Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti has been a busy man these past couple of days. He brought in three brand new Dodgers: infielder Ronnie Belliard, “first baseman” Jim Thome and starting pitcher Jon Garland. Coletti has proven to have a master stroke at getting quality players at discount prices.
Colletti did this at next to no cost, as Belliard will earn a roughly $300,000 the remainder of the way. Jim Thome is due about $2 million the rest of the way, but cash considerations from the White Sox likely knock it down to about $1.5 million, perhaps even $1 million. Jon Garland is completely paid for from Arizona — the $3.5 million remaining on his contract ($2.5 million is the buyout for Garland’s mutual option should the club decline).
Belliard gives the Dodgers a capable stick off the bench with some juice. Belliard is actually having a poor season, but still possesses offensive upside that Juan Castro and Mark Loretta do not have. Not just that, but Belliard’s BABIP is .285 on the year, very poor when compared to his xBABIP of .318. Even without a regression to the mean, every last inch that can be squeezed out of the bench in September and October can have far-lasting ramifications.
This is why Jim Thome was also added to the roster. All indications are that Thome will not be a starting first-baseman, leaving the job to defensive star James Loney and his punchless bat. Thome will serve as the primary pinch-hitter for the Dodgers, making opponents sweat in late-inning affairs. Despite the allegations he will not start at first, color me surprised if he doesn’t at least receive a handful of starts down the stretch. Leveraging the Hardball Times’ Clutch stat on Thome’s player card reveals that Thome has had positive contributions in this field since 2006. Interestingly enough, his two years with Philly were decidedly anti-clutch. Are the Dodgers hoping he can be the next Matt Stairs?
In the end, the two players are nothing more than bench players — as significant as they could be — and thus gave up nothing of value. For Thome, the Dodgers gave up a 26-infielder stuck in Single-A named Justin Fuller. To give up someone of such marginal value as that and still receive cash considerations in the trade is impressive. For Belliard, the club coughed up minor league reliever Luis Garcia. Garcia, 22, is also in Single-A but shows some intriguing potential out of the bullpen. He’s nothing more than a possible capable middle reliever, though, and that comes a dime a dozen. The PTBNL will likely be of similar variety.
Garland is the acquisition likely to pay the most dividends. Garland is enjoying his first foray into the National League, posting a 4.29 ERA (4.84 xFIP) out of the Diamondbacks rotation. Garland’s line-drive percentage is at its lowest since 2004: 19.1, likely due to his newfound cutter, which he tinkered with in 2004-2005 but didn’t break out in full force until this year. Garland’s cutter is his best pitch, followed by his changeup. His other pitches are simply “show-me” pitches at this point.
Garland’s ERA on the road is 3.39, while it is 5.35 in the hitter’s haven that is Chase Field. Given he’s moving to Dodger Stadium, the odds that he maintains an ERA in the 3.50s region is high. To acquire a pitcher of that caliber this late in the season that so emphatically addresses their thin rotation is impressive.
Because the Diamondbacks are footing the entire bill, the Dodgers reportedly had to give up highly regarded Tony Abreu in the deal. Abreu, 24, has mashed minor league pitching this year. He saw some time in the bigs two years ago and has 11 plate appearances for the Dodgers in 2009 after missing all of 2008 with groin and hip injuries. He returned to put up a strong line of .351/.382/.609 in Triple-A and now, assuming he clears waivers, will head to Arizona. He has a chance to be Arizona’s long-term second baseman, although Ryan Roberts may have something to say about that. With Orlando Hudson and Blake DeWitt in the fold, the Dodgers could afford to cough up Abreu.
With all these moves, Colletti has shown an ability to acquire quality players without compromising their payroll structure. This is especially crucial in this economy. It is also how Colletti made his living last year, acquiring Manny Ramirez and Casey Blake at zero cost other than prospects. Just over a year later, it’s looking like Coletti blundered badly by coughing up catcher Carlos Santana for Blake (assuming Santana pans out as expected). That said, Blake has proven extremely productive in his role as a third baseman and Russell Martin certainly has the catcher position locked up for years to come. The cost for Manny Ramirez was Andy LaRoche and Bryan Morris, which isn’t costing Ned any sleep at night.
Colletti’s first go-round as general manager was beyond awful: Juan Pierre, Andruw Jones and Jason Schmidt were all signed to payroll-killing deals, which actually is what has forced Colletti into these types of deals that we just went over. He shouldn’t receive a pass for his role in orchestrating the current plight of the Dodgers, but he does deserve credit for being able to maneuver around those deals and bring in all these quality players at minimal cost.
Colletti seems to have realized that his best negotiating position comes when other teams are desperate. Take Manny Ramirez last year: Manny literally fell in Colletti’s lap when the Red Sox had enough. This year, a frustrated Ken Williams told clubs Thome was available the morning of August 31. Just before midnight, a deal was completed between Williams and Colletti. The Diamondbacks were looking to recoup some investment in Garland, who was unlikely to return to the club due to finances. The Diamondbacks wrote off Garland as a sunk cost, realizing that if they didn’t deal him, they’d be paying Garland anyways. Colletti benefited from that realization to import a starter crucial to the stretch run at zero financial cost. As for Blake and Belliard, Colletti took advantage of the rebuilding of both clubs to bring in players that the Dodgers needed in order to survive a postseason run.
Since those disastrous deals have been signed, Colletti seems to have evolved into a league-average general manager at worst. He’s positioned the Dodgers for a deep October run for the second year in a row, which is impressive given the shoehorning Colletti placed the Dodgers in at the beginning of 2007.