Daily Distractions: It’s open season on Dodger outfielder trade speculation.

Matt Kemp

Matt Kemp originally sprained his ankle on July 21. He had surgery in October but is expected to be healthy in time for Opening Day of 2014. (Associated Press photo)

If you had Nov. 8 in the pool for “which day does the internet explode with ideas for resolving the Dodgers’ four-outfielder situation with a trade” … you probably have a strange, uncontrollable gambling habit.

Also, congratulations.

In the absence of something tangible to report — which will be true for most of the 151 days between the end of the World Series and the beginning of the 2014 regular season — there is the tangible difficulty of going into a season with four outfielders who deserve to start, and no DH rule to keep the fourth one happy. That’s where the Dodgers stand now.

That wasn’t a problem in the second half of 2013. All four battled injuries of some magnitude. Matt Kemp played one game between July 5 and Sept. 16, then missed all of the playoffs with an ankle that required surgery. Carl Crawford missed 30 games at midseason. Andre Ethier missed most of September. Yasiel Puig injured his knee and hip in September, but at least avoided missing significant time.

Kemp will enter spring training in 2014 coming off shoulder and ankle procedures, so there’s some reason for the Dodgers to be cautious. He turns 30 next September. Crawford and Ethier will both be 32.

But just what if all four maintain their health next season? Don Mattingly was asked this question deep into his awkward end-of-year press conference.

“We didn’t play with four the whole year,” he said. “It would be hard talking about something that’s a possibility for next year. You’re always looking to improve. You never know what happens before the year’s over. We’ll cross that bridge when we get there. Number of games, how you mix and match … it’s just something you have to talk about with guys.”

That the problem is purely hypothetical hardly dismisses the fact that it would be a problem for a manager to satisfy four outfielders owed more than $61 million in combined salaries next season. Mattingly’s answer didn’t exactly downplay the potential for a problem.

To the hot stove action: It’s believed that Puig is untouchable. To trade Kemp, Ethier or Crawford, “general manager Ned Colletti will need to be creative, but it’s not as if he’s embarking upon mission impossible,” writes Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com. There’s also the opinion that maybe Puig shouldn’t be untouchable.

Writes Jesse Spector of SportingNews.com: “It’s valid for the Dodgers to shop Kemp and see what the market might hold, but he’s not a player you trade unless you’re absolutely blown away. When that doesn’t happen, because of the effect of a lost 2013 season on Kemp’s trade value, then it’s time to call around about Ethier or Crawford, and eventually make the best deal possible – most likely, that would mean dealing Ethier.”

“To do it,” writes Craig Calcaterra of NBCsports.com, “the Dodgers are going to clearly have to eat a lot of salary. But money is the least of the Dodgers’ concern.”

Buster Olney and Jim Bowden of ESPN.com weighed in on the possibility of Tampa Bay trading pitcher David Price, with the Dodgers a possible suitor. Both seem to be anticipating a winter trade rather than one next summer, and Bowden believes it would cost the Dodgers multiple prospects rather than an outfielder, which the Rays probably can’t afford. Unless that outfielder is Puig.

Some bullet points for a three-day weekend:
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Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp undergoes surgery on his left ankle.

Matt KempDodgers center fielder Matt Kemp underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left ankle Monday, performed by Dr. Robert Anderson in Charlotte, North Carolina.

According to the team, the procedure involved removing several spurs, a loose body and doing a microfracture on the talus bone. Kemp will be in a splint for two weeks and a non-weight bearing boot for an additional two weeks. He is expected to be competitive in time for the regular season.
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Daily Distractions: Rosters for Atlanta Braves, Dodgers becoming more notable for their expensive absences.

Dodgers workout

The healthy portion of the Dodgers’ roster worked out at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday. (David Crane/Staff photographer)


In a span of days, the Dodgers-Braves series has become more noteworthy for who won’t be on the field than who will.

The Atlanta Braves announced their roster Wednesday morning, and second baseman Dan Uggla will not be on it. Nor should he be; Uggla is hitting .179 — the lowest full-season average for a qualifying hitter since Rob Deer in 1991 (also .179). Elliot Johnson has gotten more time at second base in September and hit a more respectable .261. Johnson is also the better fielding second baseman, by a little.

The Braves also chose 36-year-old right-hander Freddy Garcia over left-hander Paul Maholm. That makes Garcia look like the favorite to start a possible Game 4 in Los Angeles on Monday.

Maholm is making $4.25 million this year. Uggla is making $13 million. And those expenses hardly compare to the Dodgers’ bench.

Andre Ethier ($13.5 million) might not be available for the Division Series because of his bum left ankle. Matt Kemp ($20 million) has already been ruled out. Forget about injured pitchers Chad Billingsley ($11 million) and Josh Beckett ($15.75 million).

There are still some tough decisions for the Dodgers to make, though not as expensive. Their roster must be submitted to the league by 7 a.m. Pacific Time tomorrow. Rosters are submitted to MLB’s baseball operations department on a form that the league prepares, and are usually scanned back to the Commissioner’s Office.

It’s an important piece of paper, but the missing names might be more interesting.

Some bullet points for an Oct. 2 (Happy Birthday mom!):
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Daily Distractions: Don Mattingly’s job seems safe.

Don Mattingly

Don Mattingly’s contract expires at the end of the season. He and the Dodgers have not discussed extending it to 2014. (Associated Press photo)

Apparently it’s time to talk about Don Mattingly‘s job security again.

ESPN.com’s Buster Olney told Steve Mason and John Ireland on 710-AM yesterday that “If they [the Dodgers] lose to the Braves in the first round or lose to the Cardinals in the first round, I don’t think he’s going to survive. … I think they would make a change.”

Olney’s prediction was based on how the industry regards Mattingly’s in-game managerial skill. In that area, there’s room for criticism (or improvement, depending on how you choose to look at it). But room enough to not renew Mattingly’s contract?

FoxSports.com’s Jon Morosi wrote that Matt Kemp is “sure” that Mattingly will be back next year no matter what.

Our Tom Hoffarth caught up with team president Stan Kasten recently, and Kasten offered nothing less than a ringing endorsement. “I’m glad we had him at the start, glad we had him in the middle and glad we have him now,” Kasten said of Mattingly.

If there is any uncertainty about Mattingly’s future with the Dodgers, Kasten and general manager Ned Colletti are doing a tremendous job hiding it from players and the media. While that might be the case, it seems unlikely that Mattingly’s job depends on the Dodgers’ playoff performance.

There are skills that go into the manager’s job that can’t be taught. As Morosi points out, Mattingly’s background as a player and his demeanor as a person fit almost perfectly with the Dodgers’ roster as currently constructed. That will count for a lot. In-game strategy? That can be learned in time, and it’s reasonable to guess the Dodgers will give Mattingly more time.

Some bullet points for a New Zealand Dominion Day:
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Daily Distractions: As postseason field is set, the Dodgers aren’t alone with injury question marks.

Johnny Cueto

Cincinnati Reds pitcher Johnny Cueto (left, tagging Matt Kemp) has allowed two runs in two starts since coming off the 60-day disabled list. (Getty Images)

The National League playoff field was set on Monday, but the roles are still fluid.

The Washington Nationals saw their longshot wild-card hopes dashed, while the St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds and — wait 20 years for it — the Pittsburgh Pirates all wrapped up playoff berths. The Atlanta Braves are already in as the National League East winners.

In Los Angeles, it’s getting safe to start sizing up first-round matchups.

So today, for your consideration as a first-round opponent, the Reds.

Their number one starter was supposed to be Johnny Cueto. He won 19 games last season. This season he’s been bothered by a lat strain and missed nearly three months with the injury starting in June. The right-hander came back Sept. 16 and made another impressive start yesterday, but the Reds are hesitant to say if and when Cueto would pitch in the postseason.

If it’s not Cueto, expect Mat Latos to take the ball for Cincinnati first. Latos revealed to the Cincinnati Enquirer that he’s been pitching with an abdominal strain since June 30. That’s affected his repertoire, which is now quite fastball-heavy, and has resulted in fewer strikeouts.

The Reds haven’t clinched anything more than a playoff berth, so Latos or Cueto could find themselves pitching in the win-or-go-home wild card game. Either way, the Dodgers will likely be seeing one of these guys in Game 1 of their first-round series if they draw the Reds. That’s got to be more favorable than the Cardinals’ Adam Wainwright, the Pirates’ Francisco Liriano, or the Braves’ Mike Minor, Julio Teheran or Kris Medlen (all of whom are reportedly under consideration).

For all the Dodgers’ injury woes — Hanley Ramirez, the outfield, the others that haven’t been disclosed — at least Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke are pitching like a healthy 1-2 punch.

In that regard, give the advantage to the Dodgers. And knock on wood.

Some bullet points for a Guinea-Bissau Independence Day:
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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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Daily Distractions: To Hanley, or not to Hanley?

Hanley Ramirez

The Dodgers are 35-37 this season when Hanley Ramirez isn’t in the starting lineup. (Associated Press)

At some point this month, maybe tomorrow if the Dodgers have clinched a playoff berth by then, Don Mattingly will be asked how he balanced winning September games with keeping injured players intact for October. The answer was not obvious when the sun rose and it wasn’t any clearer when Hanley Ramirez was listed third in the batting order for today’s game against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Mattingly told reporters in Phoenix on Wednesday that Ramirez likely would be out of the lineup today. Ramirez isn’t fully recovered from the irritated nerve that led him to receive a pair of cortisone injections over the weekend, and watching him run the bases has been painful at times. It’s abundantly clear he isn’t healthy.

Yet playing Ramirez can’t be a simple matter of keeping him fresh; he’s 6 for 15 with four runs scored and an RBI on four or more days’ rest this season. Dee Gordon is healthy, so far as we know. So are Nick Punto and Jerry Hairston Jr., who’s been taking ground balls at shortstop recently.

Here’s a better stat: The Dodgers are 52-28 with Ramirez starting, but 35-37 without him. Simply put, they are an average team without Ramirez in the lineup.

Run him into the ground, and Ramirez won’t be in the lineup at all in October.

Don’t play him at all in September and there might not be an October — at least, it’s felt that way at times recently.

At some point, we’ll find out how the thinking goes in the manager’s office.

Here be some bullet points for a National Speak Like a Pirate Day:
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Dodgers 9, Arizona Diamondbacks 3.

Hanley Ramirez

Hanley Ramirez scores one of his three runs Tuesday in the Dodgers’ 9-3 win. (Associated Press photo)

When the book is written on the Dodgers’ 2013 season, the period of time between Sept. 4 and Sept. 16 must be given its own chapter. It’s the part where the Dodgers re-visit the concept of mortality for their own amusement, playfully goading their opponents’ egos at the expense of nervous fans. Juan Uribe became a cleanup hitter, Edinson Volquez started three times and the Dodgers lost a game 19-3. Funny chapter, you’ve got to admit.

Well, maybe.

It was taken on faith Tuesday that Matt Kemp, Hanley Ramirez and Yasiel Puig were all healthy. They were in the starting lineup, at least. Kemp, making his first start since July after spraining his ankle and tweaking his hamstring, played center field but did not approach full speed. Neither did Ramirez, who missed four games due to symptoms of sciatica. Puig’s hip was such an unknown factor just two days ago, manager Don Mattingly said the rookie phenom might miss one day to two weeks — then used him as a pinch-hitter the same night. Andre Ethier, whose left ankle is in a protective boot, was allowed to take a day off.


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Daily Distractions: Persisting in the argument against Juan Uribe’s evil ninth-inning bunt.

Matt Kemp

Matt Kemp swings and misses at Brad Ziegler’s final pitch in the Dodgers’ 2-1 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks on Monday. (Associated Press photo)

Last night in my postgame thoughts I didn’t delve too much into the first out of the ninth inning. (Neither did columnist Tom Hoffarth in Phoenix.) Speaking for myself, it was reasonable to assume the first out of the ninth inning would get the attention it deserved elsewhere.

It did.

The first out, you may recall, was recorded at third base. Juan Uribe was ordered to lay down a sacrifice bunt attempt and pushed the ball just a little too hard, enough to result in lead runner Michael Young getting gunned down by the Diamondbacks’ infield while a frustrated Uribe touched first base safely.

Dodgers manager Don “Mattingly … voluntarily hobbled the Dodgers by ordering hot hand Juan Uribe to sacrifice with runners on first and second and nobody out,” wrote Jay Jaffe at SI.com.

“Makes perfect sense if you’re into age-old rationales, and even if you’re not, it just might have worked if Uribe WOULD HAVE ACTUALLY GOTTEN THE JOB DONE,” wrote Tony Jackson (among his many less-than-flattering odes to the sacrifice bunt).

But if you read anything this morning about the bunt and its history, and why there’s such a loud furor over Mattingly’s decision, head over to BuzzFeed (and just try to resist the allure of “18 Animals Who Got the Last Laugh”). The age-old anti-bunting argument, presented by author Erik Malinowski, can be summed up in two points:

1, Baseball history — we’re talking a huge sample size here — shows that trading an out for 90 feet decreases a team’s odds of scoring a run.

2, Executing the bunt strategy usually requires a fast runner, a skilled bunter and another hit after the bunt (a sacrifice fly or an opponent’s error would have worked in this particular case, too). The Dodgers had none of these in the ninth inning Monday.

The argument is about as old as me — born in the early 1980s — so to convince bunting advocates against their position in 2013 reeks of dragging tobacco executives before the House of Representatives in 1994. I don’t have the power to levy a bunting tax, though I do have the power to point out its illogic. That doesn’t seem to be enough.

So what would convince Mattingly and the Dodgers to stop bunting at this point?

Malinowski hints — and recent history suggests — that it might simply require some more progressive thinking in the Dodgers’ front office, and some people who can present the data in a convincing manner. A little desperation would help, too.

Take the 2012 Pittsburgh Pirates, for example. They had an old-school manager (Clint Hurdle) and a fairly desperate circumstance. Their payroll was maxed out. They were competing in a tough division. And they were giving away outs — not by bunting, but in the way they played defense. So with the help of a few progressive front-office officials, the Pirates turned a little conventional baseball wisdom on its head and changed the way they played defense. It’s been an important factor in their success this season.

If the Pirates can do it, maybe the Dodgers can turn some (quasi-conventional) baseball wisdom on its head and change the way they advance runners. It will take desperation and progressive thinking.

Some bullet points for a Roberto Clemente Day:
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