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Dodgers

Dodgers Dugout: Russell Martin is back, but where’s Bryce Harper?

Dodgers
Russell Martin with the Dodgers in 2009.
(Alex Gallardo / Los Angeles Times)

Hi, and welcome to another edition of Dodgers Dugout. My name is Houston Mitchell and a familiar face has returned to the team.

My favorite Martin

The Dodgers may have filled their hole at catcher last week when they acquired former Dodger Russell Martin from the Toronto Blue Jays for minor leaguers Ronny Brito and Andrew Sopko.

Martin played for the Dodgers from 2006-10 and was known for his sterling defense (one Gold Glove), good OB% (.365 in his Dodger career) and speed (21 steals in 2007, 66 in his Dodger career). Now, he has all but two of those things. His defense is still strong, but he has stolen only three bases the last three seasons, and last season he hit .194/.338/.325. Over the last three seasons, he hit .218/.338/.375 and his OPS+ has been below 100 each season.

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He bats right-handed, so this doesn’t set up a natural platoon with Austin Barnes, who didn’t bat any better than Martin last season (.205/.329/.290). I guess the Dodgers believe having two catchers who hit around .200 is better than having one. Which is similar to the belief that having both lungs infected is better than having just one infected. This basically gives the Dodgers two catchers who are good defensively but need to prove they can hit. Martin finished sixth in our poll of the greatest catchers in Dodger history, being named on 3% of the ballots. He turns 36 next month.

So, honestly, as much as I liked Martin, the Dodgers haven’t exactly filled the hole at catcher with this acquisition. It’s possible they have, but Martin has a lot to prove. It gives them two strong defensive catchers and allows them to keep Keibert Ruiz and Will Smith in the minors to develop more.

Martin will get paid $20 million this season, but Toronto agreed to pay $16.4 million of that, leaving the Dodgers on the hook for $3.6 million.

Now let’s think out loud a little bit. What if this is a move to set something else up? They get Martin, that means they could include Barnes in a trade for Miami catcher J.T. Realmuto. Apparently, the Marlins would like to get a catcher in return, and this allows them to do that without trading Ruiz or Smith. Plus, they would have a veteran backup for Realmuto. Martin has already gone on record saying he will do whatever it takes to help, because he wants to win a World Series before he retires. This may be his best shot at it.

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Of course, no one knows what the Dodgers are thinking, because Andrew Friedman likes to play things close to the vest. They may be perfectly happy with a Barnes/Martin combo behind the plate. It would certainly be a strong defensive pairing, and the Dodgers value that.

But the Dodgers still need to do something. They are not a better team now than they were at the end of last season. Right now, they have to hope Barnes or Martin turn things around on offense, and hope that Alex Verdugo is the real deal. Which could happen. But betting on those two things occurring is a bit risky. Not to mention hoping Max Muncy wasn’t a one-year wonder. He probably isn’t, but come on, that’s in the back of everyone’s mind. If the season started today, I’d pick the Dodgers to win the NL West easily again. Mainly because every other team in the division is much worse than they are.

Right now, the Dodgers lineup could look like this:

C-Martin/Barnes

1B-Muncy

2B-Chris Taylor

3B-Justin Turner

SS-Corey Seager

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LF-Joc Pederson

CF-Cody Bellinger

RF-Alex Verdugo

That leaves Kiké Hernandez, David Freese, Andrew Toles and whoever doesn’t start at catcher on the bench.

Now let’s turn our attention to Bryce Harper. There has been little movement in this area since the last time I brought it up. Harper would like a lengthy deal that breaks the record for total value (currently held by Giancarlo Stanton with a $325-million deal). The Dodgers would like to avoid a 10-year deal. I don’t blame them. If some team decides to bite the bullet and pay Harper what he thinks he is worth, then the Dodgers will wave so long, and rightfully so. But if we get into February, and no one is even hinting and giving Harper what he wants, would the Dodgers be his best fallback position? We’ll have to wait and see.

The Phillies, by the way, are considered the favorites by many to land Harper. They are also considered the favorites to land Manny Machado. They can’t afford to sign both of them though. Once one of those two sign, the other won’t be too far behind. So, when things happen, expect them to happen quickly.

As far as Realmuto goes, the Marlins asked for Cody Bellinger and a top prospect. That was swiftly rejected. Will they lower their asking price? Could Barnes and a top-10 pitching prospect entice them, especially as we get closer to spring training? We’ll have to wait and see.

It has been a frustrating offseason, because there’s this constant sense that something big is about to happen, yet nothing happens.

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Keep in mind

Let’s not get too mopey though. Fans of most teams would kill to be in our position. It’s frustrating to get to the World Series twice and lose, but it’s better than not making it at all. And the Dodgers will still be the prohibitive favorite to win the NL West and the NL title next season. Caesars in Vegas released their win totals for each team next season. The Dodgers are the top team in the NL at 95 wins. No other NL team is above 90. Here’s the list:

Houston, 97.5

New York Yankees, 96.5

Boston, 95.5

Dodgers, 95

Cleveland, 91.5

Chicago Cubs, 89

St. Louis, 88.5

Washington, 88.5

Tampa Bay, 85.5

Atlanta, 84

Minnesota, 84

Angels, 83.5

Milwaukee, 83.5

New York Mets, 83.5

Oakland, 83

Philadelphia, 83

Colorado, 82

Pittsburgh, 78.5

San Diego, 77.5

Arizona, 77

Cincinnati, 77

Toronto, 76.5

Seattle, 74.5

Chicago White Sox, 74.5

San Francisco, 73

Texas, 70.5

Kansas City, 69

Detroit, 67

Miami, 65.5

Baltimore, 59

Farewell to Grandal

Yasmani Grandal signed with the Milwaukee Brewers, a one-year, $18.25 million deal. It seems only fair, since Grandal was the Brewers’ best player in the NLCS last season.

Now that the easy joke is out of the way. … Grandal was a good player with the Dodgers. He hit .240/.341/.441 with power and walks. He also was great at pitch framing, a stat that doesn’t impress me at all and requires a lot of mind reading, but is valued by many front offices (one of the reason Martin was acquired was because he is an excellent pitch framer). Grandal’s biggest problems were simple: 1. He had a great deal of trouble actually holding onto the ball. Not just in last season’s playoffs, but for the last four years. He dropped a lot of throws to the plate is always among the leaders in passed balls. 2. He is very streaky. He’d carry the team for a couple of weeks and then just disappear on offense, striking out constantly. 3. The pressure of the postseason seemed to get to him. Let’s look at his hitting in each round:

NLDS: .093/.220/.163 (4 for 43)

NLCS: .125/.323/.292 (3 for 24)

World Series: .125/.300/.125 (1 for 8)

Total: .107/.264/.200 (32 games, 8 for 75, 2 homers, 35 strikeouts).

Those are some brutal numbers.

But let’s thank Grandal for his time here, and as I always do for former Dodgers, I hope he has much success against everyone except L.A.

Also coming aboard

The Dodgers acquired right-handed pitcher Jaime Schultz from Tampa Bay last week for minor-league pitcher Caleb Sampen. Schultz hasn’t had success in the majors, but he has a fastball that can reach 100. It’s just pretty straight and he doesn’t always know where it’s going. He’ll be in the mix as one of the many, many arms the Dodgers use in the bullpen during a season.

I’m writing a new newsletter!

Thanks to the success of Dodgers Dugout (which is mainly thanks to you), The Times has asked me to write a daily sports newsletter that will cover all sports. Don’t worry, Dodgers Dugout will still come out as normal. But if you like other L.A. sports teams, or just sports in general, please subscribe to the new newsletter by clicking here. And if you end up not enjoying it, you can always unsubscribe. Thanks!

And finally

We’ll have the wild-card round of our all-time Dodgers 40-man roster tomorrow. In the meantime, let’s watch one of my favorite plays in Dodgers history. Watch it here.

Have a comment or something you’d like to see in a future Dodgers newsletter? Email me and follow me on Twitter: @latimeshouston.


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