Dec 07

Getting the gang back together: Vicente Padilla returns for $2 million

When I first heard last week that the Dodgers were still interested in signing Vicente Padilla, I was surprised … then not. And then I thought it was a shaky idea … and then not.

And now comes the news that he has signed for a mere $2 million (plus incentives), pending a physical. That’s just a good idea.

Padilla can be used as a spot starter (on a team that reason to worry that it might need one), as a middle reliever, and even as a set-up man and occasional closer (ideally, to provide rest for the full-time closer that is already pitching so, so well). It’s a role that can be very valuable, and one that has been filled on the Dodgers at times with authority using someone like Wilson Alvarez, and less so at other times using someone like Carlos Monasterios or Jeff Weaver.

Padilla’s recent health history has lowered expectations for him, and in turn his salary, but it’s a good deal. He’s close to the same guy who earned more than twice as much last season. He never should have been an Opening Day starter, but as an Opening Day jack-of-all-pitching trades, I’m all for it.

With Padilla and Hiroki Kuroda signing contracts below what one would think would be their market value, one might get the impression that some people find Los Angeles to be a nice place to pitch.

Coming up next … another outfielder?

Dec 04

How would you have spent that money?

So far this offseason, the Dodgers have committed a minimum of $27.9 million in 2011 salary and $74.9 million in overall 2011-and-beyond salary (thanks to Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. for the quick snapshot). This much we know.

So, how would you have spent that money?

* * *

The Padres are about to roll the dice, trading Adrian Gonzalez – their best player, and perhaps the NL West’s best as well – for a package of Red Sox minor leaguers, according to Buster Olney of ESPN.

For some historical context of the trade, read Craig Calcaterra of Hardball Talk.

Dec 03

Dodgers sign Rod Barajas for $3.25 million

Groupon might have turned down $6 billion from Google, but Rod Barajas knows a great deal when he sees one.

As we suspected after enjoying a similar late-season hot streak,  Barajas will join the likes of Jay Gibbons and Ted Lilly in in a Dodger uniform next season, having signed a one-year contract to return to the team. What we didn’t suspect was how much he would get paid.

A year ago, Barajas went unsigned until February, before getting a $500,000 base salary from the Mets and another $400,000 for making the Opening Day roster, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts. The potential of $1 million in performance bonuses gave him a maximum 2010 income of $1.9 million.

He then went onto have a .263 on-base percentage and .414 slugging percentage before being designated for assignment in August. The Dodgers picked him up, and he had a hot streak. Barajas, who turned 35 in September, ripped a .939 OPS for the Dodgers, though only over 72 plate appearances.

Somehow, he has parlayed that into a $3.25 million guarantee for 2011. Incredible. That’s at least double my estimate of his market value — I had thought Barajas and Gibbons could be had for $2 million combined. Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. was in a similar neighborhood — $1.5 million for Barajas.

After his peak season of 2005, when he was only 30, Barajas only drew a $3.2 million salary. Somehow, he has managed to top it.

Looking at the totality of his career (.284 OBP, .696 OPS), it seems more likely that he’ll be next year’s version of Ronnie Belliard at the plate (if not Marlon Anderson 2007). For someone who contribute as much (or as little) as Barajas, it’s a shocking amount of money.

Dec 02

Russell Martin is on the open market


Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireRussell Martin

He was something special. And then he wasn’t.

It happens to the best of ‘em, but I can’t believe it happened this fast.

It is most certainly a non-tender night. The Dodgers have parted ways with 27-year-old Russell Martin, at least for now, by not offering him a 2011 contract. Again, the reason: They would have had to guarantee the slumping and injured catcher at least 80% of his 2010 salary, and risk paying him even more – easily over $6 million – if they lost an arbitration hearing.

If it were simply a case of Martin’s offensive struggles, I think Dodger general manager Ned Colletti would have guaranteed his contract, as they have done today with James Loney. But the uncertainty over his recovery from his hip injury made Los Angeles that much more guarded about spending all those millions. Wrote Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com:

… the Dodgers’ first choice was to bring Martin back if an agreement could be reached on a contract that would have paid him a lower base salary than what he received in 2010. Colletti said that in the final minutes before the 9 p.m. PST deadline, Colleran lowered Martin’s asking price to a simple $5 million guarantee, but the Dodgers weren’t willing to go that high.

“We were willing to get to the same point with performance bonuses, but not with a guaranteed $5 million,” Colletti said.

This isn’t necessarily the end of Martin’s Dodger career – he is free to negotiate with the Dodgers, as with all 29 other teams, for any contract, and Colletti told reporters that they would still talk. (Among other things, Jackson wrote that the Dodgers were interested in Martin in a utility role.)

But given that the parties couldn’t come to terms by this point, it seems unlikely to me that they would at any other. And that was made even more the case when, as Jackson reported, the Dodgers moved closer to signing Rod Barajas to a one-year contract.

“I think we are on the cusp of getting something done in a different direction,” Colletti said. “I wasn’t going to go to sleep tonight without a big league catcher here besides [backup] A.J. [Ellis]. We’re pretty far down the road with something, and it should come to fruition in a short period of time. This is somebody who, if the season were to start today, would take the lion’s share of [playing time], with A.J. in a backup role.”

The rest of the Dodgers’ decisions today went according to form. George Sherrill, like Martin, was non-tendered (as was September call-up Trent Oeltjen), while Loney, Hong-Chih Kuo and Chad Billingsley all were guaranteed 2011 contracts.

Nov 30

Dodgers trade Theriot for Hawksworth

Steve Mitchell/US PresswireBlake Hawksworth

It’s not always about making an impression.  On June 7 against the Dodgers, Blake Hawksworth had his worst outing of 2010, allowing six runs in four innings.

But with Juan Uribe’s signing (made official today) rendering Ryan Theriot irrelevant, the Dodgers shipped the temporary second baseman off to St. Louis in exchange for Hawksworth.

The North Vancouver-born righthander, who will be 28 in March, had a nice debut season in 2009, posting a 2.03 ERA in 40 innings of relief despite striking out only 4.5 per nine innings. In 90 innings over 45 appearances this past season (including eight starts with a 5.83 ERA), Hawksworth’s ERA soared to 4.98.

In other words, he’ll fit right in with a Dodger bullpen that is looking for a number of comeback performances.  But considering that Theriot was about to be non-tendered a contract, for nothing in return, Hawksworth will suffice as a salvage operation.

Nov 30

The Dodger-Giant tradeoff


Getty Images“He was sentenced to be my Butler.”

Juan Uribe is poised to become the 47th player to wear both a Giants and Dodgers uniform since 1988, according to Baseball-Reference.com via ESPN Stats and Information (which also provides this analysis of the Uribe signing).

Though signing ex-Giants might seem a Ned Colletti fetish, the players have been going between the two teams in a relatively steady stream over those past 22 years, with hardly a moment, if any, in which at least one player on one team hadn’t at one time played on the other.

If you’ll allow for the somewhat subjective characterizations below, you’ll find that the Giants and Dodgers have had similar success (or lack thereof) with transplants. The number of players who have made relevant contributions to both teams is only five (and that includes Matt Herges and Marquis Grissom as “relevant”). Conversely, nearly half of the players on this list have been pretty much meaningless for both teams.

By the same token, the number of players going from relevancy with one team to irrelevancy with the other, or vice versa, has been practically equal.

If there’s any sort of noteworthy differential, it’s been that the Dodgers have been more likely to make an irrelevant Giant fill the same role in Los Angeles. I mean, really – 15 of these guys?

Anyway, I’m more than a bit concerned that Uribe will become relevant-Giant-turned-irrelevant-Dodger No. 9, but Dodger fans can hope for the best.

Relevant Giant becomes relevant Dodger (2)
Brett Butler
Jeff Kent

Relevant Dodger becomes relevant Giant (3)
Marquis Grissom
Matt Herges
Dave Roberts

Irrelevant Giant becomes irrelevant Dodger (15)
Troy Brohawn
Gary Carter
Dennis Cook (pitched well but briefly for both teams)
Jose Cruz, Jr.
Roberto Hernandez
Shea Hillenbrand
Ricky Ledee
Justin Miller
Terry Mulholland
Rick Parker
F.P. Santangelo
Cory Snyder
Mark Sweeney
Jack Taschner
Rick Wilkins

Irrelevant Dodger becomes irrelevant Giant (6)
Dave Anderson
Todd Benzinger
Eric Davis
Tom Goodwin
Jim Poole
Jose Vizcaino (twice)

Relevant Giant becomes irrelevant Dodger (8)
Brian Johnson (afraid so)
Darren Lewis
Ramon Martinez (II)
Brent Mayne
Bill Mueller
Russ Ortiz
Jason Schmidt
Brett Tomko

Relevant Dodger becomes irrelevant Giant (6)
Steve Finley (a half season in L.A., but a big one)
Orel Hershiser
Guillermo Mota
Brad Penny
Darryl Strawberry (had big ’91 season)
Eric Young

Irrelevant Giant becomes relevant Dodger (3)
Wilson Alvarez
Trenidad Hubbard (hit .304 in 313 at-bats in Los Angeles)
Kenny Lofton (hit .301 in Los Angeles)

Irrelevant Dodger becomes relevant Giant (3)
Stan Javier
Felix Rodriguez
Cody Ross (afraid so)

Nov 29

Report: Juan Uribe to unlock Treasure of Dodger Island


Cary Edmondson/US PresswireJuan Uribe

If you’re a 29-year-old ballplayer who has suffered through four pretty miserable offensive seasons, let Juan Uribe be your patron saint.

Though it’s not official, Uribe is poised to sign a three-year, $21 million contract with the Dodgers, according to Buster Olney of ESPN the Magazine, two years after having been mediocre-to-miserable offensively with the Chicago White Sox from 2005-08. He averaged 16 homers per year during that period, but his on-base percentage ranged only from .257 to .301, leaving him far below average as a hitter. In January 2009, Uribe signed a minor-league contract that guaranteed him only $1 million if he made the major-league roster.

But Uribe experienced something of a rebirth, in San Francisco of all places, and largely after turning 30 (although ESPN.com and Baseball-Reference.com disagree about his birthdate by four months). Uribe had an .824 OPS in 2009 for the Giants, then followed it up with a .749 mark and some pennant-worthy heroics for the World Series champions.

And now, Uribe, who still made a relatively lean $3.25 million in 2010, has apparently more than doubled his income in becoming the Dodgers’ starting second baseman, as well as a guy who, like Jamey Carroll, can play short or third if needed. He fills a hole that needed filling for the Dodgers, but not at all cheaply. (Scholars will debate whether, with his on-base difficulties, he will be millions in value better than Blake DeWitt would have been, and Joe Pawlikowski of Fangraphs notes that in career terms, Uribe doesn’t even beat Ryan Theriot in value.). Uribe was a bargain for the Giants, but he’ll have to play at his best, for quite a long time, just to be worth his salary for the Dodgers.

Nov 19

Ex-Dodgers Delwyn Young, Andy La Roche are castaways


Matt Slocum/APAndy LaRoche congratluates Delwyn Young after Young’s solo home run May 17 in Philadelphia.

Two seasons ago, the Dodgers gave away Delwyn Young, then sent Andy LaRoche away to get Manny Ramirez a few months later. Now, the Dodgers can have them back for nothing. Pittsburgh designated Young and LaRoche for assignment today.

Both players occasionally flashed ability but mostly have washed out. That’s not as big a surprise for Young, who was never expected to be much more than a bench player, but the bigger disappointment was LaRoche, whose fine minor-league career seemed to have him poised for a starting role. Indeed, yours truly insisted in 2008 that the Dodgers didn’t give LaRoche a fair chance to win the third-base job before deciding to trade Carlos Santana and Jon Meloan for Casey Blake, days before the Ramirez trade.

When LaRoche was sent away (along with minor-league pitcher Bryan Morris), I consoled myself with the fact that at least the Dodgers were getting a major talent back. And more than ever, there’s no doubt the trade was a major win for the Dodgers, especially with injuries and stagnating development making LaRoche a discard.

Either player might be worth a flyer on a minor-league contract, especially considering the Dodgers’ depth issues, but based on Ned Colletti’s past actions, if there’s any ex-Pirate he’d be taking a chance on for next season’s major-league roster, it would be today’s third DFA, Zach Duke. Duke is five years removed from the 1.81 ERA he posted in his rookie debut and hasn’t averaged more than 5.5 strikeouts per nine innings since, but he did have a 4.06 ERA in 2009 and will still only be 28 in April. For a general manager who saw potential in every R. Ortiz under the sun, Duke certainly seems like someone whose tires would get kicked.

And believe it or not, there’s a fourth ex-Pirate in the Dodger news today, though don’t expect to see him in Los Angeles. The Dodgers purchased the contracts of two players and added them to their 40-man roster – one was 28-year-old catcher Hector Gimenez, who had a .916 OPS for the Pirates’ Double-A team in Altoona – the first time in eight professional seasons he had broken the .800 mark.

The other was Luis Vasquez (25 in April), who had a nifty 2.68 ERA and with 39 strikeouts in 40 1/3 innings, but all the way down in Single-A. Vasquez allowed only 24 hits but walked 26.

No, this doesn’t mean the Dodgers have solved their catching and bullpen issues. Nor, certainly, have they provided us an answer who will start in left field in 2011, though Colletti gave Jim Bowden of MLB Network Radio (news via MLB Trade Rumors) this conversation piece: Jay Gibbons, Xavier Paul and Jamie Hoffmann are all considered candidates to be the outfield’s Opening Day third wheel.

* * *

Don Mattingly completed his managerial stint in the Arizona Fall League, and Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com touched base with him.

Nov 18

De Jesus working his way back into relevance

Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com has taken a journey down into the Dodger farm system, returning with a couple of stories: a feature on Ivan De Jesus Jr., along with updates on seven other minor-leaguers. Here’s the opening to the DeJesus story:

One look at Ivan De Jesus Jr.’s numbers in the Arizona Fall League, which concludes Thursday, could yield the reasonable conclusion that the longtime Los Angeles Dodgers infield prospect is ready for the major leagues. One look at what he did in the Pacific Coast League this season could make you wonder why he didn’t receive a September call-up to a team that by September really didn’t have much to lose. …

In other news …

  • The desultory trade of James McDonald and Andrew Lambo has led the Dodgers to Double-A outfielder-infielder Anthony Jackson, namesake of ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Dodger beat writer. The Dodgers have confirmed that Jackson has become the player to be named later coming from Colorado in September’s Octavio Dotel deal, Dotel having been acquired earlier this summer for McDonald and Lambo.

    Jackson is 26 years old and had a .676 OPS for Tulsa last season. The next time anyone wants to throw Dave Roberts-for-Henri Stanley in Paul DePodesta’s face, send ‘em this.

  • Retired catcher Brad Ausmus has taken his celebrated brain to the Padres, where he will be a special assistant in baseball operations.
  • Former Dodger reliever Cory Wade has signed a minor-league deal with Tampa Bay, according to Matt Eddy of Baseball America, while Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. passes along the news that veteran Justin Miller has signed a minor-league deal with Seattle. We’ll always have April-September 2008, Cory.
  • Gary Wills has a nice piece on a man of admired/worshipped, Doonesbury’s Garry Trudeau, in the New York Review of Books (link via Bronx Banter).
  • Franklin Avenue’s fifth-annual Great Los Angeles Walk is set for Saturday, rain or shine. This year’s version marks a return to the event’s roots — traversing Wilshire Boulevard from downtown to its end in Santa Monica.
Nov 16

It’s whom you pay, not when you pay them


Ric Tapia/Icon SMIThe problem isn’t that the Dodgers are still paying Jason Schmidt; the problem is that Jason Schmidt couldn’t pitch no matter what date his paychecks arrived.

With a third of Hiroki Kuroda’s new contract coming in the form of a signing bonus to be paid in 2012 and 2013, naturally the subject of the Dodgers deferring salaries has come up again. On that subject, let me make these points:

  1. Though they have certainly turned it into an art form, deferred payments are nothing unique to the Dodgers or the McCourt ownership. They can’t even lay claim to the grand-deferred-daddy of them all, the Mets’ 35-year Bobby Bonilla plan.
  2. Deferred payments aren’t an inherently bad way to operate a business. To oversimplify, if you are making good investments with the capital as you hang onto it, you will come out ahead.
  3. The primary issue with the money the Dodgers owe players who are no longer on the roster isn’t the money — it’s the players. The problem is not that they’re still paying Jason Schmidt, Juan Pierre or Andruw Jones — it’s that those contracts were so unfortunate, period.  We could have taken Schmidt to a $47 million lunch at the Palm a few years ago and called it a day — it wouldn’t have made that deal turn out any better.
  4. Remember that some deferred contracts did not start that way. For example, Jones’ deal was restructured to accommodate the 2009 Manny Ramirez signing, so that the Dodgers would have other options besides Jones and Juan Pierre in left field. The ongoing flow of cash to Jones are less about a philosophy of deferring payments than about trying to make lemonade from lemons.
  5. Backloaded contracts that are used on productive players have the potential to be good. Keeping Ted Lilly and Hiroki Kuroda to single-digit millions now, enabling the team to spend more to address other pressing needs, is a viable strategy — especially if you believe that down the road, more TV dollars and a better economy might make the backloaded contracts easier to pay off.
  6. Certainly, there’s an argument that the Dodgers should reign their spending and stop buying players on credit. Heck, I’m one of those rare birds who would watch a homegrown, low-rent squad. But if you do that now, given the chaos in team ownership, you’d have to brace yourself for a 2011 team as leaky as a bad roof.
  7. Yes, the McCourt ownership could sell a house and take care of all this year’s deferred payments in an instant. But I’m not holding my breath for that.

In a nutshell, the timeframe for paying player salaries is fairly low on the issues bedeviling the Dodgers. Achieving a combination of good decisions and good luck regarding the roster is far more important. Even as the McCourt drama plays out, the Dodgers will thrive or dive depending on their personnel choices.

Eventually, the Dodgers will either operate one season on a limited budget, or they’ll find the revenue to bring their finances back to steadier ground.  I’m betting on the latter. In any case, what matters is that they spend their money wisely, whenever they spend it.

Nov 15

Kuroda deal is done for $12 million

Hiroki Kuroda has officially returned to the Dodgers for 2011, receiving an $8 million base salary plus a $4 million signing bonus that will be paid out over the following two years. Not only did the Dodgers not make a multiyear commitment, but Kuroda isn’t even really getting a raise despite having his best year with the Dodgers in 2010. Kuroda made $13 million in 2010, the final year of a three-year contract that averaged $11.8 million. Take this with a grain of salt for a guy earning eight figures, but this one wasn’t all about money. He could have gotten a bigger deal elsewhere.

“When we ended the season, we had really two guys (who were) bonafide major-league starters signed in Chad (Billingsley and Clayton (Kershaw),” Dodger general manager Ned Colletti said in a conference call. “We needed to upgrade the rotation, certainly needed to add to it. We did it with the signing of Ted (Lilly), and getting Hiroki back was another great move for us.

“We were interested in doing something maybe with an option for another year, but our appetite was one year as well. It fit with what he was looking to do and it fit with what we were looking to do.”

Colletti said it was uncertain whether the Dodgers would sign a fifth veteran starting pitcher – amid other concerns about the position players – but that the team would certainly explore it.

“Too soon to tell,” he said. “We’ve still got a lot of oars in the water, a lot of different things going on. … (Signing Kuroda) doesn’t close the door on anybody, but I can’t be specific on any free agents.”

Colletti said that the deal came together rather easily. He talked to Kuroda’s U.S. agent, Steve Hilliard, with a week to go in the regular season, and then to Kuroda on the final day of the season, telling him “just let us know when you know what you want to do.”

About two weeks later, Hilliard said Kuroda wanted to come back for one more season, and the deal came together relatively easily.

“I think when you know what you want to do, and you have the opportunity to do it, some people want to procrastinate and drag it out, other people are comfortable with what they want to do,” Colletti said.

“I think he had a good experience here in L.A. I think he liked being a Dodger. I think his family liked the idea of coming back. … As it was potentially a good fit three years ago, I think he looked back on it and felt it still would be.”

On other topics, Colletti said that he has had three or four informal conversations with Joe Torre, but is waiting for Torre to spell out “what he wants to do and when he wants to do it” with regards to whether he will return to the Dodgers in some capacity.

Colletti wrapped up by saying he expects to formally announce the 2011 Dodger coaching staff in the next couple of days. “We’ve got a pretty good feel for it, there’s just some other details we’ve gotta tie up,” he said.

Nov 13

Reports: Kuroda close to returning to Dodgers on one-year deal

From the Dept. of Pleasant Surprises, Hiroki Kuroda is on the verge of returning to the Dodgers.

Negating earlier fears that Kuroda would want a multiyear contract that would take him out of the Dodgers’ spending range, we have since been learning that Kuroda wants to take a short-term approach to his future in the U.S., and is close to signing a one-year contract believed to be worth $12 million, albeit according to anonymous sources.

This signing would solidify the front four of the Dodger starting rotation. That still leaves other areas for the Dodgers to focus on: the remaining uncertainty in the outfield, the infield, at catching, at pitching. So much uncertainty, in fact, that it still seems clear to me that the Dodgers’ 2011 fortunes still heavily depend on rebound seasons from players already in-house.

Kuroda, who suffered through an injury-plagued 2009, was someone who had such a rebound season in 2010. Hopefully, he’s still got even more bounce for the 2011 Dodgers.

  • Dylan Hernandez of the Times has some tidbits. Among them: The Mattingly family requested the Dodgers trade minor-leaguer Preston to get him a fresh start. Also, Cosmo Kramer could be a batboy.
  • Joe Posnanski writes movingly (no shock there) about his father, Bruce Springsteen and “The Promise.”
Nov 04

Dodgers lock up lefty LF/1B in Jay Gibbons for 2011


Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesThe defensive stylings of Jay Gibbons

With an economical $400,000 (plus incentives), the Dodgers have bolstered their bench for 2011 with the signing of Jay Gibbons. Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com has details.

Gibbons, who will be 34 in March, slugged .507 in 80 plate appearances with the Dodgers this year, his first stint in the majors since 2007.

Nov 04

Podsednik declines option, becomes free agent


Dustin Bradford/Icon SMIScott Podsednik has dived into a new organization four times since 2008: Rockies, White Sox, Royals, Dodgers.

Scott Podsednik has chosen free agency over the guaranteed $2 million contract he could have had with the Dodgers for 2011. ESPNLosAngeles.com has details.

Podsednik made $1.65 million plus incentives in 2010. He hasn’t ruled out returning to the Dodgers, meaning that he thinks he can get even more for his services from Ned Colletti.

* * *

Bill Plaschke of the Times talked to both Davey Lopes and Colletti about the prospect of Lopes returning to the Dodgers as a first-base coach and baserunning instructor. I would characterize the quotes as encouraging.

* * *

Farewell, Sparky.