Here We Go, Dodger Fans
How high's the water, mama?
Five feet high and risin'
How high's the water, papa?
Five feet high and risin'
Well, the rails are washed out north of town
We gotta head for higher ground
We can't come back till the water comes down,
Five feet high and risin'
Well, it's five feet high and risin'
--Johnny Cash, Five Feet High And Rising
The dam has been broken. After showing a sense of discipline by not trading any farm prospects this offseason, Dodgers General Manager Ned Colletti sent Edwin Jackson and Chuck Tiffany to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for Dannys Baez, Lance Carter, and the proverbial minor league player to be named later.
Who's next? Pitchers Chad Billingsley, Jonathan Broxton, or Scott Elbert? Infielders Joel Guzman or Andy LaRoche? How about outfielder Matt Kemp or catcher Russell Martin?
Well, I know one thing. Colletti can no longer say that he is rebuilding the team without compromising the future.
Jackson, 22, and Tiffany, 21, represented two of the best arms in one of the most highly regarded systems in baseball. Although Jackson has regressed since being rushed to the majors in September 2003, the right-hander is just two years removed from being named the top pitching prospect in the game and the fourth-best overall by Baseball America.
Tiffany has shown flashes of brilliance since being drafted out of high school in the second round of the 2003 draft. The southpaw struck out 46 batters in his final 21 1/3 innings in 2004 and began the next season with a 4-0 record, a pair of Florida State League Player of the Week honors, and was named the Dodgers Minor League Player of the Month for April. He had a pre-cancerous mole removed from his back and was placed on the disabled list in May. Tiffany, who Bryan Smith ranked as one of his top 75 prospects, never returned to his early-season form but still ended the year 11-7 with a 3.93 ERA and 134 Ks in 110 IP.
Jackson has a plus fastball and slider, yet needs to improve his changeup and command in order to maximize his potential. Tiffany throws three quality pitches--a fastball, a curve that was rated as the best in the organization a year ago by Baseball America, and a changeup. Both pitchers are far from certain bets to become stars at the big league level, but they have the type of upside that make scouts and performance analysts alike dream of what might be one day.
In the meantime, trading two young starting pitchers for a pair of veteran relievers is problematic at best. Yes, Baez was fifth in the American League in saves last year, but his peripheral stats (8.2 H/9, 6.4 K/9, 1.7 K/BB, and 1.33 WHIP) are rather pedestrian. As a so-called proven closer, the 28-year-old right-hander is the type of pitcher who is more often overrated than not.
Colletti apparently sees Baez as a setup man and insurance in the event that Eric Gagne isn't ready to start the season. He may also view him as the Dodgers closer of the future. However, just as Gagne will become a free agent at the end of year, so will Baez. As a result, there is no guarantee that the latter will even be on the roster in 2007.
Although Carter was an All-Star selection in 2003, he is nothing more than a throw-in (to put it kindly). The 31-year-old right-hander had a 4.89 ERA in 2005, striking out just 22 batters in 57 innings. His 3.5 K/9 was the fourth-lowest among all AL relievers last year. He also gave up nine home runs (or 1.42 HR/9) and has allowed a similar rate of long balls throughout his career.
According to Ken Gurnick at MLB.com, the Dodgers now have 18 players under contract totaling $95 million. Accordingly, it appears that the Dodgers payroll will be no less than $100 million next year--a significant increase over last year's budget.
What is Frank McCourt getting for his money? The Dodgers signed free agent Rafael Furcal to a three-year, $39 million contract last month. They also inked Nomar Garciaparra to a one-year, $6 million deal; Bill Mueller to two years and $9.75M; Brett Tomko, 2/$8.7M; Kenny Lofton, 1 x $3.85M; and Sandy Alomar, Jr., 1 x $650,000.
Furcal is a terrific shortstop who can help you at-bat, on the basepaths, and in the field. Although the Dodgers paid up for him, I'm not going to argue against that acquisition. That said, I can't really see the merits of the other deals.
For instance, why give the 39-year-old Lofton almost a million more than what it took the Oakland A's to sign Milton Bradley? Dollar-for-dollar, I would rather have Bradley. Throw in an extra $850,000 plus the $4M from the Baez money and now I'm upgrading from Tomko to a much more significant starter.
I could see the Dodgers' interest in Garciaparra as a third baseman but am having a hard time coming to grips with the idea of converting him to a first baseman. If he's healthy, what's he going to hit? .280-.300/.320-.340/.460-.480? I'm sorry, but these numbers look like Shea Hillenbrand to me. Heck, why not just go with the platoon of Hee-Seop Choi (.258/.335/.460 vs. RHP) and Olmedo Saenz (.261/.338/.548 vs. LHP)?
How much of an improvement is Mueller (.295/.369/.430) over Willy Aybar (.326/.448/.453 in 105 PA)? I wouldn't expect the latter to match those numbers over a full season, but is it unrealistic to think he could put up a .275/.350/.400 line while saving the Dodgers about $4.5M over each of the next two years?
Jon Weisman of Dodger Thoughts brings up another potential use of the $4 million spent on Baez by throwing top-draft choice Luke Hochevar's name into the mix. The University of Tennessee right-hander might be a lost cause at this point, but the idea of investing the money in the system or waiting for the right opportunity down the road is a valid one.
I think Colletti has gotten himself in a pickle here. He made the decision to find a handful of players who could bridge the gap between 2005 and 2007 before reversing course by exchanging two of the organization's most talented pitchers for what might amount to 130 innings of a 3.75 ERA, if Baez and Carter duplicate last year's stats. Moreover, I believe the Dodgers GM has set a bad precedent and would not be at all surprised if he orchestrated another similar deal between now and the beginning of the season.
When it comes to the Dodgers and sticking to a game plan, I think it's not just the water that's five feet high and risin'.