Nov 18

Dodgers remove Ely, Monasterios from 40-man roster

Ahead of the deadline to protect players from the Rule 5 draft, the Dodgers outrighted pitchers John Ely and Carlos Monasterios to Triple-A Albuquerque in order to make room for five first-timers on the 40-man roster.

Two came at the trading deadline: outfielder Alex Castellanos and pitcher Steven Fife.

  • Alex Castellanos, the 25-year-old outfielder who came from the Cardinals in exchange for Rafael Furcal and had a combined .958 OPS in 534 plate appearances at Double-A.
  • Stephen Fife, a 25-year-old righty who came from the Red Sox in the Trayvon Robinson trade and had a combined 3.74 ERA with 95 strikeouts in 137 innings at Double-A.
  • Chris Withrow, a 2007 first-round draft choice who had a 4.20 ERA with 130 strikeouts in 128 2/3 innings as a starter at Double-A Chattanooga.
  • Michael Antonini, a 26-year-old who came from the Mets organization last winter in exchange for Chin-Lung Hu and had a 4.01 ERA with 131 strikeouts in 148 innings as a starter at Chattanooga.
  • Josh Wall, a 2005 second-round draft choice who had a 3.93 ERA with 57 strikeouts in 68 2/3 innings as a reliever at Double-A Chattanooga.

After spending all of 2010 with the Dodgers, Monasterios was injured most of 2011, pitching only four innings with the Isotopes. Ely never recovered his Elymania form of 2010, though he was mostly effective in very short spurts with the Dodgers in 2011.

Both players could easily remain in the organization for 2012, depending on the interest they receive elsewhere.

For more on the state of the 40-man roster,  as well as some names that were left unprotected from the Rule 5 draft, check out this post and this post from True Blue L.A.

Nov 18

It’s officially the Age of Kemp


Damian Dovarganes/APMatt Kemp celebrates his new contract in the Dodgers’ new home uniform.

The breakdown of Matt Kemp’s new Dodger contract, now officially running through 2019, comes from Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com and The Associated Press.

It’s not exactly $20 million each year, but the difference in future years doesn’t figure to be significant, unless you’re the kind of guy or gal who frets over $22 million vs. $20 million.

  • In 2012, Kemp will make $10 million, which includes a $2 million signing bonus due by April but not $2 million that will be deferred for a year.
  • 2013: $22 million, including the $2 million deferred from 2012.
  • 2014: $21 million
  • 2015: $21 million
  • 2016: $21.5 million
  • 2017: $21.5 million
  • 2018: $21.5 million
  • 2019: $21.5 million
Nov 17

Wrapping up a big day with Newk and friends

“As the winner of the first Cy Young Award, I am so very proud of Clayton Kershaw and his outstanding performances that led to his receiving the 2011 Cy Young Award. I am reminded of Sandy Koufax whenever I see Clayton pitch and feel that there is a deep comparison between the two. Clayton has an outstanding work ethic, as did Sandy, which will show itself through Clayton’s baseball career.”

Don Newcombe

  • Cliff Corcoran of SI.com has a well-done piece looking at Clayton Kershaw’s workload and how it could mean he’s in for an early decline – or, conversely, that he’s on a Hall of Fame path. Corcoran concludes by recommending the Dodgers not dally in signing Kershaw to a big contract extension.
  • ESPN.com looks at the adjustments Kershaw made to become a Cy Young winner.

* * *

In case you missed it amid the Cy Young news, baseball has engineered a major realignment. The Houston Astros are moving to the American League West, there will be interleague play throughout the season, and biggest of all, there will be two wild-card teams in each league, who will face off in a one-game playoff. Jayson Stark of ESPN.com examines the changes from all angles, while DodgerTalk co-host Joe Block reacts to the realignment news and potential increase in interleague games by discussing whether NL teams should keep a designated-hitter type on their roster.

* * *

No, Matt Kemp, we haven’t forgotten about you:

  • David Golebiewski of Baseball Analytics has a deep examination of how Kemp is able to maintain a high batting average on balls in play.
  • For a change of pace, here’s Grant Brisbee at Baseball Nation with a history of … Matt Kemp trade rumors!
Nov 17

Remembering 2011 and looking beyond: Clayton Kershaw


Getty ImagesBrothers in arms …

Baseball is a team sport that honors individual accomplishments like no other, so much so that when I ask this question …

Who is more revered in Los Angeles, the 1963 and 1965 world champion Dodgers, or Sandy Koufax?

… the answer, I believe, is surely Koufax.

It’s a choice between heaven and nirvana, a hypothetical beyond the heretical, one you need not fret over. You never have to have one without the other. But while those Dodgers were angels, Koufax is a god.

So when Clayton Kershaw draws comparisons to Koufax, it is no small matter. It is a very large matter, larger in some ways than the Dodgers’ passing another year without becoming world champions, and larger certainly than Kershaw’s fate in the 2011 National League Cy Young Award balloting.

Don’t misunderstand me — Kershaw winning today’s award is a big deal, a wonderful, rip-roaring accomplishment, and yet at the same time, the celebration of his victory is about 1/1,000,000,000th of how nuts Dodger fans will go the next time they’re the last team to leave the field at the end of a season. But if Kershaw turns about to be another Koufax, a living, breathing Zeus throwing lightning bolts from his pitching Olympus, that’s going to resonate through history even more.

Koufax is a Los Angeles Dodger who is honored like no other, so much so that when I ask this question …

Is Kershaw going to be even better than Koufax?

… the answer, I believe, may cause heart palpitations across an entire Dodgers universe.

Through age 23, Kershaw has 716 1/3 innings, 745 strikeouts, a WHIP of 1.173 and a
park/era-adjusted ERA, according to Baseball-Reference.com, of 135.

Through age 23, Koufax had 516 2/3 innings, 486 strikeouts, a WHIP of 1.461 and a
park/era-adjusted ERA, according to Baseball-Reference.com, of 100.

At the age that Kershaw became a Cy Young Award winner, Koufax had a 4.05 ERA in 153 1/3 innings in which he walked 92. Koufax didn’t have a significantly above-average season until he was 25 and wasn’t ever mentioned on a Cy Young ballot until he won the award for the first time at age 27.

Comparisons are never perfect — Jane Leavy’s Koufax biography is one of several sources that describes manager Walter Alston’s ambivalence about using the young Koufax, leaving open the possibility that Alston hampered Koufax’s early development. And surely, there’s no guarantee that even though Kershaw is better than Koufax was at age 23, he’ll still be better from ages 26-30, when Koufax, at the height of his astonishment, pitched 1,377 innings, struck out 1,444 with an ERA+ of 167.

Who knows if Kershaw will ever reach a World Series, let alone pitch in four of them with a 0.95 ERA and 61 strikeouts in 57 innings, including back-to-back shutouts with 10 strikeouts apiece with only two days in between?

But in the race across time between Koufax and Kershaw, Koufax is the tortoise, and Kershaw is the hare, except that he’s a hare with a head on his shoulders, not to mention better medical.

Scouts told Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com all the different ways Kershaw can still improve. “That change[up] is still a work in progress,” one scout said. “The curveball has a chance to be really good. I had his fastball from 89 [mph] all the way up to 96. So I don’t think he is where he is going to be yet, not anywhere near it.”

Koufax won three Cy Young Awards and finished in third place for another. Already, Kershaw is more than a quarter of the way there. He’s 23, and should remain a Dodger past Koufax’s age of retirement, 30. Kershaw is the kind of pitcher who people will make pilgrimages to see for decades after he has left the playing field, who can carry a franchise’s legacy even if the franchise itself is too weak to build upon its own.

It could all go haywire in an instant, so easily that when I ask this question …

Can Kershaw do it over the long haul?

… the answer, I believe, is let’s see. Yes, please, let’s see.

* * *

We saw this coming. Looking ahead to the 2011 season in February, we could say the following:

… He’s not a Fernando or a Sandy. Not even a Piazza or (for that brief, baggage-heavy moment) a Manny. He’s not a “Bulldog” or a “Game Over.”

He’s still a plain old guy with two plain old names, with a humble personality to match — a wolf in sheepish clothing.

If you say Clayton Kershaw is the best player on the Dodgers, you won’t necessarily get an argument, but you might get a shrug. With disappointment still dripping from the team’s 2010 season, “best player on the Dodgers” won’t earn you much more than a patronizing pat on the head, maybe an extra juice box after practice. For now, anyway.

Sometimes it happens practically overnight, the way it seemed to with Fernando Valenzuela and Mike Piazza. Other times — more often, really — it’s years in the making, as with Sandy Koufax, Orel Hershiser and Eric Gagne.

Either way, there’s an explosion within reach for Kershaw — oh, you better believe there is. He turns 23 on March 19, and soon after, he might turn Dodger Stadium back into a place where fans are racing through the crowds for their seats, the way they did for those transcendent heroes of the recent or distant past, for no other reason than to drool over his next pitch or exult in his supremacy. …

Kershaw’s 2010 season had been very, very good — a 2.91 ERA and 212 strikeouts in 204 1/3 innings — so good that if he had regressed in 2011, he still could have had a very good season. Despite shutting out San Francisco over seven innings on Opening Day, Kershaw’s first month of 2011 looked like it would fall into that groove. Even with 41 strikeouts in 38 1/3 innings, inconsistency left him holding a 3.52 ERA at the end of April.

May was our first sign that something really special was within reach. He started six games and allowed eight runs, pitching 40 2/3 innings with a 1.77 ERA and 46 strikeouts, finishing the month with a two-hit, 10-strikeout shutout of Florida in which neither hit was a hard one.

But June started with two absolutely carking games. (Note: “Carking” is both archaic and a bit inaccurate, but it sounds exactly like the word I want.) On June 4 at Cincinnati, Kershaw had faced the minimum number of batters in the sixth inning, only to have things slip away for six runs over the next two innings. Five days later, Kershaw virtually repeated himself in Colorado. His ERA zipped back up to 3.44, and “learning experience” again elbowed its way into the picture.

Now here’s where things really get fun.

Over his final 19 starts of the year, Kershaw allowed only 24 earned runs. He pitched 141 2/3 innings with 146 strikeouts and a 1.52 ERA. Opponents had a .236 on-base percentage and .285 slugging percentage.

Over his final nine starts of the year, Kershaw allowed only seven earned runs. He pitched 65 2/3 innings with 64 strikeouts and a 0.96 ERA. Opponents had a .225 on-base percentage and .274 slugging percentage.

There were pitches he would have liked to have had back, but not many, not many at all.

He pitched another two-hit shutout June 20. He need only eight pitches for a perfect fifth inning with a strikeout in the All-Star Game. He struck out 12 in eight shutout innings on July 20 to beat Tim Lincecum for the second time in 2011, struck out nine in eight innings while allowing only an unearned run to beat Lincecum again Sept. 9, then earned his fourth win over Lincecum (and 20th of the season) on Sept. 20 by allowing one earned run in 7 1/3 innings.

With a triumphant final outing against San Diego on Sept. 25, Kershaw (21-50 ended his year with a league-leading 248 strikeouts, 0.977 WHIP and 2.28 ERA and an adjusted ERA of 163 that was a hair behind Roy Halladay’s 164.

Should Halladay, who pitched home games in a more challenging park, have won the Cy Young? If you think so, I won’t try to dissuade you. I’ll just relax with this.

Halladay, 34, is a true Hall of Fame candidate, practically the gold standard for pitching over the past four seasons with by far the best adjusted ERA during that span. When Halladay was 23, he allowed 80 earned runs in 67 2/3 innings for a 10.64 ERA.

It was a close call for who should be called the best pitcher in the NL today. But one, just one, is so amazing at such a young age, that when I ask this question …

What pitcher in baseball would you most like to have right now?

… only one answer should come to your mind: Clayton Edward Kershaw.

Nov 16

Remembering 2011: Trent Oeltjen


Brad Mangin/MLB Photos via Getty ImagesTrent Oeltjen (38)

The setup: Oeltjen made his Dodger debut in September 2010, starting out 4 for 11 before ending up 5 for 23 with a double, triple and four walks (.705 OPS). He was re-signed in December to a minor-league contract and batted .421 in Spring Training, but he began the season, as most expected, in Triple-A.

The closeup: Before his June 9 promotion to Los Angeles, Oeltjen batted .339 in 56 games for Albuquerque, which is interesting because of another fellow who batted .339 in 55 games for Albuquerque until his promotion: Eugenio Velez. And while Oeltjen did not sink to the lows of Velez in a Dodger uniform this year, he didn’t exactly have a whole lot of success, especially in the second half.

On June 27, Oeltjen had a career game with a walk, two singles, a triple and a home run in five plate appearances. When he singled as a pinch-hitter two days later, the 28-year-old had a .481 on-base percentage and .667 slugging percentage in 28 plate appearances as an ’11 Dodger.

But from July 1 on, Oeltjen went 6 for 50 with one extra-base hit (a home run at Colorado) and eight walks for a .250 on-base percentage and .180 slugging in 63 plate appearances. In other words, during Velez’s hitless tenure with the Dodgers that began July 4, Oeltjen had only five more hits. So while Velez was basically wasting one roster spot for July and August, Oeltjen was arguably wasting another.

Of course, thanks to what came before, Oeltjen’s final 2011 numbers – 322 on-base percentage, .324 slugging – look wonderful compared to Velez’s.

Coming attractions: Oeltjen remains on the 40-man roster for now, and will compete to stick as a backup outfielder in 2012. He is an incumbent, after all. But with a career .299 OBP and .384 slugging in 194 plate appearances, he’ll be looking over his shoulder.

Nov 16

Kemp will be king, but there will be no Prince

Ned Colletti said Tuesday that it’s “unrealistic” that the Dodgers will sign Prince Fielder. Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com has more.

Amid reports such as this from Ken Rosenthal and Jon Paul Morosi of FoxSports.com that Matt Kemp’s soon-to-be-official eight-year contract will pay him just over $10 million next season, it would appear that the Dodgers are in for one more spring of budget tightening as the ownership transition takes place. The contract for new second baseman Mark Ellis pays $2.5 million in 2012 and $5.25 million in 2013, plus incentives, Jackson reports.

The Dodgers’ main mystery right now is starting pitching, considering that the back end of their rotation is made up of Nathan Eovaldi and Dana Eveland and there’s no guarantee yet that Hiroki Kuroda will return.

  • Though as a Dodger fan you might find it moot, David Schoenfeld of ESPN.com explores how much the Kemp deal will affect Fielder’s next contract.
  • New stats-oriented director of contracts, research and operations Alex Tamin influenced the Ellis signing, general manager Ned Colletti told Ken Gurnick of MLB.com.
  • The Ellis signing gets a mixed review from Chad Moriyama.

    … For the money, Ellis should be a passable option considering the alternatives were not exactly appealing, nor were there strong internal candidates. However, while Ellis should be better going forward than he was in 2011, he still figures to be below the league average threshold, making him a fringy or mediocre starter. Additionally, there’s the real risk that he goes through a collapse in skill before the contract is up. So while the finances might pan out okay, this has to rate as an average deal at best.

  • Here’s a January 2008 ode to Ellis from my former Baseball Toaster compadre Ken Arneson.
  • New Dodger trainer Sue Falsone, interviewed by the Huffington Post, says the song that reminds her most of Los Angeles is “Don’t Stop Believin’,” but we’ll hold out hope for her success here anyway (link via Vin Scully Is My Homeboy).
  • Former Dodger outfielder Xavier Paul unknowingly got caught up in an Australian Baseball League scam, reports Alexis Brudnicki of Baseball America and Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com.
  • MLB.com also offered up its choices for top Dodger minor leaguers in 2011 by position. Compare them to the Dodger Thoughts Grain of Salt Midseason Minor-League All-Stars.
  • River Ave. Blues passes along a piece that shows that the value of the batting average statistic was being questioned 96 years ago.
  • In Tuesday’s mail, I received to my surprise (as a Los Angeles-based Hall of Fame non-voter) a 12-page full-color campaign brochure for Juan “Igor” Gonzalez’s Cooperstown candidacy. Matthew Pouliot of Hardball Talk rebuts the effort.
  • I was a fan of the Baltimore Orioles’ move in the 1990s to an ornithologically correct bird on its caps, in part because of the repeated use by sportswriters of the word “ornithologically.” I also thought it looked cool, so I’m a little disappointed to see them go back to the cartoon bird.
  • For your amusement/slash/horror: Life (the magazine, not the cereal) has chosen its 20 worst ever covers.
Nov 15

Dodgers add Treanor to catching confab


John Williamson/MLB Photos/Getty ImagesMatt Treanor

My favorite thing about the Dodgers signing catcher Matt Treanor, who will be paid $850,000 this season, is that he is clearly designed to be a backup, meaning that A.J. Ellis will finally get a chance to see what he can do with his on-base skills as a No. 1 (or No. 1.5) catcher.

My second-favorite thing is that Treanor himself walked 34 times in 242 plate appearances in 2011, though I’m not entirely sure how or why.

My third-favorite thing is that having lived through a litany of Dodger backup catchers, I don’t intend to spend a lot of time thinking about how valuable Treanor is. And I suggest you don’t either. Just know that he is joining the most hallowed list of hallowed lists: Dodger Catchers of the 2000s.

Nov 15

Kemp: The Dodgers’ all-time leader in … ?

How high will Matt Kemp rise on the Dodgers’ all-time leaderboards during his eight-year contract?

Home runs
Leader:
Duke Snider, 389
Kemp: 20th with 128, trails by 261, or 32.6 per year

RBI
Leader:
Duke Snider, 1,271
Kemp: 29th with 457, trails by 824, or 103 per year

Hits:
Leader:
Zack Wheat, 2,804
Kemp: 38th with 840, trails by 1,964, or 245.5 per year

Stolen bases:
Leader:
Maury Wills, 490
Kemp: 15th with 144, trails by 346, or 43.3 per year

Runs:
Leader:
Pee Wee Reese, 1,338
Kemp: 31st with 464, trails by 874, or 109.25 per year

Doubles
Leader:
Zack Wheat, 464
Kemp: 37th with 140, trails by 324, or 43 per year

Total bases:
Leader:
Zack Wheat, 4,003
Kemp: 36th with 1,420, trails by 2,583, or 322.9 per year

Strikeouts
Leader:
Duke Snider, 1,123
Kemp: eighth with 740, trails by 383, or 47.9 per year

Plate appearances
Leader: Zack Wheat, 9,720
Kemp: 44th with 3,158, trails by 6,562, or 820.3 per year

Wins above replacement
Leader:
Pee Wee Reese, 66.7
Kemp: 21.7, trails by 45, or 5.6 per year

Power-speed number: 2(HRxSB)/(HR+SB)
Leader:
Willie Davis, 211.0
Kemp: eighth with 135.5, trails by 75.5, or 9.4 per year

Kemp’s looking like the most power-fast swingiest ballplayer in Dodger history to me.

Nov 14

Dodgers close to adding second baseman Mark Ellis


Chris Humphreys/US PresswireMark Ellis

It’s natural to compare infielder Mark Ellis, whom the Dodgers are reportedly about to sign to a two-year contract, to Jamey Carroll, who recently completed a successful two-year contract with the Dodgers and just left to start another with the Twins.

The comparison isn’t necessarily a favorable one based on recent performance – Ellis delivered only a .288 on-base percentage and .346 slugging percentage this season despite playing half his year with Colorado, while Carroll was at .359/.347 as a full-season Los Angeles Dodger.

What intrigues me, though, is that if this choice had been offered two years ago, you might have picked Ellis over Carroll, who went .355/.340 with Cleveland in 2009 and was, then as now of course, 3 1/2 years older. Ellis had a .305/.403 mark with Oakland in 2009 – the on-base percentage was weaker, but given the respective ballparks, ages and glove abilities (Ellis has been above average in UZR at second base every year since 2003, according to Fangraphs, and superior to Carroll), you might have predicted that Ellis would have been more productive from 2010-11.

And in fact, as good as Carroll was for the Dodgers in 2010 (.379 OBP, .339 slugging, 100 OPS+, 2.5 WAR), here’s what Ellis delivered that same year: .358 OBP, .381 slugging, 103 OPS+, 3.4 WAR. It wasn’t until 2011 that Ellis came to appear so much worse than Carroll.

I can’t say I paid attention to Ellis this past season, but he’ll be 36 when his new contract ends, while Carroll will be on the downward side of 39. If you’re asking me today who I think will prove more valuable over that period of time, I think I’m going to lean toward Ellis, even if he’s nothing more than an upscale version of Aaron Miles.

Now, we do need to back away and realize that the Dodgers’ only choice wasn’t Carroll or Ellis. It was Carroll, Ellis or do anything else with the reported $8.75 million the team has committed to Ellis over the two-year stretch. The Dodgers, after all, have apparently committed close to a combined $10 million for each of next two seasons to Ellis and Juan Rivera – add in the more than $6 million that James Loney will earn next year if he remains a Dodger and you start to approach a hefty down payment on the first year of a Prince Fielder contract. The Ellis deal strikes me as one issued by a team that has an overflow of money or an underflow of savvy. I’d also offer that it’s another sign that prices this winter are just richer than we expected, period.

For the Dodgers’ sake, we’ll hope the addition of Ellis to a group that includes Juan Uribe, Dee Gordon and Loney means they’ll have one of the rangier defensive infields around. And just for the heck of it, we’ll also hope this: Uribe will bounce back from offensive vacuousness to offensive near-adequacy in 2012.

* * *

If I were making out the 2012 batting order today, here’s the approach I’d be curious to take.

1) A.J. Ellis, C
2) James Loney, 1B
3) Matt Kemp, CF
4) Andre Ethier, RF
5) Juan Rivera/Jerry Sands, LF
6) Juan Uribe, 3B
7) Mark Ellis, 2B
8) Clayton Kershaw, P
9) Dee Gordon, SS

It’s a little ungainly, I admit.

Here’s the approach I expect Don Mattingly might take:

1) Dee Gordon, SS
2) Mark Ellis, 2B
3) Matt Kemp, CF
4) Andre Ethier, RF
5) Juan Rivera, LF
6) James Loney, 1B
7) Juan Uribe, 3B
8) A.J. Ellis, C
9) Clayton Kershaw, P

Nov 14

The Kemp contract: Will this be the Dodgers’ decade, after all?

At the end of the indispensable, forever-a-touchstone “Joe vs. the Volcano,” Joe (Tom Hanks) has survived depression, a diagnosis of a brain cloud and being exploded out of a live volcano. Life is suddenly looking good.

Except that Joe is on a liferaft made of steamer trunks, floating in the middle of the ocean at Poseidon’s mercy. He starts to worry again. Patricia (Meg Ryan), his love, can only laugh.

“It’s always going to be something with you, isn’t it Joe?” she remarks.

There will always be something with the Dodgers. There is no frying pan in this town whose escape route doesn’t lead to some flame, be it a campfire or a conflagration.

But the news today that the Dodgers are on the verge of signing Matt Kemp to a contract that locks up his rights until he is 35, in 2019, is Chapter Two in the rebirth of the franchise, following Frank McCourt’s agreement to sell the team this winter. The Dodgers might still be floating at sea, but they are floating in the right direction.

That the lame duck McCourt agreed to sign Kemp is newsworthy, though less surprising to me than others might find it. McCourt, essentially, is spending someone else’s money.  As I wrote about Prince Fielder last month, the argument for committing to a big contract for a superstar is at least as strong as the argument against it — for whatever cost it adds to the bottom line, if it’s a smart signing it only enhances the worth of the franchise. That being said, McCourt could have been a roadblock to the signing but chose not to be. It’s a point in his favor on an eight-year-old scoresheet.

That hasn’t stopped people from at least acknowledging the potential downside of the deal. Anytime you offer the longest and richest deal in National League history, there’s going to be some risk. Some would point to the previous No. 1 deal in Dodger annals, the seven-year, $105 million contract for Kevin Brown, as evidence of this, though I concluded (in a blog post I can’t find right now) that when you combine the value Brown provided with what was received after he was traded to the Yankees, the Dodgers actually made out just fine on the deal.

So let’s look at Kemp’s contract: $160 million over eight years, we’re told.  Some will get hung up over the question of whether Kemp will still be a $20 million player as he heads toward his 35th birthday in September 2019. But that’s the wrong way to eyeball things.

The only question that matters is whether Kemp will provide $160 million worth of value over the life of the contract, and that seems like a pretty safe bet.

Kemp will be 27 years old when the 2012 season begins. There’s an excellent chance he’ll be much more than a $20 million-a-year player next year and for at least few years after that, even if he can’t ever duplicate the marvels of his 2011 campaign.

To consider one evaulation, Fangraphs not only puts his value this year at $39 million, it assesses his 2009 season at $23.5 million. So even with a disappointing season mixed in ($1.6 million of value in 2010), Kemp has averaged $21.3 million in value the past three years — before hitting his prime. And that doesn’t even include one thing you can’t put a price on right now: the comfort of knowing that this signing means the Dodgers are back in business.

In other words, Kemp might earn the entire cost of his contract in the next five or six years — he might be a bargain over that time — and everything after that will be gravy on the cake.  Furthermore, though Kemp will be older at the end of the decade, he won’t exactly be ancient. He’ll be younger, for example, than Manny Ramirez was before Ramirez first wore a Dodger uniform.

Now, if and when Kemp is in decline in 2019, few people may remember to look at his contract the way I’m advising. They’ll compare his 2019 performance with his 2019 salary and come to a 2019 conclusion that he is underperforming. But major league baseball does not pay players strictly according to performance — they are underpaid some years, as Kemp was in 2011, and they will be overpaid in others. All a franchise can do is make the best decision possible regarding the entire life of the contract.

Over the next eight years, I expect to see different sides of Kemp.  I expect to see the all-out, hold-nothing-back player we saw in 2011, but undeniably, the contract is also an invitation to shift into cruise control from time to time — and honestly, who among us wouldn’t respond to that Evite here and there? The Dodgers are signing a human, not a robot. We also, for the first time, will at some point probably see a Kemp that gets hurt.

Contracts like these aren’t about moments, however. They are about the big picture. And with McCourt exiting to the left, and Kemp (and, I expect, Clayton Kershaw) remaining center stage, the big picture looks the rosiest it has for Los Angeles since before that day in October 2009, when the McCourt family business dumped a big ink blot on it. And Kemp himself must realize this. Though 160 million birds in the hand are nothing to be dismissed, it’s safe to say that Kemp might be leaving a few million more birds in the bush.

Yes, the Dodgers are still out to sea, but the wind is back at their back. We might even look back at 2011 to find, believe it or not, that this was the starting point for a Dodger decade.

Nov 14

Kemp is here to stay: Extension to keep star in Dodger outfield through 2019


Jayne Kamin-Oncea/US PresswireMatt Kemp is happy.

Did you feel that earthquake?

An eight-year, $160 million contract is about to be closed between Matt Kemp and the Dodgers, sources indicate, that would give Los Angeles the rights to see him play through the end of the decade. Here’s the breaking news story.

And here’s some supplemental information I prepared Sunday:

The deal is the largest in franchise history, surpassing the seven-year, $105 million contract pitcher Kevin Brown signed with the team as a free agent in December 1998, and effectively matches Manny Ramirez’s deal signed with Boston in 2001 for the seventh-largest contract in total value major-league history. It is the largest contract in ever in the National League, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts.

The 6-foot-3, 215-pounder blossomed in 2011 to nearly snag the NL triple crown while becoming a leading candidate for the National League Most Valuable Player Award with a .399 on-base percentage, .586 slugging percentage and a league-leading 39 home runs, 126 RBI and 115 runs. He also stole 40 bases and 51 attempts and won his second Gold Glove award in the past three seasons. According to Fangraphs.com, he led the NL with 8.7 wins above replacement.

The signing is by far the biggest the Dodgers have made since the ownership crisis that has gripped the team since October 2009 began with the public disclosure of Jamie and Frank McCourt’s marital separation. Frank McCourt agreed to sell the Dodgers on Nov. 1, but because new ownership isn’t expected to be in place until close to Opening Day at the earliest, there had been speculation that the Dodgers wouldn’t be offer a palatable extension to Kemp this winter. Kemp had indicated he would follow the common practice of not negotiating after the regular season began.

However, Kemp’s agent Dave Stewart and Dodger general manager Ned Colletti told ESPNLosAngeles.com last week that negotiations had been progressing with regard to Kemp, who would have been eligible for free agency after the 2012 season.

Kemp stood to earn in the neighborhood of $15 million in 2012 with his final year of arbitration eligibility. He just completed a two-year contract that paid him $11 million total. By earning such a large commitment, he adds to the financial burdens of whomever the new Dodger owners will be, but gives them a player they can potentially market around for the remainder of the decade.

A year ago at this time, Kemp was the subject of much angst in Los Angeles after a season in which he hit 28 home runs but had fallen to a .310 on-base percentage and .450 slugging percentage while successfully stealing only 19 bases in 34 attempts (55.8 percent) and suffering through noticeable defensive lapses. Colletti questioned Kemp’s effort and performance in an April 2010 radio interview, and in late June 2010, Kemp was pulled from the lineup for three consecutive starts, though he played in each to keep alive a consecutive-game streak that is now the longest one active in MLB at 365 games.

But Kemp and Colletti had a clear-the-air conversation later that summer, and the outfielder, who also began receiving baserunning tutelage from new coach Davey Lopes before the 2011 season began, impressed the Dodgers from the start of the year, when he singled, walked three times and stole a base in an Opening Day victory over San Francisco, to the finish, when he came within one home run of becoming the franchise’s first 40-40 man.

He hit a walkoff home run April 17 to beat St. Louis and another four days later to topple Atlanta. On June 4, he hit a solo homer and a grand slam in consecutive innings to help rally the Dodgers from a four-run deficit to victory at Cincinnati. Six days after that, when hamstring tightness forced him to miss his only start of 2011, Kemp came off the bench in the ninth inning and launched a home run that bounced through the concourse behind the left-field seats at Coors Field and into the parking lot, sparking a five-run rally that nearly brought Los Angeles back from a 6-0 deficit.

He reached the 20-20 mark in homers and steals in his 75th game June 21 and started his first NL All-Star Game, where he walked, singled and scored a run. He became a 30-30 man in game 130 on August 26, then hit another walkoff home run in the 11th inning, less than 24 hours later. He finished with eight home runs in September for the Dodgers, whom he led to a 45-28 finish after a 37-51 start, and wasn’t eliminated from Triple Crown contention until the season’s final five days.

Other than Chad Billingsley, who in March signed a contract extension through the 2014 season, Kemp is the only homegrown Dodger to remain with the team past free-agent eligibility this century.  Next in line for such honors would be Cy Young Award candidate Clayton Kershaw, though the 23-year-old can’t become a free agent until after the 2014 season.

For comparison, Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki last December signed a seven-year, $134 million contract extension that runs through the end of the 2020 season.

Nov 13

Remembering 2011: Kenley Jansen


Andy Hayt/Getty ImagesKenley Jansen (37)

The setup: The convertee from catchering came to Spring Training with a cornucopia of confidence, following a stunning second-half 2010 debut in which he had a 0.67 ERA and 41 strikeouts in 27 innings against 28 baserunners. With allowances for how inexperienced he was, Dodger fans expected the 23-year-old Jansen to be a major part of the Dodger bullpen in 2011.

The closeup: Cold water was splashed on hopes for Jansen starting with his very first game, when he allowed four runs in his only inning of a 10-0 loss to San Francisco. Later that month, he faced six Atlanta Braves on April 19 and five of them came around to score, leaving Jansen with an 11.42 ERA despite 13 strikeouts in 8 2/3 innings. He was sent to the minors May 1 to work on a secondary pitch, recalled less than a week later when Jonathan Broxton went to the disabled list, then went to the DL himself at the end of May after frustrating manager Don Mattingly by hiding right-shoulder inflammation. Jansen had 35 strikeouts in 21 innings, but he had also allowed 35 baserunners and 15 runs. The season that Hong-Chih Kuo ended up having looked in many ways like the season Jansen was going to have.

And then, insanity.

Jansen returned to active duty June 18. From that moment on – and if you aren’t aware of this already, you’d better be sitting down – he faced 120 batters, retired 97 of them and struck out 61. Yes, more than half of all batters Jansen faced after coming of the disabled list took a U-turn back to the dugout. Jansen allowed 12 walks, nine singles, a double and two runs for an opponents’ .094 batting average, .192 on-base percentage, .104 slugging percentage, .295 OPS and 0.55 ERA. He inherited 11 runners – none of them scored.

He struck out four batters in 1 2/3 innings against Detroit on June 22, struck out the side at Arizona on July 17 and struck out all four batters he faced against Washington July 22. He was just warming up.

From August 30 through September 27, Jansen faced 54 batters and got 42 of them out, and 34 of those 42 outs were strikeouts.  In that stretch, he struck out 63 percent of the batters he faced, and 81 percent of his outs were strikeouts.

The surge helped Jansen set a major-league record: 16.1 strikeouts per nine innings (96 in 53 2/3), to go with a 2.85 ERA while stranding 20 of 21 inherited runners.

These are man-against-boys Little League numbers.

For all of that, Jansen won’t win the National League Rookie of the Year Award, for which he is eligible, because of the presence of Atlanta’s Craig Kimbrel, who himself averaged 14.8 strikeouts per nine innings and didn’t wait until June to become dominant. Jansen might not even appear anywhere in the vote, to be announced Monday, given the competition among rookie pitchers alone.

But man. What a season.

Coming attractions: Jansen, who turned 24 the final day of September, will enter 2012 with even higher expectations than he had this past season. He might not begin the year as the closer – and I very much hope he doesn’t, because he can be more valuable if not tied to a specific inning. But you can be sure that right now, he’s the most-feared reliever in the Dodger bullpen, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he became the most-feared reliever in the NL in 2012.

I mean, what happens if he masters that secondary pitch?

Nov 12

Remembering 2011: A.J. Ellis


Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PresswireA.J. Ellis (36)

The setup: In fits and starts through 2010, his final season before turning 30, Ellis got his first extended time on the Dodger roster, backing up Russell Martin after Brad Ausmus was hurt and then sharing catching duties with Ausmus and  Rod Barajas after the season-ending injury to Martin in July. He struggled at first before going 3 for 3 on August 22 against Cincinnati, a game that kicked off a season-ending stretch in which he went 18 for 39 with three doubles and eight walks for a 1.101 OPS. Nonetheless, the offseason signings of Barajas and then, most painfully, Dioner Navarro set the stage for Ellis to return to Triple-A for the fourth year in a row.

The closeup: Because of an early injury to Navarro, Ellis began 2011 on the Opening Day roster after all, but played in only six games (with a .421 on-base percentage in 19 plate appearances) before reaching his intended destination of Albuquerque. In Triple-A, he proved nearly half-impossible to get out – for 2011 with the Isotopes, he had a .467 on-base percentage in 248 plate appearances. When Barajas went down with a midseason injury, Ellis came back, started hot, but went 2 for 17 with two walks in six July starts over eight days, and headed back to Triple-A.

On August 23, the Dodgers decided they had had enough of Navarro, and recalled Ellis for the remainder of the year. In his first game back, Ellis hit his first major-league home run along with an RBI single in a Dodger victory that seemingly buried the St. Louis Cardinals’ postseason hopes. (Things change.) Ellis hit his second homer 10 days later and once again finished the year strong, with a .976 OPS over his final five weeks.

Overall in 2011 with the Dodgers, Ellis had a .392 on-base percentage and .376 slugging percentage in 103 plate appearances, while throwing out four of 15 runners attempting to steal.

Coming attractions: For the first time, Ellis has a position on the Dodger Opening Day roster dedicated to him, as well he should – a catcher with a career .360 OBP in 244 plate appearances should be no worse than a backup. As things stand now, Ellis would share time with rookie Tim Federowicz, but it’s impossible to believe the Dodgers won’t acquire another catcher that would allow them to put Federowicz in the minors to start the 2012 season if they desired. The question, then, is how much time that catcher-to-be-named-later would take away from Ellis – a little or a lot.

Nov 11

Farewell and thanks, Jamey Carroll

Jamey Carroll is apparently going to bid farewell to the Dodgers for a two-year deal with Minnesota that will make him the Twins’ starting shortstop, completing his journey from “we signed who for what?” to what became one of the nicest free-agent pickups in recent Dodger history.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing that Carroll is leaving the Dodgers now.  Though he exceeded expectations in the past two years, at times remarkably so, Carroll will be 38 in February. He will be paid according to how he produced in 2010-11 when he had arguably the two best seasons of his career, as opposed to how he produced before that. In other words, a return engagement with the Dodgers might easily have turned out to be disappointing.

What is clear is that a guy like the 2010-11 version of Jamey Carroll is someone the 2012 Dodgers could very much use.

Previously on Dodger Thoughts:

Remembering 2011: Jamey Carroll
Here’s a word for Jamey Carroll: talented

Nov 11

State of the Angels

This isn’t Dodger-related, but I can’t imagine too many Dodger fans wouldn’t find this interview by Jim Bowden for ESPNLosAngeles.com of new Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto interesting.

An excerpt:

Bowden: Going into Spring Training will the Angels outfield be Torii Hunter in right field, Peter Bourjos in center field and Mike Trout in left field?

Dipoto: Right now it’s Hunter in right field, Bourjos in center field and Vernon Wells in left field. Trout will need to play his way on to the team. I know one thing, he’s going to play every day, and if it’s not in the major leagues then it will be in our farm system. Wells deserves a chance to bounce back. Throughout his career he has a history of bouncing back the year after he’s had a down year. Wells needs to be protected. That being said, we’ll play the best three outfielders on opening and if Mike Trout is one of those three, we won’t hold him back. …

Bowden: Hank Conger hasn’t been given a chance to be the everyday catcher despite many baseball people feeling that he could be the long-term answer. Are you going to give him a chance?

Dipoto: Conger needs to get out on the field and play with nicks and bruises. He can hit from the left side and is a good offensive catcher. Defensively, when he gets in a rhythm, he show he can do it. He deserves a chance to play every day and get the reps to find out what he can accomplish. It’s also understandable why Mike Scioscia has rotated the catchers, especially when you get such a special defensive player like Jeff Mathis. However, I want to upgrade our offense and ability to get on-base, and this is one of multiple positions where we have to find a way to improve our OBP.

Bowden: The Angels have been a poor OBP team in general the past few years. Are you going to address this deficiency?

Dipoto: Yes. The changes have to start at the grass-roots level in player development. I do respect and admire the Angels’ aggressive style of play on the bases and in the batter’s box, but going forward, we will see a shift on the roster with players that get on base more. The question is if on-base percentage is something a player is born with or a learned trait and that can be argued, but bottom line is we need to improve in that area at all levels. …