Daily Distractions: How the Dodgers might apply principles of chemistry and platooning to their $58.3 million outfield.

Carl Crawford Matt Kemp

Can Carl Crawford (left) and Matt Kemp (right) be happy under a four-man outfield platoon? The Dodgers might be counting on it. (Associated Press photo)

A couple opinions floating around today about what to do with the Dodgers’ four-outfielder conundrum: 1, Trading Andre Ethier is the most likely route; 2, Keeping everyone is the safest bet.

Maybe there’s another way we can look at the Dodgers stockpiling outfielders. It’s not unlike the strategy used a year ago by Oakland A’s, who entered last season with five viable starting outfielders (Yoenis Cespedes, Coco Crisp, Seth Smith, Josh Reddick and Chris Young).

Since it was the A’s, this personnel strategy was dissected under the market-efficiency microscope, then praised when Young underperformed, Cespedes and Crisp went down with injuries in April, and Reddick took his turn on the DL in late May. None of them were owed the kind of money Ethier, Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford and Yasiel Puig will earn in 2014 — $58.3 million, excluding any contract bonuses — but the A’s still won 96 games, four more than the Dodgers.

Don’t dismiss the integral role that club chemistry played in keeping the A’s outfielders happy with the platoon arrangement. Probably not coincidentally, Oakland recently signed former Dodgers infielder Nick Punto — a chemistry guy, a platoon guy.

With the Dodgers, the market-efficiency prism need not apply. That doesn’t mean that stockpiling outfielders (and starting pitchers, for that matter), hedging against the inevitable injuries, and counting on chemistry to abide in times of health, isn’t a wise personnel strategy worth the time of a team with a $215 million-plus budget.

The A’s walked into their situation more intentionally than the Dodgers, who probably didn’t count on the injuries that added up to 99 outfield starts for players other than their top four in 2013. Heck, general manager Ned Colletti might have traded Ethier, Kemp or Crawford by now if cost and health concerns were not enough to inhibit a rival GM from making a knock-me-down offer.

That hasn’t happened yet. It probably won’t. Whenever a reporter asks Colletti an outfield-related question that begins with “if everyone’s healthy…” his response usually begins with some variation of “do we know that everyone’s going to be healthy?”

So maybe the Dodgers backed into this desirable situation. That doesn’t make it undesirable.

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Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti talks Juan Uribe, Alexander Guerrero, outfielders.

Juan Uribe

Juan Uribe is still the Dodgers’ preference to be the everyday third baseman in 2014, according to general manager Ned Colletti. (Associated Press photo)

Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti divulged some of the Dodgers’ off-season plans Tuesday in an interview with MLB Network Radio on Sirius XM. There were no major revelations, but these were among the talking points:

1. The Dodgers would prefer to re-sign Juan Uribe to fill their starting third base job.

2. Plan B could involve moving shortstop Hanley Ramirez or second baseman Alexander Guerrero out of those positions, and/or acquiring an infielder through trade. The organization isn’t there yet. No mention of Guerrero’s recent health concerns.

3. The Dodgers aren’t shopping any of their outfielders, but that is one area in which Colletti “would like to get younger if possible.” (In other words: Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford are much more available than Yasiel Puig right now, which isn’t news.) Multiple teams are inquiring about the Dodgers’ outfielders and Colletti is listening to offers.

You can listen to the interview here:

Daily Distractions: Nick Punto signs with the Oakland A’s.

Nick Punto

Nick Punto’s new contract will nearly double his $1.5 million salary from 2013. (Getty Images)

Nick Punto did enough in his brief time as a Dodger to remind fans why he was included in the trade for Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett. And that was enough.

Punto signed with the Oakland A’s on Wednesday. According to Yahoo! Sports’ Jeff Passan, the contract pays $2.75 million in 2014 with a $2.75 million vesting option for 2015 based on time spent on the active roster, or a $250,000 buyout.

Primarily a pinch-hitter, defensive subsitute, and shortstop during Hanley Ramirez‘s multiple absences in 2013, Punto batted .255/.328/.327 as a Dodger. He appeared in six playoff games, going 2-for-6 with a double, and led the Dodgers in headfirst slides and shredded jerseys after walk-off victories. He was the team’s nominee for the annual Heart and Hustle Award.

Defensively, Punto was the Dodgers’ best shortstop, and an adequate fill-in at third base. The A’s have recently turned versatile platooners like Jed Lowrie, Eric Sogard, Brandon Moss and others into productive contributors as dictated by matchups, and are likely to do the same with Punto.

https://twitter.com/JeffPassan/status/400702602578374656

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Daily Distractions: Dodgers’ Chad Billingsley, Matt Kemp making progress in surgery rehab.

Chad Billingsley

Chad Billingsley is able to throw from 120 feet at 75 to 80 percent effort, his agent said Monday. (Associated Press photo)

The agent for Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp and pitcher Chad Billingsley said Monday that both players will be able to participate in spring training activities from the start of camp.

Dave Stewart, the former Dodgers pitcher who now represents both players, said that the road back will be slower for Billingsley, who underwent Tommy John surgery on his right elbow in April.

“I think (the Dodgers) will be conservative,” Stewart said, “but (Billingsley) will be starting with everybody else in spring training.”

Stewart said that Billingsley believes he’ll be able to pitch in games starting in April. The 29-year-old right-hander underwent the ligament replacement procedure April 24; the Dodgers didn’t announce a specific timetable for Billingsley’s recovery at the time, only that pitchers typically return to competition in 12 months.

For now, Stewart said that Billingsley is throwing from 120 feet at 75 to 80 percent, and hopes to start throwing off a mound in January.

Kemp is already at Camelback Ranch in Glendale, Arizona, recuperating from October surgeries on his left ankle and left shoulder. Kemp had arthroscopic surgery Oct. 24 to remove several spurs and a loose body, and do a microfracture on the talus bone in his left foot. He’s expected to be in a walking boot “for another couple weeks,” Stewart said.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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