Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Crasnick's Free-Agent Grades Flunk Jones; Dodger Fans Hope Against Repeat Year

From Jerry Crasnick's latest column, grading last year's free-agent classes on their 2008 seasons to date: Andruw Jones' F grade doesn't mean he has to do the 2008 season over again next year, right?

Andruw Jones, CF, Dodgers
.161 BA, 3 HR, 14 RBI, .514 OPS
Contract: Two years, $36.2 million | Grade: F

The Dodgers knew they had a reclamation project on their hands when they signed Jones. But they were hoping for a little more than a .161 batting average, a .254 slugging percentage and 14 RBIs in 205 at-bats.

"He's a total bust," said a National League scout. "What else can you say?"

A West Coast scout who's watched Jones crush some balls in batting practice this season is convinced he has something left in the tank. But a year this horrid makes you wonder if Jones isn't finished at age 32. Compared to Jones, Roberto Alomar enjoyed a graceful descent into oblivion.

"Andruw is one of those fabulous athletes who never struggled," the scout said. "He would just do things because he could do them. He didn't have to analyze them. Then his mechanics got bad, and he got heavy, and he spent so much time hitting on his back leg that he hurt his knee."

The Dodgers just recalled Jones from Triple-A Las Vegas, where he spent some time at first base. For some reason, we suspect James Loney won't have to worry about losing many at-bats down the stretch.

And look at the other centerfielder who got away, the Angels' Torii Hunter:

Torii Hunter, CF, Angels
.283 BA, 19 HR, 71 RBI, .824 OPS
Contract: Five years, $90 million | Grade: B

Was $90 million a stretch for a player who entered this season with a career .793 OPS? We'll buy that. Hunter, an inveterate free swinger, ranks seventh among big league center fielders in slugging and 12th in on-base percentage this season. If he really were the big bat the Angels needed to complement Vladimir Guerrero, general manager Tony Reagins wouldn't have had to go out and acquire Mark Teixeira before the deadline.

That said, Hunter has done his part to help the Angels salt away the AL West. He played through heartache after the death of his grandmother back home in Arkansas, and stepped forward as the team's resident energizer, media go-to guy and goodwill ambassador. Hunter has already begun working on Teixeira to spurn free agency and sign a long-term deal to stay with the Angels. If he can enlist Scott Boras in the effort, then we'll start paying attention.

Although the defensive metrics show that Hunter has lost a step at age 33, he's still a presence with the glove. After Hunter robbed Texas' Marlon Byrd and Hank Blalock of home runs in consecutive games last weekend, Kevin Baxter of the Los Angeles Times wrote that he's turned center field at Angels Stadium into "the place home runs go to die."

Aaron Rowand, picked up by the Giants this off-season for a staggering 5-year, $60M deal, got a B-. And so did tonight's starting pitcher, the Dodgers' Hiroki Kuroda (which I think is a little low):

Hiroki Kuroda, RHP, Dodgers
7-10, 3.87 ERA, 2 CG, .246 BAA
Contract: Three years, $35.3 million | Grade: B-

You'd probably rank Kuroda higher if you saw his masterful 3-0 complete game against the Cubs on June 6, or his one-hit shutout over Atlanta a month later. If you watched him get pounded by Arizona and San Francisco in July, this grade might be considered generous.

Scouts say the same thing about Kuroda that they said about Daisuke Matsuzaka a year ago: He has so many pitches in his repertoire, sometimes he appears to have trouble winnowing down his options.

"His stuff is real good," said a National League scout, "but once he gets some guys on base, it's kind of like he falls apart. He either gets you out 1-2-3 or gives up a bunch of runs. As somebody once described it, he's one of those guys who 'doesn't struggle well.'"

The statistics bear out that observation: Opponents are batting .212 against Kuroda with the bases empty and .300 with runners on base. He either needs to work on his stuff out of the stretch or concentrate less on the surrounding traffic and more on the catcher's mitt.

Nevertheless, Kuroda has thrown a quality start 62 percent of the time -- the same ratio as Carlos Zambrano, Ted Lilly and Matt Cain. His 7-10 record won't wow anyone, but the Dodgers have scored a total of 23 runs in his 10 losses.

And keep in mind that Kuroda has had to adjust to a whole new culture and learn new hitters and ballparks on the fly. Matsuzaka has been better his second time around, and the Dodgers have reason to believe it will be the same for Kuroda in 2009.