Jul 29

Broxton and Navarro and what a difference six years does (and doesn’t) make


Jeff Lewis/US PresswireJonathan Broxton and Dioner Navarro in 2005.

Six years ago tonight, on a Friday, the Dodgers began a weekend series against the St. Louis Cardinals with a 46-56 record, then as they are now 10 games under .500. That day, the team made two transactions.

Purchased the contract of RHP Jonathan Broxton from Double-A Jacksonville and designated RHP Scott Erickson for assignment; Recalled C Dioner Navarro from Triple-A Las Vegas and optioned C Mike Rose to Triple-A Las Vegas.

Jonathan Broxton and Dioner Navarro. Today, those two names bring up mixed emotions, to say the least.

But six years ago, making their Dodger debuts, they heralded a new era of promise for a downtrodden team: Broxton, the first of a heralded group of Dodger minor leaguers to reach the bigs; Navarro, a 21-year-old catching prodigy acquired in trade.

From Dodger Thoughts, July 29, 2005:

… The 5-foot-10, 189-pound Navarro, still only 21, has battled some physical issues this season – according to Nick Christensen of the Las Vegas Sun, Navarro was 2 for 18 since being activated from the disabled list July 18 – but has played 75 games overall for AAA Las Vegas, with an on-base percentage of .366 and a slugging percentage of .390. Offensively, he is lacking power for now – but down the road, some may catch up with him. Though his professional high in home runs is only eight, he did hit 31 doubles in 2003 at age 19, split between A and AA ball. Navarro’s biggest strength is his strike zone command – 38 walks against 24 strikeouts. Defensively, he is obviously more promising than Jason Phillips, but we’ll see if the Dodger pitchers still need to hold runners on better.

Broxton, four months younger than Navarro but six inches taller and around 50-100 pounds heavier, has been a stud ever since he became a second-round pick for the Dodgers in 2002. Averaging more than a strikeout per inning with a career ERA of 3.14 entering this season – primarly as a starter – Broxton has recently been used out of the bullpen for AA Jacksonville in anticipation of the Dodgers needing his help. In 28 games (15 in relief), Broxton has a 3.36 ERA and in 91 innings, has allowed 77 hits (just four home runs) and 29 walks while striking out 99. As a reliever, he has struck out 28 in 19 innings and has been clocked at 100 miles per hour, according to Baseball America, which also published a quote from an American League scout praising both Broxton’s fastball and “power curve.”

Broxton becomes the third home-grown player on the Dodgers 25-man roster, joining Jason Repko and Steve Schmoll (assuming neither is sent down). …

Yes, you could say the youth movement was just getting underway.

In the game, Navarro started for the Dodgers, batting for the first time an inning after left fielder Ricky Ledee hit a three-run home run, and reached first on an infield single. He later struck out, grounded out and walked.

Broxton, also 21, replaced Brad Penny in the top of the sixth inning with the Dodgers leading, 5-4, and had mixed results. He gave up singles to David Eckstein and Abraham Nunez, then reared back and struck out Albert Pujols, who had homered the inning before. Broxton wild-pitched the runners to second and third base, prompting an intentional walk to Jim Edmonds. With the bases loaded and one out, John Rodriguez hit a sacrifice fly to tie the game, before Broxton struck out Mark Grudzielanek to end the inning.

Because the tying run scored, Broxton was charged with a blown save in a game that gave him no chance of actually recording a save. It was these kinds of no-upside blown saves that would skew his save percentage for years and help others make the case that he was unfit to close. Despite this, Broxton did become one of the top relief pitchers in the National League – just as one of many pieces of evidence, only six relievers in the majors had a lower OPS allowed than Broxton from 2006-09, and two of those are going to the Hall of Fame – but we’re well past that debate now, with him unlikely to pitch much more than a few more innings as a Dodger, and others like Javy Guerra and Kenley Jansen stepping forward.

Navarro would be supplanted much sooner, replaced in May 2006 by Russell Martin after a combination of sluggish defense and injury. Navarro came back to Los Angeles this season after a long absence, fraught with professional and personal struggles, but it’s now a celebration when his batting average breaks .200.

Somehow, both players are surprisingly close over the hill at age 27, even perilously close to the end of their careers if they don’t reverse fortune. It fits right in with a Dodger team that has tumbled off a cliff in 2011. We’ve come full circle and gotten dizzy in the process.

The next generation of Dodgers beckons – the generation that will try to revive this team. But it’s impossible to fathom how it will play out. Broxton, Navarro, Martin, James Loney, Andre Ethier, Clayton Kershaw, Matt Kemp, Andy LaRoche, on and on and on – so many ups and downs.  I can’t tell if I feel that six years is long or short.

And then there’s this: That same morning, in the July 29, 2005 issue of Variety, Dave McNary published the following story about the Dodgers, in their second year of ownership under Frank and Jamie McCourt:

… Frank McCourt, the Boston-born Dodgers owner … strolls around the stadium as though he was the mayor of a small New England town. He’s not the landlord, he’s a host, eager to welcome people to his party.

Under the O’Malleys, many Angelenos felt the Dodgers represented “downtown.” McCourt has broader ambitions. … He wants Westsiders as much as Echo Park locals, and he believes the best way to get both of them is to make sure Hollywood feels welcome.

A year after buying the team in early 2004, McCourt added 300 seats to the Dugout Club and expanded the restaurant. McCourt and his wife, Jaime, attend most home games, where they escort club guests to a martini bar, as well as stands that offer prime rib, fajitas, salads and, of course hot dogs, all free of charge to box holders and other guests.

A seat in the club runs an all-inclusive $400 (booze is extra), but one of McCourt’s biggest reasons for undertaking $20 million in upgrades was to attract people who may never pay at all.

McCourt wants to see the same sort of wall-to-wall celeb lineup who attends Lakers games. He’s well on the way. On a recent evening, when the Dodgers suffered a blowout loss to the San Francisco Giants, club attendees included celebs Jerry Seinfeld, Jon Lovitz, Robert Wuhl and Alyssa Milano; sports agents Scott Boras and Dennis Gilbert; former players Dave Winfield and Bill Buckner; and Dodgers icon Tommy Lasorda.

Other regulars include Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson, Tom Hanks, Pat Sajak, Penny Marshall, Mary Hart, Wayne Gretzky and Peter Chernin.

The McCourts’ four sons also are conspicuous, with most of the credit for bringing Hollywood into the Dodgers’ fold going to Drew McCourt, the low-key marketing director who decided to work for his dad after getting an astrophysics degree from Columbia U. The 23-year-old has been charged with glad-handing Hollywood studios, agencies, top-tier producers and music industry execs, luring them into premium seats by promising that most elusive commodity, exclusivity.

Still, in wooing Hollywood, the McCourts have a tough job. As one of the few sports facilities built in the 1960s that has aged with some grace, even minor changes to Dodger Stadium provoke anxiety among devoted fans — many of whom would never consider paying $400 for a seat.

“We’ve got an asset that’s very unique within the baseball world,” says Drew McCourt, who grew up going to Red Sox games at Fenway Park. “But we don’t take it for granted that Hollywood’s going to show up. We have to make this area attractive enough so the team’s performance doesn’t really matter whether people show up.”

Six years. Six positively head-spinning years.

Jul 22

Big picture: Whither McCourt now?

Nothing that happened in bankruptcy court today specifically precludes Frank McCourt from getting the television deal that would keep his Dodger ownership alive. So what’s the endgame that could push McCourt out?

There’s still the possibility that MLB strips McCourt of ownership, for violating the sport’s rules that he agreed to abide by when he became owner, but the ability for MLB to do that while the Dodgers are in bankruptcy court is unclear.

Instead, everything might rest on whether MLB is able to delay a new television deal long enough to starve McCourt from meeting his personal obligations in a way that would allow him to emerge with the franchise.

Remember, it’s the Dodgers who are in bankruptcy court, not McCourt. So none of the $150 million loan that the bankruptcy court is facilitating is supposed to go into McCourt’s pocket — it’s supposed to satisfy the Dodgers’ creditors. If McCourt can’t pay his own personal debts (complicated by his dealings with ex-wife Jamie), he would presumably have to start eating into his assets. Or, I suppose, file for bankruptcy himself.

So we’re back to discussing TV revenue.

Fox has exclusivity though November 2012 on any negotiations for future Dodger TV rights. As was confirmed earlier today, Bud Selig believes there has to be competitive bidding for TV rights to ensure that the Dodgers are getting fair market value. McCourt ostensibly either needs a judge to bless that bidding (which would be contested by Fox), or get a judge to overrule MLB and approve a Fox-McCourt extension.

Would the court approve a Fox-McCourt deal over MLB’s objections? It’s not clear, but given the conflict-of-interest concerns at the heart of today’s ruling by Judge Kevin Gross and the knowledge that the deal would largely serve McCourt at the Dodgers’ expense, I think there’s reason for the anti-McCourt camp to feel some hope.

This should come to a head as soon as a hearing scheduled for August 16. Josh Fisher has more at ESPNLosAngeles.com:

… A Dodgers attorney said in a statement that the team “will propose … a competitive sale process of exclusive cable television rights” before the end of this calendar year. However, the Dodgers will find themselves in an awkward negotiating position with current partner Fox.

Under the terms of the existing television deal, the Dodgers cannot begin negotiating with anyone other than Fox until late 2012. That has led baseball to express concerns about the desirability of extensions of the Fox deal thus far proposed by McCourt. However, because of the club’s bankruptcy, it may have the option to walk away from the Fox contract and sell the Dodgers’ television rights competitively.

MLB will likely oppose such treatment of an important strategic partner. While today’s ruling signals Gross’ willingness to curtail baseball’s policies to the extent necessary to achieve bankruptcy’s purposes, he may not be as willing to entertain a move with potential negative impact across the game. Make no mistake, the fight over the Dodgers’ ability to sell their TV rights will be as bitter and acrimonious as any thus far. The outcome will determine how much longer the Dodgers remain under McCourt ownership. …

Hold your breath …

Jul 22

Selig eviscerated McCourt-Fox proposal in June 20 letter

Over at Variety, I posted about the overflow of reasons that MLB commissioner Bud Selig laid out for rejecting a proposed 17-year television rights extension between Fox and Frank McCourt. The 11-page June 20 letter Selig sent to McCourt was posted by the Times today.

“While any one of the factors identified below would alone give me serious pause,” Selig wrote, “collectively … they demonstrate overwhelmingly that the proposed transaction is neither in the long-term interests of the franchise nor consistent with the best interests of the game of baseball.”

Here’s more:

… Selig noted that McCourt was rushing into the Fox deal because of his “desperate need for immediate cash” to address his and the Dodgers’ financial problems, without waiting for the period starting on November 30, 2012 when he could solicit other, potentially more lucrative offers through competitive bidding. Selig notes the mega-deal that the Los Angeles Lakers struck for their TV rights through such a process.

“In fact, as your chief financial offcer told representatives of my office on April 5, 2011,” Selig said, “you would not even be considering a media rights transaction at ths time were it not for the club’s ‘financial duress.’ “

Selig also stated that the $385 million up-front payment that McCourt would receive upon signing the deal “far exceeds any up-front payment previously received by any other club,” adding that “no other owner has sacrificed so much of his team’s future for an immediate payoff.”

“I am concerned that at some point,” Selig wrote, “(the Dodgers) will be unable to adapt to unexpected circumstances because you have accelerated such a substantial amount of its media revenues.”

Selig’s letter also quotes 2009 testimony from McCourt’s divorce proceeding against Jamie McCourt, when current Dodgers vice chairman Jeff Ingram said that McCourt “noted that Fox has very tough negotiators, they’re very smart and he’s not convinced we would get a very good deal from Fox at this time to do a capital raise, and that we’d hamstring the business in the future by getting them to do something now.”

Selig then delved into McCourt’s plan to put the 35% equity interest in Fox Sports Net West 2 that the Dodgers would receive into a holding company separate from the franchise, as well as his plan to take at least 45% from the $385 million up-front payment to settle personal debts.

And, Selig took pains to note that the McCourt’s proposed divorce settlement with Jamie McCourt had the potential of a court-supervised sale of the team beginning in August — yet the next owner would be stuck with the Fox deal without a dime of the $385 million. …

It’s a fairly eviscerating letter yet soundly argued. Whatever claim McCourt has to unfair treatment by Selig is undermined by how catastrophic the Dodgers’ situation is, combined with McCourt’s half-baked, short-sighted solutions.

“Your (June 18 letter) asserts, without explanation or support, that I should not take into account the Dodgers’ current financial condition and operational state,” Selig wrote. “Apparently you believe that I should make these decisions in a vacuum, without the context of the relevant facts and circumstances related to the Dodgers. To me, that makes no sense. It is not the manner in which I have approached decisions concerning matters involving other clubs, each of which has turned on the unique circumstances of the particular club.”

McCourt took the Dodgers into bankruptcy one week after Selig’s letter was sent, hoping to take his fate out of Selig’s hands.

Jun 27

Dodger fans fail to get bankruptcy protection from McCourt


A source close to Jamie McCourt told ESPN The Magazine’s Molly Knight that she is not happy with Monday’s filing.

“She is exasperated,” the source said. “She has been trying to settle this for two years now, most recently by asking the judge to sell the team. She recognizes that a sale is best for the community but Frank refuses to let this go.”

ESPN.com news services

We’re exasperated. We’re exhausted.

Are we defeated?

We knew Frank McCourt would not go anything but combatively into that good night, with one of the few remaining mysteries being whether he would take his fight to court after Major League Baseball seized the team, or make a preemptive move. Answer: preemptive move.

Today’s bankruptcy filing does not prevent MLB from taking action to seize the team, but it could prevent that move from having any legs to it, at least for some time, if the bankruptcy court rules to supersede MLB’s actions.

If that happens, the $150 million financing the Dodgers received will carry the team forward in the short term. But as miserable as the 2011 season has been, the real concern has never been about the short term. It’s been about the damage McCourt would do to the Dodger franchise if he were to retain Dodger ownership.

The financing only adds to the unfathomable level that McCourt has mortgaged himself and this team in order to retain his fraying hold on his empire, like some B-movie dictator from a made-up foreign land. The Dodgers would not cease to be if McCourt remains in charge. They might not even cease to compete. But their fans would go to sleep and wake up each morning knowing with certainty that things could be better, if not for their foot-shooting owner.

Though it’s not legally significant, there’s something symbolic and poetic about how many Dodger names were misspelled in the McCourt bankruptcy filing: “Kazuhisi Ishii.” “Jonathon R. Broxton.” “Chad Billingsly.” At the end of the day, McCourt’s impatient needs are more important than getting it right with the players on the field. No one’s asking McCourt to be an altruist, but his desperate insistence that he’s the best person for the job is an insult, and a harmful one at that.

It’s also hard not to see the name “Vincent E. Scully” listed in this morning’s filing as a creditor and absolutely marvel at how the road we have traveled.

But McCourt does have rights, the limits of which he continues to test, in the same way he tests the will of this community. The bankruptcy filing changes the game, a game that you can be excused for thinking will have no winner. How about a nice game of chess?

May 03

McCourt puts his word against everyone else’s

“If the stuff that was written about me was true, I wouldn’t trust me either,” Frank McCourt said early in his conversation with Steve Mason, John Ireland and fans calling into ESPN AM 710 this afternoon.

I’m a journalist, and I’ve seen journalists get things wrong. It happens.

But let’s keep this in mind …

The McCourt ownership, particularly since Frank’s separation from Jamie became public in 2009, has perhaps been the most doggedly reported off-the-field story in Los Angeles Dodger history — certainly in recent Los Angeles Dodger history.

It has been covered by a number of sources both local and national. It has been built not only upon first-hand interviews but documents filed in court by the principals themselves. It has been, in recent days, augmented by the words and actions of Major League Baseball’s executive office and ownership group, which have sent in a rescue missionary in Tom Schieffer.

And McCourt continues to tell us that all these people from every side of the fence, West Coast and East Coast, print media and electronic, sports and business, inside the game and outside the game, have it wrong.

That includes many people who have absolutely no dog in this fight, people coming at the story, unlike McCourt, from an entirely neutral perspective. They have it wrong.

And he asks us to believe that they have it wrong even has he says one thing after another that is dubious on its face. Just today, he told us that all of the Dodgers’ current financial issues are entirely the fault of MLB forestalling the Fox deal for future TV rights and have nothing to do with his own practices. That the assets Jamie might ultimately end up with are mere hypotheticals that we shouldn’t be concerned about. That the Fox contract, negotiated with his back against the wall, is every bit as lucrative as the separate Dodger regional sports network he previously aspired to when everything was rosy. That Bud Selig, the man who paved the way for McCourt to own the team and more than anyone at MLB was convinced of his virtues, is second-guessing his own approval for no good reason.  And so on …

Neither the objective evidence nor common sense back up his assertions, but he asks us to simply believe him. His interpretation of the facts are supposed to be more trustworthy than the facts themselves.

In my view, McCourt is playing a shell game with the truth.

There’s no doubt that some critics of McCourt have gotten carried away, exaggerating his mistakes, sometimes for effect, sometimes out of frustration. The exaggerations don’t mean that the mistakes aren’t there.

When you boil everything down, there is really only one pressing question to answer at this time: Is MLB justified in subjecting the Dodgers’ major day-to-day operations to its approval?

McCourt’s argument for “no” is this: Take my word for it.

Apr 30

Life’s been … interesting

“There is no owner who, during the period 2004 to 2011, that we’ve spent more time with on his business problems, his business issues and his desire to be treated differently under applicable rules, than Frank McCourt.”

– MLB executive vice president of labor relations Rob Manfred to Richard Sandomir of the New York Times.

Apr 30

Like Tony Gwynn Jr., I’m saving the best for last

Reading options:

Apr 27

Frank McCourt’s second divorce


Getty Images/APFault lines: Frank McCourt and Tom Schieffer

As if one divorce involving Dodger ownership weren’t enough, now we have another.

Jamie and Frank McCourt is so last year. Now it’s Bud Selig and Frank McCourt unjumping the broom, and I tell you, next to the lousy fourth season of “Big Love,” it’s the biggest argument against plural marriage I’ve seen.

In his news conference today, McCourt expressed sincere surprise that he ended up a divorced husband – he never expected it to happen. And I’m guessing that when he rode the support of Major League Baseball’s commissioner to the purchase of the Dodgers in 2004, McCourt never fathomed the kind of split that erupted with last week’s MLB takeover of day-to-day operations of the Dodgers.

But a split it is – a regular San Andreas, to a fault.

The two parties can’t even agree, at least publicly, on what is happening. McCourt raged against his property being seized unlawfully, while Selig’s proxy, MLB executive vice president of labor relations Rob Manfred, said “there has been no seizure of the Los Angeles Dodgers.” McCourt said that Selig vetoed the Dodgers’ TV deal with Fox; Manfred countered that nothing of the kind occurred (yet).

Selig and McCourt are in sync on only one thing: The bad spouse is the other spouse. Where have we seen this before?

Today, McCourt directed to Dodger fans what for him was an unusual level of contrition, expressing regret over his behavior as Dodger owner and promising to do better if given a second chance. But McCourt once again showed that his amends only go until they run smack-dab into the wall of his self-interest.

He made a big show of pledging directly to the Dodgers the initial $300 million of his proposed Fox deal, as if this were some beyond-the-call gesture, while leaving unsaid what happens to the remaining revenue that could amount to as much as 90 percent of the total. He insisted that the contract extension with Fox will bring the Dodgers nirvana, ignoring the unmistakable reality that an owner who wasn’t in hock to the network would assuredly be able to do better for the franchise.

McCourt swears he’ll do better by Dodger fans, while in the next breath gearing up to do one thing guaranteed to make things worse: sue MLB over control of the team.

If it is McCourt’s right to sue – a point that’s debatable depending upon your interpretation of his ownership agreement with MLB – then let him sue away.  But how dare he claim, yet again, that he has the interests of the fan base at heart. His ownership stands, more than ever, at direct odds with what the Dodger community wants and needs.

“Everyone deserves a second chance,” McCourt said. This is not in fact true – some people don’t deserve a second chance, depending on the circumstances – but even if it were true in McCourt’s case, he doesn’t deserve his second chance more than others deserve a first chance – starting with Tom Schieffer, the monitor sent to Los Angeles by MLB to get to the bottom of this mess at the top.

I don’t know if Schieffer will be good, bad or somewhere in between, but if anyone gets the benefit of the doubt, it’s the new boss. It’s highly unlikely he’s the same as the old boss.

As I listened via telephone to the audio of McCourt’s press conference, I heard him refer to one of his four children being by his side and how hard this entire experience has been for them. I don’t doubt it for a second. But it’s not stretching things to suggest that McCourt has another set of children who have, relatively speaking, nursing their own wounds over the past two years. Those kids buy three million tickets a year to see the Dodgers, with millions more watching on TV, listening on the radio or following on the Internet and in the papers.

It would have been interesting if any one of those kids had been on the dais with McCourt as he couldn’t resist making himself the biggest victim. As if, however this plays out, McCourt won’t come away with more cash than he walked into Dodger Stadium with seven years ago.

Dad, we’re all grown up now. And we’re tired of your complaints over a fate you engineered and your hollow apologies. We’re ready for new parents, and if it means being wards of the state for a while, so be it. Let it be. Otherwise, don’t pretend that you’ve changed.

Apr 27

McCourt apologetic to fans but defiant to MLB

I’ll have more later on today’s dueling Dodgers press conferences – one with owner Frank McCourt in New York, the other with MLB monitor Tom Schieffer in Los Angeles. In the meantime, here are links to first-look news stories on McCourt from Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com and myself at Variety.

An excerpt from the latter:

Embattled Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt today gave his strongest indication yet that he will sue Major League Baseball for standing in the way of his attempt to extend the Dodgers’ cable TV deal with Fox.

McCourt spoke to reporters in New York City shortly after saying he got word in a meeting with MLB executives that commissioner Bud Selig had vetoed the deal, which McCourt said would extend Fox’s cable coverage of the Dodgers through 2027 and also provide an equity stake in Fox’s Prime Ticket. The Dodgers’ current deal with Fox runs through 2013.

“I’m very committed to my position,” McCourt said. “We have not decided exactly what we’re going to do. We’ll keep you posted, but as I said, I’m not going anywhere. This is a team that I love, a community that I love. … I’m going to protect my rights.”

However, MLB later issued a statement saying that it had not vetoed the Fox deal, but was waiting to rule on it pending its investigation into McCourt’s and the Dodgers’ finances.

“It is unfortunate that Mr. McCourt felt it necessary to publicize the content of a private meeting,” said MLB exec veep of labor relations Rob Manfred. “It is even more unfortunate that Mr. McCourt’s public recitation was not accurate. Most fundamental, Commissioner Selig did not ‘veto’ a proposed transaction. Rather, Mr. McCourt was clearly told that the Commissioner would make no decision on any transaction until after his investigation into the Club and its finances is complete so that he can properly evaluate all of the facts and circumstances.”

McCourt suggested, however, that that investigation had a “pre-determined” outcome. …

… In a nod to the concerns over how much Dodger revenue he and his now-estranged wife had allocated for personal spending, McCourt said today that the proposed Fox deal would include an immediate payment of $300 million going directly into the Dodgers.

“None of those dollars (would be) used in any personal way,” McCourt said.

“I think I made some mistakes. I’m sorry about that, and I’m definitely commited to doing things differently moving forward. … I think everyone deserves a second chance.”

While apologetic with regard to some of his conduct, McCourt remained aghast that the TV deal was being held up. …

Apr 26

Broxton’s status in turnaround

Making more front-page drive-in news is Jonathan Broxton. An excerpt follows, but be sure to read the full story on Broxton’s status from Tony Jackson at ESPNLosAngeles.com:

Jonathan Broxton was told by Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly on Tuesday that he is still the team’s closer despite widespread media reports that the team had decided to go with a closer-by-committee approach in the wake of Broxton’s blown save on Monday night against the Florida Marlins.

Mattingly saw one of those media reports, on the MLB Network, while working out on Tuesday morning and immediately decided to meet with Broxton to reassure him that the job was still his. That closed-door meeting, which also included pitching coach Rick Honeycutt, took place in the visiting clubhouse at Sun Life Stadium on Tuesday afternoon, a few hours before the Dodgers played the Marlins. The Marlins scored three runs off Broxton after two were out and nobody was on base in the ninth inning on Monday night to beat the Dodgers 5-4.

“I’m the closer right now, so I just have to go out there and continue to throw,” Broxton said after the meeting. “I just have to turn the page. That is the big thing about closing or doing anything, setting up, relieving. You have to turn the page. … [Mattingly] said he liked what he has been seeing and that I’m throwing the ball good. I just have to get back to that attack mode, especially with two outs.”

Those media reports stemmed from comments Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti made during his weekly radio interview on Tuesday morning with KABC’s Peter Tilden. Although Colletti never used the term “closer-by-committee,” he did mention the names of at least two other pitchers — Hong-Chih Kuo, who is on the disabled list but expected to return as early as Friday, and Vicente Padilla, who came off the disabled list on Friday and has since had one strong outing and one shaky one — as possible closer candidates.

“I can’t help but be concerned,” Colletti said when Tilden asked about Broxton. “I’m one of those people who are pretty much concerned about everything anyway. I am concerned about him. Hopefully, we will get Kuo back Friday, and Padilla has been back for a couple of games. Hopefully, we can give Donnie three choices or so at the end of a game and let him make up his mind by matchup or whatever until Broxton can get his confidence back and get settled.”

Contacted by ESPNLosAngeles.com, Colletti downplayed the implications of what he had told Tilden earlier in the day.

“I just said when we get Kuo back and Padilla back to 100 percent, it’s going to give Donnie some options, depending upon matchups and the previous day’s usage, things like that,” Colletti said. “But that doesn’t mean Broxton isn’t the closer.”

Both Mattingly and Honeycutt said Broxton wasn’t available to close on Tuesday night against the Marlins, but only because he had pitched each of the previous two games. …


Also, Jackson reports that Frank McCourt is meeting in New York on Thursday with MLB execs — but not commissioner Bud Selig.

Finally, Xavier Paul was claimed on waivers by Pittsburgh, where he’ll be a teammate of Brandon Wood, recently claimed from the Angels, and former Dodger James McDonald.

Apr 20

The irredeemable Frank McCourt

This is a column about last straws.

Today, Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig indicated he had been handed his last straw with regards to Frank McCourt’s stewardship of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Selig responded by giving his office control of the Dodgers’ operations.

Speculation is that the last straw for Selig was a reported $30 million personal loan that McCourt received from Fox that was believed to be necessary to meet the Dodgers’ payroll obligations — the latest indication of how fragile McCourt’s financial underpinnings are. But if it wasn’t this loan, it could or would have been something else.

As I walked through all the different stories about today’s news, as if I were a shopper in a McCourt Mall of Horrors, I found myself thinking about the person whose name has been in the news, top of mind, every day this month until today: Bryan Stow.

The Giants fan whose horrifying beating in the gloaming of Opening Day in the Dodger Stadium parking lot March 31 will not be found on any McCourt spreadsheet. The severity of the event, sadly enough, wasn’t even unprecedented in Dodger Stadium history.

But in the days after it occurred, as you felt the groundswell of horror and shame sweep through the world of the Dodgers — an emotional wave that only gained momentum with McCourt’s initial public declaration that nothing could have been done to prevent it — I began to feel that Stow’s beating, more than any rising parking fees, inconsistent spending on players or appalling revelations of greed in court documents related to McCourt’s divorce from wife Jamie, was the baseball world’s “network” moment.

It was just too ugly, and people weren’t going to take it anymore.  

I think McCourt realized this, too, which is why, at a certain point this month, you started to see almost daily releases, media conferences or other kinds of announcements determined to show his commitment to rehabilitating the Dodgers’ (and in turn, his) relationship with the fans and baseball.

But more and more fans weren’t buying it. I haven’t been at Dodger Stadium in the past week, and I’m also familiar with no-shows dotting Dodger Stadium in the best of times, but there have been too many reports to ignore from longtime Dodger watchers that things had really changed. I’ve been a passionate skeptic of fan boycotts, but even I have to concede that there was a statement being made here. More and more people just didn’t want any part of this.

The thing is, it hasn’t been an organized boycott, not on any widespread level. It’s been people on their own coming to the conclusion that life was too short to waste on a franchise in this condition. 

This includes people like my father, who chose during the offseason not to renew my family’s season tickets for a 30th season. It also includes the people who typically would improvise their ticket purchases after the season was underway.

That’s not to say Dodger Stadium was or would be empty. Some still show up because they love the team through thick and decidedly thin. The game’s pull remains strong. I myself have been trying to figure out when to get my kids to their first game of 2011. 

But things haven’t been this low at Dodger Stadium before, have they? I think back to 1992, the worst team in Los Angeles Dodger history playing against the backdrop of a city torn by riots, and there was not such bitterness over the state of ownership.

Dodgers fans have been wandering through a desert of uncertainty and dismay for well more than a year since the McCourts’ marital strife put control of the team in limbo. What the Bryan Stow incident did, besides put the life of a man in jeopardy, was amplify the fear that with McCourt in charge, there might be no bottom.

It wasn’t that there would be nothing to excite us — the joy of Clayton Kershaw, the signing of Zach Lee, the sizzling start of Matt Kemp or even the lovely melodies of Nancy Bea. But Stow seemed to destroy an illusion that the team would ever get ahead, that behind each high there wouldn’t be a more severe low.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the shock of the Stow beating, combined with a team that had been outscored in 2011 more than any other in the National League, engineered nothing more than a temporary blindness to the light at the end of the tunnel.

But I’m not sure I’m wrong. Moreover, though I can’t draw a cause-effect line between the Stow incident and Selig’s decision today — a decision that was building over time — I can’t get myself to think anything but that the brutality and its aftermath were a spiritual last straw. Whatever rope McCourt had to work with, whatever fear Selig has that McCourt might turn his legal ugliness against the game of baseball itself, was gone.  

In any case, if Selig’s decision was nothing more than a decision based purely on finances, it’s done. And even though there have been three playoff appearances during the McCourt ownership, even though there is uncertainty over how this will play out, I’m here to say … I’m excited. 

There will be problems, short-term and long-term, but I don’t see much reason to think the Dodgers will be any less capable of making moves to better the organization on or off the field than they were before today. There is a question of whether the next stewards will be good ones, but tonight, I do see the light.

It was more than seven years ago, during the months leading up to the official transition of Dodgers ownership, that I began expressing my fears that McCourt was borrowing too much money and keeping too many secrets to trust as an owner. Those fears were realized in a way that I couldn’t even comprehend at the time. You can check back in with me later on, but tonight, my fears for the future of the Dodgers are non-existent by comparison.

No more last straws.

Apr 11

Dodgers 6, Giants 1: Matt Kemp is the center of the universe



Jed Jacobsohn/Getty ImagesMatt Kemp and his helmet exult after stealing second base despite a pickoff.

Matt Kemp steals second base despite picking picked off first.

Matt Kemp scores from second on a James Loney line drive off the glove of the second baseman.

Matt Kemp walks for a second time after being down in the count 0-2.

Matt Kemp lines an RBI single that turns left fielder Pat Burrell into a jumping bean, with the ball skipping past him.

Matt Kemp is thrown out at third.

That last one was just to remind us that as long as you’re pushing for Kemp to be aggressive, you’re going to pay the price now and then. Nonetheless, 2011 has returned that Matt Kemp that everyone loves, and his role in the Dodgers’ 6-1 victory Monday over San Francisco was the latest example.

You’ve heard of the eye in the middle of the hurricane? Matt Kemp is the hurricane that surrounds the eye.

Kemp, who went 1 for 2 with two walks, is boasting a .537 on-base percentage and .647 slugging percentage, not to mention a 1.000 stealing percentage on seven tries.

The stolen base was remarkable because the Giants did so much right and so little wrong. San Francisco pitcher Madison Bumgarner threw to first base as Kemp broke for second. First baseman Brandon Belt immediately turned and threw down to short. Miguel Tejada got the ball and put down the tag. And Kemp was just plain ol’ safe.

So Kemp is back to outrunning his occasional mistake rather than eliminating them entirely, but I think we’ll take that trade, especially with the way he looks at the plate. His seventh-inning strikeout was only his fourth in 41 plate appearances this season.

Kemp and Clayton Kershaw fought for the spotlight on Opening Day: Kershaw shone brightest then, and he just as easily could have tonight. He wasn’t untouchable, allowing six hits and two walks in 6 2/3 innings, but he always had the right pitch when he needed it. Only one San Francisco baserunner made it past second base – Aubrey Huff with two out in the bottom of the fourth inning – at which point Kershaw annihilated Belt with three fastballs for strikes, the last two swinging.

Kershaw, whose seven strikeouts gave him 24 in 19 2/3 innings this season, faced 11 batters with runners on base tonight. Three of them hit the ball out of the infield: two singles, one flyout. He lowered his 2011 ERA to 1.37 and has now pitched 23 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings against the Giants. (His 117 pitches tonight were one shy of his career high.)

A third hero tonight was second baseman Jamey Carroll, who figures to play more shortstop soon with Rafael Furcal injuring his thumb while stealing third base in the Dodgers’ four-run fifth inning and leaving the game an inning later. Carroll went 3 for 5, raising his on-base percentage for the season to .452. Andre Ethier’s two hits put him at .442, while Rod Barajas hit what at the start of the fifth inning seemed a huge home run, giving the Dodgers a 2-0 lead.

And the slumping Uribe even contributed, going 1 for 4 but also making two nice defensive plays to support Dodger reliever Matt Guerrier in the eighth inning. Mike MacDougal gave up a homer to Burrell in the ninth – Burrell’s third blast in five games against the Dodgers this year.

Colorado rallied for a 7-6 victory against the Mets, so the Dodgers remain in second place, 1 1/2 games back.

* * *

One might say it’s a bit nervy, but then again, what hasn’t been nervy in the McCourt divorce saga? The law firm that drafted the disputed agreement at the center of the court battle between Frank and Jamie McCourt is suing Frank, “asking a Massachusetts court to declare that the firm met its obligations and caused him no loss when it drafted a marital property agreement with his ex-wife.”

As Josh Fisher of Dodger Divorce and Bill Shaikin of the Times note, there’s more to it than that. Shaikin:

… Bingham McCutchen, the Boston-based firm responsible for the since-invalidated agreement that would have granted McCourt sole ownership of the Dodgers, essentially asked a Massachusetts court to deprive McCourt of the chance to sue the firm for malpractice should he lose control of the team.

“Any injury, loss or expense he has sustained or will sustain were caused not by Bingham’s conduct, but by his own widely publicized financial problems, huge withdrawals of cash from the Dodgers, and strained relations with Major League Baseball,” the suit alleges. “None of this is attributable to Bingham’s work.”

The suit also claims McCourt owes Bingham “hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid legal fees.” …

… In a statement, McCourt spokesman Steve Sugerman blamed Bingham for preparing an agreement that did not stand up in court.

“Mr. McCourt is disappointed that the Bingham firm is unwilling to accept responsibility for its actions and is instead now trying to defend conduct that is indefensible,” the statement read. …

Mar 02

The tiger blood of Frank McCourt (#winning)


Getty ImagesFrank McCourt, Charlie Sheen

I haven’t written about the McCourts in a while, not that I sense many of you are complaining. Anyway, here’s a link to some news Tuesday, from Molly Knight of ESPN the Magazine:

Lawyers for Jamie McCourt filed a motion Tuesday in superior court seeking greater financial transparency from her estranged ex-husband, Dodgers owner Frank McCourt, calling his recent attempt to secure loans to ease his cash-flow problems without their client’s knowledge “outrageous.” …

The filing comes on the heels of last week’s report by the Los Angeles Times (by Bill Shaikin) that Frank tried, and failed, to secure a $200 million loan from Fox Television against the team’s cable TV rights. Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig rejected that deal, “a clear sign that Frank’s actions were deemed to be not in the best interests of the franchise,” Jamie McCourt’s court filing stated. …

Frank McCourt’s attorney, Ryan Kirkpatrick, said his client “has fully complied, and will continue to comply, with his obligations to Jamie.” He added that the two sides have already scheduled a meeting to talk about the “parties’ requests for information from one another, and the mechanics of exchanging that information.” …

It has been nearly 1 1/2 years since the McCourts’ marital problems went public, throwing the franchise into its current turmoil. It has come to feel like a fog to me. We drive forward, determined to reach our destination but without clear vision. And the brighter we shine the lights, the more opaque it becomes.

As some of you know, I’ve spent a good deal of time in my day job over the past few days on the Charlie Sheen beat. It’s given me a small taste of what it’s been like for the Shaikins, Knights and Josh Fishers of the world, although I have to think some of them would trade a McCourt for a Sheen in an erratic heartbeat. The sensation that was Vladimir Shpunt has been coming out of Sheen’s mouth every five minutes or so since Thursday – what they might have given to hear Frank say, “It’s been a media tsunami, and I’ve been riding a mercury surfboard.”

People like Sheen and the McCourts become stories, long past anyone’s desire or patience to hear more about them, because like them or not, they have high-stakes fates. The fate of one of baseball’s most valuable and historic franchises rests on the McCourts … and yet the value of that franchise pales in comparison to what “Two and a Half Men,” the CBS sitcom Sheen stars in, has been worth to the network and producing studio Warner Bros. Before production was suspended on the series, Sheen was making approximately $1.8 million per episode. In calendar 2010, Sheen appeared in 23 episodes, meaning a base salary of more than $41 million before you even begin discussing his ancillary income from syndication and other sources.  Manny Ramirez, Andruw Jones, Jason Schmidt – these guys are paupers compared to Sheen.

I would dare say I’ve written almost as little as my jobs have allowed about Sheen and the McCourts, but ignoring them completely has been impossible. It’s hard to deny that there are real stories there. They could use some editing, but they are stories. And that’s without even getting into the life-and-death stakes for some in the Hollywood tale.

I’m not going to try to stretch out too many parallels between Charlie Sheen and Frank McCourt, but I can’t help thinking there’s at least one. Sheen has made it clear that he is living by his own rules. He believes those rules are fair and righteous, and the fact that society, fans of his show, the people he (at least previously) answered to or even blood relatives might not share that view does not matter. Setbacks are hurdles to be bulldozed. “Defeat is not an option,” Sheen says over and over again.

One of Sheen’s most memorable lines came when he was railing against Alcoholics Anonymous, saying that it is for “people that are not special, people who do not have tiger blood and Adonis DNA.” Charlie Sheen believes he has tiger blood. And though he would never say it like this, I suspect that in his own way, Frank McCourt believes he has tiger blood too.

Over the past 15 months, McCourt has seemed unshakable in his belief that what he’s doing is right. That what he’s doing is best for his children. That anything one might call a mistake or selfishness is, at worst, a means to an end. That the people who question him simply don’t understand. That he will be vindicated. That because he’s been a winner in the past, he’ll be a winner in the future. Even when he’s ridden on the edge of the cliff.

I imagine that tiger blood is a trait shared by a number of people who become successful, but there comes a point when it goes beyond empowering and becomes a pollutant. I have no expectations that this tiger is going to change his stripes. I don’t believe he’s going to give up the Dodgers without clawing or scratching through the last fight. But tiger blood makes people selfish to the extreme, and even allowing for the eccentricities and entitlements of ownership, circumstances have long since stopped any reasonable defense of his fight.

Yes, McCourt has rights. But he also has duties.

For all his romping and stomping, Sheen realizes that there is life after “Two and a Half Men.” It’s time that the McCourts embark upon life after the Dodgers. It’s time they find a new passion. Quit this pretense that you’re the best thing for this franchise, quit this pretense that your children deserve to inherit leadership of the team, and let go.

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.

Dec 07

Breaking news: Jamie McCourt wins ownership trial

Judge Scott Gordon of the Los Angeles Superior Court has ruled in favor of Jamie McCourt in her dispute with Frank McCourt over ownership of the Dodgers, throwing out the couple’s marital property agreement. This grants shared custody of the team to both parties, though Frank McCourt will no doubt appeal.

From Molly Knight of ESPN the Magazine:

The judge presiding over the bitter battle for the Los Angeles Dodgers has granted Jamie McCourt’s request to throw out the marital property agreement that gives her ex-husband sole ownership of the team. In a 100-page decision given to attorneys for both parties, Judge Scott Gordon found that the contract at the heart of the fight over the team was not valid or enforceable and that it must be set aside. …