May 04

Broxton, Ethier both have elbow concerns

What has seemed so inevitable for some time now has finally come to pass: Jonathan Broxton is hurt.

At the same time comes just about the last thing anyone wanted to think possible: Andre Ethier is also ailing.

Ethier, whose hot start in 2010 ended abruptly almost exactly one year ago with a pinky injury, has been nursing left elbow inflammation for two weeks, reports Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com. He was pulled from today’s starting lineup about an hour before gametime.

… Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said an hour or so before removing Ethier from the lineup that Ethier believes the issue might have started during a series more than two weeks ago against the St. Louis Cardinals.

“We’re keeping an eye on it,” Mattingly said. …

Mattingly said before the game that even with the hitting streak on the line, he would have no hesitation to use Ethier as a pinch hitter in a key situation on a day when he wasn’t in the starting lineup.

“No, because we’re trying to win a ballgame,” Mattingly said.

Broxton has been shut down with right elbow pain and will have an MRI exam, reports Jackson:

… Mattingly said no determination will be made on whether to place Broxton on the 15-day disabled list until the results of that exam are known.

Broxton, who apparently already had left Dodger Stadium to undergo the exam, wasn’t available for comment.

“He came in today complaining about some stuff,” said Mattingly, who wasn’t sure how long Broxton had been experiencing discomfort. “I told him it was honorable that he wanted to pitch through that, but that in the end, it doesn’t do him any good. It’s not fair to him, and it’s really not fair to anybody else either.”

Broxton won’t pitch until after the MRI, and Vicente Padilla will be the team’s first-choice closer for now. …

“[Pitching coach Rick Honeycutt] and I were looking at tape,” Mattingly said. “The way the ball was coming out, we felt like something was wrong. We were going to bring him in this morning, but [trainer] Stan [Conte] came in and said Brox came in talking about pain. Brox actually came in with him and told us what was going on.” …

Mattingly said that if Broxton goes on the DL, the team likely will recall reliever Kenley Jansen, who was optioned to Double-A Chattanooga on Sunday.

For all the talk about Broxton’s mental makeup, his biggest brain cramp will have been if he has been keeping his soreness a secret.

Since June 27, Broxton has pitched 42 1/3 innings and allowed 53 hits and 32 walks (6.5 walks per nine innings) while striking out 35 (7.4 per nine innings), for a 7.02 ERA.

From the start of the 2006 season through June 26, 2010, Broxton pitched 336 innings, allowing 254 hits and 119 walks (3.2 walks per nine innings) while striking out 446 (11.9 per nine innings), for a 2.60 ERA.

Ken Gurnick of MLB.com added the following:

Mattingly said one of the immediate issues was to find an MRI tube large enough for Broxton to get his 300-pound frame into.

“I’m serious,” said Mattingly.

Jay Gibbons’ 10-pitch at-bat Tuesday was enough to convince Mattingly he was ready for a start in today’s day game. He was originally slated for left field, then moved to right after Ethier was scratched, with Tony Gwynn, Jr. taking left.

Russ Mitchell also gets his first start, as Jamey Carroll, who has played in 30 of 31 games this season and hasn’t missed an inning since April 18, gets a rest and Juan Uribe moves to shortstop.

That leaves Matt Kemp as the lineup’s main anchor. It’s no 29-game hitting streak, but Kemp has hit in 27 of 31 games this season. His walks have declined, however, to only two in his past 10 games.

May 02

Halftime: Ethier hits 28 as Kershaw, Dodgers dump Cubs


Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesAndre Ethier’s 28th straight game with a hit was barely within reach.

Streak of inches.

Two games in a row now, Andre Ethier has extended his hitting streak with a single off an infielder’s glove: San Diego Padres first baseman Brad Hawpe on Sunday, and Chicago Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro on Monday night in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ 5-2 victory over Chicago. Both plays were correctly called hits because each would have required an expert play to get Ethier, but that doesn’t mean that Ethier isn’t a little bit lucky that the expert plays didn’t come.

As a result, Ethier is three games from tying Willie Davis for the Dodger record, 16 games from Pete Rose’s post-1900 National League record of 44 and halfway to the hallowed ground of Joe DiMaggio’s 56. It’s crazy to think that Ethier can repeat what he’s done to reach DiMaggio, but moments like those two infield hits certainly keep the dream alive.

Vin Scully and Prime Ticket noted in Monday night’s broadcast that of the 42 hits Ethier has had during his streak, eight have been infield hits and four of those have kept the streak going. Considering Ethier’s no speedster, that’s quite a stat.

As for the game, it was a bit of an unusual night for Clayton Kershaw in that he didn’t have a strikeout until the fifth inning. But after allowing three two-out hits for a run in the first inning, Kershaw (who walked none) breezed until giving up Alfonso Soriano’s 11th homer of the year to lead off the seventh.

One out later, Kershaw put Don Mattingly in what has recently become a familiar position. Ex-Dodgers Reed Johnson and Blake DeWitt singled, bringing the tying run to the plate. In Kershaw’s past three starts, Mattingly has tried to coax him to the end of an inning, only to see Kershaw give up multiple runs. Finally reversing the trend, Kershaw retired Starlin Castro and Darwin Barney to get out of the jam.

In fact, the Cubs didn’t muster another baserunner again, with relievers Vicente Padilla and Jonathan Broxton finishing out the game on 19 pitches combined. The beleaguered bullpen really slammed the door this time.

As for the offense, Dodger rookies played a big role. After Matt Kemp singled, stole second and scored on Juan Uribe’s double to tie the game in the second inning at 1, Ivan De Jesus Jr. got his first major league RBI by singling home Uribe with two out. In the fifth, Jerry Sands, who just missed his first big league homer in the first inning, stroked a nice two-out, two-run double — the sixth double of his young career — to right-center to give the Dodgers a 4-1 lead. Sands took third on an error and scored on Ethier’s hit.

Sands started at first base in place of James Loney, whom Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com reports isn’t going to be platooned but is being asked to stop hitting fly balls to left field.

In other news:

  • The Dodgers are offering members and veterans of the military and their families free tickets to Dodger Stadium for the month of May. Details:
  • All members of the joint services with a valid military ID, including active, reserve and retired veterans as well as their dependents, may take advantage of this offer by showing their military ID at any Dodger Stadium ticket booth day of game. Each military ID will be good for two complimentary tickets, based on availability.

  • The Long Beach Press-Telegram has eliminated its sports department, outsourcing sports to the Daily Breeze, according to the Long Beach Post (via L.A. Observed). Frank Burlison, Bob Keisser and Doug Krikorian are among those whose jobs are up in the air.
Apr 29

Blake heads to DL, Loney sits, but Uribe back in lineup


Casey Blake has officially shuffled to the disabled list, with the Dodgers calling up Russ Mitchell to take his spot on the active roster. On the relatively bright side, Juan Uribe and Marcus Thames are healthy enough to make their first starts in some time, while James Loney rests against Padres lefty Clayton Richard in favor of Jerry Sands at first base.

Not resting against the lefty is Andre Ethier, who will try to extend his hitting streak to 25 games. Ethier is 6 for 29 with one walk against lefties this season. Lefty batters hit .228 against Richard last season and are 7 for 24 (.291) this season.

Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com has a nice feature on Ethier’s march, while Keith Hawkins of ESPN Stats and Information shows that only once during the streak has there been suspense in the ninth inning. That was when Ethier doubled ahead of Matt Kemp’s walkoff homer to beat St. Louis.

* * *

Frank McCourt is doing another round of interviews today, this time in Los Angeles, so expect to see lots of coverage soon. In the meantime, I have to comment on this quote from nascent Dodger vice chairman Steve Soboroff in Bill Shaikin’s story in the Times earlier today.

“I guarantee you there is no owner or prospective owner in Los Angeles that has a better handle on the community than we do,” Soboroff told Shaikin.

Actually, I don’t have to comment. The words speak for themselves, don’t they?

* * *

For all the chaos surrounding the Dodgers, I’m going to argue that the Atlanta Braves have had a worse week — thanks to a couple of ex-Dodgers.

The Atlanta Braves placed pitching coach Roger McDowell on administrative leave Friday while they investigate allegations he made homophobic comments and crude gestures toward fans before a game in San Francisco last weekend.

The former major league reliever apologized in a statement, but the team barred him from the bench heading into a three-game series against the St. Louis Cardinals.

General manager Frank Wren said he hopes to have the investigation wrapped up by end of the weekend and added that any punishment would be coordinated with Major League Baseball.

The de facto suspension of McDowell came hours after the team announced it was looking into the arrest Thursday night of starting pitcher Derek Lowe on drunken-driving charges …

* * *

Fangraphs passes along a great Times photo from the Dodgers’ 1978 National League pennant celebration. Note, amid the jubilation, one fan trying to literally steal second, while another appears to fight with Bob Welch for the rosin bag.

Apr 27

Ethier’s heroics complete Dodgers’ comeback, 5-4


Jeffrey M. Boan/APAndre Ethier, congratulated by Matt Kemp, leads the majors with 38 hits. His pace is 237 for the season.

For the second time in the past five days, the Dodgers rallied from a four-run deficit — but unlike in Chicago, this time they hung on for a 5-4, 10-inning victory over Florida today.

Andre Ethier, who extended his hitting streak to 24 games with a fourth-inning single, hit a leadoff homer in the top of the 10th inning off the Marlins’ eighth pitcher, Brian Sanches — who had been unscored upon in 13 2/3 innings this season.

Chad Billingsley allowed five hits in six innings, but unfortunately, all five came in a four-run second inning (capped by a three-run double by Chris Coghlan, who had 12 total bases in the three-game series). But Rod Barajas hit a three-run homer, his fifth of the year, after singles by Ethier and James Loney in the fourth inning. The Dodgers tied the game in the seventh on an RBI double by pinch hitter Juan Uribe.

The Dodgers had a chance to win in regulation time after loading the bases on walks with one out, but Ivan De Jesus Jr. hit into a double play. And they had a chance to lose it when two hits off Matt Guerrier, one courtesy of an Aaron Miles misplay, helped the Marlins get to second and third with one out in the bottom of the ninth. Guerrier then retired Scott Cousins and John Buck.

Marlins starter Anibal Sanchez, who took a no-hitter into the ninth inning in his last start, left after five innings and only 74 pitches today.

Vicente Padilla, who had been warming up in the bullpen with the score tied after nine innings when Ethier homered, entered the game anyway for the bottom of the 10th and closed it out on three groundouts.

Ethier, who moved ahead of Matt Kemp (1-for-3 with two walks) as the team’s batting-average leader, .380 to .378, is now tied with John Shelby and Zack Wheat on the Dodgers’ all-time hitting streak list. Kemp still leads Ethier in on-base percentage (.460 to .451) and slugging percentage (.612 to .560).

Apr 26

Two cheers for the Dodgers, but they needed three


Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Hooray for James Loney and Andre Ethier. Loney had a “Thanks, I needed that” game, going 4 for 4, while Andre Ethier’s first-inning double gave him the MLB April hitting streak record with 23 games in a row. But Clayton Kershaw, despite displaying his defensive prowess yet again, couldn’t hold 1-0 and 2-1 leads, ultimately getting knocked out in the sixth inning of a 4-2 loss to Florida tonight. The Dodgers barely get 14 hours to think about it before heading back out for a game Wednesday at 9:10 Pacific.

Apr 24

Tumblin’ dice

Next roll for Andre Ethier – longest April hitting streak in major-league history. From the Dodgers via Elias Sports Bureau and Trent McCotter from the Society of American Baseball Research:

Joe Torre (22), April 6-28, 1972
Danny Bautista (21), April 7-30, 2004
Rico Carty (20), April 8-30, 1970
Andre Ethier (20), April 2-current, 2011
Steve Garvey (20), April 7-30, 1978

Seasons used to start later than they do today.

The longest hitting streak by a Dodger since 1988 is Paul Lo Duca’s 25-game skein in 2003. Here’s the all-time Dodger top 10:

31 Willie Davis, 1969
27 Joe Medwick, 1942
27 Duke Snider, 1953
25 Paul Lo Duca, 2003
25 Steve Sax, 1986
25 Willie Davis, 1971
25 Buzz Boyle, 1934
25 Harvey Hendrick, 1929
24 John Shelby, 1988
24 Zack Wheat, 1924

Longest consecutive-game streaks for a Dodger reaching base:

58 Duke Snider, 1954
53 Shawn Green, 2000
47 Ron Cey, 1975
44 Len Koenecke, 1934
44 Zack Wheat, 1919
43 Augie Galan, 1945
41 Eric Karros, 1994
40 Babe Herman, 1926
39 Steve Saz, 1986
39 Billy Grabarkewitz, 1970
39 Duke Snider, 1953
39 Jim Gilliam, 1953

The Snider and Gilliam streaks intersected for 21 days in August.

Apr 22

The thin line between ebb and flow: Dodgers 5, Braves 3

I was prepared to write a pretty quick take on Thursday’s game, along the lines of how weird it is that Juan Uribe only seems to hit well when Matt Kemp doesn’t.

And then Kemp, who had struck out three times earlier in the game, went and hit … very, very well. 

Kemp’s two-run home run in the bottom of the 12th inning was his second walkoff shot in five days, beating the Braves, 5-3, and helping the Dodgers reach a split of their first 20 games this season despite being outscored 94-68 in the process.

Los Angeles will try for the fifth time this year for its first three-game winning streak of the year today in Chicago.

Kemp’s blast was his fourth of 2011, putting him on pace for 30-plus homers this season (along with 60-odd steals). It also helped him stay ahead in the team OPS lead ahead of Andre Ethier, who extended his hitting streak to 18 games with two hits, including a double ahead of Kemp’s home run.

Few could understand why the Braves didn’t walk Kemp intentionally in the 12th to face Uribe. Considering that Kemp’s run was meaningless, the only possible explanation was a flimsy one – that based on the previous 3 1/2 days, Atlanta thought Uribe was the most dangerous hitter. After starting the season 8 for 52, Uribe was 7 for 16 against the Braves, including his first home run of the season to tie Thursday’s game 1-1 in the sixth inning.

To each manager his own …

Casey Blake’s solo shot in the next inning put the Dodgers ahead and seemed to give Clayton Kershaw all he needed for the victory. Kershaw, who retired his first 10 batters and took a three-hitter into the ninth (in addition to a career-high two hits at the plate), came within one out of breezing to the finish line before he loaded the bases on two singles and a walk. 

Don Mattingly went to the mound to talk to Kershaw, who had now thrown 119 pitches. Instead of going to Jonathan Broxton, Mattingly stayed with Kershaw. Given how Broxton has pitched lately, I know there was lots of support for this decision. I’m not sure I would have done differently while standing face-to-face with the pitcher, but from afar, the walk to load the bases might have been as far as I would have let Kershaw go. Mattingly had already tried letting Kershaw bail himself out of his own jam with a high pitch count in his last start, and Kershaw gave up a deep fly by David Freese and a three-run homer by Mr. Allen Craig of St. Louis.

My other concern is that Kershaw has now set a career high in pitches in two of his past three starts, throwing 340 pitches in 11 days.  

Kershaw got ahead in the count 0-2, then gave up a two-run single to former Dodger David Ross, but Jamey Carroll and Blake (3 for 6) bailed the pitcher out in the bottom of the ninth. Carroll walked, took second on a wild pitch and scored on Blake’s single.

Broxton, who relieved Kershaw after Ross’ hit, retired four of five batters he faced, and then Matt Guerrier pitched two shutout innings, surviving two two-out singles in the 11th before a 1-2-3 12th.

At which point, the game flowed back to Kemp …

* * *

Cubs at Dodgers, 11:20 a.m.

Mar 29

Andre being Andre: Ethier elaborates on exit comments


Adam Davis/Icon SMIAndre Ethier is the first Dodger to have three consecutive seasons with an adjusted OPS of at least 130 since Gary Sheffield and only the fifth in Los Angeles Dodger history to do so.

Andre Ethier was asked today about his perplexing postgame comments from Monday, and here’s the explanation – as Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com reports, he’s apparently afraid of being non-tendered after this season.

The Dodgers went that route with former All-Star catcher Russell Martin over the winter, and Ethier hinted that a similar fate could be in store for him.

“My salary is increasing each year,” Ethier said. “I would say the likeliness of me being here beyond this year, it’s not just my decision. … I have been kind of lucky to be in one spot in baseball for as long as I have been, for six years now. That is a long time to be in one city playing for one team. There is no inclination now other than to go out and play this year and see what we’ve got.

“If I don’t play well, we have seen them non-tender guys here. If you do play well, sometimes they don’t offer those guys arbitration because their salaries are too high.”

Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said he wasn’t aware of Ethier’s remarks, either from Monday night or Tuesday afternoon, and he initially seemed taken aback by them. …

But on the day the Dodgers finalized a three-year, $35 million contract extension for pitcher Chad Billingsley, Colletti did reveal that he had preliminary discussions during spring training with Nez Balelo, Ethier’s Los Angeles-based agent, on a possible extension for Ethier, but that those discussions died fairly quickly.Ethier insisted he was unaware that those talks had even begun between Colletti and Balelo, so he couldn’t have been aware that they had been quickly abandoned.

“I guess they didn’t get far enough for it to get to me,” Ethier said. “I guess that shows you how serious they were.” …

Ethier now says he would like to remain with the Dodgers for a long time to come, but he also qualified that statement.“Yeah, as long as the organization is going in the right direction and is still committed to winning rather than things not going good for a year or two and then rebuilding or maybe going through a transition year,” he said. “You hear it all the time, coaches and players saying they don’t know how many opportunities you’re going to get to be in the playoffs or on a winning team. I want to be somewhere [that provides] my best shot to win and win on an everyday basis. It feels like we have that here and we’re moving that way, but that’s kind of a wait-and-see basis.”

Yes, he does appear to have a fair bit of disenchantment with the front office. What’s poetic is that Billingsley could have felt exactly the same insecurity a year ago, when Ethier, Matt Kemp and Jonathan Broxton got two-year contracts but he didn’t.

There’s no doubt that a) the Dodgers aren’t going to pay $10 million or more to players they think can’t earn it, and b) Ethier is prone to melancholia and doomsday thinking. I think it’s one thing to motivate himself to have the best possible year, on and off the field, that he possibly can. It’s another thing for Ethier to think that the Dodgers aren’t interested in keeping him around – especially if he performs the way he is capable of.

Dodgers with three consecutive seasons, OPS+ of at least 130
2008-2010 Andre Ethier
1999-2001 Gary Sheffield
1993-1997 Mike Piazza
1981-1985 Pedro Guerrero
1980-1982 Dusty Baker
1952-1957 Duke Snider
1951-1954 Gil Hodges
1949-1953 Jackie Robinson
1949-1951 Roy Campanella
1943-1945 Augie Galan
1938-1942 Dolph Camilli
1928-1931 Babe Herman
1923-1925 Jack Fournier
1916-1918 Zack Wheat
1904-1907 Harry Lumley

* * *

Jackson with details on Billingsley’s deal: “He will receive $9 million in 2012, $11 million in 2013 and $12 million in 2014. The club option for 2015 carries a $14 million salary if it’s exercised and a $3 million buyout if it isn’t.”

“It was a little bit of a compromise, but I’m happy with it and I believe they’re happy with it also,” said Billingsley, who is represented by agent Dave Stewart, a former All-Star pitcher himself. “They came to us at the beginning of camp. We kept talking back and forth over the course of spring training and we were able to work something out. Ultimately, it was my decision and what I felt was best for me and my family.” …

“Being a pitcher, it’s nice to have the security to fall back on in case something happens — because you only have so many throws in this arm,” Billingsley said. “But I’ve been fortunate not to have too many health issues, except for hamstring problems.

“It’s a blessing for this opportunity to come my way, and I’m going to continue to focus on what I need to do. I want to continue to get better. I haven’t figured this game out. I’m still learning every day I step out on the mound.”

* * *

Dodgers at Angels, 7:05 p.m.

Mar 29

Andre Ethier’s odd postgame comments

Preamble 1: Manny Ramirez, February 22, 2010:

“I won’t be here next year, so I just want to enjoy myself,” Ramirez said. “I don’t know [if I'll play next year]. I just know I’m not going to be here. When the season is over, I will see where I’m at.”

Local/national reaction: Significant uproar over Ramirez stating the obvious.

Preamble 2: Chad Billingsley, March 28, 2011:

“I started my career here in 2003,” Billingsley said. “I love what this organization stands for. Hopefully, we can get something done.”

Reaction: Isn’t that nice?

Main event:

In its recap of Monday’s Dodgers-Angels game, The Associated Press has this from Andre Ethier:

Ethier is in the final season of a two-year, $15.25 million contract that will pay him $9.25 million this season. And the way he’s talking, the Dodgers might have a difficult time re-signing him next winter because of the uncertainty of the team’s payroll and subsequent ownership in the wake of owner Frank McCourt’s divorce from wife Jamie.

“This is my sixth one, and who knows? It might be my last one here with the Dodgers. You never know. A lot of signs are pointing that way, so we’ll have to see,” Ethier said. “Six years for a Dodger is a long time, in the era that we’re living in. So I’m going to cherish every moment I can, enjoy the season and try to make it my best one.”

Reaction: Huh?

OK, first of all, unless everything I’ve ever seen and calculated about him is false, Ethier can’t become a free agent until after the 2012 season. So there’s no issue with regard to the Dodgers’ ability to sign him for next season other than the possibility of having to go to an arbitration hearing, which they narrowly avoided the last time around.

Beyond that, why is Ethier talking about leaving now? It was one thing when Ramirez did it, because everyone with a brain knew that, short of a massive season, he wasn’t coming back to Los Angeles in 2011 after being suspended for 50 games in 2009. If Jonathan Broxton had said what Ethier said, it would be pretty disturbing (at least among those who aren’t aching for him to be gone), but at least you’d know where it was coming from.

Are we to believe that Ethier is so discombobulated by the McCourt divorce that he’s plotting his exit from Los Angeles 19 months before he has the ability to engineer it?

I’m wondering if somehow, something got lost in the translation, but otherwise, I think the most tranquil Dodger Spring Training in years might have just had its first rock thrown through the glass.

Epilogue:

For surprising comments, it might be hard to top this:

… Had (Walter) O’Malley known of this connection, he surely would have jumped at the chance to rename his team and the stadium in honor of the first Los Angeles residents. Visualize his portly body shaking with laughter at the thought of pitting his Los Angeles Yang-nas against their former bitter New York borough rivals, the Yankees, in a World Series in Yang-na Stadium. …

Mar 11

Dream-weaving the Dodgers offense

My thoughts remain with the victims of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.


Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireRafael Furcal, shaky sparkplug

It says something about how concerned people are with the Dodgers offense that even as pitchers Vicente Padilla, Jon Garland and Ronald Belisario have dropped off the probable Opening Day roster, the hitting is still the Dodgers’ primary concern. And not without good reason.

But there are a number of ways, not even high-apple-pie-in-the-sky ways, that the Dodgers offense could exceed the lowest expectations and prove adequate, if not above average. Here are some potential upsides for the batsmen:

250 total bases from Rafael Furcal
The Dodgers want Furcal to be reasonably healthy and reasonably productive. Reaching this milestone would indicate that Furcal was successful on both fronts. (Throw in about 50 walks and double-digit steals to top it off.)

The challenge: The 33-year-old hasn’t reached 250 total bases since his first year as a Dodger in 2006, when he had 291. In 2009, Furcal played in 150 games but struggled badly at the plate (probably playing at less than 100 percent); the following year he was on pace for a great season but couldn’t make it into more than 97 games. The problem with Furcal seems to be that he is simply not a quick healer these days.

The hope: Furcal could miss 30 games and still reach the plateau if his bat doesn’t take a holiday. Knowing the Dodgers have Jamey Carroll as a backup in the majors and Dee Gordon or Ivan De Jesus in the minors, the team can afford to give him days off or even a quick run on the disabled list to recover from lighter ailments in order to preserve him for the long haul.

2009 calls, and Matt Kemp answers
A year ago, we were wondering how Kemp might improve on his banner 2009 season. Today, everyone would be happy if he merely matched it. Lest we forget, that was a season, at age 24, when Kemp had a .352 on-base percentage, .490 slugging percentage, 34 steals in 42 attempts and defense that made you gasp, but not in horror.

The challenge: Finding out if Kemp still has a 2009 in him. Can he adjust, both to the pitchers who fooled him in 2010 and to the level of mental approach required of him over a full season?

The hope: It’s not unusual for players to take a step back before they take their next step forward. The Dodgers hope the presence of Davey Lopes will help provide the spring in Kemp’s step. Want a statistical beacon to look toward? Kemp’s batting average on balls in play last year was .295, after averaging .364 the previous three seasons. A little luck could go a long way.

Kyle Terada/US PresswireDioner Navarro



Dioner Navarro proves his signing wasn’t a clerical error

“I’ve made a huge mistake,” Gob Bluth of “Arrested Development” might have said had he woken up one morning and realized he had signed the once-and-future Dodger catcher to a $1 million contract after Navarro slogged out a .528 OPS in 2010.

The challenge: It wasn’t only 2010. Over the past two seasons, Navarro has a .263 on-base percentage and .306 slugging percentage in 163 games. Yes, offensive expectations are lower for a catcher, but that’s just useless. The Dodgers need their backup catcher to succeed because Rod Barajas can’t play every day (nor would you want him to), but investing too much patience in Navarro could be an investment in a black hole.

The hope: Navarro is still only 27, still only two seasons removed from a .349 OBP and .407 slugging. Totals like that would more than do the trick. Why the Dodgers think Navarro can recover, I cannot tell you, but this isn’t the stereotypical Ned Colletti signing of a veteran on the downslope of his career. This was a belief signing, a buy-low on a player who could still be entering his prime. Perhaps Navarro’s 2011 will show us why at the end of every hard-earned day people find some reason to believe.

James Loney stops hitting like Joe Shlabotnik
Kemp gets all the grief in the mainstream press, but for New School fans, it’s Loney who’s the bigger target. His RBI totals (especially relative to his opportunities) and his defense don’t make up for the overall production the Dodgers could really use from their first baseman.

The challenge: Among other things, proving that not one but two seasons of sub-.400 slugging percentage were just a pause that refreshes. And then there’s overcoming a walk-to-strikeout ratio that went from 1.03 in 2009 to 0.55 last year. And then … well, you get the idea.

The hope: Loney had an .803 OPS heading into the All-Star break last season, which isn’t exactly Albert Pujols, but it’s something to cling to. Folks still love his stroke, a stroke that delivered 19 homers, a .372 on-base percentage and .543 slugging percentage in his first 144 career games. Are we really to believe that Loney peaked at age 23?

Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireAndre Ethier


Andre Ethier is no platoon player

Ethier had an .846 OPS in 72 plate appearances against left-handed pitchers as a rookie in 2006. That production has declined each and every year since, down to .625 in 178 PA last season.

The challenge: Actually, protecting that pivotal pinkie might be Ethier’s biggest 2011 worry, but presuming he can, the decline against lefties is more than a bit worrying. Four years of decline is tough to stomach even for a player of Ethier’s overall ability.

The hope: Ethier, who will be 29 in April, was on an MVP pace for the first several weeks of last season, so with loads of room to improve against lefties, his best year might still be ahead of him. The alternative is that the Dodgers softly begin resting him against lefties if a fellow by the name of Jerry Sands keeps knocking at the door.

Jerry Sands knocks at the door
The power-hitting 23-year-old minor-leaguer with all of 68 games above Class A has been perhaps the top story in the early days of spring training, as Dodgers fans unhappy with the current third-outfielder conglomerate look longingly for a savior.

The challenge: Handling temptation. Sands’ massive inexperience at the higher levels of the game makes the script all too easy to write – an early taste of success followed by a faceplant against major-league breaking pitches.

The hope: In 2006, Ethier and Kemp came up as rookies and, while they didn’t win permanent starting jobs right away, made unmistakable contributions toward that year’s division title. The Dodgers can’t expect Sands to become rookie of the year, but it’s not crazy to dream he (or Trayvon Robinson) could provide some lift to the sagging outfield picture.

A midseason trade gives offense a new gear
For all the talk of how the McCourt ownership has hamstrung player acquisitions, the Dodgers have not been silent at the trade deadline. Ted Lilly was no Manny Ramirez 2008, but he was a major splurge for a team barely hanging on in more ways than one. It’s sensible to assume that unless the Dodgers fall completely out of the race, Colletti will have the BlackBerry working.

The challenge: Making the trade worthwhile, both in terms of what comes in (spare us Scott Podsednik, please) and what goes out. If Rubby De La Rosa continues his rapid progress, and anyone from the group including Ethan Martin, Aaron Miller and Chris Withrow bounces back, the Dodgers will have no shortage of trade chips in pitching alone. But you don’t want to use them unwisely, not at all.

The hope: Right player at the right time, ideally without giving up the primo minor-league talent. They’ve done it before; could they do it again?

Feb 21

You get a line, I’ll get a pole, my honey …


Morry Gash/APXavier Paul takes his swings at Camelback Ranch today.

Maury Wills sings “Crawdad Hole.” Thank you, Blue Heaven.

Elsewhere …

  • One of the lesser-known but valuable defensive statistical tools is PMR (Probabilistic Model of Range), by David Pinto of Baseball Musings. Today, he published shortstop data for the period 2006-10. The Dodgers are No. 6 out of 30 teams at the position, thanks mostly to Rafael Furcal, who is seventh-best in baseball over that stretch – fourth among those who have seen at least 10,000 balls in play in their zone.
  • Andre Ethier wants to be a more uplifting leader for the Dodgers this year, he tells Dylan Hernandez of the Times. Don Mattingly suggested a role model for Ethier: Derek Jeter.
  • It just keeps getting worse for Scott Podsednik. Mark Zwolinski of the Toronto Star reports that “Podsednik suffered a re-aggravation of foot injury he first came down with in 2010, and will not be immediately available to open spring training with the team.” Jays manager John Farrell said the ex-Dodger, whose unguaranteed contract gives him $1 million for making the team, is battling plantar fasciitis again.
  • I’ve been meaning to highlight this for a long time but kept forgetting: Brandon Lennox of True Blue L.A. went to the trouble of ranking and providing detailed capsules of the Dodgers’ top 200 minor-league prospects. Here’s your path to the trove.
  • A 7-foot-1 pitching prospect? You be the judge: Bill Plunkett of the Register has a fun feature on the Angels’ 85-inch minor leaguer, Loek Van Mil.
  • Dee Gordon, interviewed by Josh Jackson for MLB.com, says he isn’t expecting Stephen King to write “The Girl Who Loved Dee Gordon.”
  • ESPN.com has an entire page dedicated to 6-foot-2 high school basketball player Diamond DeShields, daugher of Delino and class of 2013.
Feb 14

The pleasure and peril of multiyear contracts for the kids

To extend, or not to extend – that is the question.

One part of my recent interview with Ned Colletti that I couldn’t work into the main story was his thoughts about offering multiyear contracts to younger players before they become free agents. Here’s what he had to say:

Ric Tapia/Icon SMIAndre Ethier was arguably the only arbitration-eligible Dodger who didn’t decline in 2010 after receiving a multiyear contract.

“You have to have some predictability to performance,” Colletti said. “Usually, clubs gain a benefit from going multiyear, and it’s got to be seen as that from the club’s perspective, because you’re not guaranteeing performance. All you’re guaranteeing is the financial end of the equation.

“If the right situation presents itself, where the guy’s in the right place in his career, his life and his priorities, and there’s a savings a club can realize, then it’s worth doing. But if only the first part’s there, that we’re gonna pay on the guy maximizing (his performance), there’s really no reason to do it – let him go out and do it every year. Some guys who are flawed in an area or who don’t possess everything they need, the agent will ask you to pay as if that is occurring, in the event that it does.”

In short, Colletti needs confidence that the player is going to stay on track performance-wise, and he needs there to be some savings for making the guaranteed payment. The Dodgers need to get some rebate in exchange for the security that they’re offering.

That being said, Colletti said that Clayton Kershaw is the kind of player for whom a multiyear deal might make sense, but that the process wouldn’t begin until next winter, when he first becomes eligible for arbitration.

“It’d be something we may think about as this year unfolds and we get into the offseason,” Colletti said. “Not this spring. He’s got four more years here.”

That might appropriate to some, too casual to others. Let’s take a closer look.

Colletti signed three key arbitration-eligible players to multiyear deals before the 2010 season – Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp and Jonathan Broxton – and based on 2010 performance, Colletti might well regret two of those contracts. He’s also probably quite pleased that he didn’t go multiyear with Russell Martin, and not really worried that he hasn’t done so with James Loney, who signed his latest one-year deal Friday. Perhaps he should have bought low on Chad Billingsley last winter. (I would have, but I would have also wanted to do so on a lot of the other guys.) In general, recent experience has probably made Colletti even more wary in discussing them with other players.

Here’s a snapshot of the salaries for the players we’re talking about over a four-year period (multiyear deals in bold, Martin’s Yankees salary in parentheses):


Player/Year 2008 2009 2010 2011
Billingsley $415,000 $475,000 $3,850,000 $6,275,000
Broxton $454,000 $1,825,000 $4,000,000 $7,000,000
Ethier $424,500 $3,100,000 $6,000,000 $9,250,000
Kemp $406,000 $467,000 $4,000,000 $7,050,000
Kershaw $404,000 $440,000 $500,000
Loney $411,000 $465,000 $3,100,000 $4,875,000
Martin $500,000 $3,900,000 $5,050,000 ($4,000,000)

Note that Billingsley got a 63 percent raise for 2011 following a well-regarded season, and Loney got a 57 percent raise for a season considered a disappointment. That gives you some guideposts for the following speculation:

  • Not signing Billingsley to a multiyear deal in 2010 might have cost the Dodgers a few hundred thousand bucks this year. But not signing a multiyear deal in 2009 might have saved the team money in 2010.
  • The two-year deal in 2010 for Broxton probably cost the Dodgers more than $600,000 for 2011. With a three-year deal in 2009, perhaps they would have broke even, though that involved more risk.
  • Ethier’s two-year deal has probably saved the Dodgers a little bit of money; a three-year deal in 2009 might have saved them a bit more.
  • With Kemp, I’m honestly not sure that going year-to-year would have made much of a difference. His 2011 salary appears higher than it otherwise would have been, but that might have been a case of backloading the contract, because the 2010 salary looks a little low. Kemp’s 2009 performance was stronger than Billingsley’s, and that’s not reflected in the $150,000 difference between their 2010 paychecks.
  • Going year-to-year with Loney probably saved the Dodgers money, but less than $1 million.
  • Martin, of course, is where the big savings comes – if he had signed a multiyear deal in 2009, he might have been paid an extra, say, $2 million last year. And if it had been a three-year deal, the Dodgers might be paying Martin $8 million this season. Only if Martin has a whopping comeback will the Dodgers regret this.

Given that Colletti didn’t have a crystal ball, it’s hard to complain much about how he’s handled things. The decision to show restraint on Martin has arguably saved the Dodgers $6 million, which more than covers any fringe costs with Broxton, Billingsley, Ethier or Kemp. The only way this would be reversed is if one of those four or Loney has an MVP or Cy Young season, and you’re then fretting that the Dodgers haven’t bought out some of their free-agent years, the way Colorado has with Troy Tulowitzki or Carlos Gonazlez. We should be so unfortunate.

Brad Mangin/Getty ImagesClayton Kershaw, nearly four years younger than Tim Lincecum, had a lower ERA than the Giants ace in 2010.

That brings us back to Kershaw, who becomes eligible for salary arbitration after this season and eligible for free agency after 2014. (Gosh, that seems so nice and far away right now.) How urgent is it for Colletti to lock Kershaw up for multiple years? It would sure feel nice, but you can’t say there isn’t risk.

Let’s turn to the contract status of arguably the reigning young aces of each league (at least until Kershaw decides to do something about it).

One year ago Saturday, Tim Lincecum signed a two-year, $23 million contract (plus incentives in the thousands). The deal came after Lincecum and the Giants were $5 million apart – $8 million vs. $13 million – in their 2010 arbitration filing. It didn’t come close to addressing his free-agent years; it just was a hedge against what Lincecum might have earned going year-to-year.  Hypothetically, if Lincecum had settled for a 10.5 million salary in 2010, he might have been looking at something like $17 million this year, making for a total in the neighborhood of $28 million. (Though Lincecum slipped a bit in the 2010 regular season, his postseason performance would have helped rectify matters.)

Put one way, the Giants a year ago risked committing $13 million in 2011 salary in order to save about $5 million. That’s some high-stakes Mahjong.

Over in the American League, Felix Hernandez and the Seattle Mariners played things differently. After earning $3.8 million in 2009 and facing a $4.3 million gap in salary arbitration filings ($7.2 million vs. $11.5 million), Hernandez signed a five-year, $78 million pact that locked away his first three years of free agency (2012-14). The contract averages $15.6 million per year for five years, $19.3 million for the three free-agent years. Again, there’s no mistaking the double-edged sword: You can assume that $58 million for three years wouldn’t have cut it for Hernandez after this season, but the risk is catastrophic if something goes wrong.

I think it’s pretty clear where my sentiments lie with Kershaw – I’d sign him to a multiyear contract tonight – but you can understand why Colletti might hesitate or procrastinate. For another example, look how quickly opinions turned on Eric Gagne before his multiyear deal vs. after he got hurt. It’s harder to stomach paying big bucks for an injured player than it is to pay bigger bucks for a healthy superstar.

On the other hand, better Clayton Kershaw than Jason Schmidt.

In my head, I can understand the patience, as much as I believe it should be done.

Feb 07

The Dodgers according to Ned Colletti


Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesNed Colletti is beginning his sixth season as Dodgers general manager. The team has averaged 86 regular-season victories during his tenure.

Ten days.

The Dodgers rose from the basement of the National League West in May to the best record in the league in June, then sat only two games out of first place in the division at the All-Star Break.

Yet as far as Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti was concerned, it was almost a mirage. During an interview at his Dodger Stadium office last week, Colletti fully acknowledged that the Dodgers’ second-half fade, as much as he and everyone else tried to reverse it, came as disturbingly little surprise to him.

Ten days. In Colletti’s view, that’s how long the Dodgers played championship-quality baseball in 2010.

“I think the second half, in a lot of ways, was the result of the first half and the spring,” Colletti said. “I can’t say I had more than a 10-day period where I thought we were truly playing as well as we could play. In ’09, we had a pretty good defense, and we executed, played well in clutch situations, found a way to win games. We really hadn’t done that very much in the first half of the season. And I think it caught up with us in the second half.

“And what I did last year wasn’t acceptable. How I prepared for last year didn’t meet the results that I have for myself.”

The Dodgers will arrive to spring training later this month, in many ways, a different team than a year ago, starting with a greater emphasis on starting pitching that represents Colletti’s most visceral response to his roster concerns from 2010. At the same time, Colletti said the experience the returning core gained from last year’s disappointment has the potential to play a significant, positive role in 2011.

“They’re professional, and this is their livelihood,” he said. “And you believe there’s enough pride and adjustment and education from this past year. A lot of guys haven’t gone through what they’ve gone through in the past year. That will put them in the right place coming in to know it’s got to be better and it’s got to be more focused.

“Because they’ve (succeeded) before, I’m confident. But then, last year was what it was. I’m cautious by nature. I take nothing for granted, at any point in my life at any stage. So I don’t take it for granted that it’s just gonna happen. I think it has to be prepared in order to happen.

Translated, Colletti believes the talent is there but the effort, focus and confidence need to return. He said the offseason preparation “is done to some point, and when you get to camp now it’s going to be up to Don [Mattingly] and his staff to have certain procedures in place and certain accountability set forth. And I obviously have to support that, and they have to buy into it.”

Jeff Hanisch/US Presswire
Matt Kemp had homered once in 31 games prior to hitting one out in each of his final five games of 2010.

Comeback kids?
Despite leading Dodgers regulars on offense, Andre Ethier never fully seemed to recover from the pinky injury he suffered in May and fed doubts about his long-term ability to hit left-handed pitchers (.625 OPS against them in 2010, .681 for his career). James Loney went from decent before the All-Star Break (.803) to disastrous after (.616). Jonathan Broxton’s second-half collapse is as well-documented as anyone’s, and Matt Kemp … well, let’s just say his season could have been the inspiration for what made Linda Blair’s head spin in “The Exorcist.”

The question, Colletti agreed, is which of the players will hit a hurdle in their development in 2010, and which have hit a wall. And it’s a question that’s due for an answer. Mulligans that were handed out last year won’t be found so easily or at all in 2011.

“In the past, I’ve been more patient than open-minded,” Colletti said. “I think that one of the toughest characteristics you have to have in these jobs is patience because everybody expects everything to turn overnight. … It doesn’t work that way. Everybody’s human; these guys are all human. They take maturation, physical maturation, all kinds of processes.

“I won’t be able to be just completely patient with it [this year]. We’re not an old team, but we’re not a team overwhelmed with rookies, either. We have experience, and a lot of our players have been to the postseason at least twice and sometimes three times in the last five years. So it’s there, it’s really kind of going back to that point and being focused about it and passionate about it and tough-minded about it.”

It might surprise people to learn that Colletti seems particularly bullish about Kemp, the target of a radio critique by Colletti in April.

“I think probably from middle of August on, things became a little bit more focused for him,” Colletti said. “He and I had a conversation, probably in August, that was really a man-to-man, heart-to-heart, one-on-one conversation. And I was trying to take some of the weight off. I think he understands it; I think he understands what transpired last year. I think from my conversations this winter, from the last month of the season and this winter, I think he understands more than he did a year ago about himself and about the game, about preparation. So I think he’s got a chance to really have a great year.”

It’s possible Colletti might have said the same thing about Russell Martin, except Martin is no longer around. The circumstances of the Dodgers’ decision to let Martin go rather than offer him salary arbitration weren’t discussed, but Martin’s recent offseason comments about “distractions” that affected him led to a broader comment from Colletti about the difficulty of playing in Los Angeles.

“Sometimes, it’s commitment, prioritization and commitment,” Colletti said. “I read what Russell said, but I don’t know what the true context was or what his underlying thoughts were as to why he said it. … There are a lot of distractions in this city. There’s a lot of different things to be doing, a lot of places your mind can wander off to, but if you’re a professional baseball player, if you’re a Dodger, you’ve got to figure out life. … And it’s not easy to do it.”

Without going into many specifics, Colletti indicated that the ability to play in Los Angeles is a factor in some trades of young players he has made. He called Carlos Santana the prospect he regrets parting with “probably more than anybody” before he added that there were a couple of other guys he would have to wait and see on.

“Again, Los Angeles isn’t for everybody,” Colletti said. “Sometimes we make a move on a player because we know in this environment here, they’re not going to be very good in it.”

Chris Williams/Icon SMI
Jonathan Broxton issued 25 of his 28 walks last season after June 23.

Pitching paradoxes
As for Broxton, count Colletti among those who see his second-half crumble as an issue of confidence, rather than health problems that might have been caused by his 48-pitch tar-and-feathering against the Yankees last June.

“He never complained,” Colletti said. “And at the end, he wasn’t thrilled with it, but I said, ‘Jonathan, I need you to take a complete physical — your arm, your shoulder, your elbow.’ A week to go in the season. And he said, ‘I feel great. I don’t need to do it.’ And I said, ‘I need you to do it.’ So he said, ‘I’ll do it,’ and everything came back clean.”

Colletti is aware of the volatility of relief pitchers, comparing them to great goaltenders who can go through “a month or two where they can’t stop anything.” But this awareness cuts both ways. It leads Colletti to give relievers who have performed in the past long leashes, and it compels him to have as many alternatives on hand as he can, as seen through the acquisitions of set-up men Matt Guerrier and Blake Hawksworth and oblique references to No. 6 starter Vicente Padilla’s potential to close games.

Again, however, Colletti believes that at rock bottom you can often find a trampoline. Look no further than Chad Billingsley, banished from the Dodgers’ starting rotation by the end of 2009 before rising anew last season.

“Most of our young players did not experience a lot of failure as young players, minor leagues [or] early in the big leagues,” Colletti said. “They really didn’t struggle. And when it finally hits you, and you do struggle for whatever reason and you’re doing it in front of 45,000 people in Los Angeles all the time, on television every day, that’s a tough time to struggle for the first time, for the really first time, and be able to come out of it.”

Interestingly, Colletti’s faith in failure recovery played a partial role in what many believe is the Dodgers’ greatest weakness heading into this season: the lack of a bona fide left fielder.

Angst in the outfield
This winter, the Dodgers didn’t bid on the two marquee outfield free agents, Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth, and you can safely conclude that was a reflection of their overall contract demands and the Dodgers’ budget. But when it came to alternatives, Colletti was wary of blocking two Dodgers outfield prospects who could each be major league ready a year from now, Trayvon Robinson and Jerry Sands, especially after the experience Robinson had in Jacksonville last summer.

“Robinson last year started off slow in Double-A, and we stayed with him and he figured it out,” Colletti said. “That to me was huge. Because he’s gonna have to figure that out. Because everybody struggles up here.”

There is the caveat that it’s not as if the current Dodgers never struggled in the majors or minors before 2010 – one could easily make the case that they did, but that their subsequent triumphs blotted out the memory. In any event, if he had found a signable veteran outfielder worthy of a multiyear deal, Colletti no doubt would have pulled the trigger. But he does feel optimistic over the long term about what he has.

“If I would have signed a left fielder for three years, who was again not one of those robust guys — I’m not sure there was a guy out there — then I’m really kind of blocking one of those two kids, and I’ve got faith in both of them,” he said. “Hopefully, not this year. Hopefully, it’s a year from now, but I have faith in both that they’ll be able to play and contribute. And actually I told them both that, too, in the fall — I told Trayvon way back in the summertime, ‘It’s important for me to know who you are and how you play. Because you know what, Manny’s not gonna be back next year. And I’ve got to make a decision whether I’m gonna go and tie up his spot for three or four years, or be patient and mix and match for a year and wait for you.’”

Scott Boehm/Getty ImagesCasey Blake had an .895 OPS against lefties last year, .663 against righties.

In the interim, Colletti is under no illusion that he has gold in the third outfield slot, so the Dodgers will essentially play it by ear in the outfield, with Mattingly looking at matchup opportunities for Tony Gwynn Jr., Marcus Thames, Jay Gibbons and Xavier Paul (if he makes the squad), and on an infrequent basis, Casey Blake or Jamey Carroll.

“Right now Matty’s the center fielder,” Colletti said. “Andre’s the right fielder. I want to see what Tony can do offensively. He’ll play as much as the offense allows him, I think … using the whole field, bunting more, figuring out ways to get on base, because his on-base percentage isn’t high even when he hits .270. See if he can become more disciplined at the plate, use his speed more to get on. I don’t expect power out of him. I don’t expect gap power out of him, but I would like to see him get on base a lot more, because if he does it perhaps changes the dynamics in the outfield.

“And in the meantime, I’ve got two guys that can hit, one from the left side and one from the right side — actually two from the left side with X. Paul and Gibbons, and then Thames. … And perhaps they’re five- or six-inning guys, and then you go defense later. But you’ve got two guys that might be able to hit 20 homers between them.”

Third base offers a secondary question for the Dodgers because, while Blake is sure to start against lefties and some righties, no one seems to be beating the drum for him to play 146 games like he did last season. With the Dodgers’ minor leagues fairly thin at second and third base, this time Colletti took the plunge on a multiyear stopgap in Juan Uribe.

“Our system’s produced a lot of guys,” Colletti said. “But except for really [Ivan] DeJesus, we don’t really have a second baseman that’s on the verge of being here. We have a shortstop coming probably in Dee Gordon and after him [Jake] Lemmerman, and right now third base is a bit of an open spot too — we had [Pedro] Baez in the Cal League last year. So Uribe, while the on-base percentage isn’t Moneyball-ish or whatever, the run production is still pretty good, in that he can play second, short or third, and we don’t have anybody that’s going to press him at third for a while, and really De Jesus is trying to transition to play second. I needed somebody I can run out there who’s a big league guy.”

Because of what he sees as a potential benefit to have Uribe play some at the hot corner, Colletti emphasized that De Jesus has a legitimate chance to make the Opening Day roster as a backup infielder. Obviously, someone like Carroll could also make several starts to allow Blake to rest.

In any case, Colletti is aware of how much a juggling act the Dodgers’ everyday lineup has become. Though he has in one sense traded last year’s lack of a fifth starter for this year’s lack of an everyday left fielder or third baseman, Colletti sees the two situations as apples and oranges.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Matt Guerrier, 31, has allowed 11.5 baserunners per nine innings in his career.

Never enough
“You really didn’t have in my mind many choices that were going to be able to play every day,” Colletti said. “We had to fix the pitching first, and we had to upgrade the bullpen if we could.

“You can’t finesse pitching. Maybe a day here or there, but you need to have it. And the list [of available pitchers], we were kind of picking near the top of the list, even though it isn’t sexy to say you signed Ted [Lilly] or Hiroki [Kuroda], it’s not necessarily ‘wow,’ but it’s solid. It gave us a little bit of depth. So we had to start there. The kid from Minnesota, Guerrier, is gonna be a good add for us. He’s pitched in a lot of big games; he’s always had positive results.

“It’s the most volatile group, but once [Joaquin] Benoit got three years and [$16.5 million], that’s what people expect to get … and if you really need a guy, sometimes you have to go the extra distance to go and get him.”

Add together the total commitments the Dodgers made to their free-agent signees of this past offseason, and you barely pass the total value of Adrian Beltre’s deal by itself, while falling short of the Crawford or Werth contracts. And like it or not, Colletti was not going to enter another season shy on pitching or dependent on unproven rookies such as James McDonald or Scott Elbert.

“I was apprehensive all winter long last year” Colletti said of the starting pitching. “I knew we were short going in; I knew we weren’t going to be able to rally it. In the spring, J-Mac and Scotty both struggled. We may have sent them both out early, in fact, because they couldn’t throw strikes; they were all over the board. So right from the beginning, I knew we were going to be short. I didn’t know how we were gonna mix and match, and we couldn’t afford an injury certainly.”

If there’s an ongoing concern on everyone’s minds, it’s how the Frank McCourt ownership crisis is affecting spending on the team on the field. You can argue that different owners might have allowed Colletti to sign one big-ticket free agent in addition to shoring up the pitching, but Colletti doesn’t contend that the divorce itself is having an impact on personnel.

He also makes the case, as McCourt did a year ago, that the Dodgers are aiming to spend more money to deepen their prospect population.

Farm aid
“We’ve had basically the same [major-league] payroll,” Colletti said. “Though we dipped a little bit last year, we’re coming back this year. It’s not really how much you have, it’s where you spend it. We do have to get better at international signings; we have to reinvest there. I think we’ve let Venezuela slip for a few years, and we’ve made some changes in the staffing.

“We’ve done a decent job in the D.R. [Dominican Republic] — not what we did 25 years ago, but with all due respect, 25 years ago there wasn’t 30 teams down there, either. So, it’s not like we could just cherry-pick the players we want like we probably did at the outset of the country opening up to having players signed. But we do have to get better at that to support our player development system. It’s been fruitful. Obviously, a lot of players are in the big leagues now that we drafted, but we have to keep flowing, and they have to keep getting better. I know we’ve hit a touchable lull right now and I think we’re probably a year or two away from having another group come forward.”

[+] EnlargeZach Lee

Chris Carlson/APLogan White escorts newly signed Zach Lee in his Dodger Stadium visit in August.

Colletti didn’t rule out the Dodgers’ top draft choice of 2010, Zach Lee — whose signing shocked most baseball observers — being part of the Dodgers’ graduating class of 2012. Amid the height of McCourt tensions, Lee received a $5.25 million signing bonus, a record for a Dodgers’ draft pick. The previous record-holder, Clayton Kershaw, reached the majors less than two calendar years after he was picked, and Lee could do the same.

“We really liked this kid,” Colletti said. “We really liked his makeup, his demeanor, his abilities, athleticism, his toughness. … Not only are the physical skills different than most kids you see, but the way his mind works is different … probably from playing at the highest levels at a couple of sports, including going to LSU for a summer and having that experience, which as long as he didn’t get hurt it didn’t bother me.”

Colletti’s hope is that the Dodgers’ minor league pitchers drafted in previous years allow Lee as much time as he needs to develop. There was an epidemic of setbacks among the farm system’s arms in 2010 — so many that if Colletti wants to see who can overcome hurdles, wish granted.

“It’s concerning to me,” he said. “Probably a lot of the guys that we could both probably name should be a year farther along than they are. They’ve all struggled with command. … Some are converted players, some weren’t pitchers necessarily in high school or college. So they’re still learning that.

Curing the epidemic
And to circle back to the beginning of our piece, in some ways, older players never stop learning and developing. Witness Colletti’s additional assessment of the contagion that struck the Dodgers’ offense in 2010:

“I think hitters sometimes without results start to get impatient, so they start to chase out of the zone,” he said. “They’re trying to build more offensive numbers in a quicker period of time and so they’re not as diligent to work the count, and all that stuff starts to compound through the course of it. … When people are starting to slump, sometimes it produces more guys that go in that direction than less. And that’s what started to happen. It started to spiral where one guy struggled and then two. And then the third guy saw the other two and then he struggled, and it continued to mount.”

Alex Gallardo/APDavey Lopes will switch to a Dodgers’ uniform for the first time since Game 6 of the 1981 World Series.

When you take Colletti’s view of what went wrong with the Dodgers last year and what’s needed to make it right, it makes sense that he sees one of the most promising offseason moves as one that even some jaded Dodgers fans embraced: the hiring of Davey Lopes as a coach.

“I’ve known him a long time and I’ve admired him,” Colletti said. “You know, I was with him in Chicago when he was still a player and I’ve certainly watched him from the other side of the field when he managed and when he was coaching. And I think what he brings here is — you’re talking about first — someone who was an iconic Dodger who understands Los Angeles and understands the Dodgers and was here during one of the greatest periods in our franchise’s history. That’s important.

“What he did in Philly with baserunning and defense and fine-tuning that position, the first-base coaching position, to make it a far more valuable position to the organization, is something we noticed. And I think he’s going to have a great impact on our club. I think there are some players that could turn their game up a notch with his instruction, with his thought process. I think, while it’s a coaching position, I think it’s a huge addition for this franchise.”

Will a new manager, new coaches, new players and new spirits be enough to right the Dodgers’ ship? It’s too soon to say, but if the Dodgers are to play more than 10 days of great baseball in 2011, Colletti will expect to see strong signs of it before Opening Day arrives.

Jan 02

Jerry Sands: How close is he?

One in a series of at least one, on how close selected Dodger prospects are to the majors …

Jerry Sands
Vitals: OF/1B, 6-foot-4, 210-225 pounds, turned 23 on September 28.

Summary: From age 22 1/2 to age 23, Sands had a .395 on-base percentage and .586 slugging percentage with 35 homers in 590 plate appearances combined at Single-A Great Lakes and Double-A Chattanooga. In Double-A, Sands posted a .360/.529 with 17 homers in 303 plate appearances.

For comparison’s sake: From age 22 to age 22 1/2, Andre Ethier delivered a .383/.442 with seven homers in 471 plate appearances, all in Single-A. Then from age 23 to 23 1/2, Ethier offered .385/.497 with 18 homers in 572 plate appearances in Double-A (not counting a 17-plate appearance cup o’ joe at Triple-A). After starting 2006 strongly with the Dodgers’ Triple-A team, Ethier was promoted to the majors three weeks after turning 24.

Sobering: Sands struck out in about a quarter of his at-bats in the minors last year.

For what it’s worth: A younger Matt Kemp arrived in Los Angeles mere months after going .349/.569 in Single-A, and was in the majors for good less than two years after that Single-A year.

Quick and dirty conclusion: Obviously, Sands and Ethier are not the same player. Ethier had a better OBP but less power in the minors, among other differences. Still, I did find the juxtaposition interesting. It seems entirely plausible that Sands could get a quick promotion to Albuquerque in 2011. That would position him to make his big-league debut before the year is out and leave him a serious contender for a starting role in 2012.

Though there is almost zero chance Sands would start 2011 in the majors after only a half-season in Double-A – because Ned Colletti teams give veterans first crack in April – how Sands develops this year, against the background of how the Dodger major-league outfield shapes up, could speed up his timetable. He is also a potential understudy to James Loney.

Did you know? Sands stole 18 bases in 20 attempts in 2010 and is 24 for 27 in his pro career.