Jul 30

A quick word about Kuroda and no-trade clauses

Some online are questioning why Ned Colletti gave Hiroki Kuroda a no-trade clause. The answer is that it has value, just like money. Without the clause, Kuroda would have been much less likely to stay with Los Angeles as opposed to going elsewhere, such as back to Japan.

It’s not clear at all that Kuroda would have taken a higher salary in exchange for not having a no-trade clause, but even if he had, what you then end up doing is paying him even more than he is worth, based on what at the start of the season was a relatively unlikely scenario of the Dodgers’ wanting to trade him. Plus, the added salary itself be an added impediment to getting a trade done.

So no, the Dodgers don’t end up getting X players in exchange for Kuroda, and on some level, as Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness argues, that’s certainly a shame. But what they did get was four months and counting of a quality pitcher that they otherwise might not have had. Back in the offseason, when they were still trying to win in 2011, that’s a good deal.

Jul 30

Kuroda says he’s staying

According to Jim Bowden and Jayson Stark of ESPN.com, Hiroki Kuroda has told Ned Colletti he prefers to stay in Los Angeles and is not going to waive his no-trade clause.

It’s debatable what the Dodgers might have gained from trading Kuroda, but it’s hard not to be more than a little happy with someone who, amid all that has happened with the Dodgers this year, actually wants to be here in this city and/or with this team.

Update: Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com has more …

… “I told Ned through my agent (Steve Hilliard) that I will be wearing this uniform throughout the season,” Kuroda said, with Kenji Nimura interpreting. “I’m not going anywhere.”

Kuroda said Colletti hadn’t submitted any specific trades to any teams for his approval.

“Through my agent, I had heard a lot of things about some teams having interest in me,” Kuroda said. “Last year, after thinking about it a lot, I decided to play for the Dodgers for one year, and that is still my plan.”

Kuroda cited affection for, and loyalty to, his teammates as the reason for his decision.

“A key factor in me staying here is that it’s really important for me to play with the same guys I started with,” Kuroda said. …

… Kuroda could choose to return to Japan after the season, when he again will be a free agent, but he said he hasn’t made that decision yet.

“I haven’t really thought about next year at all,” he said. “Like I always say, it’s one game at a time, and I’m concentrating on my next start.”

Jul 02

Hiroki Kuroda’s streaking … but probably not to the All-Star Game

Friday, Hiroki Kuroda took over the Dodger lead in ERA at 2.90, moving ahead of a pitcher most assume will make the National League All-Star team, Clayton Kershaw. In his past six starts, Kuroda has a 1.72 ERA, and opponents are batting .191 against him. So has Kuroda pitched his way into All-Star consideration?

In 2010, there were eight starting pitchers on the NL roster until injured Yovani Gallardo of Milwaukee was replaced by San Diego reliever Heath Bell. In 2009, there were also eight starting pitchers, with Pittsburgh’s Zach Duke replacing San Francisco’s Matt Cain. So top-eight is the neighborhood you want to be in, if not even better.

Here’s where Kershaw and Kuroda currently rank in certain categories that might matter to the various selectors for the NL, which is making its All-Star roster announcement Sunday:

ERA: Kuroda ninth, Kershaw 10th
Strikeouts: Kershaw first, Kuroda 27th
Innings: Kershaw third (tie), Kuroda 16th (tie)
Wins: Kershaw ninth (tie), Kuroda 27th (tie)
WHIP: Kershaw third, Kuroda 20th
Complete games: Kershaw third, Kuroda has none
Shutouts: Kershaw second (tie), Kuroda has none
Quality starts: Kershaw seventh (tie), Kuroda 17th (tie)
Strikeout/walk ratio: Kershaw fourth, Kuroda 25th
Strikeouts per nine innings: Kershaw first, Kuroda 32nd
Fielding-independent ERA: Kershaw third, Kuroda 34th
Wins Above Replacement: Kershaw fourth, Kuroda 36th
Opponents OPS: Kershaw second, Kuroda 29th
Losses: Kuroda first (tie), Kershaw 75th (tie)

As you can see, outside of ERA, Kuroda’s case is very slim. Now, I wouldn’t completely rule out Kuroda sneaking onto a roster at the last minute, the way Hong-Chih Kuo and Rafael Furcal did a year ago, if a need for a substitute player arises. ERA might be the pitching category that has the most importance for All-Star selectors, plus Kuroda seems to be a popular player in baseball and one who might be in his last year pitching Stateside. But, it’s a tough year to pitch your way into the elite.

No doubt, many Dodger fans would be just as happy to see Kuroda get the All-Star break to rest.

* * *

Could the 37-46 Dodgers win nine games in a row? Perhaps they’ll find some odd encouragement in the play of their Triple-A affiliate in Albuquerque, where the once 42-30 Isotopes have lost nine in a row.

Jul 01

Dee Gordon steals second, (third), home and the show


Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesRoadrunner escapes again.

On a night that featured Tony Gwynn Jr. reaching base six times and Aaron Miles five, and Hiroki Kuroda pitching seven shutout innings, the spotlight was swiped by Dee Gordon, who stole second and home in the seventh inning and should have been credited with a steal of third in the same frame as well, if not for an arcane official scoring decision. Dodgers 5, Angels 0.

With Rafael Furcal due to return to the majors Sunday, Gordon, who also made a fantastic catch in the ninth, might be headed back to Albuquerque, though at this point that looks more like a career detour than a final destination.

May 17

Hiroki Kuroda’s Master Class


Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireHiroki Kuroda has allowed two earned runs or fewer in six of nine starts this season.

It’s hard to feel too low when you’ve got Hiroki Kuroda on your side. Lovely and amazing.

The 36-year-old turned in his second straight outing of shutout ball, going 7 2/3 innings in the Dodgers’ 3-0 victory over Milwaukee, and now has an ERA of 2.80 that is 10th in the National League, a hair behind Clayton Kershaw’s 2.75.

Kuroda gave up eight baserunners – six of them reaching scoring position, thanks in part to his first career balk – but he got himself out of every jam in the first seven innings, thanks in part to two big catches by Matt Kemp.

Kemp also hit a two-run homer in the first inning after a walk to Andre Ethier, and the score held until an RBI double for an insurance run in the eighth by Jerry Sands, driving in Juan Uribe, who went 2 for 3 with a walk.

Kenley Jansen scared the pants off the faithful by entering the game in the top of the eighth with a runner on and throwing seven straight balls, but Casey McGehee fouled out. Matt Guerrier then pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for his first save as a Dodger. Why was Guerrier closing the ninth instead of Vicente Padilla? The answer, my friends, is blowin’ in the office of Dodger trainer Stan Conte.

To recap the last four Dodger victories:

May 17 – Dodgers 3, Brewers 0 – Vicente Padilla unavailable
May 13 – Dodgers 4, Diamondbacks 3 – Zach Lee MRI revealed
May 11 – Dodgers 2, Pirates 0 – Hong-Chih Kuo to the disabled list
May 10 – Dodgers 10, Pirates 3 – Blake Hawksworth hurts groin

Apr 09

Kuroda glides as Dodgers win nightcap


Lenny Ignelzi/APAn elbow salute to Andre Ethier’s first homer of the year.

The smoothest Dodger victory of the season, 4-0 over the Padres, had a rough-and-tumble ending.

On a night that the Dodgers were concerned enough about their bullpen to hold Chad Billingsley in reserve, Hiroki Kuroda, a good man and true, took a one-hitter into the seventh inning (last year, you’ll recall, he took a no-hitter into the eighth inning against the Phillies) and came within one out of a shutout. He threw 117 pitches, the most by a National League pitcher in this young season.

Kuroda gave up his fifth and sixth hits with two out in the ninth, and Jonathan Broxton came in to try to save his second game of the day and fifth of five Dodger victories this season. Broxton had Chris Denorfia down 1-2 in the count before walking him, bringing up the tying run in Cameron Maybin.

Maybin hit a slow roller inside of third base. As he went for the ball, Casey Blake and Chase Headley collided, sending both players tumbling. Umpire Ed Hickox called interference, and just like that, the game was over. Blake would have had a tough play to get Maybin at first base.

Tonight’s twin victories didn’t do all that much to alleviate concerns about the Dodger offense, but they have done wonders for some Dodger batting averages and on-base percentages. Check out these numbers from tonight’s starting lineup:

.484/.568 Matt Kemp
.400/.478 Jamey Carroll
.357/.500 Casey Blake
.353/.436 Andre Ethier
.353/.353 Tony Gwynn Jr.
.250/.500 A.J. Ellis
.147/.189 James Loney
.107/.138 Juan Uribe
.143/.143 Hiroki Kuroda

Like I said – some.

Kemp, Carroll and Ethier (who hit his first home run of 2011) each had three hits; Gwynn added two. Kemp and Gwynn also combined to steal five bases, and Kemp had an outfield assist. Kuroda, who started last season 0 for 45, got his first hit of this season in his second game.

Loney did walk twice, and he continues to shine on defense. Uribe, meanwhile, is off to a 3 for 28 start with no walks.

Mar 11

Concerns from Saito and Kuroda

Former Dodger reliever Takashi Saito has left Spring Training with the Milwaukee Brewers in an effort to try to reach his parents, whom he has not been able to contact since the Japan quake struck, writes Adam McCalvy of MLB.com.

Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com also reports that Dodger pitcher Hiroki Kuroda has not reached his brother but believes him to be okay, but that Kuroda is concerned about such friends and former teammates as Kazuo Matsui and Akinori Iwamura.

At Inside the Dodgers, Josh Rawitch passes along his own concerns and best wishes.

* * *

Dodgers at A’s, 12:05 p.m.

Mar 03

Dodgers held to one run for third time in first week

Norm Hall/Getty ImagesHiroki and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcatch

Reds 3, Dodgers 1

Norm Hall/Getty ImagesBrandon Phillips stands on his head until his ears are turning Red.

Highlights:

  • Jerry Sands had two singles and an RBI, making him 3 for 7 in Spring Training. Let the (ir)rational exuberance begin!
  • Ivan De Jesus Jr. had a single and is also 3 for 7.
  • Rubby De La Rosa struck out three of the six batters he faced and picked off the only one who reached base, though none of the six were Reds regulars.
  • I learned the proper way to pronounce “Rubby,” and it doesn’t rhyme with “tubby.”

Lowlights:

  • After stranding three runners in his first two innings, starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda was touched for three more hits and two runs in the third. “I didn’t have all my pitches tonight,” Kuroda told The Associated Press. “My breaking ball wasn’t there.”
  • The first four hitters in the Dodger lineup – Rafael Furcal, Casey Blake, Juan Uribe and Jay Gibbons – went 0 for 11 with a walk.
  • Batting as the tying run in the eighth and ninth innings, Justin Sellers and JD Closser each hit into double plays.
  • The Dodgers are averaging 3.1 runs per game, worst in the Cactus League.

Sidelights:

  • On a Thursday in early March, it doesn’t get much more exciting than this: Ken Gurnick of MLB.com writes about how similar Kenley Jansen is to Mariano Rivera.
  • The Dodgers offered a minor-league contract to a player from their annual all-comers tryout: Randy Keisler, a 35-year-old lefty who last pitched in the majors in 2007. He has a 6.63 ERA in 150 2/3 career innings, and his only 2010 action was seven starts in the Mexican League with a 3.98 ERA.
  • De La Rosa and Luis Vasquez won the Dodgers’ “American Idol”-like singing contest, writes Dylan Hernandez of the Times.
  • Despite a career .341 on-base percentage in the majors, ex-Dodger Willy Aybar, who turns 28 next week, hasn’t even signed a minor-league contract this spring, notes MLB Trade Rumors.
  • Juan Castro did not hit a three-run homer.
Feb 19

Now batting, Don Mattingly


Morry Gash/APDon Mattingly: Five-tool manager?

The most fun and interesting detail to come out of Camelback Ranch today was the tidbit that Dodger manager Don Mattingly will stand in the batters box during bullpen sessions for his pitchers. From Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com:

In Mattingly’s first spring as the team’s manager, he already has employed at least one unconventional tactic. Often, when a pitcher is throwing in the bullpen, Mattingly will grab a bat, step into the left-handed batter’s box and get into the familiar stance he employed for so many years as a six-time All-Star first baseman for the New York Yankees.

“It gives me a better look at a guy’s stuff,” Mattingly said. “[By standing there], I can tell if what a guy is throwing can get somebody out or it can’t.”

Mattingly conceded that some of his pitchers — especially those who will spend the spring fighting for a roster spot — might be a bit unnerved by firing a baseball in the general direction of the boss’s body. In deference to that, he said he steps out of the box when it comes time for a pitcher to throw to the inside part of the plate.

Ken Gurnick of MLB.com has more.

… Mattingly’s participation in the bullpen sessions had the players talking.

“First time I ever saw that,” said catcher Dioner Navarro. “Caught me off guard. I did a double take. You know, you don’t want to drill him. But you can see he wants to be involved in everything, to know everything. It’s like he’s back to being a player. He knows what it takes. It brings confidence to the team to see that. It’s exciting.”

Mattingly, 49, said he no longer gets the urge to actually hit, having retired after the 1995 season. And he only steps in to his natural left-handed side, because he said he might not know how to get out of the way from the right-hander’s box.

Among the pitchers he “faced” Saturday were veterans Hiroki Kuroda and Vicente Padilla. Mattingly said he’d think twice if he saw a pitcher was having control problems.

“Managers do that in Japan and it’s considered an honor,” said Kuroda. “They do it for top young prospects and established veterans. And in the middle of Spring Training you have a session when you throw 200 to 300 pitches to establish endurance, and the manager steps in then, so you don’t slack off.” …

* * *

Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles DodgersMatt Kemp works out at Camelback Ranch today.

Davey Lopes baserunning tutorials are in full swing. From Jackson:

… Lopes has been giving these tutorials every morning this spring, and after a few minutes on Saturday, (Matt) Kemp was joined by outfielder Tony Gwynn Jr., shortstop Rafael Furcal, highly touted prospects Dee Gordon and Trayvon Robinson and non-roster outfielder Trent Oeltjen. Not one of those players is required to be in camp until Monday, but several of the team’s position players chose to report early.

Lopes’ group spent the entire session taking leads off first, crouching and breaking toward second base, though they weren’t running at anything close to full speed and they stopped about halfway there.

“Right now, I’m just trying to get an idea of what they do and what they attempt to do and see if there is something we can try to adjust to make it a little better fit for them,” Lopes said. “Basically, we’re just breaking down their movements.” …

* * *

Hiroki Kuroda is working on adding a curveball to his repertoire. Dylan Hernandez of the Times has more:

Last spring, Kuroda tried to add a changeup to his arsenal, but the project was abandoned early in camp. Kuroda said he’s more optimistic about his curveball.

“I’ll throw it during the exhibition season and see how it feels,” he said.

Kuroda said he has received tips from Clayton Kershaw, but that he learned the curveball grip over the winter by watching videos.

* * *

Steve Henson of Yahoo! Sports writes about the importance to Rafael Furcal of the fire truck recently donated to his hometown in the Dominican Republic:

“I’ll sleep better knowing people will be safe,” Furcal said. “I’m the only guy who made it. It’s like a responsibility to me.”

His love of firefighting was noticed by Dodgers public relations director Josh Rawitch, who mentioned it to general manager Ned Colletti during Furcal’s contract negotiations after the 2008 season. Colletti included the truck in discussions with Furcal’s agent, Paul Kinzer. Furcal was torn between signing with the Braves – the team that first signed him in 1996 and for whom he played his first six years in the majors – or returning to the Dodgers.

The fire truck was the ideal perk. It spoke to something close to his heart. And it convinced him the Dodgers cared about him as a person, and about his hometown.


* * *

Farewell, Ollie Matson.

Feb 17

Today’s Dodger Facebook status updates

Kyle Terada/US PresswireChad Billingsley is digging fielding practice today at Camelback Ranch.

Friend this …

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 23

The 33 theses revisited

A year ago, I posted these 33 theses on the doors of Dodger Thoughts.  Let’s see how they have held up …

Thesis Result Comment
1) Frank McCourt will prevail in the courts against Jamie McCourt and retain ownership of the Dodgers. No Failed to anticipate the Great Adverb Dispute.
2) Rather then sell the team, McCourt will take on a minority partner to improve his cash flow. TBD It might not be quite that simple.
3) The incentive for the minority partner will be the Dodgers’ ability to make a profit, with potential for greater revenue from development of the Dodger Stadium property. TBD This plus the TV contract.
4) The project to turn the area behind center field into a gathering place of restaurants, shops and a Dodger museum will begin by 2015. TBD I sure was looking ahead, wasn’t I?
5) The Dodgers will earn enough money over the coming decade to remain competitive, though they will never spend like the Yankees or Red Sox. TBD Fans are probably pessimistic about this one, but we’ll see.
6) The Dodgers will sign a veteran with an unexciting name to take the No. 4 spot in the 2010 starting rotation, completing their offseason in much the same manner they would have even if the McCourts weren’t divorcing. Yes Hello, Vicente Padilla.
7) Observers will decry the state of Dodger starting pitching entering the season, even though it will probably match up well with every team in the National League West except San Francisco. (Arizona’s No. 4 starter: Ian Kennedy?) No San Diego ruined this prediction for me.
8) The focus will be on what the Dodgers didn’t do, ignoring how thin the pitching market was and how little their division rivals have improved themselves. Yes This was a safe one.
9) Spring training will come as a relief, as the conversation returns to baseball and, despite all that has happened, the sight of Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw roaming the field becomes too intoxicating to resist. Yes Spring Training was relatively enjoyable this year.
10) Exhibition performances will excessively color people’s views of the coming season, even though Val Pascucci’s .429 batting average in March 2009 failed to carry over into the regular season. Yes This at least applied to the Dodgers themselves, vis a vis Les Ortizables.
11) Sportswriters will blast the Dodgers for not acquiring a big name, then criticize every move Manny Ramirez makes while knocking the Dodgers for all the money spilling out to Andruw Jones, Juan Pierre and Jason Schmidt. Kind of Not all sportswriters, but certainly some I can think of.
12) People will be intrigued with how Russell Martin explains that this will be the season everything will be OK for him. No “Intrigued” seems strong in retrospect, plus Martin got hurt in March.
13) Chad Billingsley will gamely turn the other cheek as reporters and fans insultingly question his manhood. Then he’ll go out and throw bullets. Yes He wasn’t red-hot to start the season, but ultimately this came true.
14) The Dodgers will not get off to as hot a start in 2010 as they did in 2009, when they were 10-3 and 21-8. Yes To say the least …
15) The Dodger community will be on edge, as it becomes clear to all that 2010, like most years, will be a season-long challenge. Yes To say the least …
16) Jokes about portable concession stands will grow old fast, yet continue to be told. No This died down more quickly than I expected.
17) Lines at Dodger Stadium food stands will remain long anyway. Yes No change here.
18) Nevertheless, the Dodgers will remain in the thick of the National League West race into May, when the McCourt case launches in the courts. Yes/no Dodgers had the best record in the NL at one point, but the trial was delayed.
19) The free-for-all between the McCourts’ lawyers will be annoying beyond belief. Yes All those fun revelations and accusations …
20) Kershaw, Kemp or Andre Ethier will suffer a setback, while Martin, James Loney or Rafael Furcal will experience a rebirth. Yes Setback for Kemp, rebirth for Furcal (until he got hurt, but I’m counting it).
21) Ramirez will have his ups and downs but will regain some of the fans he lost in the final months of 2009. No I could probably prove this true on a technicality, but I won’t try to push this one through.
22) There won’t be as much Dodger walk-off magic in 2010 as there was in 2009. Yes There was some moments early on, but they didn’t carry on.
23) Forced to rely on the farm system for pitching depth, the Dodgers will benefit from some precocious performances. Yes John Ely, Carlos Monasterios and Kenley Jansen, among others, did some good for the team.
24) “Don’t Stop Believin’” will be gone, but “God Bless America” will return. No/yes Oh well.
25) With the dust from the courtroom settled, the Dodgers will make a trading deadline deal. No/yes Deals came while dust was still swirling.
26) The biggest moment of the year will be when Vin Scully announces his plans for 2011. Yes You can argue with me, but I’m counting this one.
27) With almost nowhere to go but down after two National League Championship Series appearances, 2010 will almost surely end as a disappointment for the Dodgers. Yes This had a chance to be wrong in summertime, but in the end it was right.
28) The Phillies will not win the NL title, because it looks too much like they should. Yes That’s the way it goes …
29) The Dodgers will have more reason to be nervous after the 2010 season, when the team has to replace Ramirez and Hiroki Kuroda while giving even bigger pay raises to the homegrown talent — even those who had subpar years. Yes Even though Kuroda and others are back, if we’re talking about how most people felt at the end of the 2010 season, there was more nervousness and pessimism than 2009.
30) Minor league pitchers Aaron Miller, Chris Withrow and John Ely will come to the rescue, sooner or later, either by becoming major-league ready or major-league trading chips. No Given the way Ely ended the season, it’s hard to tally this one in the Yes column.
31) The Dodgers will have enough talent to stay competitive, but not enough to make them prohibitive favorites. Yes I’ll probably get some heckles on this one, but if the 2010 Giants could win, I’m not ruling out the 2011 Dodgers.
32) The Dodgers will continue to be good enough to keep all but the most reactionary fans hooked, yet weak enough to keep all but the most tolerant fans unsatisfied. Yes Accurate, no?
33) Fans will start to pay attention to the ticking clock that is the end of the 2012 season, when Martin, Loney, Kemp, Ethier and Billingsley are scheduled to become eligible for free agency. No I’m not sure enough people are worried about this.
Total 19-7-7 What does this mean? I have no idea.
Nov 28

In starting rotation, sometimes questions beat answers


Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesFor 4 1/2 seasons, the Dodgers never knew what they were going to get in Odalis Perez.

In the wake of the Jon Garland signing, Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. looked at the most commonly used starting pitchers by the Dodgers since 2000, and in the process found that the Dodgers “have had five pitchers each start 30 games in a season just twice in their 127-year franchise history (1977 and 1993), and they have only had four pitchers start 30 games eight other times.”

Good stuff, but I was interested in something else, too. Given my surprise to find our starting rotation settled on paper before the end of November, I was curious how often in recent years the Dodgers had appeared to enter the season in better shape in their starting five than they’re in right now – and how they fared in those seasons.

Looking back at the 2000s (playoff teams in bold):

  • 2010: Charlie Haeger won a beleaguered fifth starter competition. The current 2011 rotation, with Garland as the fifth starter behind Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Hiroki Kuroda and Ted Lilly, looks better.
  • 2009: Rookies Kershaw and James McDonald looked promising on paper, but most people would probably take the 2011 quintet, with Kershaw two years older.
  • 2008: Brad Penny was coming off a 3.03 ERA in 2007, Chad Billingsley was rising and Derek Lowe in the final year of his contract, while Kuroda was untested in the U.S. and Kershaw hadn’t arrived. In fact, it was the rotating arms in the No. 5 spot (a shaky Esteban Loaiza, a green Hong-Chih Kuo) that helped hasten Kershaw’s debut.  The Dodger rotation heading into 2008 was probably better than the 2011 group – until Friday.
  • 2007: This was the year newcomers Jason Schmidt and Randy Wolf (the first time around) were supposed to anchor the Dodger staff, joining Lowe, Penny and Billingsley. This was an exciting group – until Schmidt and Wolf combined for 24 starts and a 5.05 ERA.
  • 2006: Lowe, Penny … Odalis Perez (coming off a poor 2005) … Brett Tomko and Jae Seo.  A little bit of wishful thinking, here.
  • 2005: New free agent Lowe, Perez (coming off a strong 2004) and Jeff Weaver for the front three. The Dodgers knew they’d be dealing with filler at the No. 5 spot, and with Penny coming back late from his 2004 injury, they were duct-taping No. 4 as well, ultimately starting April with the likes of Elmer Dessens and Scott Erickson.
  • 2004: The Dodgers’ first playoff trip of the century began with Hideo Nomo, Perez, Weaver and Kaz Ishii – not a bad front four if you thought the 25-year-old Perez would regain his 2002 form. The other three had ERAs below 4.00 the year before. The fifth starter left in TBD status until the job was seized by Jose Lima, who had a memorable year through and into the playoffs (after having thrown 503 2/3 innings with a 6.18 ERA since 2000), while Ishii ended up struggling and Nomo fell apart.
  • 2003: Kevin Brown was coming off an injury-plagued 2002, but there was still hope for him (rightfully so) to lead a staff that also included a resurgent Nomo, Ishii and Perez (3.00 ERA in 2002). Darren Dreifort, attempting a comeback after going more than 20 months between games, got the first chance at the No. 5 start, but the Dodgers also had Andy Ashby (3.91 ERA in ’02) as a No. 6 starter. So there was depth, but also an understanding that the depth could be needed immediately.
  • 2002: Lots of new blood to join Brown and Ashby: Nomo (returning as a free agent from Boston), Perez (acquired with Brian Jordan in January’s Gary Sheffield trade) and Ishii (signing his first U.S. contract on February 28) – not to mention Omar Daal, another returning former Dodger who came in an offseason trade from Philadelphia but began the year in the bullpen. By the time Spring Training started, the staff was deep – one of the reasons second-year manager Jim Tracy experimented with converting a guy who had made 24 starts in 2001 into a reliever: Eric Gagne.
  • 2001: In his last year before becoming a free agent, Chan Ho Park was the Opening Day starter for the Dodgers, followed by Gagne, Dreifort, Ashby and – in place of Brown, who was limited by injuries – Luke Prokopec. Either Gagne or Prokopec were to be the No. 5 starters on paper, after making some waves in 2000. You might laugh now, but there was reason to think this could be a pretty decent starting rotation.
  • 2000: You had Brown, Park and Dreifort, all coming off solid 2000 seasons. Then you had Carlos Perez, who had a 7.43 ERA in 1999. And rounding out the fivesome, you had the last gasp of Orel Hershiser, who had a 4.58 ERA with the Mets at age 40 the year before. It did not go well for this rotation.

In terms of Dodger starting rotations that had proven talent in all five slots since 2000, you’d have to look at 2007 and 2002 as the leading lights, with honorable mention to 2003. Neither of these teams, of course, reached the playoffs (though the ’02 team won 92 games), while the Dodgers’ past four playoff teams all had question marks in at least one spot in the starting rotation entering the season.

Nov 23

Kuroda: ‘I love my teammates, I love this city’

Great Hiroki Kuroda quotes today, relayed in Ramona Shelburne’s story for ESPNLosAngeles.com:

“I’ve been playing with the Dodgers for three years. I love my teammates, I love this city. So if the Dodgers wanted me, I wanted to come back,” Kuroda said through an interpreter at a press conference Tuesday at Dodger Stadium. …

Kuroda, who signed a one-year, $12-million contract on Nov. 15, said that returning to his native Japan was the only other option he really considered.

“Retirement was not one of the options,” said Kuroda, who also received a full no-trade clause. “I was able to pitch close to the ideal pitching performance that I had imagined for last year. So basically my performance last year motivated me to continue next year.” …

Though he was pleased with his performance in his three seasons with the Dodgers, he still felt he had more to accomplish.

“There are so many other things that I wanted to accomplish that I haven’t yet, so that’s why I wanted to come back,” he said.

Like what?

Kuroda laughed, then said, “World championship.”

No translation needed.

Kuroda also added that this season will not necessarily be his last. He said he signed for one year to motivate himself and to keep his options open going forward. …

Nov 16

It’s whom you pay, not when you pay them


Ric Tapia/Icon SMIThe problem isn’t that the Dodgers are still paying Jason Schmidt; the problem is that Jason Schmidt couldn’t pitch no matter what date his paychecks arrived.

With a third of Hiroki Kuroda’s new contract coming in the form of a signing bonus to be paid in 2012 and 2013, naturally the subject of the Dodgers deferring salaries has come up again. On that subject, let me make these points:

  1. Though they have certainly turned it into an art form, deferred payments are nothing unique to the Dodgers or the McCourt ownership. They can’t even lay claim to the grand-deferred-daddy of them all, the Mets’ 35-year Bobby Bonilla plan.
  2. Deferred payments aren’t an inherently bad way to operate a business. To oversimplify, if you are making good investments with the capital as you hang onto it, you will come out ahead.
  3. The primary issue with the money the Dodgers owe players who are no longer on the roster isn’t the money — it’s the players. The problem is not that they’re still paying Jason Schmidt, Juan Pierre or Andruw Jones — it’s that those contracts were so unfortunate, period.  We could have taken Schmidt to a $47 million lunch at the Palm a few years ago and called it a day — it wouldn’t have made that deal turn out any better.
  4. Remember that some deferred contracts did not start that way. For example, Jones’ deal was restructured to accommodate the 2009 Manny Ramirez signing, so that the Dodgers would have other options besides Jones and Juan Pierre in left field. The ongoing flow of cash to Jones are less about a philosophy of deferring payments than about trying to make lemonade from lemons.
  5. Backloaded contracts that are used on productive players have the potential to be good. Keeping Ted Lilly and Hiroki Kuroda to single-digit millions now, enabling the team to spend more to address other pressing needs, is a viable strategy — especially if you believe that down the road, more TV dollars and a better economy might make the backloaded contracts easier to pay off.
  6. Certainly, there’s an argument that the Dodgers should reign their spending and stop buying players on credit. Heck, I’m one of those rare birds who would watch a homegrown, low-rent squad. But if you do that now, given the chaos in team ownership, you’d have to brace yourself for a 2011 team as leaky as a bad roof.
  7. Yes, the McCourt ownership could sell a house and take care of all this year’s deferred payments in an instant. But I’m not holding my breath for that.

In a nutshell, the timeframe for paying player salaries is fairly low on the issues bedeviling the Dodgers. Achieving a combination of good decisions and good luck regarding the roster is far more important. Even as the McCourt drama plays out, the Dodgers will thrive or dive depending on their personnel choices.

Eventually, the Dodgers will either operate one season on a limited budget, or they’ll find the revenue to bring their finances back to steadier ground.  I’m betting on the latter. In any case, what matters is that they spend their money wisely, whenever they spend it.