SweetSpot: Matt Kemp

A very rough, pretty optimistic estimate suggests that Matt Kemp, Justin Upton and Wil Myers will produce about 90 to 95 more runs than last year's Padres outfield. That's about 10 wins worth of offense. However, that doesn't include defense, which is a potential problem if Kemp or Myers plays center field on a regular basis, or the possibility Kemp gets injured or Myers just isn't as good as everyone once believed.

Still, it's been an exciting few days for new general manager A.J. Preller and Padres fans. Besides the three outfielders, Preller acquired catcher Derek Norris and reclamation project Will Middlebrooks to play third base. We don't know what will happen. It could be an insanely genius series of moves or it could be hype that fizzles with a bunch of fly balls to the Petco Park warning track and doubles in the gap as we see the backs of Kemp and Myers chasing after baseballs.

But what did Preller have to lose? The Padres have been boring and bad for years, with just one winning season since 2007 (a flukey 90-win season in 2010) and no postseason trip since 2006. Attendance, over three million in 2004, has hovered around two million in recent seasons.

So Padres fans are buzzing. So is Twitter:

Sure, this could end up like the 2013 Blue Jays, when they added Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera, R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson. They were a trendy World Series pick. Big names! Sexy names! The Blue Jays won one more game than the previous season, finishing 74-88.

It will be interesting to see how the power plays out in Petco. Even Middlebrooks and second baseman Jedd Gyorko have 25-homer potential. The Padres were 28th in the majors in home runs in 2014, ahead of only the Cardinals and Royals. I'll go out a limb and say they won't be that low again.

I certainly can't recall a team making a series of big moves like this in such a short period of time, maybe not even one offseason (the Blue Jays got Reyes, Buehrle and Johnson in one trade with the Marlins). That Preller did it without giving up any of his core pieces from 2014 -- most notably, starters Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross or Ian Kenneedy -- or the club's top three prospects is remarkable. But it also shows how much the Dodgers wanted to clear out Kemp's contract and that elite players with one year until free agency just aren't able to bring in a top pro sects (see the Jeff Samardzija trade). It also shows, however, that Kemp and Upton are overrated; big names, yes, but not superstar players at this point in their careers and took a first-year GM like Preller to make the gamble.

Which doesn't mean the Padres haven't traded any of their prospects. Remember, Preller made his mark with the Rangers as a talent evaluator. Time will tell if he traded away the right guys and kept the ones who can play.


Dodgers' rebound win sweet in the details

October, 5, 2014
Oct 5

The Dodgers tied up their series, and though they had a few in-game setbacks, Saturday's win over the Cardinals was more impressive because when things didn’t work out, the Dodgers still found a way to win, often by exploiting the star power that makes them so dangerous this time of year. So let’s start with that …

1. Matt Kemp is back where he ought to be. Kemp’s decisive home run in the bottom of the eighth makes for a nice moment to note the guy who almost won an MVP award in 2011 and looked like he’d set the world afire in April 2012 is back. Kemp had already made this point with a .606 slugging percentage and 17 homers since the All-Star break. Add that he did it against Pat Neshek, a tremendous situational righty brought in for just the occasion, and it was that much more impressive. But after all the trade rumors, the frenzied speculation, the readiness of so many to stick one fork or another in him as a top-shelf slugger or a Dodger next season or next week, seeing him win a postseason game in L.A. is the kind of ending that makes more than Hollywood happy.

Tying the series after seeing Clayton Kershaw torn apart is huge because you can’t lose faith in him. Kemp’s homer got the Dodgers the split. Now have to at least split the next two, then ask the best pitcher on the planet to do his thing. That’s worth taking a chance on.

2. Don Mattingly pulls Zack Greinke after seven innings and 103 pitches. In the past, I’ve argued the number to worry about isn’t 100 -- it’s 120. But that’s a general observation, not a one-size-fits-all solution, and Greinke has been handled with care this year. He has rarely pitched beyond seven innings or 100 pitches. In fourth at-bats, Greinke has allowed a .785 OPS. So when you add that Greinke was due to face the top of the Cardinals’ order a fourth time -- including Matt Carpenter -- you can understand why Mattingly did what he did, come what might. Which brings us to …

3. Matt Carpenter’s home run in the eighth. Matt Carpenter is raking Dodgers pitching so far, and he kept it up in Game 2. He doubled in the sixth -- only to get stranded by some excellent work from Greinke -- and then clobbered J.P. Howell for an opposite-field home run. So yes, pitch carefully to Carpenter, because the hot hand might last this series. Howell posted a .512 OPS against left-handed hitters this year, so Mattingly did exactly what he was supposed to do. It’s as simple as: Howell didn’t execute and Matt Carpenter’s really good.

4. Greinke stifles the Cards in the sixth inning. Part of what got the game into the “late drama” portion was an ace pitcher keeping himself out of trouble. Carpenter’s double could have been the start of something ugly, but Greinke responded effectively. He got Jon Jay out on two pitches, struck out Matt Holliday, was appropriately careful with Matt Adams and then retired Jhonny Peralta a third time. That’s the sort of pitching that keeps your ace label, and the sort of thing the Dodgers needed after seeing Kershaw lit up the night before.

5. The Cardinals seemingly doubled up Dee Gordon in the third, only to have replay take it away. Sure enough, Kolten Wong didn’t have the ball in the glove when he tried to tag Greinke, which might be the only way to make that play with Gordon motoring up the line. Instead, Greinke got to go to second base on what history will blandly remember as Gordon’s RBI groundout with runners at the corners and nobody out. That overturned call was especially critical because it kept the inning alive and created an RBI opportunity for Adrian Gonzalez. He singled to center, and Greinke scored to make it 2-0. Score one more for both the Dodgers and the robots-and-replay crowd.

Christina Kahrl writes about MLB for ESPN. You can follow her on Twitter.

Five things we learned Sunday

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21

We're starting to see a little clarity. I think. Check the standings, playoff odds and remaining schedule at the Hunt for October page.

1. The A's with their biggest win of the season.

Of course, they needed their biggest win after weeks of biggest defeats. The Oakland A's entered extra innings against the Phillies knowing the Seattle Mariners had already lost, so they had a chance to increase their lead over Seattle to two games while maintaining a half-game lead ahead of the Kansas City Royals. Oakland's much-maligned bullpen tossed 4.2 scoreless innings -- kudos to Bob Melvin for letting closer Sean Doolittle pitch two innings -- and then Josh Donaldson hit a two-run walk-off home run to dead center to give Oakland the 8-6 win. As the Oakland announcer says, "The A's finally got a hero today." It may provide the lift they needed to get them into the wild-card game. Oakland finishes with three at home against the Los Angeles Angels and four at the Texas Rangers.

2. Hisashi Iwakuma, meet the wall.

On Aug. 19, Iwakuma tossed eight scoreless innings to beat the Philadelphia Phillies and lower his ERA to 2.57. King Felix was getting all the attention for the Mariners but Iwakuma wasn't far behind. But since then, he has been a disaster. On Sunday, he got knocked out in the fifth inning, unable to hold a 3-1 lead and the Houston Astros eventually rolled to an 8-3 win. In his past six starts, he's 2-3 with a 9.12 ERA, raising his season number to 3.54. The Mariners are now 1.5 games back of the Kansas City Royals for wild card No. 2. (Or one game, if you want to count that suspended game as a loss for the Royals, which you really shouldn't do until it's official, one way or the other, because this is baseball and crazy things can happen.)

With Chris Young also looking like he's done, Lloyd McClendon is going to have to think of some desperate measures for his pitching staff this week. That means more than just quick hooks for his starters, but maybe even trying a couple of bullpen games -- starting Tom Wilhelmsen or another reliever, for example. It doesn't help that the Mariners will have had just one day off in September and now have to travel to Toronto and then back home to face the Angels to wrap the season.

3. Pirates playing for wild-card home-field advantage.

Pittsburgh essentially eliminated the Milwaukee Brewers with a 1-0 victory behind Vance Worley's eight scoreless innings and also pulled into the wild-card lead with the San Francisco Giants at 84-71. Edging out the Giants is important: The Pirates finished 51-30 at home and are 33-41 on the road. The Pirates won the season series over the Giants, so they get the tiebreaker if the clubs finish with the same record. While Pittsburgh is still just 2.5 behind St. Louis for the NL Central, they finish with four in Atlanta and four in Cincinnati, so they need a good road trip to win that home-field edge, let alone catch the Cardinals.

4. Matt Kemp just about wraps up the NL West.

Kemp went 4-for-5 with a home run and four RBIs in an 8-5 win over the Cubs. Kemp since the All-Star break looks a lot like 2011 MVP candidate Kemp: .310/.374/.594. Oh ... Yasiel Puig is also starting to heat up: .419 with two home runs and four doubles over his past 10 games. The Dodgers took three of four in the series, with only a bullpen collapse on Saturday preventing the sweep. The lead over the Giants is now 4.5 games with the Dodgers hosting the Giants on Monday through Wednesday, the Giants obviously needing a sweep to have a shot at the division title. The pitching matchups: Jake Peavy versus Dan Haren, Madison Bumgarner versus Zack Greinke and Tim Hudson versus Clayton Kershaw. (Catch the final two games on ESPN.)

5. Stephen Strasburg may have locked up Game 1 of the division series.

Strasburg threw 84 pitches in seven scoreless innings in a 2-1 win over the Marlins and speculation out of D.C. has Matt Williams selecting Strasburg as his Game 1 starter for the playoffs, even though Doug Fister, Jordan Zimmermann and Tanner Roark all have lower ERAs. Strasburg is 5-1 with a 1.88 ERA over his past eight starts, with 49 strikeouts and just seven walks in 52.2 innings. He's topped 200 innings for the first time, but his fastball velocity has held strong, 94-95 mph and touching 97-98. After being benched two years ago, he still hasn’t made his first postseason start. I can’t wait.

Five things we learned Sunday

September, 8, 2014
Sep 8
1. Oakland's pain continues.

After Oakland's dramatic ninth-inning rally on Saturday, the Astros returned the favor, scoring twice in the ninth to win 4-3. Especially painful: The Astros didn't even get a hit as Ryan Cook walked three batters and Fernando Abad walked two (around a sacrifice fly). Eric O'Flaherty, the team's interim closer with Sean Doolittle injured, was unavailable with lower back tightness, so Bob Melvin turned to Cook, who promptly walked Marwin Gonzalez on four pitches and threw only five of 18 pitches for strikes. With the Angels pounding the Twins, the A's are now seven back. It's all about holding on to a wild card now -- and avoiding becoming the first team of the wild-card era to have the best record in the majors at the All-Star break and miss the playoffs. Next up: A seven game road to Chicago and Seattle. That trip to Safeco shapes up as a huge series with the Mariners just two games behind the A's for the first wild card.

2. Wade Davis continues to throw up zeroes.

Filling in for Greg Holland (biceps tendinitis) in the ninth inning, Davis spun another scoreless inning to get his second save of the weekend -- closing out 1-0 and 2-0 wins over the Yankees, giving the Royals their first season-series edge over the Yankees since 1999. Davis has allowed five runs all season for a 0.71 ERA and hasn't allowed a run since June 25, a span of 31 appearances. Ned Yost has been careful not to ride his big three relievers too hard. With Holland out, Aaron Crow pitched out of the seventh on Sunday after Yordano Ventura threw six-plus scoreless innings and Kelvin Herrera was pushed back to the eighth.

Yost may have to ride that bullpen a little harder down the stretch, especially after Danny Duffy left his start on Saturday after one pitch with a sore shoulder. But he does have his three veteran starters lined up for the big series against the Tigers that begins Monday, with Jeremy Guthrie, Jason Vargas and James Shields set to go.

3. Don't forget Andrew McCutchen in the NL MVP race.

He went 3-for-5 with his 22nd home run as the Pirates finished off a sweep of the Cubs. McCutchen also went 3-for-5 on Saturday and ranks first in the NL in OBP and third in slugging.

4. Matt Kemp stepping up for the Dodgers.

Adrian Gonzalez had the big day on Sunday with two two-run homers, but Kemp also hit his third homer of September, after hitting five in August. Kemp is quietly 10th in the NL in slugging percentage and considering the struggles of Yasiel Puig of late (.207, no home runs since Aug. 1), Kemp may have to be the guy to carry the Dodgers down the stretch.

5. Derek Jeter had a nice career ... in case you had forgotten.

The Yankees had their Derek Jeter sendoff of sorts on Sunday, even though they still have more home games remaining. But maybe it was a good idea to do it now and get it out of the way, just in case the Yankees are fighting for a wild card down the stretch. Jeter wouldn't have wanted the ceremony to distract the team before a crucial game in the week's final season.

Of course, the Yankees went out and laid an egg with that shutout defeat. I figure it's going to take at least 90 wins to win the second wild card, which means the Yankees have to go 17-5 the rest of the way. Doesn't seem likely, does it?

Brad Pitt played Billy Beane in a movie before he played Derek Jeter or Joe Torre.

General managers are this generation's luminaries, scrutinized and critiqued as deeply and emotionally as a team's best player or manager. Players are now viewed as fungible assets. Impending free agent? Trade him! Not a star? Trade him, too! Helped your team reach a World Series or two but is on the backside of his career? Definitely trade that guy. Managers, meanwhile, have been relegated to middle-manager status. The Hall of Fame just enshrined Torre, Bobby Cox and Tony La Russa, but those were the last of the superstar managers. In the future, we'll be discussing the legacies of general managers more than managers.

[+] EnlargeBilly Beane
Michael Zagaris/Oakland Athletics/Getty ImagesIs Oakland A's GM Billy Beane done dealing, or is he preparing an all-in blockbuster?
Thursday's July 31 non-waiver trade deadline is, of course, a time when a general manager can make his impact felt, improve his team and maybe alter its postseason results with the right move that works out. It takes a smart trade and more than a little luck, but a lot is riding on what happens on Thursday.

Most of the recent World Series winners made a significant trade at the deadline (or right before): In 2013, the Red Sox acquired Jake Peavy; in 2012, the Giants acquired Hunter Pence and Marco Scutaro; the 2011 Cardinals traded for Rafael Furcal, Edwin Jackson, Octavio Dotel and Marc Rzepczynski; the 2011 Giants acquired Javier Lopez (and then got Cody Ross, Jose Guillen and Mike Fontenot in August); in 2008, the Phillies trades for Joe Blanton.

No general manager has more on the line in 2014 than Beane. He's the most famous general manager in the game; he's also never reached a World Series, let alone won one. He already made one blockbuster deal this season, but rumors have picked up the past two days that he might have something else in the works, something big … something like Jon Lester.

I love the idea. Beane traded his best prospect and last year's first-round pick to get Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. He did it early because the A's have to win the AL West and the Angels are in hot pursuit, just 2½ games behind. Beane knows he has to avoid that wild-card game, in which one bad bounce or blooper can end your season.

So go get Lester. The A's rotation would then line up as Lester, Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir, Samardzija and Hammel (who is now 0-4 in four starts after getting roughed up on Wednesday). The tiring Jesse Chavez gets shuttled back to the bullpen. That's a rotation that can hold off the Angels, who already solidified their bullpen, the team's weak spot the first three months of these season. Lester is pitching the best baseball of his career right now -- a 1.07 ERA over his past eight starts -- and is the kind of pitcher you want fronting a playoff rotation, given his career postseason ERA of 2.11.

Beane knows the importance of having that ace. The past two postseasons the A's ran out rookie Jarrod Parker and Bartolo "Methuselah" Colon as his Game 1 starters, both times against Justin Verlander. It's no guarantee of playoff success, but having a guy like Lester would certainly help.

[+] EnlargeJon Lester
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesOne way or another, Jon Lester is going to want to blow off some steam by the end of Thursday.
So don't be surprised if Lester to Oakland is Thursday's shocking trade of the day. Maybe they give up power-hitting first basemen Matt Olson (30 home runs in Class A ball) or shortstop Daniel Robertson, the team's top prospect now that Addison Russell has been traded. Maybe it's a Billy Beane special -- a three-way trade.

Maybe the A's will be mortgaging their future. OK. I think Beane would like to win in the present.

Other random thoughts about the trade deadline …

  • The Dodgers have apparently taken prospects Corey Seager, Joc Pederson and Julio Urias off the table. That seems to indicate they're likely to stand pat, other than maybe adding a reliever for bullpen depth. I think it's the right move, as they're a better than the Giants, maybe the best team in the NL, not that their slim lead is completely safe. No need to trade multiple prospects of that caliber for a guy who would be your No. 2 or 3 postseason starter. Seager and Pederson have the talent to be impact players, Pederson maybe later this year and Seager as soon as midseason next year. The next great Dodgers teams will be built around Clayton Kershaw and a middle of the order featuring Yasiel Puig, Pederson and Seager.
  • It also means Matt Kemp isn't going anywhere, as much as the Dodgers would have loved to trade his contract. But Kemp was never going anywhere; his contract is too prohibitive, his defense too poor and his batting line too uninspiring to stir up much interest. Moving forward, the move of Puig to center field has lined up the outfield as Carl Crawford, Puig and Kemp from left to right. Manager Don Mattingly had been reluctant to move Puig to center due to some of his adventures in right field (which have been less of an issue this year), but he's clearly the guy with the speed and range to play there. Well, him or Pederson. Don't rule out a Pederson call-up in August.
  • As I write this, the Giants are reportedly mulling the decision to release Dan Uggla, who has played four games for the Giants bat sat on Wednesday. Look, it was harmless to take a look at Uggla, as slim as the likelihood of it working out. If they do cut bait with Uggla, at least give GM Brian Sabean and manager Bruce Bochy credit for making a quick decision. But it still means the team will be looking for a second baseman. Daniel Murphy of the Mets would be the dream fit, but there hasn't been much in the way of Murphy rumors.
  • After watching Corey Kluber annihilate the Mariners with an 85-pitch, complete-game shutout, I expect Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik to make some kind of desperate -- maybe dumb -- move to improve his offense. But the Mariners need three hitters, not one, and there just aren't any real impact bats out there, except maybe Marlon Byrd.
  • In the small-but-important area, the Brewers need to add a right-handed reliever. After Francisco Rodriguez, they have lefties Will Smith and Zach Duke but no dominant setup guy from the right side.
  • I'm kind of tired of all the Phillies talk. OK, I mean, a Cole Hamels trade would be pretty cool, but it's not going to happen. Maybe Cliff Lee gets dealt, or maybe that happens in August (Cardinals?) after he shows he's completely healthy. But if GM Ruben Amaro really wanted to make some deals, wouldn't he have made one by now? He's known for weeks that his team is terrible and not going anywhere.
  • Yankees? Sure, I suppose they'll do something -- maybe add a right fielder (they're 28th in the majors in OPS from right field) -- but I still don't see this team making the playoffs no matter what they do at the deadline, unless Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda re-emerge in August.
  • Kevin Gausman looked good for the Orioles on Wednesday against the Angels, showing a plus changeup and holding the Angels to three hits over seven innings. He's untouchable in a trade, but you do wonder if the Orioles will consider trading Dylan Bundy if it lands them Lester. Probably not, but the O's are the one division leader lacking a No. 1 starter.

That's all for now. Let's hope for a hectic, crazy day of trades.
A week ago, the Dodgers finally admitted what many have realized for some time now: Matt Kemp is no longer a center fielder. So he spent a few days working on playing left field and started there on Wednesday for the first time since 2006. He's back in there for Thursday night's game against the Pirates. (It helps that Carl Crawford conveniently landed on the disabled list with a sprained ankle.)

"It's a little different, but I'm just excited to be able to go out and play," Kemp told ESPN LA's Mark Saxon. "The angles and slices and all that are different, but I'll figure it out. I just have to go get the ball wherever they slice them. I think I'm still a pretty good athlete, so I think I'll be OK."

Still, it's an uncomfortable situation for Don Mattingly and the Dodgers. It's perhaps telling that Kemp gave word that he was ready to play left not to Mattingly but to first-base coach Davey Lopes. Something tells me Mattingly and Kemp aren't having beers together after games these days.

Kemp is hitting .255/.317/.438 and there's little doubt that if he was hitting like he did in his MVP runner-up season of 2011 Mattingly would live with his deficiencies on defense. But he isn't and they can't and Andre Ethier gets the time in center for now and while Kemp is going to say all the right things you know he isn't the happiest of ballplayers these days.

So, should the Dodgers trade Kemp? It makes a lot of sense and the Mariners are the team that should take a chance that Kemp, who turns 30 in September, still has a lot of good baseball left in him. Here's why:

1. Kemp isn't happy.

2. The Dodgers have other outfielders. A Crawford/Scott Van Slyke platoon in left would give you about the same production that Kemp has delivered so far.

3. At some point, the Dodgers need to clear room for Joc Pederson, who is currently tearing apart the Pacific Coast League. They don't need to rush him but it's clear he doesn't need to spend much more time down there.

4. Kemp is owed $107 million on the five years left on his contract after this season (he's making $21 million this season).

5. Even then, he's more tradable than Crawford or Ethier.

6. While the Dodgers are loaded with cash, clearing Kemp's salary would open some space to re-sign Hanley Ramirez, or sign Max Scherzer or J.J. Hardy, or save up for 2016 (Matt Wieters, Jason Heyward, Justin Upton) or 2017 (Giancarlo Stanton, Carlos Gomez, Stephen Strasburg).

7. Not that Kemp is a clubhouse cancer, but there can't be great karma among the Dodgers' outfielders right now.

8. The Mariners need offense. They entered Thursday tied for 11th in the American League in runs per game.

9. They especially need a right-handed-hitting corner outfielder.

10. They have payroll flexibility -- only Robinson Cano and Felix Hernandez are signed to long-term contracts.

11. They have a hard time getting players to come to Seattle. They had to grossly overpay Cano to get him to the Northwest, but it's hard to get free agent hitters to go there.

12. There is risk with Kemp, but what do the Mariners have to lose? They haven't been relevant in years, they're 10th in the AL in attendance and the farm system has been a systemic failure for a long time, especially in producing hitters. They don't have any hitters in the upper minors right now that look ready to contribute. No, Jesus Montero doesn't count.

13. The Mariners are 26-26, so they're right there in the parity-riddled AL, and just one of five AL teams with a positive run differential.

14. They could probably get the Dodgers to chip in a third or so of that remaining $107 million, so you'd be looking at paying Kemp around $14 million per season. He only needs to be a 2-WAR player to justify that expense.

15. Why not?

In this week's Rapid Fire SweetSpot TV segment with Eric Karabell, one topic we discuss is Yasiel Puig. Entering Wednesday, Puig is second in the National League batting race, hitting .346 to Troy Tulowitzki's .373. Can Puig actually win the title? Some quick thoughts here ...

1. Dodger Stadium is a tough place to hit for average ... but not impossible.

Since moving into Dodger Stadium in 1962, only six Dodgers have hit .330 in season (Mike Piazza did it twice, including .362 in 1997). The only Dodger to win a batting title since 1962 is Tommy Davis, who led the NL with a .346 mark in 1962 and .326 in 1963.

Here are the number of .330 seasons for each National League team since 1962:

Rockies -- 17
Cardinals -- 14
Pirates -- 11
Braves -- 10
Giants -- 8
Padres -- 8 (six by Tony Gwynn)
Dodgers -- 7
Cubs -- 6
Reds -- 6
Expos/Nationals -- 6
Phillies -- 5
Brewers -- 5
Mets -- 4
Marlins -- 4
Diamondbacks -- 1

I chose .330 since that's usually the minimum it takes to win the batting title. Since 1969, only four NL batting leaders were under .330 -- Bill Buckner (.324) in 1980, Bill Madlock (.323) in 1983, Tony Gwynn (.313) in 1988 and Terry Pendelton (.319) in 1991.

So while Dodger Stadium can be a tough place to hit, I don't think it's a roadblock to Puig winning a title. It can be done.

2. Puig is for real.

I've mentioned this before, but Puig's plate discipline has improved each month of his career. Here are his month-by-month swing rates on pitches outside the strike zone (his "chase" percentage):


Best bet to win the NL batting title?


Discuss (Total votes: 2,610)

June 2013: 38.3
July 2013: 35.6
August 2013: 33.2
September 2013: 30.5
April 2014: 27.1
May 2014: 20.8

Puig is hitting .413/.518/.750 in May. Is it a coincidence that's he done that at the time he's chasing fewer and fewer pitches off the plate? I don't think so. The two are correlated and while Puig did hit into a great deal of luck during his hot start last year (he had a lot of bloopers and infield hits), his numbers this year show an improved hitter with a better approach. His strikeout rate is down, his line-drive rate is up and and his percentage of 2-0 counts has increased (from 14.5 percent to 19.6 percent). Yes, his BABIP is still high at .403 but with his speed, Puig is also the type of hitter who should hit for a high BABIP (although very few guys have ever had a .400 BABIP over an entire season).

3. The Coors Field factor.

Obviously, there is no better place to hit. Six different Rockies have won batting titles since they joined the league in 1993, including Michael Cuddyer last year at .331. Tulowitzki is hitting .521 at home, .238 on the road. Certainly, this will be a huge edge for Tulo.

4. Tulowitzki's career high in average is .315.

With this great start, he's certainly a good bet to beat that. He could go 0-for-his-next 30 and still be hitting .316. His updated ZiPS projection has him finishing at .333. If that's about where he ends up, however, it could give Puig a fighting chance.

5. Other candidates.

I listed three other guys in the poll above. Chase Utley is hitting .333, Tulo's teammate Charlie Blackmon .321 and Andrew McCutchen .310. Each has his advantages. Utley is probably the biggest long shot since he hasn't hit .300 since 2007 (when he hit .332), but he's also the healthiest he's been in years. Blackmon had the great April and gets to play in Coors and being a platoon player could actually help since he won't face many lefties to drag down his average (he should still get enough PAs to qualify). McCutchen is a proven high-average hitter: .327 in 2012, .317 last year and .310 so far in 2014. He's drawing a ton of walks this year as he gets pitched around, but fewer at-bats means a hit is worth "more" in terms of batting average.

Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy is hitting .332, which may not be a fluke since he did hit .320 in 2012. Still, hard to bet on a catcher keeping that up through the summer, but Milwaukee is a good hitter's park. I don't expect Matt Adams to stay at .326 -- that 39/5 strikeout/walk ratio suggests a hitter who can be pitched to or chase too many pitches out of the zone. Cuddyer is hitting .319 but has played just 24 games due to injury; he can't be ignored if he can reach the 502 plate appearances to qualify.
"I'm not a fourth outfielder," Matt Kemp said Friday. "We can cut that off right there. I won't accept that role. I can't accept that role."

It would be easy to poke fun at Kemp since he can't even run right now as he recovers from ankle surgery (he also had a second surgery on his shoulder), but you can't blame the guy for being a little upset. There's the four-outfielders-for-three-positions situation facing the Los Angeles Dodgers. There were the offseason trade rumors. There's Yasiel Puig, appearing on the magazine covers Kemp once graced, and really making it a three-for-two proposition since Puig needs to play every day.

In Kemp's mind, he probably thinks everyone has forgotten he went .324-39-126 in 2011 (with 40 steals to boot). He deserves to be treated like a superstar, not just another Skip Schumaker.

But that's the root of the question: Is Kemp really a superstar?

Here are Kemp's season-by-season WAR totals, via Baseball-Reference, since he became a regular in 2008 and where he ranked among all major league outfielders (minimum 275 plate appearances):

2008: 3.9 (18th)
2009: 4.8 (9th)
2010: -1.1 (102nd)
2011: 8.1 (1st)
2012: 2.4 (41st)
2013: 0.5 (79th)


Assuming Matt Kemp is ready by Opening Day or soon after, how should the Dodgers play their outfielders?


Discuss (Total votes: 2,044)

Is that the résumé of a superstar? No, not even close. Kemp was awesome in 2011, maybe the best player in baseball. But that's one year of awesomeness. He was very good in 2008 and 2009, not so good in 2010 when his average fell to .249 and his defense was disastrous according to the metrics (-37 Defensive Runs Saved). After his big 2011, the Dodgers bet big, signing him to an eight-year, $160 million extension.

In April 2012, it looked like he was on his way to another MVP-level season, hitting .417 with 12 home runs. He was the fourth player to hit at least .400 with 10 home runs in April and the first to do it in any month since Joe Mauer in May 2009. But then came the injuries: first hamstring and shoulder issues and then the ankle injury suffered on July 21 on an awkward slide into home plate.

Maybe it's not fair, but part of being a superstar is remaining healthy. It was a major aspect of Derek Jeter's value, for example -- from 1996 through 2012 he averaged 151 games per year. Right now, the idea of Kemp as a superstar is predicated on one outlier of a season.

Kemp is now 29, and considering the two years of injuries you also have to wonder if he'll be a viable center fielder when he returns. He's won two Gold Gloves, but the defensive metrics have never liked his defense; while he makes the occasional terrific play, he also gets a lot of bad jumps and doesn't get to many routine balls. Defensive Runs Saved rates him at minus-60 runs in his career in center (Ultimate Zone Rating has him at minus-60.5 runs). If Kemp's ankle issues result in a loss of speed, Andre Ethier is likely the better defensive option. With Puig entrenched in right field, that pushes Kemp to left -- where the Dodgers already have another guy with a $100 million contract in Carl Crawford.

Right now, it may seem like a luxury that the Dodgers have four outfielders. But Kemp's words allude to this situation being one huge headache for manager Don Mattingly.
As Buster Olney wrote in his Sunday blog, "a lot of the winter work was done" as general managers caught flights out of Orlando. But some big free agents are still out there -- most notably Shin-Soo Choo but also some quality starting pitchers in Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez, Bronson Arroyo and Ervin Santana.

Buster listed seven teams that could still have a big move left -- the Red Sox, Yankees, Dodgers, Rangers, Tigers, Mariners and Diamondbacks. With that in mind, here are 10 predictions on what will happen the rest of the offseason.

1. The Rangers sign Shin-Soo Choo.


Which team will Shin-Soo Choo sign with?


Discuss (Total votes: 16,955)

The Rangers could go the less expensive route and bring back Nelson Cruz without forfeiting the first-round pick they'd lose for signing Choo, but Texas had a mediocre offense last year with Cruz. Why go down that road again? Choo gets on base more and would give the team another table-setter in front of Adrian Beltre and Prince Fielder.

The Tigers signed Rajai Davis and appear willing to move forward with a Davis-Andy Dirks platoon in left field. Don't count out the Mariners -- the outfield is still a mess with the likes of Michael Saunders, Dustin Ackley and possibly Corey Hart or Logan Morrison, although the latter two are best suited for first base or DH duties.

2. The Rays trade David Price to the Mariners.


Which team will David Price be pitching for in 2014?


Discuss (Total votes: 14,476)

The Mariners can't stop with Robinson Cano and two guys coming off injuries. For better or worse, general manager Jack Zduriencik is all in. Cano's best season in a Mariners uniform is likely to be 2014 and not 2016 or 2017, so there is pressure to upgrade the current roster right now.

To get Price, the Mariners will trade Taijuan Walker despite proclamations from Zduriencik that that won't happen. "I don't have intentions of trading Taijuan," he said during the winter meetings. "You listen to any opportunities that present themselves and you go into discussions with a lot of people. And his name will come up. Why wouldn't it? As do a lot of our guys, quite frankly. But Taijuan is high-profile because he's rated our top prospect."

3. The Angels sign Matt Garza.


What team will sign Matt Garza?


Discuss (Total votes: 11,233)

The Mark Trumbo trade gave the Angels some rotation depth with Hector Santiago from the White Sox and young lefty Tyler Skaggs from the Diamondbacks. Those two would slot in behind Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson and Garrett Richards, but the Angels may not be done looking for a starter. As they learned last year, you can never have enough pitching depth, plus it wouldn't hurt to give the 22-year-old Skaggs more time in the minors to help rediscover the form that made him one of the top prospects in the game in 2012.

Can Garza fit in the payroll? Right now, Baseball-Reference estimates it at about $144 million, up from last year's $129 million. The new national TV money is coming in, but signing Garza means the Angels may need to clear some payroll. Leading to this ...

4. The Angels trade Howie Kendrick to the Braves.


Will the Braves acquire a second baseman to replace Dan Uggla?


Discuss (Total votes: 11,182)

The Braves have been oddly quiet this offseason while losing Brian McCann and Tim Hudson via free agency. No, signing Gavin Floyd -- he's not expected back until at least May after Tommy John surgery -- doesn't qualify as a major move.

Remember, despite winning 96 games, this team still batted Evan Gattis cleanup in a playoff game and started Freddy Garcia with its season on the line. The obvious position to upgrade is second base, where Dan Uggla posted a minus-1.3 WAR and was left off the postseason roster in favor of Elliot Johnson. Uggla is due $13 million each of the next two seasons, but the Braves have to decide whether they want to count on a guy who may be washed up or whether they want to pay $22 million for two second basemen.

Kendrick is signed for two more years and would cost a couple of prospects, but maybe the Braves could toss in Uggla while picking up the majority of his salary.

5. The Reds re-sign Bronson Arroyo.


Which team will sign Bronson Arroyo?


Discuss (Total votes: 10,820)

Several teams have expressed interest in Arroyo, not only because of his durability but also because Cincinnati didn't give him a qualifying offer, so you don't lose a draft pick if you sign him. The Reds seemed focused on trying to sign Homer Bailey to a long-term extension, but that hasn't happened. So they may shift their priorities back to Arroyo, who has been with them since 2006.

Even though the Twins have signed Ricky Nolasco, Phil Hughes and Mike Pelfrey, they reportedly still want to sign one more guy as they revamp their rotation. Arroyo is a classic Twins-type pitcher: control over velocity. He's looking for a three-year contract, which may price out the Pirates, but Arroyo would be a nice fit to replace A.J. Burnett if he doesn't return to Pittsburgh.

6. The Dodgers do not trade Matt Kemp.


Do the Dodgers end up trading an outfielder?


Discuss (Total votes: 11,412)

After two injury-plagued seasons, it's easy to understand the desire to trade him. But ESPN Insider Dave Cameron wrote this week that we shouldn't assume Kemp's days as an elite-level player are over:
There's some good news for Kemp and the Dodgers, however; age-28 regressions are actually pretty common, even for good young players who had established themselves as high-quality players at a young age. In most of the cases, the guys who took a year off from hitting well bounced back to perform at a high level again.

Selling now on Kemp means selling low. Yes, he has that monster contract, but the Dodgers would be wiser to hold on to Kemp and hope he rebounds and gives them a huge middle of the order with Yasiel Puig, Hanley Ramirez and Adrian Gonzalez. There is the concern that he shouldn't be playing center field, but it's not like Andre Ethier is that all much better out there. Puig is probably the best option for center if the Dodgers want to move him.

As for Ethier, maybe a trade market develops for him once Choo and Cruz sign. The Dodgers can afford to be patient.

7. The Mariners sign Nelson Cruz.


Which team signs Nelson Cruz?


Discuss (Total votes: 11,625)

The Rangers gave Cruz a qualifying offer, so the market for a guy who will turn 34 in July, has posted mediocre OBPs in recent years and has little defensive value will be slim. But, hey, the Mariners have developed a fetish for this type of player, and their first-round pick is protected. Looks like a three-year marriage in the making.

What would the Mariners look like with Cruz and Price? Something like this:

SS Brad Miller
LF/1B Corey Hart
2B Robinson Cano
RF Nelson Cruz
3B Kyle Seager
DH Logan Morrison
1B Justin Smoak
C Mike Zunino
CF Michael Saunders/Dustin Ackley

SP Felix Hernandez
SP David Price
SP Hisashi Iwakuma
SP James Paxton
SP Erasmo Ramirez

8. The Orioles sign Grant Balfour.


Which team signs Grant Balfour?


Discuss (Total votes: 8,899)

The Orioles have a hole at closer after trading Jim Johnson, a hole in left field after losing Nate McLouth, and no obvious candidate to take most of the DH at-bats. It appears they are most concerned with finding a closer.

Several teams still need (or desire) a closer, but it could come to AL East rivals. While the Yankees can ultimately just put David Robertson in the ninth-inning role, the Orioles' top relievers (Darren O'Day, Tommy Hunter, Brian Matusz) all have platoon issues. Balfour will turn 36 later this month but is seeking a three-year contract. My bet is the Orioles give it to him.

9. The Dodgers sign Ervin Santana.


Which team signs Ervin Santana?


Discuss (Total votes: 8,698)

The Dodgers have been rumored to be involved in David Price trade rumors, and they would certainly be in on Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka if he's posted. But they also don't want to deplete their farm system, and the Rakuten Golden Eagles may just decide to keep Tanaka.

Even if the Eagles do post Tanaka -- he's an unrestricted free agent in two years, so they may just decide to cash in regardless -- the Dodgers also have to sign Clayton Kershaw to a long-term contract. With Zack Greinke and eventually Kershaw, do they want three starters being paid mega-millions? Probably not. So look for them to seek a cheaper alternative like Santana, who would fill out the rotation as a durable No. 4-type starter.

10.The Cubs will keep Jeff Samardzija.


Which team will Jeff Samardzija be pitching for in 2014?


Discuss (Total votes: 11,904)

Are you as tired of Samardzija trade rumors as I am? At this point, he's been tied to nearly every team in one rumor or another. The Blue Jays are the latest possible destination, but the Cubs reportedly asked for two top prospects plus a third player. Samardzija has two seasons left until free agency, and while he struck out 214 in 213 2/3 innings, his ERA was also 4.34, and 4.72 in the second half.

So maybe he just remains with the Cubs because of the high asking price. And then the Cubs will hopefully sign him to a 10-year extension so we don't have to go listen to all these rumors again in July.

SweetSpot TV: Offseason rapid fire!

November, 26, 2013

It's another edition of Offseason Rapid Fire with Eric Karabell. We discuss the latest news and also ask: Which is the team to beat right now?

Everyone expects the Dodgers to trade an outfielder this winter. Most likely Andre Ethier. Maybe Matt Kemp. Probably not Carl Crawford since nobody really wants Carl Crawford. And definitely not Yasiel Puig, because he's Yasiel Puig. With highly regarded prospect Joc Pederson, who hit .278/.381/.497 with 31 steals at Double-A, soon ready for the majors, the Dodgers will have five outfielders and you can't play them all at once.

Mike Petriello of FanGraphs examines the six options the Dodgers have -- trading one of the five or trading none of them. The most interesting scenario involves Kemp, who has been plagued by injuries the past two seasons following his MVP-caliber 2011:
When Kemp’s 8/$160m extension was announced in the wake of his 2011 MVP quality season, it seemed like a good deal as others like Prince Fielder & Joey Votto were getting north of $200m. Since, he’s played only 179 games in two seasons amid a never-ending litany of injuries to his shoulder, hamstrings, and ankle. After a brutal start to 2013, Kemp did hit .333/.400/.630 from July 1 on… except that he did it in only 60 plate appearances interrupted by two different injuries.

The good news is that Kemp is only headed into his age-29 season, and while a .290/.352/.482 line in 2012-13 is less than you’d expect from him, it’s hardly been a Josh Hamilton-level disaster. Still, it’s that sweet spot between “too talented to dump” and “too expensive to get much return on” that makes him tough to move, unless the Dodgers ate an obscene amount of money or did so in exchange for another big contract, like an Elvis Andrus.

The Andrus idea is interesting. Andrus is owed at least $124 million through 2022. The Rangers could play Jurickson Profar at shortstop and then pursue Robinson Cano to play second base. A middle of the order with Cano, Adrian Beltre, Prince Fielder and a healthy Kemp would be pretty imposing. For the Dodgers, Andrus would allow Hanley Ramirez to move over to third base, and improve the team's defense up the middle but at the risk of moving Ramirez off the position he wants to play.


Which outfielder should the Dodgers trade, factoring in what each could bring in return?


Discuss (Total votes: 4,112)

Anyway, as Mike suggests, trading Kemp is unlikely. He's a fan favorite and there are doubts Ethier can play center field (although it will be interesting to see if Don Mattingly tries Puig out there next season considering Kemp's defensive metrics are poor). Mike also points out that "If you had too many quality outfielders, then the 2013 Dodgers wouldn't have had to give 99 starts to a group of Scott Van Slyke, Skip Schumaker, Jerry Hairston, Chili Buss, Alex Castellanos, and Elian Herrera, along with five more to Schumaker in the playoffs when neither Ethier or Kemp could answer the bell."

What do you think? How would you solve the Dodgers' outfield logjam? I'll leave Puig out of the poll but give you the five other options.

Some big names who could be traded

October, 18, 2013
The playoffs are just a couple weeks from wrapping up, which means the hot stove gets turned up to 11. Or something. I might be mixing up my metaphors. There's nothing quite like the flurry of trade rumors and whispers of potential landing spots for big-name free agents. This offseason will be no different as there are plenty of big names who could have new mailing addresses by the time the 2014 begins. Let's run through a handful of them.

Giancarlo Stanton, RF, Miami Marlins
Stanton isn't even 24 years old yet but he's been mentioned in trade rumors seemingly every week for the past two years. Given the Marlins' historical penchant for dealing away every useful player they've ever had, it makes sense. The Marlins signed Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell in their first big foray into the free-agent market upon the birth of a new stadium, but traded them away less than a year later. They traded away Hanley Ramirez, the face of their franchise. What's so special about Stanton that they wouldn't ship him off, too?

The outfielder is eligible for arbitration for the first time in his career, creating expectations for a significant jump in salary as he earned less than $550,000 in 2013. He becomes a free agent after the 2016 season. The Marlins, who had one of baseball's lowest Opening Day payrolls at $50.5 million, might value a haul of prospects more than Stanton's continued presence in their lineup. Even with Stanton, the Marlins saw a catastrophic decline in attendance in the second year in their new ballpark, so what's to stop them from running the franchise as cheaply as possible on a never-ending stream of pre-arbitration prospects, only to repeat the process ad nauseam?

There has already been a ton of interest in Stanton. Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reported that Phillies GM Ruben Amaro has inquired on Stanton's availability at least 10 times, only to be rebuffed each and every time. Imagine if the Marlins do make him publicly available. Cafardo suggests the Tigers, Mets, Mariners, Yankees, Orioles, Angels and Red Sox could all join the bidding if Stanton becomes available.

Max Scherzer, P, Detroit Tigers
After years of inconsistency, Scherzer put it all together for a fantastic 2013 season, one which will likely earn him the AL Cy Young Award. There's a ton to like about the right-hander. Among starters, only Yu Darvish missed bats at a higher rate than Scherzer. He cut his walk rate below 7 percent and he wasn't as homer-prone as in the past.

Scherzer, 29, enters his final year of arbitration having taken home a $6.725 million salary in 2013. MLB Trade Rumors estimates he'll earn $13.6 million. The Tigers already have $108 committed to just six players in 2014. If they have a comparable Opening Day payroll as they did in 2013, which was $149 million, they will need to round out the final 19 roster spots rather cheaply, which may make Scherzer expendable. Otherwise, they will need to significantly expand their payroll, perhaps to $175 million.

The only destination for Scherzer would be on a contending team looking for a one-year solution. The Dodgers and Rangers would certainly be among the first two teams to jump into the fray to acquire Scherzer's services, but don't count out teams like the Orioles and Nationals.

Matt Kemp, CF, Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers have a surfeit of outfielders and the oft-injured Kemp could be the odd man out. With Cuban sensation Yasiel Puig breaking out, and Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier under costly long-term deals, trading Kemp and getting out from under his heavy contract might just be the best route to go for the Dodgers.

Kemp spent more than half of the 2013 season on the disabled list due to a plethora of injuries including a strained right hamstring, inflammation of the AC joint in his left shoulder, a sprained left ankle, and recurring ankle and shoulder pain. He had shoulder surgery on Oct. 8 but is expected to be at 100 percent by the start of next season.

The Dodgers would be expected to eat a significant amount of Kemp's remaining $128 million over six years in any deal. Otherwise, they wouldn't get much of a return in terms of high-ceiling prospects and MLB-ready players.

Philadelphia would be an interesting destination for Kemp. Citizens Bank Park has seen fewer fans the past two seasons, as the team has gotten worse and worse. With a new local TV deal on the horizon, dealing for a superstar like Kemp would be a typical Amaro move and it would bring attention back to the team as they attempt to strike it rich, whether with Comcast or elsewhere. Right now, their center fielder is Ben Revere. While he is perfectly serviceable on his own, he doesn't have anywhere near the upside of a healthy Kemp. The Phillies could also play Kemp in right field. The problem is that the Phillies' minor league system is rather weak, especially at the upper levels, so there may not be a match.

Cliff Lee, P, Philadelphia Phillies
Has there ever been a Cy Young Award winner traded more often than Lee? Lee, who played for four teams within a span of one calendar year -- the Indians, Phillies, Mariners, and Rangers -- could be on the block again as the Phillies attempt to create a more competitive roster going into 2014. The Phillies owe $109.5 million to seven players already without factoring in arbitration-eligible players, free agents and pre-arbs. They need at least one outfielder, at least one middle-of-the-rotation starter, a set-up man, and an entire bench. They opened 2013 with a payroll below $160 million, so filling all of those holes with $50 million or less would be quite a challenge.

Trading Lee while he's still at the apex of his value -- he's coming off of a season in which he posted a 2.87 ERA in 222.2 innings while leading the league with a 6.9 strikeout-to-walk ratio -- would give the Phillies their best shot to find a suitor willing to eat the $62.5 million remaining on his contract. In return, the Phillies could further bolster their minor league system and perhaps even add a major league-caliber player to fill one of those holes.

The same teams that would be interested in Scherzer would also have interest in acquiring Lee. Due to the lefty's age and remaining salary, he would require less in terms of impact prospects, which might be more attractive to a team with a less-bountiful system like the Rangers.

Yovani Gallardo, P, Milwaukee Brewers
2013 was the worst season of Gallardo's career. The right-hander put up a 4.18 ERA in 180.2 innings, showing a markedly reduced strikeout rate and diminished fastball velocity. The Brewers owe him $11.25 million in 2014 and have a $13 million option for 2015, but they could choose to move him while he still has value.

Gallardo is clearly a tier or two below Scherzer and Lee, but the fact that he would be under team control for potentially a second year (by the team's discretion only, as opposed to a player or vesting option) is attractive to some teams -- perhaps the Indians, Orioles or Nationals.

Chase Headley, 3B, San Diego Padres
The Padres could have traded Headley after the 2012 season, when he finished fifth in MVP voting thanks to a 31-homer, 115-RBI, .875-OPS output. Instead, the Padres hung on to him, hoping he could repeat his performance and help them compete in what appeared to be a wide-open NL West. Perhaps, even, they could sign him to an extension.

Headley fractured the tip of his thumb in spring training, keeping him out for the first 14 games. The injury clearly affected his power as he was able to muscle out just six home runs in 68 games through the end of June. He wasn't exactly dead weight, but he wasn't anywhere near the MVP-caliber player he was a season prior, either.

Headley took home an $8.575 million salary and now enters his final year of arbitration eligibility. He'll likely earn a salary in the double-digit millions in 2014. The Padres, who opened 2013 with a $68 million payroll, could attempt to trade the 29-year-old before his value declines any more. The Dodgers, Angels, Yankees, Giants, Red Sox and Cardinals would all likely show interest -- particularly the Yankees since the future of Alex Rodriguez hinges on his ongoing legal battles, which could result in a suspension through all of 2014.

Jon Lester/Jake Peavy/John Lackey/Ryan Dempster, Ps, Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox could trade one of their veteran starters in an effort to create space for some of their younger arms. Any of Lester, Peavy, Lackey or Dempster could go.

Lester would be the most interesting as he's the youngest of the group. The Red Sox will assuredly pick up his $13 million club option for 2014, but they could still ship him somewhere for the right price. The lefty turns 30 in January and is coming off a rebound season. He posted a 4.82 ERA in 2012, showing a diminished ability to generate swings and misses. While he didn't fully recapture that ability in 2013, it was an improvement at least.

Peavy is under contract for one more year at $14.5 million. His bounce-back 2012 output (3.37 ERA) is sandwiched by two mediocre campaigns in 2011 (4.92) and 2013 (4.17). He'll turn 33 in May. As such, he might make a more attractive midseason acquisition rather than taking on the brunt of his salary with the chance he could be injured and/or ineffective for an entire season.

Lackey put himself back on the map in a big way in 2013, returning from Tommy John surgery. He posted a 3.52 ERA along with the best strikeout and walk rates of his 12-year career. Lackey will earn $15.25 million in 2014. His injury triggered a club option for 2015 in which he earns just the major league minimum salary ($500,000), which effectively means a team that acquires him prior to the upcoming season would be paying him $8 million per season for two years of control.

Dempster was a complete bust for the Red Sox, having his worst season by defense-independent measures since an injury-plagued 2007. The 36-year-old finished with a 4.57 ERA, forcing the Sox to move him to the bullpen for the postseason. They owe him $13.25 million for the 2014 season. Compared to a year and a half ago, when the Rangers acquired him in a trade with the Cubs, Dempster doesn't have much value, but he is easily the most expendable.

Dexter Fowler, CF, Colorado Rockies
Despite a breakout 2012 season in which he posted a .300/.389/.474 line, Fowler has consistently been a 2-3 WAR player over the last three years. His defense has ranged from slightly below average to well below average, and he is a deceptively mediocre baserunner, successfully swiping bags at a meager 68 percent success rate in 2013. He strikes out a ton and, aside from a BABIP-fueled 2012, doesn't hit for average.

Furthermore, over the span of his career (2,635 plate appearances0, Fowler has been almost entirely been a product of Coors Field. At home, he has hit .298/.395/.485, a line comparable to that of Matt Holliday, as an example. On the road, he has hit .241/.333/.361, a line comparable to Yunel Escobar.

The Rockies will pay Fowler $7.85 million in 2014, and he is eligible for arbitration for his final year after the season. While the two years of control and the potential to lock him up with an extension are both attractive features, teams (except for the Phillies, perhaps) are smart enough to check home and road splits, evaluate defense, and notice his inefficiency on the bases. When the Rockies made Fowler available last offseason, they didn't get any bites for this exact reason. The Rockies will make him available again. It will be interesting to see if Dan O'Dowd adapts by significantly reducing his center fielder's price.

Bill Baer of Crashburn Alley is a regular contributor to the SweetSpot blog.

Hanley Ramirez delivers again

July, 21, 2013

Hanley delivers, Dodgers win? I know it’s only something we’ve been hearing about for the last six weeks or so, but give credit where it’s due: The dude has made that every bit as much an everyday event as Yasiel Puig made feats of strength just so much sports wallpaper during the kid’s magical first month.

Now I know, I know: As Mike Petriello rightly noted, they can’t keep this up. Baseball is not like basketball; you don’t win with Twin Towers and a grab bag of on-field witnesses. Except that Ramirez did just that, again, as the Dodgers beat the Nationals, an equally desperate expected contender, again.

But that's the thing: Hanley Ramirez has been here before, while Puig just got here. We connect them because they've both been hot, but where Puig still has plenty to prove, Hanley Ramirez is a legitimate MVP-caliber ballplayer. The arguments for why Ramirez can’t stay at an MVP level of production might be couched in relative terms; he’s produced at an MVP level for multiple seasons at a stretch. If he does so again for four months in the limelight of L.A. and a pennant race, as much as those things aren’t supposed to matter to those who reduce all ballgames to equal value, it will be the defining moment in one player’s career in a way that no feat of Marlindom ever could be.

On Saturday night, it was up to Zack Greinke and Ramirez to make their star turns, Greinke to keep the game in reach on a night that Gio Gonzalez brought his A-game, and HanRam to provide the winning margin in the 10th. To satisfy the skeptics, Puig settled for adding a trio of K's to the proceedings, but for those who want to give team-wide props to those who earned them, six relievers combined for four innings’ worth of scoreless cameos to cue HanRam’s decisive double in the 10th. That gave rookie Chris Withrow a win that, if not earned equally by everyone, was nevertheless earned collectively as the Dodgers picked up another game on the Diamondbacks.

Like so many Angelenos, Greinke has walked the well-worn path from small-stage hero to big-market hired gun, the man whose 2009 season as a Royal might still be the single best season on the mound in the new millennium. And just as he did a week ago with a complete-game shutout, he kept his infield busy this Saturday night. Say what you will about whether or not former right-field regular Andre Ethier can really handle playing center field in the major leagues, but when somebody’s pitching like this it generally doesn’t matter who’s planted in the middle pasture -- Ethier, Jimmy Hoffa, or a palm tree.

But the star gone dark lately for fans seeking instant gratification is Puig, 0-for-9 since the break with five whiffs, which is meaningless in any serious baseball context but is nevertheless sure to simultaneously set off alarms among doubting statheads and scare-mongering radio jabberati. Certainly, Puig may never replicate his magic month. Maybe he is “just” the new Vladimir Guerrero with speed; spare the Dodgers your crocodile tears if that is so.

In part, the Dodgers’ star turns reflect the basic unfairness of geography and cash distribution and expectations. While the Dodgers may play in Chavez Ravine, face it, they’re totally Hollywood. Where the silver screen might give us Ocean’s Eleven, Twelve or Thirteen, the expectation is that if the Dodgers want their own big-budget happy ending the diamond, at some point they’ll have to give us the Dodgers Twenty-Five.

And just as any ensemble cast blockbuster provides a vehicle for single scenes where one guy or another might show you why they’re a star, that’s what the Dodgers do for baseball fans, night after night. Withrow gets a win, but Hanley Ramirez and Zack Greinke made it possible more than anyone else. Not all 25 boys in blue are performing or will; that’s just flashing a command of the obvious, like noticing that there’s a big difference between Brad Pitt or George Clooney and Scott Caan or Eddie Jemison. But it’s only oh-so-Hollywood that the Dodgers have their share of men missing at this moment who might step in to be the hero in a scene TBNL, either starting now (Carl Crawford), next month (Matt Kemp?) or next year (Josh Beckett, anyone?).

We’ll see where the Dodgers’ roller-coaster season ends, but make no mistake, these Dodgers are in the race, and Hanley Ramirez is going to be a big part of the reason why, in September as much as he was in June. And while it would be too soon to talk sequel in Hollywood -- where they want you to show them the money first -- in the sports world every team gets a sequel, every year. The Dodgers have definitely shown us the money; now, let’s see if their stars shine all the way down the stretch.

Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.
Matt Kemp is hitting .254/.309/.357, which looks more like a Nick Punto line than a Matt Kemp line, a pretty clear indication he probably should have gone on the disabled list several weeks ago when it became obvious his shoulder was limiting his production and ability to drive the ball. So now that he's on the DL and the easy reaction may be, "Well, the Dodgers climbed back into the NL West without Kemp contributing much, so there's no reason they can't climb some more without him, especially if he's just going to rest for a couple weeks."

That may very well be true, especially since they can still run out an outfield of Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier and Yasiel Puig. Since Puig played his first game on June 3, the Dodgers have hit .267, third-best in the National League, and produced a .743 OPS, 30 points higher than their season total of .713. Their runs per game has increased from 3.5 runs to 4.3, a total that would rank a solid sixth in the league over the full season.

But that 4.3 runs per game is driven by the unsustainable numbers of Puig and Ramirez, both hitting better than .400 since June 3. Ramirez has actually outproduced Puig since that date, with a 1.174 OPS compared to Puig's 1.114. I state with a fair degree of confidence that neither will hit .400 the rest of the way.

Which is why I still think for the Dodgers to make the postseason they'll need a healthy Kemp at some point. Ethier hasn't hit all that well and isn't really a center fielder and Crawford hasn't managed to stay completely healthy since 2010. For the offense to remain playoff-caliber, the Dodgers are going to have to keep scoring runs at their current pace while assuming a decrease in production from Puig and Ramirez.

That's why Kemp's second half -- and not Ricky Nolasco or some other trade acquisition by the Dodgers or a division rival -- could be the deciding factor in the NL West.
We talked some baseball. We talked Paul Goldschmidt versus Joey Votto. The record paces of Miguel Cabrera and Manny Machado. What's wrong with the B.J. Upton and Matt Kemp and what the Braves and Dodgers should do. We talked about the defense of Mike Trout and Shin-Soo Choo, disappointing prospects, Pete Kozma, Joe Mauer's RBI production, Oscar Taveras and Jurickson Profar, and much more! Click here for the complete chat wrap.