Sep 06

The have nots of baseball running out of time

The Dodgers start today with a magic number of 12 to clinch the NL West. They would actually be able to clinch a divisional title before a wild card playoff spot since second place Arizona is seven games behind the Reds, the current second wild card holder.

Up in San Francisco, the Giants would be mathematically eliminated from the NL West race (although not the wild card), if they lose to Arizona tonight and the Dodgers win. The Brewers and Phillies are one loss away from being eliminated in the NL Central and NL East races.

Over in the American League, the White Sox will be mathematically from all postseason play with a loss to Baltimore or wins by the Rays and Yankees. The second wild race in the AL is turning out to be a bizarre five-way affair involving Tampa Bay, New York, Baltimore, Cleveland, and even Kansas City. The Royals next 12 games are against Detroit and Cleveland.

Atlanta, with a magic number of 10, could clinch the NL East as early as Tuesday. The Dodgers could not do so before Wednesday.

Regardless, the Dodgers clinching date should come sooner than later since they play Arizona seven times in the coming two weeks.

Sep 10

Taking half measures

The Dodgers are off today as they will be the two Mondays after that. So, for a few days, the half-games that appear in the “GB” column in the standings will disappear.

Or at least for some teams, the Dodgers and Cardinals will have the same number of games to play until September 24, when the Dodgers will be off and the Cardinals will be playing in Houston. All the teams in the majors won’t be on equal footing (barring rainouts that can’t be made up) until September 28 when all 30 teams play the final six days of the year.

The Dodgers have an off day on the road as they head off to Phoenix to play a two-game series at Chase Field against the Diamondbacks. They will both start at the traditional screwball Arizona time of 6:40 pm. (Although Arizona is in the Mountain Time Zone, that state, with a few exceptions, doesn’t use Daylight Saving Time, so it’s effectively the same time zone as the Pacific Time Zone during baseball season.) The last time the Dodgers ventured to Arizona was in early July when they lost 3 of 4.

If the Dodgers can survive those two games, and there’s no guarantee they will, they will have their last best chance to get into a playoff spot with four games at home against the Cardinals.

Today, while the Dodgers are off, the Cardinals will be starting their West Coast road trip with a game in San Diego. The Giants will be travelling to Denver to take on the Rockies, who will be mathematically eliminated from the playoffs with a combination of losses or Cardinals wins that add up to three.

 

Feb 04

Tab, you’re it

One new feature at this Dodger Thoughts home is the selection of tabs near the top of the page. So, for example, if you’re only here for the Dodger content, click “Dodgers,” and there you go.

Teaser: I’m planning to add a new tab next week!

Jan 30

Dodger Thoughts is moving


Jeff Lewis/US Presswire

Hi everyone. I’m packing up gear.

January 31 marks the last day for Dodger Thoughts at ESPNLosAngeles.com. Please follow me to my new location, which will have the dodgerthoughts.com URL.

Please note that it could take a few hours before the process of redirecting the URL to the new site is completed. But everything should be ship-shape soon enough.

I would very much like to thank everyone at ESPNLosAngeles for giving me the opportunity to be part of their team for two years. It’s been a great addition to the Los Angeles sports landscape, and I was proud to be part of it. (In fact, you might still see me over at ESPNLosAngeles on a freelance basis.)

And now, on to the next chapter …

Jan 29

The future of Hong-Chih Kuo

Been meaning to wonder aloud about Hong-Chih Kuo, who remains unsigned with February just around the corner. The Dodgers declined to offer salary arbitration to Kuo for obvious reasons following his massive struggles in 2011, but the memory of his 2010 dominance makes him a good guy to have at Spring Training on a low- or no-guarantee contract. A small item in this Nick Cafardo notebook in the Boston Globe (via MLB Trade Rumors) indicates that a few teams feel the same, and Kuo could be signing somewhere soon. Los Angeles? I don’t know …

Jan 28

Expanded playoffs could lower bar for Dodgers in 2012

Can the seventh-best team in the National League in 2011 become the fifth-best team in 2012?

  • Nothing’s official yet, but Bud Selig thinks the expansion of MLB’s playoffs to 10 teams could come this year, reports The Associated Press. “Under the new format, whenever it begins, the non-division winners in each league with the two best records will be the wild cards, meaning a third-place team could for the first time win the World Series.”
  • Today in Jon SooHoo: A contemplative Vin Scully inside the Green Monster at Fenway, 2004. (And from a couple days ago, here’s Scully interviewing Tommy Lasorda at Busch Stadium in the 1980s.)
  • Hiroki Kuroda talked to Dylan Hernandez of the Times at some length about leaving the Dodgers for the Yankees.
  • Paul DePodesta talked to MLB Clubhouse Confidential’s Brian Kenny about “Moneyball,” the Dodgers and his current team, the Mets.
  • The Mets could have the largest single-season payroll cut in MLB history – more than $50 million, according to Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com.
  • Speaking of money: Here’s a yearly progression of the highest-paid player in baseball dating back to Nap Lajoie’s $6,200 salary in 1902, provided by William Juliano at Bronx Banter.
  • Juan Pierre, 34, has signed a minor-league deal with the Phillies, joining Scott Podsednik in the competition for a spot on their roster.  Something tells me that a .279 hitter in 639 at-bats with 27 steals would have gotten a better contract if evaluation methods in baseball hadn’t changed to de-emphasize batting average. His OPS+ was .657 and he was caught stealing 17 times.
  • Another former Dodger, Brad Penny, might be headed for Japan, reports Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com. Penny, 34 in May, had a 5.30 ERA in 31 starts and 181 2/3 innings for Detroit in 2011.
  • Noted by Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports: If Ryan Braun’s 50-game suspension is upheld, his first 2012 game would be May 31 at Dodger Stadium. It’s a weekday afternoon game.
  • This year, Stanford may well have first pair of classmates picked first in both the NFL and MLB drafts: quarterback Andrew Luck and pitcher Mark Appel, writes Jack Blanchat of the Stanford Daily.
  • Some of you might find this interesting: According to this MediaPost story by Mark Walsh, ESPN now feels that “instead of determining how to shoehorn its programming from traditional media to mobile platforms, the process is now reversed, with mobile becoming the starting point.”
  • Maybe the craziest collection of trick shots you’ll ever see is in this video, which is kicked off by Don Mattingly and his son Preston.
  • Even crazier … this IHOP commercial from 1969 (via Emma Span).
  • Farewell, Robert Hegyes. Hegyes wrote about his “Welcome Back, Kotter” experience at his website. Groucho Marx and Lucille Ball were fans.

* * *

The deadline is fast approaching, but there are still spots open to play in TheLFP.com Softball Tournament on February 11 at Big League Dreams in West Covina, where readers of Dodger blogs will play with and against each other. Sign up and be part of the fun.

Jan 26

Reports: Dodgers were finalists for Fielder

By offering big bucks up front and an opt-out clause after four years of a seven-year deal, the Dodgers were finalists in the bidding for Prince Fielder after all — and perhaps would have signed him if Detroit, reeling from the ACL injury to Victor Martinez, hadn’t swooped in.

Buster Olney of ESPN.com makes note of this, and we can glean more from a report by Jon Heyman and Danny Knobler of CBSSports.comContinue reading

Jan 25

Wow, where did all these links come from?

A bundle of clickable goodness today …

  • Andre Ethier had some interesting comments in an interview Tuesday with ESPN AM 710.

    … Asked about wanting to be with the Dodgers long-term, Ethier said, “It comes down to the security part, too, but it also comes down to unfinished business and I feel like, yeah, I’m facing that decision now where hopefully it doesn’t come down to me having to leave and [I can] be a part of this team when we start rebounding and getting back to where we need to be.”The ownership limbo seemingly affected the Dodgers’ ability to deal in free agency this offseason, with general manager Ned Colletti saying earlier this month the team was essentially done with its offseason acquisitions because “we’re at our payroll.” So when news broke Tuesday of the Detroit Tigers nearing a deal with marquee free agent Prince Fielder, it wasn’t lost on Ethier.

    “Why can’t the Dodgers be doing that? Look at the markets those two teams are, and the stability you see through the front office and the team being able to operate … on the level it should be,” he said, adding, “you don’t try to think of it too much as a player, but obviously if you’re not going after the big fish like other teams are, like our partners are down there to the south of us, the Angels [who acquired Albert Pujols], it’s tough to go out there and keep competing year after year if you’re not going out there and making your team better every year. “I think that’s the situation we’ve been in. Obviously it’s going to get better from here on out because of the sell and getting new people in there.”

    Ethier, who hit .292 with 11 home runs and 62 RBIs in 2011 before ending the season with a right knee injury, said he’s aiming for a “strong, solid” 2012.

    “I’ve kind of dealt with this knee thing for the past two years, put it off for one off-season and then last season it just became a thing where a lot of things started multiplying and getting worse and something where I couldn’t quite get back my swing … It was very frustrating and I learned a lot from that.”

  • Ethier participated in a prank on Dustin Pedroia for a Boston radio station. Roberto Baly of Vin Scully Is My Homeboy has more.
  • Matt Kemp’s new contract looks even more valuable in the wake of the Prince Fielder signing, writes Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness.
  • Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports offers up a wintertime preview of their 19th-ranked MLB team, the 2012 Dodgers.
  • Former Dodger co-owner and managing partner Bob Daly had even more to say Tuesday (in an interview with T.J. Simers of the Times) than Ethier. Daly is highly critical of Frank McCourt, critical of the Dodgers’ offseason signings and critical of himself for not trading prospects for a bat in the middle of the 2002 season — though I would say that was a period in which the Dodgers didn’t have a whole lot of trade value in the system.
  • Steve Dilbeck of the Times wonders if the potential interest of St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke in buying the Dodgers could be the first domino that leads to Frank McCourt becoming an NFL minority owner.
  • In a separate post, Dilbeck also offers why the Dodgers might win the National League West, despite all their uncertainty.
  • Just when I think I can’t read any more Hall of Fame voting insight, here comes Lewie Pollis of Behind the Boxscore with a new take, about what he calls “a mistaken assumption about the balloting process: that writers’ own observations of players were expected to be primary factors in their votes.”
  • Daryle Ward, who infamously batted .183 and slugged .193 at age 28 for the 2003 Dodgers, received a 50-game suspension from MLB for testing positive for a banned amphetamine. Ward, who has a .768 lifetime OPS, hasn’t played in the majors since 2008.
  • Former Dodger infielder Wilson Valdez, who ended up the winning pitcher for the Phillies over the Reds in a 19-inning game last May, was traded to the Reds today.
  • There’s speculation about whether Patrick Soon-Shiong, who owns 4.5 percent of the Lakers, will get involved with a Dodger ownership bid, such as Magic Johnson’s. Bill Shaikin of the Times addresses it today. Soon-Shiong bought Johnson’s share of the Lakers in 2010. Arash Markazi of ESPNLosAngeles.com interviewed Soon-Shiong in November.
  • The Left Field Pavilion blog has invited all prospective Dodger owners to come out to the Dodger blogs softball tournament February 11 and “meet the bloggers and fans of the team you are trying to purchase.”
  • Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, 26, is about to become a free agent that MLB teams can bid on. More on Cespedes at Baseball America. The Dodgers are not rumored to be pursuing him. “Projections based off his Cuban numbers show a good but not great hitter with 25-homer power and poor strike-zone control,” writes Aaron Gleeman of Hardball Talk.
  • Sam Miller of the Orange County Register is quickly emerging as a baseball writer of the highest order. He has two new freelance pieces: an account of Scott Boras’ beginnings as an agent for Baseball Prospectus, and a pitch-by-pitch account of how the Angels signed Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson for ESPN the Magazine.
  • Kevin Kaduk at Yahoo! Sports blogs about a law in Florida “that any ballpark or stadium that receives taxpayer money shall serve as a homeless shelter on the dates that it is not in use.”
Jan 24

Prince Fielder close to deal with the Tigers

Prince Fielder and the Detroit Tigers are close to a contract — a nine-year, $214 million contract. That’s a bigger deal than I expected Fielder to get, and I’m not surprised or particularly crushed that the Dodgers didn’t top it.

My main concern was that the Dodgers might miss out on a great deal on Fielder under the misguided notion that they couldn’t even consider him. With their new TV contract staring them in the face, the Dodgers still could have afforded Fielder even at this mammoth contract size, but I won’t lose sleep over the fact that they’re stuck without him. Life and baseball move on, and we’ll dream of what might happen for the Dodgers after the new owner is in place.

Forbes (via Maury Brown), by the way, says that based on initial offers, Frank McCourt can expect a minimum of $1.5 billion as a sale price. Man.

Jan 22

Thirty-two years without Super Bowl fever

It still seems like such a significant period in my life, but it really was just so short.

Five seasons. Five seasons between the moment, at an exhibition victory over Dallas at the Coliseum in August 1975, when I fell suddenly and deeply in love with the Rams (and sports in general), and their departure from the Coliseum for Anaheim following the 1979-80 campaign. Five seasons that I was a Los Angeles Rams fan hard and true.

I still have the Lawrence McCutcheon T-shirt to prove it.

Almost immediately after moving from Chicago to Los Angeles in 1950, my dad’s family had obtained season tickets to the Rams. He held them through ’80, giving the long Woodland Hills-to-Anaheim commute a short try before deciding enough was enough. We got season tickets to the Dodgers the next year.

The Rams were serious Super Bowl contenders every one of those five years – something that not even the True Blue Dodgers of that era could say – and every one of those five years ended in disappointment.  Bitter and bitterly cold in Minnesota. Rain-slogged against the Vikings in Los Angeles. Twin 37-7 and 28-0 pastings by the Cowboys, each in front of the Coliseum crowd. And of course, the so-close-and-yet-so-far lone Super Bowl appearance, with perhaps the weakest Rams team of them all taking a lead into the fourth quarter against might Pittsburgh, Jack Youngblood making Kirk Gibson look like small potatoes, only to let it slip away.

With their move to Anaheim, the Rams took my passion with them. I had dalliances with the Los Angeles Raiders and with the Bill Walsh-infused 49ers, dalliances that spackled the void but never meant nearly as much. The St. Louis Rams weren’t even an eyebrow-raiser. And so I realize now that Friday marked 32 years since I last really cared about who won an NFL championship.

The Rams gave birth to me becoming a sports fan, but like an absentee father, they long since left me to fend for myself.

Say what you will about the Dodgers’ downs and further-downs since 1988, but the passion (as much as I would almost want it to) has never fled. In some ways, it’s kind of a miracle.

Jan 22

Fielder-to-Dodgers momentum building?

I wrote in October that the Dodgers could and should sign Prince Fielder. More and more people appear to be coming around to the idea, as this post at Hardball Talk indicates. T.J. Simers of the Times also picked up the banner.

Here’s an excerpt from my piece, written almost exactly three months ago and before the Angels even signed Albert Pujols.

So guess what. The Dodgers should sign Prince Fielder.

Betcha didn’t see that coming.

Here are the reasons:

  • Fielder, who is only 4 1/2 months older than Kemp, might not play until he’s 40, but no one’s going to give him a 12-year contract. The big first baseman should be good for the next several years easily. For all the concerns about his physical condition, he has averaged 160 games per season since 2006.
  • He is truly awesome, not only supplying mammoth power (that admittedly would decline some playing regularly in Dodger Stadium) but also the mammoth on-base percentage that made Manny Ramirez so valuable during his Los Angeles heyday. Fielder’s lifetime OBP is .390, including .381 in road games (.386 in 70 plate appearances at AT&T Park, if that sort of thing interests you). That ability isn’t going to go away anytime soon. …
  • The Dodgers – even the bankrupt Dodgers – can afford him.

That last point is the one I’ve sort of put out of sight, out of mind, out of a belief that it wasn’t even worth thinking about. But then, I started to think about it. The Dodgers could always backload a Fielder contract so that the hefty portion (pun acknowledged but not admired) comes after the post-2013 local TV contract money can be accessed. However, the Dodgers should be able to afford Fielder even if they pay him the proper amount starting next year. …

Wasting money on a bad signing is one thing, but the idea that signing Fielder to a market-value contract would lower the value of the Dodgers in a sale has always been fiction. Having this bird in the hand gives the new owners a tremendous head start toward rejuvenating the franchise and generating value. If signing good players weren’t a value proposition, good teams wouldn’t do it.

Payroll is payroll, whether Fielder is on the team or not. It’s not as if the post-McCourt Dodgers are going to save money if Fielder isn’t on the roster – they’re just going to spend it on different players. Getting in the Fielder game now just means the Dodgers would know they’re getting a superb player instead of a gaggle of Juan Riveras. You can add Fielder to the team and save the money elsewhere, instead of being penny-wise but pound-foolish.

We went through this Vladimir Guerrero eight years ago. Is there anyone who thinks the Dodgers would have had less value with Guerrero in the fold?

Think about it – you’re a prospective Dodger owner. You’re bidding more than a billion bucks for the team even with the possibility that the Dodger Stadium parking lot land will cost extra. Are you really going to let the presence of Prince Fielder – on a contract that is spread out years into the future – be what prevents you from buying the franchise? It makes absolutely no sense.

Jan 17

Kershaw requests $10 million in arbitration

Clayton Kershaw has requested a $10 million salary for 2012 via arbitration, while the Dodgers have submitted a figure of $6.5 million. That puts the midpoint between the two at $8.25 million, which is in line with expectations for his 2012 paycheck.

In the absence of a multiyear deal (that is unlikely to come with the team so close to being sold), I have speculated that Kershaw would end up at $9 million. So I tend to believe Kershaw would win an arbitration hearing, but I also tend to believe that he and the Dodgers will settle in the mid-$8 million area.

Tim Lincecum, by the way, has put in for $21.5 million and been offered $17 million by the Giants.

Jan 16

Trying to get that ’09 feeling again …


I’m feelin’ mighty Mani-low.

Two seasons ago, when the Dodgers were the best team in the National League for much of the season and reached Major League Baseball’s Final Four, they had …

  • a below-average season for a first baseman by James Loney (.756 OPS).
  • nothing special offensively from their shortstop, Rafael Furcal (.711) or their catcher, Russell Martin (.680 OPS).
  • a strong but not superhuman season from their center fielder, Matt Kemp (.842).
  • 11 home runs all year from their bench.
  • an up-and-down campaign from Chad Billingsley (4.03 ERA).
  • an injury-hampered season from Hiroki Kuroda (3.76 ERA in 20 starts).
  • 10 starts by Eric Stults, seven by Jeff Weaver, five by Eric Milton, four by Jason Schmidt and three by Charlie Haeger before the late-season acquisitions of Vicente Padilla and Jon Garland stabilized matters.

The keys to that team, in retrospect, were Andre Ethier having his best year with an .869 OPS, matched with precision by the left-field duo of Manny Ramirez and Juan Pierre (.869 OPS), and a strong season by Casey Blake at third base (.832 OPS). It didn’t hurt that the team caught lightning in a sippy cup with Ronald Belisario (2.04 ERA), Ramon Troncoso (2.72 ERA) and midseason pickup George Sherrill (0.65 ERA). And Orlando Hudson made some nice contributions before giving way to Ronnie Belliard down the stretch.

Randy Wolf (3.23 ERA) and Clayton Kershaw (2.79 ERA) were the Dodgers’ only two starting pitchers in 2009 who were above-average for a full season.

As the 2012 Dodgers near the horizon of the coming baseball season, you can  weaknesses similar to their division-winning forerunners from 2009. The problem is not that the ’09 team was perfect. The problem, for now, is that the ’12 weaknesses don’t really stop there – in particular, third base and left field are exceptional worry spots.

Jerry Sands and Juan Rivera really need to meet the best of expectations – which could happen, but I hope you’ve trained in the pool to hold your breath.  As for third baseman Juan Uribe … the hopes dim, though either of the two seasons he had in San Francisco (.824 OPS with 16 homers, .749 OPS with 24 homers) would be a welcome start.

In order to make the playoffs, the 2012 Dodgers will need some help from some very unexpected sources, either within the organization or from the outside. The possibility should keep things interesting for a while, but that’s about all you can guarantee.

Jan 16

Unsigned Dodger draftees poised to be top picks in 2012

Today, I happened across a list that Baseball America put out a few weeks ago of the top 100 college players for the 2012 draft. Four of the top 15, it turns out, were previously drafted by the Dodgers:

5) Kevin Gausman, RHP, Louisiana State — 2010 round six
6) Brian Johnson, LHP/1B, Florida — 2009 round 27
13) Richie Shaffer, 1B, Clemson — 2009 round 25
14) Stephen Piscotty, 3B, Stanford — 2009 round 45

Gausman, the highest-rated of the four, was taken five rounds after the Dodgers picked Zach Lee, whom they stole away from the same school, LSU. (Third-round draft pick Leon Landry was also an LSU player.)

From Gausman’s LSU bio:

Regarded as one of the best pitching prospects in the country … has a tall, slender build and is very athletic for his size … smooth and easy delivery with a fastball that usually sits in the low to mid 90s range; his fastball has been clocked up to 100 mph …

Freshman season (2011)
Started 14 games, posting a 5-6 mark and a 3.51 ERA in 89.2 innings with 23 walks and 86 strikeouts … 3-1 record with a 1.17 ERA in his final four starts of the year, recording five walks and 32 strikeouts in 30.2 innings …

As for the others in 2011, Johnson struck out 72 in 79 2/3 innings with a 3.62 ERA and had an .845 OPS at the plate, Shaffer had a 1.015 OPS and Piscotty had an .894 OPS.

Not aiming for anything profound with this post — I have no idea whether these guys turned down the Dodgers because of money or because they had no intention of skipping college, nor do I have any idea how they will do as pros.  All I can say is that it would be fun to have them in the Dodger farm system now.

Lee, Baseball America notes in the same issue, remains the Dodgers’ top prospect. He could get a first callup before the 2012 season ends, and with Rubby De La Rosa and Clayton Kershaw could give the Dodgers three exciting starting pitchers age 25-or-under in 2013.

Jan 13

Kershawing

Orel Hershiser probably took the most famous thanks-be-to-God knee in Dodger history, and in the aftermath of the 1988 season, religion became a small component of the Hershiser story. It did not bother me, though I could not relate to it at all.

On Tim Tebow, I have no opinion of significance. I’ve seen him play most infrequently, though I did catch a glimpse of his game-winning throw Sunday against Pittsburgh, a play of beauty. I gather that is more talented than your average bear but filled with heaps of inconsistency.  I also gather he is pious and sincerely so, though perhaps at times holier-than-thou. His politics might not be my politics, something that’s probably true of many athletes. He’s so far off my radar that I’ve never actually seen him perform the act of Tebowing. 

Someone I do have an opinion of is Clayton Kershaw, whom I would say is supremely talented, remarkably consistent and whom I’m led to believe is similarly devoted to his religious life as Tebow. In 2011, Kershaw earned his greatest national accolades with a Cy Young-winning season, yet relative to Tebow, I imagine Kershaw is still a largely undiscovered property. Tebow is a national phenomenon; while Kershaw is merely a superstar. There’s no catchphrase known as Kershawing.
 

It’s funny to be in the position of wondering whether I would be bothered or enthralled by Tebow if I were only paying more attention, instead of simply regarding him as a far-off curiosity. All I do know is that, as a person whose religious fervor is confined to the Great Dodger in the sky, I feel blessed to have the guy we have. 
 

Update: As it happens, about an hour after I drafted this post, the Dodgers announced that Kershaw and his wife Ellen will meet with the media at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday “to discuss their new book, titled ‘Arise: Live Out Your Faith and Dreams on Whatever Field You Find Yourself,’ their latest trip to Africa and the upcoming 2012 Dodger season.”