Dodgers Report: Matt Kemp
Not exactly the name Dodgers fans were hoping for, perhaps?
The Dodgers, always popular with agents and other teams because they spend money and have an active general manager, arrived at the Swan and Dolphin Resort here as a magnet for attention. They left it early Thursday surrounded by silence, but this should be far from alarming to Dodgers fans for two primary reasons.
For one thing, they arrived with far humbler aspirations than most people figured. They were more intent on finding a solution at third base or shortstop, signing a couple of relievers and, maybe, a bench guy than they were in trading Matt Kemp, landing David Price or zeroing in on Masahiro Tanaka.
And, for another thing, they still have nearly two months before they begin spring training.
“It’d be great to establish your team by the end of the calendar year and have it all set, but you know what, we know that that doesn’t always happen,” general manager Ned Colletti said.
So, let’s take a look at the still-unfilled needs and how things evolved in the past four days in Florida:
The Dodgers have options, but before too much longer, they’re going to need to turn those options into an actual infield. If they can’t re-sign Juan Uribe -- and indications are they’re hung up by his agent’s demand for a two-year deal -- they continue to talk about sliding Hanley Ramirez to third base.
That would give them the option of signing a free-agent shortstop. Stephen Drew is the best option left in free agency, but he would cost the Dodgers a draft pick, a commodity they’re hesitant to give away as they look to restock their system. They could also use Alexander Guerrero at shortstop, his natural position. In that scenario, they would make a push to re-sign Mark Ellis and those conversations have continued, Colletti said.
Unfortunately, the Dodgers can’t get a look at Guerrero’s shortstop skills, because his Dominican winter league team is trying to win a championship and is using what it views as its best option, Jonathan Diaz. Colletti recently dispatched special assistant Jose Vizcaino to the Dominican to give them a report on Guerrero. What did he say?
“Hard worker, wants to be great, learning second base, good shortstop,” Colletti said.
If that’s an accurate report, Guerrero looks like the hinge that is allowing the Dodgers to take their time in locking up their starting infield, but given the fact Guerrero has never played a major-league game, it seems like a risky move. Look for the Dodgers to land one of the two veterans, either Uribe or Ellis, in the coming weeks.
No matter what Matt Kemp’s agent, Dave Stewart says, there are no guarantees the Dodgers will arrive at Camelback Ranch with the four starting outfielders they now have on their roster. They could trade Andre Ethier or, maybe, Carl Crawford. And, though the Dodgers assured Stewart they’re not shopping Kemp, they could still part with him if a team overwhelms them with an offer of talented young players.
But indications are the Dodgers haven’t received any interesting offers and will open spring training with all four. They might even travel to Australia for Opening Day with all four. Beyond that, all bets are off.
Manager Don Mattingly said he expects to have them all next season and he views that as a strength rather than a weakness.
“It’s a good problem to have, for me,” Mattingly said. “I really like it that people are saying you can’t have four. We had four last year that never seemed to work out, but there’s nothing wrong with depth.”
According to the Denver Post, the Colorado Rockies are making “real progress,” on signing left-hander J.P. Howell. If they’re willing to offer him a three-year deal, the Dodgers likely won’t be willing to match or trump it.
That could prompt the Dodgers to turn their attention to right-handed relievers and to hope that Onelki Garcia is ready to pitch in the major leagues as a complement to their only proven lefty reliever, Paco Rodriguez. There are still plenty of right-handed relievers left and Colletti said the market has been “locked up” lately. Howell’s signing could unlock it and allow the Dodgers to shore up their bullpen quickly.
Colletti hopes to add two more relievers. One could well be former Dodger long man Jamey Wright. The Dodgers have been in discussion with Wright’s agent, Casey Close. The other figures to be a higher-profile move as the Dodgers have their sights set on landing another pitcher with closing experience.
It appears that any team willing to offer a $20 million posting fee will have the right to speak with the best free agent starting pitcher available, Masahiro Tanaka. That’s assuming Tanaka convinces his Japanese team, the Rakuten Golden Eagles, to post him.
If he is made available, it’s too early to rule the Dodgers out as a possible landing spot though the latest indications are that the New York Yankees, Chicago Cubs, Texas Rangers and Boston Red Sox could be his most aggressive pursuers. The Dodgers have said they are happy with their starting rotation going into spring training and they wouldn’t seem to have the right prospects to land David Price, but they also have been keeping closely abreast of negotiations over the new posting system.
If Dodgers fans get excited thinking about a rotation with North America’s best starting pitcher, Clayton Kershaw, and Asia’s greatest pitcher, Tanaka, you can bet that Dodgers executives do, too.
"We'd have to get a phone call or meeting that we're not expecting," Colletti said.
The Dodgers came here in search of a solution to the unsettled left side of their infield, and in search of relievers. They're still looking and probably still will be when the front office staff arrives back in Los Angeles Thursday evening.
The Dodgers have made more than one offer to third baseman Juan Uribe, but have gotten no closer to making a deal, apparently because Uribe is holding out for a two-year deal and the Dodgers would prefer to keep it to one. Meanwhile, Colletti said the team had made overtures to free-agent shortstops but wouldn't characterize how aggressive they've been.
Such a scenario would require Hanley Ramirez to move to third base, a far-from-ideal solution given his defensive struggles there and the fact he would prefer not to move again. In 2012, he moved to third base grudgingly in Miami, played third for the Dodgers for a while and then moved back to his natural position, shortstop.
"The question would be are we moving off of Uribe? We're not," Colletti said. "We have different people we continue to have discussions with, we're walking along some at a little different pace depending on what they're trying to accomplish. We've had conversations on four or five different variations of what the left side looks like.
Colletti said Matt Kemp's agent, Dave Stewart, called him to apologize for his comments to several reporters Wednesday in which Stewart said Colletti told him that Kemp would not be traded. Colletti said he would have preferred that such talks remain private. Colletti said he called Stewart to arrange the meeting.
"He's called me and let me know that he probably spoke out of turn or whatever you want to call it, so that's fine," Colletti said.
Colletti said he has had no such meeting with the agent for Andre Ethier. He wouldn't divulge whether the topic of the Dodgers possibly trading Ethier came up.
"It may have, but you know what that was? That was a private conversation," Colletti said.
But the Dodgers continue to say they’re excited about what Kemp could bring to their team, if he’s healthy. Tuesday general manager Ned Colletti said Kemp should be physically ahead of where he was at the beginning of spring training 2013 when he reports in February. He has been lifting weights for more than a month.
It all figures to boil down to this: Will the Dodgers be blown away by another team’s offer? They’re not as interested in unloading most of Kemp’s $128 million contract as they are in restocking their farm system with prime talent.
In the meantime, let’s take a look at a hypothetical lineup with Kemp and another without him.
Carl Crawford LF
Yasiel Puig RF
Hanley Ramirez SS
Adrian Gonzalez 1B
Juan Uribe 3B *
Andre Ethier CF
A.J. Ellis C
Alexander Guerrero 2B
*I’m assuming Uribe re-signs, because, A, I think he will and, B, it makes the exercise easier.
The first lineup has ideal left-right balance through the first five spots and more power than the latter, presumably because Kemp should provide more pop than Andre Ethier, whose home run power has been in steady decline. It also uses, in my opinion, Carl Crawford in a spot that better suits his skill set. Look at the numbers. He’s a better No. 2 hitter than leadoff guy. Once Guerrero settles in, if he’s getting on base, you could consider moving him into the leadoff spot and batting Puig anywhere from second to fifth, depending how he and Kemp are hitting.
All in all, the Dodgers look like a better team with Kemp than without him. It all hinges on his health and the Dodgers’ (and other teams’) perception of it.
Of course, we’re not talking about a one-for-one trade. The Tampa Bay Rays are willing to trade their Cy Young-caliber left-hander, according to myriad reports, because they can’t afford to pay him as he nears arbitration. Kemp will make $128 million over the next six years. No-go, right?
But that doesn’t mean the sides couldn’t eventually line up for a deal, provided the Dodgers can get a nice return on Kemp or Andre Ethier, who are considered their two outfielders most likely to be traded.
The Dodgers’ farm system is thin, particularly at the upper levels, where teams like the Rays -- frugal but competitive -- will be looking for players. The Dodgers are hoping to hold on to most of their prospects -- guys like infielder Corey Seager, outfielder Joc Pederson and pitchers Zach Lee and Julio Urias -- and aren’t interested in shipping out a big package of young talent, even for a player like Price.
But what if they could land a couple of well-regarded prospects for Kemp or Ethier and then use those players to land Price? It could be either part of a three-team trade or two separate transactions. It’s probably something the team has considered. To get higher-end prospects, the Dodgers likely would have to absorb more of either outfielder's salary, but that shouldn’t be a problem as the Dodgers embark on their new multibillion-dollar TV deal.
The Dodgers have fielded plenty of calls on all their outfielders. Eventually, those calls could turn into face-to-face meetings and then, according to general manager Ned Colletti, “we’ll see where it goes.” There's no reason it couldn't then turn into a different conversation.
The Dodgers have no third baseman, a second baseman who has never played a major-league game and a shortstop who some people think should be playing the outfield or designated hitter. It’s Adrian Gonzalez and three question marks.
Not exactly a settled situation, but that’s not necessarily a disastrous state of affairs for the Dodgers. Given the dearth of free agent talent and the unpredictability of trade talks, the Dodgers’ flexibility when it comes to rebuilding their infield could be a major advantage. And with their perfectly reasonable off-season imperative to get younger, openings in the infield give them the crucial soil to plant young talent.
They signed Cuban defector Alexander Guerrero to a four-year, $28 million deal. That’s the contract of a solid everyday player, so the Dodgers expect Guerrero to be on the field for them quickly rather than developing at Triple-A, but at what position? The likelihood is he will take over second base from Mark Ellis, but Guerrero has played shortstop most of his life, which usually means he could play any other infield position.
Not a single player who logged an inning at third base last season is still with the organization, except for Justin Sellers, who, according to the team, didn’t even merit a September call-up.
This would be a good class of free agent third basemen if it were 2005. Juan Uribe, who turns 35 before Opening Day, is the best of the bunch and the Dodgers would like to re-sign him, but would it be wise to give him another three-year deal after watching him produce in just one of the three seasons of the last contract they gave him?
Their safest route might be to sign Uribe to a two-year deal, if they can, hope his body holds up and that top prospect Corey Seager is ready by 2016. According to Fangraphs, Uribe had a 5.1 WAR last season, which was essentially identical to that of Adrian Beltre (5.2). On the other hand, only two third basemen in the last four years -- Alex Rodriguez and Scott Rolen -- have produced a WAR of 3.0 or better after turning 35. Third basemen tend to age fast.
Beyond Uribe, it’s impossible to find an everyday option among free agents. Eric Chavez is a 90-games-a-season guy these days. Placido Polanco will be 38.
The options are more interesting at shortstop and the Dodgers have been non-committal when asked where they plan to play Hanley Ramirez next season. For the first time since 2008, Ramirez rated out as an adequate shortstop last season, but that seemed largely due to the fact he only played 76 games there. Assuming he can stay healthy next season, he could be exposed as a major liability at shortstop, not an ideal situation for a team that relies on its pitching.
ESPNBoston’s Gordon Edes reported that the Red Sox are convinced Stephen Drew will be signing with another team, so why couldn’t that team be the Dodgers? Drew didn’t hit in the post-season, but he is a more-than-solid shortstop with a knack for getting on base and good pop. He’ll be 31 next season, so swapping him for Uribe would help the Dodgers get younger, but injuries have kept him off the field. He has averaged fewer than 100 games per season the last three years. He also declined the Red Sox’s qualifying offer, which means the Dodgers would have to surrender a draft pick to sign him.
Jhonny Peralta is a solid free-agent alternative to Drew, but he also carries the baggage of last season’s 50-game suspension for using a banned substance.
General manager Ned Colletti’s best option might be to keep Jon Daniels on speed dial. Everybody in baseball knows the Dodgers have an extra outfielder and the Texas Rangers have an extra infielder. According to reports, the two teams had some discussions at the general manager meetings, but they didn’t get all that far. It seems reasonable to assume that the names Matt Kemp and Elvis Andrus arose in those meetings.
Trading a power-hitting center fielder with borderline MVP talent for a light-hitting shortstop might seem folly, but Andrus is only 25, would improve the Dodgers’ infield defense immensely, is one of the fastest players in the game, a deft bunter with good on-base skills. He would be the Dodgers’ logical solution to the leadoff question.
The players have similar contracts, so finances wouldn’t impede a deal. Neither player has no-trade protection. It might be a longshot, but given how much uncertainty the Dodgers have in their infield this winter, a bold plan of action might not be a bad idea.
Don Mattingly already dubbed the potential for bad blood in that season-opening Australia series, “The Rumble Down Under.”
So, as the Dodgers just begin to devise their plans for this offseason, let’s pause and do our final set of grades for the 2013 season, a strange and exciting year.
The playoffs told the tale of the Dodgers’ season-long hitting trend. When the main guys were healthy, the Dodgers were disconcertingly deep and frighteningly powerful. When the main guys were out, they were a pop gun. The Dodgers pummeled an Atlanta Braves staff that led the NL in ERA and then, after Joe Kelly cracked Hanley Ramirez’s rib three batters into the NLCS, they just stopped scoring.
That mirrored the regular season, when the Dodgers took off behind Ramirez and Yasiel Puig. When Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford and Matt Kemp were also healthy, look out, but that almost never happened.
The stark contrast speaks to some shrewd moves made by the front office in trying to ramp up quickly and some serious deficiencies in a farm system ravaged by Frank McCourt’s penny pinching. When Allen Craig got hurt in August, the St. Louis Cardinals could bring up Matt Adams. When Hanley Ramirez got hurt in March, the Dodgers started the season with Justin Sellers. Think about that.
The Dodgers’ clubhouse might have more star-caliber players in their prime years than any locker room in the majors. But that just obscures the fact that, like the classic Dodger teams, they’re really all about starting pitching. Led by Kershaw and Zack Greinke, the Dodgers’ starters had a 3.13 ERA, beating out the No. 2 rotation, the Cardinals’, by 0.29 runs -- a yawning gap.
Once Brian Wilson arrived and Kenley Jansen settled into his second-half groove, the Dodgers’ bullpen was above-average, though occasionally shaky leading into the eighth.
When you look at the five Dodger players who are finalists for Gold Gloves, they all seem worthy. Zack Greinke is like an extra infielder on the pitcher’s mound; Mark Ellis is the steadiest at his position in baseball; Adrian Gonzalez tries plays with high degrees of difficulty and almost always pulls them off; A.J. Ellis is an ace pitch caller and good thrower; Juan Uribe looks unorthodox but almost always makes the play, even as he creeps into his mid-30s.
But it also gives a mistaken impression of the Dodgers’ overall defense. Only the Milwaukee Brewers committed more errors than the Dodgers’ 109 and the Dodgers probably need to think about moving Ramirez back to third base before his lack of range becomes more exposed in a bigger sample. They were also lacking a dynamic glove in center field, even when everyone was healthy. Yasiel Puig is a circus, sometimes in a good way, sometimes in a bad way. Overall, the Dodgers have a little work to do when it comes to evaluating their catching and throwing this winter.
Don Mattingly will be back next year, both sides acknowledged last week, which gives us an opportunity to discuss his strengths and shortcomings as a manager. When the Dodgers were 9 ½ games back and on the brink of imploding, as disappointing, expensive teams tend to do, Mattingly -- the players say -- continued to come to work in a good mood and, generally, to back his players. It might seem like a small thing, but if you were feeling like Mattingly was feeling those days, would you have found it easy to work with a smile? It kept the environment in the Dodgers clubhouse from growing toxic and the team stayed together and found its footing.
When the playoffs started, the second-guessing in the postgame interview room seemed to take Mattingly by surprise at times. He didn't articulate his thinking clearly. That shouldn’t happen again. Whatever the dynamic was between Mattingly and his bench coach, Trey Hillman, the Dodgers broke that up by firing Hillman. Mattingly, a close friend of Hillman’s, probably isn’t happy about it, but it probably won’t hurt to bring in a bench coach who has a different set of eyes and maybe a different set of philosophies. Creative tension can be good.
The Dodgers seem to have settled on good equilibrium in their front office, with president Stan Kasten handling many of the major financial transactions and general manager Ned Colletti working with his crew of assistants and top scouts to find players from other organizations and other countries that can add a boost to the team’s push. That dynamic seems to be working fine.
Kershaw blamed himself, but nobody else in the room seemed to be blaming anybody aside from the Cardinals’ pitching and the collective lack of response to it. Without Ramirez, the Dodgers just got beaten by a better team, or at least a better pitching staff, and most people seemed to feel that way.
Mattingly mentioned that there were events in the clubhouse that never became public because he protected his players from negative publicity. But even if there were tensions that arose, they were probably no different than those that pop up around every other pro sports team. For a group that comes from a lot of places and earns massive amounts of money, the character of the team seemed to be solid.
STATE OF CONTENTION
The Dodgers flooded their farm system with college arms last June and they’ll probably do it again this June. They’ve been picking up players all over the world, sometimes at extravagant prices, such as the $28 million deal for Cuban second baseman Alexander Guerrero, and sometimes in more anonymous ways. The point is the Dodgers are working hard to get to where the Cardinals are -- with a strong organization that isn’t reliant on overpriced free agents to succeed. Until they get there, they might be in an awkward in-between phase for a while, but if they can manage to get a little bit younger this winter, they certainly have the talent, resources and leadership to contend year after year.
“We could use a little younger group,” Colletti said.
The Dodgers were sort of moving in that direction even before the National League Championship Series, where they lost to a St. Louis Cardinals team that has 18 homegrown players, the most on a World Series roster in the wild-card era. During that series, you could practically see light bulbs popping on over the heads of Colletti and president Stan Kasten.
Already, the Dodgers have shaved 10 years off their collective age. They signed Cuban second baseman Alexander Guerrero, 26, which means the likely departure of Mark Ellis, 36. And, in the long run, they’ve put the pieces in place to generate talent internally. They’re spending freely in international markets, have bulked up the scouting staff and invested in their academy in the Dominican Republic.
But how do you get younger fast? Let’s explore some possibilities for the Dodgers this offseason as they try to shed some years and still field a team that can compete for a World Series right away:
1. Trade for David Price
The second-best left-handed starting pitcher in baseball just turned 28 and he’s about to be awarded an eight-figure contract by an arbitrator. The Tampa Bay Rays, who play in an awful domed stadium to tiny crowds, don’t pay a lot of people that kind of money, so it’s widely assumed they’ll be open to trading their 2012 Cy Young winner this winter.
Could the Dodgers line up as a good trade partner or, failing that, just give Price a carload of cash in 2016? It’s awfully fun to think about a starting pitching rotation that goes Clayton Kershaw-Zack Greinke-David Price-Hyun-Jin Ryu-anybody on earth. And, though this will probably get me publicly pilloried, they would have an immediate alternative if they can’t lock up Kershaw to the mega-deal they’ve discussed and he somehow reaches free agency.
But to land a player as good as Price from an organization as savvy as the Rays, it probably would take the Dodgers’ top two prospects and then some. They'll have competition from at least a dozen teams. So, should they part with, say, Corey Seager and Zach Lee, are they, in fact, diminishing the future for the present? That certainly isn’t the idea.
2. Trade for Elvis Andrus
As good as Hanley Ramirez is, he really isn’t a shortstop any longer. You can live with his defensive shortcomings at third base a lot more easily than you can at shortstop. Because he was injured so frequently last season, his defensive issues weren’t as evident as they might have been if he had stayed healthy.
Andrus, 25, is a superb defender, a patient hitter and an impact base runner. The Dodgers would lose a little pop by essentially swapping Andrus for Juan Uribe in their lineup, but they think they’ve added some in the Guerrero-Ellis exchange.
Would the Rangers, who just signed him to an eight-year, $120 million extension, consider moving him? Would the Dodgers take on that kind of money for a guy who hit .271 last year and has, essentially, no pop? Considering they plan on building around good pitching, it’s never a bad idea to have a defensive whiz at shortstop.
3. Let the free agents walk
We won’t belabor the point here because we posted on this topic yesterday, but the Dodgers’ 11 free agents are largely a group of 30-something role players. Perhaps it makes sense to hold onto Nick Punto or Skip Schumaker for utility purposes and lefty J.P. Howell should be retained, but otherwise the Dodgers should probably look elsewhere if they really are intent on getting younger. Tim Federowicz proved last year that you can trust young players in backup roles, at a fraction of the cost.
4. Trade Andre Ethier
Let’s face it. Carl Crawford and Matt Kemp, both of whom are massively paid and frequently injured, are untradeable, unless the Dodgers swallow huge chunks of their lengthy contracts. Unless they’re more worried about Yasiel Puig’s maturity issues than they’re letting on, they’re not going to part with a hugely talented 22-year old.
That means, the four-outfielder conundrum could finally become reality next April. Ethier, 31, has four years and $71.5 million left on his deal, which is a little easier to move. Even if Kemp, coming off two surgeries, is unable to play next year, the Dodgers will have Joc Pederson standing by at Triple-A. Pederson had an .838 OPS at Double-A Chattanooga and, at the time, some people thought he would be called up rather than Puig. Maybe the Dodgers could get a power arm for their bullpen in exchange for Ethier. Those seem to come in handy in October.
Ethier has been the subject of trade rumors for more than a year now. It might be time to turn the rumors into reality. ESPN’s Jim Bowden wrote that the New York Yankees, Texas Rangers and Seattle Mariners all could show some interest in Ethier.
5. Fast-track the prospects
That was one of the things Colletti mentioned about the Cardinals. They have been willing to move their young players quickly and to take a leap of faith and use them in key roles in the major leagues. If you trust the player, it makes sense.
Michael Wacha was at Texas A&M in 2012. Trevor Rosenthal was in community college in 2009. Joe Kelly and Seth Maness both pitched in college in 2011. Lance Lynn was at Mississippi in 2010. The pattern, of course, is that they are college guys and the Dodgers have gotten behind that trend in a big way, loading up on college arms last June.
The Dodgers don’t have that kind of elite talent in their system, but they’re working on it. Chris Anderson, Tom Windle, Chris Reed and Ross Stripling are all well-regarded prospects who were drafted off college teams in recent seasons. Lee was a high-school draft pick, but he’s had enough minor-league seasoning to be a factor next year.
You would think that, out of that group, there must be at least one or two pitchers capable of filling a rotation spot or meaningful bullpen role for the Dodgers. The Dodgers had a good experience with Paco Rodriguez, who was the first player from the 2012 draft to reach the major leagues.
There’s no more fulfilling way to get younger than to trust your own guys.
The Dodgers have worked out Dee Gordon and Scott Van Slyke as emergency center-field options for this series. Neither player has ever played the position. As recently as 2011, Hairston, 37, played 20 games in center field with the Washington Nationals and Milwaukee Brewers.
"I know I've lost a step, maybe two, but I like to think I'm pretty intelligent and know how to play that position pretty well," Hairston said. "It wasn't my decision. I'm going to support my teammates who have worked very hard to get here."
Hairston's goal is a second World Series ring. He would be eligible for the Dodgers' roster should they advance to the NLDS, but that might not be an easy task since Ethier could be healthy by then and the Dodgers could carry an extra pitcher.
"Fans in L.A. deserve a chance to see their team win the world championship," Hairston said. "That wouldn't be a bad thing to have on your resume, a Yankees championship and a Dodgers championship."
Hairston batted just .143 in the second half, but he points out that he did so in scattered opportunities. Hairston got just 84 at-bats after the All-Star Game.
"Somebody said I'm struggling? Come on, man, in that many at-bats?" Hairston said.
Going into their Tuesday game at AT&T Park, they trailed the Atlanta Braves by two games and the St. Louis Cardinals by one. The Dodgers went 2-4 from that point. They weren’t going to catch the Cardinals, who won all five of their remaining games. And they weren’t going to catch Atlanta, which went 3-2, but held the tiebreaker over the Dodgers.
So, the answer to that question is a fairly definitive, “no,” unless you think that by half-stepping in the final two series, the Dodgers lost their edge heading into the playoffs. That could well be true, but it didn't feel that way. We'll find out if the Dodgers can flip the switch again Thursday.
Overall, it was a pretty bad week and a continuation of the Dodgers’ lackluster September, but you could also argue, who cares?
Here’s where the worriers might have some justification. The Dodgers’ lineup didn’t look dangerous last week, scoring an average of 3.5 runs per game and batting .222. Yasiel Puig (.167, five strikeouts in six games) struggled badly. One of the few Dodgers swinging a hot bat in San Francisco, Matt Kemp, was shut down for the entire postseason with an inflamed ankle.
And it won’t get any easier Thursday, when the Dodgers face Braves right-hander Kris Medlen, who is 3-0 with a 1.23 ERA against the Dodgers.
Of course, the counterargument to the worriers is that manager Don Mattingly continued to give his frontline players revolving days off. Beginning Thursday, barring a setback, Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Puig will all be in the lineup for every game.
While the loss of Kemp and, probably, Andre Ethier, will sap the lineup of some depth, the Dodgers have the names and resumes to do damage once again. If they can only find the spark they’ve been missing.
Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke finished up their regular seasons exactly as you would want them to, by dominating. Kershaw put a ribbon on his Cy Young-bound season Friday and Greinke pitched nearly as well the following day while, somehow, picking up the loss.
Hyun-Jin Ryu had another one of those starts where he gives up a bunch of hits, but generally pitches out of trouble. Ricky Nolasco’s slump is something of a concern, but if the Dodgers’ top three starters pitch to form, maybe they won’t have to worry about a Game 4, who knows?
It was that kind of week for Dodgers pitching, which lost four games while pitching to a 1.92 ERA.
Most of the key relievers seem to be sharp heading into the playoffs, Kenley Jansen has been unhittable, Brian Wilson continues to go strong and J.P. Howell has pitched well. Paco Rodriguez has been struggling, but Mattingly said he feels fine about his young lefty heading into the playoffs.
Mattingly needs to keep his day job, because he would make a terrible psychic. All season, he has been asked to assess the severity of Dodgers injuries and, all season long, he has started out being as optimistic and conservative in his estimates as he can be.
Pretty much every time, the injury proved to be more serious than first hoped.
Last weekend, Mattingly thought Ethier was healthy enough to pinch hit, so he gave him an at-bat in San Diego. Ethier hasn’t been seen since. Going into Sunday’s game, Mattingly thought Kemp would be ready to go by Thursday. Four hours later, the Dodgers team doctor shut down Kemp for the remainder of 2013.
So, we have to assume that some of the aches and pains the Dodgers hitters have been dealing with are a bit more severe than the team has indicated. In that case, Mattingly was perfectly justified in fielding some watered-down lineups after the Dodgers clinched.
Kershaw is a good example of how players’ attitudes can affect the team’s performance. The Dodgers have provided Kershaw with awful run support all season, which means that his charmed season -- becoming just the second L.A. Dodger to finish with a sub-2.00 ERA -- only netted him 16 wins.
Now, whenever anyone glances casually at Kershaw’s baseball card, they’ll skim right over 2013 rather than recognize his brilliance this season.
All season, Kershaw has held his tongue when he was given an opportunity to criticize Dodgers hitters. Many a pitcher has admitted to frustration under similar circumstances.
People tend to focus on the big personalities -- players like Puig, Brian Wilson and Juan Uribe -- when talking about team chemistry, but a player such as Kershaw or Mark Ellis can contribute just as much by staying quiet sometimes.
STATE OF CONTENTION
The Dodgers are in the playoffs and they don’t have to bother with a wild-card game.
That’s about as good as you can hope for right about now.
Kemp was in the lineup for only 11 of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ 42 wins from June 22 to Aug. 7, when their pace was the best 50-game snippet the National League had seen in almost 70 years.
He got there in time to celebrate in the pool and clubhouse during the Dodgers’ NL West-clinching party in Arizona, but just barely. It was his fourth game back after missing two months.
But the timing isn't ideal.
News that Kemp is lost for the postseason came at an awkward moment. The Dodgers were on the field whipping up fan frenzy for their first playoff appearance in four seasons Sunday at the exact moment Kemp, inside the Dodgers' clubhouse, was informing reporters he’d been shut down for the rest of the season.
Not exactly some happy news to go sailing with into October.
But the real reason Sunday’s news left such a mark was that Andre Ethier’s availability for the first round of the playoffs hangs by a thread. Ethier might not have been an impact offensive player this season, but he was a solid contributor to the offense and a reliable glove in center field. As long as other hitters were providing the power around him, Ethier kept the Dodgers’ lineup humming along.
Ethier hasn’t run since the Dodgers shut down his running program last week in San Francisco. If he makes the roster for the Dodgers’ series in Atlanta, it figures to be as a pinch hitter.
So, yeah, Kemp’s injury might have just reduced the Dodgers’ chances of advancing to the National League Championship Series by a few percentage points or so, depending on how healthy some of the other nicked-up Dodgers are.
“It’s not going to be easy. He does big things, but, at the same time, we just have to play as a team,” Hanley Ramirez said. “Everybody knows that Matt Kemp is a great player.”
In 2013, Kemp wasn’t a great player, actually. He was an average player, maybe slightly below average for an outfielder. In Kemp’s most recent stint on the disabled list, for the ankle, the Dodgers went 36-17 without him.
But his threat gave the Dodgers’ offense more length. Pitchers have reason to fear Kemp and, to some extent, Ethier.
Now, they’ll see either Skip Schumaker, who is virtually devoid of power, or someone such as Scott Van Slyke, whom they probably have never heard of. Plus, the Dodgers’ bench gets a little worse whenever Schumaker is inserted in the starting lineup.
The Dodgers, however, are far from doomed. If Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw pitch to their capabilities, you and I could probably take up a couple lineup spots and the Dodgers could survive.
Schumaker started in center field in Games 5, 6 and 7 of the 2011 World Series, and it didn’t seem to hurt the St. Louis Cardinals much. They were world champions. If the Dodgers can get by Atlanta, Ethier should be healthy enough to play in the next round.
At times, Kemp showed glimpses of his MVP-caliber 2011 and April of 2012, when he was, arguably, the best all-around player in the game. He batted .314 with three doubles and a home run in his last 11 games, but there were also troubling signs, even in the good times. In those 11 games, Kemp struck out seven times, three more times than he walked.
He would have been particularly useful against the Braves, who could use two left-handed starting pitchers against the Dodgers in Mike Minor and Paul Maholm. The other team the Dodgers could have played, the St. Louis Cardinals, have no left-handed starters.
Before Sunday’s game, Mattingly -- a onetime batting champion and longtime hitting coach -- talked about what he saw in Kemp’s swing over the past two weeks.
“It still looks, to me, like a spring training, because you’ll see bad days then good days, good days then bad days,” Mattingly said. “To me, that’s what the early season is. You see guys who one day look like they’re getting there and the next day are out of sorts again. We haven’t seen that locked-in look like what Matt had at the end of ’11 and beginning of ’12.
“But he definitely looked more like the beginning of ’12 than the beginning of this season.”
So, the Dodgers might have seen Kemp’s comeback forestalled. And, who knows, had his ankle held up, he might have been the one leading them to World Series glory. It just seems a tad ill-informed to suggest he was the only one capable of doing it.
LOS ANGELES -- Sunday’s 2-1 loss to the Colorado Rockies began to take on a spring training feel, with starting pitchers piggy-backing each other's outings, with Triple-A players all over the field in the final innings and nobody seeming too worked up about the result.
When you can afford to play like that in Game 162, you’re usually in pretty good shape.
The meaningful action came in the middle of the game, when the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Chicago Cubs to sew up the National League’s top seed, locking in the Dodgers’ first-round playoff opponent: the Atlanta Braves.
The Dodgers went 2-5 against the Braves this season. They got swept in a three-game series in Atlanta and split a four-game series at home, but both of those series came during the Dodgers’ dark days, when they were beset with injuries, and only die-hard Dodger fans had ever heard of Yasiel Puig.
One of the things the Dodgers will begin to find out Thursday, when they open the National League Division Series at Turner Field, will be whether their sluggish September will impact their hopes of playing deep into October.
The season ended with a whimper, with the Dodgers scoring two runs the past two games against the team with the worst ERA in the National League.
That reflected a longer-term slowdown. The Dodgers were the hottest team in baseball until they got swept in a three-game series in Cincinnati. After Sept. 5, the Dodgers went 9-14 to end their season. In many of those games, manager Don Mattingly rested more than one of his everyday position players, cognizant of a big division lead and the fragility of his team’s health.
Hyun-Jin Ryu allowed two runs Sunday, somehow working around eight hits, in four innings and finished his rookie season with an even 3.00 ERA. He will pitch Game 3 of the Dodgers’ first-round playoff series at Dodger Stadium next Sunday.
Much of Sunday was about auditions and brush-up work. Ricky Nolasco, who figures to be the Dodgers' Game 4 starter, if they need one, pitched a scoreless inning. So did Chris Capuano, who is bidding to latch onto a job as a reliever coming off a groin injury.
It was a good season for the Dodgers' box office. Sunday was the 29th sellout, the team announced, the most at Dodger Stadium since 1983. They drew 3,743,527 fans on the season, best in baseball.
Ethier will work out Tuesday morning at Dodger Stadium, where he will be evaluated for whether he’s sound enough to play in the National League Division Series. He has been dealing with soreness in his left shin for more than two weeks and has had just one at-bat since Sept. 13, a pinch-hitting appearance in which he struck out.
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said he is open to the possibility of carrying Ethier strictly as a pinch hitter, but not if he can’t run the bases.
“I would rather lean toward letting him play, but I could lean either way and it doesn’t really matter,” Mattingly said. “We have to see what he can do.”
Matt Kemp also missed his second straight game with ankle soreness, but Mattingly said he is confident Kemp will be able to play Thursday.
* Reliever Paco Rodriguez traveled to Arizona for the birth of his first child, but will be back in plenty of time for the Dodgers’ Tuesday charter flight to whichever city they begin the playoffs.
* Two pitchers who figure to get work Sunday: Chris Capuano and Kenley Jansen. The Dodgers are contemplating keeping Capuano on the roster as a third left-handed reliever. Jansen hasn’t pitched since Tuesday.
Here are lineups for Sunday’s season finale, also the last career game for Todd Helton, who has announced his retirement:
1. Charlie Blackmon CF
2. Josh Rutledge 2B
3. Todd Helton 1B
4. Troy Tulowitzki SS
5. Michael Cuddyer RF
6. Nolan Arenado 3B
7. Charlie Culberson LF
8. Jordan Pacheco C
9. Jeff Francis LHP
1. Yasiel Puig RF
2. Carl Crawford LF
3. Michael Young SS
4. Adrian Gonzalez 1B
5. Mark Ellis 2B
6. Juan Uribe 3B
7. A.J. Ellis C
8. Skip Schumaker CF
9. Hyun-Jin Ryu LHP
LOS ANGELES -- Seems the Los Angeles Dodgers can’t even make it through pregame warm-ups without losing a key player to injury.
Matt Kemp was a late scratch Saturday evening against the visiting Colorado Rockies after feeling soreness in his left ankle. The Dodgers could have used his bat, as they were shut down by Rockies starter Juan Nicasio and a trail of relievers in a 1-0 loss in the penultimate game of the regular season.
Kemp returned Sept. 16 after missing two months with an injury to the same ankle and a hamstring strain that also popped up late in his rehabilitation. He's been hitting .314 since his return, though he’s hitless in his past nine plate appearances.
Kemp was penciled in to bat fifth and play center and was even announced on the scoreboard about 10 minutes before the first pitch, but it was Skip Schumaker who jogged out to center in the top of the first, with Nick Buss entering the starting lineup in right field.
Juan Uribe moved up one spot to No. 5 in the batting order and came up with the bases loaded and one out in the sixth inning. He fouled out to the catcher before left fielder Scott Van Slyke hit an inning-ending fly out to right. The Dodgers, who will open the NL Division Series on Thursday at either the St. Louis Cardinals or Atlanta Braves, remain the worst-hitting team in the majors with the bases loaded this season (.194).
Buss ended another Dodgers scoring threat by grounding out to first with runners on second and third and two outs in the second inning.
The loss prevented Dodgers starter Zack Greinke (15-4) from winning his eighth consecutive decision and matching his career-high win total. Greinke allowed one earned run on four hits and struck out seven without walking a batter. He lowered his ERA to 2.63, the second-lowest mark of his career after his AL Cy Young season of 2009 (2.16).
Greinke’s only miscue came against Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado with two outs in the fourth and Troy Tulowitzki on second base. Greinke left a 1-2 pitch over the plate and the Orange County native lined it into left-center field, where it fell just out of the reach of a diving Van Slyke.
Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig was held out of the starting lineup for precautionary reasons after twice fouling pitches off his lower left leg in Friday’s victory. He pinch-hit with two outs in the seventh inning and struck out on three pitches.
Without hesitation, Lopes answered, “Unpredictable.”
Puig has been with the Dodgers for nearly four months. In that time, they’ve climbed from as far back as 9 ½ games in the NL West standings to division champions. They won 53 of 66 games during their summer surge, including a franchise-record 15 consecutive road games.
Puig has his fingerprints all over one of the great turnarounds in franchise history, hitting .322 since his arrival with 19 home runs among his 42 extra-base hits.
Still, from listening to Dodgers manager Don Mattingly and his coaching staff, it's clear Puig still has a lot to learn.
“We see a guy with just a load of talent, but also you see the young player in him at times,” Mattingly said.
During the Dodgers’ previous homestand, Mattingly spoke of Puig’s lack of control in the outfield. His tendency to overthrow the cutoff man has been well documented, but on this night Mattingly was discussing Puig’s unbridled aggression when chasing down fly balls, saying his teammates don’t trust that he won’t run them over in pursuit.
His baserunning has been just as just as erratic. He’s stolen 11 bases but has been caught eight times. Even more disturbing, he has been picked off, doubled up and run through stop signs to record a number of other outs on the basepaths.
Puig also seems reluctant to take the advice of others. Against the Rockies on Friday night, he fouled a ball of his lower left leg in his first at-bat and hobbled around before eventually grounding out. Mattingly said he brushed off a recommendation to wear a shin guard and later fouled another pitch off the same area in the fifth inning, ultimately causing him to leave the game.
"I would think he would want to wear one, but ...," Mattingly said before just shrugging his shoulders.
Puig took batting practice Saturday and Mattingly said he would be available to play if needed, but is holding him out for precautionary reasons.
A more difficult decision looms Thursday. Who will be the starting outfielders when the Dodgers open the NL Division Series, either at the St. Louis Cardinals or Atlanta Braves? Matt Kemp and Carl Crawford appear healthy and ready, and another veteran outfielder, Andre Ethier, is wrapping up his rehab from an injured lower left leg at the team’s spring training complex in Glendale, Ariz.
With the Dodgers' playoff positioning set, Mattingly was asked if he planned to let the players manage the team in the final two games. Mattingly said he hadn’t thought about that possibility, but then asked reporters who they considered good candidates.
When it was suggested Puig could coach third base, Mattingly answered, “It would probably do him some good.”
1. Charlie Blackmon RF
2. Charlie Culberson LF
3. Corey Dickerson CF
4. Troy Tulowitzki SS
5. Todd Helton 1B
6. Nolan Arenado 3B
7. Jordan Pacheco C
8. Jonathan Herrera 2B
9. Juan Nicasio P
1. Skip Schumaker RF
2. A.J. Ellis C
3. Hanley Ramirez SS
4. Adrian Gonzalez 1B
5. Matt Kemp CF
6. Juan Uribe 3B
7. Michael Young 2B
8. Scott Van Slyke LF
9. Zack Greinke P