L.A. Dodgers: Which of the 18 Bargain Bin Signings Will Make an Impact in 2011?
Surely general manager Ned Colletti had some sort of strategy or plan in mind for the Los Angeles Dodgers when he went on a feverish free-agent shopping spree during the offseason.
A total of 24 free agents were signed over the course of the winter, and if Ted Lilly is included (Lilly was just two weeks away from becoming a free agent before inking a three-year deal), the total climbs to 25—enough to field a full 25-man roster.
Colletti is notorious for taking a chances on players who never really quite broke through or veterans at the end of their roads. And realistically, for the number of gambles that he makes, a diamond in the rough is bound to appear somewhere.
Some argue that one of the largest concerns over the course of 2010 campaign was the lack of depth. Others say that the lack of a bona fide power hitter in the lineup led to a disappointing season. Rather than gamble on a nine-figure contract or a deal that would break the bank, Colletti opted to address all the needs one by one—not with big-market marquee players who could negatively affect the franchise by under-performing, but instead with middle-of-the-road players who have a proven track record and are fundamentally sound.
Players who signed the multi-million dollar deals—Hiroki Kuroda, Jon Garland, Juan Uribe, Rod Barajas, Vicente Padilla, and Matt Guerrier—are certain to impact the Dodgers' performance in some shape or form, but the question that lingers is whether or not any of the 18 players who signed contracts for $1 million or less will have any type of influence on the squad moving forward.
Granted, the Dodgers Triple-A affiliate, the Albuquerque Isotopes, will be almost completely reconstructed, and most of these free agent signings will be instrumental in holding down the fort in the desert. However, there's at least a half-dozen of these bargain signings who may have some type of positive impact on the squad in 2011.
The following slides showcase all 18 players who have signed deals with the Dodgers for $1 million or less, outline a brief history for each, and offer commentary as to how each player will contribute to the Dodgers organization during the upcoming campaign.
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Jay Gibbons was granted free agency by the Dodgers on November 1, however he was quickly re-signed to a one-year, $650,000 deal just three days later.
Because of Gibbons' previous involvement with PEDs, it's difficult to look at his past statistics to project any type of performance for 2011. However, considering the 37 games and 75 at-bats he tallied for Los Angeles last season, his production was somewhat impressive.
He was able to hit five home runs and drive-in 17 while recording an offensive stat line of .280/.313/.507. Many project Gibbons to see significant time in left field in a platoon scenario while also spelling James Loney at first base, if needed. From a batting average standpoint, he's equally effective against both right-handed and left-handed pitching, but his power numbers drop off drastically when facing lefties.
Gibbons, who will be 34 when the season begins, will be an integral part of the Dodgers game plan in 2011. Although there are more than several outfield combinations that could possibly be utilized, Gibbons will be a legitimate pinch-hitting force off the bench at the minimum.
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Outside of appearing in two MLB games in 2006, Hector Gimenez is a career minor league catcher who spent time in the Houston Astros, Tampa Bay Rays, and the Pittsburgh Pirates farm systems.
Ned Colletti signed Gimenez, 28, to a minor league deal on November 11 with foresight that the team may have a need for depth after the retirement of Brad Ausmus and the uncertainty (at the time) of Russell Martin's future in Los Angeles.
In 2010 with the Pirates' Double-A affiliate, the Altoona Curve, Gimenez hit .305 with 16 HR, 29 doubles, and 72 RBI while appearing in 94 games.
As of right now, Gimenez still remains on the Dodgers' 40-man roster, which may present a problem when Opening Day arrives. With catchers Rod Barajas, A.J. Ellis and Dioner Navarro all making strong pushes for the 25-man roster, chances are almost nil that Gimenez will even compete for a roster spot. That said, because Gimenez is out of options, he would first need to clear waivers before he can be assigned a spot in the Dodgers' minor league system.
With catchers at such a high premium across MLB, chances are about 50/50 that he would clear waivers and remain in the Dodgers organization.
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Aside from spending a large portion of the 2010 season in the Dodgers farm system, Jon Huber has seen action in the San Diego Padres, Seattle Mariners, Detroit Tigers and the Atlanta Braves organizations.
Huber, 29, was granted free agency by the Dodgers on November 6 of last year, however he quickly agreed to a one year minor league deal just two weeks later.
Although primarily a starter early in his career, Huber has spent the past four seasons as a reliever. Last year for the Dodgers' Double-A affiliate, the Chattanooga Lookouts, he posted a 3-3 record with a 2.23 ERA and a 1.060 WHIP after appearing in 36 games and tallying 44.1 total innings of work.
With the Dodgers having a solid bullpen to start, plus a long line waiting to get in, chances are extremely slim that Huber's even considered for a spot on the Los Angeles Major League roster.
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On November 22, the Dodgers signed 27-year-old veteran pitcher Dana Eveland to a minor league deal.
Drafted by the Brewers in 2002, Eveland has already seen tours of duty with Milwaukee, the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Oakland Athletics, the Toronto Blue Jays and the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Eveland's most productive year came with Oakland in 2008 when he started 29 games and posted a 9-9 record with a 4.34 ERA. Over the course of his six-year MLB career, he has a record of 16-22 with a 5.74 ERA and a 1.739 WHIP in 54 starts and 95 total appearances.
Barring a significant string of injuries to the Dodgers' starting rotation, Eveland is set to spend the entire year with Triple-A Albuquerque as a regular starter.
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Oscar Villarreal is another 29-year-old righty reliever who saw the majority of his MLB action with the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Atlanta Braves and the Houston Astros.
Villareal spent most of 2010 in the Philadelphia Phillies organization, and Ned Colletti signed the reliever to a minor league contract not long after he was granted free agency.
As a rookie with the Atlanta Braves in 2003, he appeared in 86 games and posted a 10-7 record with a 2.57 ERA and a 1.286 WHIP. He logged over 92 innings and appeared in 58 games with the Braves in 2006, but hasn't contributed anything overly productive at the Major League level since.
Like Huber, Villarreal will strengthen the Dodgers' bullpen at either the Triple-A or the Double-A levels.
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Born in Sydney, Australia, Trent Oeltjen was originally signed by the Minnesota Twins as an amateur free agent in 2001.
After six years in the Twins organization, then brief stops in the Arizona Diamondbacks and Milwaukee Brewers farm systems, Oeltjen, 27, settled in at Triple-A Albuquerque last year for the Dodgers.
An outfielder primarily known for his speed and gap power, Oeltjen was re-signed to a minor league deal by the Dodgers on December 6.
With both Jerry Sands and Trayvon Robinson quickly emerging as candidates for the big league roster, Oeltjen seems destined to spend most of the year with the Isotopes, at least until rosters expand in September.
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Somehow Juan Castro keeps finding his way back to Los Angeles.
Castro, 38, was originally signed by the Dodgers as an amateur free agent back in 1991. Over the course of his 16-year MLB career, he also spent time with the Cincinnati Reds, the Minnesota Twins, the Baltimore Orioles, and the Philadelphia Phillies.
Known more for his glove than his bat, Castro signed a minor league deal with the Dodgers on December 11 for the second consecutive season.
Depending on the development of infielders Ivan DeJesus, Jr. and Russ Mitchell there could be a chance that Castro sees some big league action, especially if an injury arises among the Dodgers' everyday infielders.
Tony Gwynn Jr.
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Tony Gwynn Jr. was acquired by Dodgers GM Ned Colletti in one of the earlier moves during the winter after signing a one-year major league deal worth $675,000.
Gwynn, 28, is primarily a center fielder, and his best assets are his phenomenal glove work and above-average speed, both in the field and on the base paths.
Last year for the San Diego Padres, Gwynn batted a disappointing .204 with a .287 slugging percentage after appearing in 117 games. 2009 was his best year to date, as he hit .270 with an OBP of .350 in 119 games for the Padres.
Heading into spring training, Gwynn is seemingly in a battle for the fifth outfield spot with Xavier Paul. Gwynn is also out of options, so he can't be added to a Dodgers' minor league roster without first clearing waivers. At this point in time, odds favor Gwynn over Paul, only because it's difficult to imagine that Ned Colletti would throw away $675,000 in salary without getting anything in return.
Most analysts believe that Gwynn controls his own destiny with the Dodgers based on how well he performs offensively in Cactus League play.
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Eugenio Velez is a utility man who can play an assortment of both infield and outfield positions. His most productive year in the majors came for the San Francisco Giants in 2009 when he hit .267 with 13 doubles, five triples, five home runs and 31 RBI after appearing in 94 games.
Upon being granted free agency by the Giants, Ned Colletti inked Velez to a minor league deal on December 13.
Although Velez brings some much needed speed to the table, there's quite a long line ahead of him in terms of earning a big league roster spot. It's definitely safe to say that Velez will spend a good portion of the year with Triple-A Albuquerque being used in multiple positions and serving several team roles.
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Dioner Navarro was signed to a one-year, $1 million deal shortly after Rod Barajas was re-signed and within two weeks of Los Angeles deciding on the future of former catcher Russell Martin.
Navarro, who after an injury in 2006 was replaced as the Dodgers' starting catcher by Martin, returns to the club and hopes to see a significant amount of playing time behind Barajas. After being selected to the American League All-Star squad as a member of the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008, Navarro hit just .218 in 115 games in 2009, then mustered a meager .194 average in 48 total games for the Rays last season. At 26 years-old, Navarro hopes to regain the form he showed only three years earlier.
Heading into spring training, it's expected that Navarro will battle A.J. Ellis for the second catching spot behind Rod Barajas. Because Ellis still has an option year remaining, chances are Navarro gets the nod.
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Tim Redding is a 32-year-old right-handed starting pitcher who has seen action with the Houston Astros, the San Diego Padres, the New York Yankees, the Washington Nationals, and the New York Mets over the course his eight-year MLB career.
In 2008, he proved he still had a bit of gas in the tank after posting a 10-11 record with a 4.95 in over 180 innings of work. After signing a one-year, $2.25 million deal with the Mets in 2009, he was poised to become the team's fourth or fifth starter, however he was shut down in spring training due to shoulder fatigue.
After brief stops in the Rockies and Yankees farm systems, he pitched for the Samsung Lions in Korea for the remainder of 2010. The Dodgers signed Redding to a minor league deal on January 3 of 2011.
After the Dodgers starting rotation, there's a line that is about three-deep including Vicente Padilla, John Ely and Carlos Monasterios, so there would need to be some highly extenuating circumstances for Redding to see a promotion to the bigs.
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Roman Colon, 31, is a right-handed reliever who stands at 6'6", and posts an 8-10 career record with a 5.12 ERA and a 1.494 WHIP in just under 180 inning of work in the majors.
Colon has seen action for the Atlanta Braves, the Detroit Tigers and the Kansas City Royals.
After a fighting incident with a teammate during a rehab assignment in 2007, Colon later pleaded no contest to assault and was sentenced to 200 hours of community service.
Colon spent most of 2010 pitching for the Kia Tigers in South Korea, but returned to the United States after signing a minor league deal with the Dodgers on January 12 of this year.
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Just hours after signing Thames, the Dodgers announced that they signed Gabe Kapler, 35, to a minor league deal. Kapler brings 12 years of MLB experience to the table.
In 1104 career games, Kapler tallies a career .268 average with 82 home runs and 386 RBI. At age 34, Kapler appeared in 59 games for the Tampa Bay Rays last year while batting .210 with two home runs and 14 RBI. His benchmark season came in the year 2000 with the Texas Rangers where he hit .302 with 14 home runs and 66 RBI after appearing in 116 games.
Unless a serious string of injuries occurs in the Dodgers big league outfield, Kapler is expected to spend all of 2011 in Albuquerque helping groom such future stars as Jerry Sands and Trayvon Robinson.
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With the addition of Marcus Thames, Los Angeles gains valuable veteran leadership as well as a potent right-handed power bat.
Thames' offensive strengths are undeniably his success against left-handed pitching, and may find himself in a left field platoon role for most of the season.
In only 110 games played, Thames' signature season came in 2006 for the Detroit Tigers, when he set career highs in home runs (26), RBI (60) and doubles (20). Last year for the New York Yankees, he hit .288 with 12 HR and 33 RBI while appearing in 82 games.
His new contract with the Dodgers includes a base salary of $1.0 million, and he stands to make an additional $800K if he exceeds 237 plate appearances—the number he tallied last year with the Yankees.
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In an effort to further bolster the bullpen, Ned Colletti signed former All Star closer Mike MacDougal to a minor league contract on January 28.
MacDougal, 33, has 10 years of MLB experience, and has spent time in the Kansas City Royals, Chicago White Sox, Washington Nationals, Florida Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals organizations.
His signature season came in 2003 with the Royals, when he finished with a 3-5 record with 27 saves in 68 relief appearances.
After signing a $2.65 million deal with the White Sox in 2009, MacDougal appeared in 17 games for the Cardinals in 2010, where he posted a 1-1 record with a 7.23 ERA and a 1.875 WHIP in just over 18 innings of work.
As mentioned previously, there are plenty of players in line outside of the Dodgers big league bullpen, and unless MacDougal is near flawless in the minors, he won't see Major League action anytime soon.
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Merkin Valdez, 29, is yet another right-handed reliever who saw most of his professional work in the San Francisco Giants organization from 2004-2009.
The most MLB action that he's seen came in 2009 when he posted a 2-1 record with a 5.66 ERA and a 1.723 WHIP in just over 49 innings of work.
Valdez spent most of 2010 in the Toronto Blue Jays organization.
He signed a minor league deal with the Dodgers on January 28, but the contract did not include an offer to spring training.
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Thinking that too much bullpen help is never enough, Ned Colletti signed veteran lefty reliever Ron Mahay to a minor league contract with a spring training invite on February 3.
Mahay, who turns 40 in June, spent last season with the Minnesota Twins, where he appeared in 41 games and posted a 1-1 record with a 3.44 ERA and a 1.206 WHIP in 34 full innings of work.
The 14-year veteran has spent time with the Boston Red Sox, Oakland Athletics, Florida Marlins, Chicago Cubs, Texas Rangers, Atlanta Braves, Kansas City Royals as well as the Twins.
His most effective year came in 2004 with the Rangers, when he went 3-1 and posted a 2.55 ERA after appearing in 60 games.
It's speculated that Mahay will compete with Scott Elbert for the left-handed specialist spot on the big league roster.
Of the 20 pitchers on the Dodgers 40-man roster, only four are left-handed—two of which are starters Ted Lilly and Clayton Kershaw.
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In his most recent free agent signing, Ned Colletti signed veteran infielder Aaron Miles, 34, to a minor league contract on February 7.
According to Jon Heyman of SI.com, Miles will earn a salary of $500,000 if he makes the 25-man roster.
The eight-year journeyman hit .281 in 79 games with the St. Louis Cardinals last year. His most productive season came in 2004 with the Colorado Rockies when he posted a .293 average with 15 doubles, six home runs, 47 RBI, and 12 stolen bases after appearing in 134 games.
Miles is expected to compete with Ivan DeJesus Jr., Juan Castro and Russ Mitchell for one of the final bench spots on the 25-man roster.