do-or-die Game 5 in the divisional series. If both pitchers are equally capable, why not choose the arm with less wear and tear?

Think of this like the final laps of a NASCAR race. Your car needs new tires. A caution flag is thrown late in the race. You have the choice of staying out or pulling into the pits for a fresh set of tires. Why not pit?

The question is moot, because there is no debate. The Dodgers have already chosen Kershaw for Game 1 and Greinke for Game 2, a decision that passed without much surprise or second-guessing. The rotation is lined up.

It probably wasn’t a coin flip, but it could have been.

Some bullet points to kick off a National Dog Week:
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Dodgers lose Hanley Ramirez for eight weeks with thumb injury.

Hanley Ramirez

Dodgers shortstop Hanley Ramirez will have surgery to repair torn ligaments in his right thumb Friday in Los Angeles, the team announced. He is expected to miss eight weeks, which projects to May 17, the Dodgers’ 39th game of the season.

“It’s bad,” he said. “But it’s something that I can’t control. It could have happened anywhere. It could have happened here. Unfortunately it happened at the WBC. It’s very disappointing.”

Dr. Steve Shin, a sports medicine hand specialist at Kerlan Jobe, will perform the surgery. Ramirez will have his thumb immobilized for 3 weeks.

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Injury updates on Hairston, Sellers, Ellis, Kemp, Rivera, Uribe.

Dodgers head athletic trainer Sue Falsone had a busy day Thursday — a day off for the team, but hardly a day off for the trainer with a disabled list of eight players.

Justin Sellers became the latest addition as he took the place of Jerry Hairston Jr. on Friday. Hairston was in the starting lineup and Sellers was reduced to performing core exercises after an MRI Thursday revealed a slipped disc as well as a stress fracture in his lower back.

The injury is related to the head-over-heels catch Sellers made May 14 –but not entirely.

“He had what’s called a spondylolysis, or a stress fracture, back in high school,” Falsone said. “A lot of younger athletes have it. A lot of older athletes have it. It’s no big deal — a little stress fracture in the back.”

Falsone went on to explain that the stress fracture created an area of weakness that was exacerbated when Sellers tumbled into the stands. At first he reported back pain, then numbness down his right leg from the hip to the toe.

Both Sellers and Falsone were optimistic that he would only need the minimum 15 days on the disabled list, but “if it doesn’t get better, we might have to remove part of the disc,” Sellers said.

The infielder is hitting .205 with three doubles and a home run in a reserve role.

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Giants 4, Dodgers 1.

The Dodgers couldn’t take advantage of another strong Nate Eovaldi start in a 4-1 loss to the Giants before an announced crowd of 10,084 at Scottsdale Stadium. [box score]

Mark Ellis and James Loney — the only two expected opening-day starters in the lineup — each had two hits. Jerry Hairston Jr. and Josh Bard had the only other hits for the Dodgers off Giants starter Yusmeiro Petit and four relievers.

Eovaldi allowed three hits and two runs, both earned, the most runs he’s allowed in five spring starts. The right-hander struck out none, walked two, and saw his Cactus League earned-run average rise to 1.72.

“He continues to get more off-speed pitches,” manager Don Mattingly said. “He was using the curveball today more, using the changeup some.”

Reliever Todd Coffey allowed the Giants’ other two runs, on a two-run home run by Nate Schierholtz in the eighth inning.

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Dodgers 10, White Sox 6.

The Dodgers concluded a long day of baseball with a ninth-inning rally against the Chicago White Sox before an announced crowd of 8,310 at Camelback Ranch on Saturday. [box score]

Cory Sullivan’s grand slam — his first home run of the spring –capped the comeback win for the Dodgers (4-1-2), who trailed 6-5 after the White Sox scored the go-ahead run off Michael Antonini in the eighth inning.

The game began at 7:05 p.m. local time and ended three hours and 39 minutes later (the Dodgers’ two games Saturday lasted a combined 6 hours and 16 minutes). Players and coaches get to report bright and early tomorrow for a 12 p.m. game against the Cubs –they had played no earlier than 1 p.m. local time through the first week.

With the teams even at 5-5, Antonini surrendered an RBI double to Ray Olmedo in the bottom of the eighth inning. But Ivan DeJesus scored from third base on a wild pitch to tie the game at 6 in the top of the ninth. That merely set the stage for Sullivan’s dramatic grand slam.

Chad Billingsley struggled in his second Cactus League start, allowing six hits and three runs –all earned –in 2 1/3 innings. His line would’ve looked better if Josh Lindblom had not allowed a three-run homer to Tyler Flowers, the first batter he faced out of the bullpen. Both runners belonged to Billingsley.

“I struggled a little bit early just finding my rhythm,” he said, “but overall I was pretty happy. My curveball was sharp. I threw some changeups, my fastball was missing a little down and off the plate but that’ll come.”

While Nate Eovaldi threw three innings earlier in the day, Billingsley appeared to get a quick hook, but that wasn’t necessarily the case. He said he was given a pitch count in the 50-60 range, not an innings quota (Billingsley threw 53 pitches).

Juan Rivera and Jerry Hairston Jr. hit home runs. One day after his minor heart scare, Kenley Jansen pitched a scoreless seventh inning, allowing one hit and striking out one.

Emptying out the notebook, windy edition.

Winds were heavy Friday in Glendale – up to 40 mph, according to a website that I can give credence to after forgetting to bring a jacket this morning.

On a practical level, that meant no pre-scheduled pop-up drills. “That’s a waste of time,” manager Don Mattingly said. “You don’t mind guys being tested, but this is -you’re not going to get anything done there. We got into some forced balks, stuff like that. …AT&T (Park in San Francisco) is pretty windy, but it’s different circumstance. We weren’t going to get anything done with that drill today.”

Some more nuts-and-bolts items:

On Sunday, the Dodgers will play a four-inning intrasquad scrimmage. Clayton Kershaw, Chris Capuano, Stephen Fife and Will Savage are scheduled to throw.

Team pictures were taken today prior to workouts.

The first official game is Monday against the Chicago White Sox, who share the Camelback facility and will make the Dodgers the visiting team on a field adjacent to their own clubhouse. (Go figure.) One thing to look out for is the number of at-bats given to James Loney, Juan Rivera and Mark Ellis. Each has been notorious for starting slowly in the first half, then picking it up in the second. Why? Mattingly offered his theory.

“Most guys that are slow starters that kind of get rolling after that are usually timing guys,” Mattingly said. “It takes ‘em a little bit longer to get in. Once they click it in, they’re pretty solid.”

One possible solution: More at-bats.

“When James has gotten a lot of at-bats, he’s gotten off to a better start. We’re going to try to get him more (at-bats) than probably most. Ellis has been a slow starter, had some good springs, some bad springs. He’s had a year or so where he’s had decent starts but it doesn’t seem like the (number of) at-bats really makes a difference. Juan’s the same way.
… (Jerry) Hairston, we want to try to get him a lot of at-bats down here, especially late. We want to get him more late.”