Mailbag #15: Guerrero, Seager, Urias, Detwiler, Castro and RBI

A nice full mailbag today. Sorry for the ones we couldn’t quite get to. Send questions to thedodgersdigest at gmail dot com or through the form on the right sidebar.

Gerard: Why is there such a concern at shortstop when you have Alex Guerrero. Defensively he can’t be any worse than Hanley and offensively he has the capability to bat .300. I know he isn’t a proven community but he could actually be an upgrade from the 2014 Hanley.

Phyllis: How come I’m not seeing Alex Guerrero‘s name mentioned anywhere as a possible replacement for Hanley Ramirez?

We start here, because it was asked twice. Hanley Ramirez was not a good shortstop. Guerrero is by all indications worse, to the point that he’s probably unplayable there. For example:

This comes up a lot — “he’s a natural shortstop,” people say, forgetting that Kenley Jansen was a “natural catcher” and that Matt Kemp once could play center — and it just doesn’t make any sense. Guerrero didn’t play baseball in 2013 while attempting to defect. In the minors in 2014, he played mostly second base, and in his short stints in the majors in September, he played only left field. Carlos Triunfel played short ahead of him in Triple-A. So did Walter Ibarra. Don’t know who Walter Ibarra is? Exactly. It’s now been more than two seasons since Guerrero last played shortstop regularly, and the Dodger organization made their feelings on the subject very clear with how and where he was used.

Whether or not this all makes the contract a mistake in the first place is difficult to say; obviously, no one expected anything out of Dee Gordon, and no one expected Miguel Olivo to be an actual criminal. Much has changed since he first arrived. I’m not sure what Guerrero’s future holds. Hopefully he can play enough second to be part of a platoon with Gordon. Maybe he’s an outfielder on a team that doesn’t need outfielders. He’s definitely not a shortstop.

Gary: Doesn’t it make more sense to trade Ethier because after 2015, he’ll be a 10-and-5 and be even more difficult to trade?

Andre Ethier has eight years and 153 days of service time, so he wouldn’t actually hit 10/5 until early in the 2016 season, which puts this issue off somewhat. It’s accurate to say that when a player hits 10/5, the team loses some amount of control, but on the other hand, if Ethier is still in Los Angeles and still riding the bench that far in the future, my guess is that he’d welcome a trade.

Tom: why do consider rbi’s worthless?

People love to use RBI as a stat that measures how good a player is at driving in runs as though it’s some special skill, but the truth is that it’s not. Any stat that heavily relies on a player’s teammates — like pitcher wins — means that it’s not very useful in evaluating individual performance, and that’s the main problem with RBI. For example, the player who rockets a double to the left-center gap did a better job than the one who blooped a single or flew out to right. But if the first guy did that with no one on base, and the latter two had a man on third… well, you can see the problem already.

To use one of my favorite real-world examples, Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips has been in a pretty steady decline for the last few years; where he was once an elite offense second baseman, now he’s more or less average, with a wRC+ sinking from 122 to 101 to 91 to 88 over the last four years. His RBI, however, have gone from 82 to 77 to 103 to 51. What happened in 2013? It clearly wasn’t that Phillips suddenly remembered how to hit. It’s that the Reds had Shin-Soo Choo (.423 OBP) atop the lineup in 2013, where in 2012 it was mostly Drew Stubbs (.277) and in 2014 it was Billy Hamilton (.292). It’s difficult to pile up RBI without men on base, and that makes it a team stat, not an individual one.

Lou: Carl Crawford + Matt Magill + cash TO Houston Astros for : C. Jason Castro + RP. Josh Fields. We get the catcher + LHB + another relief pitcher. Thoughts please. Thank You.

There’s the germ of a decent idea in there, I think. The Dodgers need a catcher, and the Astros might have depth there with prospect Max Stassi coming and Carlos Corporan and newly-acquired Hank Conger in town along with Castro. After a somewhat BABIP-fueled great 2013, Castro had a really disappointing 2014, striking out nearly a third of the time and watching his walk rate decline by almost half. 28 next year, he’s still young enough to rebound, but he doesn’t have much of a track record to fall back upon either.

So, the idea that the Dodgers might have interest in acquiring a somewhat-interesting lefty-swinging catcher to pair with A.J. Ellis isn’t entirely off base. The problem is that Crawford and Magill aren’t really that appealing in return. That Crawford is from Houston doesn’t change his on-field value, and while he might actually be the best of the four players mentioned, he’s 33 and fragile. Houston’s total rebuild is moving in the right direction, but they aren’t at the point where they want a win-now player. (And with George Springer, Dexter Fowler, Domingo Santana, Jake Marisnick, Alex Presley, and Robbie Grossman, they don’t desperately need an outfielder who can only play left.) Magill has almost no trade value whatsoever. The Dodgers would need to do better than this.

Yoda: Would a trade for Ross Detwiler be good as they can sign him to be a back end starter and not require much to acquire or should they trade for him to be a swingman like Wilson Alvarez or Elmer Dessens?

Detwiler, 29 in March, was the No. 6 overall pick way back in 2007, but due to injuries (hip surgery in 2010, strained oblique and herniated disc in 2013) and ineffectiveness he’s never quite reached his potential. Detwiler started at least one game for the Nats in each year from 2009-13, but only once was a starter for the majority of a year (27 starts in 2012) and worked out of the bullpen entirely in 2014. He made $3m and is arbitration-eligible for a final time in 2015, and reportedly wouldn’t mind a trade to a team that would use him as a starter.

I wrote somewhere, at ESPN prior to 2013 I believe, that Detwiler was ill-suited to be a starter, since he throws one of his two fastballs more than almost anyone else in baseball. Though he has good velocity, he’s the odd case that didn’t improve after a full-time move to the bullpen, and he voiced his displeasure about working in relief as he was struggling there. Since he has some pretty massive platoon splits and a long track record of little durability, he’s not interesting to me as a starter. I’d be intrigued by another crack at him as a reliever, but if he’s not interested in that role, that ends the conversation for me right there.

Jonas: When do you foresee Julio Urias and Corey Seager making their debuts?

If all goes well, it’s not unreasonable to think that we see Seager in the big leagues in the second half of 2015. With only 161 plate appearances above Single-A, it’s a bit aggressive to think that he’s the Opening Day shortstop, but it’s easy to think that he starts the year back in Double-A, moves up to Triple-A midseason, and gets a cameo in Los Angeles in September. Obviously, that depends on his health and performance; if we don’t see him in 2015, I won’t think that’s a disappointment, unless he suddenly forgets how to hit.

Urias, obviously, is a far more unique case. He just finished his age-17 season, only turned 18 three months ago, and he’s got just 142.1 professional innings under his belt. In the last 40 seasons of baseball, there’s only been 21 teen pitchers, and they come with two enormous caveats: 14 of the 21 pitched less than 10 big league games as a teen, and only four have come since the turn of the century. Urias is a very special talent, but he’s also got to be handled with the appropriate care. I just cannot see a scenario where he reaches the big leagues in 2015, his age-18 season, which hasn’t happened since Tim Conroy and Mike Morgan did so in 1978. Even 2016 seems less than likely, but if he keeps impressing… well, I don’t want to say that anything’s impossible.

Yoda: Why don’t the dodgers just release Ethier or Crawford and move on?

I think that while we all agree that Crawford is not worth the money he’s making, it’s far too harsh to act as though he’s a player with no value whatsoever. Crawford has been worth about 5.5 WAR for the Dodgers in two seasons, and he’s only played 221 of a possible 324 games. Obviously, the fact that you have to expect he’s going to miss 4-6 weeks every year goes against his value, but he’s been a perfectly useful — if overpaid — player. I’m not sure you can say with the utmost certainty that if Joc Pederson played every day in 2015, he’d provide more overall value than Crawford. You don’t just dump that.

Ethier, obviously, wasn’t anywhere near as useful in 2014, but he’s more durable and can play more positions. Really, it comes down to the fact that (as far as I’ve been able to tell), the largest amount of money a team has ever agreed to eat in a release (not a trade) came in 2006, when the D-Backs cut Russ Ortiz with approximately $21m remaining. The Dodgers aren’t going to shatter that record by a factor of three or more just to clear up a roster spot.

About Mike Petriello

Mike Petriello
Mike writes about lots of baseball in lots of places, and right now that place is MLB.com.