Jul 09

So, it’s gonna be one of ‘those’ divisions?

For a good portion of this season, the Dodgers had the best record in the majors. But at the All-Star Break, they have the poorest winning percentage (.540) of the six division leaders, and they are atop a division that is collectively 26 games below .500, also the worst in baseball. The National League West has been outscored by 130 runs in 2012, with the Dodgers and Giants at +10 each.

That could change, but right now, it’s a winning ugly scenario.  Not that Dodger fans won’t take it.

At the Hardball Times, Steve Treder takes the pulse of the NL West.

* * *

  • In a guest post for Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness, Christopher Jackson checks in on the progress (or regression) of the Dodgers’ top minor-league pitchers.
  • Former Dodger Jay Gibbons has retired.
  • Matt Kemp homered 17 times in 69 games (40-homer pace) after last year’s Home Run Derby.
Jan 11

In left field for the Dodgers, Ted Williams …

Funny one-line intro …

  • Here’s video of John Candelaria no-hitting the Dodgers in 1976. Check out how excited color commentator Bob Gibson is alongside play-by-play man Al Michaels for the final out.
  • Manny Ramirez talked at length with ESPN’s Pedro Gomez about events of the past year and his desire to play again. It’s self-serving but take it for what you will.
  • Christopher Jackson of Albuquerque Baseball Examiner looks at how different this year’s Triple-A Isotopes will be. An excerpt:

    A total of 19 additional players who spent time in Albuquerque in 2011 became free agents after the season.

    Left-handed starter Alberto Bastardo (4-3, 5.38 ERA) has signed with the Marlins organization, which puts him in contention for a rotation spot with New Orleans.

    Closer Jon Link (2-2, 4.24, 11 saves) inked a deal with the Orioles, enabling him to potentially pitch closer to his Virginia home with Norfolk, another Triple-A team run by Isotopes owner Ken Young.

    Right-handed reliever Travis Schlichting (5-3, 7.10, four saves) will join the wide-open competition for a roster spot in cash-strapped Oakland.

    Corner infielder Corey Smith (.239, 7 HR) joined the White Sox, while utility player Eugenio Velez (.339, 31 RBI) will take his 0-for-37 skid in the Majors to the Cardinals organization.

    The free agents still looking for work include pitchers Roman Colon, Roy Corcoran and Randy Keisler, plus catcher Damaso Espino, first baseman John Lindsey and outfielders Brad Coon and Jay Gibbons.

  • For Variety, I took a look at the state of NFL, MLB and NBA sports broadcasts on mobile and digital platforms.
  • World Series MVP David Freese will risk killing all his postseason good vibes with a guest appearance on maligned ABC sitcom “Work It” on January 24, if the show isn’t canceled first.
  • Vin Scully talked to Tom Hoffarth of the Daily News about his upcoming bobblehead night. “Since I won’t be here for the 100th anniversary (of Dodger Stadium), I agreed to do the 50th,” Scully said. “Otherwise, I would be open to questions as to why I didn’t do it. It’s far easier this way.”
  • Ted Williams, 1940: “If I were a free agent and each major league club offered me identical contracts, I’d sign with the Dodgers. … I know I’d be a hero in Brooklyn.” (Link via Larry Granillo and Baseball Prospectus.)
Oct 22

Remembering 2011: Jay Gibbons


Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireJay Gibbons (27)

The setup: When Gibbons hit his fifth home in about a month with the Dodgers late in the 2010 season, it seemed clear that the power-starved team would be signing him up for 2011 – and sure enough, that’s what happened. Having OPSed .819 in his short 2010 spurt, Gibbons was expected to begin the season as part of a left-field platoon. Then, in March, word began to surface that Gibbons was having eye problems, and then some. His comeback story detoured into a season-opening journey to the disabled list.

The closeup: Gibbons eventually returned to active duty in April with Albuquerque and OPSed .832 in 49 April at-bats, convincing the Dodgers (to at least hope) he was ready for major-league pitching (as his platoon partner, Marcus Thames, went on the disabled list). From May 3 to June 3, Gibbons played in 24 of 28 Dodger games, starting 15, with a .323 on-base percentage and .345 slugging percentage – including a .359/.432 surge in the last 12. Though those weren’t dominant numbers, they were good enough on a struggling team and heading in the right direction that it came as some surprise that the Dodgers designated Gibbons for assignment on June 6. Technically, Gibbons’ departure made room for the return of Thames (who himself was eventually cut loose for Juan Rivera) but effectively, Gibbons’ role as a left-handed hitting reserve outfielder was taken by Trent Oeltjen, who was called up June 9 and remained on the team for the rest of the year.

Gibbons cleared waivers and finished the year with the Isotopes, for whom he ended up with a .403 on-base percentage and .456 slugging percentage. His entire Dodger career consisted of 61 games, 142 plate appearances, six home runs and a .755 OPS.

Coming attractions: Gibbons, who will be 35 in March, is a free agent.

Oct 03

Dodgers move to AM 570

The Dodgers made official today their move from KABC 790 AM to KLAC 570 AM, beginning next season.

The new three-year deal puts Vin Scully and the Dodgers on an all-sports station for the first time in years. The deal calls for all regular season games plus “at least seven Spring Training games.”

DodgerTalk will air for at least one hour after every game, with an hourlong exhibition season program airing at 7 p.m. from the start of Spring Training until Opening Day. There was no immediate word whether Josh Suchon and Joe Block would be part of the transition, although I have trouble believing anyone doesn’t want them included.

In other news and notes:

  • ESPNLosAngeles.com and Tony Jackson have offered a poll where you can decide which Dodgers you would keep and which you would “trash.” I always find these kinds of questions hard to answer when you don’t know what the cost would be in many cases — I wouldn’t trash Jamey Carroll, but I wouldn’t go crazy trying to keep him either — but my biggest question is how Matt Kemp would have fared in such a poll a year ago.
  • The fan vote for the Hank Aaron Awards for the best hitters in the National and American Leagues has begun. We can finally settle the question of who is more deserving: Matt Kemp or Cameron Maybin.
  • The Dodgers have asked federal bankruptcy judge Kevin Gross to reconsider the exclusion of evidence on how Major League Baseball has dealt with other teams. Wrote Craig Calcaterra of Hardball Talk: “Motions for reconsideration just never, ever work. They’re the litigation equivalent of my son saying “but DAAAAAD!”
  • Milwaukee Brewers owner Mark Attanasio (who lives in Los Angeles) has been named to the LACMA Board of Trustees, where he will share metaphorical office space with Jamie McCourt.
  • Most everything you wanted to know about 2011 ejections but you were afraid to inquire about can be found in this post at the Platoon Advantage.
  • Japanese free agent Tsuyoshi Wada gets a closer examination from analyst Chad Moriyama, whose guard is up and optimism down about the Japanese lefty.
  • Jay Gibbons, who finished the season with Albuquerque, has filed for free agency, according to MLB Trade Rumors.
  • Update: Eric Stephen of True Blue L.A. breaks down the contract status of everyone on the Dodger 40-man roster.
Jun 06

Dee-Day: Whirlwind of roster changes ends with Gordon callup


Norm Hall/Getty ImagesUnderneath that helmet is newest Dodger major-leaguer Dee Gordon.

Jerry Sands getting an early promotion to the bigs didn’t surprise me much. Nor did Rubby De La Rosa.

But Dee Gordon getting the call — now that’s a commitment to youth.

With Rafael Furcal once again relegated to the disabled list for weeks, the Dodgers have called up the 23-year-old Gordon from Albuquerque, where he had a .361 on-base percentage and 22 steals in 25 attempts, but also only 14 walks and nine extra-base hits (.370 slugging) in 50 games. (Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com has the news story.)

Gordon has also had many questions about his fielding, particularly his ability to make the ordinary play (as opposed to the extraordinary one). On the bright side, his surge of errors in April has slowed considerably.

Additionally, it’s worth noting that while everyone has always raved about Gordon’s blinding speed, that .880 stolen-base percentage is a new bright spot. No one’s expecting power from Gordon, so if he can just get on base and stay out of his own way defensively, he could be a thrill to watch.

Gordon is not in tonight’s starting lineup, but unlike with someone such as Ivan De Jesus, Jr., you don’t call someone like Gordon up to ride the bench. Cynics might wonder if Gordon is being showcased for a trade, but I’ve never gotten the sense he’s someone the Dodgers want to part with.

To make room for Gordon and Marcus Thames, who was activated from the disabled list, the Dodgers designated Juan Castro and Jay Gibbons for assignment. This is also something of a surprise, given the Dodgers’ proclivity to protect depth — and by 2011 Dodger standards, the .668 OPS for Gibbons and .619 OPS for Castro aren’t the worst you could imagine. Sands could easily have been sent to the minors. But clearly, general manager Ned Colletti buys into the reality that they’re not going to miss much by losing Castro and Gibbons. (There’s also the not-slim possibility that the pair could end up back in Albuquerque if they clear waivers.)

Perhaps the way the young Dodger bullpen replacements have risen to the occasion has influenced Colletti.

Finally, the Dodgers optioned John Ely and De Jesus to make room for the return of Blake Hawksworth and Juan Uribe from the DL.

On the current 25-man active roster, 15 are below the age of 30.

* * *

Three years ago, I transcribed a Vin Scully excerpt on the anniversary of D-Day. This rubbed some people the wrong way, and a long discussion ensued in the comments of that thread. Just want to link to it to say I hadn’t forgotten what Scully said, nor the response that followed. It was a learning experience for me.

May 04

Broxton, Ethier both have elbow concerns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ken Gurnick of MLB.com added the following:

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

“I’m serious,” said Mattingly.

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

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

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

May 03

Thames heads to disabled list, Gibbons activated

Marcus Thames has been battling some leg issues for some time now, and the powers that be have finally decided that he needs some extended rest. So he’s off to the disabled list thanks to what’s listed as a right quad strain, with the Dodgers activating Jay Gibbons in his stead.

Gibbons, of course, had been battling vision issues for months now, but he’s been playing consistently for the past week or so, including a recent stretch in which he went 9 for 25 with a homer and three walks. The rub is that he bats left-handed, so that means Jerry Sands has one less right-handed bat to compete with for playing time.

Thames is only 6 for 34 this season with two homers (both as a pinch-hitter), two walks and 11 strikeouts — a .634 OPS. In his most recent 12 games, he had a home run and a walk in 16 plate appearances.

Mar 29

The Jay Gibbons saga is just depressing

Whatever your 2011 expectations for Jay Gibbons were, you’ve got to feel for the man. From Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com:

Gibbons is expected to begin the season on the 15-day disabled list because of lingering problems with the vision in his left eye, an issue Gibbons thought he had resolved when he returned two weeks ago from a visit to a San Francisco doctor who gave him a better-fitting contact lens.

Gibbons said upon his return from that trip that his vision in his everyday life was dramatically better. But he said Monday that wasn’t the case in the batter’s box, because he couldn’t pick up the spin on breaking balls.

“My vision was great coming back, but I had no depth perception,” Gibbons said before Monday night’s Cactus League game, a 5-4 loss to the Los Angeles Angels before 19,415 at Dodger Stadium. “I went up there in spring training with very little chance. Those pitchers are pretty good. Once they figure out you can’t see, they cut you up pretty quickly.”

Gibbons, who lives in the Los Angeles area, plans to see another doctor here on Tuesday — “about the fifth different guy I’ve gone to,” he said — in hopes of trying yet another contact lens. His original problem was that the lens kept popping out, the result of some flattening of his cornea that is a normal result of the PRK (photorefractive keratectomy) surgery he underwent last fall as a follow-up to the lasik procedure he had in 2004.

He came back from San Francisco with a lens that had a lower base curve so it clung more securely to his eye. But he now says his vision at the plate was less clear than it had been before. …

OK, it’s not a total tragedy: Gibbons’ $650,000 salary for 2011 became guaranteed Monday. And when a door closes for one guy, it opens for someone else. But you’d still like to see a player go down swinging, instead of not seeing.

* * *

Almost-a-Dodger Eric Chavez will be on the Yankees’ Opening Day roster (with Russell Martin and Andruw Jones), but once-a-Dodger Ronnie Belliard will not, reports Wallace Matthews of ESPNNewYork.com:

It was hardly surprising — Chavez had a terrific spring, outhitting everyone on the team for average, even the red-hot Alex Rodriguez, and showed he could still play an excellent third base and a serviceable first base — but certainly inspiring for a player hampered by multiple back and shoulder injuries over the past five seasons, and potentially a steal for the Yankees, who waited as long as possible to be sure Chavez would make it through camp in one piece.

“That one’s pretty evident with the spring that he had,” manager Joe Girardi said in announcing Chavez had made the team. “We feel that he’s healthy and we feel that it’s a good bat on a day that we rest Alex or Tex [Mark Teixeira]. I’m really pleased with what he did. …

They also released Ronnie Belliard, which came as no surprise to anyone, since he came in overweight, almost immediately strained a calf muscle which cost him nearly two weeks, and batted .136 after his return to action. …

* * *

Up in Oakland, Andy LaRoche is still waiting to hear if he grabbed a spot with the A’s. LaRoche had a .987 OPS and team-high four homers this spring, playing four infield positions. In Arizona, Tony Abreu has reportedly been placed on waivers. Pittsburgh’s James McDonald, who has thrown only 6 2/3 innings this spring, might miss the start of the season with a left side injury.

Mar 16

State of the Opening Day roster: Update


Jake Roth/US PresswireDespite a 7.23 ERA last year with St. Louis, Mike MacDougal has taken advantage of Dodger injuries to carve out a chance at a roster spot.

On the last off day before the start of the season, this seems like a good time to check in on how the Dodger 25-man Opening Day roster is shaping up.

On track (18):

Starting pitchers (4): Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Hiroki Kuroda, Ted Lilly

Relief pitchers (5): Jonathan Broxton, Hong-Chih Kuo, Matt Guerrier, Blake Hawksworth, Kenley Jansen

Catchers (1): Rod Barajas

Infielders (4): James Loney, Juan Uribe, Rafael Furcal, Jamey Carroll

Outfielders (4): Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, Tony Gwynn Jr., Marcus Thames

Likely (3):

1) Casey Blake, 3B: The latest news on Blake sounds about as good as one might have expected – inflammation with no evidence of a muscle strain.  So while anything could happen, we won’t assume that he’ll be on the disabled list March 31.

2) Mike MacDougal, RP: A 0.00 spring ERA, veteran’s moxie and all the positive things people are saying about him in the press make MacDougal this year’s most likely prize off the scrap heap.

3) Dioner Navarro, C: A.J. Ellis can still be optioned to the minors, so we’ll put him aside. Though Hector Gimenez presents an alternative, Navarro seems safe.

Roster spot battles (4):

Norm Hall/Getty ImagesAn .847 spring OPS has helped make Hector Gimenez a longshot as opposed to a no-shot.

1) Jay Gibbons vs. Xavier Paul vs. Trent Oeltjen, OF, vs. Hector Gimenez, C/1B: Gibbons’ spring has been a nightmare, to the extent that Tony Gwynn Jr. might already have passed him in the pecking order for playing time. Xavier Paul, seemingly healthy and performing better as the month goes on, is now adding to the pressure while the eyesight-plagued Gibbons tries to solve his vision problems. A third-party candidate is Trent Oeltjen, who has been hitting all spring – and we’ll even leave open the possibility that Gimenez could take this spot instead of a sixth outfielder.  Chances: Gibbons 45%, Paul 35%, Oeltjen 10%, Gimenez 10%.

2) Aaron Miles vs. Ivan De Jesus Jr. vs. Justin Sellers vs. Juan Castro, IF: A veteran has the automatic edge when you’re talking backup infielder, so it seems safe to knock out De Jesus and Sellers, neither of whom have seized the day. Miles has had a better spring than Castro and is also centuries younger. Castro has that Brad Ausmus-like zen quality that Ned Colletti admires, but Miles has sufficient experience to fill the role. Chances: Miles 80%, Castro 10%, De Jesus 5%, Sellers 5%.

3) + 4) Ron Mahay vs. Scott Elbert vs. Ramon Troncoso vs. Lance Cormier, RP, vs. John Ely vs. Tim Redding, SP, vs. position player: These two final spots seem very much up for grabs at this point, compounded by the uncertainty over whether the Dodgers will start the year with four or five starting pitchers, and whether they’ll start with 11 pitchers overall or 12.

If they keep a fifth starter, it’s still an open battle. Both Redding and Ely can be sent to the minors, though the difference is if Redding is placed on the major-league roster, he would then have to clear waivers before he could go to Albuquerque (once, say, Vicente Padilla or Jon Garland was healthy). The Dodgers can yank Ely up and down this year at will.

Both Ely and Redding started the spring excellently, then faltered (like every other Dodger starter in the past week). Ely is on the upside of his career but with something to prove; Redding is on the downside of his career with something to prove. My guess is that even if Ely wins the job, the Dodgers won’t want him to lose his rhythm by pitching in long relief during the opening days of the season – meaning he would start the season in the minors and then come up April 12 when he is needed. I’m not sure they’d have those reservations with Redding.

Among the lefthanders, Mahay finally had a decent inning Tuesday, though the four batters he faced had 19 career major-league homers. Still, it’s hard to imagine that, short of a 180-degree turnaround, the Dodgers are ready to rely on Elbert, who has walked nine of 20 batters he has faced this spring.

Troncoso has outpitched both lefties, though I’m not sure the Dodgers are convinced he’s all the way back from his 2010 struggles. If he were, he and MacDougal would exchange places. Lance Cormier has gotten little attention while throwing four innings and allowing seven hits while striking out one, but he remains in the running.

And then there’s the chance the Dodgers go with an 11-man staff and keep six guys on the bench. Gimenez, anyone?

If the Dodgers were making their final cuts today, I’d predict they keep two relievers at the outset and fly Ely to San Francisco on April 12. Chances: Troncoso 45%, Mahay 45%, Cormier 30%, Ely 30%, Redding 25%, position player 20%, Elbert 5%.

Mar 14

March Mudness


Rangers 5, Dodgers 4

Earl Pomerantz passes along this important lesson from Bill Cosby about panic.

… It’s the morning of the “table reading”, where the actors read the script out loud before the assembled production staff – fifty or so people – so we can see what’s working and what needs to be fixed. At this point, the actor who will play the freaked out father-to-be has not yet been hired. Dr. Cosby asks me to fill in for the missing actor and perform that part at the table reading.

I am immediately terrified.

Why? Well, in my own memorable words,

“What if I mess up?” (Though I may not have used the word “mess.”)

Dr. Cosby instantly replies to my exaggerated concern, and herein lies the life lesson,

“Bases loaded, two outs, bottom of the first.” …

Highlights:

  • Trying to find his way onto the team, Xavier Paul sings “Let My Love Open the Door” with a single and a triple (to go with a caught stealing as a coda).
  • Trent Oeltjen sings “Don’t You Forget About Me.” His double raised his spring OPS to 1.044 before the eyes of the impressionable Dodger management.
  • Jamie Hoffmann warbles “I’ll Be There For You” with a double, boosting his OBP in the spring to .400.
  • Marcus Thames doesn’t need to sing for his Opening Day supper, but he just had his fifth double of the spring, in 25 at-bats.
  • Trayvon Robinson singled in two runs in the ninth inning as the Dodgers tried to rally and avoid their eighth straight loss.
  • Lance Cormier pitched a shutout sixth inning. Cormier’s chances of making the team remain alive, given the struggles of Scott Elbert and Ron Mahay.
  • John Ely threw four walkless innings, giving him 10 this spring.

Lowlights:

  • Overall, Ely continued the trend of faltering Dodger starters. After a perfect first inning that included strikeouts of Elvis Andrus and Josh Hamilton, Ely allowed four runs (three earned) on six hits, including a three-run Hamilton homer. Ely struck out three.
  • After allowing a two-out single, Elbert walked two in the fifth inning, escaping the bases-loaded jam on a deep flyout by David Murphy.
  • Kenley Jansen had a rough eighth, allowing a run on two hits and a walk.

Sidelights:

  • In a rare start against a frontline pitcher (Texas’ Neftali Feliz, who suddenly might be in the starting pitcher racket), Jerry Sands went 0 for 2.
  • Hector Gimenez had a double, then was doubled off second base on a ball hit by Gabe Kapler.
  • From The Associated Press: “Told that Ely was trying to locate an inside fastball off the plate that didn’t quite break far enough, Hamilton said smilingly, ‘Tell him thank you for me.’ “
  • Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com writes about the upside of the San Diego Padres, post-Adrian Gonzalez.
  • Rob Neyer of SB Nation looks at how the Yankees’ starting pitching crisis.
  • Only three of 30 MLB general managers played in the majors, writes Jayson Stark of ESPN.com.
  • At his blog, Former major-leaguer Morgan Ensberg hints at a harrowing story.
  • Mitchell Page, who passed away Saturday, is remembered at the Hardball Times by Bruce Markusen, who compares Page to Willie Davis.
  • This Jay Gibbons update from Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com sounds a mixed note about the outfielder’s near-term future.

    … Gibbons underwent PRK (photorefractive keratectomy) surgery on the eye last fall as a follow-up procedure to the laser procedure he underwent in 2004. But a side effect of PRK is that it lengthens and flattens the cornea, which is why the contact — which Gibbons wasn’t sure he would need again after the original surgery — no longer fits as tightly as it should and tends to pop out.

    Gibbons said he was told he’d likely need a follow-up procedure after his initial laser surgery. “So that was pretty much what my thought process was, to get a tune-up, and [the vision] went south a little bit last year,” he said.

    The issues after the follow-up surgery, though, began almost immediately, causing Gibbons to return home from winter ball earlier than he planned. Gibbons and Dodgers manager Don Mattingly sounded optimistic this doctor’s consultation would be sufficient to solve the problem. The Dodgers are off Wednesday, so the hope was Gibbons would miss only one day.

    “We need to get this resolved,” Mattingly said. “If your [vision] isn’t right on and you’re trying to hit a breaking ball, it’s just not going to work.” …

  • Last but certainly not least, the Dodgers are staging a drive-through charity effort at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday to benefit victims of the disaster in Japan.
Mar 14

Jay Gibbons to have eye exams

The straightforward news of the day is that, as expected, Carlos Monasterios was optioned to the minors (while Wilkin De La Rosa was also reassigned to minor-league camp). But an issue that has been developing under the radar is the condition of Jay Gibbons.

Gibbons has two singles and a walk in 23 plate appearances this spring, a .221 OPS that by itself would be disappointing but also too small of a sample to really worry about. However, Dodger manager Don Mattingly told reporters today that Gibbons is having problems with depth perception and is going to miss the next couple of days of play for some extended testing on his eyes.

Mattingly said that so far, Gibbons has tried both contact lenses and glasses and neither has done the trick, so they’re trying to go back to find some contacts that will work.

With fellow left-handed hitter Tony Gwynn Jr. at least doing an imitation of a good outfielder (.387 on-base percentage, 6 for 6 on steals, quality defense), the Dodgers might well turn to a Gwynn-Marcus Thames platoon in the early going, with Gibbons serving as the fifth outfielder and as a backup first baseman — assuming his roster spot itself isn’t in jeopardy or that a trip to the disabled list doesn’t come.

It’s a tough break for Gibbons, who has had such a long journey back to the bigs.

The Dodger infield remains in flux as well, with Casey Blake now scheduled for an MRI, as Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com reports. The Dodgers remain optimistic, but we could see more lineups with Juan Uribe at third base and Jamey Carroll at second.

* * *

An article by Vin Scully — Inside the Dodgers passes it on. Read it with his voice in your head …

… One of the temptations we have today is like the song of the Lorelei, wrecking you on the rocks. So much is provided to you with statistics and information that you run the risk of looking down when a play is taking place. So you really have to be careful about that. Every game has somewhat of a story, an individual or maybe both of the pitchers. Someone is doing something that adds to the story. And then, of course, you can’t go overly dramatic in fourth game of the season with 158 games to go. But everything seems to fall into place in terms of the schedule, the game, where you are, the history of the teams. And they can get dull. Let’s face it – there are some games when nothing happens. And then it’s up to you to come up with a story or a historical aticidote to add a little spice to the telecast. …

* * *

Dodgers at Rangers, 1:05 p.m.

Feb 07

The Dodgers according to Ned Colletti


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

Ten days.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[+] EnlargeZach Lee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jan 19

Ken Levine, Ron Fairly to be part of Seattle’s post-Niehaus radio crew

As we all know, replacing a legendary broadcaster isn’t easy — and certainly won’t be for the Dodgers on that sad, hopefully far-off day after Vin Scully has called his last game for the team.

Craig Calcaterra of Hardball Talk subscribes to the theory that maybe a rotating set of broadcasters is better in the immediate aftermath of a legend’s departure, rather than asking one person to bear the burden of walking in his microphonesteps.  So do the Seattle Mariners, who will rotate five men through their radio booth at various times in 2011, their first year without the late Dave Niehaus.

One of those men will be KABC AM 790 Dodger Talk co-host Ken Levine, who returns to Seattle, where he did play-by-play in the 1990s. Levine says that it’s not clear whether his new part of the rotation means he is bidding a complete farewell to the Dodgers, so we’ll see what happens there. But congrats nonetheless.

Former Dodger Ron Fairly is also among the radio crew. And on the TV side, former Dodger Mike Blowers returns as a color commentator.

* * *

  • Former Dodger coaches Roy Hartsfield and Carroll Barringer have passed away in recent days, writes Ken Gurnick of MLB.com.
  • Matt Klaassen of Fangraphs has a dim view of any sort of platoon between Jay Gibbons and Marcus Thames, mainly because of Gibbons.
  • Though it’s primarily a story involving the Padres, Geoff Young’s piece at the Hardball Times about how collusion in the 1986-87 offseason affected Tim Raines includes the tidbit that the Dodgers didn’t sign a 27-year-old Raines to a three-year deal worth a total of $4.5 million because they were “satisfied with Ken Landreaux.” Landreaux then got 37 more hits in his major-league career.
  • File this site for future reference: MLB Trade Trees.  (link via Beyond the Box Score).
  • At 9 a.m. Sunday, CBS Sports Spectacular is scheduled to air a tape-delayed broadcast of Saturday’s supercross event at Dodger Stadium.
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 17

I can’t believe I’m saying it, but I’m saying it: Tony Gwynn Jr. should start


Denis Poroy/AP
Tony Gwynn Jr.

As I walk through the valley of the shadow of no frontline left fielder, with yea but another candidate abandoning us to  aimless wanderings,  my thoughts seek a place to turn.

I believe that Xavier Paul, Jay Gibbons and Jamie Hoffmann can make positive contributions, but as I started to make a case for each of them in left field, I couldn’t finish the job. The offensive ceilings for Paul and Hoffmann just seem too low, and the defensive limitations of Gibbons too pronounced. I’m content to see them get a chance, but I just don’t have confidence it would go all that well.

The problem with turning to a 35-year-old Scott Podsednik is that his defense is pretty poor itself. Podsednik would probably post a better on-base percentage than any in-house Dodger candidate, but not so much better that he’d be worth more millions spent by Ned Colletti.

Minor-leaguers Jerry Sands and Trayvon Robinson? Despite their relative promise, only once in five seasons has Ned Colletti promoted a AA player into a major-league starting role in April, and that happened to Blake DeWitt only because injuries had left Chin-Lung Hu and Ramon Martinez as the only alternatives.  Paul, Hoffmann and Gibbons don’t fall to that level. And I’m not convinced that Colletti should break that policy right now, because unlike with Paul and Hoffmann, I imagine Sands and Robinson still have more to learn in the minors.

There’s a guy out there who would represent a pretty nice part-time addition to the roster, by the name of Manny Ramirez, but I know the Dodgers don’t want to go down that road.

That doesn’t exhaust all the possibilities, but there really isn’t much else to talk about in terms of difference-makers. And that’s why, more and more, I find myself ready to throw my lot with Tony Gwynn Jr. — if, as was discussed last week, he plays center field.

Of everyone discussed here, Gwynn offers the most elite skill, if not the only one — his defense.  He’s something of the polar opposite of Ramirez, and it seems to me that he is the one person left in the conversation who can truly transform the Dodger lineup. By placing him in center and moving Matt Kemp to right field and Andre Ethier to left, Gwynn would turn the Dodger outfield defense from a weakness to a strength.

At a minimum, it would be a low-risk way to buy some time until Sands or Robinson proves more ready to make the leap to the majors, possibly at midseason. Or, until the Dodgers decide to make their annual midseason trade.

I don’t think Colletti or Don Mattingly would be opposed to asking Kemp or Ethier to switch positions. Would either player rebel? Perhaps, although if they are that selfish, we’ve got other problems.

Here’s a Dodger lineup with Gwynn in center:

Rafael Furcal, SS
James Loney, 1B
Andre Ethier, LF
Matt Kemp, RF
Juan Uribe, 2B
Casey Blake, 3B
Rod Barajas, C
Tony Gwynn Jr., CF

Offensively, it’s shaky, but it’s not as if any of the other outfield options would save the day. But defensively, there’s actually hope.

I’ve looked at the Dodgers’ outfield dilemma many different ways — coming at the problem, in fact, with a bias against Gwynn signing with the team to begin with. There might be no more surprising event to me than making an argument for Gwynn to be in the Dodger starting lineup. But I just don’t see a better way to go right now.  Tony Gwynn Jr.  has a first-rate skill that no other Dodger has, and the Dodgers absolutely must consider taking advantage of it.