Mar 27

Looking back on 2012: The Dodger Thoughts reader predictions thread

For the seventh year in a row, I’m asking Dodger Thoughts readers to summarize the upcoming season before it happens.

The Dodgers went xx-xx in 2012 because ______________.

(And, yes, if you need an extra x, take it.)

Here are the best predictions from 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007 and 2006. Unfortunately, 2011′s predictions were erased during ESPN.com’s comment-system changeover.

Mar 26

Dodgers invest in 16-year-old pitcher

Did the most significant moment of this Dodger exhibition season involve a teenager?

Ken Gurnick of MLB.com reports that the Dodgers have signed 16-year-old Dominican pitcher Bryan Munoz for a bonus of $300,000. “The signing bonus is believed to be the largest the Dodgers have given a Dominican player since signing Joel Guzman for $2.25 million in 2001,” Gurnick writes. Hopefully, a sign of a rebirth of commitment to the international market.

Elsewhere …

  • Jamey Wright will soon be made official as a Dodger reliever, while John Grabow has exercised his opt-out clause. Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. has details on that and more from today’s Dodger action.
  • Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com has still more on Jerry Sands and the possibility he was getting too much advice from coaches during Spring Training.
  • Is it the end of the line for former Dodgers Alex Cora and Joe Beimel? They were released by the Cardinals and by the Rangers, respectively.
  • Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com says there’s a buzz around town that Frank McCourt might go with the Magic Johnson-fronted ownership group even if it’s not the top financial offer, but also acknowledges that might be a naive sentiment.
  • Jim Caple of ESPN.com has a great list of 49 facts celebrating Jamie Moyer, none better than No. 1: “At 49 years and four months, Moyer not only is older than Robert Redford was when he played Roy Hobbs in “The Natural” (46 when filming began), he’s older than was Wilford Brimley (48 at start of filming), who portrayed old manager Pop Fisher.”

 

Mar 26

Sue Weisman, 1910-2012

My grandmother, Sue Weisman, whom some of you have gotten to know here over the years, has passed away. She was 101.

Grandma Sue’s 102nd birthday would have been a week from Saturday, and as frail as she became in the past year or so, you never quite believed she wouldn’t roll right into through that milestone and many more. She was indomitable. I’m not sure I’ve ever known a woman who was more self-possessed.

She was born in New York into a childhood, the sixth of eight siblings, that eventually found her family in the thick of the Prohibition-defying liquor trade. She moved to Chicago, married at age 20, into a world where the shadow of Capone hovered over her young household’s livelihood. She, her husband Aaron and my father, aunt and uncle moved to Los Angeles in 1951, first renting a house from the Mankiewicz family that was the home of the actual Rosebud from Citizen Kane. And in this city she stayed, becoming a founding volunteer for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, to whom she provided services for approximately half a century, indulging her limitless love of art.

She played catch with me in our backyard in her 60s, and encouraged me in every way.

She cherished her family. And we all thought the world of her.

Mar 25

‘Mad Men’ opening day, ‘Luck’ season finale

The words that I’ve been using to describe the season opener of Mad Men are “jarring and fascinating.” The show has constantly evolved in character and look, but you’ll never notice it more than in the leap forward it has taken between its last season, which ended 17 months ago, and tonight’s season-five premiere. So some of it comes as a shock to the system, but at the same time, you’ll see the logic behind every move of the many pieces on showrunner Matthew Weiner’s chessboard, while feeling a great deal of anticipation for what’s to come. There’s also some pretty sly humor mixed in with the darkness and tumult, I will say.

Meanwhile, a less successful but still intriguing show wraps up its first and last season tonight. The final episode of Luck lays out all its strengths and weaknesses. Some of the characters are extremely compelling – Kevin Dunn as Marcus particularly shines in the finale – but others are a mixed bag, including Dustin Hoffman’s Ace, who is played almost like what might have happened if his Rain Man character had gotten, say, 65 percent of the social skills he’d ideally have. Above all, though, the cinematography of the final race is beyond spectacular. Of course, the reliance on horses is what ultimately sowed the seeds of the show’s demise, but you’d be hard-pressed to find any program that had more appreciation for the artistry of the animals. Luck will occupy a place in the middle range of HBO shows of the past several years for me, but I don’t regret watching it.

My Variety colleagues and I will be talking Mad Men and other TV in a live chat Monday starting at approximately 9:45 a.m. I’ll post a link when I have it – join us then, but feel free to have any initial discussion here tonight.

Mar 24

For you Rosterfarians

We’re within two weeks of Opening Day. Here’s the latest on the projected 25-man roster …

Starting pitchers (5):
On track: Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley and Aaron Harang.
Any reservations? Ted Lilly missed a bullpen session today with neck stiffness, and Chris Capuano had a hamstring twinge in today’s start, but neither is expected to affect their roster status. If anything worsens.
Next in line: Nathan Eovaldi, with a 0.84 ERA and 12 baserunners in 10 2/3 spring innings, would step up.  Keep in mind the Dodgers won’t use a fifth starter until April 14.

Relief pitchers (7):
On track: Kenley Jansen, Javy Guerra, Todd Coffey and Scott Elbert.
Any reservations? Mike MacDougal has allowed six runs, six hits and seven walks in five innings with one strikeout in March. Matt Guerrier has thrown only two innings so far this spring.
Next in line: There’s at least one spot that’s open, and it will probably go to veteran Jamey Wright, because Josh Lindblom has minor-league options. But in addition to those two, John Grabow and Scott Rice are still alive. Don’t be surprised if Guerrier ends up on the disabled list to buy the Dodgers more decision time on this group.

Catchers (2):
On track: A.J. Ellis and Matt Treanor.

Infielders (6):
On track: James Loney, Mark Ellis, Dee Gordon, Juan Uribe, Adam Kennedy
Any reservations? Jerry Hairston Jr. is battling shoulder inflammation apparently related to an October 2011 injury, as Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. and Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com note.
Next in line: Justin Sellers, already a candidate to be the team’s 25th man, would move up a spot in the pecking order if Hairston can’t make it – assuming Sellers himself can stay healthy.  Corner infielder Josh Fields continues to make a case with some power in his past and a .937 spring OPS. And making a late bid, according to Ken Gurnick of MLB.com, is Luis Cruz, 7 for 20 with a triple and home run this spring. However, Cruz only has a .535 OPS in 169 career major-league plate appearances and a .301 OBP in Triple-A last year.

Outfielders (4):
On track: Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, Juan Rivera, Tony Gwynn Jr.

25th man
In addition to the folks mentioned above, there’s Trent Oeltjen, who held the spot throughout the second half of 2011 and is out of options. Some feel Cory Sullivan is in the running. One guy you can forget about is Jerry Sands, who has combined his remaining minor-league options with a terrible March.

And then after the season begins, the roulette wheel spins agaon.

Mar 23

Going where the wind takes you, being who you are

So I was debating what to do with the rest of my night.

My mood is fine this evening, so that’s not an issue. It’s more an issue of direction.

I spent a full day at my day job at the end of a full week, came home and made my kids a decidedly mediocre dinner, then spent a couple of hours working on a lengthy freelance piece for ESPNLosAngeles.com. It’s 9 p.m. I haven’t written about the Dodgers on this site today, not about their 17-4 victory over the White Sox that was filled with interesting subplots, nor about their simultaneous 2-0 loss to the Royals that was desperate for them, nor about, as Bill Shaikin of the Times reports, the narrowing of the Dodger ownership chase to three groups.

It’s not for lack of anything to say that I’m passing on the Dodgers. It’s not for lack of belief in the value of my own work in general. But tonight, I find I’m not as motivated to write about the Dodgers for the sake of informing my readers as I am to perpetuate an image of myself as someone who doesn’t get beat at the Dodger blogging game. And the thing is, that image is false to at least some extent, if not entirely. There are Dodger bloggers who do better work than me covering the Dodgers on any given day, and today would be one of those days. I knew, as I contemplated writing about today’s events, that would be the case.

So is there value in doing work if it’s not the best? Is it important for this vocation that I have cared so much about that I don’t surrender its original reason for being? Or does it make more sense to shift gears when I’m not going to bring my A game or even my B game, and do the one thing no one else can do (lucky for them): Write about what’s on my mind?

Some people enjoy anything I write. I love those people, but they’re not the ones I’m worried about. Some people don’t read other Dodger blogs besides this one, a fact I take some small pride in, and so my failing to give them more information about today’s Dodger events gives me some small amount of shame. Then again, some people are only interested in my particular personal spin on any event, baseball or otherwise, and so a post like this, rambling as it is, will have more meaning.

It’s 9:27 now.  I’ve spent the past half hour on a question that might or might not have been a waste of your time, but one that crops up for me periodically. What’s the best use of my time? Sticking to the blueprint, tearing it up, or doing neither and simply grabbing a slice of cake and a spot on the couch?

This much I’ll say: At the end of a long work week, I feel more rejuvenated right now then I think I would have felt knocking out bullet points about Dee Gordon, Matt Kemp, Jerry Hairston Jr., Zach Lee and even the Green family, on this important day in memory of Christina-Taylor. As pointless as it might have been to put these thoughts into words, it doesn’t feel pointless to me. Sometimes, as with my Phil Dunphy piece, it really just feels good to get some stuff out.

I’m publishing this now, having given it a quick edit, and will be walking away from the computer to the cake and the couch, feeling okay about my effort but thinking about that little girl in Arizona, the same age as my own little girl is now.

Mar 23

Troncoso departure leaves Elbert as dean of Dodger bullpen

Dodgers vs. White Sox (in honor of Christina-Taylor Green Memorial Foundation), 1:05 p.m.
Dodgers at Royals, 4:05 p.m.

Now that Ramon Troncoso has been designated for assignment by the Dodgers, the last man standing from the 2009 Dodger bullpen is Scott Elbert, who pitched 19 2/3 innings that year with a 5.03 ERA.

Of the 25 men who pitched for the Dodgers in 2009, from Jonathan Broxton to Mark Loretta, 20 are gone and only three will be on the 2012 Opening Day roster. The five who remain in the organization in 2012 are Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Elbert, Ronald Belisario (who was added to the 40-man roster Thursday but must still serve a 25-game suspension) and reacquired minor-leaguer Brent Leach. Troncoso could return to the Dodger farm system if he clears waivers.

* * *

  • “Blue Revolution,” a documentary about the Dodger fan efforts to remove Frank McCourt as owner of the Dodgers, is screening tonight at 8 p.m. at Dodger Art Shop on 1321 W. Sunset Blvd. in Los Angeles.
  • Shameful: Nominations for the top moments in Dodger Stadium history at the team’s official website don’t include “THE SQUEEZE!”
  • The Union Station-Dodger Stadium shuttle is back in service for 2012. It’s free for game-ticket holders.
  • You can audition March 31 to sing the national anthem at Dodger Stadium.
  • The future is now (for the time being): Nathan Eovaldi, Allen Webster, Zach Lee, Chris Reed, Ethan Martin, Angel Sanchez and Shawn Tolleson are scheduled to pitch for the Dodgers in Tucson today.
  • J.P. Hoornstra of the Daily News has a story on the Dodgers’ current place in the scouts-stats world.
  • The son of Vin Scully Is My Homeboy blogger Roberto Baly loves him some Tim Belcher.
  • Jamie Moyer threw four perfect innings Thursday to improve his chances of making Colorado’s starting rotation at age 49. As David Pinto of Baseball Musings notes, Moyer has struck out seven and walked none in nine innings this spring. “I’m still not convinced this is a good idea, considering a) how Moyer pitched in 2010, and b) Coors Field,” Rob Neyer adds at Baseball Nation. “But of course, it’s impossible to help pulling for him to pitch again in the majors, and pitch well.”
  • Bill James has an interesting piece at Grantland (via Baseball Think Factory) about the history of fan behavior as it relates to prison life.
  • As I’ve often said, sometimes the best (or only good) part of a story on The Onion is the headline.  Here’s a case where the story lives up to the promise of the headline, “Grounder So Routine Nothing Could Possibly Go Wrong, Nothing At All” …
Mar 21

Will Dodger Stadium again avoid naming rights buzzsaw?

Um, yeah, if the Dodgers’ new owners sell naming rights to Dodger Stadium, as Bill Shaikin of the Times suggests is possible, it’s going to stink.

But reading deeper into Shaikin’s story, perhaps we shouldn’t worry.

… In 2006, the New York Mets sold the naming rights to Citi Field for $400 million — a record for a major league team — but the market has cooled since then. The Texas Rangers, the two-time defending American League champions, do not have a corporate name atop their ballpark. Neither do the Miami Marlins, even for the grand opening of their stadium this year.

In 2003, as Frank McCourt completed his purchase of the Dodgers, his business plan included the sale of naming rights. … McCourt did not sell the naming rights to Dodger Stadium, but he received interest from several corporations, according to people familiar with the team’s sale process.

David Carter, executive director of the USC Sports Business Institute, said a new owner would be wise to at least consider a naming rights deal but wiser still not to make any immediate move in that direction.

“You have to list that as part of your marketing inventory, but it would never be the first club out of the bag for a new owner, because of the sensitivity,” Carter said.

“A new owner is not going to want to come in and trample over the brand he is trying to restore. …

Edison Field ceased to exist after the 2003 season, when the company canceled the deal. Arte Moreno, who had just bought the team from Disney, did not pursue another deal and opted to call the ballpark Angel Stadium.

“He’s not selling the naming rights,” Wagner said, “because he sees the value of the brand.”

Mar 21

Kershaw-Lincecum 2011: Epic


ESPN.com and ESPNLosAngeles.com have a small package on the Clayton Kershaw-Tim Lincecum rivalry, including the video above and this story by Tim Keown. I contributed my own piece to the coverage, which begins thusly:

Clayton Kershaw’s third start of 2011 against the San Francisco Giants is largely forgotten. Having thrown 26 1/3 consecutive shutout innings against San Francisco, the young lefty hit a snag during which he allowed singles to seven Giants in an eight-batter stretch over the third and fourth innings May 18 in Los Angeles.

The first three singles came with two out in the third and led to a run. The next four led off the top of the fourth, and were followed by a walk to one Mike Fontenot and then a sacrifice fly by Aaron Rowand. As sudden as a storm, Kershaw found himself trailing 4-0.

But if the moment served to remind the world that Kershaw was human, it also seemed truly aberrational, a wayward asteroid in the Dodgers-Giants galaxy dominated by the rivalry between Kershaw and Tim Lincecum last season. For one thing, Lincecum didn’t start — Matt Cain was the beneficiary of San Francisco’s unexpected offense. For another, the Giants’ lead didn’t hold, thanks to an out-of-nowhere rally by the Los Angeles Dodgers capped by three runs in the bottom of the eighth. The deciding pitcher of the night was not Kershaw, but Lance Cormier, who surrendered a three-run game-winning home run to Cody Ross in the ninth. It was just the Giants and the Dodgers, acting nutty again.

In other words, when the stars weren’t aligned to bring Kershaw and Lincecum into the same orbit last season, there was little rhyme or reason to what might happen on the ballfield. But when they were, there was no altering the gravitational pull. Lincecum would pitch magnificently; Kershaw even more so. Each and every time. …

You can read my whole piece here.

Mar 20

Another painful Spring Training for De Jesus

Very sorry to hear that Ivan De Jesus Jr. has a left-oblique tear, three years after the March broken leg that derailed his career.  Star-crossed kid.

  • Good tidbit on longshot bullpen contender and Royal High graduate Scott Rice, from Ken Gurnick of MLB.com. “He’s easy to find in the Dodgers’ clubhouse, and not just because he’s 6-foot-6,” Gurnick writes. “His locker is located in the section assigned to players that are generally the first to be cut. Sure enough, eight lockers to his right are now empty, as are five lockers to his left.”
  • Dee Gordon needed only a home run for the cycle today.
  • Andre Ethier: still on fire.
  • Grant Brisbee is as entertaining as usual in his look at the 2012 Dodgers for Baseball Nation.
  • Wednesday at 9 p.m., NBC premieres a new sitcom, Bent. The Peacock, as we say at Variety, is racing through the entire six-episode order in three weeks – putting the premiere against Modern Family, no less – so you might think the network is ashamed of it. But I think the show is worth watching and only grows on you. TV critics Brian Lowry at Variety and Alan Sepinwall at HitFix agree with me. So check it out.
Mar 20

Question time

In my latest piece for ESPNLosAngeles.com, I look past Spring Training toward a dozen questions facing the 2012 Dodgers.

So few questions, so much time.

That would seem to be the sentiment of a sedate Spring Training for the Dodgers, who have little in the way of starting-position battles or Manny Ramirez-like mischief to put their fans on the edge of their seats. Rather, you get the feeling that fans are already antsy to get the season launched.

But rest assured by Opening Day, there will be plenty of questions facing the Medium-Sized Blue Wrecking Crew. Here are a dozen of them, with the best available answers. …

Read the full piece here.

Mar 19

Kuo’s future again uncertain after release by Mariners

Hong-Chih Kuo’s future as a major-leaguer grew darker still today, when he was released by the Seattle Mariners with a 17.55 ERA in six appearances. If he clears waivers, he could end up with any team on a minor-league contract – including the Dodgers, as Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles notes.

The Dodgers “would be willing to listen if Kuo and his agent, Alan Chang, were to approach them, a team source said on condition of anonymity after Kuo was released on Monday by the Seattle Mariners, for whom he had struggled all spring,” Jackson wrote.

“I think (Kuo) just needs more time,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge told Greg Johns of MLB.com. “You’d see times when he’d find it, but he just wasn’t able to be consistent with it. And with where we are in camp and the decisions we have to make, he just wasn’t going to be part of the puzzle initially.”

* * *

  • Former Great Lakes Loons teammates Clayton Kershaw and Carlos Santana excelled for the Dodgers and Indians today in Cleveland’s 4-3 victory, notes Ken Gurnick of MLB.com. Kershaw allowed one run in 5 1/3 innings with five strikeouts (but still took the loss), while Santana hit a monster home run off Javy Guerra in the sixth.
  • Jerry Hairston made two more errors at shortstop and is now fielding .556 at the position this spring. Meanwhile, Justin Sellers went 3 for 4.
  • The Stanley Gold-Roy Disney ownership group was reinstated into the bidding for the Dodgers by a mediator, making the quartet of finalists a quintet, according to Bill Shaikin of the Times.
  • Dodger Sims looks at different projection systems, including its own, and finds the Dodgers most likely to win between 78 and 82 games this season.
  • From the same source, vote on your favorite Dodgers in a tourney-style bracket here.
  • The Dodgers are one of 19 major-league teams to ban alcohol in their home clubhouse, reports Kevin Baxter of the Times.
  • With Kansas City Royals closer Joakim Soria headed for Tommy John surgery, more will probably be asked of Jonathan Broxton. Either Broxton or Greg Holland will inherit the Royals’ closer spot, writes Dick Kaegel of MLB.com.
  • Jamie Moyer’s bid to make the Colorado starting rotation at age 49 took a blow today when he allowed four runs on six hits in 1 1/3 innings against Arizona’s Triple-A team, notes D.J. Short of Hardball Talk.
  • Here’s a nice interview by Alex Belth of Bronx Banter with Paul Haddad, author of High Fives, Pennant Drives and Fernandomania. More audio clips of Vinny, too!
Mar 19

Clayton Kershaw birthday flashback: Public Enemy No. 1

In honor of Clayton Kershaw’s 24th birthday today, let us return to a time of innocence and wonder.

It has only been four years and 10 days since I posted a video of the first game Kershaw pitched in that was broadcast by Vin Scully. Wearing uniform No. 96, Kershaw dazzled our fair Vinny with a curveball that froze Sean Casey of the Boston Red Sox.

That video, to my astonishment, earned more than 750,000 hits on YouTube before copyright issues forced its removal. I still have the original copy on my computer, but as far as online goes, it’s harder and harder to find. But here, in not-so-pristine condition, is a link to that video.

That afternoon, Ken Gurnick of MLB.com published a feature on the not-quite-20-year-old Kershaw.

… the buzz Kershaw has created with his 97-mph fastball and jaw-dropping curveball already had teammates raving. Then Torre watched another inning and joined in Clayton-mania.

“That was pretty good, wasn’t it?” Torre asked, knowing the answer.

He said the Dodgers were “not really looking at that” when asked if Kershaw was competing for the fifth-starter spot, although Torre didn’t say no, either. He said the No. 1 priority is Kershaw’s “well-being,” but acknowledged that “you never know for sure the best way to proceed.”

Meaning, if a young player is special enough, there’s no such thing as rushing him. Torre even used the word “special” to describe Kershaw’s curveball. He talked about Kershaw facing “a pretty good part” of a World Series championship lineup with a two-pitch repertoire. While discussing a still-developing changeup Kershaw throws to right-handed hitters, Torre couldn’t help but draw a reference to the greatest Dodgers left-hander of them all who, coincidentally, spent part of this game in the clubhouse talking pitching with Scott Proctor.

“There was a left-handed pitcher in this organization with only a fastball and curve and he was pretty good,” said Torre. “But I don’t want to put that kind of pressure on him. He’s not too far away from the changeup. He’s got it; it’s a matter of locating it.”

Yes, Kershaw’s got it. He’s also got the clubhouse sensing that an impact player has arrived. Catcher Russell Martin has already said Kershaw throws the best curveball he’s caught.

“He’s really good, man,” said Martin.

Kershaw would give the Dodgers a left-hander in an otherwise all-right-handed starting rotation. It’s hard to find a current Dodgers player who watches Kershaw and doesn’t believe he’s ready for the Major Leagues.

“I wish you could see a video of what I saw from center field,” said Matt Kemp, who made his spring debut in center field Sunday. “He throws that curveball so hard and it snaps 12 to six like you’ve never seen.”…

To think he has fulfilled so many expectations so far.  Amazing.  Happy birthday, Clayton.