Aug 03

Mark Walter: Not an absentee owner

Cubs at Dodgers, 7:10 p.m.
Shane Victorino, LF
Mark Ellis, 2B
Matt Kemp, CF
Andre Ethier, RF
Hanley Ramirez, SS
James Loney, 1B
Luis Cruz, 3B
A.J. Ellis, C
Chad Billingsley, P

The Dodgers have put a waiver claim in on Cliff Lee, reports Jon Paul Morosi of FoxSports.com, though it’s still unlikely that they’ll end up with the Phillies lefty.

That makes this piece by Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com on Dodger ownership leader Mark Walter that much more timely.

… After missing out on Ryan Dempster at the deadline, the Dodgers’ brass was insistent it wasn’t done dealing. In fact, when I caught up with him on the field Tuesday afternoon, new controlling owner Mark Walter was openly hinting at that idea.

“Do you really ever want to say we did enough?” Walter said. “That’s not an attitude I really want a lot of around here. I guess if the entire All-Star team is on your team, you could feel like you had enough. But I don’t want to think that way. That’s now how you want to look at it. …

… Walter actually has been at the stadium quite a bit, and when he’s there, he’s often down on the field or in the clubhouse before games. He’s not shy, either.

When I joked with him about how much money he had spent in the last few weeks, he laughed and said, “Yeah, I guess I have.”

He described the trade deadline as something of a roller-coaster ride, said he was hanging on every phone call from Kasten or GM Ned Colletti and wasn’t doing much to conceal some disappointment he felt at not being able to do even more.

In other words, Walter’s invested — and not just financially. …

Ted Lilly, meanwhile, has suffered a setback in his rehabilitation, tweets Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A.

Aug 03

Are the Dodgers looking for Lee-way?

The thought of Cliff Lee becoming a Dodger came alive Thursday when Philadelphia placed the lefthander on revocable waivers.

The Dodgers theoretically have the capacity to take on a contract that would pay Lee, who turns 34 this month, at least $94 million through 2016, if no National League team with a poorer record claims him. The Phillies then could work out a deal with the Dodgers (or simply hand Lee over), or Philadelphia could just “Thanks, but just teasing.”

One question I have is why Lee would have value to the Dodgers but not the Phillies, who don’t figure to be rebuilding for long. If we think Lee still has talent, than Philadelphia should keep him. If we think that talent is fading fast, the Dodgers shouldn’t want him.

As for whether they should go for Lee — well, if money is no object for the Dodgers, then money is no object. But if there is a limit, however high, I can understand why they might balk at the price. Not wanting to pay a mid-30s pitcher about $25 million a year isn’t a case of being cheap.

Still, it’s something to think about. Here’s an excerpt from Dave Cameron of Fangraphs.

… Based on the contracts currently on the books, the Dodgers have $135 million already allocated to players under team control for 2013, while A.J. Ellis is their only significant arbitration eligible player. So, if their payroll target was $175 million (which, keep in mind, is a number I pulled out of thin air, and may not actually represent their budget), that would leave them about $35 million to spend to fill out the roster, meaning they could take Cliff Lee’s contract and still have enough left to buy a new first baseman. While Lee’s contract would be a budget buster for most organizations, it might not prevent the Dodgers from making further upgrades in other areas as well.

And, to be honest, there’s probably not a better use of that money available in free agency this winter. Before the season started, the assumption was that the Dodgers would make a huge push for either Cole Hamels or Joey Votto — or both — but they have since re-signed with their clubs, eliminating them from possible consideration. That leaves the big name targets this winter as Josh Hamilton, Melky Cabrera, B.J. Upton, Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, Nick Swisher, Anibal Sanchez, Edwin Jackson, and potentially Zack Greinke, if he doesn’t re-sign with the Angels first. There’s certainly some nice players in there, but besides Greinke and Hamilton, no one in that group has the potential impact that Lee would have, and both of those guys come with their own set of risks as well.

And, of course, there’s also the fact that signing a free agent this winter does nothing to help you win in 2012. Yes, if you think you could get Greinke for something close to that same $110 million you’d be committing to Lee, then you might prefer the younger pitcher, but present value has to be a factor as well, and the contending Dodgers are in the sweet spot where every marginal upgrade represents a significant return.

The upgrade would over Stephen Fife — who has racked up a whopping seven strikeouts in three starts since being recalled from Triple-A — would likely add about +1.5 wins to the Dodgers regular season total, and Lee would represent a substantial upgrade to their potential playoff rotation as well. Going from second place finisher to NL West champions could return as much as $30 to $40 million in additional revenues if the Dodgers made a World Series run. Even a first round playoff victory probably nets the team an additional $5 to $10 million in revenue from future ticket sales and the attendance boost that goes with generating excitement in the fan base. …

Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. and Dylan Hernandez of the Times have more, as does Buster Olney of ESPN.com: “Before the deadline, the Phillies made it clear to any team interested in Lee that not only would they not pick up any of the $97 million owed to the left-hander, they also would want top prospects in return. So it’d be a shocker if the Phillies moved Lee in a waiver deal.”

* * *

  • Yasiel Puig has played his first two games as a Dodger minor-leaguer, going 0 for 4 in his first but hitting a single and triple in his second. ESPN’s Keith Law tweeted after the triple that Puig “didn’t even square it up but still sent it about 400 feet to LCF track.” Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness passed along video of Puig’s debut from Jason Cole of Lone Star Dugout.
  • Whose spots on the Dodger 40-man roster might be expiring? Petriello takes a look.
  • Brandon Lennox of True Blue L.A. is examining the Dodger farm system, position by position. Here’s catcher and first base.
  • James Gentile of Beyond the Box Score writes about “Hanley Ramirez and Disappointing Primes.”
  • A Martinez is going public, with a 9 a.m. weekdays sports radio show on NPR’s KPCC 89.3 FM, reports Tom Hoffarth of the Daily News.
  • Framework has a photo showing Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour raising money for the 1952 U.S. Olympic team at a telethon.
Sep 20

Lee’s surge complicates road to Cy Young for Kershaw


Jayne Kamin-Oncea/US PresswireClayton Kershaw is set to finish his season with starts tonight and then Sunday in San Diego.

How heated is the National League Cy Young competition? The top four candidates — Roy Halladay, Ian Kennedy, Clayton Kershaw and Cliff Lee (in alphabetical order) — have a combined September ERA of 1.46.

Kennedy continued his late bid for recognition by pitching eight innings of one-hit ball with 12 strikeouts in a 1-0 victory for Arizona, which built its lead to 5 1/2 games in the NL West, while Halladay gave up a sliver of ground by allowing four runs in a 4-3 Phillies loss to St. Louis.

Kershaw and Lee — both red-hot of late, both scheduled to start tonight — have the opportunity to affirm themselves as the two top finalists for the award. In particular, if Kershaw bests Tim Lincecum for a fourth time in 2011 tonight, that’s going to be memorable.

For the first time, I’m starting to think that Halladay and Lee being teammates could hurt the award chances of both. Up until very recently, I’ve felt that the award was Halladay’s to lose, given that he pitches for the best team in the NL and that he’s pitched so well — his numbers are virtually equal to Kershaw’s (see chart below), with a slightly lower strikeout rate but better control, and higher wins above replacement.

However, Lee’s amazing stretch run —a 0.56 ERA in 64 2/3 innings since August 1 — has helped him catch up to the leaders and throw more confusion into the race. If you’re a voter who wants to honor the Phillies in some way with this award (given that the MVP race doesn’t really offer that opportunity), whom do you pick?

Now, if you watched “Modern Family” win bunches of Emmys on Sunday despite multiple nominations in those categories, you learned that teammates don’t always bring each other down. Still, as much as Lee presents another rival to Kershaw, he could also aid the Dodger by stealing votes from Halladay.

Voters who treasure wins may lean toward Kennedy, who certainly has been no slouch. But if Kershaw ends up with 20 wins himself, I think you can remove that category as a path to Kennedy leapfrogging the Dodger lefty.

In fact, much has been made lately of Kershaw possibly winning the pitcher’s triple crown: wins, ERA and strikeouts. My guess is that if he does, he will collect the Cy Young (though for me, the win totals are essentially irrelevant).

But let’s put it this way: If Kershaw doesn’t finish first in the balloting, there will be no crime. Halladay and Lee have been every bit as fierce as Kershaw. It’s been a superb year for all of them.

Top National League Cy Young Award candidates
(bold text signifies leader among contenders)

IP W-L ERA Sept. ERA ERA+ WAR (B-R.com) WAR (Fangraphs) WHIP K/9 K/BB
Roy Halladay 227 2/3 18-6 2.41 2.03 160 7.1 8.0 1.045 8.58 6.38
Cole Hamels 206 14-9 2.80 4.18 138 5.1 5.0 0.981 8.13 4.54
Ian Kennedy 216 20-4 2.88 1.88 137 5.3 4.9 1.083 8.08 3.66
Clayton Kershaw 218 2/3 19-5 2.30 0.90 161 6.4 6.8 0.983 9.71 4.63
Cliff Lee 219 2/3 16-7 2.38 0.72 162 6.7 6.5 1.015 9.14 5.31

* * *

  • By the way, this caught me by surprise, but Kershaw is no longer leading the NL in strikeouts per nine innings. Zack Greinke of Milwaukee is on top.
  • Chad Moriyama has a mammoth analysis of James Loney that you need to read, in which Moriyama analyzes both Loney’s stats and his swing. Conclusions:

    … What fans want to hear is that Loney has simply flipped a switch and will now pull 35% of balls and put up an OPS near .900 going forward. While I wish my analysis could guarantee that, it’s simply not a feasible conclusion to reach.

    What is clear though is that Loney has changed his approach and swing over the last two months in a way that has drastically affected his hit distribution and production. As such, the possibility does exist that his numbers could improve significantly in 2012 if the changes he has made carry over on a consistent basis.

    That said, all of my findings are subject to the usual sample size critiques, which is precisely why nothing about this is a sure thing. However, I have shown that Loney’s change under Hansen has absolutely happened, and looking at the free agent list at first base for 2012, unless the Dodgers can get Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, or Lance Berkman, I’d rather give Loney another shot if he comes at a reasonable salary (4-6 million?) even though I had previously preferred signing Carlos Pena (probably more expensive).

    When talking about baseball players, hope is part of what makes the game so fun to follow, but it can also be a dangerous thing, especially when that hope is invested in a 27-year-old first baseman with a .749 OPS/103 OPS+ over four full seasons. Still though, as of now, I’m more willing to take a chance on Loney than ever before.

  • Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com has a really nice feature centering on A.J. Ellis that will only make you root for him more.
  • Dylan Hernandez of the Times looks at the increasingly favorable comparisons of Kershaw with Sandy Koufax.
  • Jonathan Broxton had his elbow surgery Monday, with “a bone spur and associated loose bodies” being removed.
  • Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com has an update on ailing catcher Gary Garter.
  • Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors compiles the $100 million free agent contracts in baseball history.
  • David Pinto of Baseball Musings reminds us that batting order is less about stats and more about egos.
  • Patrick Dubuque at Notgraphs has a fun essay on the impulse for a fielder to throw his glove at a ball.
Dec 29

Talk about your backloaded deals: How about Cliff Lee?

The full value of this post is deferred until 2013 …

  • Tim Dierkes of MLBTradeRumors took a look at backloaded deals around the majors. Here’s a sample: Cliff Lee’s new deal with the Phillies averages $24 million per year, but he’ll receive only $11 million in 2011.

    In 2015, when Lee is poised to turn 37, he will be guaranteed $25 million. In 2016, when Lee is poised to turn 38, he will be due $27.5 million in salary or receive a $12.5 million buyout just for breathing. And the $27.5 million becomes guaranteed if he pitches 200 innings in 2015 or 400 innings in 2014-15.

    The Phillies are taking a risk on the future in order to increase their chances of winning in the present. Might work, might not. But as Dierkes shows, several teams are going the deferred route. Deferred payments are not inherently mistakes. Whom you are paying is much more important then when you are paying them.
  • At Fangraphs, Jesse Wolfersberger charts the offenses of the National League in terms of how well they got on base and how efficiently they drove those runners in last season.  The Dodgers are in the bad quadrant — below average in both categories.  Though they weren’t far from being in the good quadrant, we know that in terms of on-base percentage, they’ll be moving backward unless some holdovers post some significant improvement.
  • If you really think dating a celebrity was the problem, then how come so many ballplayers who don’t date celebrities suck?
Dec 13

Cliff Lee returns to Philadelphia, but let’s play the 2011 season anyway

Looks like the real deal. Some links before bedtime:

  • From Dave Cameron of Fangraphs

    If there’s a four-man rotation that has ever looked this dominant heading into a new year, I can’t find it. It is almost certainly in the discussion for the greatest four-man rotation of all time.

    There is one big asterisk on all this, though: as those great Braves teams show, a ridiculously great rotation is not enough to start planning a parade. The Phillies are certainly contenders, but they’re going to need more than just their Big Four to win it all.

  • Matthew Pouliot of Hardball Talk

    There’s no doubt that the Phillies’ rotation has a chance to be historically great, with two likely Cy Young candidates and two other starters that could rank among the NL’s 10 best, but this is still a team with issues. …

  • Keith Law of ESPN.com

    Assuming the Phillies don’t do what they did the last time they acquired another No. 1 starter — turn around and trade one of their incumbent aces — they now have a terrifyingly good rotation for the 2011 and 2012 seasons (after which Cole Hamels is a potential free agent) with the addition of Cliff Lee.

    The benefit in October is slimmer — but at least October conversations can already be entertained — since Roy Oswalt suddenly becomes the seldom-used fourth starter, but the Phillies will prevent a lot of runs over the course of the regular season by replacing their fifth-starter mess with Lee.

    As for the apparent size of the contract — five years and $120 million with a vesting option for a sixth, according to ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick — Lee is 32 and had some minor back trouble in 2010, but the best free agent on the market almost never signs for just five years, and other than the back problem Lee is about as low-risk a starter as you’ll find this side of Roy Halladay. It’s actually very good value for the Phillies relative to what Lee-level starters have gotten in free agency, and I like Lee’s chances as a plus-plus command guy to retain most of his value even if he loses one or two mph on his fastball. …

    Given his contract situation, Philly could look to move Hamels for a right-handed hitter for the middle of their lineup, as losing Jayson Werth takes away most of the gain from reacquiring Lee and leaves them very left-handed. Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Placido Polanco, and Raul Ibanez are all on the wrong side of 30 and more likely to decline/get hurt than to improve. Rollins has been often hurt and in the midst of a four-year free fall, Utley has foght injuries, and Howard and Ibanez are just declining. Domonic Brown is an outstanding prospect, but won’t match Werth’s production, and Brown is also left-handed. Amaro has put together an enviable rotation, to say the least, but the Phils are oddly unbalanced now and it’s strange (but not bad) to see them commit this money to Lee with an old, injury-prone lineup staring them in the face.

I know some Dodger fans will only be jealous and bitter. Me … I’m jealous, but I won’t be bitter. It won’t be the first time I’ve been on the downside of an uphill battle.