Mar 06

Loss to Cubs? Dodgers mullet over

Cubs 5, Dodgers 3 (10)

Highlights:

  • Chad Billingsley (above) went 3 2/3 innings before giving up the first earned run allowed by a Dodger starting pitcher this weekend. He allowed four baserunners and struck out two.
  • Ramon Troncoso retired all four batters he faced (one admittedly on a dicey umpire’s call) and has allowed one hit in 3 1/3 shutout innings. Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com has more on Troncoso’s growing chances of making the Opening Day roster.
  • The platoon of Jay Gibbons (wearing awesome big white sunglasses, the best Dodger eyewear since Eric Gagne) and birthday boy Marcus Thames went 2 for 5 with an RBI double (by Thames).
  • Aaron Miles tripled in his only at-bat.
  • Ivan De Jesus, Jr. made a nice backhand grab running into the outfield, drawing a big smile from the Cubs’ third-base coach, Ivan De Jesus, Sr.


Lowlights:

  • Justin Sellers committed a double-error (bobble and bad throw) on the Dodgers’ first defensive play of the game.
  • Right fielders Xavier Paul and Jerry Sands combined for a golden sombrero.
  • Luis Vasquez the Magician made the game disappear when he allowed a two-run walkoff homer to D.J. LeMahieu in the bottom of the 10th.


Sidelights:

  • In the above-referenced piece by Jackson, he addresses the James Loney situation.

    Although the tightness in first baseman James Loney’s knee isn’t serious and Loney tentatively is expected back in the lineup by Wednesday, the momentary scare did underscore the fact the Dodgers don’t have a lot of depth at Loney’s position.

    Third baseman Casey Blake and outfielders Jay Gibbons and Marcus Thames all have some experience — but not a lot of it — at first base, and Mattingly said any or all of them could be a viable alternative if Loney were to be lost for, say, two or three games. But if Loney suffered a major injury that sidelined him for a month or more?

    In that case, Mattingly said, the Dodgers would have to bring up a first baseman from the minors. And the most likely candidate would be Russell Mitchell, a third baseman by trade who also can play left and right field but played all of 13 games at first for Triple-A Albuquerque last year.

    “We feel like Russ can be pretty flexible,” Mattingly said. “He can handle himself out there, and he has actually played some second. He even did some catching in the Instructional League, so we feel like we could trust him with catching. That emergency third catcher can be pretty valuable in the National League because it allows you to maybe pinch run for your catcher without having to get nervous about not having another catcher left on the bench.” …

  • Ken Gurnick of MLB.com and Steve Dilbeck of the Times have more on Loney.
  • The Dodgers’ starting baseman is still healthier than the Angels’ Kendry Morales, notes Mark Saxon of ESPNLosAngeles.com. The Angels might turn to Triple-A power hitter Mark “Don’t call me Dalton” Trumbo, writes Mike DiGiovanna of the Times.
  • Scott Elbert is working on a mechanical adjustment, writes Gurnick, who adds that Jamey Carroll will miss a few days of game action after being hit by a pitch on his right index finger (X-rays were negative).
  • Josh Suchon says that he and his new KABC 790 AM talkmate Joe Block will be the broadcast team for Dodger games on Prime Ticket this Wednesday and Thursday.
  • Mullet Mania: Jackson gave us a hint this morning, but later came the full story on Travis Schlichting’s new ‘do from Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports.

    I understand that this is going out on a fragile limb above a pool shared by sharks and alligators, but I witnessed the greatest mullet in baseball history Sunday morning, and I refuse to believe otherwise.

    Randy Johnson may have sported the curly afterbirth on his neck, and John Kruk may have rocked the accompanying gut, and Troy Tulowitzki may have had the ironic twist to his charity mullet, but nobody – nobody – can compete with the absolute resplendence that topped Travis Schlichting’s head on Sunday. …

Mar 05

James Loney to have MRI on knee


Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesCarlos Monasterios and Jon Link get some work in before Friday’s game.

His left knee is aching. If he were an old man, we’d just assume rain was coming, but he’s a ballplayer, so instead James Loney will have an MRI performed, reports Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com:

… manager Don Mattingly said he wasn’t overly concerned.Mattingly said Loney first began to feel it during stretching exercises before Thursday night’s game against the Cincinnati Reds, then felt it again after playing four innings on Friday night against the San Francisco Giants.

“He feels it when he gets to a certain point in his stretching,” Mattingly said. “It seems like it [isn't serious], because he isn’t feeling any pain, and he played last night. But these guys know their bodies pretty good, and with the knee, we want to be a little careful. We just want to find out what it is.”

Team physician Dr. Neal ElAttrache is expected to arrive at the Dodgers’ spring training facility sometime on Saturday, and Mattingly said he hoped ElAttrache would have a chance to examine Loney’s MRI results and render an opinion by the end of the day. …

* * *

  • Mike Piazza talked to Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com about potentially becoming a baseball team owner someday.
  • From the Dodger press notes: “The Dodgers would like to wish a very happy birthday to right-handed pitcher Mike MacDougal, who turns 34 today. MacDougal shares his big day with former Dodgers Kevin Brown, Paul Konerko and Chad Fonville. A little known fact is that MacDougal’s given name is actually Robert Meiklejohn. Meiklejohn is his mother’s maiden name. Now you know. “

* * *

Reds at Dodgers, 12:05 p.m.
Rafael Furcal, SS
Casey Blake, 3B
Andre Ethier, RF
Matt Kemp, CF
Jay Gibbons, DH
Juan Uribe, 2B
Rod Barajas, C
Russ Mitchell, 1B
Gabe Kapler, LF
(Clayton Kershaw, P)

Feb 23

Mota motors

Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireManny Mota, fastest pinch-hitting genius on three wheels …

When the Dodgers open Cactus League action Saturday with split-squad games on the road against the Angels and Giants, the starting pitchers are scheduled to be Hiroki Kuroda and Tim Redding, respectively.

In other news and notes …

  • Today from Tony Jackson: Dodger hitting coach Jeff Pentland talks about James Loney.

    … it is precisely that — not getting the ball to leave the yard, but getting Loney’s bat into the relatively small hitting zone more quickly — that Loney and Dodgers hitting coach Jeff Pentland have been working on not only since the start of spring training, but basically since the end of last season. Loney flew to Phoenix from his home in Houston twice this winter for extra work with Pentland at the team’s Camelback Ranch facility.

    “In order to hit the ball in that certain area, it’s really difficult,” Pentland said. “James probably isn’t as consistent as he needs to be at getting his bat to that spot. What he needs to do is put the bat head in a better position so we can add some sharpness to the ball. I never tell guys to swing for the fence. I want guys to hit the ball hard consistently. If they do that, there are going to be times where they catch it just right and it’s going to go out of the ballpark.”

  • Here’s Baseball America’s 2011 Top 100 Prospects list. Dodgers: Dee Gordon (26), Zach Lee (89), Rubby De La Rosa (90). In a related story, J.J. Cooper writes about how spectacular the 2011 Royals class of minor leaguers is, putting it atop a top 10 that also includes the 1991 and 2006 Dodgers.
  • Today’s edition of David Pinto’s 2006-10 PMR defensive ratings at Baseball Musings hones in on center field. The Dodgers have performed poorly there over the past five years. On an individual basis, Juan Pierre and Matt Kemp are neck-and-neck.
  • According to Jesse Wolfersberger of Fangraphs, no starting pitcher in baseball allowed fewer homers than expected in 2010 than Chad Billingsley.
  • Hank Aaron appears on tonight’s “Late Show with David Letterman.” Here’s a clip.
  • At today’s Hollywood Radio and Television Society panel, writes my Variety colleague Stuart Levine, Showtime president David Nevins said that “it’s not a God-given right” for viewers to be able to watch sports for free and called the transition of high-profile events to cable a “very natural and obvious evolution.”
  • Lead (or lede, if you’re on the inside) of the day goes to my former Stanford Daily colleague Eric Young, writing for the San Francisco Business Times:

    The Warren Commission took 300 days to turn in its probe of the Kennedy shooting.It took the 9/11 Commission 603 days to publish a report after the Twin Towers attack.

    It has been 695 days — and counting — since baseball commissioner Bud Selig appointed a three-person group to study whether the Oakland A’s can relocate in the East Bay. …

Feb 11

Dodgers, Loney agree to terms for 2011

Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireJames Loney, here hitting a game-winning 13th-inning home run in July against the Mets, is looking for his first month with a .500 slugging percentage since June 2008.

The Dodgers cleared their arbitration docket by signing James Loney to a one-year contract for 2011 worth $4.875 million, reports Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com.

The team also added reliever Juan Rincon to its Spring Training crew via a minor-league contract, though without an invitation to major-league camp. Rincon, 32, has not pitched effectively in the majors since 2006.

Feb 10

Arbitration clock eight days and counting for James Loney

James Loney and the Dodgers will head to an arbitration hearing Feb. 18 if they can’t settle their salary disagreement beforehand, reports ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Tony Jackson, who also has a feature on Don Mattingly today.

Elsewhere …

  • Jayson Stark of ESPN.com mostly approves of the Dodger offseason, at least relative to the rest of the National League West.
  • The Dodgers have packed for Camelback Ranch, and Roberto Baly — the Carmen Sandiego of Dodgerdom — is on the scene. Check out his pics and video, including shots of 75-year-old James Hall, who has been driving the truck for 29 years.
  • Check out the photo archive of Sports Illustrated vet Hy Peskin, thanks to the link passed along by Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness.
  • Loved this video of Landry Fields working at a New York sporting goods store and trying in vain to sell his own jersey.
  • Nice story on ex-Chatsworth High ballplayer Matt Cassel by Eric Sondheimer of the Times.
  • Tweet of the day:”@jeffthiessen: Went to my local batting cage today and JAY GIBBONS of the #dodgers was hitting in my cage.. He said I have a nice swing!!”
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.

Feb 04

Feel-good Friday

Health is this morning’s lead topic …

  • Injury prevention continues to offer potential as the next Moneyball (i.e., exploiting the undervalued) frontier. Will Carroll writes about the topic for SI.com (link via new SB Nation national baseball editor Rob Neyer, who has his own comment).
  • Neyer also links to Corey Hawkins’ new Baseball Injury Tool, a website that I suspect a lot of us will soon find indispensable.
  • Jim McLennan of AZ Snakepit studies the importance of starting pitching depth, noting among other things that even the most stable rotation in the National League, San Francisco’s, needed 19 starts outside of its main five pitchers.
  • Tom Hoffarth of the Daily News has completed his massive project, “The Tao of Vin Scully”: 21 sportscasters discussing what makes the Dodger legend great.
  • Before we leave the Daily News, I have to pass along Kevin Modesti’s “Where Are They Now” story on “Family Affair” boy Johnny Whitaker.
  • The ups and downs of James Loney’s professional career, dating back to draft day in 2002 (goodness), are reviewed by John Sickels at Minor League Ball.
  • David Young and I have had All-Something fever lately.  His latest at True Blue L.A.: The Los Angeles Dodgers All-Short Stuff Team.
  • Here’s a retrospective of the Dodgers’ Burt Shotton era, courtesy of Steven Booth and the Hardball Times.
  • The inimitable player/author/speaker Dirk Hayhurst offers his “Ten Commandments of Social Networking as a professional athlete” (via David Pinto’s Baseball Musings).
  • Baseball co-blogger David Newhan is lacin’ ‘em up again, signing a minor-league deal with the San Diego Padres.
  • If I could have had just half of Dee Gordon’s Thursday, I’d have been happy: “I swear I just had the best nap ever! My body is feeling it from these intense workouts!”
  • Update: Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com looks at the Dodger infield heading into the coming season.
Jan 27

Will James Loney turn his doubles into home runs?


Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireJames Loney hit 19 homers in his first 446 career at-bats. He hit 10 in 588 at-bats last season.

This excerpt from Tony Jackson’s piece for ESPNLosAngeles.com today on James Loney, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier got me thinking about Loney:

The lefty-hitting first baseman has never hit more than 15 home runs in a season and hit only 10 of them in 2010, but he had a career-high 41 doubles and drove in 88 runs, his third season in a row with at least that many RBIs. Still, general manager Ned Colletti and manager Don Mattingly continue to insist that Loney is a potential power hitter, and they remain determined to get him to reach that potential.

But Loney has now spent five seasons in the majors, enough to make an outsider wonder if this is simply who Loney is: a gap-to-gap, line-drive, doubles hitter who manages to drive in a lot of runs and still be reasonably productive without going deep very often.

My initial reaction is that I’ve never really expected Loney to become much more than what Jackson describes in that last sentence. Mark Grace has often been cited as the best-case scenario for Loney, and Grace never hit more than 17 homers in a season — and that’s with playing half his games in Wrigley Field.

But for curiosity’s sake, I used Baseball-Reference.com to pull the list of 27-and-under players who, since 1990, have had at least 40 doubles in a season without hitting more than 15 home runs that same year. I then looked to see what their career highs in home runs were or are.

Here’s what I found — take it with several grains of salt as a mere conversation starter: Continue reading

Jan 18

Dodgers invite Gabe Kapler to Spring Training, exchange salary arbitration figures with Kuo and Loney

Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com updates the arbitration situation with Hong-Chih Kuo and James Loney:

… In each case, the gap seemed small enough that the sides would appear likely to reach an agreement well in advance of going to an arbitration hearing in February.

Kuo, who made $975,000 last season, is seeking $3.075 million through the arbitration process, while the club filed at $2.55 million. Loney, who made $3.1 million last year, is asking for $5.25 million while the club filed at $4.7 million.

If either player goes to a hearing, after hearing each side state its case, a three-person arbitration panel would be forced to choose one of those two figures, with no wiggle room in between. Until such a hearing, though, the two sides are free to reach an agreement at any figure, and the sides often settle at the midpoint.

The mathematical midpoint for Kuo is $2,812,500. For Loney, it is $4,975,000.

Only two players — pitchers Eric Gagne in 2004 and Joe Beimel in 2007 — have taken the Dodgers all the way to an arbitration hearing in the 10 years that assistant general manager Kim Ng has been handling cases for the club. Both of those players lost their cases. …

* * *

Gabe Kapler, who returned in 2008 from a year-long retirement to a major-league playing career, has signed a minor-league contract with the Dodgers.

Last season, the 35-year-old outfielder had a .288 on-base percentage and .290 slugging percentage in 140 plate appearances with Tampa Bay.

After retiring following the 2006 season, Kapler managed the Greenville Drive of the Single-A South Atlantic League to a 58-81 record. He then returned to the playing field in 2008 with the Milwaukee Brewers, for whom he had one of his best seasons: an .838 OPS in 245 plate appearances.

The Dodgers have already made several signings this winter to try to fill out their outfield alongside Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp, agreeing to terms with Marcus Thames, Jay Gibbons and Tony Gwynn Jr. In-house options Xavier Paul and Jamie Hoffmann, among others, also return.

Detroit selected Kapler, a graduate of Taft HS in Woodland Hills, in the 57th round of the 1995 amateur draft out of Moorpark College.

* * *

  • Steve Henson of Yahoo! Sports writes about the reaction of baseball scouts, who spend week after week on the road away from their families, to the murder of Christina Taylor Green, daughter of Dodger scout John Green.
  • You think Jose Offerman made a mess of the Dodger infield? Look at what Monster Jam is doing (via Vin Scully Is My Homeboy).
  • Rather than face another round of surgery, Gil Meche of the Kansas City Royals retired — leaving $12 million in 2011 salary on the table. I guess you can’t say it never happens.
  • The Detroit Tigers signed former Dodger Brad Penny — and designated near-perfect-game pitcher Armando Galarraga for assignment. That caught me off guard. Galarraga had agreed to a $2.3 million contract for 2011 a day ago. He had a 4.49 ERA and 74 strikeouts in 144 1/3 innings last season.
Jan 17

Report: Dodgers agree to terms with Marcus Thames

Tom Szczerbowski/US PresswireMarcus Thames

Adding to their collection of poor-defending but slugging outfielders, the Dodgers are poised to sign the guy who might be Jay Gibbons’ brother from another mother: Marcus Thames. Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com has details.

Thames, 34 in March and four days younger than Gibbons,  had a .350 on-base percentage and .491 slugging percentage against lefties last season, making him a potential platoon partner with Gibbons or Xavier Paul (only if the latter has a knockout Spring Training, it appears). Overall, Thames has an OPS of .802 in a career spent entirely in the American League. But Thames carries with him the baggage of being yet another left fielder that Dodger pitchers might be afraid of.

The Thames signing reduces the chances of the Dodgers resorting to games with Casey Blake or Jamey Carroll in the outfield. Whether the Tony Gwynn, Jr. plan B to realign the outfield is dead remains to be seen. Jamie Hoffmann has no chance of making the Opening Day roster now unless someone gets hurt.

Thames and Gibbons represent appealing bats off the bench — whether we want to see them each play 500 innings in the field this year is another story. But this definitely beats re-signing Scott Podsednik.

* * *

The Dodgers are taking negotiations with Chad Billingsley, Hong-Chih Kuo and James Loney down to the wire, Jackson writes in a separate story.

With major league teams and arbitration-eligible players set to officially file salary figures on Tuesday, the Los Angeles Dodgers still haven’t reached agreement with any of their affected players — pitcher Chad Billingsley, reliever Hong-Chih Kuo and first baseman James Loney — but based on recent history, it appears highly unlikely that the club will end up going to a hearing with any of those players in early February.

In the decade that assistant general manager Kim Ng has been handling all the team’s arbitration cases, only two players have taken the Dodgers to a hearing. The club won both of those cases against pitchers Eric Gagne in 2004 and Joe Beimel in 2007, the victory over Gagne coming the winter after he won the National League Cy Young Award.

For now, Ng isn’t making any predictions.

“We will have a much better idea in the next 24 hours [after numbers are filed on Tuesday],” Ng said. “It’s moving. We’re progressing, but nothing is final yet.”

Ng did confirm that the club isn’t discussing a multiyear contract with either Billingsley, Kuo or Loney. All three are “four-plus” players, meaning they have between four and five years of major league service time, are arbitration-eligible for the second time and — barring a multiyear deal — will be arbitration-eligible again next winter. …

* * *

Trayvon Robinson is the subject of a really nice feature by Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com.

As far back as any of his baseball coaches can remember, people noticed Trayvon Robinson. He had the skills, but not the polish; the raw tools, but not the savvy.

Anyone with a little vision could see what kind of player he could become. The question was whether that potential would develop and bloom one day.

Andre Green had coached baseball at Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles long enough to recognize a talent such as Robinson’s early on. He’d also been around long enough to know all the things that could keep Robinson from developing into what he’s since become: one of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ top prospects.

Like many of Crenshaw’s top athletes in recent years, Robinson also played football before high school.

“He wanted to play football, and I just told him ‘No,’” Green said. “I said, ‘You’re a baseball man and you’re going to put Crenshaw on the map.’” …

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.
Dec 02

Russell Martin is on the open market


Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireRussell Martin

He was something special. And then he wasn’t.

It happens to the best of ‘em, but I can’t believe it happened this fast.

It is most certainly a non-tender night. The Dodgers have parted ways with 27-year-old Russell Martin, at least for now, by not offering him a 2011 contract. Again, the reason: They would have had to guarantee the slumping and injured catcher at least 80% of his 2010 salary, and risk paying him even more – easily over $6 million – if they lost an arbitration hearing.

If it were simply a case of Martin’s offensive struggles, I think Dodger general manager Ned Colletti would have guaranteed his contract, as they have done today with James Loney. But the uncertainty over his recovery from his hip injury made Los Angeles that much more guarded about spending all those millions. Wrote Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com:

… the Dodgers’ first choice was to bring Martin back if an agreement could be reached on a contract that would have paid him a lower base salary than what he received in 2010. Colletti said that in the final minutes before the 9 p.m. PST deadline, Colleran lowered Martin’s asking price to a simple $5 million guarantee, but the Dodgers weren’t willing to go that high.

“We were willing to get to the same point with performance bonuses, but not with a guaranteed $5 million,” Colletti said.

This isn’t necessarily the end of Martin’s Dodger career – he is free to negotiate with the Dodgers, as with all 29 other teams, for any contract, and Colletti told reporters that they would still talk. (Among other things, Jackson wrote that the Dodgers were interested in Martin in a utility role.)

But given that the parties couldn’t come to terms by this point, it seems unlikely to me that they would at any other. And that was made even more the case when, as Jackson reported, the Dodgers moved closer to signing Rod Barajas to a one-year contract.

“I think we are on the cusp of getting something done in a different direction,” Colletti said. “I wasn’t going to go to sleep tonight without a big league catcher here besides [backup] A.J. [Ellis]. We’re pretty far down the road with something, and it should come to fruition in a short period of time. This is somebody who, if the season were to start today, would take the lion’s share of [playing time], with A.J. in a backup role.”

The rest of the Dodgers’ decisions today went according to form. George Sherrill, like Martin, was non-tendered (as was September call-up Trent Oeltjen), while Loney, Hong-Chih Kuo and Chad Billingsley all were guaranteed 2011 contracts.

Sep 02

Potential appeal could keep Dodgers in McCourt hands for years

There’s an angle of the McCourt divorce trial that I think has been underplayed. From The Days and Tweets of Molly Knight:

To sum up (if Frank is losing): either Frank pays Jamie off and keeps team–which would be the sane thing–or Jamie wins and Frank spends 2 years appealing.

And also:

Whoever loses on MPA is likely to appeal. With the logjam in CA courts now, that could take up to 36 months, I’m told. Worst case, obvs.

It could be a while just to get a decision on this trial from Judge Scott Gordon, if there is no settlement.

Judge will have 90 days AFTER trial ends in late September to make his decision on MPA. So we night not know until Christmas. 

After this week, the trial takes a break, not scheduled to resume until Sept. 20.

* * *

Whenever I told people that the divorce wasn’t to blame for the current state of the Dodger finances, I tried to emphasize that it was because the finances would have been what they were even if the McCourts remained happily married. Bill Shaikin’s piece in the Times underscores that point.

The divorce didn’t cause the Dodgers’ financial problems. It’s what brought those problems up to the surface.

* * *

Other links:

  • Breath of fresh air: Hong-Chih Kuo played some catch with fans in the Dodger Stadium bleachers, as you can see in this post from Roberto Baly of Vin Scully Is My Homeboy.
  • Albuquerque had its own bullpen nightmare Wednesday, blowing a 13-6 ninth-inning lead. It was a key loss that could accelerate the end of the Isotopes’ season (and, if you’re looking for silver linings, possibly bring some callups to Los Angeles sooner). Christopher Jackson of Albuquerque Baseball Examiner has more; Jon Link gave up the final five runs in the shocking (note Jackson’s URL) 15-13 defeat.

    “We had one more (pitcher) but I can’t use everybody,” (manager Tim) Wallach said, adding that anyone left would not have been able to pitch for very long.

“That first night kind of set us up in a bad spot for the doubleheader (Tuesday) and then tonight,” Wallach added, referring to the Isotopes’ 20-9 loss on Monday that saw them use six relievers.

  • Not only have the Dodgers been muffing an opportunity over the past several days to make a surge in the National League wild-card race, they could have made a dramatic run for the NL West title, thanks to San Diego finally hitting a cold streak and losing seven straight games. Putting aside how slim their playoff hopes are, the Dodgers could technically be closer to the NL West lead than the wild card as early as Saturday if the Padres lose to the Rockies and the Phillies keep winning.
  • Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness points out some things to keep an eye on in the likely event that the pennant race goes on without the Dodgers. Among them: Whether to ease up on 22-year-old Clayton Kershaw.
  • As you might know, each year that James Loney’s salary increases, it becomes harder to tolerate his below average value as a first baseman — making him one of the decisions the Dodgers must confront in their busy upcoming offseason. Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. takes a detailed look at Riddle Me Loney.
Jul 24

Loney walks it off in 13th, 3-2


Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesMatt Kemp looks to win the Kendry Who? Award with his takedown of James Loney after Loney’s walkoff homer gave the Dodgers a 3-2 victory over the Mets today in 13 innings. The 21st Dodger used in the game, George Sherrill, pitched a 1-2-3 inning for the victory. Carlos Monasterios pitched five shutout innings. and then after James McDonald disappointed in a two-run sixth, Kenley Jansen’s two-strikeout major-league debut kicked off seven consecutive game-saving scoreless (and hitless) innings of relief for Los Angeles.
Jul 11

Looking at Lack-of-Longball Loney

The question of whether James Loney will ever develop home run power gets a long look from Brian Kamenetzky of ESPNLosAngeles.com.

The swing has always been there.

The bat control and the ability to hit to all fields, too.

But into the fifth year of his major league career, we’re still waiting for James Loney to display consistent home run power. After hitting 15 in only 344 at-bats as a 23-year-old in 2007, Loney put only 26 balls over the wall in 1,302 plate appearances over his next two seasons. This year he’s fallen behind that already modest pace, with only five homers in 361 trips to the plate.

James Loney has just five home runs in more than 325 at-bats this season.

Not that the Blue have abandoned hope. “As he continues to mature as a hitter and continues to learn his swing I think he’ll start to hit 20 to 25 home runs,” says Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti. “Once he starts to pull. Because he has great pull power, it’s just that his approach is typically [to hit] the other way.”

Colletti’s hope isn’t without historical precedent. Over his first 2,031 at-bats, Rafael Palmeiro had 47 homers. Jeff Bagwell had 53 in 1,675, Steve Garvey 46 in 1,606. Loney has 50 in 1,943. Power can develop later in a player’s career.

But what if it doesn’t? …

Bagwell was named the Astros’ hitting coach today, by the way.

Chad Moriyama of Memories of Kevin Malone would have parted with Loney if it meant acquiring Cliff Lee.