Dodger Deadline Dealings

Well, the Dodgers pulled off a deadline deal with the Cubs, acquiring Ted Lilly, Ryan Theriot and $2.5 million in exchange for Blake DeWitt and two low-minors pitching prospects, Brett Wallach and Kyle Smit. Regardless of whether the latter duo pans out (Wallach ranked as the #20 prospect in this year’s Baseball America Prospect Handbook, Smit not only wasn’t in the top 30 but didn’t even rate a spot on their depth chart) this looks like a bad deal for the Dodgers, for a few reasons. The biggest one is this: after Saturday night’s loss to the Giants, the Dodgers are seven games out of first place, 4.5 back in the Wild Card, behind the Giants, Reds and Phillies. Their Playoff Odds range between 5 and 12 percent depending upon which flavor you prefer

Ted Lilly — who the Dodgers drafted way back in 1996 but traded to Montreal two years later — is a fine pitcher, don’t get me wrong, somebody I’ve always regretted the Yankees losing because of his stuff and his aggressiveness; for my money, he’s a better pitcher than A.J. Burnett, or at least a more reliable one. Over the last four years, he’s put up a .542 Support Neutral Winning Percentage and a 3.70 ERA with the Cubs, the latter matching up almost perfectly with his SIERA (3.75) despite an inflated home run rate (1.3 per nine). Alas, he’s arriving too late to make a difference. Over the past month, the Dodgers have seen their fifth starters allow 20 runs (19 earned) in 20 innings, averaging a bullpen-burning four innings per start. In those games, the Dodgers are 1-4. Flip one or two of those games from the loss column into the win column, and they’d have quite a bit more life in them, particularly since Lilly, who averaged 6.5 innings per start, could have saved their struggling-of-late bullpen considerable exposure. Added now, he doesn’t move the needle on their chances of playing into October.

As for DeWitt, he’s a former first-round pick (taken 28th in 2004) who’s basically an average young ballplayer at age 24, with a chance to be a bit better than that with some growth. DeWitt’s career line (.262/.340/.379) comes out to a .264 True Average, but that’s considerably inflated by the intentional walks he received at the bottom of the lineup. His unintentional walk rate is just 8.5 percent, and for somebody with average-at-best power, that’s a problem. He’s an average-minus defender at second — he’s worked hard to make himself playable — and while he’s above-average at third, that advantage is offset by the higher offensive bar at the hot corner. His big advantage, beyond versatility, is that he’s cost-controlled, something the Dodgers dearly need. He won’t be arbitration-eligible until after the 2011 season, or free agent eligible until after 2014.

Though he’s got a batting average 14 points higher than DeWitt at the moment (.284/.320/.327), Theriot has less in the way of secondary batting skill than the man he’s replacing, with a career 8.0 percent unintentional walk rate and below-average power. His only major advantage over DeWitt is that he can play shortstop and is a slightly better defender — certainly more polished — than DeWitt at the keystone. Alas, his .239 True Average this year is closer to replacement level than it is league average. He’s already 30 and more expensive ($2.6 million) than DeWitt, and basically destined to become the kind of aging, expensive mediocrity that gets you nowhere.

As for the Dodgers’ other deal, in which they acquired reliever Octavio Dotel in exchange for reliever James McDonald and left field prospect Andrew Lambo, it’s tough to like either end. Dotel can still miss bats, but he walks too many and has a hard time keeping the ball in the park; since returning from Tommy John surgery in 2006, he’s got a 4.11 ERA with 1.3 HR/9, 4.5 BB/9 and 11.3 K/9 – numbers which basically add up to him being a reliever with a 4 ERA. He’s got terrifying splits,  .217/.298/.386 versus righties since his return, but .275/.394/.500 against lefties. Yikes.

McDonald, who doesn’t miss as many bats, was miscast as a potential fifth starter by the Dodgers, but he’s a decent enough reliever. Here’s what I wrote about him in Baseball Prospectus 2010:

The Dodgers hoped the two-time winner of their Minor League Pitcher of the Year award would claim the fifth starter’s spot in 2009, but McDonald was tarred and feathered in four April starts (13 runs in 13 1/3 IP). He continued to start during a six-week Triple-A refresher, but pitched exclusively in relief upon returning, with considerable success (2.72 ERA, 8.7 K/9, 3.0 K/UBB). Known more for deception than power, McDonald’s average fastball speed increased from 91 to 93 mph with the move to the pen, he got far more strikes with his 12-to-6 curveball (his best pitch) and changeup, and he generated enough grounders to move out of the “extreme” category of flyballers. He’s a better fit in the pen as a change of pace from the power arms, but may get another shot at the back end of the rotation.

As for Lambo, here’s what I had to say about him in the annual:

This 2007 fourth-rounder came into the year considered to be the best pure hitter in the system thanks to a combination of bat speed and raw strength. He was also the system’s most advanced prospect for his age, reaching Double-A as a 20-year-old, and spending 2009 as the league’s fourth-youngest hitting prospect. Despite a hot start at Chattanooga (.321/.383/.548 in April), Lambo soon went Arctic, batting just .243/.295/.377 the rest of the way as his plate discipline suffered and his power failed to develop. His odd reverse platoon split persisted, as he batted just .241/.299/.388 against righties. Lacking in speed, athleticism, and defensive ability, Lambo will only go so far as his bat takes him, and right now, that appears to be back to Chattanooga.

Colleague Kevin Goldstein had him ranked 12th among Dodger prospects coming into the year, but since then he’s hit just .271/.325/.420 while repeating Double-A, a line that becomes even worse once you realize that he was tearing up the league before serving a 50-game suspension for a second violation of the minor league drug policy, and has fared poorly since, making this a lost year developmentally for a guy who was already starting to look less than completely special.


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