Jul 29

Broxton and Navarro and what a difference six years does (and doesn’t) make


Jeff Lewis/US PresswireJonathan Broxton and Dioner Navarro in 2005.

Six years ago tonight, on a Friday, the Dodgers began a weekend series against the St. Louis Cardinals with a 46-56 record, then as they are now 10 games under .500. That day, the team made two transactions.

Purchased the contract of RHP Jonathan Broxton from Double-A Jacksonville and designated RHP Scott Erickson for assignment; Recalled C Dioner Navarro from Triple-A Las Vegas and optioned C Mike Rose to Triple-A Las Vegas.

Jonathan Broxton and Dioner Navarro. Today, those two names bring up mixed emotions, to say the least.

But six years ago, making their Dodger debuts, they heralded a new era of promise for a downtrodden team: Broxton, the first of a heralded group of Dodger minor leaguers to reach the bigs; Navarro, a 21-year-old catching prodigy acquired in trade.

From Dodger Thoughts, July 29, 2005:

… The 5-foot-10, 189-pound Navarro, still only 21, has battled some physical issues this season – according to Nick Christensen of the Las Vegas Sun, Navarro was 2 for 18 since being activated from the disabled list July 18 – but has played 75 games overall for AAA Las Vegas, with an on-base percentage of .366 and a slugging percentage of .390. Offensively, he is lacking power for now – but down the road, some may catch up with him. Though his professional high in home runs is only eight, he did hit 31 doubles in 2003 at age 19, split between A and AA ball. Navarro’s biggest strength is his strike zone command – 38 walks against 24 strikeouts. Defensively, he is obviously more promising than Jason Phillips, but we’ll see if the Dodger pitchers still need to hold runners on better.

Broxton, four months younger than Navarro but six inches taller and around 50-100 pounds heavier, has been a stud ever since he became a second-round pick for the Dodgers in 2002. Averaging more than a strikeout per inning with a career ERA of 3.14 entering this season – primarly as a starter – Broxton has recently been used out of the bullpen for AA Jacksonville in anticipation of the Dodgers needing his help. In 28 games (15 in relief), Broxton has a 3.36 ERA and in 91 innings, has allowed 77 hits (just four home runs) and 29 walks while striking out 99. As a reliever, he has struck out 28 in 19 innings and has been clocked at 100 miles per hour, according to Baseball America, which also published a quote from an American League scout praising both Broxton’s fastball and “power curve.”

Broxton becomes the third home-grown player on the Dodgers 25-man roster, joining Jason Repko and Steve Schmoll (assuming neither is sent down). …

Yes, you could say the youth movement was just getting underway.

In the game, Navarro started for the Dodgers, batting for the first time an inning after left fielder Ricky Ledee hit a three-run home run, and reached first on an infield single. He later struck out, grounded out and walked.

Broxton, also 21, replaced Brad Penny in the top of the sixth inning with the Dodgers leading, 5-4, and had mixed results. He gave up singles to David Eckstein and Abraham Nunez, then reared back and struck out Albert Pujols, who had homered the inning before. Broxton wild-pitched the runners to second and third base, prompting an intentional walk to Jim Edmonds. With the bases loaded and one out, John Rodriguez hit a sacrifice fly to tie the game, before Broxton struck out Mark Grudzielanek to end the inning.

Because the tying run scored, Broxton was charged with a blown save in a game that gave him no chance of actually recording a save. It was these kinds of no-upside blown saves that would skew his save percentage for years and help others make the case that he was unfit to close. Despite this, Broxton did become one of the top relief pitchers in the National League – just as one of many pieces of evidence, only six relievers in the majors had a lower OPS allowed than Broxton from 2006-09, and two of those are going to the Hall of Fame – but we’re well past that debate now, with him unlikely to pitch much more than a few more innings as a Dodger, and others like Javy Guerra and Kenley Jansen stepping forward.

Navarro would be supplanted much sooner, replaced in May 2006 by Russell Martin after a combination of sluggish defense and injury. Navarro came back to Los Angeles this season after a long absence, fraught with professional and personal struggles, but it’s now a celebration when his batting average breaks .200.

Somehow, both players are surprisingly close over the hill at age 27, even perilously close to the end of their careers if they don’t reverse fortune. It fits right in with a Dodger team that has tumbled off a cliff in 2011. We’ve come full circle and gotten dizzy in the process.

The next generation of Dodgers beckons – the generation that will try to revive this team. But it’s impossible to fathom how it will play out. Broxton, Navarro, Martin, James Loney, Andre Ethier, Clayton Kershaw, Matt Kemp, Andy LaRoche, on and on and on – so many ups and downs.  I can’t tell if I feel that six years is long or short.

And then there’s this: That same morning, in the July 29, 2005 issue of Variety, Dave McNary published the following story about the Dodgers, in their second year of ownership under Frank and Jamie McCourt:

… Frank McCourt, the Boston-born Dodgers owner … strolls around the stadium as though he was the mayor of a small New England town. He’s not the landlord, he’s a host, eager to welcome people to his party.

Under the O’Malleys, many Angelenos felt the Dodgers represented “downtown.” McCourt has broader ambitions. … He wants Westsiders as much as Echo Park locals, and he believes the best way to get both of them is to make sure Hollywood feels welcome.

A year after buying the team in early 2004, McCourt added 300 seats to the Dugout Club and expanded the restaurant. McCourt and his wife, Jaime, attend most home games, where they escort club guests to a martini bar, as well as stands that offer prime rib, fajitas, salads and, of course hot dogs, all free of charge to box holders and other guests.

A seat in the club runs an all-inclusive $400 (booze is extra), but one of McCourt’s biggest reasons for undertaking $20 million in upgrades was to attract people who may never pay at all.

McCourt wants to see the same sort of wall-to-wall celeb lineup who attends Lakers games. He’s well on the way. On a recent evening, when the Dodgers suffered a blowout loss to the San Francisco Giants, club attendees included celebs Jerry Seinfeld, Jon Lovitz, Robert Wuhl and Alyssa Milano; sports agents Scott Boras and Dennis Gilbert; former players Dave Winfield and Bill Buckner; and Dodgers icon Tommy Lasorda.

Other regulars include Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson, Tom Hanks, Pat Sajak, Penny Marshall, Mary Hart, Wayne Gretzky and Peter Chernin.

The McCourts’ four sons also are conspicuous, with most of the credit for bringing Hollywood into the Dodgers’ fold going to Drew McCourt, the low-key marketing director who decided to work for his dad after getting an astrophysics degree from Columbia U. The 23-year-old has been charged with glad-handing Hollywood studios, agencies, top-tier producers and music industry execs, luring them into premium seats by promising that most elusive commodity, exclusivity.

Still, in wooing Hollywood, the McCourts have a tough job. As one of the few sports facilities built in the 1960s that has aged with some grace, even minor changes to Dodger Stadium provoke anxiety among devoted fans — many of whom would never consider paying $400 for a seat.

“We’ve got an asset that’s very unique within the baseball world,” says Drew McCourt, who grew up going to Red Sox games at Fenway Park. “But we don’t take it for granted that Hollywood’s going to show up. We have to make this area attractive enough so the team’s performance doesn’t really matter whether people show up.”

Six years. Six positively head-spinning years.

Jul 27

They coulda been a contender … but they’re the Bums


Danny Moloshok/APRod Barajas dives but misses a foul ball hit by Colorado’s Aaron Cook during the sixth inning.

The Dodgers’ four-game winning streak prompted some questions from fans here and there on the Internet about whether Ned Colletti should or would consider himself a buyer again.

Uh, no.

It’s uncanny what happens when Hiroki Kuroda is on the mound, isn’t it? Six innings, one run allowed, and yet another loss. I’ll update my recap of his last start:

Kuroda rallied to put together another decent outing, before getting his 12th 13th loss of the season. He has a 6-1213 record despite 1314 quality starts. He made a couple of mistakes, but with this offense, you just can’t do that.

Since May 22, Kuroda is 1-10 with a 3.38 ERA. Kuroda may truly be the unluckiest above-average pitcher in Los Angeles Dodger history.

Jul 27

Kenley Jansen has irregular heartbeat issue

Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com has details of Dodger reliever Kenley Jansen’s sudden trip to the hospital.

Los Angeles Dodgers rookie reliever Kenley Jansen was transported to a local hospital for treatment of an irregular heartbeat shortly after recording his second save of the season Tuesday night against the Colorado Rockies. Although he was expected to remain at White Memorial Hospital through Wednesday night for observation, the situation didn’t appear to be serious.

Still, Jansen did have to undergo cardio conversion — the procedure of shocking the heart back into its normal rhythm — when medication didn’t immediately correct the problem.

“Anytime you have an irregular heartbeat, we take it pretty seriously,” Dodgers medical-services director Stan Conte said. “They were able to get his heart back into normal sinus rhythm. The next 24 hours will tell us what we want to do next.” …

Click the link above for the remainder of the story.

* * *

I’m not sure this will be Hiroki Kuroda’s last game in a Dodger uniform. My head tells me it should be; my heart hopes it isn’t.

Jul 27

Mondesi’s son signs with Kansas City

Adalberto Mondesi, the 16-year-old son of former Dodger 30-30 man rifle-arm Raul Mondesi, has signed with Kansas City for a $2 million bonus, reports Enrique Rojas of ESPNdeportes.com. (Here’s the Google translation.)

Raul Mondesi’s colorful career has led to him becoming mayor of San Cristobal, Dominican Republic. He made his debut for the Dodgers at age 22 in 1993, won the National League Rookie of the Year award the next year and ended up with a .334 on-base percentage, .504 slugging percentage, 163 homers and 140 steals in 916 games for Los Angeles. And, of course, he remains the only individual Dodger whose T-shirt I ever purchased.

Jul 26

Kershaw in the bank: Dodgers cash in 3-2 victory

Clayton Kershaw threw a career-high 125 pitches over 6 2/3 innings, while Matt Guerrier and Kenley Jansen were perfect in relief, for the Dodgers in a 3-2 victory over Colorado tonight.

Kershaw allowed eight hits and two walks along with his first wild pitch of the season, while striking out six. He began the seventh inning at 99 pitches, but needed 26 more just to get the second out of the frame, an RBI groundout after a 10-pitch at-bat by Todd Helton. After that at-bat took Kershaw from 115 to 125, Guerrier came in.

Jansen was once again out of sight with his two-strikeout performance. Since coming off the disabled list June 18, Jansen has thrown 16 consecutive scoreless innings with 26 strikeouts and only 10 baserunners.

At the plate, Matt Kemp put the Dodgers in the lead with a two-run double, and later scored from third on Juan Rivera’s sacrifice fly to second baseman Mark Ellis, who collided with right fielder Ryan Spilborghs while making the catch beyond the infield. The Dodgers had only three hits and a walk the entire game.

With their fourth-straight win, Los Angeles moved to within nine games of .500 and half a game of third-place Colorado.

Jul 26

Obscure but memorable No. 5 hitters for the Dodgers

Three weeks ago, in honor of Aaron Miles, we talked about “obscure but memorable No. 3 hitters for the Dodgers.”

Today, once again in honor of Aaron Miles, let’s look back at the Dodgers’ most unusual No. 5 hitters since their last World Series title.

Here’s the all-time Los Angeles Dodger batting order by frequency, dating back to 1958:

1) Maury Wills (1,276)
2) Bill Russell (679)
3) Willie Davis (1,250)
4) Steve Garvey (819)
5) Ron Cey (576)
6) Mike Scioscia (437)
7) Mike Scioscia (510)
8) Bill Russell (668)
9) Don Sutton (522)

* * *

From the Dodger press notes and the Elias Sports Bureau:

Most strikeouts per nine innings in one month, minimum 15 games
9.70 Cubs (August 2002)
9.53 Cubs (September 2006)
9.36 Dodgers (July 2011)
9.30 Astros (August 1998)
9.29 Cubs (May 2001)

Jul 25

Guerra earns most surprising save yet in 8-5 victory

Ah, the simple pleasures of watching the Dodgers roll off a three-game winning streak without worrying it will lead Ned Colletti to make a desperation trade to win the National League West.

OK, maybe not so simple.

We’ve entered the frontier of Losers’ Dividend country, where the good is usually a wonderful surprise and the bad is mostly a mere shrug. But then again, even the Losers’ Dividend would have had a hard time writing off what nearly became an epic ninth-inning collapse tonight.

Los Angeles took an 8-1 lead over Colorado into the ninth inning, then needed Javy Guerra to record the final two outs with the tying run on base to preserve an 8-5 victory. So the biggest celebration of the night ended up being not having to feel more 2011 desolation.

The Dodgers remained 13 games behind San Francisco. So no, still not contending – though they did move to within 1 1/2 games of Colorado for third place.

From the third inning on, when Andre Ethier hit a two-run homer (his sort-of-long-awaited 10th) to break a 1-1 tie, until the ninth, when Hong-Chih Kuo once again struggled mightily (17 pitches, 12 balls), it couldn’t have been breezier. Mike MacDougal (two walks and a hit) and Jamey Carroll (throwing error) then compounded the interest, with MacDougal walking Todd Helton with the bases loaded to force in the fourth run of the inning with just one out.

But Guerra, who was supposed to have the night off, looked every bit the reliable closer in rescuing the Dodgers, retiring Troy Tulowitzki and Seth Smith on a total of four pitches, giving him saves in three consecutive games and the team lead with eight.

Ethier reached base four times in the game and finished with three RBI thanks to a bloop single in the Dodgers’ three-run eighth. Tony Gwynn Jr., Aaron Miles and Carroll (off the bench) each added two hits, while Matt Kemp singled and was walked twice.

After allowing a second-inning run, Rubby De La Rosa shut down the Rockies as he eked out six innings on 113 pitches, striking out five, walking four and allowing three singles. He lowered his ERA to 3.49. Relievers Matt Guerrier and Kenley Jansen struck out five combined in two innings.

Unfortunately, tonight’s outing will renew questions about Kuo’s ability to pitch for the Dodgers this season.

Jul 25

Javy Gravy? A guarded response to Guerramania


Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PresswireJavy Guerra

All praise is due to Dodger reliever Javy Guerra, who had never pitched above Double-A before 2011 but has posted a standout rookie season.

The 25-year-old has a 1.99 ERA and 18 strikeouts in 22 2/3 innings against 31 baserunners and has yet to blow a save opportunity. His perceived calm on the mound — perhaps marked by how he pitched out of a bases-loaded, none-out jam of his own making July 8 against San Diego — has led many to wonder if the Dodgers have found their replacement at closer for Jonathan Broxton, who surely will not be back in a Dodger uniform in 2012, if at all.

On one level, I take issue with the question itself — the goal is always simply to find the best relievers you can and not worry about their roles. Part of the beauty of what happened with Guerra this year is how he wasn’t assigned the closer job, but just began pitching in the ninth inning because he happened to be the guy who was available. You shouldn’t doubt, for example, that Kenley Jansen, who has been absolutely unhittable since coming off the disabled list, could close games.

But as far as whether Guerra is the real deal, I’m of two minds. He certainly showed his potential after striking out 8.8 batters per nine innings in his 65 games with Chattanooga from 2009-11. But he has also always allowed a fair number of baserunners: his career WHIP in Double-A is nearly 1.5. That’s not all that good. Jansen’s WHIP at Chattanooga, by comparison, was below 1.1. It’s reasonable to suggest that Guerra might be pitching over his head.

People are talking about Guerra’s precocious performance, but we’ve done that about many other young relievers who made strong debuts only to falter a year later. People are talking about Guerra’s fearlessness and attack mentality on the mound … just like they did for John Ely. Seriously, there were experts that not only thought Ely was the real deal a year ago, they were crediting him for showing other Dodgers how to pitch. A year later, he’s a pitcher of last resort.

Guerra is on a particular roll of late, having retired his past 10 batters over four appearances – striking out five and earning saves in each game. It’s wonderful. I’m just not ready to declare him a natural closer, partly because I’m skeptical about the use of such a definition, partly because we still haven’t seen enough of him to know how effective he’ll be over the long haul.

We shouldn’t be surprised if Guerra hits a rough patch. We also shouldn’t be alarmed. The guy hasn’t even faced 100 batters yet in his career – I’d recommend being patiently optimistic. I’m just saying, it really is still early.

In any case, the Dodgers do appear to have the potential for a nice, mostly home-grown bullpen brewing for 2012, with Guerra, Jansen, Scott Elbert and minor-leaguers including Josh Lindblom, Steven Ames, Shawn Tolleson and Cole St. Clair in the mix. That’s seven names right there before you even talk about veteran holdovers like Matt Guerrier, Blake Hawksworth and Mike MacDougal. Broxton and Hong-Chih Kuo might be gone next season because of performance, salary and injury concerns, in much the same manner that Russell Martin departed last winter, but at least in this area, Los Angeles looks ready to move on without them.

Update: More on Guerra here from Jason Grey of ESPN.com.

Jul 25

Best wishes to Dave Cameron

Please send your best thoughts to Dave Cameron of Fangraphs and U.S.S. Mariner, who revealed this morning the shocking news that he has acute myeloid leukemia. This is a nightmare come to life. A major part of the rise of baseball blogging, Cameron has been an online friend to me and this blog for years, and I’m happy to say that I’ve gotten to know him offline a bit over the past two summers. Just numbing news. This is a big battle, and I’ll be pulling hard for him to get through it.

Jul 24

Billingsley rallies himself, Dodgers rally to victory

Chad Billingsley needed 31 pitches to get his first out today, but only 84 pitches to get the next 20 outs. His own personal rally cap led to a seven-inning, 10-strikeout, two-hit performance in the Dodgers’ 3-1 victory over Washington today. Tony Jackson has more at ESPNLosAngeles.com.

Billingsley had a day to remember, while Albuquerque’s Tim Sexton had a night to forget. Forced to take one for the team because of a pitching shortage, Sexton was charged with 16 runs in five innings of a 17-9 Isotopes loss to New Orleans.

We’ll wrap up this quick post with this video, provided by Roberto Baly of Vin Scully Is My Homeboy. Dancing Vinny?

Jul 23

The long view


Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images (file photo)And then, depression set in …

From time to time I think back to when I was most in despair about my personal life, in large part because I honestly wasn’t sure that the bad times would end.  A bit melodramatic mixed with self-pity, sure, but the feelings were real.

You can always imagine the light at the end of the tunnel, and if you’re a positive-thinking person, imagining is all you need.  But if you waver, then it’s not.  Even today, the relative joy in my life is dotted – on some days even clouded – by worry about things that could go wrong.

That, I believe, is where Dodger fans find themselves today. A bad season is one thing. But it’s the uncertain future that dims Dodger Stadium.

A therapist, I believe, would tell Dodger fans to believe that joy is not on some unattainable height, not trapped in some remote snow cave on Mount Everest, but within reach. You’ll keep going, and eventually it’ll be there.  I think that’s the theory to go with. And when we get there, the reunion will be all the sweeter.

The thing to remember is that a rebirth of baseball at Dodger Stadium is truly possible. If it weren’t, that would be another matter entirely. (At which point, at least we’d be able to walk away to alternate pastimes.)

In the meantime, don’t forget to enjoy the smaller pleasures. And Vin Scully.

* * *

Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. has a surprising number of good notes from Friday’s stumbling 7-2 loss to Washington, while Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com wrote about how Hiroki Kuroda having to pitch through all the trade rumors.

Despite giving up the Dodgers’ second home run to a pitcher this week, Kuroda rallied to put together another decent outing, before getting his 12th loss of the season. He has a 6-12 record despite 13 quality starts. He made a couple of mistakes, but with this offense, you just can’t do that.

Jul 22

Big picture: Whither McCourt now?

Nothing that happened in bankruptcy court today specifically precludes Frank McCourt from getting the television deal that would keep his Dodger ownership alive. So what’s the endgame that could push McCourt out?

There’s still the possibility that MLB strips McCourt of ownership, for violating the sport’s rules that he agreed to abide by when he became owner, but the ability for MLB to do that while the Dodgers are in bankruptcy court is unclear.

Instead, everything might rest on whether MLB is able to delay a new television deal long enough to starve McCourt from meeting his personal obligations in a way that would allow him to emerge with the franchise.

Remember, it’s the Dodgers who are in bankruptcy court, not McCourt. So none of the $150 million loan that the bankruptcy court is facilitating is supposed to go into McCourt’s pocket — it’s supposed to satisfy the Dodgers’ creditors. If McCourt can’t pay his own personal debts (complicated by his dealings with ex-wife Jamie), he would presumably have to start eating into his assets. Or, I suppose, file for bankruptcy himself.

So we’re back to discussing TV revenue.

Fox has exclusivity though November 2012 on any negotiations for future Dodger TV rights. As was confirmed earlier today, Bud Selig believes there has to be competitive bidding for TV rights to ensure that the Dodgers are getting fair market value. McCourt ostensibly either needs a judge to bless that bidding (which would be contested by Fox), or get a judge to overrule MLB and approve a Fox-McCourt extension.

Would the court approve a Fox-McCourt deal over MLB’s objections? It’s not clear, but given the conflict-of-interest concerns at the heart of today’s ruling by Judge Kevin Gross and the knowledge that the deal would largely serve McCourt at the Dodgers’ expense, I think there’s reason for the anti-McCourt camp to feel some hope.

This should come to a head as soon as a hearing scheduled for August 16. Josh Fisher has more at ESPNLosAngeles.com:

… A Dodgers attorney said in a statement that the team “will propose … a competitive sale process of exclusive cable television rights” before the end of this calendar year. However, the Dodgers will find themselves in an awkward negotiating position with current partner Fox.

Under the terms of the existing television deal, the Dodgers cannot begin negotiating with anyone other than Fox until late 2012. That has led baseball to express concerns about the desirability of extensions of the Fox deal thus far proposed by McCourt. However, because of the club’s bankruptcy, it may have the option to walk away from the Fox contract and sell the Dodgers’ television rights competitively.

MLB will likely oppose such treatment of an important strategic partner. While today’s ruling signals Gross’ willingness to curtail baseball’s policies to the extent necessary to achieve bankruptcy’s purposes, he may not be as willing to entertain a move with potential negative impact across the game. Make no mistake, the fight over the Dodgers’ ability to sell their TV rights will be as bitter and acrimonious as any thus far. The outcome will determine how much longer the Dodgers remain under McCourt ownership. …

Hold your breath …

Jul 22

Bankruptcy judge pushes McCourt to negotiate with MLB

From ESPNLosAngeles.com and The Associated Press:

A Delaware judge has rejected the Los Angeles Dodgers’ proposed $150 million bankruptcy financing plan, a decision that likely will force the team to accept a financing offer from Major League Baseball.

The judge issued his eight-page decision Friday, two days after presiding over a hearing on the competing financing plans.

The team had sought approval of its proposed arrangement with hedge fund Highbridge Capital.

But the league, which has been locked in a bitter dispute with Dodgers owner Frank McCourt, countered with a competing plan that carried better financial terms.

The Dodgers rejected MLB’s offer, saying it likely would result in legal battles and was an attempt by baseball commissioner Bud Selig to take control of the team and force a sale. …

This is not a fastpass for MLB to take control of the Dodgers, though MLB being able to have a direct say in the terms of the loan is significant. But the bigger decision still awaits: Who will drive the Dodgers TV future, upon which McCourt’s fate as Dodger owner rests.

More on Judge Kevin Gross’ ruling from Bill Shaikin of the Times:

“It is unclear to the Court how Debtors think they can successfully operate a team within the framework of Baseball if they are unwilling to sit with Baseball to consider and negotiate even more favorable terms while under the Court’s protection,” Gross wrote.

By the way, the first footnote in the ruling reads:

This entity owns the Los Angeles Dodgers Major League Baseball Team (“the Dodgers”) whose rich and successful history is of mythical proportions. Its great former players, managers and executives could justify their own hall of fame …