Feb 04

El Camino Real alum gets minor-league shot with Dodgers

Three quick notes:

  • Will Savage, a 25-year-old El Camino Real High grad who had a 2.94 ERA in 125 1/3 innings (but only 3.5 strikeouts per nine innings) last season for Wichita in the independent American Association, signed a contract with the Dodgers and will get an opportunity to pitch in the minors for the organization, according to Our Sports Central. Savage, who was in the Phillies’ organization through 2008 after going to College of the Canyons and Oklahoma, pitched a no-hitter in June.
  • Jamie McCourt got $1.4 million in temporary spousal support, reports Bill Shaikin of The Times. Joshua Fisher discusses it at Dodger Divorce.
  • Steve Dilbeck of Dodgers Blog passes along a great Jackie Robinson story.
Feb 04

What Justin Verlander’s new contract could mean for Chad Billingsley and the Dodgers

Justin Verlander signed a contract extension with the Tigers on Wednesday that amounts to $80 million over five years.

Verlander is 17 months older than Chad Billingsley and made his major-league debut 49 weeks before the Dodger righty (though Verlander pitched only 11 1/3 innings that year). A comparison of the two since they became full-fledged major-leaguers:

Verlander Billingsley
Year IP K/9 ERA+ IP K/9 ERA+
2006 186 6.0 126 90 5.9 118
2007 201 2/3 8.2 125 147 8.6 134
2008 201 7.3 93 200 2/3 9 133
2009 240 10.1 133 196 1/3 8.2 98

Verlander had an off year in 2008, but came back with his best season ever. His off year was arguably worse or at least little better than Billingsley’s off year in 2009. Billingsley outperformed Verlander two years running in adjusted ERA, though he didn’t pitch as many innings. The best season either pitcher had before last year was Billingsley’s 2008. And again, Billingsley is more than a year younger.

Before the 2009 season, it’s hard to see how anyone would have valued Verlander much more than Billingsley. It’s not as if Verlander had any postseason success to make up for his 2008 problems.

Billingsley obviously needs to show this year that he can bounce back from his disappointing second half (interestingly, both he and Verlander had first-half ERAs of 3.38 last season, though Verlander’s 3.38 was worth a little more because of league and park adjustments). But it’s hardly far-fetched that Billingsley will. And if he does, he will set himself up for a mighty nice deal – if not before he becomes a free agent in November 2012, then certainly after.

For more on the Verlander signing, check out Rob Neyer of ESPN.com and Matthew Carruth of Fangraphs.

* * *

The Dodgers’ policy to compel players to donate money when they signed a new contract – which they were apparently not alone in implementing – has been reduced, but only somewhat. There was an immediate objection from the players’ union, and now a settlement has been reached, reports Bill Shaikin of the Times.

The union filed a grievance soon thereafter, alleging the Dodgers, Angels and 20 other teams had improperly mandated donations to club charities in the contracts of at least 109 players.

Under the settlement agreement, which resolves the grievance, clubs can demand such donations from players signing as free agents or signing long-term contracts that buy out one or more years of free agency, according to a management official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the agreement has not been officially announced.

Those players have the option to sign elsewhere. Players not yet eligible for free agency cannot be compelled to donate, the management official said.

* * *

  • Fox is offering two Saturday night regular-season telecasts this season – their first since 2004 – and the Dodgers are featured both nights, on May 22 against the Tigers and June 26 against the Yankees. Both games are in Los Angeles.
  • Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. talked about the Dodgers with the guys at HotStove.com Wednesday.
  • Via Josh Wilker’s Cardboard Gods, I found this story of a ball hit by Joe Wallis that went up but never came down.
  • Ticketmaster makes the bargain tickets for the Dodgertown Classic college baseball doubleheader a lot less of a bargain, writes Tom Hoffarth of the Daily News.
Feb 03

Case study of a 5-year-old athlete

When I last wrote about my oldest son, he was a 4-year-old with barely enough interest to keep him upright on a T-ball team that I was coaching.

He was more interested in playing with the dirt in the infield than the ball running along it past him. He was sold on the idea that he’d get to have fun with his friends, but because you can’t have nine shortstops, he was constantly told to move away from his friends. He found fun where he could, but he never really seemed to grasp the overall purpose of his being out there.

For this, I faulted him not at all, but rather questioned the decision my wife and I made to have him be on the team at that age. There was reason enough to fear that the experience might kill any interest he had in sports. And I wasn’t at all sure that my being his coach was a positive thing. I didn’t doubt that on some level he loved having me there, but I also wondered if my presence was stunting his development.

By the end of the season, I sort of came around to the idea that the good outweighed the bad. He did have some fun, though it had nothing to do with fundamentals. He improved slightly, although even as late as the final game, we still weren’t sure if he should bat righty or lefty. His attention still wandered off, but not quite as long. On some level, I think he felt some sense of pride from being on the team. So even if this wasn’t his thing, the experience was probably a good one. I still wouldn’t say it was necessary for someone his age, but I don’t think it was harmful.

* * *

Summer came, along with his fifth birthday. He had another round of day camp and swimming lessons, and man, he loves being in the pool. All the ambivalence you saw in T-ball was a faint memory when you saw how eagerly and joyously he went into the water. He would go every day if he could.

Fall came. My wife took me by surprise one day by suggesting we take the training wheels off his bike. Amid my skepticism, I started limbering up. Teaching my daughter (now 7) to ride on two wheels had been fairly backbreaking, as I was constantly hunched over, running alongside her with a hand on the handlebars until she was ready for me to let go … then bending over to pick her up after she teetered over. After a few weeks, I got a tip from another dad at the park to lower her seat way down. This made an immediate difference. Still, I had no illusion two-wheeling would be easy for child No. 2.

But within just a few seconds of his starting to pedal, my son called out, “Let go, Daddy! Let go!” And he was off. The kid who needs a court order before he’ll play catch with you was an utter natural on that racing-striped bike. After a quick reminder that he get a foot down when he wanted to stop, the instruction was all over. It was amazing.

Winter came. Thanks to the generosity of my parents, we made it to the snow, where daughter got her third week of ski lessons and eldest son got his second. Learning to ski involves a lot of moving parts. Getting the rhythm and mechanics of it can be a painstaking quest, and that’s when the weather’s nice. But my kids didn’t mind. They get it. They like it. They look forward to it. And they can now making their way down green runs with considerable ease and also have done several intermediate slopes.

And my son is fast. He’s got that little-kid, no-fear gene activated on the slopes. It’s a little scary, but it’s also pretty dang cool.

* * *

Immediately after coming home, we began my son’s first basketball season, which I greeted with much the same misgivings I had for T-ball, minus two: I wasn’t coaching, and I thought the pace of the game would engage my son’s interest more. And I have to say, he is always smiling. But many of those smiles have absolutely nothing to do with the game going on around him … or 30 feet away from him, given his intermittent reactions to what’s happening.

The game itself has no purpose for him. He knows the rules – get the ball and try to score – but he just doesn’t see a point in it. Whenever possible, he and one of his best buddies goof around. And then … snacks.

One time I told him (calmly, I promise) that it was great he was having fun but that he did have a responsibility to make his best effort out on the court. Otherwise, I’ve mostly let all this go. If a 5-year-old boy doesn’t see a purpose in the back and forth of basketball, well, is he wrong?

Meanwhile, his sister just had her first rock-climbing class (indoors, but otherwise the real deal) – for which the minimum age is 6. And I already know, exactly six months from today, my oldest son will be ready for his.

* * *

T-ball season is coming. Signups are this month, practices starting next month. I know that my son will survive, and heck, maybe he’ll even thrive.  It’ll be interesting to see how he does as a proven T-ball veteran as opposed to a mere T-ball prospect.

But here I have a boy who’s interested in at least four sports – swimming, biking, skiing and rock climbing – that he can do for the rest of his life. Who takes piano lessons and loves to read. Who concocts wild adventures for his stuffed animals. Who likes going to school and, in a 180-degree switch from his father, actually likes going to religious school. And so I do ask myself, “Why T-ball?”

I’m not worried that he’s overscheduled, not yet, because all this stuff is relatively spread out throughout the week, throughout the year. I’m still of a mind that playing T-ball will do him good, not harm – though I have very modest expectations about that good. I’m of a mind that even though baseball and basketball and soccer (the first one he tried) didn’t do it for him, team sports might still click for him at some point. Or, they won’t.

Right now, the value for him in playing baseball is twofold: the team camaraderie, and the possibility that the experience now will help him down the road, should he ever fall in like or love with the sport. There’s the possibility he’d someday regret him not playing T-ball. Whether those are reasons enough to have him out there, I’m not entirely sure. It might be just as possible that baseball will click for him when he’s not playing it.

I love baseball, but I don’t need my son to love it. He might even be better off not loving it.  A boy who loves swimming, biking and climbing is, as far as I’m concerned, just fine.

Feb 03

Sneak peek at the pitching staff

Tony Jackson has his Dodger pitching preview up, leading off with the question of whether Vicente Padilla will be that much of a dropoff from Randy Wolf. The danger is to place too much stock in Padilla’s short 2009 stint with the Dodgers.

I think Padilla might compare well to 2010 Wolf, but not quite so well to 2009 Wolf. Basically, both pitchers did better in a Dodger uniform last year than fans had a right to expect.

Feb 02

Rust never sleeps: Dodgers make late-night run for Ramon Ortiz

There will be two we can rebuild him Ortizes at Camelback Ranch this year. The Dodgers have signed former Angel Ramon Ortiz, who last pitched in the majors in 2007, to a minor-league contract, writes Ken Gurnick of MLB.com.

Ramon Ortiz, not to be confused with Russ Ortiz, pitched for the Giants’ AAA team last year, putting up decent numbers (3.05 ERA, 114 strikeouts against 158 baserunners in 129 2/3 innings) but never getting a callup.

Update: Tony Jackson has more on the signing of Ortiz and Alfredo Amezaga.

Feb 02

Joe Torre talks 2010 at Dodger dreamfield dedication

Joe Torre talked about a number of aspects of the upcoming season at the dedication of the Dodgers’ ninth Dreamfield, at the Boys and Girls Club of Los Angeles. Ken Gurnick of MLB.com has details.

  • Torre plans to rest Manny Ramirez and Casey Blake more in 2010, and sees Reed Johnson also getting spot starts for Andre Ethier.
  • Torre spoke to Ramirez by phone last week. Ramirez is “anxious to get started.”
  • Scott Elbert might relieve, James McDonald might start.
  • Blake DeWitt will get a fair shot to win the second-base job. Torre said he isn’t very familiar with Jamey Carroll, but that hitting coach Don Mattingly and scouts “like him a lot.”

* * *

The Dodgers are mourning the passing of ticket operations manager Desiree Sanchez from breast cancer, Gurnick writes.  My sincere condolences to her family and friends.

Feb 02

Dodgers will pick a No. 5 starter – and another, and another …

It’s risky to place too much importance on who will be the Dodgers’ No. 5 starter when the season begins, just because that role fluctuates so much. So instead of trying to predict the winner, I’m going to pursue this from another angle: truth-based fiction.

March: Josh Lindblom has a sensational spring, but the Dodgers decide there’s no way he can handle a starter’s innings from April on, without being eased into the role via the minors. Scott Elbert also shows flashes of brilliance, but the team prefers he also wet his feet in Albuquerque, where John Ely (the new one, not the old one, though both will end up with stops in Chattanooga) is slated to spend most of the year. James McDonald is penciled in early for the bullpen.  Charlie Haeger is denied meaningful innings. Russ Ortiz has one good start that generates a day’s worth of comeback stories, then implodes and is a non-factor. The longshot bids of Rule 5 Day acquisitions Carlos Monasterios and Armando Zerpa devolve into a slightly less longshot bid to become the seventh reliever.

That leaves Eric Stults. Despite his annual shutouts, the Dodgers don’t have any long-term faith in him, but with Stults out of minor-league options, they decide to give him first crack rather than throw a less experienced pitcher into the mix. The memory of McDonald’s April from last year still stings. Monasterios gets the (way) back-of-the-bullpen role, Zerpa is sent back on the Rule 5 highway, Ortiz goes to Albuquerque to find Shawn Estes’ old locker, and Haeger is released but doesn’t clear waivers.

April: Thanks to some rest-infused early season scheduling, the Dodgers don’t use a fifth starter until April 24 at Washington, an outing that finds Stults rusty but reasonably effective. He makes it through the capital city and his next start at home against Pittsburgh.

May: Before the month is out, Stults turns in the mediocre outing that confirms his limitations in the Dodgers’ eyes, and he is designated for assignment. Elbert, off to a strong start in Albuquerque, gets the callup.

June: Wear and tear on the staff — I’ll say Padilla, but it could be anyone — forces the Dodgers to bring up Lindblom to work alongside Elbert. McDonald wonders if he’ll ever be stretched out, but he becomes too valuable in the bullpen for the Dodgers to envision changing his role.

July: A four-game series in St. Louis right after the All-Star Break trashes the Dodger staff, though McDonald turns in a sterling four-inning relief stint that stops the bleeding in one game and rekindles thoughts of putting him back in the rotation. With the trade deadline approaching and the McCourt divorce case having been decided, there’s much talk about a deal. In the meantime, Ely is called upon to make a spot start, and Elbert gets a second wind after a poor stretch.

By the time the July 31 trading deadline comes, the Dodgers have a much better idea of what their starting pitching needs are. And that’s where I’m going to pause this speculation.

While few of the above plot twists might actually come true — the lack of need for a fifth starter for most of April could be enough to derail Stults’ chances of sticking, for example — the overall points are safe ones. No matter what happens in March:

1) Odds are, the Dodgers will run through several No. 5 starters.

2) Odds are, their collective performance will be good enough to allow the Dodgers to post a decent record in their outings, which is all you can really ask in a baseball world where virtually no team has a reliable No. 5 starter.

There are enough candidates for the fifth starter position that the Dodgers will have a low tolerance for failure. Unless none of them can do the job — and there’s no real reason to think all of them will fail to manage even a short hot streak — this part of the rotation will be less of a concern than some people think.

The Dodgers’ fortunes depend greatly on how their front four performs. If they can be relatively stable, the Dodger rotation will be fine — better than fine. If Chad Billingsley, Clayton Kershaw, Hiroki Kuroda or Vicente Padilla develop a serious, prolonged problem, then the Dodgers could be in trouble.

Update: Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports tweets that Jeff Weaver has agreed to a minor-league deal with the Dodgers.

Correction: I misread the schedule somehow. The Dodgers will need a fifth starter April 11 at Florida and April 17 against San Francisco. Chalk up a couple of confidence-building victories for Stults?

Feb 02

Lost Final Season: Episode 1 chat

This thread is devoted to chat about Lost. Regular Dodger Thoughts chat continues in the thread above this one.

No spoilers! That includes scenes from upcoming episodes.

For your pregame reading, here’s a celebration of Friday Night Lights alongside The Wire from Brian Lowry of Variety.

And for your pregame chatting, which of the Lost characters is your favorite entering this final season?

Feb 02

Report: Dodgers sign Alfredo Amezaga to minor-league deal

The 32-year-old no-hit, all-field Alfredo Amezaga has entered the Dodgers’ bench race with a non-guaranteed contract. (Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com was first with this showstopping news).

Amezaga has played at least five games at every position in the lineup but pitcher. Still, he becomes a candidate to take over Mark Loretta’s emergency moundsman role.

Meanwhile, twice-baked Dodger Guillermo Mota has a minor-league deal with the Giants.

Feb 02

Is Ethier still ascending?

“The best is yet to come for Andre Ethier.”  That’s a tantalizing quote, one that contrasts my knee-jerk assumption that Ethier can’t possibly improve on his 2009 campaign, from Baseball HQ via Memories of Kevin Malone. There are also some new thoughts about Dodger Stadium park effects.

Elsewhere …

  • Which is more valuable, a sixth position player on the bench or a 12th pitcher? Over the past year, I’ve come to think that for teams like the Dodgers whose starters don’t go deep into games, the extra pitcher is worth more. Dave Cameron offers some interesting pro and con arguments at Fangraphs.
  • It’s the makeover moment of the year for the Dodgers: Casey Blake, beardless. I have to keep reminding myself that the $1 million donation by Blake and his wife, Abbie, to Indianola, Iowa schools is a bigger deal.  But I have spent some time wondering whether looking younger will make Blake play younger. It’s completely logical, don’ t you think?
  • Vin Scully, Jaime Jarrin, Eric Karros and Ken Levine were among those receiving honors Monday from the Southern California Sports Broadcasters Association.
  • Vin Scully Is My Homeboy is very curious about whether the Dodgers will be showcasing a “55 since ’55” patch this year.
Feb 02

When are you?

Transported in time, transported to happiness?

If you were to be time-shifted to any year in Dodger history, when would you pick?

Two conditions: 1) You wouldn’t know if you would ever come back to the present. 2) You wouldn’t have access to any gambling venues. You’d be lost on your Dodger island.

Would you go, knowing what had already happened, away from your family and friends and present-day life, just to experience it?

Feb 01

The year after 2009

The year after Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Bill Russell and Ron Cey first made the playoffs in 1974, the Dodgers finished 20 games out of first place.

The year after the Dodgers lost two consecutive World Series in 1977-78, they were in last place at the All-Star break.

The disappointing 1975 and 1979 seasons came with nary a cloud over Chavez Ravine to match the jejune gloom that fans today feel over Dodger ownership in the wake of Frank and Jamie McCourt’s divorce. Back in the 1970s, the leadership baton was successfully passed from Walter O’Malley to son Peter, with the widespread approval of the Dodger community – assuming that community even noticed the change, amid the stable ticket prices and cheap Double-Bagger peanuts.

Don Sutton turned 30 five days before Opening Day 1975. Garvey, Lopes, Russell, Cey, Steve Yeager, Bill Buckner, Andy Messersmith, and Doug Rau all were younger. The team was in its prime, but the Cincinnati Reds, whose biggest offseason acquisition was John Vuckovich (and his eight 1975 hits), fired up the Big Red Machine and annihilated rest of the National League West.

There would be a big lesson here about the dangers of standing pat – if the Reds hadn’t stood pat themselves. In other words, 1975 is a bad omen for the 2010 Dodgers – unless the 2009 Dodgers are the 1974 Reds.

Before you think me completely crazy, understand that I realize Russell Martin isn’t Johnny Bench, James Loney isn’t Tony Perez, Casey Blake isn’t Pete Rose and no combination of Blake DeWitt, Ronnie Belliard and Jamey Carroll could ever flap Joe Morgan’s elbow. But the point is that the coming Dodger season could go well or poorly – and whichever way it goes, it will probably have much less to do with Divorce Court than people believe.

Relative to the rest of the current NL, the Dodgers have considerable strengths in other areas, most notably the outfield and the bullpen. They’re a 95-win team that has retained about 75 percent of its talent, and the three principal losses – Randy Wolf, Orlando Hudson and Juan Pierre – figure to decline this year anyway, while a good portion of the team’s core has a chance to improve and Manny Ramirez has a good chance to avoid a 50-game suspension.

And contrary to what seems to be popular opinion in Los Angeles, the other NL contenders haven’t blown past the Dodgers, divorce or not. The league champion Phillies got Roy Halladay, though they gave up Cliff Lee to get him. They get to be the favorites, though not by any wide margin. No other team in the NL had an offseason that should make any Dodger fan nervous. Arizona might get a bounce-back season from Brandon Webb and added several players (at a cost), but has a 25-game gap to make up on Los Angeles. Milwaukee picked up Wolf and Doug Davis, but saw several players depart. And so on …

NL Team 2009 W-L Notable 2010 arrivals Notable 2010 departures
Dodgers 95-67 Jamey Carroll, Nick Green, Justin Miller Randy Wolf, Orlando Hudson, Juan Pierre
Philadelphia 93-69 Roy Halladay, Placido Polanco Cliff Lee, Pedro Feliz, Pedro Martinez
Colorado 92-70 Miguel Olivo, Tim Redding Yorvit Torrealba, Jason Marquis
St. Louis 91-71 Brad Penny, Ruben Gotay Joel Pineiro, Rick Ankiel, Khalil Greene
San Francisco 88-74 Aubrey Huff, Mark DeRosa Ryan Garko, Bobby Howry, Justin Miller
Florida 87-75 Jose Veras, Derrick Turnbow Nick Johnson, Ross Gload, Jeremy Hermida
Atlanta 86-76 Melky Cabrera, Troy Glaus, Billy Wagner Javier Vazquez, Adam LaRoche, Rafael Soriano
Chicago 83-78 Marlon Byrd, Xavier Nady Milton Bradley, Rich Harden
Milwaukee 80-82 Randy Wolf, Doug Davis Mike Cameron, Felipe Lopez, J.J. Hardy
Cincinnati 78-84 Orlando Cabrera, Aroldis Chapman Kip Wells, Willy Taveras
San Diego 75-87 Jon Garland, Scott Hairston, Jerry Hairston, Jr. Kevin Kouzmanoff, Edgar Gonzalez, Henry Blanco
Houston 74-88 Brett Myers, Pedro Feliz Miguel Tejada, Jose Valverde
New York 70-92 Jason Bay, Kelvim Escobar Carlos Delgado, Gary Sheffield
Arizona 70-92 Edwin Jackson, Bobby Howry, Adam LaRoche Max Scherzer, Chad Tracy
Pittsburgh 62-99 Akinori Iwamura, Ryan Church, D.J. Carrasco Matt Capps, Jesse Chavez
Washington 59-103 Jason Marquis, Ivan Rodriguez, Brian Bruney Livan Hernandez, Josh Bard

The 2010 season could go either way. The Dodgers have the talent to contend for a chance to upset the American League champion in the World Series (we’ll get to the team’s inferiority to the Yankees and Red Sox another day). They are also, like every other team including the Phillies, vulnerable to key injuries or prolonged slumps that could send them tumbling.

The 1979 Dodgers, who seemed to have everything going for them entering the season except the departure of Tommy John, lost 31 of 41 games leading into the All-Star Game, digging themselves a hole so deep that not even a league-leading 43 victories after the break could save them. And younger fans will certainly remember what happened to the Dodgers from 2004 to 2005.

On the other hand, the Dodgers rose from a heartbreaking season’s end in 1980 to a World Series title in 1981 not because of any outside acquisitions, but on the precociousness of Fernando Valenuzela and Pedro Guerrero. And though the Dodgers benefited from Kirk Gibson falling into their laps in 1988, they also had to overcome the loss of a key starting pitcher, Bob Welch.

If the Dodgers falter, it will undoubtedly be seen through the prism of the McCourts’ divorce, with everyone pointing out how the Dodgers didn’t get the reinforcements they needed. But not getting enough reinforcements is a historical pattern for the Dodgers. No Dodger team, in Brooklyn or Los Angeles, has ever made the postseason three years in a row. None. The 2010 Dodgers have a chance to be the first (not to mention a chance to be the first to win a World Series in 22 years). Their season will ride a thin line between ecstasy and disappointment.

There probably aren’t any Dodger followers, including myself, that don’t wish the team had more talent entering the 2010 season, that don’t wonder if an opportunity to get over the top is being squandered. You always want your odds to be the best they can be. But they never are.

Feb 01

Screen names for commenters

To comment on Dodger Thoughts (or anywhere on ESPN.com), register an account if you haven’t already. I highly recommend you register and make sure you’re signed in before making your first comment.

For past readers of Dodger Thoughts who are going to comment here under new screen names, feel free to let your online friends know about the change in this thread. (You can do so in any thread you like, but I thought it might be nice to have all the changes in one place.)