As those of you who have been watching post-trade deadline Dodger games know, we have Manny freaking Ramirez on our team now! Can you believe it? Well, the first week couldn’t have gone any better than it did (other than winning a few more games on the road in STL). Manny is hitting well above .500 and has hit more HRs in the past 6 days than Andruw Jones has throughout the entire year. Yep, I guess you can say Manny’s being Manny. He’s easily one of the best hitters in the game (maybe of all-time) and has really taken to his new home in La-La Land. Likewise, the crowds have taken to him. He’s profusely cheered every time he steps into the batters’ box, runs to left field or even when he strikes out. Los Angeles cannot get enough of Manny. He recently told reporters that he’d like to end his career in LA and loves the city and atmosphere. Numerous times has he told the story of how his grandmother gave him a Dodger jersey (his first jersey) when he was a kid and has always felt an attachment to the team ever since.
Not surprisingly, the Dodgers current hot streak has coincided with Matt Kemp’s recent tear. He’s had 19 hits, 2 HRs and 18 RBIs over the last 11 games. Over that time span, the team has won 10 of their last 12 games, catapulting them to 2nd place in the NL West standings, just 3 games behind the red hot Arizona Diamondbacks. Not only is Kemp an offensive powerhouse, he’s also probably the best defensive OF we have (even over Andruw Jones) and has far more range than the average RF. Over the years, Kemp has drawn many comparisons from scouts. Some compare him to Hall of Famer, Dave Winfield. Others compare him to future Hall of Famers, Manny Ramirez and Ken Griffey Jr. and some even claim he resembles a young Barry Bonds. Undoubtedly, those are some pretty lofty expectations. After a slow start to the season that saw him lose playing time to Juan Pierre, Kemp has made it impossible for manager Joe Torre to sit him for a vet. He’s the type of player who can (and will) carry this offense for the foreseeable future. Luckily, GM Ned Colletti, knew enough not to trade him over the offseason, I, like many others, were worried this winter that Ned may give in to demands and ship him off for a pitchers or 3B. Dodger fans sure must be thankful that didn’t happen because this guy appears to be the real deal. If he does manage to live up to expectations, the Dodgers will have an offensive weapon that they haven’t seen the likes of in decades. He’s the type of player that can be the face of the franchise for years to come and should be a fixture in the middle of the lineup for a long time.
So what should we make of this Andruw Jones
signing? When GM, Ned Colletti, brought him in, it was with
the belief that he would provide the team with some serious
power in the middle of the lineup. Afterall, this is a guy
who’s hit 51 HRs in a season and has hit 368 HRs in his 12
seasons in the league. No doubt, those are some impressive
power numbers. Admittedly, he’s never been a contact hitter
and has trouble getting on base at times but he’s never had a
problem knocking the ball out of the park…that is, until
last year came around. Andruw saw a massive decline in
production in his ’07 season, hitting .222 with 26 HRs and 94
RBIs. Of course, the average is concerning but those power
numbers would’ve still made him the most productive Dodgers’
bat, had he been in the lineup last season. But even with
that small consolation, the numbers that he usually puts up
were cut in half. What makes those numbers all the more
troubling is the fact that last season was a “contract year”
for Jones. It’s generally believed that players improve their
play in contract years in order to secure a nice new contract
the following season. Andruw claimed that a wrist injury
bogged down his swing last year but he played through it
(likely because he was in a contract year and didn’t want to
land on the DL). During the offseason, he said that the wrist
was no longer a problem and his swing should be back to where
it always had been. Those were comforting words at the time,
but the numbers tell a different story to start the season.
So far this season, Andruw has 7 hits in 47 at-bats which
translates to a measly .149 average. That’s a major
regression from last season, which was a major regression
from the last. So what are we left with? A .149/0/2/6/0 guy
at $18 mil a year? That’s what it looks like right now. I
fully expect Andruw to turn it on at some point. He can’t
possibly finish the season with a sub-.200 average. 20 HRs is
still a virtual lock, the only problem at this point may be
playing time. Andruw has been playing so poorly to start the
season, manager, Joe Torre, has actually benched him for a
few games in favor of players who are getting paid a fraction
of his salary. This is a bit surprising for Joe because he’s
notorious for sticking with his veterans thru thick and thin.
That has to be an indicator as to just how bad things have
gotten for Andruw….even Joe Torre isn’t willing to play him
everyday. That begs the question; “will getting benched hurt
his confidence and push him back even further?” It’s possible
but I highly doubt Andruw drew that message from the move. If
anything, he obviously needed a rest and maybe Joe was doing
him a favor. An encouraging sign is the fact he’s collected 3
hits in his last 7 at-bats which is a step in the right
direction. Now he has to show some consistency and start
launching some pitches over the fence. One would have to
think that “he’s due” for a big game sometime soon. There’s
simply no way that this slump will continue all season long.
I’m not saying he’ll suddenly start hitting .300 but .250 is
within reach. If he can get a base hit a quarter of the time
he comes to the plate and slug 25-30 HRs, his contract will
have been well worth it because we need a guy in the lineup
that can put runs on the board with one swing of the bat.
However, if this slump continues, who knows what will happen?
Torre may be inclined to bench him for an extended period of
time if he’s producing absolutely nothing for the team.
Either way, this contract is starting to look pretty scary
and I’m sure this is not what Ned Colletti envisioned when he
handed the guy tens of millions of dollars. At least Ned knew
not to give him 3+ years but this has to be a knock against
him as GM. This isn’t the first questionable move he’s made.
We’re still stuck with his last mistake, Juan Pierre, and
Andruw isn’t looking a whole lot better at this
Admittedly, I didn’t think Joe Torre would actually start Juan Pierre this season even though he has a reputation of being a veteran’s manager. Pierre was so unbelievably bad in spring training, I figured it would be impossible to justify any amount of playing time for him this season. However, he’s started just about as much as Matt Kemp has in the first week of the season. For the life of me, I can’t understand why Torre has Pierre splitting time with Kemp of all people. I suppose it’s because Kemp is a righty and Ethier is a lefty but nonetheless, Kemp is the more talented of the two. He led the team in RBIs during spring training and the Dodgers simply can’t afford to take his bat out of the lineup, especially if it means a featherweight like Pierre will be batting in his place. Granted, Kemp didn’t get off to the hottest start either but he is now hitting a robust .269 compared to Pierre’s anemic .167.
It was reported by multiple sources today that the Tampa Bay Rays are interested in making a trade for young, left handed hitting, outfielder, Andre Ethier. There was even a full page write-up in the St. Petersburg Times suggesting the Rays may be willing to part with young pitching in order to attain him. This is what I’m talking about! An Andre Ethier trade makes a lot of sense in many regards. First of all, an Ethier trade would signal that we intend to keep superstar in the making, Matt Kemp (which is a no-brainer in my opinion, see previous blog). Secondly, we can expect to get far more in return in a trade for Ethier than we could ever hope to get back trading Juan Pierre and his albatross of a contract. Dodger stadium is known as a pitcher’s park and Dodger pitching coaches have enjoyed quite a bit of success in recent years. A young pitcher would be a great option for the Dodgers. #1. His contract wouldn’t bog down the current payroll and would allow for more roster flexibility. #2. A Young pitcher would be under the club’s control for a number of years as opposed to trading for a pitcher like Erik Bedard who is only a year or two away from free agency. The Rays are stocked to the brim with young pitching prospects, some of the highest rated in the game. The St. Petersburg Times suggests that we may trade Ethier for a relief pitcher like Al Reyes or Dan Wheeler but that’s wishful thinking on their part. It would take far more than that to land a young, consistent hitter like Ethier. Let’s break down the options.
Scott Kazmir is probably the Ray’s pitcher that first comes to your mind but in order to trade a bona-fide star like Kazmir, the Rays would likely demand a package of players similar to the requests that the Twins are making for Santana, which would probably place Kazmir well outside of our price range (in terms of talent). He’s a great young power pitcher but is also an injury risk due to his size and delivery. He’s dealt with left shoulder injuries during the past and being that he is a left-handed pitcher, it’s a major red flag. However, he is young enough to correct whatever problems are creating these injuries. Nonetheless, Kazmir would just be too expensive and is out of Andre Ethier-range.
James Shields is a name that may be a bit more realistic. Shields is a 25 year old strikeout pitcher from Newhall, CA and had a breakout season last year. He’s always been ranked among the Ray’s top pitching prospects and finally made good on his potential. He threw 215 innings last season, struckout 184 batters and posted a 3.85 ERA with a 1.11 WHIP, which is all-star caliber numbers, especially for a young pitcher in the AL East who has to face the monster lineups of the Yankees and Red Sox just about every other series. Shields would be a great fit for the Dodgers who need another pitcher or two for their rotation. You can only imagine the kinds of numbers he’d put up in a pitcher’s park like Dodger Stadium. A Shields for Ethier trade is probably about the best we can hope for but may be just as unlikely as Kazmir in the long run. It’s hard to gauge what kind of value the Rays have placed on Shields but one can only imagine that the price will be steep.
The next pitcher on our list is a top rated lefty prospect out of Vanderbilt University named David Price. Many scouts have said that Price may be the best pitcher to come out of college since Mark Prior. In college Price was accustomed to putting up gaudy numbers like a 1.92 ERA and a 0.83 WHIP in ’06. He’s a big guy, 6 foot 5 and 215 lbs but has yet to pitch in a professional game. I’m not sure what the rules are concerning recent draft picks but if we were to make a trade for Price, he’d likely be listed as a “player to be named later”.
Jacob McGee is another young, lefty power pitcher who like Price, has 6+ years of service time remaining on his contract, making him an attractive option for any team. McGee had great success in Single A ball at Vero Beach posting a 2.93 ERA, a 1.07 WHIP and striking out 11.19 batters per 9 innings pitched. Although Price and McGee wouldn’t make an impact on the big league club for at least another year or two, it would give the Dodgers options. Trading for either top-flight prospect would give the Dodgers an extra chip to trade if they so choose. Pitching is at a premium in today’s game and either pitcher could net a much bigger fish if packaged in the right deal.
Pitchers that are a little closer to the majors include the behemoth, 6 foot 9 inch, 260 lbs, Jeff Niemann, who’s yet another power arm, this time from the right side. Niemann has actually gotten better as he’s progressed thru the minors which is a very good sign but struggled a bit last year at the AAA level. However, he possesses a nice K/BB ratio and projects as a solid middle-of-the-rotation guy in time.
Other options include names like Jason Hammel, Andy Sonnanstine, Mitch Talbot and JP Howell. All of which have been highly ranked at one point or another. Each would be attainable for a player of Ethier’s caliber. But there are other options that do not include pitchers…
Possibly the top ranked prospect in the Rays system is a young 3B named Evan Longoria. Longoria is another CA native who hails from the city of Downey and was a star player at Long Beach State University. Scouts absolutely love this guy and many think he’ll be the Rays everyday 3B as early as next season. The Rays are probably unlikely to even entertain trade thoughts concerning Longoria but could be enticed by a package that includes players such as OF Andre Ethier, 2B prospect Tony Abreu, SS prospect Chin-Lung Hu or fellow 3B prospect Andy LaRoche. Longoria may be a bit pricey but could be the Dodgers 3B for the next decade. He would be under the club’s control for 6+ years and would provide payroll flexibility for a number of years.
Another young hitter to pay attention to is SS prospect Reid Brignac. At one point, Brignac was more highly ranked than Longoria but his stock has dropped a bit since then. He’s a bit small for his size, standing at 6 foot 3 yet only weighing 170 lbs but is young and should start filling out that massive frame in time. Scouts compare him to a certain Hall of Fame SS named Cal Ripken Jr. due to his tall-stature and power potential. He’s capable of hitting over 20 HRs at the big league level and that number will only grow with time. He needs to display better plate discipline (most young hitters do) and learn to take more walks. His OBP seems to go up and down from year to year. One year he posts a .388 OBP and then a .328 the next season. Obviously he needs to learn how to be consistent at the plate. Even so, if the Dodgers were to deal for him he’d instantly become the 2B or SS of the future due to his power potential. He’s not as good of a fielder as Dodger’s SS prospect Chin-Lung Hu but is a much better hitter which is what the Dodger’s need at this point.
Of course, the Rays have more to offer than developing prospects. Major league ready players such as 3B Akinori Iwamura, CF Rocco Baldelli, 1B Carlos Pena, OF/DH Jonny Gomes, RP Al Reyes and former Dodger pitching prospect Edwin Jackson could all be made available as well. However, the Dodgers are unlikely to bring in another OF and are covered at 1B with the emergence of James Loney. Al Reyes wouldn’t be enough for Ethier which could leave us with light-hitting Japanese standout Akinori Iwamura. It’s unlikely that Iwamura would be a match for the Dodgers but stranger things have happened. Point is, the Rays can present the Dodgers with many different young trade options which is what you want in a trading partner. If the Dodgers do decide to part with Ethier, the Tampa Bay Rays could definitely make it worth their while.