Let’s make all of the Dodgers free agents

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Now we know this isn’t going to happen. But I thought this would be fun. It’s May 31… the Dodgers miss payroll and MLB, not realizing it, is a few minutes late in stepping in to pay the players. Every Dodger player now has the right to elect free agency.

There’s two thoughts here: first, being the middle of the season, most teams don’t have nearly the financial flexibility that they would in the offseason. Budgets are set and many GMs would have to get creative in making contract proposals to the free agents. Odds are that the non-superstars wouldn’t do as well financially as they would as offseason free agents.

Second, while guys like Casey Blake and Jon Garland could take financial hits, leaving might be preferable to sticking around a Dodgers team suddenly reduced to rubble by key departures. So, I’ll work under the assumption that if it’s close, the player is going to move on.

Now the fun part… who goes where.

Clayton Kershaw – This one is obvious, right? No one is going to outbid the Yankees for Kershaw’s services. At 23 and already a dominant force, having posted a 3.19 ERA in 90 career starts, Kershaw is one of the most valuable properties around and it’s make perfect sense for the Yankees to go all in for him. Still four years away from actual free agency, Kershaw would stand to benefit more than anyone from this chain of events. The injury risk is significant, but I imagine he’d get at least $100 million for six years as a free agent. Prediction: Yankees – six years, $108 million

Matt Kemp – In the midst of a bounce-back season, the 26-year-old Kemp is hitting .352/.423/.566 with six homers and 10 steals in 32 games. Making a modest $6.95 million this year, he’d be extremely attractive if the Dodgers decided to turn him into trade bait. However, I’m not sure who would step up and offer him the $18 million-$20 million he’s worth if he became a free agent. The Yankees (with Kershaw), Phillies, Red Sox and White Sox are pretty much tapped out now. The Nationals would make a lot of sense, given their modest $64 million payroll, but they might be gunshy after just adding Jayson Werth. How about the Royals? They’re spending just $36 million this year, so they can take the money, and for all of their prospects, they’re missing a long-term center fielder. What better way to say they’re serious about contending in the AL Central than by signing Kemp? Prediction: Royals – four years, $76 million

Andre Ethier – A good friend of Dustin Pedroia’s, Ethier has been mentioned as a possible Red Sox target several times, and Boston will be looking for a right fielder for 2012 and beyond. Ethier, though, is poor defensively and might be better off as a long-term first baseman. How about the Nationals sign him and move him to first base once Bryce Harper is ready? If he’d rather join an immediate contender, perhaps he could sign a short-term deal with the Rays or Rangers that would allow him to become a free agent again after 2012. Prediction: Nationals – four years, $56 million

Chad Billingsley – Billingsley just inked a three-year, $33 million extension that would keep him in Los Angeles through 2014. However, he could almost surely do better on the open market with so many teams needing pitching. The Mets and Cubs may not have much flexibility for this year, but with all of the contracts they have coming off the books, they could afford to pay Billingsley $15 million per year starting in 2012. The Orioles should also consider a strong bid. Prediction: Orioles – five years, $75 million

OK, let’s go to the lightning round now. I’ll list players with their current salaries.

Rod Barajas ($3.25 million) – The Red Sox, Royals and Rockies might be tempted by his power and solid glove. He’d probably go.
Casey Blake ($5.25 million) – On the shelf with an elbow infection. Still, with so many teams needing third basemen, he’d likely depart, maybe for San Fran.
Jonathan Broxton ($7 million) – With iffy elbow, he’ll stay put and try to rebuild his value.
Rafael Furcal ($12 million) – A broken thumb means he’ll stay put and wait for free agency at season’s end.
Jon Garland ($5 million) – Vesting option for $8 million if he throws 190 innings. He might prefer to stay and get his money.
Matt Guerrier ($2.25 million) – The Dodgers made the biggest offer over the winter, signing him for $12 million over three years. He’ll stay.
Kenley Jansen ($0.4 million) – Struggled with command this year, but big-time arm. It’d be worth a Guerrier-type deal to control him for the next six years.
Hong-Chih Kuo ($2.275 million) – He’d be a big risk on a long-term deal, but if healthy, he’s a potential difference maker in October. The Red Sox or Yankees would give him a raise.
Hiroki Kuroda ($12 million) – Likes L.A. and passed up long-term deals as a free agent in the offseason. He’ll stay.
Ted Lilly ($7.5 million) – He’s due $25 million between 2012-13. Off to a poor start, he probably wouldn’t match that as a free agent. Stays.
James Loney ($4.875 million) – Would anyone want him? He’s not worth his salary with the way he’s played the last two years.
Vicente Padilla ($2 million) – Looking impressive in his stint as a short reliever. Some other NL team would want him as a setup man.
Jerry Sands ($0.4 million) – Everyone would be interested in a 23-year-old with his power. It’d probably take at least $16 million-$20 million for four years to sign him.
Juan Uribe ($5 million) – No one is going to match the three-year, $21 million the Dodgers gave him over the winter. Stays.

Game 6: This is why the Astros traded for Justin Verlander

Associated Press
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Houston’s pitching has not been their biggest problem as they’ve watched their 2-0 series lead turn in to a 3-2 series deficit. It has not been good, mind you — Charlie Morton got rocked in Game 3, the bullpen collapsed on Game 4 and Dallas Keuchel was suddenly mortal in Game 5 — but even then it’s not been the biggest concern. The real problem has been the lack of offense.

The Astros led the majors in runs (896), batting average (.282), on-base percentage (.346) and slugging (.478) during the regular season and were second to the Yankees in homers. Despite that, they have scored just nine runs and have hit only one homer. The team’s ALCS batting line, those two wins included, is .147/.234/.213. As such, facing off against Luis Severino and a rested Yankees bullpen tonight can’t give them a ton of confidence.

They do have one thing going for them, however: Justin Verlander. The same Justin Verlander who received only two runs of support in Game 2 of the series but made it hold up thanks to his 124-pitch, 13-strikeout complete game victory. You can’t really expect a starter to do that sort of thing two times in a row, but that’s what the Astros acquired him for at the end of August. In a league where there are vanishingly few horses a team can ride to victory, Verlander stands as one of the few remaining old school aces. Expect A.J. Hinch to keep the bit in Verlander’s mouth for as long as this game is close and, even then, maybe an inning longer.

Is there any reason for optimism regarding the Astros’ lineup? Sure, of course. They didn’t suddenly all forget how to hit. Every team goes through a stretch of 3-5 games where the hits don’t seem to fall. There may, possibly, be some reason for hope in the man they’re facing too. Severino lasted only four innings in Game 2, having been removed early after taking a ground ball off his left wrist. Severino said he was fine and wished that Joe Girardi hadn’t taken him out, but (a) he was acting a little odd, shaking his arm out like he was trying to shake off some pain; and (b) starting pitchers almost always lie and say they’re better than they are. I’m certain Severino is healthy enough to go, but there’s at least a small chance that he’s vulnerable, somehow. At the very least Astros hitters can walk to the plate convincing themselves of it. Any edge you can either get or imagine, right?

Game 6 seems like it will have to be a matter of a small edge one way or another for both teams, really. The Yankees are rolling, but their assignment tonight is a tough one as they try to chase a guy who fancies himself — and has often shown himself — to be a rare throwback to those 1960s and 1970s aces who only seem to get better as the ballgame goes on. The Astros, meanwhile, are tasked with solving a young, fireballing stuff monster who has something to prove after his early exit in Game 2 and, even if he can’t prove it, a corps of relief aces who are among the most formidable in baseball. Add to that the notion that Major League Baseball, Fox and most commentators and casual fans outside of Houston want to see the 12th Yankees-Dodgers World Series matchup and the Astros have to be thinking everything’s against them.

Which is OK, though, right? Ballplayers love it when no one believes in them. That’s not better than six or seven runs of support, but the Astros will take anything they can get at the moment.