Mailbag #22: Fifth starter concerns, Guerrero, Ethier, forgotten prospects

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The Bearded One: I think there’s room for a lot of valid concern about the fifth spot in the rotation with Brett Anderson, Joe Wieland, and Mike Bolsinger not making the most reassuring group of fifth starters in the world. There’s also some rumor that Travis Wood may be traded by Chicago before spring training. Do you see any logical scenario in which the Dodgers pick up Wood as a fifth starter, presumably then leaving Anderson as a swingman?

When a team counts on a guy who has averaged 52 innings pitched in the last four years to be its No. 5 starter, there are always going to be concerns. As Mike pointed out when Anderson was signed,

“If he can merely stay healthy enough to give you, say, 120 high-quality innings, he’ll have more than earned his salary. 120 good innings plus 80 more mediocre ones from a replacement is better than 200 mediocre innings that you can depend on from a Kevin Correia-type.”

With Wieland, Bolsinger and Zach Lee, the Dodgers have plenty of decent depth when Anderson inevitably ends up on the disabled list. As for Wood, I don’t see the Dodgers trying to acquire him now and make Anderson a swingman. Anderson a starting pitcher and works best as such. The Cubs are on the cusp of contending and trading their 28-year-old starter — admittedly coming off a rough year — would be ill-advised (unless they were blown away). Plus, when healthy, Anderson is the superior pitcher, and the minor-league trio listed above could probably produce as well as Wood, if not better.

Nameless: Guerrero especially hits lefties; Gonzales needs more rest and has some problems with lefties. Why isn’t Guerrero a platoon candidate for first base?

This is true. Guerrero hit .360/.389/.652 against left-handed pitchers in 95 plate appearances in the minors last season. I’ve long since been saying Guerrero should get some work in at first base to increase his utility. Having said that, Adrian Gonzalez is a modern-day ironman. Since becoming a full-time player in 2006, he has never played fewer than 156 games in a season (he played 159 last season).  He’s still an awfully productive player and figures to age well. Having said that, he could benefit from some more regular rest. With a deep bench, perhaps Don Mattingly will make that a reality. Guerrero could be that guy, but the Dodgers also have Scott Van Slyke and Justin Turner, who have both seen time at first base in major-league games. Plus, it seems the front office is doing its due diligence in seeing what it has in Guerrero. He has played second base, third base and left field this spring — all positions at which he played last season. I’m sure he’ll eventually get some work in at first base (because it couldn’t hurt), but that might not be this season, and might not even be with this organization.

Kent: What do you think the odds are that the team just cuts Guerrero to free up his roster spot? He has two more years left, but it seems pointless to keep a no-glove, all-bat (maybe?) bench guy when you have Barney, Turner, Heisey, etc.

Low, at least for the time being. The Dodgers agreed to terms with Cuban infielder Hector Olivera. on Tuesday, but he isn’t even in the country yet (no visa) and will need some time in the minors before being recalled. Couple that and Alex Guerrero‘s strong spring and you have a guy who’s going to be on the bench for a good portion of the 2015 season. He’s basically like Turner, minus the defensive value (and Turner isn’t even that great defensively), but being able to put the bat on the ball cannot be overlooked. Because of the clauses in his contract that not only allows him to approve a demotion to the minors (which he already said he won’t) and allows him to become a free agent after any season in which he’s traded, his trade value is less-than optimal. The Dodgers have already paid Guerrero half of his $28 million contract, so eating $14 million isn’t totally unheard of. But Guerrero could have some value to the club, if only for his bat. Darwin Barney and Chris Heisey have options remaining, so them beginning the season in Oklahoma City isn’t the end of the world. It shows off the Dodgers’ improved depth, if nothing else.

Fansmanship: Who’s the odd man out if Alex Guerrero makes the team?

All Alex Guerrero, all the time. Barney and Enrique Hernandez would be the odd men out if Guerrero breaks camp with the team. Luckily, those guys have options, and a guy like Darnell Sweeney — despite the impressive showing so far in spring — wasn’t going to leap frog all those guys to make the team. I see the bench lining up this way (barring trades): A.J. Ellis, Andre Ethier, Guerrero, Turner and Van Slyke. It’s a strong bench, but it lacks a true plus-defender. This will change during the season, but I expect there to be some quality players in Triple-A who could be recalled at a moment’s notice.

Kirk Davenport: Mattingly likes the double switches late in games where a relief pitcher technically replaces the batter who made the last out and then a defender is brought in for that batter. Rojas served well last year when coming in for 2B, 3B or SS. I doubt Mattingly replaces Puig, and SVS can go to 1B or LF. I do not have the confidence in Turner or Guerrero for defense and I am not sure Barney makes the team. I think by the end of the year, Kiki Hernandez fills that role unless they get Hector Oliva – do you see Mattingly getting his “go to” defender for late inning infield defense?

That was basically Miguel Rojas‘ job last season, and he did it well. But the front office improved the team defense with the offseason moves, which means it’s less likely Mattingly would need to make a double-switch for defensive purposes. Let’s look at it this way:

Catcher: No double-switching, unless there’s an injury
First base: Plus-defender in Gonzalez
Second base: Plus-defender in Howie Kendrick
Third base: Plus-plus defender in Juan Uribe
Shortstop: Average-to-above-average defender in Jimmy Rollins
Left field: Above-average defender in Carl Crawford (even if the metrics like him more than the eye test)
Center field: Average defender in Joc Pederson
Right field: Above-average-to-plus defender in Yasiel Puig

While Scott Van Slyke is an underrated defender, he isn’t going to come in for defensive purposes at first base or the corner outfield spots (maybe left field, if his right-handedness is needed at the plate). Hernandez has the ability to play multiple positions well, but he’ll likely begin the season at Oklahoma City. Barney would be the best late-inning defensive infield replacement (of the players on the 40-man roster), but he isn’t getting Kendrick, Uribe or Rollins out of the game on a regular basis. The offense lost would be too great, especially if the game were to go into extra innings. Sure, the Dodgers took Hanley Ramirez out late in games last season, but Rollins might as well be Ozzie Smith when compared to Ramirez, defensively. Erisbel Arruebarrena is the best defensive infielder in the system, but he’s basically the opposite of Guerrero (all glove, no bat). If only the two could be combined … Alexbel Guerruebarrena.

Jonathan B: Can you see a Cliff LeeAndre Ethier trade happening? Lee is injured yet again, and the Phillies aren’t going anywhere anyway. Could be a good buy-low option for L.A. Meanwhile, Ethier might be mediocre, but he’s got to be an upgrade over Philadelphia’s outfield depth chart of Darin Ruf, Grady Sizemore and Jeff Franceour. Lee is owed $25m this year plus a $12.5m buyout for next year, for a total of $37.5m. Ethier is owed $53.5m over the next three years. Could the Dodgers make a deal happen if they pay around $30m and throw in a prospect like Austin Barnes?

I couldn’t see it when Lee was, allegedly, healthy, and I certainly can’t see it now. There is no way the Dodgers are going to pay $37.5 million (plus the $30 million you proposed), and include a prospect like Barnes just to get rid of Ethier. I assume they’d just designate Ethier for assignment if these were the only options (thankfully, they aren’t). The Phillies are in rebuilding mode and are in no position to take on Ethier’s salary (even discounted). I’m sure this was asked before Lee was placed on the 60-day disabled list, but it wouldn’t have made sense before then, either.

Bob: Looking for some players from last year’s list and what happened: Garrett Gould (P), Noel Cuevas (OF) and not on your list – Red Patterson (P) who had a start for the Dodgers in 2014. Any updates?

Gould, who has struggled ever since leaving the Midwest League, had Tommy John surgery in November and is out for the 2015 season. He wouldn’t have cracked the Top 100. It’s entirely possible the 2009 2nd-round draft pick has thrown his last pitch for the organization. Cuevas was the player to be named later in the Juan Nicasio trade. He might have been a back-half guy after a disappointing Double-A campaign. Patterson is going on 28 years old and is organizational depth. I didn’t include many of those kinds of guys in my Top 100 because they don’t offer a ton of value.

About Dustin Nosler

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Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin' Kinda Blue. He co-hosted a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He was a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times and True Blue LA. He graduated from California State University, Sacramento, with his bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in digital media. While at CSUS, he worked for the student-run newspaper The State Hornet for three years, culminating with a 1-year term as editor-in-chief. He resides in Stockton, Calif.