April 11, 2016
The Many Moves of Friedman and Zaidi
The only silver lining to the Dodgers’ non-stop injury free-for-all this season is that it has opened up a few spots on the old 40-man roster. With Andre Ethier and Josh Ravin able to be switched over to the 60-day DL due to various broken bones, the Dodgers have a couple of vacancies that they can use their massive financial might to fill. So, it appears that they’ve raided a team feeling a 40-man crunch: the Cleveland Indians. As a result, the Tribe gets a little cash and frees themselves from a couple of Triple-A commitments, and the Dodgers snag more fodder for their big league club if they need it.
After years of being a “just-missed” guy on prospect lists for the Cardinals and Indians, Ramsey followed up a very solid minor-league run in 2014 with an uninspiring Triple-A performance in 2015. He’s got a good minor-league walk rate (10.5 percent at Columbus last year), but his power slipped to just a .139 ISO last year, which was his lowest mark since his High-A debut. Ramsey’s short, left-handed swing could be just an adjustment away from being a decent platoon power bat on the bench, or he could end up being a solid piece at Oklahoma City instead of Chavez Ravine. The good news is that if he washes out of the Dodgers’ system as an outfielder, L.A. can always plug him into their think tank. (Hey, we Florida State guys gotta stick together.)
Where Ramsey’s power may end up a question mark, Walters’ is an emphatic exclamation point. A switch-hitter who can play multiple positions and hit for power sounds wonderful, but almost every other facet of Walters’ game needs refinement. He has some trouble making contact (.240 PECOTA-projected batting average for 2016), hasn’t performed when called up to the show over the past two seasons (.232 career True Average), gets injured fairly often, and his power petered out in Columbus almost as much as Ramsey’s did in 2015. Did I mention he’s not really a plus defender at any of the positions he plays?
What the Dodgers picked up here is a pair of the mismatched players who often find themselves on the fringe between Triple-A and the big leagues—too old for prospect status, too talented to simply let go of. Thanks to their run of injuries, the Dodgers can stash these two in Oklahoma City until they’re needed, and see if they can wring any last bit of performance from these once-promising players. The only cost was money, and hey, the Dodgers can afford to take a risk or two.
Promoted IF/OF-L Micah Johnson to the major leagues. [4/9]
Perhaps the least interesting part of the Todd Frazier deal back in December, Johnson has speed for days and an approach that worked for him in the minors, but he lacks the glove and power to be an everyday second baseman. Of course, the Dodgers are the new poster team for shifting players across the field—remember, this is a team with perhaps four players who could regularly start at second base for other teams: Howie Kendrick, Chase Utley, Enrique Hernandez, and (maybe) Justin Turner. So of course they brought up another second sacker.
In his Dodgers debut, he was brought in as a pinch-hitter and the third second baseman of the game (behind Hernandez and Utley), during the ninth inning. He’s also seen some time in the center of the outfield, making him what could be an opposite-handed complement to Hernandez in several positions. This kind of ridiculous, continued flexibility among the Dodgers’ regulars and irregulars makes them one of those teams that’s most able to effectively mix and match on the fly, which is exactly what they did during that debut game. Only Yasiel Puig and Adrian Gonzalez stayed in the game for all 10 innings at the same position in which they started, and sure enough, the battle was won by late-game replacement Corey Seager driving in the winning run.
In the end, Micah Johnson is hard to get excited about sans context. But the Dodgers, plagued by injuries and possessed of a world of depth, make flawed but mobile players like Johnson sing. They can afford to use him as a pinch-runner, a replacement for pretty much anyone who matches up worse than he does, whatever Farhan Zaidi and Dave Roberts imagine. On a team that actually uses and appreciates bench players, he’s an asset—just expect him to be a tad overmatched at this point in his career.
Believe it or not, the Dodgers appear to have a type…at least when it comes to scrap-heap relievers on minor-league deals. If you were to look at Baseball-Reference’s Similarity Score for LeCure, you’d find that his most similar pitcher is Dale Thayer. And if you looked at the Similarity Score for Thayer, you’d find Red Sox righty Junichi Tazawa…but LeCure is a close second. So I suppose the next step is to try and figure out if this is synchronicity, or just a dumb-luck twist of fate that happens when you’re buying up a backlog of relievers in Southern California.
LeCure has struggled with diminished velocity on his fastball over the past few seasons, which hurts him perhaps more than most—his best years coincided with a heater that barely ticked over 90-91 mph. Over the past two seasons, with time split between Cincinnati and Louisville, he averaged in the high 80s instead, and all the tricks he plays (sinker, slider, splitter, and knuckle-curve) haven’t gotten him back to the high levels of 2011 and 2012. The good news is that his velocity started to tick back up with Arizona this Spring Training; the bad news is that he gave up 11 hits and seven runs in eight innings, which endeared him to absolutely no one.
In terms of raw stuff, Dale Thayer is pretty impressive. Unlike LeCure, he regularly tops out in the mid-90s and has featured an impressive strikeout rate in two of the last three seasons. Of course, the one of those past three that wasn’t so great was 2015—his six strikeouts per nine were enough to start him journeying this offseason. He struck out six batters in six innings during the spring, but that wasn’t enough to lock him in to a competitive Baltimore ‘pen.
Do you remember when the Dodgers had a bullpen that projected to be good enough to earn a nickname Blue Shield? I do. That was just a couple of years ago. Now they’re settling for scrap-heap pickups like LeCure and Thayer to fill out the back of a bullpen that’s destined to require more fodder come the summer. Neither player is particularly young or exciting, but neither one is too far removed from a run of success. Unlike the Brian Wilson / Chris Perez / Brandon League acquisitions under the previous Dodgers regime, these low-risk hurlers could provide a little value later on for far less of a cost than the name-brand bullpen arms.
Signed 1B-L James Loney to a minor-league contract. [4/7]
This is why the Rays don’t sign veterans to multi-year free agent contracts; even when the team identifies an undervalued asset, a piece of their particular puzzle, sometimes the investment turns out bad. After giving Loney a three-year, $21 million contract prior to the 2014 season, the first baseman gave the team -0.6 WARP, and was projected for -0.5 WARP more in 2016. It’s no surprise that a team stocked full of options at the cold corner would send him packing, and now he’s signed on with San Diego.
Loney has an atypical skillset for a first baseman, as you probably have heard. He’s a defense-first regular who hits more like your favorite under-powered middle infielder than your least-favorite first baseman. As a guy with a .269 career True Average and good defense, he could be very useful even at the three—but last year he demonstrated that his two key skills could be slipping. His overall offense took a dive in his injury-plagued campaign last season as his rate of hard-hit balls fell, and a .243 True Average barely rates at shortstop these days, let alone first base. And his defense, long a favorite tool among scouts and statheads, was merely okay by FRAA—which has never loved him—and downright ugly by those other advanced defensive metrics.
Of course, first base has been an absolute wasteland in the Yonder Alonso years at PETCO Park, so one could see how Loney could find a path to playing time. Former teammate Wil Myers is the incumbent at Loney’s position, but as a new convert to the spot, perhaps there will come a time when Myers returns to the outfield and opens up a role for Loney. If that does happen, the Padres’ new addition will get back to making solid contact, spraying singles and doubles and making a great target for the rest of his team’s infielders. If not, not only will Loney fail to deliver on the promise of his former prospect status, he’ll probably take an extended tour of the PCL before calling it a career or heading to Japan…where he could actually do quite well, I’d bet.
Claimed LHP Brad Hand off waivers from Miami. [4/8]
Everyone can use a good left-handed pitcher. But despite toiling for years in pitchers’ parks like Miami and now San Diego, Hand has yet to prove himself as anything more than replacement-level. He’s a classic swingman in the sense that he swings back and forth between a starter and reliever as surely as a metronome.
With the Padres’ rotation in serious flux, and Robbie Erlin and Drew Pomeranz pressed into rotation duty, the team needs a living human being who throws from the south side, so Hand’s their man. His splits tell the story of a lefty specialist—even in a disaster of a 2015 season, he held same-handed hitters to a .186 True Average, with a multi-year split of .206 that isn’t much worse. Of course, right-handed hitters bust him up pretty badly. His new slider looked good last season, but he still was throttled to the tune of a 5.80 overall Deserved Run Average.
Based on that metric, only seven pitchers had a worse season than Hand last year, but perhaps there’s still hope. San Diego brought him in during his first appearance to face four right-handed hitters—Charlie Blackmon pinch-hit from the left side—which is likely the worst possible situation to place Hand in. Despite facing three righties and a lefty, Hand retired the side, and the only player to reach base reached on an error. Of course that’s a small sample, but it’s a heartening one. After all the bad luck Hand has had, it’s nice to have a little good karma to take forward, at least.