While I’ve been screwing around pretending I’m a writer, our old friend Alex Belth has gone and produced a masterpiece.
Mark J. Rebilas/US Presswire
I look forward to the spring, when my team is playing ball and the games can generate their own pleasures, regardless of who is wearing the uniform. I look forward to nights of holding my breath and unexpected surprises. I look forward to the image of a white ball against a black sky.
I look forward to the spring, and liberation from this winter, with its labor-camp hue of chain-gang signings, each with their shred of rationality or hope but none exceptionally inspiring, forcing me to pound the permafrost for the smallest bite of excitement.
It’s December 5, and I already need a break from the Dodgers’ jagged pursuit of free agents. If the winter is to be this bland, this “another day older and deeper in debt,” just shoot me right to the spring.
Congratulations, all too late, to Ron Santo on his Hall of Fame election today.
- Buster Olney of ESPN tweeted that “representatives for Clayton Kershaw have had early contact with the Dodgers about a long-term deal, but no serious talks have taken place.”
- The Dodgers 2012 Spring Training schedule is official, starting with a March 5 opener against the White Sox at Camelback Ranch. The final game will be April 1 against Arizona.
- Dodger outfielder Jamie Hoffmann has been claimed on waivers by the Rockies, an indication that the team might be close to singing another major-leaguer. Aaron Harang is a name being bandied about. (Remembering 2011: Jamie Hoffmann)
- Ken Gurnick of MLB.com recaps some recent Dodger minor-league contract signings: Jose Ascanio, Jeff Baisley, Wil Ledezma, Shane Lindsay and (almost official) Alberto Castillo.
- Gurnick also writes that “Ronald Belisario, not seen by the Dodgers since 2010, is again working on obtaining a work visa that would allow him to return to the United States and compete for a Dodgers bullpen role next season.”
- John Sickels of Minor League Ball released his Dodger prospect top 20.
- Bill Buckner is another name being discussed for a Red Sox coaching position under Bobby Valentine, according to Gordon Edes of ESPNBoston.com.
New Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine wants to add Bill Buckner to his coaching staff and the former Boston first baseman wants the job, but the team’s front office is resistant to the idea, a source close to Buckner said.
Valentine and Buckner have been friends since 1968, the year they were both drafted by the Dodgers — Valentine in the first round, Buckner in the second.
“I’ve watched his kids grow up and I respect his every opinion, in baseball and in worldly matters,” Valentine said at his introductory press conference last week in Boston.
“Whether or not Bill Buckner would be on the staff is a decision that Ben (Cherington, the Boston general manager) will talk about or if anybody else is going to be on the staff, Ben and I will talk about it.
“It’s not about friendship, it’s not about who was here in the past, it’s about who can do the specific jobs that need to be done.” …
- Walter Alston would have turned 100 last week, and Howard Cole of Dodgers Blog at the Register commemorated the occasion.
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesAndre Ethier (46)
In an offseason dominated by kudos for Clayton Kershaw and Matt Kemp, speculation about the future of James Loney, headscratching over some free-agent contracts handed out by Ned Colletti, mourning over the imminent departure of Hiroki Kuroda, fretting over the state of the starting rotation and the offense, and of course, cautious optimism about what we hope to be the final chapter in the McCourt ownership drama, you’d be hard-pressed to find many words written about one player integral to the Dodgers’ 2012 fortunes: Andre Ethier.
The 2009 Walkoff King, 2010 National League Most Valuable Player dreamer and 2011 challenger to DiMaggio has rather suddenly become something of an enigma, which makes me particularly interested in how he got to this point and where he goes from here – and whether that includes another organization.
The setup: Ethier made his major-league debut in 2006, the first of five consecutive seasons in which he had an on-base percentage of at least .350, slugging percentage of at least .450 and OPS of at least .800. In 2007, he was still earning respect, making 117 starts and sharing time with Matt Kemp in right field and Luis Gonzalez in left while Juan Pierre played every day in center field. The following year began the transition that made Pierre a fourth outfielder (at least until Andruw Jones proved a disaster), but you couldn’t say Ethier was the Dodgers’ undisputed starter in right until late August 2008.
The next year, 2009, brought Ethier’s finest full season. Starting 150 games, Ethier had a .361 on-base percentage, .508 slugging percentage, 31 homers and 42 doubles, finishing sixth in the voting for NL MVP at age 27. He produced with the spotlight off and with it shining bright, bashing four walkoff home runs in the regular season, then in the 2009 postseason going 11 for 31 with three doubles, three homers and three walks for a 1.235 OPS.
That, one might have argued in the spring of 2010, was only a prelude to true superstardom. It seems like a long time ago to me now, but it’s been barely 18 months since the Dodgers’ best player was undoubtedly Ethier, who began the year on a legitimate Triple Crown and MVP run. Through May 14, Ethier had 11 home runs and 38 RBI in 33 games to go with a .392 batting average, .457 on-base percentage and .744 slugging percentage. A monster.
What happened next was like something out of a bastardized Aesop’s fable. Ethier’s full-on rush to brilliance ended with a fracture on the tip of the smallest finger on his right hand. He missed 15 games, and apparently rushed back too soon to keep it from being more. For the rest of 2011, he had 12 home runs in 105 games, a .338 on-base percentage and .418 slugging percentage.
Still, he finished 2010 as only one of three Dodgers since Pedro Guerrero (Gary Sheffield and Mike Piazza being the others) to have three consecutive seasons with an adjusted OPS of at least 130. As 2011 approached, many assumed Ethier would return to the level he established before the pinky injury – that is, not a Triple Crown place but to a place as one of the best hitters in the game. His struggles against left-handed pitching (.661 OPS lifetime, .625 in 2010) were a wild-card – something that could prevent him from maintaining elite status, but also room for improvement – in which case, look out.
In any event, optimism about Ethier’s performance this year and an understanding of his importance to the team was high. That’s what made it surprising when, days before a tranquil Spring Training ended, Ethier openly speculated (more than once) that 2011 would be his last season in Los Angeles.
The closeup: Ethier singled in four at-bats on Opening Day, then went 0 for 4 in game 2. Taking a .111 batting average to the plate against Matt Cain in the bottom of the fourth inning on April 2, Ethier got a single in that at-bat and his next two. And so his campaign to break the Dodger and major-league consecutive-games hitting-streak records began.
Overshadowing basically every other Dodger, including Kershaw and Kemp, Ethier and his streak were palpably exciting and dramatically deficient only in the fact that Ethier rarely waited until his final at-bat to extend the skein. He reached Halfway to DiMaggio status May 2 and his 30th consecutive game May 6, going 3 for 5 against the Mets one night after his only missed game during the streak.
That missed game brought with it some foreshadowing, because it turned out that Ethier was suffering from left-elbow inflammation, raising fears that his 2011 season might play out like 2010 did.
The hitting streak ended May 7, with Ethier striking out against Mets lefty reliever Tim Byrdak in the eighth inning to go 0 for 4 (with a walk). The game was tied at that point, but the Dodger bullpen gave up two runs in the bottom of the eighth to prevent Ethier from getting a chance to extend the streak in extra innings. Ethier did continue his streak of reaching base for another week, taking it to 37 games before going 0 for 4 against Arizona on May 15.
Ethier fell into a brief slump after the streaks ended, but for the most part continued to reach base at a high rate thereafter, especially after taking three starts off to rest his aching body (and also chill out a bit). From May 27 through the remainder of his season, Ethier had a .358 on-base percentage, almost equal to his 2009 mark. But the problem was that his power from 2009 had all but disappeared. Ethier’s 11 home runs and 30 doubles in 2011 were his lowest totals since his rookie year, and his .421 slugging was by far the lowest of his career. In addition, his struggles against left-handed pitchers only grew worse, with a career-low .258 OBP, .305 slugging and .563 OPS.
Ethier’s season ground to a halt amid more injuries (his right knee the latest culprit) and controversy over how they were being treated, though he kept battling at the plate until the end. On September 6, Ethier matched a season high (established one week earlier) with four RBI against the Nationals; with that, he called it a year. He had arthroscopic knee surgery on September 14, with a scheduled recovery time of six-to-eight weeks. In other words, Ethier should be 100 percent right now.
Nothing, arguably, illustrates how unpredictable Ethier’s 2011 was than the fact that the right fielder, admired for his bat but often maligned for his defense, came away with one postseason honor: his first Gold Glove Award.
Coming attractions: Ethier, the pride of Ned Colletti’s trading resume, the kid with the sweet swing beloved by scouts, turns a wizened 30 in April. That will kick off what will be his last year before free agency save a contract extension that, given an October Colletti interview with Jim Bowden for ESPNLosAngeles.com, doesn’t seem likely to come. Nor, however, does there appear to be an Ethier trade on the horizon, though with a salary that should be somewhere in the neighborhood of $13 million next year, the player who has battled injuries for two years projects as the highest-paid Dodger of 2012.
Ethier’s Dodger future, short-term and long, is uncertain. His on-field performance has to answer the larger questions of where his home-run power went and whether his production against lefty pitching will ever arrive. If those questions are answered sourly, 2012 will no doubt be his last in Dodger whites. More and more, people are wondering if the former MVP candidate is at best a platoon player extraordinaire. But a rebound year that ends with new ownership in place could set Ethier up for a renewed engagement in Los Angeles. Though few are talking about it now, Ethier will definitely be one of the Dodgers’ biggest stories next spring.
Wrapping up the last week and starting a new one chock full of bullet points …
- Manny Ramirez is moving forward with plans to get himself back in the majors for 2012, but would probably to need to still serve 50 games as a suspended player, writes Buster Olney of ESPN the Magazine. Ramirez, who turns 40 on May 30, went 1 for 17 with the Rays in 2011 before his season abruptly ended. He could show what shape he’s in with a nonroster invite to some team’s Spring Training.
- The Dodgers are taking applicants to fill the position of vice president of public relations (link via AZ Snakepit). The Dodgers aren’t holding off until the ownership switch to make the hire: Public relations wait for no one.
- Clayton Kershaw was interviewed by Molly Knight for ESPN the Magazine.
- Baseball America’s annual Dodger prospects top 10 has Zach Lee on top, followed by Allen Webster, Nathan Eovaldi and then the first position player, outfielder Alfredo Silverio. Looking at the article, you know what cracks me up? The fifth-highest amateur signing bonus in Dodger history still belongs to 2000 draftee Ben Diggins.
- I think it’s worth a reminder that Lee could be in the majors before the 2012 season is over, though it probably wouldn’t be until 2013 that he begins making any kind of impact. He’s about a half-season behind the development of Kershaw, whose debut came in May 2008, 23 months after the Dodgers signed him. Lee, who had a 3.47 ERA with 7.5 strikeouts per nine innings and a 1.22 WHIP in 2011 for Single-A Great Lakes, should hit Double-A in 2012 at age 20, the same age Kershaw was (though he’s not at the same performance level as Kershaw, who had 12.4 K/9 with Great Lakes).
- When the Red Sox hired Bobby Valentine to manage, I joked on Twitter that his ESPN broadcast partners Orel Hershiser and Dan Shulman could join him on the coaching staff. Well, in the case of Hershiser, the Red Sox are in fact interested in him as a pitching coach, writes Sean McAdam of Red Sox Talk – assuming Hershiser’s pursuit of Doger ownership doesn’t get in the way.
- Some vintage Tommy Lasorda cursing is available in this video passed along by Roberto Baly of Vin Scully Is My Homeboy.
- Ross Newhan calls the theory a “longshot,” but he explains the substance behind why some think Frank McCourt could renege on his commitment to sell the Dodgers.
- More Newhan, on Magic Johnson’s entrance into the Dodger ownership race:
… In announcing his intention to bid for the Dodgers with usual flair and enthusiasm, Johnson said he would try to build the Dodgers in the Showtime mold of his star-driven Laker teams, recruiting prominent players and paying the price for free agents.
This is an area that Kasten and others may want to advise Johnson that it would be better to low key. Many of the 29 other owners who will eventually vote on the McCourt successor may not be happy to hear that Magic intends to pay any cost to restore Dodger prominence, driving up salaries in the process. …
- Two views of the Dodgers’ Chris Capuano signing: Eric Seidman of Fangraphs doesn’t hate it, while Christina Kahrl of ESPN.com thinks it pretty grim.
- DodgerTalk alum Ken Levine said he will do more Seattle Mariners radio broadcasts next year.
- Russell Martin is expected to return to the Yankees in 2012, writes Andrew Marchand of ESPNNewYork.com.
- Ken Arneson has an interesting piece on why the opening of a Giants Dugout Store in Walnut Creek is meaningful to the rest of the baseball world.
Chris Carlson/APJon Garland (45)
The setup: After starting six games down the stretch for the Dodgers in 2009 (but then going unused that postseason), Garland ambled down to San Diego for 2010, pitching exactly 200 innings with 136 strikeouts and a 3.47 ERA (106 ERA+). The Dodgers then signed him as a free agent in November to a one-year contract with a $5 million base and $3 million in potential incentives. Durability was one of Garland’s claims to fame, though even Garland noted that the MRI associated with his physical raised concerns.
The closeup: March 9. That’s how quickly the injury bug bit Garland, leaving the mark of a left-oblique injury. That delayed his regular-season debut until April 15, a rather predictably shaky four-inning outing against St. Louis.
But in his follow-up, Garland threw a complete-game, four-hit, 6-1 victory over Atlanta, and he was off to the races. It was the first of five consecutive quality starts in which he had a 2.65 ERA over 34 innings (though only one was a victory, thanks to the Dodger offense averaging 2.6 runs per game behind him). Garland’s original team, the White Sox, hammered him May 21, but then two more quality starts followed. By June 1, Garland had made nine appearances and seven of them were quality starts – not bad for the team’s No. 5 starter.
Oh, and then his season ended. A right-shoulder injury that required arthroscopic surgery put Garland on the disabled list, and he never came off.
Coming attractions: On October 4, the Dodgers said they would pay $500,000 to exercise the buyout of Garland’s $8 million option for 2012, bidding farewell to the Granada Hills Robert Frost Middle School graduate for the second time in 24 months and helping pave the way for Friday’s Chris Capuano signing. In two stints with Los Angeles, Garland made a total of 15 starts with a 3.69 ERA and 54 strikeouts in 90 1/3 innings.
Ken Gurnick of MLB.com wrote in October that in September, Garland said “his recovery was ahead of schedule, and that he intended to begin throwing in November … (and) be healthy by Spring Training.” He should earn interest from some team willing to bet on his rebound.
Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesMagic Johnson of the Los Angeles Dodgers?
From Buster Olney of ESPN the Magazine:
At a time when Major League Baseball wants to restore the Los Angeles Dodgers’ brand following years of damage under the ownership of Frank McCourt, Earvin “Magic” Johnson — arguably the most popular athlete in the city’s history — is a major player in a group that wants to buy the team.
“I’m a big baseball fan,” Johnson said by phone Friday, “and you think about what the Dodgers have meant to baseball and to Los Angeles, and that part’s a no-brainer. … I’ve been to that place [Dodger Stadium] hundreds and hundreds of times, every year.”
Johnson was approached about a month ago by Stan Kasten, the former president of the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals — someone Johnson has known for about 30 years, and who once offered him a job to coach the Atlanta Hawks. Mark Walter, the CEO of Guggenheim Partners, a private global financial services firm, is the money muscle behind the group, which is called Guggenheim Baseball Management. According to a fact sheet about the group, Guggenheim Partners has more than $125 billion in assets under management.
As Johnson described it, their ownership of the Dodgers — if it happens — would work this way: Walter would write the big checks; Kasten would oversee the baseball operations; and Johnson, who recently sold his ownership share of the Lakers, would work as a president or vice president on both the business side and in recruiting players, when needed.
“I want to win,” said Johnson, who met with six different groups of potential bidders for the Dodgers before joining forces with Walter and Kasten. “We want to win. Not only do we have the guy who can write the check to buy the team, but we have to have somebody who can acquire quality people and talent, and Stan knows how to do that better than anybody. … We’ve got a great plan.”
Major League Baseball has shaped ownership groups in the past, picking someone from one bidding group and coupling that person with another. With the Dodgers going through bankruptcy court, though, the process for purchasing the club is expected to be more draconian, and based more on financial might than the whims of MLB. After a small group of potential buyers is selected for auction, the winner is likely to be based on which group submits the highest bid.
The sale process for the Dodgers could begin as soon as next week, when financial details of the team will be released to prospective buyers. The Los Angeles Times reported in Friday’s editions that Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban intends to bid for the Dodgers. …
Don’t underestimate the importance to this group of Kasten (for the baseball experience) and Walter (for the cash that interests Dodger owner Frank McCourt). Johnson adds a nice touch, one that would galvanize fan feelings toward the group with his personality and emphasis on winning while also bringing some understanding doing business with the local community, but his presence won’t make or break the deal.
Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesChris Capuano
The Hiroki Kuroda era has all but ended in Los Angeles, with the Dodgers agreeing to terms with 33-year-old lefthander Chris Capuano on a two-year contract worth a total of $10 million, according to Jim Bowden and Jayson Stark of ESPN.
Capuano should be replacing the Jon Garland spot in the Dodger rotation, which in turn became the Rubby De La Rosa and Nathan Eovaldi slot. But all recent signs from Ned Colletti have indicated that the Dodgers don’t have the budget to sign two free-agent pitchers, which would mean that Capuano would replace Kuroda, with Eovaldi competing with your Dana Eveland types for the No. 5 spot.
The only reason I’m not sure about this is the possibility of Capuano and Kuroda salaries being weighted to future years to fit them both into the 2012 payroll.
Capuano is more than three years younger than Kuroda, and though he is bouncing back after missing 2008 and 2009 because of Tommy John surgery, he is not of Kuroda’s caliber, even given the likelihood of Kuroda declining in 2012 at age 37. Capuano’s career-best adjusted ERA of 113, achieved five years ago, ranks below Kuroda’s average for his major-league career.
The bright side for Capuano is that he struck out 8.1 batters per nine innings in 2011 with the Mets, but that went with 256 baserunners and 27 homers allowed in 198 innings. His ERA was 4.55; his fielding-independent ERA was 4.04. In 31 starts last season, he had 14 quality starts.
Kelvin Kuo/US PresswireJerry Sands (44)
The setup: The Dodgers’ top minor-league hitter in 2010 (with a .395 on-base percentage, .586 slugging percentage and 35 homers in 590 plate appearances combined at Single-A Great Lakes and Double-A Chattanooga), Sands was in position to make his big-league debut in 2011. His timetable depended on his continued development in Triple-A and the effectiveness of the Jay Gibbons-Marcus Thames-Tony Gwynn Jr. left-field combo.
The closeup: Much sooner than expected, on April 18, Sands was called up as Xavier Paul was designated for assignment. That night, Sands had an RBI double in his first major-league at-bat, one of 10 doubles he had in his first 87 plate appearances. He had a three-hit game April 25, a four-hit game May 22 and a grand slam May 24, his second home run in four games. Following the slam, however, Sands slumped, going 3 for 33 with two walks and no extra-base hits. With Gibbons, Thames and Gwynn making a rare simultaneous appearance on the active roster, the decision was made June 9 to send Sands back to Albuquerque, where he could not only play every day but work on some long-term adjustments with his swing.
Sands did take a step back as he redeveloped himself, with his Isotopes OPS falling to .670 during July, but after August 1 he had a .900 OPS with 11 homers in 33 games in Triple-A. Then, when he came back to the Dodgers in September, Sands kind of caught fire, batting .342 (25 for 73) with a .415 on-base percentage, .493 slugging, .908 OPS, eight walks, five more doubles and two home runs.
He finished his rookie Dodger season on his 24th birthday, with a .338 on-base percentage, .389 slugging percentage and 15 doubles in 227 plate appearances.
Coming attractions: With only four home runs in the majors, Sands still has something to prove in the power department, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t right now the franchise’s third-best outfielder behind Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier. Rivera, who received millions from the Dodgers this offseason, had an OPS in Los Angeles of .740 last year compared to Sands’ .727 – you tell me how you think those will trend next year.
Nevertheless, pending the official signing of a 2012 contract by James Loney, there’s no place in the regular 2012 Dodger lineup for Sands. At best, he could platoon against left-handed pitchers with Ethier or Loney, if the Dodgers had the cutthroat approach to play things that way with two of their longtime starters. Sands went 22 for 60 with seven walks, seven doubles and three homers for a 1.066 OPS against lefties for the Dodgers.
Otherwise, it seems quite possible that Sands will begin 2012 as he began 2011 – in the minors, waiting for an opening – but with more confidence that he can handle the promotion once it arrives.
Having finished work on a long-running freelance project, 1 percent of me knows I need to start another for the sake of my career in a precarious world.
The other 99 percent believes that the less additional time I spend at the computer, the better.
The two parties are at war with each other.
Josh Suchon and Joe Block will not stay with the Dodgers’ postgame radio show when the team’s broadcasts move to KLAC 570 AM next year. Tom Hoffarth of the Daily News first reported the change, later confirmed to me via e-mail by Suchon.
I think the pair will be greatly missed, both for their conviviality and their ability to effectively deal with Dodger fans of all stripes and the, shall we say, wide variety of questions that comes with the territory. They were knowledgeable without being arrogant. That’s an enviable combo.
Suchon said he was prepared to depart and is excited about new opportunities in 2012. Given that the sports media business seems to offer new opportunities every day, I have hopes that he and Block will land on their feet.