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March 22, 2016

Rumor Roundup

Dodgers Consider Their Options, e.g. Zach Lee

by Daniel Rathman

Dodgers fifth-starter spot back up for grabs
The theme song for the Dodgers rotation this spring has been “Another One Bites the Dust”—and that’s not a reference to opposing hitters digging in against Clayton Kershaw. Over the weekend, manager Dave Roberts revealed that the group’s latest ailing member is right-hander Mike Bolsinger, who was supposed to be the failsafe when the fragile veterans ahead of him went down. Now, the 28-year-old Bolsinger is sidelined with an oblique injury, and while it’s not believed to be a long-term matter, it does open up another void in Roberts’ Opening Day rotation.

Here’s the carnage to date: Brett Anderson is out several months with a back injury; Hyun-jin Ryu is still dealing with shoulder discomfort and can’t be counted on until late May; Brandon McCarthy and the recently acquired Frankie Montas will start the year on the 60-day DL; free-agent pickup Scott Kazmir is struggling to light up 9s on the radar gun; Brandon Beachy is dealing with elbow tendinitis; and Alex Wood just returned on Saturday from a minor case of forearm tightness.

At this point, there’s no reason to believe that Kazmir or Wood is in danger of missing the start of the season, so the starting five now goes: Kershaw, Kazmir, Maeda, Wood. There’s a laundry list of arms who can’t be the fifth starter to begin the year, leaving just a couple who could.

One of those is 26-year-old Carlos Frias, who made 13 starts for the 2015 Dodgers and compiled a 4.06 ERA in 17 total trips to the mound covering 77 2/3 innings. Our advanced pitching metrics aren’t fans, though, tagging Frias with a 5.26 DRA and 122 cFIP, the former suggesting he was quite fortunate to escape with palatable surface numbers, the latter indicating that he probably won’t be so lucky again. To his credit, the right-hander has pitched well this spring, logging a 6-to-1 K:BB ratio over eight innings.

Plan B might be former top prospect Zach Lee, now 24 and looking to earn his first long-term major-league gig. Lee flunked his first impression last season, enduring an 11-hit, seven-run beating at the hands of the Mets on July 25th, his only time on a big-league mound to date. He’s a step or two behind Frias if spring results are the only barometer, and had already been reassigned to minor-league camp before Bolsinger’s injury forced the Dodgers to reconsider.

As of right now, 35-year-old Joe Blanton—who signed a one-year, $4 million deal with the Dodgers in mid-January—does not appear to be under consideration for Bolsinger’s spot. Blanton revived his career in a relief role with the Pirates last year, and Roberts seems disinclined to stretch the righty back out.

Red Sox want to get Travis Shaw more time at third base
There are four years left on Pablo Sandoval’s five-year, $95 million hitch with the Red Sox, a deal that began with a calamitous -1.4 WARP campaign, and that stirred media attention again in February when Sandoval showed up to Fort Myers, Florida, with his boiler fully intact. Manager John Farrell has signaled throughout the spring that Sandoval’s job isn’t as safe as the $78 million still owed to him might imply. And his chief rival is making a strong play to snatch it away.

Sandoval has said all the right things about the apparent hot-corner competition in recent days, telling reporters that he’ll put his best foot forward and let Farrell and the decision-makers upstairs determine who’s earned the job. He might want to be careful what he wishes for, though, because Travis Shaw entered Grapefruit League play Monday batting .419 this spring.

Shaw, who turns 26 on April 16th, took many evaluators by surprise with his power stroke in a 65-game debut last season. He batted .270/.327/.487 over 248 trips to the box, swatting 10 doubles and 13 homers along the way. That amounted to a .278 True Average—not bad for a rookie who began the year well outside of the organization’s top-prospect lists. But that fine work at the plate does nothing to answer the second question on Shaw’s plate: Can he play an adequate third base?

Just how high the bar is set depends on the Red Sox’s internal evaluation of Sandoval’s defense, which eroded badly, by most metrics, with the move from San Francisco to Boston. Sandoval, though, is just a year removed from being at least a solid fielder—or even an asset with the glove—and at 29, roundness notwithstanding, there’s hope that he can regain some of the range he lost last year. Shaw made eight major-league appearances at the five spot in 2015, and he had a 1.000 fielding percentage to show for making all the ordinary-effort plays; the sample is far too small for metrics to measure how many balls slipped by beyond his reach.

And that’s why the plan for the coming spring-training games involves a lot of Shaw at third base—and not so much Shaw in the outfield, which is where he’d be spending more time if Farrell were preparing him for a corner utility role. As MLB.com’s Ian Browne put it, the skipper “candidly admit[ted] he wants to see as much of him at third as possible,” an indication that Farrell is keen on forcing Sandoval to fend off a true challenge from Shaw.

The fallback for Shaw is picking up scraps from Sandoval at third, plus Hanley Ramirez at first, and occasional time in left and right. If Sandoval loses his job, however, his role on the squad is murkier. Farrell has Ramirez at first and David Ortiz at designated hitter, the other two spots where Sandoval could play, and barring injury, there’s not a path to regular playing time at either one.

Boston has just one split-squad day left this spring, and that’s not until March 30th, more than a week from today, so every Shaw appearance at third base takes one away from Sandoval. Based on reporters’ assessment of Farrell’s weekend tone, this is a situation worth monitoring closely over the next two weeks.

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

Related Content:  Los Angeles Dodgers,  Boston Red Sox

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Winter Is Leaving (03/22)
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