May 03

Sure Broxton isn’t injured? Reliever looks all wrong in Dodger loss


Gus Ruelas/APJonathan Broxton leaves the game after walking two of three batters.
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesChad Billingsley allowed only one run in seven innings, all for naught.

Jonathan Broxton has given Dodger fans a lot of heartache this year, but tonight he looked as sickly as he ever has in my memory.

Broxton entered tonight’s game in the ninth inning of a 1-1 tie. After retiring Aramis Ramirez on two fouls and a popout, Broxton walked the next two batters on eight pitches, and few of them were close to the strike zone. According to MLB Gameday, the pitches were all fastballs, one reaching 93 miles per hour and the average at 91. That’s just not the Broxton of 12 months ago, and I’m not convinced it’s even the Broxton of 12 weeks ago.

People have been strangely fascinated with Broxton’s facial expressions and posture, but here’s a suggestion: Someone needs to look at his arm. Even if they’ve looked at it before, look at it again.

After the first walk, Blake Hawksworth began warming up in the bullpen, and after the second, Don Mattingly came to the mound. He talked to Broxton and the other assembled Dodgers, clearly stalling for time as Hawksworth raced to get ready, before finally telling home-plate umpire CB Bucknor to call for a rare mid-inning hook of the Dodger reliever.

Though I’ve always suspected Broxton’s been off physically since his serious struggles began in late June, this was possibly the first time I watched him and said to myself, “There’s a guy that’s headed straight for the disabled list.” Of course, what I observe from my seat far from the pitcher’s mound has no real relevance, but I just offer it as an impression.

It is, I will say, a little peculiar to me that it doesn’t occur to the people who are calling for Broxton’s head and questioning his mental makeup that Broxton is possibly pitching hurt, and maybe has been for some time. If he has been concealing an injury, I sure hope he comes clean. (Update: From KABC 790 AM via True Blue L.A.: “After the game, Don Mattingly told reporters that Broxton was still his closer, but didn’t sound convincing. “When guys tell you they’re fine, you believe that. The inconsistency in velocity concerns me. You don’t know if you’re getting the whole story. We need to figure this thing out.”)

Hawksworth looked like he would bail the Dodgers out after he got Alfonso Soriano on a can of corn to Matt Kemp, but the next batter, Geovany Soto, drove one to right-center that split Kemp and Andre Ethier for a double, driving in two runs. Blake DeWitt followed with his second pinch-hit single in two nights, capping the Cubs’ 4-1 victory over Los Angeles.

On the bright side, Ethier got the business of taking his 28-game hitting streak to 29 out of the way in the fourth inning with a single over leaping second baseman Darwin Barney, tying Ethier with Zack Wheat’s 1916 skein for the second-longest in Dodger history. For anyone complaining about Ethier getting a couple cheap hits this week, he got robbed of one by a diving Barney in the eighth inning.

Two innings later, after a single by Jamey Carroll, a sacrifice by Jerry Sands and a groundout by Ethier, Kemp gave the Dodgers a 1-0 lead with a single to center – the only run the Dodgers got against Ryan Dempster, who entered the game having allowed 33 earned runs in 31 innings this season.

Another struggling Cub, Carlos Pena (.171 slugging percentage), got well with one out in the top of the seventh. Pena tied the game with a high fly over the short fence down the right-field line for his first homer of the season, this coming off Chad Billingsley, who only allowed three other hits and two walks all night while striking out eight. And that took us to the ninth.

Elsewhere …

  • Emo Juan Uribe is an instant Hall-of-Fame website. (Thanks, Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness.)
  • Marcus Thames is likely to be out at least four weeks, Don Mattingly told reporters today.
  • No combo of two players has ever contributed a higher percentage of a team’s offense than Ethier and Kemp, writes Jonah Keri for ESPNLosAngeles.com.
  • Francisco Liriano walked six but threw the first no-hitter for the Twins since ex-Dodger Eric Milton in 1999. By the score of 1-0, he beat former Dodger Edwin Jackson, who threw an even wilder no-hitter in 2010.
  • As David Schoenfield of ESPN.com’s Sweet Spot notes, this was the first two-strikeout no-hitter since the Dodgers’ Jerry Reuss in 1980.
  • From KABC 790 AM’s Joe Block on Twitter: “How rare is a 30-game hitting streak? There have been 43 since 1900. Liriano’s no-hitter was the 228th in MLB since 1900.”
  • How do major-league cities rank if you go strictly by the value of sitcoms that were set there? Grant Bisbee of McCovey Chronicles answers the question at SB Nation. Fun list – now quibble away!
  • The soon-to-be Pacific 12 Conference on Wednesday will officially announce a 12-year TV deal with Fox and ESPN networks that is going to bring in approximately $3 billion to member schools over a 12-year period. You can get a hand on some of the details in my Variety story.
  • Alex Belth’s Bronx Banter has a cool new redesign, co-produced by Baseball Toaster’s Ken Arneson.
Apr 26

Broxton’s status in turnaround

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Apr 25

The whole Jonathan Broxton saga in one depressing inning

As I feared when he entered the game as a relief catcher in the seventh inning, Dioner Navarro couldn’t close out the three-inning save.

Here’s what happened in the final inning:

1) With a 4-3 lead, Jonathan Broxton is within one strike of a perfect ninth and a save.
2) Broxton walks Emilio Bonifacio.
3) Broxton gives up a single to pinch-hitter Hanley Ramirez to put the tying run at third.
4) Scott Cousins up. A called strike, then a slow roller. Jamey Carroll charges, sticks down his glove and comes up completely empty. Bonifacio scores the tying run.
5) Cousins takes second base on defensive indifference.
6) Chris Coughlan, who homered twice off Jon Garland, is walked intentionally.
7) Omar Infante, who bailed Vicente Padilla out of the eighth inning by getting thrown out by Matt Kemp at third base, lines a catchable but hard-hit shot past Jerry Sands for a game-winning single. Dodgers lose to Florida, 5-4.

Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesJonathan Broxton

And that’s really what the Broxton slide has been about – a loss of dominance (since mid-2010), punctuated by recurrences of really bad timing.

When Padilla gave up an RBI single to Gaby Sanchez the inning before to cut the Dodgers’ lead to one run, I commented, “The way that the Dodger bullpen has been this season, how does anyone have any anger left by the time Broxton gets into a game?” Of course, I know the answer.

I think if 1) Cousins had delivered a hit instead of what should have been a game-ending ground out, tonight might have marked the end of Broxton’s run as a Dodger closer if 2) there were any alternative doing better. But there isn’t.

There’s no way around the fact that the Dodger bullpen is underperforming as a unit, and all fans can do is wait for someone to get it together, or look for Ned Colletti to make a desperation move (approved by his new overlord, profiled here by Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com) that somehow makes a difference. Broxton is the last bit of air out of the leaky balloon that is the relief crew.

For the visitors, it was a grind-it-out game virtually the whole way. The Dodgers fell behind 2-1 on the two Coughlan homers, but came back thanks to Rod Barajas reaching first base after striking out on a wild pitch, Ivan De Jesus getting his second hit of the game (and third of his career), Jon Garland laying down a sacrifice bunt, Aaron Miles driving in a run with a groundout and then Carroll, looking like a hero, delivering an RBI single for a 3-2 lead.

The Dodgers’ fourth run came from its most downtrodden hitter, James Loney, pushing a single to center past a drawn-in infield.

It was that close to a night of well-earned celebration for the Dodgers, who saw Sands get three hits and Andre Ethier break baseball’s all-time April hitting streak record with a first-inning single that extended his skein to 22 games. But for the second time in three games, the bullpen couldn’t finish.

Apr 19

A different set of problems for Jonathan Broxton

Well, here it is.

I suppose it isn’t my place to be the official historian of how and when the criticisms of Jonathan Broxton began, but I feel I’m on safe ground saying that they were born in anger over his failure to close some high-profile games, most notably in the 2008 National League Championship Series and then again in 2009. 

In a stretch that extended into June 2010, the flames were lit every time Broxton disappointed in what was labeled a “high-profile” game, though there were games just as prominent in which Broxton breezed, as well an overwhelming record of success in other games. From 2006 through the first half of 2010, Broxton had nearly 12 strikeouts per nine innings, more strikeouts than baseunners allowed. He blew people away, time and again, in critically important moments.

I really think it’s important to be clear about this. For the longest time, the concern that Broxton’s detractors had was not that he couldn’t get anyone out, but just that he wouldn’t get the job done in October. The explanation offered the most was that he didn’t have the backbone, guts or other relevant body part to succeed under pressure. 

I never bought into that argument, because I saw Broxton succeed too many times under pressure – including in the playoffs – to see a pattern, and that given another opportunity, there were more reasons to believe he would succeed than there were that he’d fail. Many more reasons. Baseball history is filled with onetime October failures who found redemption.

Would you have abandoned Mariano Rivera after Game 7 in 2001? Would you have abandoned Dennis Eckersley after Game 1 in 1988? Would you have stood by him just because he had a tough-looking mustache?

The stats did tell the story. Broxton dominated. He wasn’t perfect. He was merely superb.

The problems of Jonathan Broxton today are different problems entirely.

Broxton is having trouble getting people out, period. He has retired the side in order once in eight outings. He has allowed 13 base runners in 7 1/3 innings while striking out five. He’s being touched not just in save situations but in non-save situations. He’s allowing runs not in playoff games in October, but mid-week games in April.

It’s a continuation of the way he has pitched since late-June, after the 48-pitch nightmare against the Yankees at the end of a week of heavy use, when his touch abandoned him. 

The anti-Broxton corps is feeling validated, on the theory, I guess, that the confidence problems they perceived early on have spread to his entire game. (There’s also a theory that Broxton’s repertoire was so simplistic that it was inevitable he’d be solved by opposing batters, though this seems to ignore that Rivera has essentially been throwing the same single pitch for about a decade and a half.)

I won’t be so arrogant that I’ll insist they’re wrong, but I will offer what I still believe to be a more logical explanation: relief pitchers, like NFL running backs, have inherently short shelf lives – I’ve been providing analysis of this for nearly the entire life of Dodger Thoughts – and Broxton is looking more like someone who is simply having the arc of a reliever. It’s the job.  

I’m still not even convinced this is the end for Broxton as a topflight reliever – it’s still April. Are we giving up on Kenley Jansen, who has had an even worse month? 

But perhaps it Broxton’s time. That being said, whether he’s the closer or a middle reliever isn’t relevant. If you don’t believe the guy can get three outs with a four-run lead, you’re basically saying you don’t believe in him, period.

There is one thing I will insist on, however. For nearly five seasons – an eternity for most relievers, longer than, for example, the elite tenures of Eric Gagne or Takashi Saito as Dodgers – Jonathan Broxton was a great, great relief pitcher. The NLCS losses were crushing – indeed, for many they were poisonous – but he’s hardly the first great hurler who has pitches he’d like to get back. He has truly been one of the best relief pitchers in Los Angeles Dodger history, whether his best days are over or not.

Feb 18

Why Lance Cormier is a darkhorse roster candidate

Kim Klement/US PresswireIn the past three seasons, Lance Cormier has allowed a sub-.700 OPS against left-handed batters, including 26 extra-base hits in 486 plate appearances.

Outside of the left-field conundrum, the Dodgers’ biggest question mark for Spring Training might be how they will address the task of getting left-handed batters out with their almost completely right-handed bullpen. No one wants to see Hong-Chih Kuo relegated to facing only lefties, and the only other left-handed thrower on the 40-man roster is the uncertain Scott Elbert.

Three non-roster invitees to major-league camp are left-handed: 39-year-old Ron Mahay, achy-hamstringed Dana Eveland (whose career 5.74 ERA will apparently be sidelined for weeks after Thursday’s injury) and Wilkin De La Rosa, who has never pitched about Double-A. After that, you start dipping down into the minors for developing players like James Adkins.

With Ronald Belisario’s absence seemingly opening up a roster spot, Mahay would seem to be the default candidate. He had a .520 OPS allowed against lefties last season. But the previous two seasons, his OPS allowed against lefties was above .700 — which isn’t terrible, but isn’t exactly the kind of authoritative performance you’re looking for when you really want someone to come in and get that guy out.

I got to wondering if there were any righties among the Dodger relievers who were reliable against lefties. Here’s a chart of the bullpen candidates’ OPS allowed against lefties over the past three seasons in the majors:

2010 PA/ 2010 OPS   2009 PA/ 2009 OPS   2008 PA/ 2008 OPS
Belisario 86 .793   122 .720      
Broxton 123 .626   148 .414   126 .800
Colon 5 .650   94 .713      
Cormier 162 .718   180 .671   144 .667
Elbert 4 2.000   40 .699   14 1.000
Eveland 59 .802   60 .999   170 .646
Guerrier 102 .649   120 .525   126 .801
Hawksworth 185 .886   76 .724      
Jansen 51 .586            
Kuo 69 .271   40 .524   98 .557
Link 16 .962            
MacDougal 39 1.353   124 .760   24 .858
Mahay 68 .520   111 .743   110 .721
Monasterios 188 .709            
Padilla 166 .590   352 .837   385 .944
Redding       282 .860   402 .808
Schlichting 39 .465   9 .905      
Troncoso 99 .823   157 .751   84 .707
Villarreal             68 .862

Some observations:

  • The Dodgers have a few righties who seem consistently effective against their opposite numbers: Jonathan Broxton, Matt Guerrier and, based on a small sample size, Kenley Jansen.
  • Oh, and another guy who probably isn’t on your radar … late signee Lance Cormier.
  • Based on only his one season, Carlos Monasterios offers an intriguing first impression — though looking at the chart, you can see how much these numbers can fluctuate. Look at what happened to Ramon Troncoso, for example, or moving in the other direction, Vicente Padilla.
  • For extreme small-sample candidates, there’s Roman Colon and Travis Schlichting. Consider at your own risk.

If the Dodgers decide that Kuo, Broxton, Guerrier, Jansen and Padilla are all effective against lefties, they could decide to go without a second left-handed pitcher — especially if they also think Cormier is worth a roster slot. It might still be Mahay’s spot to lose or Scott Elbert’s spot to win, but Cormier might be this year’s guy you least expected.

Feb 17

Today’s Dodger Facebook status updates

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

Friend this …

Feb 14

The pleasure and peril of multiyear contracts for the kids

To extend, or not to extend – that is the question.

One part of my recent interview with Ned Colletti that I couldn’t work into the main story was his thoughts about offering multiyear contracts to younger players before they become free agents. Here’s what he had to say:

Ric Tapia/Icon SMIAndre Ethier was arguably the only arbitration-eligible Dodger who didn’t decline in 2010 after receiving a multiyear contract.

“You have to have some predictability to performance,” Colletti said. “Usually, clubs gain a benefit from going multiyear, and it’s got to be seen as that from the club’s perspective, because you’re not guaranteeing performance. All you’re guaranteeing is the financial end of the equation.

“If the right situation presents itself, where the guy’s in the right place in his career, his life and his priorities, and there’s a savings a club can realize, then it’s worth doing. But if only the first part’s there, that we’re gonna pay on the guy maximizing (his performance), there’s really no reason to do it – let him go out and do it every year. Some guys who are flawed in an area or who don’t possess everything they need, the agent will ask you to pay as if that is occurring, in the event that it does.”

In short, Colletti needs confidence that the player is going to stay on track performance-wise, and he needs there to be some savings for making the guaranteed payment. The Dodgers need to get some rebate in exchange for the security that they’re offering.

That being said, Colletti said that Clayton Kershaw is the kind of player for whom a multiyear deal might make sense, but that the process wouldn’t begin until next winter, when he first becomes eligible for arbitration.

“It’d be something we may think about as this year unfolds and we get into the offseason,” Colletti said. “Not this spring. He’s got four more years here.”

That might appropriate to some, too casual to others. Let’s take a closer look.

Colletti signed three key arbitration-eligible players to multiyear deals before the 2010 season – Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp and Jonathan Broxton – and based on 2010 performance, Colletti might well regret two of those contracts. He’s also probably quite pleased that he didn’t go multiyear with Russell Martin, and not really worried that he hasn’t done so with James Loney, who signed his latest one-year deal Friday. Perhaps he should have bought low on Chad Billingsley last winter. (I would have, but I would have also wanted to do so on a lot of the other guys.) In general, recent experience has probably made Colletti even more wary in discussing them with other players.

Here’s a snapshot of the salaries for the players we’re talking about over a four-year period (multiyear deals in bold, Martin’s Yankees salary in parentheses):


Player/Year 2008 2009 2010 2011
Billingsley $415,000 $475,000 $3,850,000 $6,275,000
Broxton $454,000 $1,825,000 $4,000,000 $7,000,000
Ethier $424,500 $3,100,000 $6,000,000 $9,250,000
Kemp $406,000 $467,000 $4,000,000 $7,050,000
Kershaw $404,000 $440,000 $500,000
Loney $411,000 $465,000 $3,100,000 $4,875,000
Martin $500,000 $3,900,000 $5,050,000 ($4,000,000)

Note that Billingsley got a 63 percent raise for 2011 following a well-regarded season, and Loney got a 57 percent raise for a season considered a disappointment. That gives you some guideposts for the following speculation:

  • Not signing Billingsley to a multiyear deal in 2010 might have cost the Dodgers a few hundred thousand bucks this year. But not signing a multiyear deal in 2009 might have saved the team money in 2010.
  • The two-year deal in 2010 for Broxton probably cost the Dodgers more than $600,000 for 2011. With a three-year deal in 2009, perhaps they would have broke even, though that involved more risk.
  • Ethier’s two-year deal has probably saved the Dodgers a little bit of money; a three-year deal in 2009 might have saved them a bit more.
  • With Kemp, I’m honestly not sure that going year-to-year would have made much of a difference. His 2011 salary appears higher than it otherwise would have been, but that might have been a case of backloading the contract, because the 2010 salary looks a little low. Kemp’s 2009 performance was stronger than Billingsley’s, and that’s not reflected in the $150,000 difference between their 2010 paychecks.
  • Going year-to-year with Loney probably saved the Dodgers money, but less than $1 million.
  • Martin, of course, is where the big savings comes – if he had signed a multiyear deal in 2009, he might have been paid an extra, say, $2 million last year. And if it had been a three-year deal, the Dodgers might be paying Martin $8 million this season. Only if Martin has a whopping comeback will the Dodgers regret this.

Given that Colletti didn’t have a crystal ball, it’s hard to complain much about how he’s handled things. The decision to show restraint on Martin has arguably saved the Dodgers $6 million, which more than covers any fringe costs with Broxton, Billingsley, Ethier or Kemp. The only way this would be reversed is if one of those four or Loney has an MVP or Cy Young season, and you’re then fretting that the Dodgers haven’t bought out some of their free-agent years, the way Colorado has with Troy Tulowitzki or Carlos Gonazlez. We should be so unfortunate.

Brad Mangin/Getty ImagesClayton Kershaw, nearly four years younger than Tim Lincecum, had a lower ERA than the Giants ace in 2010.

That brings us back to Kershaw, who becomes eligible for salary arbitration after this season and eligible for free agency after 2014. (Gosh, that seems so nice and far away right now.) How urgent is it for Colletti to lock Kershaw up for multiple years? It would sure feel nice, but you can’t say there isn’t risk.

Let’s turn to the contract status of arguably the reigning young aces of each league (at least until Kershaw decides to do something about it).

One year ago Saturday, Tim Lincecum signed a two-year, $23 million contract (plus incentives in the thousands). The deal came after Lincecum and the Giants were $5 million apart – $8 million vs. $13 million – in their 2010 arbitration filing. It didn’t come close to addressing his free-agent years; it just was a hedge against what Lincecum might have earned going year-to-year.  Hypothetically, if Lincecum had settled for a 10.5 million salary in 2010, he might have been looking at something like $17 million this year, making for a total in the neighborhood of $28 million. (Though Lincecum slipped a bit in the 2010 regular season, his postseason performance would have helped rectify matters.)

Put one way, the Giants a year ago risked committing $13 million in 2011 salary in order to save about $5 million. That’s some high-stakes Mahjong.

Over in the American League, Felix Hernandez and the Seattle Mariners played things differently. After earning $3.8 million in 2009 and facing a $4.3 million gap in salary arbitration filings ($7.2 million vs. $11.5 million), Hernandez signed a five-year, $78 million pact that locked away his first three years of free agency (2012-14). The contract averages $15.6 million per year for five years, $19.3 million for the three free-agent years. Again, there’s no mistaking the double-edged sword: You can assume that $58 million for three years wouldn’t have cut it for Hernandez after this season, but the risk is catastrophic if something goes wrong.

I think it’s pretty clear where my sentiments lie with Kershaw – I’d sign him to a multiyear contract tonight – but you can understand why Colletti might hesitate or procrastinate. For another example, look how quickly opinions turned on Eric Gagne before his multiyear deal vs. after he got hurt. It’s harder to stomach paying big bucks for an injured player than it is to pay bigger bucks for a healthy superstar.

On the other hand, better Clayton Kershaw than Jason Schmidt.

In my head, I can understand the patience, as much as I believe it should be done.

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.

Nov 08

Eyes on the ayes: Twelve votes would put Garvey, John in Hall

Maybe the Dodgers will retire a number this year after all …

  • Steve Garvey and Tommy John are among a group of 12 eligible for the Hall of Fame if they can earn 12 out of 16 votes from a special committee, according to Inside the Dodgers.

    … The 12 individuals who will be considered by the Expansion Era Committee in December for Hall of Fame Induction in 2011: Former players Vida Blue, Dave Concepcion, Steve Garvey, Ron Guidry, Tommy John, Al Oliver, Ted Simmons and Rusty Staub; former manager Billy Martin; and executives Pat Gillick, Marvin Miller and George Steinbrenner. Martin and Steinbrenner are deceased; all other candidates are living.

    The 16-member electorate charged with the review of the Expansion Era ballot features: Hall of Fame members Johnny Bench, Whitey Herzog, Eddie Murray, Jim Palmer, Tony Perez, Frank Robinson, Ryne Sandberg and Ozzie Smith; major league executives Bill Giles (Phillies), David Glass (Royals), Andy MacPhail (Orioles) and Jerry Reinsdorf (White Sox); and veteran media members Bob Elliott (Toronto Sun), Tim Kurkjian (ESPN), Ross Newhan (retired, Los Angeles Times) and Tom Verducci (Sports Illustrated). …


    I’m skeptical that Garvey gets (or should get) the support he needs, though certainly it’s as good a look at the Hall as he’s ever had. Personally, I think Miller is most deserving.  The results announcement will come Dec. 6

  • Jared Massey of LADodgerTalk did some research and thinks that an abrupt change to Jonathan Broxton’s slider caused his 2010 downfall.
  • Stadium Review offers a mixed review of Dodger Stadium, though correspondent Drew Cieszynski did say the fans were loud. You might quibble with some points, but overall it’s a pretty fair assessment.
  • Paul DePodesta is moving from San Diego to the New York Mets as their vice-president of player development and amateur scouting, once again working for Sandy Alderson, the new Mets general manager. I’m always nervous about posting DePodesta news for fear that it will reignite a tired debate, but I didn’t want to ignore it.  Congrats to Paul.
  • End of an era: Next year, for the first time in more than two decades, Jon Miller and Joe Morgan will not be doing Sunday Night Baseball telecasts for ESPN, though Miller might stick around to do radio. Richard Sandomir of the New York Times believes that next year’s booth might be Dan Shulman, Orel Hershiser and Bobby Valentine.
  • Rob Neyer of ESPN.com made note of the Toronto Blue Jays trading a player to be named later for Colorado catcher Miguel Olivo, whose option they bought out for $500,000. For that price (and an offer of salary arbitration they expect to be denied), the Blue Jays expect to pick up a supplemental first-round draft pick.
  • Matt Bush, known for years as the disastrous No. 1 overall choice of the 2004 draft (by San Diego), has been making a comeback, having converted from shortstop to pitcher. Tampa Bay has added Bush to its 40-man roster, notes David Brown of Big League Stew, after he did his best Kenley Jansen imitation, striking out 20 in 13 2/3 innings over 10 minor-league games this season.
Sep 30

‘Fernando Nation’ to air on ESPN ’30 for 30′ on October 26


ESPNFernando Valenzuela

ESPN’s strong “30 for 30″ sports documentary series finds its way to Fernandomania on October 26 with “Fernando Nation,” directed by Cruz Angeles.  Here’s the set-up, courtesy of the ESPN press release:

“ ‘The Natural’ is supposed to be a blue-eyed boy who teethed on a 36-ounce Louisville Slugger. He should run like the wind and throw boysenberries through brick. He should come from California.” – Steve Wulf, Sports Illustrated, 1981.

So how was it that a pudgy 20-year-old, Mexican, left-handed pitcher from a remote village in the Sonoran desert, unable to speak a word of English, could sell out stadiums across America and become a rock star overnight? In “Fernando Nation,” Mexican-born and Los Angeles-raised director Cruz Angeles traces the history of a community that was torn apart when Dodger Stadium was built in Chavez Ravine and then revitalized by one of the most captivating pitching phenoms baseball has ever seen. Nicknamed “El Toro” by his fans, Fernando Valenzuela ignited a fire that spread from L.A. to New York—and beyond. He vaulted himself onto the prime-time stage and proved with his signature look to the heavens and killer screwball that the American dream was not reserved for those born on U.S. soil. In this layered look at the myth and the man, Cruz Angeles recalls the euphoria around Fernando’s arrival and probes a phenomenon that transcended baseball for many Mexican-Americans. Fernando Valenzuela himself opens up to share his perspective on this very special time. Three decades later, “Fernandomania” lives.

To be clear, the tearing apart of the community in Chavez Ravine began long before Dodger Stadium entered the picture (see Chapter 11 of “100 Things Dodgers Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die”).  In any case, I’m really looking forward to this special.

That Steve Wulf story, by the way, was published in March — a rare national acknowledgment of the potential Valenzuela had before his memorable 1981 season began. Here’s another excerpt: “Valenzuela was born Nov. 1, 1960 in Navojoa on the west coast of Mexico. The Dodgers know this because (Al) Campanis sent Mike Brito, the scout who signed Valenzuela, to Navojoa to pick up his birth certificate. ‘I knew nobody would believe how young he was, unless we got some proof,’ says Campanis.”

* * *

Sep 16

The Big Blue Wrecked Crew: 2010-11 Dodger offseason primer


Kirby Lee/US PresswireRussell Martin: Just one of the many questions the Dodgers face this winter.

The Dodger roster heading into the 2010-11 offseason, and I don’t say this lightly, is a mess.

It’s not a hopeless mess. But it is a mess, and it’s going to take some skill from the crew in charge to clean up. It’s a goop of oil and water, an unsightly combination of having to fill holes while also figuring out which rising salaries to jettison and which to risk holding onto.

Oh, and when the 2010 season ends, the No. 5 starter on the 40-man roster, at least by major-league experience, will be someone who hasn’t pitched in a professional game in four months: Scott Elbert.

The Dodgers have one absolute jewel on the team: Clayton Kershaw. The team’s top player won’t be arbitration eligible for one more year and only figures to earn approximately $500,000 in 2011.

Then, there are a few players whose higher salaries the Dodgers won’t mind paying. Chad Billingsley, who will command somewhere in the neighborhood of $6 million, knocked down many of the questions others had about him with a resurgent 2010 season. Hong-Chih Kuo will draw low seven figures, and after the way he has persevered and performed, no one should begrudge him. Kenley Jansen will make people swoon, and only receive the major-league minimum pay and meal money in return.

So much for the good news. Now, the concerns:

  • Rafael Furcal surely remains talented, but the Dodgers have $12 million going to a player who has averaged fewer than 100 games per year since 2008.
  • Slumping reliever Jonathan Broxton’s final season before free agency is tagged with a $7 million salary.
  • Coming off an injury that ended his second straight disappointing year, arbitration-eligible Russell Martin would also get as much as $7 million if the Dodgers don’t non-tender him.
  • Andre Ethier looked like an MVP at the start of the year; by the end, his $9.25 million 2011 salary for an outfielder who struggles against lefties didn’t seem like quite as much of a bargain.
  • Lightning Rod Award-winning outfielder Matt Kemp has $6.95 million coming next year.
  • Casey Blake, game but aging, gets $5.25 million in the final chapter of his three-year deal.
  • By now, James Loney should have developed enough that the $4.5 million he is projected to earn next year should have seemed closer to a bargain than a burden, but his second-half disappearance hasn’t helped matters.
  • Incumbent second baseman Ryan Theriot and his sub-.700 OPS will bring home about $3.5 million if the Dodgers hang onto him.

In sum, that’s about $55 million committed to a series of question marks, some small, some large. In addition, Los Angeles owes approximately $17 million of its 2011 budget to (swallow hard) Manny Ramirez, Juan Pierre, Andruw Jones and Jason Schmidt — the price for turning past mistakes into the playoff teams of the previous two years.

Overall, the Dodgers on paper have close to $100 million – a figure that might well be at or above their budget limit – committed before they make a single offseason move.

Now, all is not lost. The Dodgers can and probably will gain roughly $12 million in breathing room if and when they bid farewell to George Sherrill, Octavio Dotel, Scott Podsednik and Brad Ausmus (who has said he will retire). Meanwhile, free agents Jay Gibbons and Rod Barajas should start to help shore up the bench for under $2 million combined. And it should be noted that not all of the above question marks will have negative answers.

Nevertheless, that still leaves the Dodgers at about $90 million in payroll, with John Ely as their No. 3 starter and serious questions about most of their offense. As shaky as their lineup now looks, and however aggressive the Dodgers might want to be with the latest crop of prospects, the Dodgers absolutely have to add at least two more starters, whether through free agency or trade, whether Ted Lilly, Hiroki Kuroda or outsiders.

It’s for this reason that unless the team salary budget goes up, the Dodgers almost certainly will trade or non-tender a 2011 contract to at least one from the group of Broxton, Kemp, Ethier, Loney and Martin. Loney, because he has the lowest salary, might be most likely to stay – he’s finishing the year as a disappointment at first base, but he’s not finishing the year alone as a disappointment. In any case, all of them have something to offer other teams that might be, as hard as it is for some to digest, more willing to spend than the Dodgers are.

An Ethier trade would be a shock, for example, much more than a Kemp trade, but who can say it’s out of the question now?

However this plays out, the Dodgers may well bring back many of the same players next year who boosted them to National League Championship Series appearances in 2008-09 and sunk them in 2010. In one respect, nothing will have changed: You’re always hoping players move forward, like Kershaw and Billingsley, and not backward, like Kemp and Loney and Broxton and Martin and so on. Good does sometimes follow bad, after all. But still, it’s going to be a nervous offseason for a lot of us.

Sure, BP had it tougher. But as cleanup goes, this is as thick a goop as Chavez Ravine has seen in quite some time.

Sep 05

With Jonathan Broxton struggling, just how radical will the Dodgers’ 2011 reconstruction be?

With the continuation Saturday of Jonathan Broxton’s nightmare second half, allowing the game-winning homer in the Dodgers’ 5-4 loss to San Francisco, we double-down on the Russell Martin question and ask whether another member of the Dodgers’ core of homegrown talent will be playing for another team next season.

Broxton’s situation is not identical to Martin’s. Broxton’s decline is more recent, and the potential to bounce back stronger. Though Broxton has always insisted otherwise, it’s still hard to imagine that something physical isn’t at least partly responsible for the onslaught of baserunners and bummers in the past two-plus months: 41 baserunners and a 7.25 ERA in 22 1/3 innings since the June 27 Yankee game, 32 baserunners and a 0.83 ERA in 32 2/3 innings before that this season. So you shouldn’t close the door on Broxton’s career as an effective reliever any more than you should have closed the door a year ago on Chad Billingsley’s career as an effective starter.

But the fact is, relievers that are effective over the longterm are exceptions to the rule. And thanks to the two-year deal Broxton signed January 19, he is set to earn $7 million in 2011, his final year before free agency. No matter where you stand on the question of Broxton’s abilities to play or the McCourt ownership’s ability to pay, you can imagine that the Dodgers might think twice before giving Broxton that kind of dough now. And Broxton still has plenty of ability to bring something in a deal.

So in addition to the uncertain Dodger futures of free agents like Hiroki Kuroda and several others, add Broxton to a separate list that includes Martin (declining performance), James Loney (disappointing power) and Matt Kemp (you know the drill). Four players that at the start of 2009 were cornerstones of the Dodgers’ future, with combined 2011 salaries in the neighborhood of $25 million. In my mind, the question is not whether the Dodgers will trade one of them, but whether they will trade all of them.

* * *

In the near-term, this has been something of a nine-lives season for the Dodgers, but Saturday’s loss knocked off yet another. With National League West-leading San Diego losing its ninth-straight game, and backup outfielder Jay Gibbons hitting a three-run home run, the Dodgers were close to moving with seven games of the division lead, a day before beginning a three-game series with San Diego.

Ted Lilly’s one-hitter through six innings turned into a home run fest. The Dodgers hadn’t allowed four homers in a game all year, but Lilly (two), Octavio Dotel and Broxton accomplished the feat in 2 1/3 innings. Los Angeles did not allow a single in Saturday’s game until Cody Ross’ ninth-inning hit, right before Juan Uribe’s final blow.

Here’s a description of the fateful pitch from Broxton, via Ken Gurnick of MLB.com:

“I’m assuming [Uribe's] looking for a fastball, he’s going to cheat a bit, get the barrel ready, try to catch the fastball out in front,” said catcher Rod Barajas. “We threw slider, it didn’t break. It just spun, stayed over the middle plate. Obviously, if he was looking for the fastball, he was able to react.”

“Well, it just hung, straight down the middle. It didn’t move like it should have,” said Broxton. “He capitalized on a mistake.”

It was the first time Broxton had ever given up a ninth-inning lead on a home run at Dodger Stadium.

The Dodgers then put the tying run at third base with one out in the bottom of the ninth, but couldn’t score him.

* * *

Giants at Dodgers, 5:10 p.m.

Aug 12

‘Leave it to the Dodgers’: Phillies stun Los Angeles with eight-run comeback


Matt Slocum/APRonald Belisario reacts after being pulled in the bottom of the eighth inning, a harbinger.

I don’t have anything I feel compelled to say, but I feel compelled to say something.  That’s usually a recipe for some pretty poor writing, but on a night like tonight, who will really notice?

For Jonathan Broxton, I refer you to this post. He’s not himself, and he hasn’t been himself for weeks now. That the latest catastrophe happened in Philadelphia adds a nasty spice to it all, but in his past trips there, the loss of control and blown saves were aberrations. The Broxton of the past two months has been someone else entirely. He’s been George Sherrill, and not the good kind.

Personally, it’s no fun seeing the perverse “I told you so” comments coming from Broxton’s peanut gallery, some of them coming with the glee of validation, I suspect. I’m not defending what Broxton is doing now, but again, this is well beyond what happened with Broxton before. Since the All-Star break, 21 baserunners allowed in eight innings with five strikeouts. That’s a different pitcher.

Meanwhile, those of us who have established tents in Broxton’s camp saw something familiar: a brutal defensive lapse behind him, this time from Casey Blake. Too much water had blown through the dam for it to be called a gamechanger, but it certainly added to the aura of horror.

Ronald Belisario, making his third comeback from personal and health issues in 13 months, actually picked the right night to be bad – doing so with a 9-2 lead, thanks to strong pitching by Clayton Kershaw and a 20-baserunner offense by the Dodgers. Matt Kemp, back in the starting lineup, went 3 for 5 with a home run and four RBI. Every position in the lineup, except for pitcher, reached base at least twice. There was a cushion and then some – no thin Ikea futon, but a real honest-to-goodness plush living room sofa. And then the Phillies tore the stuffing out of it.

For more reaction, I refer you to this post. Vin Scully wasn’t at tonight’s game, and yet I still think about how he’d react to it. He’d marvel at it. And not be as deflated by it as I am. “Leave it to the Dodgers …”

As far as I can tell, every Dodger made their best effort tonight, and for 7 1/2 innings, they put on quite a show. And then baseball threw its weight around, once again proving that it runs the circus. I’d rather be writing about a Dodger win, but I don’t get to decide.

Jul 25

Kershaw LXXII: Kershawmpty Dumpty

Brad Ausmus will retire at the end of this season, the Dodger catcher told Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com.

… In Ausmus’ typically understated way, his so-called “announcement” was nothing more than an answer to a reporter’s question. It came immediately after he played in his first game in more than three months, catching the first 12 innings of the 13-inning marathon four days after being activated from the 60-day disabled list.

“This year is it,” Ausmus said.

Ausmus had played in just one previous game this season, on April 8 at Pittsburgh. He went onto the 15-day DL with back soreness two days later and learned shortly thereafter that he would need a surgical procedure that would sideline him for at least three months, leading to questions of why the seldom-used, 41-year-old backup to Russell Martin didn’t just retire immediately instead of going through a grueling rehabilitation process in what everyone assumed would be his final season as a player anyway.

Ausmus’ answer then was the same as it is now.

“I signed a contract,” he reiterated on Saturday. “It was my job to get back on the field and do it as quickly as possible, hopefully without having any setbacks.”

* * *

If Jonathan Broxton had blown the game against the Mets, people would have called it another huge loss on the national stage. But since he overcame early control problems to pitch two shutout innings – striking out the Mets’ best hitter, David Wright, to end the ninth before throwing a perfect 10th – the game became inconsequential (c.f. Saturday, June 26, 2010).

* * *

From the Dodger press notes: “Six Dodger starters have combined to post a 1.38 ERA (8 ER/52.0 IP) and limit opposing hitters to a .211 average (40-for-190). In that span, Dodger starters have 36 strikeouts and only 14 walks. Overall, Dodger starters lead the big leagues with an average of 7.79 strikeouts per 9.0 innings (487 SO/563.0 IP) and rank third in the National League with a .256 opponents’ batting average.”

Jul 22

Jonathan Broxton’s loss of command


Jayne Oncea/Icon SMIJonathan Broxton has allowed 14 earned runs this season — 11 in his past 7 1/3 innings.

I don’t know if it’s possible to put aside debates over mental and guttal makeup when discussing Jonathan Broxton, but if we can try for a moment …

A big problem for Broxton right now is that the pinpoint control that he typically possesses has disappeared. He has walked more batters in his past two games than he walked in the first two months of the season.

Broxton averaged 3.4 walks per nine innings from 2006-2009, then opened 2010 with three walks (one intentional) in 29 1/3 innings, to go with 42 strikeouts, no home runs and a 0.92 ERA.

That period ends with the June 19 evening in Boston when he faced one batter and allowed a game-winning hit. In 10 2/3 innings since then, Broxton has walked eight while allowing 11 runs for a 9.28 ERA. This week alone, Broxton has walked four while allowing five runs for a 27.00 ERA.

Now whatever your thoughts about Broxton are, this is the story of two different pitchers. It’s not as if every game before June 19 was meaningless and every game after was of huge importance.

Another angle is this: Broxton’s batting average allowed on balls in play before June 19 was .358, which is on the high side for a major-league pitcher and certainly higher than Broxton’s career figure of .315. But since June 19, his BABIP has skyrocketed to .448. So Broxton’s loss of command has been coupled with an untimely bout of bad luck. (Look no further than Tuesday’s calamity, when a 60-foot single by Juan Uribe was followed by a walk to Edgar Renteria, who entered the game with one home run and 13 walks for the entire season.)

I obviously don’t need to tell anyone that Broxton has sprinkled bad outings throughout his career. There was of course the 2009 game in San Diego when he allowed three runs (plus an inherited runner) to score in the ninth inning, followed two days later by two runs allowed in an extra-inning victory at Milwaukee. On August 15, Broxton blew a save in Arizona that led to a huge outcry for him to be replaced as Dodger closer by … George Sherrill.

From that point on, Broxton pitched 21 consecutive innings without allowing an earned run, walking five, striking out 33. That streak ended with the ninth-inning disaster in Pittsburgh that cost the Dodgers an early chance to clinch the National League West. And so on …

I’m not sure if the struggles Broxton has been having lately are something more than his typical once-in-a-while problems, or if they are a sign of something more worrisome. What I do know is that the Jonathan Broxton we have seen lately is not the Jonathan Broxton we usually see.

Update: Here’s another piece on Broxton, from ESPN.com’s Tristan H. Cockcroft.