Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Instant Trade Analysis: Shane Victorino to the Los Angeles Dodgers

Los Angeles Dodgers get: OF Shane Victorino
Philadelphia Phillies get: RP Josh Lindblom, SP Ethan Martin

In another deal that's going a long way to dispatch the plentiful Ned Colletti haters, the Dodgers GM acquired Shane Victorino before the trade deadline expired today for two young pitchers, Lindblom and Martin.
Victorino, 31, is a noted Dodgers-killer, holds a .795 OPS against the team in regular season play, and a memorable 12 RBIs in 10 games over two consecutive NLCS series in 2008 and 2009.  The latter series was the Flyin' Hawaiian's most memorable, in which he stroked a .368 batting average, .842 slugging and a homer at Chavez Ravine that's only just landed right next to Matt Stairs' from the year before. Although his gaunt island countenance still haunts Angelenos dreams everywhere, it now might be the key to the first Dodgers pennant in over twenty years.

The new Dodgers' left fielder is a salve to the team in several ways. First and foremost, the team finally have their leadoff hitter. Several hitters have masqueraded as Don Mattingly's batter atop the lineup, though to little success. Mark Ellis and Bobby Abreu have had the most success with .349 and over OBPs, but both men are up there in years and have decent, but not spectacular, footspeed. Obviously neither guy is a prototypical leadoff hitter, but Donnie's had to turn to them in lieu of the more traditional Dee Gordon. The Dodgers' young shortstop is currently on the DL, but with a .229 batting average an only a paltry .280 OBP, LA's lineup wasn't exactly setting up the middle of the order hitters, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and Hanley Ramirez, with many men to knock home.

Victorino solves a lot of those issues, but certainly not as well as the team would like. He's having the worst season of his career by any metric, including a .261 batting average, .324 OBP and only a .724 OPS. His defense has definitely slipped from the fielding that earned him three consecutive Gold Gloves, though he'll look like a young Griffey in comparison to the veterans who've played in his stead the past three months. A lot of reports say that he's been playing rather disgruntled from a lack of a contract extension from the Phillies - he'll be a free agent just months from now - as well as pressing a bit trying to justify in what will probably be his last big contract.

Quite honestly, Victorino is a great player, but he's hardly the force that he's been in year's past. Dodgers fans should try to temper their expectations for a player that's killed their team every single year. However, he's already swatted nine homers and stolen 24 bags, which would be third and second on the Dodgers. He is a rare combination of power and speed that the Dodgers haven't really had in a leadoff man since Kemp manned the position years ago for manager Joe Torre. Even in a down year, Shane is still an extremely effective top of the order hitter, whose base-running acumen should only sharpen with the reunion of him and former Phillies first base coach Davy Lopes.

Also, looking at the outfield, Victorino's addition heightens in value when simply looking at who he's replacing. The Dodgers left field has been a justifiably called a moderate disaster this year. Juan Rivera owns the high water mark for outfield batting at .261, while his platoon-mates Bobby Abreu and Tony Gwynn, Jr. are both replacement-level or below players. Jerry Hairston has played 17 games in left with a solid .291 average behind him, but has been pressed into far more infield duty with injuries to Mark Ellis and Dee Gordon, and Juan Uribe's remorseless assaults on the integrity of the sport of baseball. Perhaps just as importantly, only Gwynn is a defensive difference maker in the outfield. Abreu and Rivera were once upon a time excellent to adequate fielders, but time has shrunk their ranges in inverse proportions to their waistlines.

Lindblom pulling a Steve Blake with a smokewife!
The return for Victorino could be significant. Josh Lindblom has had something of a breakout season for the Dodgers, manning a late-inning role for Mattingly. He's got a live arm (8.1 K/9), and good control (only 18 walks in 47 innings), but has given up 9 homers. He's probably hit his ceiling in terms of relieving in a 7th or 8th inning capacity, but could truly become a very valuable, late game shut down pitcher. With the acquisition of an inferior, but still decent reliever in Brandon League, Lindblom became expendable for a team trying to win now. The other player, Ethan Martin, sits on the fringes of the Dodgers' top prospects, but certainly not the stud farm hand he once was. Some scouts still say that he's capable of being a number 2 starter, but a 4.91 ERA and a 1.84 SO/BB ratio aren't the type of numbers that really embolden anyone's predictions. The Phillies have raided their farm system while making in-season trades for the past five years, so Victorino, a free agent in the fall, was traded simply to replenish farm depth. Considering they weren't making the playoffs and probably were not candidates to resign their center fielder, a great, cheap and controllable (Lindblom is under contract til 2017) reliever and potential starter is a great return for them.

Victorino won't be getting MVP votes like he got last year, but he's a significant upgrade merely in that the Dodgers' left fielding and leadoff platoons have been awful this season. If this is the type of "change of scenery" trade that seems to have reinvigorated Hanley Ramirez so far in Dodger blue, this trade is an absolute coup for Ned Colletti. At his height, Victorino is a poor man's Rickey Henderson, which isn't a comparison that denigrates the Flyin' Hawaiian's value in any way. He'll hit leadoff in front of Mark Ellis, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and Hanley Ramirez (in that order, presumably), which will give the Dodgers one of the National League's best top five. Amazing to think that just over a week ago, LA had one of the most maligned and weakest lineups in the majors.

The price for just two months of Victorino was steep, but considering the Dodgers are trying to win now with such a weak leadoff hitter and left field platoon, they had to make this deal. LA's new ownership is trying to make a big splash, and winning the franchise's first pennant since 1988 would be a great way to do it. With no outfielders coming up any time soon, Ned Colleti will presumably make a push to resign Victorino, who will hopefully be enraptured with a Dodgers' postseason berth and new, winning culture. The Hanley Ramirez deal made the Dodgers a possible National League West champ, but if Victorino can turn his season around, this could make them into a potential National League champ.

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