March 12, 2009, 7:08 p.m. After a long autumn and winter of squabbling, the Manny Ramirez signing already seems like ancient history.
Time flies when you're having a good time, apparently, because it's been a whole week and here we are actually tackling another topic. Uh, just a little thing called the rest of the roster.
Sure, I predicted Manny's deal right down to the exact date, while all of Los Angeles was in a panic, but again, we have an entire team's worth of issues to discuss.
No one in L.A. cares a lick about what Jonathan Papelbon has to say, except to tell him pointedly that the only proper use of the word "cancer" belongs in tandem with the word "cure." Speak with an even more thoughtful voice, and use the term, "Think Cure."
Last year in Boston matters not. Neither does 2010 here. Not now. The Man's job is to win a championship – one championship, singular, in 2009.
So, one drama over and done with, a Camelback-full of others to go.
That's a slight exaggeration. There are jobs to award, yes, but the Dodgers have handled most of their old business. Items long-since checked off management's winter to-do list include establishing a primary lineup, adding an arm for the rotation, getting another for the bullpen, and landing a couple of solid men for the bench.
Your Opening Day lineup with Manny in the fold is essentially this: Rafael Furcal (SS), Orlando Hudson (2B), Manny Ramirez (LF), Andre Ethier (RF), Russell Martin (C), James Loney (1B), Matt Kemp (CF), and Casey Blake (3B). There's talk of flipping Manny and Ethier, either regularly or for certain opponents, but basically, the Dodger eight is set. Consensus here and around the baseball world? That's a damn good starting eight.
(Forgive me if some of what follows begs a hearty "like, duh," but since we've spent weeks and weeks of column inch space talking Ramirez, a mid-spring briefing seems apropos this evening, no? Bear with me, or click off. I won't be offended.)
Starting pitching. Either Chad Billingsley or Hiroki Kuroda opens the season on the Petco Park mound, and with Bills pitching well in San Diego as a matter of course, look for him to get the nod. Both are going to have big seasons. Trust me on this one. Lefties Randy Wolf and Clayton Kershaw are your three and four, and are going to be fine. Perhaps not spectacular, but on the other hand, perhaps spectacular. Don't sweat the first four spots.
Here's where it gets sticky. Joe Torre is pushing Jason Schmidt as the fifth man, even going so far as to say that if he's healthy, it's Schmidt's job to lose. Well look, a bigger "if" doesn't exist in baseball, and maybe not on Earth either.
The Dodgers may spin it to look like Schmidt is close to returning when camp breaks, but they'll follow up with the "he hasn't worked enough to earn the job" line, and simply leave him behind in extended-Spring Training or on the 15-day DL come April 6. Just their way of kicking the proverbial can down the road a patch.
Schmidt will be neither healthy nor effective in blue, and certainly not both. Period, exclamation point. The guy manages one inning of shutout ball, and gets a collective orgasm from the team. This is useless protoplasm we're talking here. Forget Jason Schmidt until he shows up in a Frisco uniform next year.
Among the once-good starters the Dodgers hope to catch a break with, only Eric Milton has pitched well enough to please honest Dodgers powers-that-be. Shawn Estes has been off and on. Claudio Vargas followed up a run-less appearance with two bad ones. Eric Stults is ready for a change of scenery, as in, say, Pittsburgh.
The club would be wise to try converting Stults into a full-time reliever before giving up on him completely, and who knows, a half-season in Albuquerque might do the trick. Just a thought.
After Estes, Milton and Schmidt (deluded Schmidt fans may notice the alphabetical order here), the Dodgers can turn to an unsigned player, such as, dare I say, Pedro Martinez, or Jeff Weaver, who was un-scored upon in exhibition play before giving up a run the other day.
The bullpen needs some work to be season-ready. Assuming he survives the WBC, Jonathan Broxton is set at closer. Deal with it.. Cory Wade is behind schedule with arm soreness, as is Hong-Chi Kuo, who's career could end literally on any pitch.
The Dodgers are happy with Guillermo Mota, though I'm not sure why. For about the same salary, former-Diamondback Juan Cruz was a considerably better choice, and worth the draft pick. But OK. I'll stop beating this dead horse at some point.
With or without a healthy Kuo, Ned Colletti wants another left-handed reliever. By the way, the term "situational lefty" is overused, to the detriment of clubs like the Dodgers. Joe Beimel may have disappointed to a degree with the lefty on lefty thing last year, but he's always been quite good at getting out of another pitcher's jam with little or nothing across. You can leave him in to face righties in succession.
If Torre were to use Beimel an inning-plus at a time, like Grady Little often did in 2006 and 2007, he'd see more success. Beimel's a free agent and really should be signed immediately. Will Ohman is still available too, and he'd be a great Dodger. Neither man is asking for the sun, which the team can afford anyway. The alternatives in camp are nowhere near major league caliber, and whichever lefty they do sign, the man's going to need a few weeks to prepare.
Estes pitched two good innings in relief today, so maybe there's a new candidate for the job. Stranger things have happened.
The remaining spots in the bullpen will probably go to James MacDonald and Weaver, if he's not starting, with Ramon Troncoso, Tanyon Sturtze and a handful of minor leaguers and minor-league-contract guys on the bubble.
The Bench: Backup catcher Brad Ausmus and infielder Mark Loretta are locks, and are going to be very much appreciated in Los Angeles. DeWitt is getting a look at shortstop, and might make the team as a utility man. You can read their press clippings and believe Juan Castro and Chin-Lung Hu are excellent shortstops if you like, but they're really not. And neither is even close to be being worthy 2009 Dodgers.
I wanted Omar Vizquel as Rafael Furcal's backup. Thoroughly reliable around the infield, in the club house, to steal an important base, or to lay down a perfect bunt in a pinch.
Which brings us to a man who can't do any of those things, Juan Pierre. As of right now Pierre is the fourth outfielder, but like you, everyone at BaseballSavvy.com is holding out hope for an exit of some sort. I think a trade is more doable than most, but I understand it's not my millions of dollars that's about to get tossed into the Malibu surf.
Jason Repko has an outside shot at a bench job, and Delwyn Young is hanging by a thread as a pinch hitter slash fifth outfielder. There's also Doug Mientkiewicz, who would make a very nice left-handed complement to Loretta, and as a one-time Gold Glover at first base, is an intriguing candidate with a low salary.
Recently released by Kansas City and the Giants respectively, Esteban German and Dave Roberts might be under consideration as late-spring adds, depending on other developments. I'd be happy with either or both of those guys.
Talkback: Ladies and gentlemen, there you have it, your 24 other 2009 Los Angeles Dodgers. Unless I left someone out. And I'm sure you'll tell me. Your comments are always encouraged…
Jackass of the Week: Ernie Whitt, erstwhile manager of the two-and-out WBC team Canada. Following pre-tournament discussion of going easy on Russell Martin, and maybe even DHing him, Whitt used Martin a full 18 innings behind the plate. There were no day games after night games scheduled, so at least L.A.'s favorite Canadian baseball player was spared one aspect of his regular season routine…
Investors Wanted: No joke. BaseballSavvy.com is looking for partners. Invest a thimble full of venture capital today; make major league minimum tomorrow…
Media Savvy: You had to know this was coming. A nice piece about Vero Beach, by Joshua Robinson, of the New York Times.
Oh, and here's old BaseballSavvy.com punching bag, Paul DePodesta, defending the draft-pick-savvy of his current club, in a San Diego Union-Tribune article by Tom Krasovic …
Statue for Sandy: We have something pretty cool up our sleeve. Stay tuned for more on the Koufax in bronze campaign. And if you haven't yet, please Vote “Yes on 32.” And tell a friend…
Remember, glove conquers all….
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