Dodgers Now

Steve Dilbeck and The Times' Dodgers reporters
give you all the news on the boys in blue

Category: A.J. Ellis

Count on the Dodgers for these early rites of spring

Dodgers pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to spring-training camp Tuesday morning, and I am positively certain each one of these things will transpire:

-- Ronald Belisario will not only be there on time, he’ll proudly be wearing a lanyard around his neck holding his visa.

-- Catcher Ted Federowicz will arrive without sporting that 1970s-style mustache. Actually, I have no idea if this is true, I just hope it is.

-- The hearts of every hitter in the National League will skip a beat when Clayton Kershaw announces he has been working with Fernando Valenzuela to develop a screwball.

-- Manager Don Mattingly will have to take 267 razzings for good-naturedly wearing a dress for a charity performance of the "Nutcracker." In the first two hours.

-- Rubby De La Rosa will announce he’s at least two months ahead of schedule in his return from Tommy John surgery.

-- Catcher A.J. Ellis will tweet that Chad Billingsley already looks like he’s in midseason form.

-- Ted Lilly’s fastball will appear another 2 mph slower, and he will somehow manage to use it to his advantage.

-- John Grabow will go around the locker room and shake hands with every player, coach and media member, just to remind them he’s left-handed.

-- Pitching coach Rick Honeycutt will explain to some first-time camper how he was actually the only pitcher to beat the Dodgers in the 1988 World Series.

-- In his first time on the mound, Kenley Jansen will throw absolute smoke.

-- Mike MacDougal will again claim to be 185 pounds.

-- Mattingly will say he’s crazy about his rotation and in love with his bullpen. Heartbreak arrives with the hitters Feb. 27.

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-- Steve Dilbeck

The offensive emptiness that is the Dodgers 2012 bench

Dodger
Look real hard and you can find it. It’s there, just not exactly under the spotlight. Maybe not in hiding, though you could make the argument that the Dodgers will try it.

It is the Dodgers’ bench, such as it. And as it is, it’s wholly unimpressive.

Presenting your 2012 Dodgers in reserve: catcher Matt Treanor, infielders Jerry Hairston Jr. and Adam Kennedy, and outfielders Tony Gwynn Jr. and Jerry Sands.

There’s some versatility and some nice defensive elements, but offensively there just isn’t much there. The power hitter is Sands, he of the 194 career at-bats? The left-handed bats are Gwynn and Kennedy?

This is all as currently scheduled, of course. And these things almost never go as scheduled. Which would explain why the Dodgers started last season with Xavier Paul, Hector Gimenez and Ivan DeJesus Jr. on the roster.

General manager Ned Colletti said he thinks this year’s bench can be superior to last season’s, before quickly asking which Dodgers’ bench he should reference.

"Unfortunately our bench ended up playing," Colletti said. "The bench was really the second bench."

Which is why the 2012 edition is so scary. Chances are, some of them are going to have to play more than expected. And this is what manager Don Mattingly will have to choose from based on last season’s numbers:

Player                         Avg.                OBP                 SLG

Treanor                      .214                .338                .291

Hairston                     .270                .344                .383

Kennedy                     .234                .277                .355

Gwynn                        .256                .308                .353

Sands                         .253                .338                .389

And as a group, it’s not like it’s a bunch of kids approaching their prime. Kennedy is 36, and Treanor will be in March and Hairston in May.

Plus you have to remember the Dodgers’ regular everyday lineup is already going to have its risks. Rookie shortstop Dee Gordon batted .304 last season but in only 224 at-bats, so we’ve yet to see if pitchers adjust to the slight Gordon. And A.J. Ellis is going to be the main catcher, and has a career .262 average with zippo power in 206 career at-bats.

There’s not a strong pinch-hitter in the group, either. Career averages as pinch-hitters: Treanor .200, Hairston .174, Kennedy .223, Gwynn .288, Sands .000 (only four at-bats). There's not really a reserve shortstop.

Last year the Dodgers wanted to start the season with a bench of Dioner Navarro, Jamey Carroll, Aaron Miles, Tony Gwynn Jr., Marcus Thames/Jay Gibbons. Navarro and Thames were busts, and Gibbons couldn’t overcome vision issues. Yet they still might prove a better group.

The Dodgers 25-man roster is basically set. If everyone makes it through spring healthy, there are no position openings.

 ``If it goes the way it’s planned, the team has some flexibility to it but not a whole lot,’’ Colletti said.

On days when Juan Rivera or James Loney don't start, the bench will get a boost but it could use plenty more. It could have used a Coco Crisp, but Colletti denied an interest in the outfielder before he re-signed with the A’s.

``Never had a conversation,’’ Colletti said.

Colletti is operating under budget constraints unworthy of a team playing in the second-largest market in the country, but such are the times when your team is in bankruptcy court.

And such is the bench.

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-- Steve Dilbeck

Photo: Dodger Stadium. Credit: Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times.

Presenting your 2012 Dodgers lineup (Updated)

Dodgers-logoOne thing about having an almost entirely set 25-man roster  -- you can start figuring out what the daily lineup is going to look like. Even if it is still December.

The Dodgers’ heavy off-season work, or at least their modest lifting, is all done. Unless you’re still the kind that holds out hope of an unexpected Prince Fielder signing.

But if no significant additions are coming, it’s not hard to visualize the Dodgers’ main daily lineup, at least against right-handers:

Shortstop Dee Gordon (L), second baseman Mark Ellis (R), right fielder Andre Ethier (L), center fielder Matt Kemp (R), left fielder Juan Rivera (R), first baseman James Loney (L), third baseman Juan Uribe (R) and catcher A.J. Ellis (R).

And let the rest of the National League tremble in its wake.

This is not necessarily a terrible lineup, though it’s dependent on a lot of things going right. Probably way too many things, but then the same can pretty much be said for the rest of the National League West.

Gordon hit .304 with 24 stolen bases in his 233 plate appearances of his rookie season. But he had only seven walks, leaving him with a .325 on-base percentage. Still, that’s a fairly small sample size at a young stage in his career. He figures only to get better, and is such lightning on the bases, he has to be given the leadoff spot. Anyway, there’s really no one else in that lineup to bat leadoff.

Mark Ellis split his time last season batting second and seventh, but hit .297 in the two spot, as opposed to .215 hitting seventh.

The Dodgers are gambling that a trio of hitters returns to form next season -- Ethier, Loney and Uribe. Ethier, 29, will be key. Coming off minor knee surgery, he has the most upside. And the Dodgers will need it if they bat him third.

All they want from Kemp is more of the same, which is the same thing as asking for everything. Kemp, who came in second in the N.L. MVP voting, could have a slight drop-off and still be one of the game’s premier hitters.

[Update: In the orginal post I had a brain cramp and wrote Kemp started the season batting third and late in the season was moved to fourth, which is actually reverse from what happened. My my No.1 fan, Benjamin Villarreal Camacho, ever-so kindly pointed out my mistake. Kemp actually hit slightly better in the cleanup spot (.647 vs. .569 slugging), so it remains to be seen which way Manager Don Mattingly goes in 2012.

Batting Rivera hitting behind Kemp was given credit for Kemp’s strong finish, so wherever Kemp bats, Rivera is likely to follow. Kemp hitting third, Rivera fourth and Ethier fifth only happened nine times in 2011.]

Mattingly could bat Uribe sixth instead of Loney, but he seems to like alternating his left-right bats in the lineup.

Uribe is coming off one of the most disappointing seasons in Dodgers history. He has a lot to prove, and at age 33, not much time to prove it. The Dodgers are counting on Loney being the hitter he was the second half, which is understandable but difficult to depend upon. Anything offensively from A.J. Ellis is a bonus.

Against left-handers, Mattingly could choose to sit Loney and play Rivera or Jerry Sands at first. Ethier, too, could get spelled if he doesn’t improve against lefties (.220 last season).

Outside of Gordon and Kemp, it's a lineup devoid of speed. It could have decent power, but after Kemp, that's no lock either. There are plenty of "maybes'' with this group, but that could prove a season's theme.

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-- Steve Dilbeck

Daily Dodger in review: The failed gamble on Dioner Navarro

Dioner-navarro_600

DIONER NAVARRO, 27, catcher

Final 2011 stats: .193, five homers, 17 RBI, .276 on-base and .324 slugging percentages, seven errors.

Contract status: Free as a bird.

The good: Two of his five homers won games. Ah, that’s just about it.

The bad: Everything else? OK, that’s a bit harsh, but maybe only a bit.

He could not hit, which apparently came as a surprise to no one but the Dodgers. He was sporadic behind the plate. He did not work hard. He took up space that belonged to A.J. Ellis, who could have used the experience now that he’s in place to be the Dodgers’ primary catcher in 2012. And the Dodgers paid Navarro $1 million, even though one else seemed interested.

What’s next: Navarro is open for business. Of course, he’s been open for business since the Dodgers released him Aug. 23. Wonder if they figured out why no one picked him up?

He’ll only be 28 in February but his career looks over.

The take: Imagine the shock — shock, I say — that Navarro did not pan out. General Manager Ned Colletti has a thing about his backups being veterans (see: Matt Treanor), but this was a poor idea from the moment it formed as the smallest kernel of a thought.

Navarro had one good fluke season in his seven major-league seasons. Otherwise, he’s proven a major disappointment. He hit just .194 for the Rays in 2010, then got churlish about not being added to their postseason roster.

He came back to the Dodgers last season and hit .193. He was a consistent fellow. Though he never proved a problem in the clubhouse, his lack of dedication to his difficult position finally proved his undoing with the Dodgers.

The day after they cut him, Manager Don Mattingly let it be known he was  disappointed Navarro had failed to put in the work and time required to be a good player. So to his list of failings, add work ethic.

Maybe being cut hit home with Navarro, he gets a non-roster invite to some team, puts in the work and makes a club. And maybe not.

— Steve Dilbeck

Photo: Dioner Navarro watches his home run soar into the stands in the eighth inning to beat the Houston Astros, 1-0, at Dodger Stadium on June 19. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

Dodgers sign Matt Treanor as their backup catcher

Matt3
Turns out, the Dodgers aren’t going all that young behind the plate.

The Dodgers have signed veteran free agent catcher Matt Treanor to a one-year contract that The Times’ Dylan Hernandez reports is worth $1 million. He will receive $850,000 next season. There is an option for 2013 at $950,00 with a $150,000 buyout.

Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti told The Times’ Mike DiGiovanna he expects Treanor to play between 50-60 games.

Treanor is pretty much a miserable hitter – the seven-year veteran has a .225 career batting average and a .307 slugging percentage – but is well regarded behind the plate.

His signing follows Tuesday’s earlier news that the Dodgers had signed second baseman Mark Ellis, another excellent defensive player.

"We got a real good defensive second baseman, and we wanted to be as strong up the middle defensively as we could,’’ Colletti said. ``He's a good catch and throw guy, he has a good feel for leading a pitching staff, and he can help teach our younger guys, A.J. (Ellis) and Tim (Federowicz)."

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Dodgers not expected to make run at Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols

Dodgers_600The Dodgers aren’t expecting to make a run at top-line free agents Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols.

Asked Tuesday of the possibility of adding a big bat this winter, General Manager Ned Colletti said, “As of today, it looks less realistic.”

Fielder was at the top of the Dodgers’ wish list at the start of the winter, but Colletti said he has no meetings scheduled with Fielder’s agent, Scott Boras, at the general managers meetings in Milwaukee this week.

In fact, the Dodgers’ payroll in 2012 will be less than it was this year, according to a person familiar with the situation who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The Dodgers’ payroll was around $110 million last season.

The Dodgers finalized an eight-year, $160-million contract with Matt Kemp on Monday. Colletti wouldn’t confirm the deal, which is expected to be announced in the coming days.

Without a premium bat coming in, Colletti said, “we’re going to have to find other ways to produce runs.”

He said he is counting on Andre Ethier, James Loney and Juan Uribe to produce as they have in seasons past.

“Their seasons weren’t indicative of their careers,” Colletti said.

The Dodgers are closing in on a deal with light-hitting catcher Matt Treanor, according to baseball sources. Treanor would back up A.J. Ellis.

Colletti said he would like to add a backup infielder capable of playing shortstop, but wouldn’t mind starting the season with Justin Sellers as the utility man.

Colletti said he is also looking for a starting pitcher, adding that Hiroki Kuroda hasn’t told him whether he would re-sign with the Dodgers.

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-- Dylan Hernandez

Left photo: Prince Fielder. Credit: Zia Nizami / Belleville News-Democrat / MCT

Right photo: Albert Pujols. Credit: Tony Gutierrez / Associated Press

Rod Barajas takes his talents to Pittsburgh

Rod3
As shock waves go, this won’t quite rate up there with Frank McCourt really does agree to sell, but nonetheless there will be those surprised by the news that catcher Rod Barajas is moving on.

Barajas, a Southern California native who wanted to remain with the Dodgers, signed a one-year deal with Pittsburgh Pirates on Thursday. He signed for a reported $4 million, with the club holding a $3.5 million option for 2013.

That’s some serious cash for a 36-year-old catcher with a career .238 batting average, but that tells you plenty about the state of catching these days.

Most were stunned when the Dodgers rushed to sign him for $3.25 million last off-season after they were unable to come to terms with Russell Martin.

However streaky, Barajas gave them what they asked for: a veteran behind the plate who could add some occasional pop (16 home runs, second on the team).

Sans Barajas, however, the Dodgers are left without a veteran catcher. The only two catchers currently on their roster are A.J. Ellis and Tim Federowicz.

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Daily Dodger in review: A.J. Ellis should stick at catcher

Ellis
A.J. Ellis, 30, catcher

2011 statistics: .271 batting average, two home runs, 11 runs batted in, .392 on-base percentage in 85 at-bats, threw out 27% of would-be base-stealers.

Contract status: Final year under team control.

The good: Solid, reliable, all-around catcher. He is never going to be Johnny Bench but actually showed a flash of power. Hit two home runs with the Dodgers and three at triple-A Albuquerque. Before that outburst, he had not hit a home run at any level in almost three years.

He gets on base. Works well behind the plate and with pitchers. Was called up three times last season before he was brought up for good when the Dodgers finally wised up and released Dioner Navarro. Great in the clubhouse.

The bad: Has an average arm and, despite the home runs, hits mostly flares. He comes with limitations, but they're livable at an incredibly weak position baseball-wide.

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Meet the new Dodgers, same as the old Dodgers?

Dodgers_600

Hope you really, really believe in that Dodgers team that finished the 2011 season on a nice roll.

Because the more I think about, the more I expect it to return largely unchanged.

That wouldn’t be much of a stretch given the bankrupt Dodgers’ ever-uncertain ownership situation. Hard to spend a significant amount of money when you don’t have much and it's not clear who can spend it.

But the more closely you look at a lengthy interview that General Manager Ned Colletti gave to ESPN's Jim Bowden, the more it looks like you’d best get out the 2012 welcome mat for the 2011 Dodgers.

Yeah, he wants to add an impact bat. So do about 29 other teams. Yet despite how much sense it makes, no one really expects the team in the second-largest market in the country to make a serious run at either Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols. After that, a serious drop-off. Hey, he could always sign Carlos Beltran. He’s an ex-Giant and everything!

Not signing a free agent leaves trading for a big bat, and the Dodgers have precious little to offer in return. Unless, you know, you want to unload this Clayton Kershaw kid.

So the odds are exceedingly poor that a bat of significance will be brought in, and then there are Colletti’s comments to Bowden where he pretty much has everyone coming back from 2010 save for catcher Rod Barajas.

Which means you’d best get ready for this sales pitch: The Dodgers will significantly upgrade their lineup simply by adding a healthy Juan Uribe and Andre Ethier to it.

Ooooh, when do pitchers and catchers report again?

Assuming health for Uribe (sports hernia surgery) and Ethier (minor knee surgery), and the return of James Loney at first, the Dodgers’ lineup holes would be at second, left and catcher.

And Colletti flat out said, "Behind the plate, we'll probably let Tim Federowicz and A.J. Ellis handle the duties." He also said: "We need to figure out left field as well, but we're leaning towards Jerry Sands, especially after the way he finished this season with us." At second base he noted that Jamey Carroll and Aaron Miles were free agents and said: "Right now we have the two young players in [Justin] Sellers and Ivan DeJesus that we might let compete for that job next year."

Believe that last one if you feel so inclined, but the Dodgers GM –- as he needs to –- clearly has his Plan B in place if he's unable to acquire a big bat.

The same ol' even extends to the rotation, where Colletti at least sounds hopeful that Hiroki Kuroda will re-sign, citing the fact that Kuroda bought a home here and his children go to school here. That would leave a familiar rotation of Kershaw, Kuroda, Chad Billingsley, Ted Lilly and Nathan Eovaldi.

The bullpen evolved into a young strength, though Colletti would like to add another veteran.

Sounds remarkably like your 2011 Dodgers. The Dodgers were 25-10 in the last five-plus weeks of the season. That's encouraging, but the season is six months long. Keeping that group mostly intact places a lot of hope on a team that excelled for five weeks.

-- Steve Dilbeck

Photo: Juan Rivera, who might be returning to play left field, is congratulated by first baseman James Loney after bringing in Andre Ethier, left, and Matt Kemp with a three-run home run against the Phillies on Aug. 10 at Dodger Stadium. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Dodgers signal they won't bring back Rod Barajas

Rod3
Sounds like that's it for Rod Barajas, Dodgers hometown catcher.

The Dodgers opened their arms to youth last season, and it mostly paid off. Now they apparently are ready to go young behind the plate.

In a lengthy Q&A with Jim Bowden posted on ESPN.com, General Manager Ned Colletti said:

"Behind the plate, we'll probably let Tim Federowicz and A.J. Ellis handle the duties. They are both good catch-and-throw receivers. If Federowicz can hit .240 with some power, he can be an everyday catcher. He calls a really good game and has a strong arm. The free-agent catching market is very thin, but we'll look there as well just in case."

That would be a serious roll of the dice. Federowicz was at double A when the Dodgers picked him up before the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline. Ellis has looked very capable in stretches the last two seasons as the backup.

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