Nov 30

Hey, what’s going on?


Some midweek news and notes …

  • Best friend of Dodger Thoughts and ESPN reporter Molly Knight and her friend and fellow ESPN contributing writer Anna Katherine Clemmons have had the story of their cross-country road trip (which began as fodder for a magazine article) optioned for a movie. My Variety colleague Jeff Sneider has the details.
  • Larry King is reportedly joining the Dennis Gilbert-headed group bidding to by the Dodgers, reports Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com.
  • Hank Aaron inquired whether Medallion Financial Corp., on which he serves on the board of directors, might make a bid to by the Dodgers, according to Bill Shaikin of the Times. The answer: No.
  • A bow-hunting trip (no, not the kind where you hunt Ken Rosenthal’s ties) with Royals outfielder Jeff Francoeur and manager Ned Yost helped lure Jonathan Broxton to Kansas City, writes Kevin Kernan of the New York Post (via Hardball Talk).
  • Jim Breen of Fangraphs takes a closer look at Kenley Jansen’s dominant fastball, an interesting piece given what we’ve heard of Jansen’s eventual desire to emulate Mariano Rivera. “The 24-year-old not only threw approximately 87% fastballs in 2011, but he also filled up the strike zone,” writes Breen. “Only relievers Matt Belisle, Octavio Dotel, and Matt Capps threw more pitches inside the zone than Jansen. So opposing hitters knew which pitch he was going to throw and knew that it would more than likely be within the strike zone, but opposing hitters still struck out 44% of the time.”
  • Here are some childhood photos of Clayton Kershaw with longtime buddy Matthew Stafford, the Detroit Lions quarterback.
  • And, here’s a great prep school picture of birthday boy Vin Scully via Tom Hoffarth of the Daily News.
  • Some nifty portraits accompany this interview by Ernest Reyes of Blue Heaven with artist Tommervik.
  • Evan Bladh looks back at the 2003 Dodgers at Opinion of Kingman’s Performance.
  • Ken Arneson discusses the two systems of thought with regards to statistics, and how they relate to kids learning to read.
  • In a guest post for The Platoon Advantage, Dan Hennessy explains why “the less I hear my team’s name associated with free agency, the happier I am.”
  • Very, very cool skiing and outdoors footage in “Winter,” which will screen at the Village in Westwood on Sunday.
  • Finally, if you haven’t seen “Beginners” with Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer, Melanie Laurent and Goran Visnjic, I really recommend it.
Nov 29

Remembering 2011: Jonathan Broxton


Jake Roth/US PresswireJonathan Broxton (43)

The setup: The polarizing pitcher whose mostly dominant career was marred by two notorious postseason setbacks entered his free-agent year hoping to recover from his biggest struggles yet – having allowed 62 baserunners and 26 runs in 29 2/3 innings dating back to his infamous 48-pitch outing against the Yankees on June 27, 2010.

The closeup: Both Broxton and general manager Ned Colletti asserted that health was not an issue with Broxton’s struggles, with Colletti saying a physical backed up their claim. But was something missed? Entering the year with 11.7 strikeouts per nine innings since his 2005 debut, Broxton fanned only one batter in his first five outings (4 1/3 innings) while allowing two home runs. Then, when his strikeouts increased, his runs allowed did as well. After he allowed two runs on three hits in an inning against St. Louis on April 18, we found ourselves here:

… I really think it’s important to be clear about this. For the longest time, the concern that Broxton’s detractors had was not that he couldn’t get anyone out, but just that he wouldn’t get the job done in October. The explanation offered the most was that he didn’t have the backbone, guts or other relevant body part to succeed under pressure.

I never bought into that argument, because I saw Broxton succeed too many times under pressure – including in the playoffs – to see a pattern, and that given another opportunity, there were more reasons to believe he would succeed than there were that he’d fail. Many more reasons. Baseball history is filled with onetime October failures who found redemption. …

… The problems of Jonathan Broxton today are different problems entirely.

Broxton is having trouble getting people out, period. He has retired the side in order once in eight outings. He has allowed 13 baserunners in 7 1/3 innings while striking out five. He’s being touched not just in save situations but in non-save situations. He’s allowing runs not in playoff games in October, but midweek games in April. …

Two scoreless outings brought some temporary relief for the reliever, but on April 25, Broxton was charged with a blown save thanks to two unearned runs at Florida, an outing that led to questions about whether he was still the Dodger closer or not. He allowed three hits and a run while picking up a save April 29.

Then came May 3:

Jonathan Broxton has given Dodger fans a lot of heartache this year, but tonight he looked as sickly as he ever has in my memory.

Broxton entered tonight’s game in the ninth inning of a 1-1 tie. After retiring Aramis Ramirez on two fouls and a popout, Broxton walked the next two batters on eight pitches, and few of them were close to the strike zone. According to MLB Gameday, the pitches were all fastballs, one reaching 93 miles per hour and the average at 91. That’s just not the Broxton of 12 months ago, and I’m not convinced it’s even the Broxton of 12 weeks ago.

People have been strangely fascinated with Broxton’s facial expressions and posture, but here’s a suggestion: Someone needs to look at his arm. Even if they’ve looked at it before, look at it again.

After the first walk, Blake Hawksworth began warming up in the bullpen, and after the second, Don Mattingly came to the mound. He talked to Broxton and the other assembled Dodgers, clearly stalling for time as Hawksworth raced to get ready, before finally telling home-plate umpire CB Bucknor to call for a rare mid-inning hook of the Dodger reliever.

Though I’ve always suspected Broxton’s been off physically since his serious struggles began in late June, this was possibly the first time I watched him and said to myself, “There’s a guy that’s headed straight for the disabled list.” Of course, what I observe from my seat far from the pitcher’s mound has no real relevance, but I just offer it as an impression. …

On the next day, Broxton was shut down to have an MRI, and he never pitched again for the Dodgers in 2011. Even after he went to the disabled list, the diagnosis (or at least the seriousness) of his condition seemed to keep shifting, punctuated by a rehab process that ended up being scrapped at the end of June. Not until September, more than four months after his last major-league game and 15 months after the series against the Yankees that seemed the source for all his problems, was Broxton finally scheduled for surgery.

His final numbers for 2011: 12 2/3 innings, eight earned runs, 24 baserunners, 10 strikeouts, 5.68 ERA, four inherited runners (all stranded).

Coming attractions: Broxton’s Dodger career ended with the news today that he had signed with Kansas City, pending a physical. Reports are that he will earn a $4 million base salary plus incentives.

Broxton leaves Los Angeles as its all-time leader in strikeouts per nine innings with 11.6 (minimum 300 innings), fifth in adjusted ERA at 132 and seventh in saves with 84.

Much virtual ink has been spilled on Broxton’s pros and cons, and it’s been months since I’ve felt the need to add anything new to the debate, a debate I am happy to put behind me. So with that in mind, I will close with something I wrote back in April:

There is one thing I will insist on, however. For nearly five seasons – an eternity for most relievers, longer than, for example, the elite tenures of Eric Gagne or Takashi Saito as Dodgers – Jonathan Broxton was a great, great relief pitcher. The NLCS losses were crushing – indeed, for many they were poisonous – but he’s hardly the first great hurler who has pitches he’d like to get back. He has truly been one of the best relief pitchers in Los Angeles Dodger history, whether his best days are over or not.

Nov 28

Remembering 2011: James Loney


Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireJames Loney (42)

The setup: Patience was wearing thin for the 2002 No. 1 draft pick after his offense declined for the fourth consecutive season at age 27. He actually took an .803 OPS into the 2010 All-Star break, but floundered to .616 thereafter. Adding to the disconcerting power drought was a walk/strikeout ratio that declined from 1.03 in 2009 to 0.55.

The closeup: What a strange year.

As early as April 9 came a short post with the headline, “The lowest moment of James Loney’s career?” after he was told to bunt with a runner on second base and none out in the 11th inning of a game against a right-handed pitcher. While we would come to learn that extraneous sacrificing was perhaps the biggest foible of Don Mattingly’s rookie season as manager, things actually sunk lower for Loney before they got better. With a .194 on-base percentage and .213 slugging on April 25, Loney caused us to begin ruminating about the future of the worst-hitting regular in major-league baseball.

… The problem is not that Loney will hit this poorly forever – he won’t. The problem is that it seems less and less unlikely that, after three consecutive seasons of decline from 2008-10, he’ll take the step forward that the Dodgers have been counting on him to take.

If Loney can’t offer better than the league-average hitting that has defined his past three years – and now he has even further to go to reach that goal – there’s little chance the Dodgers can continue using him as their starting first baseman, whatever you think of him as a defensive player or RBI man. They will part ways with him after the season, if not sooner.

It pains me to say it because I’ve always liked Loney. As I said earlier this month, my theory is that the bid to coax more homeruns out of Loney has had the opposite effect, messing him up to the point where not only is he not hitting home runs, he’s not hitting doubles either. Loney, who had 41 doubles in 161 games last year, has just one in 24 games this year, to go with his sole home run three weeks ago. …

With a .534 OPS by mid-May, he was still on his way to one of the worst starts in post-1988 Dodger history, though by this time the rebound had begun, and the countdown to his being non-tendered was put on hold. In a reversal of 2010, Loney’s offense shot up in this year’s second half to a .914 OPS that, unadjusted for park effects, was 14th in the National League. A popular theory was that new hitting coach Dave Hansen helped; though the timing might have been mostly a coincidence, Loney’s mechanics had changed by the season’s latter months.

The sum total of it all was another substandard season for a first baseman. Finishing 2011 with a .339 on-base percentage and .416 slugging percentage, Loney was 19th offensively among MLB first basemen with at least 502 plate appearances according to Fangraphs, though his defense bumped him up a few slots. Though he hit seven home runs in his final 40 starts, he ended 2011 with only 12, failing again to reach his career high of 15, set in 96 games in 2007.

Coming attractions: With the Dodgers’ elimination from the Prince Fielder-Albert Pujols festivities etched in everything but stone, Loney is set to get at least one more shot at first base before becoming a free agent at the end of 2012.  No one would dare guarantee greatness from him at this point; the safe bet, after four straight years with OPSes in the .700s, is more of the same.

Nevertheless, I don’t find it outlandish to suggest that the form he displayed after his season-opening slump in 2011 could continue throughout 2012. In fact, his OPS from April 26 to the end of this past season was .828 – get him to the starting gate quicker in 2012, and he’ll have what for him will be a career year. That the Dodgers need even more than a career year from him is a larger issue.

Nov 26

The bitter kiss of a near-miss

Tonight, the football regular season ended for my biggest rooting interest, non-Dodger division: Stanford. Like the last time I pulled thus hard for a legitimate national title contender, the 2009 Dodgers, it began as a superb experience that ultimately turned frustrating, with a dose of thanks-for-the-memories perspective required to make sure I didn’t lose the forest for the Trees.

The first half of the season was incredible. Stanford would make mistakes here and there that would leave you briefly questioning its adequacy, and then you’d look up and the Cardinal would be up by 40. You’d remember that you don’t need to be perfect every play to be, essentially, perfect.

Then some injuries came, and some weaknesses were exposed, and Stanford spent the past month looking beatable, losing one critical game out of 12 when it could afford to lose none. Andrew Luck, the pole position 2011 Heisman Trophy candidate when the race began, suffered from having mediocre wide receivers but also was good for at least one really headscratchingly disastrous throw a game. Brent Musberger, who called several Cardinal games this season, would quickly minimize the interceptions to resume raising the roof of praise on Luck to Derek Jeter- like levels that — taking nothing away from Luck’s present and future greatness — made me a little uncomfortable.

Stanford won’t win the national title, and Luck might not win the Heisman. In the case of the former, it would have been fun and preferable to the BCS to see the Cardinal in a playoff, especially with some healed players, but the team would have been an underdog by the time it reached a semifinal (unlike a year ago, when Stanford was truly playing as well as any team in the nation at season’s end). I don’t feel cheated. As for Luck, he’s great and still a worthy contender, but if he doesn’t win the Heisman, I think I’d still feel worse that Toby Gerhart didn’t win two years ago. Neither statistically nor subjectively does Luck strike me as an automatic.

Expectations are mean, and I’m better to be rid of them. Much more than the Dodgers, success has been rare for Stanford football in my lifetime (and at this level unprecedented), and the journey of this team from 1-11 five years ago, through the big victories over USC, to the nearly dominant team of today had been an exquisite joyride. 

But right now, the disappointment with Stanford’s close call this season still lingers, to the extent that it’s easier for me to think right now about those ’09 Dodgers and their season turned on an ill-fated Jonathan Broxton pitch than the ’11 Cardinal. And though I don’t think Stanford will return immediately to its losing ways, the Dodgers should smell a title before the Cardinal does again.

Without a doubt, I feel good about having had near-miss teams to root for, but it’s no substitute for feeling great. 

Nov 26

Brutal but beautiful

Here’s a picture of recovering Dodger Stadium beating victim Bryan Stow with his family at Thanksgiving. It’s an absolutely wonderful sight that, at least if you see the picture as I do, also doesn’t allow you to escape the harrowing road they have been sent down this long year. Given the reality, however, it’s thrilling.

Nov 24

Turkeys away

Thanksgiving seems to have come at the right time for Dodger fans, who have new things to be grateful for amid the ongoing reminder that you can’t have it all.

A magnificent season by Clayton Kershaw brought home a major postseason award, a similar one by Matt Kemp did not. The two and their somewhat forgotten teammates provided memories we’ll still be talking about years from now, but of course not the ultimate memory of a World Series title.

On the first day of the month came the announcement of the sale of the franchise — the slow-cooking turkey in the oven that will be our feast when it is served, though we can only anticipate this morning how smoothly the cooking will go and how it will ultimately taste.

I had visions of a pretty major soul-bearing post today, but I have mixed feelings about it. We’ll just say that for a long time now, I’ve been trying to cook a better turkey and instead have kept burning it. Sunday night, I decided to take a break from such culinary efforts and instead focus on other, smaller things that I can more easily accomplish, such as working extended metaphors beyond their capacity for effectiveness. 

I’ve been afraid to look away from the big picture, afraid to take my eyes off the road. All that long-distance driving to nowhere made me bitter, really bitter. I still have real fears about what’s going to happen if I don’t get to where I think I need to be, but the fear hasn’t helped. I thought it was driving me toward my goals, but instead, in the words of the Boss, it was just driving me down.

So I’m lowering the bar. It’s shortsighted, but that’s the point. 

I won’t lie to you — there’s a hope that if I do some little things right, big dreams will come true. But no promises. Right now, it will have to be enough to get some little things in the bank.

Some might say the bar has been too low for the Dodgers for quite some time now, but I’d say their past 23 years mirrors what I’ve been feeling inwardly. The goals are there; the execution has been lacking and the angst at times overwhelming. I honestly don’t know when all will be right in the Dodger world, but I do know that I’ve never wanted to be pissed off that it isn’t. 

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone, and all my best, wherever you are. And just one more thing: The other day, as God as my witness, my 7-year-old asked me if turkeys can fly.

Nov 20

Remembering 2011: Mike MacDougal


Joe Murphy/Getty ImagesMike MacDougal (41)

The setup: After a 4.31 ERA with 5.6 strikeouts per nine innings in 2009, MacDougal all but pitched himself out of the majors in 2010 by allowing 15 runs in 18 2/3 innings for St. Louis. When the Dodgers signed him to a minor-league contract at the end of January, I set up his challenge thusly: “Since 2007, MacDougal has allowed more than 16 baserunners per nine innings in the majors. In trying to make the major league bullpen for the Dodgers, MacDougal will have competition from such righties as Jonathan Broxton, Kenley Jansen, Vicente Padilla, Matt Guerrier, Ronald Belisario, Blake Hawksworth and Ramon Troncoso.”

The closeup: MacDougal not only ended up pitching more innings for the Dodgers than all but one of those names, he finished the year with the lowest ERA on the entire staff: 2.05. Now, if you were paying attention, you’ll know that latter figure is tainted: He allowed 17 of 51 inherited runners to score. It was actually much worse before the All-Star break, when he allowed 13 of 33 inherited runners to come home – nearly 40 percent. His second-half numbers (4 of 18) were respectable. He struck out 6.5 batters per nine innings but allowed 13.1 baserunners. So, he was effective, but then again he wasn’t, but considering his $500,000 salary, then again he was.

MacDougal got his only save of the year in the Russ Mitchell game. After the Dodgers took a 6-3 lead in the top of the 10th inning against the White Sox, Matt Guerrier allowed two leadoff singles. Two outs later, MacDougal entered the game with the tying run at the plate, threw three pitches and retired Paul Konerko on a grounder to second.

Coming attractions: Inherited runners or not, this was a rebound season for MacDougal, one that should modestly increase offseason interest in the free agent. From the Dodgers’ standpoint, it’s again a numbers game. Javy Guerra, Jansen, Guerrier,  Hawksworth and Josh Lindblom are righties who should nail down spots on the roster, leaving at most one opening. But of course, things always get wacky in the bullpen. No doubt Ned Colletti would be interested in retaining MacDougal for depth, but price could be an object.

Nov 19

Remembering 2011: Russ Mitchell


Tony Medina/Getty ImagesRuss Mitchell (40)

The setup: With a .363 on-base percentage and .535 slugging percentage at Albuquerque in 2010, Mitchell was promoted in September to the Dodgers, for whom he put up this unusual line: 43 plate appearances, 37 outs (including a sacrifice fly), no walks, four singles, two home runs. In fact, his first two major-league hits were homers.

The closeup: Mitchell started 2011 with the Isotopes but came to Los Angeles much more quickly, receiving an April 29 callup when Casey Blake went on the disabled list. Mitchell ended up with two separate one-month stints with the team, each except for walks mirroring what came before. In 58 plate appearances, he made 43 outs with seven walks, five singles, a double and two home runs. His career numbers now total a .208 on-base percentage and .290 slugging percentage with four home runs in 101 plate appearances.

His most dramatic game by far came May 20: Against Sergio Santos, who had a 0.00 ERA in 20 2/3 innings for the White Sox, Mitchell (batting .067) hit a two-out, ninth-inning, game-tying homer that opened the door for the Dodgers to win in extra innings.

When he wasn’t with the Dodgers, Mitchell had a .372 on-base percentage and .503 slugging percentage in 392 plate appearances with Albuquerque. In general, his on-base skills showed improvement in 2011.

Mitchell’s season ended with wrist surgery on September 27, to address torn cartilage he had been playing with since May. Expected recovery time, according to Ken Gurnick of MLB.com, was up to eight weeks; currently we are at the 7 1/2-week mark. He signed up to play winter ball, with Tiburones de La Guaira in Venezuela, but he has not shown up in the stats yet as having appeared in a game.

Coming attractions: Right now, the Dodgers have seven infielders on their roster and figure to keep six. Mitchell and Justin Sellers would probably be the backups if the season started today, but you can expect increased competition by the time March arrives. There has been talk that Mitchell, who will turn 27 in February, would work on catching to increase his value as an all-purpose backup, but his wrist problem has at a minimum slowed those plans.  He has options remaining with the Dodgers, so if he does not hold down a roster spot, he’ll return to the Isotopes.

Nov 18

Spending here but not there

Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles hits on the conundrum of why it’s okay for the Dodgers to spend big on Matt Kemp but not Prince Fielder and has a theory: that Frank McCourt is using Matt Kemp’s lucrative eight-year contract as cover to keep the Dodger payroll low while selling the team.

It all relates to that question we keep coming back to: Does committing big bucks to a major free agent enhance or reduce the value of a franchise?

… Where this really gets interesting is when you listen closely to Kemp, Colletti and Stewart.

Stewart said Friday that Kemp told him he wanted to get this deal done as soon as possible so the team could make a run at the top free agents on the market, most notably Kemp’s friend, Prince Fielder. Baseball’s winter meetings are Dec. 3-5 in Dallas.

He also explained the Kemp agreed to take less in the first year of the deal to give the team more flexibility this winter.

“The ballclub needed flexiblity, Ned was clear in explaining that,” Stewart said. “What was important really was the overall package for Matt.

“He’s an unselfish kid. It’s been his thought all along that he’d like to get somebody else there that they can put in the lineup that can help him, help the team win.”

That all sounds wonderful until you listen again to Colletti, who said Friday that he “didn’t know if it was going to be possible” to re-sign pitcher Hiroki Kuroda, and noted earlier in the week that the team wasn’t likely to pursue free agents of Fielder’s class and price range.

“Unless something changes, I think it looks less realistic,” Colletti said. “I think we have to figure out other ways to produce runs.”

There’s no way Stewart and Kemp could have missed Colletti’s previous comments or been unaware of the Dodgers financial issues as they go through this sale process. Remember, Colletti and Kemp are close now. They’ve repaired their relationship and talk often. Colletti and Stewart go back 30 years.

So you have to wonder whether something else is going on here.

Could Kemp and Stewart be ratcheting up the pressure on McCourt to give Colletti the chance to make a realistic run at Fielder? Or at least not be hamstrung with a budget smaller than last season’s? …

Read the whole piece here.

Nov 17

Wrapping up a big day with Newk and friends

“As the winner of the first Cy Young Award, I am so very proud of Clayton Kershaw and his outstanding performances that led to his receiving the 2011 Cy Young Award. I am reminded of Sandy Koufax whenever I see Clayton pitch and feel that there is a deep comparison between the two. Clayton has an outstanding work ethic, as did Sandy, which will show itself through Clayton’s baseball career.”

Don Newcombe

  • Cliff Corcoran of SI.com has a well-done piece looking at Clayton Kershaw’s workload and how it could mean he’s in for an early decline – or, conversely, that he’s on a Hall of Fame path. Corcoran concludes by recommending the Dodgers not dally in signing Kershaw to a big contract extension.
  • ESPN.com looks at the adjustments Kershaw made to become a Cy Young winner.

* * *

In case you missed it amid the Cy Young news, baseball has engineered a major realignment. The Houston Astros are moving to the American League West, there will be interleague play throughout the season, and biggest of all, there will be two wild-card teams in each league, who will face off in a one-game playoff. Jayson Stark of ESPN.com examines the changes from all angles, while DodgerTalk co-host Joe Block reacts to the realignment news and potential increase in interleague games by discussing whether NL teams should keep a designated-hitter type on their roster.

* * *

No, Matt Kemp, we haven’t forgotten about you:

  • David Golebiewski of Baseball Analytics has a deep examination of how Kemp is able to maintain a high batting average on balls in play.
  • For a change of pace, here’s Grant Brisbee at Baseball Nation with a history of … Matt Kemp trade rumors!
Nov 16

Remembering 2011: Trent Oeltjen


Brad Mangin/MLB Photos via Getty ImagesTrent Oeltjen (38)

The setup: Oeltjen made his Dodger debut in September 2010, starting out 4 for 11 before ending up 5 for 23 with a double, triple and four walks (.705 OPS). He was re-signed in December to a minor-league contract and batted .421 in Spring Training, but he began the season, as most expected, in Triple-A.

The closeup: Before his June 9 promotion to Los Angeles, Oeltjen batted .339 in 56 games for Albuquerque, which is interesting because of another fellow who batted .339 in 55 games for Albuquerque until his promotion: Eugenio Velez. And while Oeltjen did not sink to the lows of Velez in a Dodger uniform this year, he didn’t exactly have a whole lot of success, especially in the second half.

On June 27, Oeltjen had a career game with a walk, two singles, a triple and a home run in five plate appearances. When he singled as a pinch-hitter two days later, the 28-year-old had a .481 on-base percentage and .667 slugging percentage in 28 plate appearances as an ’11 Dodger.

But from July 1 on, Oeltjen went 6 for 50 with one extra-base hit (a home run at Colorado) and eight walks for a .250 on-base percentage and .180 slugging in 63 plate appearances. In other words, during Velez’s hitless tenure with the Dodgers that began July 4, Oeltjen had only five more hits. So while Velez was basically wasting one roster spot for July and August, Oeltjen was arguably wasting another.

Of course, thanks to what came before, Oeltjen’s final 2011 numbers – 322 on-base percentage, .324 slugging – look wonderful compared to Velez’s.

Coming attractions: Oeltjen remains on the 40-man roster for now, and will compete to stick as a backup outfielder in 2012. He is an incumbent, after all. But with a career .299 OBP and .384 slugging in 194 plate appearances, he’ll be looking over his shoulder.

Nov 16

Kemp will be king, but there will be no Prince

Ned Colletti said Tuesday that it’s “unrealistic” that the Dodgers will sign Prince Fielder. Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com has more.

Amid reports such as this from Ken Rosenthal and Jon Paul Morosi of FoxSports.com that Matt Kemp’s soon-to-be-official eight-year contract will pay him just over $10 million next season, it would appear that the Dodgers are in for one more spring of budget tightening as the ownership transition takes place. The contract for new second baseman Mark Ellis pays $2.5 million in 2012 and $5.25 million in 2013, plus incentives, Jackson reports.

The Dodgers’ main mystery right now is starting pitching, considering that the back end of their rotation is made up of Nathan Eovaldi and Dana Eveland and there’s no guarantee yet that Hiroki Kuroda will return.

  • Though as a Dodger fan you might find it moot, David Schoenfeld of ESPN.com explores how much the Kemp deal will affect Fielder’s next contract.
  • New stats-oriented director of contracts, research and operations Alex Tamin influenced the Ellis signing, general manager Ned Colletti told Ken Gurnick of MLB.com.
  • The Ellis signing gets a mixed review from Chad Moriyama.

    … For the money, Ellis should be a passable option considering the alternatives were not exactly appealing, nor were there strong internal candidates. However, while Ellis should be better going forward than he was in 2011, he still figures to be below the league average threshold, making him a fringy or mediocre starter. Additionally, there’s the real risk that he goes through a collapse in skill before the contract is up. So while the finances might pan out okay, this has to rate as an average deal at best.

  • Here’s a January 2008 ode to Ellis from my former Baseball Toaster compadre Ken Arneson.
  • New Dodger trainer Sue Falsone, interviewed by the Huffington Post, says the song that reminds her most of Los Angeles is “Don’t Stop Believin’,” but we’ll hold out hope for her success here anyway (link via Vin Scully Is My Homeboy).
  • Former Dodger outfielder Xavier Paul unknowingly got caught up in an Australian Baseball League scam, reports Alexis Brudnicki of Baseball America and Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com.
  • MLB.com also offered up its choices for top Dodger minor leaguers in 2011 by position. Compare them to the Dodger Thoughts Grain of Salt Midseason Minor-League All-Stars.
  • River Ave. Blues passes along a piece that shows that the value of the batting average statistic was being questioned 96 years ago.
  • In Tuesday’s mail, I received to my surprise (as a Los Angeles-based Hall of Fame non-voter) a 12-page full-color campaign brochure for Juan “Igor” Gonzalez’s Cooperstown candidacy. Matthew Pouliot of Hardball Talk rebuts the effort.
  • I was a fan of the Baltimore Orioles’ move in the 1990s to an ornithologically correct bird on its caps, in part because of the repeated use by sportswriters of the word “ornithologically.” I also thought it looked cool, so I’m a little disappointed to see them go back to the cartoon bird.
  • For your amusement/slash/horror: Life (the magazine, not the cereal) has chosen its 20 worst ever covers.
Nov 14

The Kemp contract: Will this be the Dodgers’ decade, after all?

At the end of the indispensable, forever-a-touchstone “Joe vs. the Volcano,” Joe (Tom Hanks) has survived depression, a diagnosis of a brain cloud and being exploded out of a live volcano. Life is suddenly looking good.

Except that Joe is on a liferaft made of steamer trunks, floating in the middle of the ocean at Poseidon’s mercy. He starts to worry again. Patricia (Meg Ryan), his love, can only laugh.

“It’s always going to be something with you, isn’t it Joe?” she remarks.

There will always be something with the Dodgers. There is no frying pan in this town whose escape route doesn’t lead to some flame, be it a campfire or a conflagration.

But the news today that the Dodgers are on the verge of signing Matt Kemp to a contract that locks up his rights until he is 35, in 2019, is Chapter Two in the rebirth of the franchise, following Frank McCourt’s agreement to sell the team this winter. The Dodgers might still be floating at sea, but they are floating in the right direction.

That the lame duck McCourt agreed to sign Kemp is newsworthy, though less surprising to me than others might find it. McCourt, essentially, is spending someone else’s money.  As I wrote about Prince Fielder last month, the argument for committing to a big contract for a superstar is at least as strong as the argument against it — for whatever cost it adds to the bottom line, if it’s a smart signing it only enhances the worth of the franchise. That being said, McCourt could have been a roadblock to the signing but chose not to be. It’s a point in his favor on an eight-year-old scoresheet.

That hasn’t stopped people from at least acknowledging the potential downside of the deal. Anytime you offer the longest and richest deal in National League history, there’s going to be some risk. Some would point to the previous No. 1 deal in Dodger annals, the seven-year, $105 million contract for Kevin Brown, as evidence of this, though I concluded (in a blog post I can’t find right now) that when you combine the value Brown provided with what was received after he was traded to the Yankees, the Dodgers actually made out just fine on the deal.

So let’s look at Kemp’s contract: $160 million over eight years, we’re told.  Some will get hung up over the question of whether Kemp will still be a $20 million player as he heads toward his 35th birthday in September 2019. But that’s the wrong way to eyeball things.

The only question that matters is whether Kemp will provide $160 million worth of value over the life of the contract, and that seems like a pretty safe bet.

Kemp will be 27 years old when the 2012 season begins. There’s an excellent chance he’ll be much more than a $20 million-a-year player next year and for at least few years after that, even if he can’t ever duplicate the marvels of his 2011 campaign.

To consider one evaulation, Fangraphs not only puts his value this year at $39 million, it assesses his 2009 season at $23.5 million. So even with a disappointing season mixed in ($1.6 million of value in 2010), Kemp has averaged $21.3 million in value the past three years — before hitting his prime. And that doesn’t even include one thing you can’t put a price on right now: the comfort of knowing that this signing means the Dodgers are back in business.

In other words, Kemp might earn the entire cost of his contract in the next five or six years — he might be a bargain over that time — and everything after that will be gravy on the cake.  Furthermore, though Kemp will be older at the end of the decade, he won’t exactly be ancient. He’ll be younger, for example, than Manny Ramirez was before Ramirez first wore a Dodger uniform.

Now, if and when Kemp is in decline in 2019, few people may remember to look at his contract the way I’m advising. They’ll compare his 2019 performance with his 2019 salary and come to a 2019 conclusion that he is underperforming. But major league baseball does not pay players strictly according to performance — they are underpaid some years, as Kemp was in 2011, and they will be overpaid in others. All a franchise can do is make the best decision possible regarding the entire life of the contract.

Over the next eight years, I expect to see different sides of Kemp.  I expect to see the all-out, hold-nothing-back player we saw in 2011, but undeniably, the contract is also an invitation to shift into cruise control from time to time — and honestly, who among us wouldn’t respond to that Evite here and there? The Dodgers are signing a human, not a robot. We also, for the first time, will at some point probably see a Kemp that gets hurt.

Contracts like these aren’t about moments, however. They are about the big picture. And with McCourt exiting to the left, and Kemp (and, I expect, Clayton Kershaw) remaining center stage, the big picture looks the rosiest it has for Los Angeles since before that day in October 2009, when the McCourt family business dumped a big ink blot on it. And Kemp himself must realize this. Though 160 million birds in the hand are nothing to be dismissed, it’s safe to say that Kemp might be leaving a few million more birds in the bush.

Yes, the Dodgers are still out to sea, but the wind is back at their back. We might even look back at 2011 to find, believe it or not, that this was the starting point for a Dodger decade.

Nov 13

Remembering 2011: Kenley Jansen


Andy Hayt/Getty ImagesKenley Jansen (37)

The setup: The convertee from catchering came to Spring Training with a cornucopia of confidence, following a stunning second-half 2010 debut in which he had a 0.67 ERA and 41 strikeouts in 27 innings against 28 baserunners. With allowances for how inexperienced he was, Dodger fans expected the 23-year-old Jansen to be a major part of the Dodger bullpen in 2011.

The closeup: Cold water was splashed on hopes for Jansen starting with his very first game, when he allowed four runs in his only inning of a 10-0 loss to San Francisco. Later that month, he faced six Atlanta Braves on April 19 and five of them came around to score, leaving Jansen with an 11.42 ERA despite 13 strikeouts in 8 2/3 innings. He was sent to the minors May 1 to work on a secondary pitch, recalled less than a week later when Jonathan Broxton went to the disabled list, then went to the DL himself at the end of May after frustrating manager Don Mattingly by hiding right-shoulder inflammation. Jansen had 35 strikeouts in 21 innings, but he had also allowed 35 baserunners and 15 runs. The season that Hong-Chih Kuo ended up having looked in many ways like the season Jansen was going to have.

And then, insanity.

Jansen returned to active duty June 18. From that moment on – and if you aren’t aware of this already, you’d better be sitting down – he faced 120 batters, retired 97 of them and struck out 61. Yes, more than half of all batters Jansen faced after coming of the disabled list took a U-turn back to the dugout. Jansen allowed 12 walks, nine singles, a double and two runs for an opponents’ .094 batting average, .192 on-base percentage, .104 slugging percentage, .295 OPS and 0.55 ERA. He inherited 11 runners – none of them scored.

He struck out four batters in 1 2/3 innings against Detroit on June 22, struck out the side at Arizona on July 17 and struck out all four batters he faced against Washington July 22. He was just warming up.

From August 30 through September 27, Jansen faced 54 batters and got 42 of them out, and 34 of those 42 outs were strikeouts.  In that stretch, he struck out 63 percent of the batters he faced, and 81 percent of his outs were strikeouts.

The surge helped Jansen set a major-league record: 16.1 strikeouts per nine innings (96 in 53 2/3), to go with a 2.85 ERA while stranding 20 of 21 inherited runners.

These are man-against-boys Little League numbers.

For all of that, Jansen won’t win the National League Rookie of the Year Award, for which he is eligible, because of the presence of Atlanta’s Craig Kimbrel, who himself averaged 14.8 strikeouts per nine innings and didn’t wait until June to become dominant. Jansen might not even appear anywhere in the vote, to be announced Monday, given the competition among rookie pitchers alone.

But man. What a season.

Coming attractions: Jansen, who turned 24 the final day of September, will enter 2012 with even higher expectations than he had this past season. He might not begin the year as the closer – and I very much hope he doesn’t, because he can be more valuable if not tied to a specific inning. But you can be sure that right now, he’s the most-feared reliever in the Dodger bullpen, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he became the most-feared reliever in the NL in 2012.

I mean, what happens if he masters that secondary pitch?