Dec 15

Remembering 2011: Dioner Navarro


Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesDioner Navarro (47)

The setup: The Dodgers’ pre-Russell Martin hope for the future at catcher, Navarro was traded in 2006 with Jae Seo to Tampa Bay for Toby Hall and Mark Hendrickson.  He was 22 with a .759 OPS, but Ned Colletti found him expendable, thanks most apparently to concerns about his defense and excitement over Martin’s impressive debut. Coming back from a host of personal challenges, including near-death experiences for himself and his family, Navarro made the 2008 American League All-Star team but couldn’t break .600 in OPS the following two seasons, the last of which (2010) ended with his acrimonious exile from the Rays. It was not too much of a surprise that Colletti offered Navarro a return engagement in Los Angeles, but it was when Colletti guaranteed $1 million in the process.

The closeup: In the final week of Spring Training, Navarro suffered an oblique tear that kept him out until April 25, at which point he delivered a 2011 performance best described as sad, but not without its moments. He homered in his fourth game, went hitless in his next 18 at-bats, then had a 7 for 16 hot streak that included a walkoff RBI single in a 3-2 victory over Florida on May 27. (Don Mattingly had Navarro pinch-hit 10 times between May 14 and July 3; that was Navarro’s only hit.)

Strangely, three times Navarro had the only RBI in a 1-0 victory, making him only the second Los Angeles Dodger to accomplish such a feat in one year. He hit a game-winning homer in the bottom of the eighth June 19 against Houston. He hit a gapper to right-center to drive home Juan Uribe on July 9 after the Padres had no-hit the Dodgers for 8 2/3 innings. And he hit a seventh-inning homer into McCovey Cove off Tim Lincecum, of all people, to give Clayton Kershaw a 1-0 win at San Francisco on July 20. Pretty amazing for a guy who had only 34 hits and 17 RBI all year. He also had some defensive highlights: On June 24, he became the first catcher with two pickoffs and two caught stealings defensively in the same game since 1986.

With Rod Barajas having his own injury woes, Navarro actually racked up some playing time – 188 plate appearances between May 14 and August 21. But with barely a week to go before rosters expanded, the Dodgers cut Navarro loose on August 23, amid reports that his professionalism was seriously lacking. He finished his second Dodger career with five home runs, a .276 on-base percentage and .324 slugging percentage.

Coming attractions: Navarro will still only be 28 next year, but he’s going to have to earn his way into a major-league contract if he wants one, probably through a non-roster invitation to Spring Training.

Dec 13

Scoping out the NL West

With so many moves already made this offseason, I thought I’d check in with an overview of how the 2012 National League West is shaping up.

Keep in mind that there’s still plenty of tinkering to be done between now and Opening Day, so think of this as a progress report — and one with the caveat that I might not have every slot filled exactly as the teams’ general managers would. If you have any suggestions for better choices, let me know.

Arizona Colorado Los Angeles San Diego San Francisco
C Montero Hernandez Ellis Hundley Posey
1B Goldschmidt Helton Loney Guzman Belt
2B Hill Herrera Ellis Hudson Sanchez
SS Drew Tulowitzki Gordon Bartlett Crawford
3B Roberts LeMahieu Uribe Headley Sandoval
LF Parra Smith Rivera Blanks Cabrera
CF Young Fowler Kemp Maybin Pagan
RF Upton Gonzalez Ethier Venable Schierholtz
Bench Bloomquist Young Hairston Kotsay Pill
Bench Blum Colvin Kennedy Denorfia Fontenot
Bench Overbay Giambi Gwynn Cabrera Burriss
Bench Blanco Nelson Sands Baker Huff
Bench McDonald Pacheco Treanor Parrino Stewart
SP Kennedy Chacin Kershaw Latos Lincecum
SP Hudson Slowey Billingsley Stauffer Cain
SP Cahill Hammel Lilly Luebke Bumgarner
SP Collmenter Pomeranz Harang Moseley Vogelsong
SP Miley White Capuano Richard Zito
RP Putz Betancourt Jansen Street Wilson
RP Hernandez Belisle Guerra Gregerson Romo
RP Ziegler Lindstrom Lindblom Frieri Casilla
RP Saito Reynolds Elbert Thatcher Lopez
RP Breslow Brothers Guerrier Spence Affeldt
RP Shaw Escalona Hawksworth Brach Runzler
25th man Paterson Mortensen Oeltjen Forsythe Edlefsen

Update: The Dodgers just sent a list of their non-roster invitees to date for 2012 Spring Training.

RHP Angel Guzman
RHP Fernando Nieve
RHP Jose Ascanio
RHP Ryan Tucker
RHP Shane Lindsay
RHP Will Savage
LHP Alberto Castillo
LHP Matt Chico
LHP Scott Rice
LHP Wilfredo Ledezma
C Josh Bard
INF Jeff Baisley
INF Lance Zawadzki
INF Luis Cruz
OF Cory Sullivan

Dec 12

Dodgers retain Loney, part ways with Kuo (for now)


Kyle Terada/US PresswireFarewell, new old friend.

As expected, the Dodgers have tendered 2012 contract offers to Clayton Kershaw, Andre Ethier and James Loney but not to Hong-Chih Kuo, who stood to make anywhere from $2.5 million to $3.5 million next season despite his uncertain condition.

The Dodgers can still pursue the much-admired Kuo as a free agent. We haven’t gotten particularly clear signals since the season ended as to whether Kuo would be inclined to return to Los Angeles at a discount.

For more … Remembering 2011: Hong-Chih Kuo

Dec 12

Tony Gwynn Jr. signs for two years

Ending speculation that today might be his last day in a Los Angeles uniform, the Dodgers have signed Tony Gwynn Jr. to a two-year contract rather than non-tender him.

The 29-year-old Gwynn will earn a modest $850,000 in 2012 and $1.15 million in 2013. Gwynn will be a late-inning defensive replacement, spot-start and back up center field in case of a Matt Kemp calamity. You can look back on Gwynn’s 2011 season here.

Assuming James Loney isn’t cast off by tonight’s 9 p.m. deadline to offer arbitration-eligible players contracts, here’s how the Dodgers would presumably fill their 14 position-player spots on the roster if the season started today:

C – A.J. Ellis
1B – James Loney
2B – Mark Ellis
SS – Dee Gordon
3B – Juan Uribe
LF – Juan Rivera
CF – Matt Kemp
RF – Andre Ethier
Bench C – Matt Treanor (R)
Bench IF – Adam Kennedy (L)
Bench IF – Jerry Hairston, Jr. (R)
Bench OF – Tony Gwynn, Jr. (L)
Bench OF – Jerry Sands (R)
Bench – Trent Oeltjen (L) or Justin Sellers (R)

I’m still in doubt about Sands starting the season in the majors, because you’d like him to play every day, but Ned Colletti has definitely made some noise this offseason that he’s not satisfied with how Ethier and Loney hit against lefties.

Elsewhere, Takashi Saito is headed to Arizona. Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com tweeted that the Dodgers had been considering bringing the beloved Saito back to Los Angeles as an alternative to Mike MacDougal, a move I would have enjoyed for the right price.

Dec 10

Ryan Braun disputes PED violation

Major League Baseball doesn’t rewrite history, so there’s no changing the fact that Milwaukee outfielder Ryan Braun is the 2011 National League Most Valuable Player and not Matt Kemp. However, Braun’s trophy might be getting a little less gleamy.

Braun is currently challenging a positive test for a performance-enhancing drug, report Mark Fainaru-Wada and T.J. Quinn of ESPN.com.

If the finding is upheld, Braun won’t have to give back his trophy, but he will have to give away 50 games of the 2012 baseball season to a suspension.

My opinion: A positive drug test doesn’t make Braun’s 2011 season less valuable.  He still did what he did. It does call into question how he achieved that value and open the door for you and me to judge him how we will. But my view of history is that it chronicles what happened, for better or worse. History isn’t what we’d like things to be – it’s what was, like it or not.

Whenever I consider baseball’s long, plentiful history of misbehavior, I’ve never been in favor of bringing an eraser to the record books, and I’m not going to start now. If Braun is guilty, his punishment will be his suspension and his tainted reputation. I’m not excusing his behavior. I’m just not pretending that he didn’t deliver on the field, illicitly or not.

The fact that my MVP vote would have been for Kemp regardless is a separate issue.

Dec 10

Matsui on Dodger radar

Earlier this week, Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com reported that the Dodgers are considering the addition of a free-agent left-handed pinch-hitter. Today, Jackson told me via e-mail he has learned that there are at least three people on the Dodgers’ list and one of them is Hideki Matsui.

Matsui, 37, had a .321 on-base percentage and .375 slugging percentage in 583 plate appearances with Oakland in 2011. However, he hit better against lefties (.795 OPS) then righties (.654), a presumably fluky reversal of his career trend over 1,202 games. He played 232 1/3 innings in the field this year, appearing as a designated hitter the rest of the time.

Dec 10

Loney: ‘I would never drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol’

Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com reports on a conversation with James Loney about his November accident and arrest:

… Loney said he remembers colliding with the first car and hitting his head in the process — he wasn’t sure exactly what he hit his head on — but he doesn’t have a clear memory of what happened from that moment until he woke up several hours later in the hospital.

“After (hitting his head), everything became very fuzzy,” Loney said. “I just felt, like, different. It was a different feeling.”

The Los Angeles Times quoted Judy Eckerling, whom the paper identified as the driver of one of the cars Loney hit, as saying Loney was non-responsive when she went to check on him immediately after the accident. Eckerling told the paper that when Loney woke up, he became agitated, started his engine and tried to drive away.

Loney said he doesn’t remember any of that, nor does he remember being administered a breathalyzer test by police, during which he reportedly bit off the mouthpiece and spat the rest of the tube at the officer. Loney said he was placed in handcuffs before being taken to the hospital, but he believes that was only to restrain him because he was behaving so erratically.

Loney also said he was tested for several drugs at the hospital — he read over the phone a long list from a document he was given when he left the hospital later that night that included cocaine, marijuana, alcohol, barbiturates, amphetamines and opiates — and that those tests all came back negative.

Loney said that when he woke up from the hospital, he felt completely normal. By this time, he said, there no longer were any police officers at the hospital keeping him in custody.

“Once I woke up, they just released me,” Loney said. “There was no questioning, there was no concern for me. I had somebody pick me up, and I went home. I was OK once I woke up. I was like, ‘Whoa, that was a weird experience.’ I talked to them like the person I am, my usual personality, and they were like, ‘He’s fine, he can go home.’

“I just want to make it clear that I would never drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol. I was just in an accident.”

Loney said he now regrets the fact he didn’t alert the Dodgers to the situation — the incident was first reported by TMZ.com on Thursday, but a club source said team officials were made aware by a third party before that report surfaced. …

More interviews: Ned Colletti spoke to 710 ESPN about Loney and other subjects on Friday – you can hear the interview and read the highlights here.

Dec 09

Dodgers-Angels: The rivalry that isn’t


Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesDee Gordon was safe on this slide, and that’s all that matters.

Never in four decades of being a Dodger fan have I taken satisfaction at any Angels’ misfortune.

Never in four decades have I rooted against the Angels in a game that didn’t include or directly affect the Dodgers.

I root for the Dodgers to win the division, the league pennant and the World Series. Last I saw, however, there is no city championship.

The Angels improved themselves Thursday. That is relevant to me as a Dodger fan only for the six games the teams will play against each other in 2012 and the X percent chance that the two teams will meet in the Series.

Who rules L.A.?  Who cares?

We’re out to win a title, not a key to the city.

In the wake of the Albert Pujols signing, some people are once again acting like Dodgers-Angels is UCLA-USC. It’s not. UCLA and USC fans live and die over their battles with each other — even when one has the better team, a victory in the rivalry game by the other means huge bragging rights.

The 2002 Angels won the World Series. Do you know who won the season series between the Dodgers and Angels that year? Would it make you feel better to learn that the Angels didn’t? I didn’t think so. All that matters is that the Dodgers didn’t win the title.

I understand that the Angels got under some Dodger fans’ skin when they added Los Angeles to their Orange County-based team’s name.  I can’t relate to the anger, because I found the whole saga amusingly trivial, but I understand that some people were tweaked. I also understand that Dodger fans can be jealous and annoyed that the Angels have been able to celebrate a title this century and the Dodgers haven’t.

In any case, the Dodgers’ problem is not the Angels. The Dodgers’ problem is the Dodgers and their rumbling, tumbling, stumbling 23 years since their last World Series title.

The Dodgers don’t need to improve because the Angels did. The Dodgers need to improve because the Dodgers need to improve. Thankfully, they still have Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw and a McCourt ownership that is in its death throes as a starting point.

Today, most Angel fans are happier than Dodger fans. Good for them. It doesn’t pain me to write that any more than it would to write that Rays fans or Marlins fans or Bad News Bears fans are happier than Dodger fans on a given day.  In fact, if the Dodgers aren’t going to win a title, I’d just as soon it be another team from the area, rather than a team from St. Louis, Boston or New York.

The sign of a true champion is to be the best you can be, regardless of what anyone else does. That, as ever, remains the Dodgers’ challenge.

Dec 08

Dodgers finalize Harang contract and trade Eveland

On the same day that Aaron Harang signed a $12 million Dodger contract that will pay him $3 million in 2012 and $7 million in 2013 (with a club option for 2014 that comes with a $2 million buyout) , the Dodgers traded Dana Eveland to Baltimore.

Eveland, who allowed 36 baserunners with a 3.03 ERA and 16 strikeouts in 29 2/3 innings for Los Angeles in 2011 but was not likely to be tendered a 2012 contract, went to the Orioles in exchange for minor-leaguers Jarret Martin and outfielder Tyler Henson.

Martin, a Bakersfield native, has walked 5.9 batters per nine innings in his two-year minor-league career, but the lefthander has also struck out 8.7, so the Dodgers will see where his live arm takes him. As Chad Moriyama notes, there is some upside. Henson, an outfielder who turns 24 next week, had a .634 OPS in Triple-A this season.

Dec 08

TV rights ruling means more for Fox than it does for Dodgers

So, today’s federal bankruptcy court ruling in favor of the Dodgers against Fox, allowing the Dodgers to accelerate the sale of their post-2013 TV rights, doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things for Dodger fans. Ultimately, the Dodgers will get what they can get for the rights, whether it comes from Fox or Time Warner Cable. (Here’s more in my latest Variety story.)

I’m going to be perfectly honest with you.  I’m not predisposed to have any sympathy for Fox, but I have tried over and over again to wrap my head around today’s decision and I haven’t figured out how it helps the Dodgers’ maximize their sale value, and therefore why it served the court any purpose to nullify Fox’s right to keep exclusivity on the Dodgers’ post-2013 rights until next fall.

McCourt can’t negotiate a binding deal with Fox before the sale, so there’s no incentive for Fox to make a real offer. Any valuations of the Dodgers’ TV rights that come before the team is sold will more accurately come from independent sources.

But like I said, whatever damage is done by today’s ruling is done to Fox, not the Dodgers or their fans.

However, something else is brewing that I think could be more significant. Fox is preparing to argue that Time Warner Cable is legally prohibited from getting into a deal for the Dodgers. If Fox prevailed, that could potentially lower the Dodgers’ future TV revenue if it reduces Time Warner Cable’s viability as a bidder.

Here’s what Bill Shaikin wrote in the Times:

… Under a previously undisclosed provision, the contract also hampers the Dodgers’ ability to form a regional sports network after the contract expires so long as Time Warner , Comcast or ESPN is an equity partner, according to the people familiar with the agreement.

Dodgers owner Frank McCourt had wanted to launch his own cable channel — dubbed “DTV: Dodger Television” — once the Fox contract expired in 2013, according to documents filed in his divorce trial. Fox would have had no recourse had McCourt partnered with any party beyond Time Warner, Comcast or ESPN.

The contract would not absolutely prohibit those Fox competitors from partnering in some form in a Dodgers cable channel, but what could be costly hurdles would in theory give the team an incentive to stick with Fox. …

Will Fox prevail in this dispute? That I don’t know.

Dec 08

Four days before contract deadline, Loney’s November arrest revealed

Dodger first baseman James Loney was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence on November 14. (The story was first reported by TMZ.)

The incident by itself does not seem to have any direct effect on Loney’s future with the Dodgers. The Dodgers have had more than three weeks to digest it, with general manager Ned Colletti telling Dylan Hernandez of the Times that Loney’s status won’t be affected “unless something turns up.”

However, I can’t help wondering if the Albert Pujols signing might cause the Dodgers to rethink their plans, whether it’s to reboot a pursuit of Prince Fielder, or if only because of the possibility that the Angels will now make 28-year-old first baseman Kendrys Morales available.  Morales had a .924 OPS in 2009, his last full season before a broken leg waylaid him. Morales could soon be looking for a new home. (Unless, the Angels find a taker for someone like Bobby Abreu.)

The Dodgers must finalize their decision on whether to offer Loney a 2012 contract by 9 p.m. Monday.

Here are some details on the Loney arrest. I have to admit, when I saw the reference to the Maserati, my thoughts immediately turned to Joe Walsh:

… California Highway Patrol spokesman Leland Tang told the Los Angeles Times that the accident took place at around 6:15 p.m. PT in Sherman Oaks. Loney’s Masarati sideswiped several cars before coming to a stop in the fast lane with the player passed out inside.

“His unusual behavior at the scene caused concern on the part of the L.A city fire paramedics and he was transported to Sherman Oaks Hospital for further tests,” Tang said, according to the newspaper.

Loney was traveling westbound when he hit three vehicles and then abruptly came to a stop.

“The three parties involved in the collision including the driver of a 2008 Mini Cooper, a Toyota Prius and Mercedes Benz attempted to contact Mr. Loney but according to their statements he appeared to be unconscious,” Tang said, according to the Times. “He eventually awoke and he saw all the people standing around him. He then attempted to flee the scene.”

A CHP officer, who first responded to the scene, wrote in his report that Loney displayed “objective symptoms of being intoxicated or being under the influence of something.”

A person close to Loney told the Times that the player tested negative for drugs and alcohol, but Tang told the newspaper that results of a blood test taken by officers was not yet available.

Dec 08

Incoming TV money explains Pujols signing

It could have been the Dodgers making the big news today.  And someday, it will be.

But for now, it’s all Angels.

On Thursday, the Dodgers continue their participation in a bankruptcy court hearing with Fox, a hearing largely focused on how to maximize the value of the baseball team. While that is going on, the Angels signed Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson — and just like that, the team from Anaheim seems to have written the book on how to maximize franchise value.

The commitment the Angels are making to the 31-year-old Pujols is, for those of us who live in the real world, insane. Ten years, $250 million-plus and all the fringe benefits I suspect you can name. It’s an incredible amount of money.

But the reason the Angels are able to make such a long-term splurge relates to the same reason that Dodgers fans should have hope for the franchise after all the courtroom drama is over. The TV money coming into the Southern California baseball market, whether from Fox Sports or its newly emerging rival, Time Warner Cable, is out of this world.

As Richard Sandomir recently wrote in The New York Times, the Dodgers’ current TV rights deal with Fox calls for just less than $40 million in its final year, 2013.  In the next contract, the annual payment the Dodgers receive in TV revenue is expected to be, at the bare minimum, $150 million, and quite possibly will go north of $200 million.  Sandomir even calculates that $300 million per year is a believable figure when all the bidding is done.

I’m not one to use the word “game-changer” frequently, but that’s a game-changer.

There are two principal reasons for the soaring dollars. Live sports has become invaluable programming for broadcasters in a DVR age that has brought declining ratings to conventional TV programming. And as I wrote for Variety this week, with TWC taking the Lakers from Fox to start new cable channels dedicated to the NBA team, the Dodgers are more valuable because of the need to fill the cable programming schedules in the summer months.

What’s relevant to Thursday’s signings is that the Angels are hardly being left out of the TV party. The Los Angeles Times reported in October that the Angels were close to negotiating an extension of their current TV deal with Fox, one that already stood to pay them more than the $80 million per year that Fox agreed to pay the Texas Rangers last year. Although you wouldn’t have assumed the Angels would get quite what the Dodgers could count on, the marquee value of Pujols — the equivalent of signing a saner, younger Manny Ramirez — certainly will help. You can make a direct argument that the appeal of Pujols and his effect in boosting the Angels’ win total will only help the team draw more TV money as negotiations are finalized.

When you consider the probability that the Angels will be getting more than $1 billion from Fox over the life of Pujols’ contract, then absorbing those final $25 million-a-year seasons or whatever they are, even after he’s over-the-hill, doesn’t seem so vexing. Pujols is sponge-worthy, and the Angels are going to have a lot of sponges.

That the Dodgers know they have the same revenue potential, if not more, reminds us how easily the team could have been a major player in this winter’s free-agent market. Heck, even under a normal budget, we already knew the Dodgers could have figured out a way to afford Prince Fielder (probably a better fit for the team than Pujols because he’s younger and not demanding a 10-year deal).

Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. reiterated the point this week. If you combine the salaries of Aaron Harang, Juan Rivera, Chris Capuano, Mark Ellis, Jerry Hairston Jr. and James Loney, you would basically have the money to sign Fielder and a starting pitcher. Then you play bargain ball at second base, and you still probably have a better team than what the Dodgers will put out in 2012.

Factor in the Dodgers’ post-2013 TV money and a new owner with deeper pockets, which will come regardless of how the current bankruptcy hearing plays out, and it’s really no sweat. A contract the size of the one Pujols is getting makes me uncomfortable — except when I remind myself just how different the financial landscape will be for the Dodgers in the coming years.

Nothing the Angels did Thursday guarantees them a World Series title — and more often than not during the next 10 years, the team that does win the Series will not be Pujols’ team. My point is not that the Pujols signing is a great one, but that it’s a feasible one. Over the life of the contract, taking into account both his peaks and his valleys, Pujols should make the Angels a better contender for titles and TV viewers.  Even at Pujols’ astronomical salary, the Angels’ risk-reward ratio is a solid one. Adding Wilson to the party only underscores this point.

And it serves as a reminder that anyone looking to acquire the Dodgers or their TV rights would be more confident in doing so knowing that Matt Kemp, Clayton Kershaw and a player of Pujols’ or Fielder’s caliber is in place. (And hey, Fielder is still out there …)

So take heart, Dodgers fans. Frank McCourt is still selling, and the TV dough is still coming. This time next year, the Dodgers should be in the money, and we’ll have to worry (sigh) only about whether they’re spending it wisely.