Dodgers 4, Diamondbacks 3.

Alex Guerrero

Alex Guerrero went 2 for 4 as the designated hitter Thursday. (Associated Press photo)

On an afternoon in which scheduled starter Zack Greinke was pulled two batters into the game, the Dodgers got their first Cactus League victory.

Miguel Rojas broke a 2-2 tie in the seventh inning, scoring from second base on an RBI single by Brendan Harris. Harris smacked a line drive to right field off Marcos Mateo, a right-hander who split last season between Double-A and Triple-A. Arizona right fielder Matt Tuiasosopo made a good throw to home plate, but it was slightly up the first-base line. Catcher Blake Lalli reached back to the plate a moment too late to tag Rojas.

Alex Guerrero drove in Justin Turner with an insurance run in the eighth inning off Diamondbacks left-hander Eury De La Rosa.

Juan Uribe tied the game with a solo home run in the fourth inning off Diamondbacks right-hander R.J. Hively, who hasn’t pitched an inning above high Single-A ball in his life. It was the Dodgers’ first home run of the spring.

The Dodgers got on the board in the bottom of the second inning when Adrian Gonzalez dropped a double just inside the left-field line, then scored on an RBI single by Uribe.

Chris Withrow had the unenviable task of relieving Greinke with a 1-1 count on Cliff Pennington. The 24-year-old right-hander, who’s on the bubble for a bullpen job this spring, came in cold and had to warm up on the mound. He retired Pennington but couldn’t get out of the second inning, allowing a walk, a single and an RBI double, followed by a strikeout and an RBI groundout. Five of the nine batters Withrow faced reached base.

The box score is here.

A couple more notes:
Continue reading

Daily Distractions: Dodgers aren’t counting on Matt Kemp to appear in Sydney games.

Matt Kemp

Matt Kemp hasn’t begun running in spring training. The Dodgers depart for Australia on March 16. (Associated Press photo)

Don Mattingly solved the “The Four Outfielder Problem.” For two games, at least.

The Dodgers’ manager doesn’t believe that Matt Kemp will be available for the Dodgers’ season-opening trip to Sydney, Australia on March 22. Kemp hasn’t been cleared to run on flat ground and won’t be until he undergoes an MRI exam next week.

“I don’t think we’re — we’re not hopeful for Australia,” Mattingly said. “The MRI next week … will let us know where he’s at.”

Kemp is facing live pitching on a minor-league field at Camelback Ranch today. Throughout spring training he has been able to maintain his weightlifting regimen and exercise on an AlterG anti-gravity treadmill.

But that is different from running on flat ground, or patrolling the outfield, or turning around first base.

“It’s just the fact that he hasn’t been on the grass, running and cutting,” Mattingly said. “How long that takes, once they clear him to start that type of thing, that will be a progression.”

For now, expect an outfield of Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier and Yasiel Puig in Australia — if all are healthy.

Some bullet points for an International Mother Language Day:
Continue reading

Daily Distractions: Reviewing the Dodgers’ unsurprising off-season.

Brian Wilson

Reliever Brian Wilson re-signing with the Dodgers might constitute the biggest surprise of the off-season. (Getty Images)

Accountability matters here, so I decided to take a look back at a little list I made in October.

In it, I ranked the Dodgers’ 12 in-house free agents in order of their likelihood of re-signing. Here’s how I ranked them:

12. Edinson Volquez
11. Mark Ellis
10. Chris Capuano
9. Jerry Hairston Jr.
8. Skip Schumaker
7. Brian Wilson
6. Michael Young
5. Carlos Marmol
4. Nick Punto
3. Ricky Nolasco
2. Juan Uribe
1. J.P. Howell

In light of Marmol’s contract with Marlins — he agreed to terms yesterday — that leaves only Capuano still unsigned among the 12 players.

Starting at the top of the list, it came as little surprise that the Dodgers re-signed Howell and Uribe. Nolasco was offered four years and $49 million from the Minnesota Twins. Since not many 31-year-old pitchers with a career history of below-average ERAs in the National League get four-year contracts from American League teams, Nolasco did the logical thing and signed the contract.

The Dodgers reached out to Punto about re-signing, but the Oakland A’s wanted him more. Billy Beane made a quick push and signed Punto for one year and a guaranteed $3.25 million. The Dodgers really didn’t have a chance to be interested in Marmol; they were more interested in Wilson and Chris Perez for set-up roles, and both pitchers accepted the Dodgers’ offers in December.

Young retired. So did Hairston. Schumaker and Ellis were swept away by better offers from a pair of NL Central teams, the Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals, respectively.

Volquez got a one-year, $5 million contract from Pittsburgh, where he’ll compete for the fifth starter’s job on a good Pirates team. Not unexpected.

Come to think of it, as busy as it was, the off-season mostly stayed true to expectations. Clayton Kershaw re-signed. Don Mattingly got a new, longer contract. The Yankees threw a ton of money at Masahiro Tanaka.

In Uribe and Howell, the Dodgers re-signed the two players who were the best fits to re-sign. The Dodgers wanted a durable veteran to fill the number-four starter’s job on a short-term contract; Dan Haren is a durable veteran who was content with a short-term contract. Haren’s history shows less risk than that of Nolasco, who got the longer-term deal he wanted from the Twins.

Ned Colletti reached outside the organization for bullpen help from Jamey Wright and Chris Perez. Neither could be considered a real surprise: Perez replaces Ronald Belisario, who was non-tendered in his final arbitration year, and Wright becomes the long reliever the Dodgers never really had in 2013.

Even though the final bill hasn’t come in yet, the cost of building the Dodgers’ bullpen is already staggering. Together, Dodger relievers will earn roughly $26 million in actual salary in 2014. That doesn’t include deferred signing bonus payments, salaries for players with 0-3 years’ service time (such as Paco Rodriguez, Chris Withrow and Jose Dominguez), or the actual closer — Kenley Jansen, who has yet to re-sign. That’s an eye-popping number.

 

The biggest individual surprise might be Wilson, who drew interest from the Yankees and Tigers — two teams that expect to contend in 2014 — to be their closer. Instead, he chose to be baseball’s highest-paid eighth-inning man in Los Angeles for $10 million and a player option for 2015.

For a team that reached the NLCS in 2013, no major changes were needed. We got none.

My spring training preview runs tomorrow.

Some bullet points for a Grenadian Independence Day:

Continue reading

Daily Distractions: What will the Dodgers do with their 39th and 40th roster spots?

Miguel Rojas

Miguel Rojas (bottom) could figure into the Dodgers’ infield depth, as the 40-man roster is currently constructed. (Getty Images)

The Dodgers will have 38 players on their 40-man roster once the contracts for J.P. Howell and Juan Uribe are finalized.

Here’s how that breaks down:

Relief Pitchers (13):
RHP Kenley Jansen
RHP Brian Wilson
LHP Paco Rodriguez
LHP J.P. Howell
RHP Brandon League
RHP Chris Withrow
RHP Jose Dominguez
RHP Javy Guerra
LHP Scott Elbert (will likely begin the season on the 60-day DL)
LHP Onelki Garcia
RHP Yimi Garcia
RHP Pedro Baez
LHP Jarret Martin

Starting pitchers (9):
LHP Clayton Kershaw
RHP Zack Greinke
LHP Hyun-Jin Ryu
RHP Dan Haren
RHP Josh Beckett
RHP Chad Billingsley
RHP Matt Magill
RHP Stephen Fife
RHP Seth Rosin

Catchers (3):
A.J. Ellis
Tim Federowicz
Drew Butera

Infielders (5):
1B Adrian Gonzalez
2B/SS Alexander Guerrero
SS Hanley Ramirez
3B Juan Uribe
2B/SS Justin Sellers

Outfielders (6):
Carl Crawford
Matt Kemp
Andre Ethier
Yasiel Puig
Mike Baxter
Nick Buss

Utility (2):
2B/SS/CF Dee Gordon
1B/OF Scott Van Slyke

One trade or one injury between now and Opening Day can shake up the roster. Already, we can count Scott Elbert (who had Tommy John surgery in June) as a placeholder for the 38th spot.

But if you’re Ned Colletti, having filled the big holes already with plenty of free agents still available on Dec. 18, how do you budget those last two spots?

One clue might have come this morning in an interview Colletti gave to 710-AM in Los Angeles. Speaking of the second base position, he mentioned Guerrero, Gordon and Double-A prospect Miguel Rojas as candidates for major-league competition. Rojas is a 24-year-old from Venezuela whom the Dodgers picked up as a minor-league free agent a year ago. One reason why the Cincinnati Reds might have let Rojas go after seven seasons in the organization: He batted just .186/.226/.233 in 44 games at Triple-A in 2012. Rojas batted .233 with 10 steals in 130 games at Double-A Chattanooga in 2013, then batted .235 in the Venezuelan Winter League. He is as defense-first as defense-first second basemen get.

Gordon has less than four innings of major-league experience at second base, but the Dodgers are trying to expand his versatility in the field. He batted .348 with four stolen bases in 12 games in the Dominican League — playing center field. The Dodgers also invited 8-year major-league veteran Brendan Harris to camp on a minor-league contract; that Colletti didn’t mention Harris was probably a simple error of omission.

Still, it was an insight into the Dodgers’ lack of depth compared to spring of 2013, when Skip Schumaker, Nick Punto, Luis Cruz, Jerry Hairston Jr., Gordon and Sellers were all capable of filling in somewhere.

The Dodgers could keep their final roster spots open, thinking that Harris and Rojas (or someone else) will be able to grab them in camp. Colletti said he’s comfortable making second base a defensive position next season — which was often the case with Mark Ellis anyway. But as long as Guerrero’s major-league ability remains a question mark, this seems to be the Dodgers’ biggest area for improvement.

Some bullet points for a Wednesday:

Continue reading

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.

Report: Juan Uribe returning to the Dodgers on a two-year contract.

Juan Uribe

Juan Uribe was the Dodgers’ key remaining free agent. (Associated Press photo)

The Dodgers and third baseman Juan Uribe have reached agreement on a two-year contract, according to FoxSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal. Terms of the contract haven’t been reported.

Uribe was the Dodgers’ primary target to fill the position after a productive 2013 season. He batted .278/.331/.438 with 12 home runs and 50 RBIs, and was a finalist for the National League Gold Glove Award at third base. Uribe has been praised by teammates and coaches for his character and leadership during the past three seasons in Los Angeles, even in the midst of his colossal struggles in 2011 and 2012.

But he’d rejected multiple contract offers since the season ended, forcing general manager Ned Colletti to consider his alternatives in a weak free agent crop. There weren’t many.

“We may have to mix and match a little bit,” Colletti said Saturday morning at a charity event in South Los Angeles.

Should Uribe’s new contract become official, the Dodgers may have their 2014 Opening Day infield in place by mid-December: Uribe at third base, Hanley Ramirez at shortstop, Adrian Gonzalez at first base and rookie Alexander Guerrero — if he’s ready — at second.

The Dodgers still would like to add to their bullpen, particularly a left-hander and a long reliever, and possibly a starting pitcher as insurance for pitchers Chad Billinsgley and Josh Beckett. Both are attempting to return from season-ending surgeries.

But Uribe was the Dodgers’ key remaining in-house free agent and, potentially, their most expensive target still on the market.

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.”
Continue reading

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

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.”

Daily Distractions: Farewell, Shawn Tolleson.

Shawn Tolleson

Shawn Tolleson, who was claimed off waivers Tuesday by the Texas Rangers, faced two batters in 2013 and walked both. (Getty Images)

At some point the Dodgers will add to their major-league roster this off-season.

For now at least, the Dodgers continue to clear room. Reliever Shawn Tolleson was claimed off waivers by the Texas Rangers on Tuesday, leaving the 40-man roster at 31.

Tolleson’s 2013 season was sabotaged by injury. He appeared in one game in April, but couldn’t sleep following the game because of an intense pain his back. Later that month, he had season-ending back surgery.

The Dodgers had to replace his innings somehow, and right-handers Chris Withrow, Jose Dominguez and, later, Carlos Marmol and Brian Wilson, all held down the fort. That was apparently enough for the Dodgers to feel comfortable about cutting ties with the 25-year-old, who not long ago was chosen as the organization’s minor-league pitcher of the year.

In 40 games in 2012, Tolleson went 3-1 with a 4.30 ERA, striking out 39 batters in 37 ⅔ innings.

Some bullet points for a Transgender Day of Remembrance:
Continue reading