Nov 07

The Hot Stove Curmudgeon tries a walk on the lighter side


Kirby Lee/US PresswireDodgers Hot Stove team captain Ned Colletti

No, Ned Colletti isn’t the Hot Stove Curmudgeon – Jon Weisman is. Or has been.

Each year on Dodger Thoughts, I post a set of guidelines for navigating the Hot Stove League. But this time around, lest you think the Hot Stove Curmudgeon is all curmudgeonly and never cuddly, I’m feeling the desire to keep things happy. So I’ve moved up No. 8 to the top of the list:

8) I’m not telling you not to have fun with the Hot Stove. Have fun! I’m just saying that from my experience here, people take the rumors way too seriously, discussion gets heated, and the fun goes away. And that’s what I’d like to avoid.

1) Rumors are not facts.

2) Teams and agents often float rumors to generate attention or to misdirect rivals. The media will report these rumors without much concern over how viable they are. The rumor is the news — whether it comes to fruition or not is not the media’s problem (or so the media have decided).

3) A report that agents, players or teams “were talking” is meaningless. People talk all the time. It doesn’t mean anything will come of it.

4) Any rumor attributed to an anonymous source is particularly useless.

5) Making judgments about a general manager based on a rumor reflects poorly on the judge.

6) Many deals, if not most, are never rumored, but spring up out of the blue.

7) Many are eager to pass along rumors. If you are planning to post a rumor here, please check to see if it has been posted already. But whatever you do, don’t take the rumors too seriously.

* * *

Current Roster/Estimated 2011 salaries

Here’s how things look for the Dodgers as of now …

* $14,810,000 Starting pitchers (5)
$7,500,000 Ted Lilly
* $6,000,000 Chad Billingsley
* $500,000 Clayton Kershaw
* $405,000 John Ely
* $405,000 Carlos Monasterios
* $15,640,000 Relief pitchers (7)
$7,000,000 Jonathan Broxton
* $5,000,000 George Sherrill
* $2,000,000 Hong-Chih Kuo
* $420,000 Ramon Troncoso
* $415,000 Ronald Belisario
* $405,000 Kenley Jansen
* $400,000 Scott Elbert
Other pitchers on 40-man roster (4)
Javy Guerra
Travis Schlichting
Brent Leach
Jon Link
* $48,855,000 Starting lineup (8)
$12,000,000 Rafael Furcal
$9,250,000 Andre Ethier
* $7,000,000 Russell Martin
$6,950,000 Matt Kemp
$5,250,000 Casey Blake
* $4,500,000 James Loney
* $3,500,000 Ryan Theriot
* $405,000 Xavier Paul
* $4,357,500 Bench (5)
$2,500,000 Jamey Carroll
$650,000 Jay Gibbons
$405,000 A.J. Ellis
* $402,500 Chin-Lung Hu
* $400,000 Russ Mitchell
Other players on 40-man roster (4)
Ivan De Jesus
Jamie Hoffmann
John Lindsey
Trayvon Robinson
* $17,075,000 Also paying
* $7,700,000 Manny Ramirez
$3,500,000 Juan Pierre
* $3,375,000 Andruw Jones
$1,500,000 Jason Schmidt
$1,000,000 Vicente Padilla
* $100,737,500 –GRAND TOTAL

Note: Salary figures marked with an asterisk are estimates. Contract and roster information has been researched, but corrections are welcome. Minor leaguers not on 40-man roster have not been included. Cot’s Baseball Contracts and True Blue L.A. were used as resources for some of the above information.

* * *

Key dates (courtesy of The Associated Press)

Nov. 16-17 — General managers’ meetings, Orlando, Fla.
Nov. 17-18 — Owners’ meetings, Orlando, Fla.
Nov. 23 — Last day for teams to offer salary arbitration to their former players who became free agents.
Nov. 29-Dec. 2 — Major League Baseball Players Association executive board meeting, Orlando, Fla.
Nov. 30 — Last day for free agents offered salary arbitration to accept the offers.
Dec. 2 — Last day for teams to offer 2011 contracts to unsigned players.
Dec. 6-9 — Winter meetings, Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
Jan 5-15 — Salary arbitration filing.
Jan. 18 — Exchange of salary arbitration figures.
Feb. 1-21 — Salary arbitration hearings.
Feb. 13 — Voluntary reporting date for pitchers, catchers and injured players.
Feb. 18 — Voluntary reporting date for other players.
March 1 — Mandatory reporting date.

* * *

Some useful links

ESPN.com Free Agent Tracker (a great tool – sortable by category)
MLB.com Hot Stove Tracker (also sortable)
Keith Law’s Top 50 free agents at ESPN.com
ESPN.com Rumor Central
True Blue L.A. Rule 5 draft preview
MLBTraderumors.com arbitration eligibles
MLBTraderumors.com non-tender candidates

Nov 06

‘Out. The Glenn Burke Story’ aims to strike out intolerance


Comcast SportsNet Bay AreaGlenn Burke, mid-1980s, openly gay and out of baseball.

If the celebration of Fernando Valenzuela was a highpoint in the history of the Los Angeles Dodgers and baseball, an exhilarating transcendence of a minority among a majority, then the desolation of Glenn Burke was the opposite.

It’s my general opinion that, for all the problems in our society, tolerance eventually defeats intolerance. It can take a long time – decades, centuries – but if you’re on the intolerant side, the side that would deny rights and respect to those who are different, you’re on the losing team. And sometimes I’m mystified by how many people don’t see that, how many people stay with the losers, in such a bitter place.

The reason is ignorance, which fuels fear. Solve the ignorance, and you’ll go a long way toward solving intolerance.

Those might seem like platitudes, but they become starkly real in “Out. The Glenn Burke Story,” which premieres Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. at San Francisco’s Castro Theater and at 8 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area. (According to a spokesman for the channel, the documentary will be available in Southern California on DirecTV’s Sports Pack Channel 696 and Dish Network’s Multi-Sports Package Channel 419, but hopefully at some point it will come available to a wider audience in Los Angeles.) The program depicts nothing short of a tragedy of ignorance and intolerance surrounding a gay man, and though society has made progress since then, it reminds us that greater tolerance can’t come too quickly.

Burke, who was drafted by the Dodgers out of Merritt College at age 19 in 1972, not surprisingly comes off as a complicated individual in the 72-minute project. A star basketball player in high school, Burke chose instead to pursue baseball. He was given the highest ratings by scouts in throwing arm, raw power and speed, yet had trouble translating those skills into major-league success. He had a Richard Pryor sense of humor and exuded joy – punctuated by surliness and combativeness.

Most poignantly, after being called up to the majors in 1976, Burke was said to have immediately won the Dodger clubhouse over. Two years later, he was traded, and a year after that, at age 26, he was out of the majors for good.

Comcast SportsNet Bay Area

“Out” argues that while Burke’s teammates and friends at first shocked and discomfited upon learning of Burke’s sexual orientation, most ultimately rallied to protect him, because they genuinely liked him. “He was the guy who kept the chemistry going in the clubhouse,” former Dodger Davey Lopes says in the program. Onetime Dodger beat writer Lyle Spencer recalls that “guys were visibly distraught” over Burke’s trade to Oakland, “and that told me that my sense of how important he was to them internally was accurate. I even remember a few players crying when they found out about it at their lockers, which is stunning.”

Instead, the documentary says that it was unease in the managerial and front office seats that led to Burke’s departure, citing such incidents as a $75,000 offer the Dodgers made to Burke if he would get married. (As Reggie Smith remembers, “Glenn, being his comic self, said, ‘I guess you mean to a woman?’”) “Out” also notes that Burke dated Tommy “Spunky” Lasorda, Jr. (who was also a friend to Dodger players) and mentions a “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” moment. It should be said that no Dodger managerial or front-office personnel appear in the documentary.

Burke was playing sparingly as a Dodger by this point – in the team’s first 27 games, he had 12 plate appearances – so in a baseball sense, he was deemed expendable. And so he was sent to Oakland in exchange for Bill North, who ended up becoming Los Angeles’ starting center fielder.

The trade could have been the best thing that ever happened to Burke. He was back in the Bay Area where he grew up, in the country’s most gay-friendly environment. He could go to the Castro district and be embraced. However, where intolerance had been passive-aggressive in Los Angeles, with Burke’s orientation now an open secret, he came under more duress on the ballfield and in the clubhouse, generating more discomfort among new teammates who hadn’t known him before and more catcalls from fans.

“It became pretty obvious to a lot of people that Glenn was gay, and he started to make a lot of people uncomfortable in the locker room and the showers,” former A’s pitcher Mike Norris said. “It was an uncomfortable situation after a while.”

In June 1979, Burke left baseball. He attempted a comeback in 1980, but found himself under an utterly hostile new Oakland manager, Billy Martin, who made no pretense to hide any disgust with Burke. Burke never played a major-league game under Martin, or anyone else.

Struggling to adjust without his livelihood, it wasn’t long before Burke’s entire life spiraled downhill. He ran out of money and got involved in drugs. He was hit by a car that broke his leg in three places; a rod was inserted but wasn’t replaced when it needed to be and began rotting. He served six months in jail on theft and drug charges. And then he contracted what some then only knew as “gay cancer.”

“I recognized the voice, but I didn’t recognize the person,” Dusty Baker said of his friend and former teammate.

Baseball finally stepped up on behalf of Glenn Burke when sportswriter Jack McGowan lectured then-Oakland general manager Sandy Alderson that “the Oakland A’s have a former player who is living on the streets. No one is helping him. He’s dying of AIDS, and baseball should be ashamed of itself.” The A’s responded, and brought a small amount of support to Burke’s incredibly difficult final days. Lesions down his throat had made eating near-impossible for him, and friends and family were letting him smoke crack to take away the pain.

Burke died of AIDS-related complications on May 30, 1995 at age 42.

“The closet hurts people forever,” says Billy Bean, one of the few former major-leaguers to publicly acknowledge his homosexuality. “Everyone’s career ends, but to do it because you don’t feel like you belong there when you’ve proven that you do is damaging, and it affects everything. And I’m sure that’s why Glenn swam in the waters of drugs and alcohol, just to take away his frustration.”

In 1982, Burke became the first openly gay ballplayer via an Inside Sports magazine article and subsequent “Today Show” interview with Bryant Gumbel. The events inspired a 1983 “Cheers” episode, “Boys in the Bar,” written by David Issacs and current Dodger postgame co-host Ken Levine, that dealt fulfillingly with acceptance of a gay teammate.

And yet, “Out. The Glenn Burke Story” leaves us with the following statement:

“Credible studies place the incidence of male homosexuality between 3% and 5% of the adult population. Since Glenn Burke played his final game in 1979, 6,552 players have appeared in the major leagues. Not one has come out as gay during his career.”

It shouldn’t require being Rookie of the Year to inspire tolerance.

Have we progressed as a society since the passing of Glenn Burke? Yes and no. Does tolerance await a ballplayer who comes out of the closet? Yes and no. Can we be convinced that some people aren’t suffering because they fear they will lose their livelihood if they do nothing more than acknowledge something as harmless as wanting to be with their own gender. Someday yes, today no.

What is gained by denying people the right to like and love whom they want?

“Glenn was comfortable with who he was,” longtime friend Abdul-Jalil al-Hakim says in the documentary. “Baseball was not comfortable with who he was.”

Be on the winning team.

Nov 05

Friday brunch …

Some quick notes …

  • The Dodgers added Jamie Hoffmann to the 40-man roster, protecting him from the Rule 5 draft. You might recall that Hoffmann was the top pick in the Rule 5 draft a year ago, but didn’t stick with the Yankees. Hoffman is well-regarded defensively as a corner outfielder and led the Pacific Coast League in hits, while also stealing 17 bases in 24 attempts, but I don’t think people believe he has enough plate discipline or power to start for the Dodgers. Still, until the Dodgers find a left fielder, he’ll be in the mix.
  • Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus runs down what might have happened if nine teams, including the Dodgers, hadn’t passed on Tim Lincecum in the 2006 draft. The Rockies are probably kicking themselves the most. Lincecum, of course, would have made a difference for the Dodgers in the 2008-09 playoffs, but going forward the Dodgers might have the better pitcher in Clayton Kershaw.
  • Trade speculation has reignited around Padres star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. The Dodgers will probably bid, but the premium for an in-division trade might again be too high. Gonzalez will be a free agent in 12 months.
Nov 04

Dodgers lock up lefty LF/1B in Jay Gibbons for 2011


Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesThe defensive stylings of Jay Gibbons

With an economical $400,000 (plus incentives), the Dodgers have bolstered their bench for 2011 with the signing of Jay Gibbons. Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com has details.

Gibbons, who will be 34 in March, slugged .507 in 80 plate appearances with the Dodgers this year, his first stint in the majors since 2007.

Nov 04

Podsednik declines option, becomes free agent


Dustin Bradford/Icon SMIScott Podsednik has dived into a new organization four times since 2008: Rockies, White Sox, Royals, Dodgers.

Scott Podsednik has chosen free agency over the guaranteed $2 million contract he could have had with the Dodgers for 2011. ESPNLosAngeles.com has details.

Podsednik made $1.65 million plus incentives in 2010. He hasn’t ruled out returning to the Dodgers, meaning that he thinks he can get even more for his services from Ned Colletti.

* * *

Bill Plaschke of the Times talked to both Davey Lopes and Colletti about the prospect of Lopes returning to the Dodgers as a first-base coach and baserunning instructor. I would characterize the quotes as encouraging.

* * *

Farewell, Sparky.

Nov 03

In my thoughts: Sparky Anderson


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Link

The sad news came today that Sparky Anderson has been placed in hospice care due to complications from dementia.  Anderson managed the Dodgers’ biggest rival when I came of age as a fan, the Cincinnati Reds, yet I don’t believe I ever had bad feelings toward him — and as time passed, I’d have to say he became one of my favorite managerial personalities. (His appearance on WKRP in Cincinnati, after being fired as “the manager of the Cincinnati Redlegs,” helped seal the deal.) My best wishes to his friends and family.

Nov 02

Davey Lopes, Dave Hansen enter the Dodger coaching discussion


Getty ImagesDavey Lopes, now and then …

Intrigue, suspense and a dose of whimsy continue to circle around the 2011 Dodger coaching staff vacancies. Some bullet points from Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com.

  • Former Dodger second-baseman great Davey Lopes will not return to the Philadelphia Phillies over a salary impasse and has mentioned that he’d be interested in working for a West Coast team.
  • Former Dodger pinch-hitting great Dave Hansen has interviewed for a secondary hitting instructor position in the organization. Hansen has been a minor-league hitting coordinator with Arizona since 2008.
  • Former major-leaguer Eric Owens has been hired as a roving minor-league hitting instructor, with Gene Clines – mentioned as a mentor in my recent profile of Dee Gordon – targeted for a role with the organization to be determined.
  • Triple-A hitting coach John Moses has been let go.

I mainly want to talk about Lopes, but Moses’ interview with Jackson deserves a look.

“They said it was because [Dodgers prospect] Xavier Paul didn’t improve in the outfield,” said Moses, who also had the responsibility of working with outfielders at the Dodgers’ Triple-A Albuquerque affiliate. “I was shocked, let’s put it that way. A lot of people were. I think the job I did spoke for itself, if you look at the things that happened offensively over the last three years. … But the way I look at it is, it’s their loss.”

I can’t say I see a lot of positives coming out of AAA, particularly in the outfield, for the Dodgers in the past three years. I don’t know the first thing about Moses’ abilities as a coach, whether he deserves praise or parting gifts for his work – I don’t know if he’s responsible – but I don’t know that he’s got a lot to hang his hat on.

As for Lopes, I like the idea of him coaching for the Dodgers, not just because of the homecoming, but because of the potential of improving the Dodger running game. As True Blue L.A., Phillies Nation and Baseball Musings have noted, the Phillies have been great on the bases under Lopes’ watch, and it’s probably not all a coincidence. This could be one of those seemingly rare cases where a player has been able to translate his on-field skills into coaching: Lopes had a career stolen base percentage of .830, seventh all-time, with Jimmy Rollins of the Phillies passing him this season.

But clearly, Lopes is looking for a nice payday – which of course the Dodgers might not be inclined to offer – and in addition, Jackson writes that “the Dodgers already had a list of candidates they were considering for the role, a source said, so it might be too late in the process for Lopes as far as the Dodgers are concerned.”

Lopes, who went 144-195 managing the Brewers from 2000-2002, has also coached for the Padres and Nationals. He is a prostate cancer survivor. Another former Dodger, Ron Roenicke, is poised to become the Brewers’ next manager.

Nov 02

Dodgers exercise option on Podsednik, who can still test free agency

Scott Podsednik and the Dodgers entered the offseason with a mutual option on his $2 million 2011 contract. Today, the Dodgers voted yes on their half, leaving the outfielder three days to decide if he wants to reciprocate or test free agency.

Podsednik, who will be 35 in March, made a good impression on Dodger general manager Ned Colletti despite performing rather unimpressively.

“Our thought process after watching him play for us and seeing what he added to our club was that we would like to have him back,” Colletti said. “He obviously has versatility in the field, plus he has an added component in the speed he has.”

Nov 01

What the Giants’ ascent tells us about the Dodgers

Giants at Rangers, 4:57 p.m.

A World Series title for the Giants, should it arrive in the next four to 54 hours, will be hateful to many Dodger fans, though others will be above caring. I can’t say I’m looking forward to the potential celebration, though I’ve moved past the cringe phase into acceptance. It really has come to seem like the Giants’ year, and after more than 50 that haven’t been, why shouldn’t it be?

But if I’ve stopped worrying about what this means for me as a Dodger fan, I still am interested in what the Giants have done from a player personnel perspective to get here. And forgive me if I find it instructive.

Every player transaction a front office makes is designed to increase the odds of the team winning on the field. There can be parallel and sometimes competing timetables, short-term vs. long-term, but either way, it’s all about increasing those odds.

San Francisco is poised to win its first World Series title without having a single player earning more than $10 million this year making a meaningful contribution. The team has two eight-digit earners, both of whom are riding the bench. Barry Zito was a serviceable starter this year but didn’t make the postseason roster, while Aaron Rowand had a .659 OPS in 357 regular-season plate appearances and has one at-bat so far in the Fall Classic.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that high-salaried players can’t be valuable. Furthermore, the Giants aren’t exactly a low-budget team; their payroll trumps that of their World Series opponents from Texas, who had to overcome their own share of ownership strife to make it this far. But it does reinforce in my mind that the notion in recent years that the Dodgers had to get superstar X or superstar Y to win led to a phony hysteria.

If the Giants win the World Series, the principal reason will have been a homegrown foursome of starting pitchers, including three first-round picks in a six-year period, that coalesced in utterly timely fashion with a largely no-name bullpen and arguably the best rookie catcher from the National League West since Mike Piazza. (Quiz question: Do you know the names of the top Giants scouting executives?)

Putting aside how close the Dodgers came to glory in 2008 and 2009, the 2010 Giants could have been the 2010 Dodgers. Oh, it most certainly did not play out that way, but it wasn’t long ago that the Dodgers were the safer bet.

Instead, the Dodgers’ tricycle of homegrown first-round draft choices in the starting rotation busted a wheel when Scott Elbert (or, if you prefer, Greg Miller) flat-tired. Russell Martin — at one point the best rookie catcher from the National League West since Mike Piazza — is now a vapor. A nearly iron-clad bullpen in 2009 fell apart this year despite much the same makeup. And that’s before you even begin talking about what might have been with Matt Kemp and friends.

The core of the Giants is under 27 and entered 2010 with zero postseason experience. And yes, Tim Lincecum is a superstar, but Clayton Kershaw outpitched him this year.

As much as we want to blame everything and global warming on the McCourts, they are not all that went wrong with the Dodgers this year. I want the Dodgers to have better owners, but there is so much more that affects a team’s World Series chances than ownership. Much of the Dodgers’ ill fortunes this year is tied up in the tiniest of fibers, threads that might have held together but simply frayed.

You make the best moves you can make — but those moves include the draft as much as free agency and trades, maybe even more so.  You make the best moves you can make, and then you hope those players execute well and have some good fortune to boot. You make the best moves you can make, and then you play the cards. The Giants might be about to hit 21; the Dodgers busted. That’s the way the game goes every 56 years or so.